The only way the TransLink board can be fired or forced to resign is by provincial government legislation – or at least the threat of it – from Transportation Minister Todd Stone.
A new round of finger pointing over TransLink accountability erupted last week when the NDP called on the province to fire the appointed board over its decision to replace CEO Ian Jarvis but keep him on as a paid advisor.
Stone supported the decision but at the same time stressed that Metro mayors are responsible for the management of TransLink because two mayors from Surrey and Vancouver now sit directly on the board and help make its decisions.
And he said the board of directors is accountable to the mayors’ council because the mayors approve their appointments.
“The mayors’ council signs off on all other board members,” Stone told the Legislature.
But while they do sign off on appointments, there is no way for the mayors to later fire and replace the seven professional directors who still have majority control of the nine-member board.
INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: History of TransLink’s governance changes and demands for reform
TransLink’s legislation allows a director to resign or be removed by a vote of the board, but gives no firing power to the mayors.
“We have no authority to do that whatsoever,” White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said.
“They’re not accountable because the mayors can’t de-appoint them,” added SFU City Program director Gordon Price, who said actual removal of the board would take a directive from Stone.
Nor is it accurate to say that the mayors appoint exactly which directors they want.
A screening panel, created when former minister Kevin Falcon restructured TransLink in 2008, actually vets hundreds of potential board appointees and winnows them to a short list of five to seven names, from which the mayors pick two or three to fill vacancies.
The screening panel consists of five representatives – one each chosen by the mayors, the provincial government, the Vancouver Board of Trade, the Chartered Accountants of B.C. and the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council.
Critics have long said Falcon stacked the panel with business-oriented groups closely tied to the province to ensure no board ever strays far from the government’s agenda.
But Price, who was the mayors’ rep on the screening panel, said in practice the mayors were usually on the same page as the other groups in wanting to install highly competent professional directors – typically business executives or others with specialized experience.
Another wrinkle in the system is that not every director is necessarily approved by the mayors.
If the mayors refuse to pick names from the screening panel’s list, TransLink’s legislation says the board seats go to the panel’s nominees in the order they were ranked.
Baldwin said that happened on Jan. 1, 2014, when director Brenda Eaton took her seat on the board without the approval of the mayors. The mayors had refused to make any more appointments to protest the provincial government’s refusal at that point to enact further reforms to TransLink.
The province did pass more governance changes in the spring of 2014 that answered some, but not all, of the mayors’ demands for greater control.
Another promised change to the board has not yet happened.
The province was supposed to appoint its own two directors to sit on the board by early 2015 so the mayors and provincial reps would begin jointly making decisions on TransLink’s future and hopefully gain a better understanding of each side’s concerns by sitting at the same table.
Stone, who was not available for an interview, has yet to make those appointments.
“It’s par for the course,” Baldwin said, noting successive provincial governments have preferred to exert indirect control over TransLink without taking political responsibility – ever since the transportation authority was created by Glen Clark’s NDP government.
He noted the three mayors from Burnaby, Maple Ridge and West Vancouver who have refused to sign on to the Yes side staked out that position largely over the organization’s insufficient accountability and lack of control for the mayors.
Price predicts a new round of “bloodletting” and governance reforms if the referendum on the proposed 0.5 per cent regional sales tax is defeated, which he now sees as increasingly likely.
“I would not say this is not winnable, but it’s looking tough,” he said.
One thing that could improve the Yes campaign’s odds, Price said, is if Premier Christy Clark promises a major restructuring to address TransLink’s deficiencies before the vote, rather than after it.
“I would like to see the premier affirm that a good transit system is essential for the region,” Price said. “And further that there will be change – TransLink will be restructured and there will be accountability. That, I think, would make the difference.”
George Heyman, the NDP critic for TransLink, said Stone merely “tinkered” with TransLink in the province’s latest 2014 reform.
He said the province must fully unwind Falcon’s 2008 “failed experiment” of having a secretive, appointed board running TransLink and put in place a “democratic, transparent and accountable” board with elected officials holding the majority of seats.
“Falcon threw out the mayors and elected representatives and replaced them with a hand-picked board that presumably the government could direct,” Heyman said. “I don’t think that’s acceptable to the people of Metro Vancouver.”