The province’s plan to put two Metro Vancouver mayors on the appointed TransLink board – which makes all decisions behind closed doors – will create a tricky new dynamic that civic leaders say will be uncomfortable at best.
The tweak to the governance structure unveiled by Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom installs the chair and vice-chair of the regional mayors’ council as directors on the TransLink board, joining nine other appointed directors.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan called it an attempt to co-opt the chair and vice-chair of the mayors’ council – District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton and Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender.
“It puts them in a very awkward position,” Corrigan said. “We would have two of our people there making decisions on our behalf but they won’t be able to come back and tell us what they decided in-camera.”
He said the province is trying to muzzle mayors by giving them an ineffectual minority on the board, adding he will urge his counterparts to reject the offered seats and hold out for more robust, democratic reform of TransLink’s structure.
“My recommendation at this point would be to reject any kind of participation on the board,” Corrigan said. “The idea that you can hive off two members of the mayors’ council to go and sit on this board and expect that’s going to placate us is ridiculous.”
He said the mayors’ council never asked for board seats.
Instead, mayors wanted more control over TransLink spending – particularly the priorities the board sets in its base plan, which is funded by automatic annual increases in property tax. The mayors’ main role so far is to approve or reject board-proposed tax hikes to pay for expansion.
Walton won’t say yet if he feels the mayors should participate or not, adding he expects that to be a matter for debate at their next meeting.
He called the dedicated seats “a step sideways” rather than a step forward.
The fact the board meets in camera is an issue, he said, as well as how to handle what may be two sometimes conflicting roles.
“That’s a difficult line to tread,” Walton said. “It will be a challenge.”
The counter-argument in favour of the change, he said, is that the mayors’ chair and vice-chair can influence the board and improve its decisions.
“You can certainly argue both sides.”
He said Lekstrom’s reform still leaves a gap in governance and the mayors would continue to press for more improvements, as well as long-term new funding sources, such as distance pricing for motorists.
“It still involves decisions being made by a majority unelected body that allocates transportation resources and spends property tax money that elected representatives have no say in.”
Walton credited Lekstrom for attentively listening to the mayors and making much-needed changes at TransLink.
Fassbender said TransLink’s board should decide most matters openly in public meetings and the mayors will be able to push for that change.
If the board must keep some issues in-camera, he said, those can still be reported back to the other mayors on a confidential basis as well.
“I don’t see a problem,” he said.
Bill 51, the TransLink reform legislation tabled Monday, indicates that any mayors’ rep who resigns from the board can never serve on it again.
The bill also provides new tools to enforce payment of unpaid transit fines.