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June 17,2007

By Jeff Nagel Black Press

The BC Liberal government’s new vision for TransLink represents a U-turn from its mantra of delivering efficient, transparent, accountable government.

That critique of Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon’s plan doesn’t come from an ideological opponent on the left but a like-minded conservative – Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt, a longtime TransLink director.

“Kevin used to be the minister of deregulation,” Hunt said. “Why is he creating a massive bureaucracy that’s way more expensive than what we’ve got right now? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Instead of making TransLink more accountable, Hunt said, it will end up arguably less so even though homeowners and motorists will pay higher property and fuel taxes over time.

The three-tier structure provides for an appointed board of professionals, a mayors’ council that will ratify property tax levels and plans, and a separate TransLink commissioner that will advise the mayors and oversee fare increases.

But most power will be concentrated in the hands of the unelected board.

It will present just a few options for long-range plans. If the mayors don’t like them or fail to choose, the board can do as it wishes.

If the commissioner rejects a proposed fare increase, the board can override the objection and impose the hike with a two-thirds majority vote. Although mayors technically appoint the board, they must choose from a list prepared by a panel dominated by Falcon’s allies – a system that guarantees two-thirds of directors will be the choice not of the mayors but of groups like the Vancouver Board of Trade and Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Anyone upset about the decisions will have a hard time figuring out where to complain, Hunt said.

“The professionals are allowed to have all their meetings in private,” he said. “Where’s the accountability? Who is the Bus Riders Union going to go and talk to?”

Much of the municipal angst is rooted in the fear elected mayors will end up blamed for TransLink’s actions and its tax hikes but with almost no control over what happens.

But criticisms go far deeper.

GVRD officials worry their efforts to maintain a liveable region will founder if TransLink’s transportation plans are no longer required to be in sync with the regional government’s growth management strategy.

There are also concerns over possible conflicts of interest, especially since TransLink will gain powers to engage in land development near transit stations to bring in more revenue.

Unlike the current system, where directors must first be elected mayors or councillors and then get selected via the GVRD to serve on TransLink, the new directors won’t be elected in any way nor will they represent any particular geographic areas.

Falcon says that will purge the board of its tendency to be parochial – a key complaint of his since TransLink came close to nixing the Canada Line after Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He says the new structure will ensure expanded funding for TransLink to add to the transit system and restore public confidence and accountability in TransLink.

It also provides for an eventual expansion of the system east and north.

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