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Mayors 'foolish' to join TransLink board

Metro Vancouver mayors
Metro Vancouver mayors' council chair Richard Walton (left) will now also sit as a director on the TransLink board. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan (right) calls the decision a mistake.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver mayors have voted to send two representatives to sit as paid directors on the otherwise appointed and unelected TransLink board, reversing their previous rejection of the offer by the province.

The chair and vice-chair of the TransLink mayors' council – North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton and New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright – will take the two new seats on the usually nine-member professional board, which grows to 11 directors.

Joining the closed-door deliberations of the board will give the two mayors more insight and perhaps some influence, but not the restoration of full control over TransLink's budget by elected reps that Metro mayors have repeatedly demanded.

It was that insistence as well as a fear of being co-opted that led them to reject the provincial offer of two board seats in 2012.

The latest changes to TranLink governance by the province this spring gives mayors control over executive pay and TransLink's long-term vision, while the annual budget and operational control remains with the board.

Walton said most mayors feel it's time to take the seats and try to work cooperatively with both the board and the province, which is supposed to name its own two directors to the board in January.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan calls it a mistake.

"It was a foolish move," he said. "What's going to happen is the mayors' council is going to be blamed for each and every thing that happens at TransLink."

Corrigan said mayoral directors might be lobbied by other mayors for transit upgrades in their cities, possibly in exchange for votes to retain their lucrative positions.

"It won't be in an open debate, it will be who can persuade them to do something for them in relation to transit service in their own communities," he said.

Corrigan also predicts Walton and Wright will be muzzled from publicly disclosing all board deliberations.

"They're going to have to be part of the secrecy that has been the hallmark of the TransLink board since the provincial government made the legislative changes," Corrigan said, referring to the 2008 TransLink overhaul that created the professional board and relegated politicians to approving tax hikes.

Walton and Wright will be paid the same as the other nine professional directors who sit on TransLink's board. They each collect close to $50,000 a year, depending on the number of meetings they attend.

Walton, who previously described the optics of accepting extra pay as a director as "problematic" but now says he's "indifferent" to it, did not vote on the issue during the July 29 closed-door meeting of the mayors' council.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said Walton has until now received $5,000 a year for his work chairing the mayors' council and Wright got nothing as vice chair, adding directors' pay for serving on the board will now more appropriately compensate them for the work they put in on TransLink matters.

Moore said it was time to take the seats to try to "bridge the gap" with the province on issues such as the expected TransLink referendum on transit expansion, which requires a shared vision by mayors, the province and other partners.

"If we didn't give it a shot it's tough for us to say it's not working," Moore said. "If it works, great. If it doesn't work, we've tried our best to make it work."

Walton said he's hopeful the TransLink board will become more open and make fewer decisions in camera.

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