Excerpt from the Official Report of


October 19, 2011

Bill 11 — Greater Vancouver Transit Enhancement Act

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to get an opportunity to stand and spend a few minutes talking about Bill 11, the Greater Vancouver Transit Enhancement Act. This piece of legislation is at least the next significant step in what has been a long and somewhat difficult road to get to the building of the Evergreen line, which is the rapid transit line into the Tri-Cities area.

What this piece of legislation does is it ratifies the decision of the Mayors Council to add two cents to the gas tax, which will raise about $40 million or so a year and allow the Metro area to make its contributions to be able to build this line.

We know, as this process has unfolded, that there have been many delays, and it's been very difficult. I suspect the Evergreen line has been announced and reannounced, I don't know how many times, probably at least as many times as Surrey Memorial Hospital has been announced and reannounced. Part of the problem with it…. I think the difficulties and the delays that we've seen in this relate back, in many ways, to the relationship that unfolded between the government and the local councils and the local mayors in the region.

Lots of that, I think, was around a reaction from one of the minister's predecessors. As some of my colleagues have spoken, we know that there was a difficult period around the Canada Line, where the mayors and the TransLink board — the board of the day, which was a much more accountable board that ran TransLink, made up of elected officials from local governments — resisted the priorities of the provincial government and of the previous minister — now the Finance Minister, but previously the Transportation Minister.

It ultimately passed, as others have said, after about the third try, I think, by a single vote. Part of the problem is the fallout from that was that the minister of the day — not the current minister, but the previous minister, who is now the Finance Minister — had a bit of a hissy fit over this and essentially blew up TransLink as we know it. He instead created a Liberal form of TransLink, threw out the elected officials and put in place a private board for TransLink, which essentially made all of the operational decisions there — fundamentally a very bad idea no matter how you look at public policy. There was no logic to this, but it was the decision that the minister of the day made.

The problem with that was on a number of levels. Certainly, there's obviously the problem of accountability. We're spending an awful lot of taxpayers' money. What happens here is that that board that was making those decisions — you'll know it's a board that doesn't meet in public, essentially, that makes its decisions behind closed doors — is not accountable. And yet it is spending public dollars without being accountable at all for the expenditure of those dollars.

Now, we have the Mayors Council, but the Mayors Council is a mile away from these decisions and ultimately has very little influence, other than to be jammed into the place where they have to make these kinds of decisions, as was made around the two cents.

The challenge here is around the accountability piece, but maybe the bigger challenge with this is the disconnect that happens long-term between these decisions about transit. We would all agree in this place that getting the Evergreen line built has been too long in coming, and it has to happen, and if this makes the deal work, then it's a good thing.

But the challenge with this is that we see a real disconnect between the people who ultimately have responsibility for land use planning — who are local councils, which engage communities and engage neighbourhoods and make decisions about how their communities develop — and a TransLink board that does not have a meaningful connection to that and doesn't have the connection in terms of truly engaging those communities in the way that local governments engage.

I know there are a significant number of members of this House who have spent time as local elected officials. They will all know too well the process of engaging a local community and what that does and doesn't mean, in terms of meetings, development meetings and such, to get decisions made.

But if we want to be a truly sustainable place, if we want to make those decisions, then folks should think about this, and know that the correlation and the connection between transit and land use planning — and housing, actually, and where residential construction happens — are just inextricably linked. They have to be linked, and they have to be connected, and they have to be part of one set of thinking in order to succeed in developing sustainable communities and developing the communities where I think we all know that this is where we have to end up.

We hear a lot of this conversation. We know that there's a lot of excitement out in the Tri-Cities to get rapid transit and to get the SkyTrain out there, and that's great. But we know that there are other communities…. South of the Fraser we know that we've heard the mayor of Surrey talk about wanting to look at light rail options, and there are fast bus options. In Vancouver we looked at the Broadway corridor.

These are all discussions, also, that relate to land use planning, and I fear that the TransLink model that we have today is one that makes it very, very difficult to get to intelligent decisions around those things. So it's really essential that as we move forward with this, we begin to start thinking about other ways to do that sustainable planning.

Now, I've said that I believe that the previous minister had difficulty dealing with local governments around this. I also know, from talking to local elected officials, that the current minister has worked hard and has a pretty good working relationship with many of the mayors and the local leadership in terms of getting at making decisions and getting at practically making decisions. I would hope that the minister will continue to build that relationship in terms of rethinking what TransLink looks like, as we get through this period.

I think that it's very positive that we're in this place to be approving these two cents and moving forward and being able to finally get shovels in the ground, as some of my colleagues who represent the area most affected have said. The sooner they get the shovels in the ground, the better. That's a positive thing.

But in the long term, if we take a longer view of this, we really do need to look at a different structure. I would hope that this interlude — I hope it is an interlude — between the decisions that blew TransLink up as we knew it and created a structure that not many people in the Lower Mainland were very supportive of — that we will move back to something that is more accountable.

I'm hopeful that the minister, once he has this behind him, will begin to have some conversation with local elected folks about what that structure and that future might look like. I know that it's certainly our expectation, depending on whether that does or doesn't happen, that we will be having that discussion after 2013, with local government about what that relationship looks like and look forward to that.

So as we move forward, as this process unfolds, we always have to remember. I think back to before I got to this place in 2005. A whole lot of my work related around the growth of communities and how you grew them sustainably and what that looked like and how you put transit and land use and housing together and how you met the needs of people who had different and diverse needs in communities.

We all know transit is part of the lifeblood of the success of communities like that. But we all learned pretty quickly, in doing that work, that you could not separate these things, and I worry about the separation.

So I'm looking forward to this. I'm looking forward to what comes after we get to this point and looking forward to how it will all unfold. So with that, I'm pleased to support this. I think it is important that it go ahead.

But at the end of the day, there's an awful lot more work to be done. There's a lot more work to be done to determine what is really the long-term plan and how resources get applied to this long term — whether it's things like the discussion we have had about reallocation of carbon tax dollars or whether it's other approaches — and how we govern these decisions and how these decisions remain accountable to the people who ultimately pay for it and ultimately will use the system, which are the taxpayers in the most affected communities.

I don't think those questions are at all resolved at this point. I think there's a lot of work to be done on that. I think there's a lot of good faith that has to be built, that has been broken. Hopefully, that will occur over the coming months, and if it doesn't occur over the next 15 or 16 months, hopefully, it will occur after that. With that, I am going to sit down, and I'm going to leave it to my colleagues to make their comments.


Sorry, no events are scheduled. Check back soon.