Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


April 8, 2014

Debate on Bill 22, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Amendment Act

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to join in debate on Bill 22, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Amendment Act.

This is an interesting piece of legislation. What we know, of course, is that this piece of legislation is to fix a problem that was created by the Liberal government in 2007 when the minister of the day, Mr. Falcon, had a bit of a hissy fit and decided to basically tear apart the governance system that was in place at TransLink. It's been a downhill slide pretty much ever since that conduct by Mr. Falcon of the day.

There's now some recognition that this was a mistake and some attempt to begin to put the pieces back together. That's a good thing. It's always good when people recognize their mistakes and try to correct them.

The Liberal government, I'm assuming, is doing that here, though I'd love to have somebody stand up and say: "We sure made a mess of that, didn't we? But we're going to try to fix it now."

What is the situation that brings us to Bill 22 and the debate that's going on here today? TransLink was created in 1998, and it was established there when the provincial government of the day transferred a significant amount of the authority to local government for transit and transportation decision-making in Metro Vancouver.

When they did that, they created a structure that essentially put mayors and councillors in charge of this system. They were elected people who were then appointed to oversee TransLink, much in the same way that there are elected people who are appointed to oversee Metro Vancouver and the regional district and the way that that works.

That system functioned. It's a challenge, and nobody will deny the challenge that we face with transportation. It's a very expensive exercise and enterprise to create the kind of transit system that an urban metropolitan area like Vancouver and its suburbs require in order to be successful. It's not cheap, and we've seen that with the projects that have proceeded and gone ahead.

So we have this situation where it's operating and, as the member for West Vancouver–Capilano points out, a change happens heading into 2007. The government of the day, the minister of the day, made the decision that the priority was to be the Canada Line, and it was. As the member for West Vancouver–Capilano said, it was driven by the Olympics to get that line in place.

That meant that the Canada Line queue-jumped at least two or three other projects to become the priority. It queue-jumped, probably, the Evergreen line, development of light rail in Surrey and maybe the Broadway corridor — probably at least those three — and became the priority.

TransLink — the leadership of TransLink of the day, the mayors and the councillors — raised concern about that and about how that was occurring and about how those decisions were happening. The minister essentially took decision-making out of their hands, I presume, as the member from across the way said, in order to get this accomplished for the Olympics.

Regardless, the project goes ahead. There are all kinds of complications with it, but it gets built. All you have to do is to talk to all those merchants on Cambie Street to see how they feel about that period of time when half of them got…. Some got put out of business, and a lot of others were seriously hurt financially because of the construction and the way it proceeded and that.

Regardless of that, that's what happened there. The mayors and the board of TransLink challenged the minister about how those decisions happened. We know the minister of the day…. Certainly, those of us in this House who have sat here with Kevin Falcon, when he was here as a senior minister of the Crown, and know Kevin…. Kevin always tended to like to get his way. That's kind of the nature of who Kevin was. When he didn't get his way, he would try to…. Retribution was not above him.

So he trashes the board and the governance structure of TransLink. Not with much thought, but he says: "Out, out with you. I'm going to put my own handpicked people in place." He creates this "professional board" of his handpicked people. They don't meet in public, unlike the TransLink board. They meet in private. There's little known about their decisions until they roll out. There's really no ability for anybody to engage this board in a discussion.

As a consequence…. What we know is that organizations like TransLink, organizations that bring together a lot of diverse interests, that kind of are right on the razor's edge in terms of how they finance things, who need to build consensus in order to be successful…. Well, that doesn't work very well if you don't engage people and if you don't engage communities and engage legitimate stakeholders.

When Mr. Falcon created this structure, he said, "But I'm not ignoring the mayors, so I'm going to create a mayors council" that has absolutely no authority to do pretty much anything." But they're there in some vague advisory capacity that nobody ever figured out.

The mayors, quite rightly, understood that their authority had been gutted and that they had no role anymore, essentially, in the administration and management of the transit system in the Lower Mainland, so they said: "It's yours, not ours."

What happens is that the system kind of flounders along for a number of years, and we now have this situation we're in today where we spend years talking about funding formulas without having any responsible structure to make this thing work. What underlies that was Mr. Falcon, the B.C. Liberal government and the decision of 2007 to throw out the local, elected leadership and create a professional board, which is pretty well paid, to run this system. It didn't work, and today we have Bill 22, which is an acknowledgement that this didn't work. Good on the Minister of Transportation for bringing this forward and trying to correct a problem.

That's the failure of the model that we had. It's a model and a system. We now have this situation that we're in today. We'll be talking a little bit more about some of those consequences, which will come up in the discussion of Bill 23. That will happen after we're done with Bill 22, presumably. We'll be talking about that because that talks about the money side of this. This bill talks about how you govern the system. That one talks about the pending referendum and what the money side looks like, and that will be an interesting debate as well.

We have this situation here. What Bill 22 does is it creates a situation where there are a number of things that do get addressed in some fashion here. It talks about changing the current three-year base plans and seven-year outlook, which are prepared and approved by the board. That's going to now become a ten-year investment plan which will be approved by the Mayors Council, and that's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with that.

It will be reviewed every three years, apparently, but there's not an indication here about whether an annual review is possible, and it may well be that an annual review is more appropriate. That should actually be a decision for the Mayors Council to make as to whether they think it's appropriate to review annually or every three years. If they're going to be responsible for it, they should have the ability to probably decide whether adjustment is due on an annual basis rather than having to wait three years. Hopefully, common sense will prevail and they'll be told to administer the system and do what's right there.

The approval of the 30-year regional transportation strategy now goes to the Mayors Council from this professional board — again, long-term planning. It's a long-term planning issue. I think my colleague from Coquitlam-Maillardville talked about the importance of planning, but you've got to be able to do something with the plan after you make it. We'll talk a little bit about that, because that's probably one of the shortcomings of this legislation.

It deals with the responsibility for executive compensation. It now goes over to the Mayors Council, and the Mayors Council essentially takes over the responsibilities of the commissioner, along with the million dollars of budget that's there, to approve fare increases, deal with the sale or disposal of assets, oversight of TransLink customer satisfaction and some of those things. All good things, all fine.

The problem, though, is that there are things that aren't in this bill, and that's probably the biggest challenge here — the pieces that aren't in the bill. There are two that kind of jump out at me. The first one is budget preparation. The ability to plan is important, and it's important that that rests with the elected officials, I believe, because I think that accountability comes with planning. The reality is that as there's more authority invested in the Mayors Council, you can presume that the public and people who are concerned about the transit and transportation systems in the Lower Mainland will find the opportunities to make representation to the Mayors Council, to talk with their elected officials about what's important.

The mayors will presumably, with their own councils and their own communities, bring forward to the planning process the discussion that happens in their local jurisdictions to make sure that that's part of the broader conversation as you try to meld and put together this more complex system that tries to meet the needs of a whole range of municipalities and jurisdictions that all have some different requirements and obligations. How do you meld that package together when you have a finite amount of resources to play with?

The planning piece becomes very important there. The problem, though, is that if you don't do the budgeting, if the budget preparation is not part of your responsibility, the ability to deliver the plan is questionable at best.

At the end of the day, you can make all the plans…. You know, I can make plans for my home and for the trips I'd like to take and for all that, but if I don't have the control over the money to decide where money goes for this and for that, I'm not going to be able to do anything with those plans. The government, with this legislation, has omitted that control over the budget preparation.

The other thing that doesn't exist here is to have real oversight over the operations of the system on a more ongoing and immediate basis. Again, there is — no question — improved capacity for planning and authority there with the Mayors Council, but it isn't reflected in having oversight over the operation, and that's important. That's important because for a lot of what happens here, that oversight is a key piece. That's a key piece of the accountability, having that oversight. It's a key piece of ensuring as much transparency….

As the members have said — members on both sides — the success and the success of referendum, should it come forward, or the success…. Whatever the financial decision-making is about investment — where the investment will come from and what taxes or fees will be dealt with in order to raise the dollars to build the infrastructure that's required — the public is going to want the transparency and the accountability before they're going to give up that money and say: "This is a good place for my tax dollars to go."

That becomes a real challenge. Transportation systems are very complicated. They're very expensive to do. And I don't think that people always see the priorities as theirs. That's certainly true when you're building large pieces.

You have the debate that goes on today — probably the two biggest projects that are in play for what comes next. There's building a light rail system in Surrey that meets the needs of the fastest-growing part of this province or dealing with Broadway corridor and moving people through one of the most congested areas in this province. Probably $3 billion, $4 billion to do Broadway; $2 billion, $2½ billion to do Surrey — not cheap by anybody's standards. That's going to be a challenge. How do we deal with those things?

Just as an aside here, I think it was the member for North Vancouver–Seymour who talked about Sydney and about how successful Sydney is and what they do. I believe that that's true. I know a little bit but not very much about it, but that's true. I guess the observation that I would make, of course, is that there — and they have a population roughly about twice the size of Metro Vancouver, give or take — a $9½ billion commitment was paid by the state of New South Wales. No federal dollars, no local dollars; $9½ billion paid by the province, essentially, the state — that's what's building that system up.

I suspect that if the province here found $5 billion and said, "We're putting another $5 billion on the table to build transit," we'd find a couple of mighty fine projects to build here too. So I don't disagree with the member's comments, but it is about major investment. It's about a major investment made by the state, the counterpart to British Columbia in that case.

They chose to make that investment, and they did it without federal or local help in that case. That's a bit of a different dynamic, because the folks who had the cash came up and delivered. I don't question the value of what goes on there, but it is quite a different circumstance because of who's prepared to pay the bill.

Getting back to the situation we have here. We know that the minister in a letter on February 6 talked about the need for an amendment to specify that the board must prepare budgets and oversee operations and implement plans consistent with Mayors Council–approved strategies and plans.

Well, it would seem to me that if you're going to do that, what the minister said in a letter on February 6, it might make more sense to simply say that the Mayors Council is going to have some authority, direct authority, over the preparation of those budgets.

They may do it in consultation, and they may be obliged to do some consulting. There's nothing wrong with obliging them to do that when they spend money. We send a Finance Committee around the province here before we do a budget. Maybe they need to do that. But at the end of the day, I would argue that the mayors are best placed to deal with this.

The reality is this, and it's been pointed out by people on both sides, I believe, that accountability comes with elected representation. At the end of the day, we need to create a system and a structure where the organization is accountable, and accountable in ways that people understand. That clearly was the case at one time with TransLink. Anybody who doesn't think it works can talk to George Puil, who was a long-sitting member of the Vancouver city council, one of the most senior members of the Vancouver city council.

He was the chair of TransLink and took positions that were very contrary to what a lot of people in Vancouver were interested in, and he lost his seat after sitting for 20-odd years as a councillor. Most people would attribute that loss not to his conduct on Vancouver city council but to his conduct on TransLink. They would say that's what he lost his seat over, because he did things that the people did not agree with in terms of transportation decisions. There was an accountability there. And I've heard the talk since that if you want to get into trouble as a local politician, discuss transportation.

I think, though, that it's a good thing that can happen, and it's a good thing to have that accountability. I want to give that authority and power to the mayors and to the elected representatives, to say: "We're going to give you the authority, but you have the political accountability. You should get to make decisions about where the local portion or share of funding comes from, and you should be accountable for those decisions at the end of the day."

That means being able to prepare budgets, and at the end of the day, the preparation of budgets is both how I am going to spend the money and how I am going to raise the money. If they had some of that authority that they don't have today, we would be in a better place. The conversation that is going on around funding would be a better conversation, because it would be a more equal conversation, and everybody would have skin in the game. That's not necessarily the case today, because of the structure of governance. So I think that's a problem. I think that's a significant problem.

Now, part of the challenge, of course, is: what do these mayors think? It's a diverse group. The mayors that make up the Mayors Council are politically a pretty diverse group. You couldn't, by any stretch of the imagination, put them all in one political camp, one place or the other, and they all are saying similar things.

They all are saying that there are things about this legislation that are positive, in terms of where it takes us to steps in the right direction, but the other thing they say is that it simply does not go far enough. It does not meet the obligations necessary in order to accomplish the things we need to accomplish in the Lower Mainland when it comes to transportation planning, budgeting and implementation.

A couple of examples of that. The chair of the Mayors Council, Richard Walton, the mayor for the district of North Vancouver, said: "I can't represent the fact that we're all happy, because I think still the large issues we want addressed have not been addressed." That's the comment of Mayor Walton, when he talked about this legislation. He understands — and he probably understands as well as anybody, as the chair of the Mayors Council — how big those challenges are. He understands primarily how it's about the money. That's the key piece that is a challenge.

Mayor Brodie from Richmond said: "If we're not overseeing the budget, how can we ensure the vision is being carried out?" That comes back to this issue of planning and the question about planning.

As Mayor Brodie says, and Mayor Brodie is correct: if you don't have control of the money, the vision and the plan become somewhat theoretical. If you don't set the budget priorities, then it becomes somewhat questionable what that plan is really worth.

Mayor Stewart, who my colleague from Coquitlam-Maillardville spoke about, who sat in this House as a member of the B.C. Liberal caucus, said: "At this point, the legislation doesn't look like we run it. It does look like we run the long-term planning of it, but TransLink doesn't necessarily have to follow what we decide on the long-term strategy."

Well, how frustrating is that going to be for mayors who have many demands on their time, many great pressures to deal with? How invested are they prepared to be if they don't have confidence that there is any obligation for the decisions they make around planning, around strategic thinking to be carried out?

What Mayor Brodie is saying is that he doesn't have confidence and that his colleagues on the Mayors Council don't have the confidence to feel that that will in fact be the case, and that's a problem.

Mayor Moore from Port Coquitlam said: "It's not what we wanted, because we wanted to have complete control, as it was before. Will it be enough for us to proceed forward? We will have to see, because not having the budget and operational oversight is a real challenge."

Again, all of these mayors are focusing in on the key omissions of this bill, which are around budget and operational oversight — the two pieces that really needed to be here to complete the work that the minister started with Bill 22. They're not here. It will continue to be a problem, and it will continue to be a frustration. It's not something that I think can be easily corrected without giving that authority, through legislation, to the Mayors Council and, with that authority, the responsibility and the political accountability for the budget.

They need to be accountable. When they make decisions, they need to be accountable for those decisions. But you can't hold them accountable for things that they don't have some control over, and that's the circumstance you create with Bill 22. It's a problem. I believe it's a significant problem.

Bill 22 does some good things. It corrects some of the problems that were created in 2007 by Mr. Falcon and by the Liberal government of the day when they basically tossed out the whole system. Instead of trying to fix it, they just threw it out and created the board of the making of the minister of the day. He appointed some people that he thought were appropriate people, and they met in secret and made decisions.

We have seen the system unravelling since 2007 because of that fundamental governance decision, which was just a mistake. There is no other way to characterize it. It was just a mistake. It was a mistake that's been costly, and it's a mistake that I will acknowledge the minister today is trying to correct. But he didn't go far enough. He didn't deal with the issues that he talked about in his letter of February 6. He didn't deal with the core questions around money.

Until you deal with the money questions, you've got a problem. You have to deal with them both in the context of where the money comes from and how you collect that but also on the governance side in terms of how you manage it. The mayors are not a whole lot closer to governing the money side than they were before Bill 22. That's a problem.

I know the critic is looking forward to committee stage and looking forward to the opportunity of getting into a number of these issues in some depth with the minister — beginning to try to understand what the minister's thinking was in deciding to not include these key components in Bill 22; what the minister's thinking is about how these critical questions that are left unanswered will be resolved; about how the importance of the governance system will drive, at the end of the day, a whole lot of the success of this system and of TransLink in the future; and about how that will work.

I look forward…. Those are critical questions from my constituents in Vancouver-Hastings. Those are critical questions for a couple of million people in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia who increasingly are dependent upon a transit system to be successful.

That doesn't even begin to deal with the questions of the broader transportation system, of the movement of goods, of all of those issues that TransLink and the transportation authority have responsibility for. All of those questions are critical, and they will need to be addressed.

The one that obviously jumps out in people's minds, probably, is the transit system in most cases, but it's not alone. There are a whole lot of questions here on the other side. I know the critic is looking forward to talking about some of those issues in the context of governance when he gets an opportunity in committee stage to engage with the minister on these questions.

I'm pleased to have participated in this debate. I want to acknowledge that Bill 22 takes some steps in the right direction but, really, to express some disappointment that it doesn't deal with those core questions that really need to be addressed in a pretty fundamental way if we are going to rebuild confidence in that system and if we're going to be successful moving forward to have a vibrant and dynamic authority over transportation in the Lower Mainland, and an authority that has the capacity to make decisions in a politically accountable way and move forward to build the network that we all need, both in terms of the ability to get people around and to begin to deal with some of those critical questions around climate and issues that we know changing the way that we move in our highly populated areas will go an awfully long way to begin to address.

That's what's on the table here. That's what we're debating. Really, governance is such a fundamental piece of that. I do hope the minister will give some thought to whether some adjustment here on these critical questions is warranted, and maybe we get to move forward with a better piece of legislation.

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