Liberal MLAs scold ‘erroneous’ No claims on TransLink waste

Marvin Hunt, Peter Fassbender call Metro Vancouver's transportation authority well-run, say its critics are unfair

Marvin Hunt (left) is BC Liberal MLA for Surrey-Panorama and a former Surrey city councillor

Two government MLAs are accusing No forces in the transit referendum of misleading the public by exaggerating the issue of waste at TransLink.

Surrey MLA Marvin Hunt, a former Surrey councillor and Metro Vancouver board chair, and Education Minister Peter Fassbender, formerly mayor of Langley City and vice-chair of the mayors’ council, made the comments Friday in Cloverdale, where Transportation Minister Todd Stone urged local business leaders to support the Yes campaign.

Hunt said TransLink has got “a bad rap” from No campaign leader Jordan Bateman, who he said has made “very unfair” comparisons of executive salaries to those paid in smaller transit organizations that do not have the geographic sweep or extent of responsibilities as the Metro Vancouver agency.

“An awful lot of erroneous information has gone out,” Hunt said. “Unfortunately, there’s nobody out there saying ‘Jordan, get serious. Tell the truth on these things.'”

Hunt, who once was a director on the TransLink board when it was elected, insisted TransLink is “extremely efficient” compared to equivalent transit agencies in North America.

He defended former CEO Ian Jarvis’ work to cut costs – $100 million a year was saved from the budget under his watch, in part by reconfiguring bus routes – and suggested Bateman’s skills lie more in “pointing fingers and throwing stones.”

“Show me the savings he produced at Langley Township when he was on their council and then we can start to talk about what he can do at TransLink.”

Hunt rejected claims a No result in the referendum will force new reform at TransLink.

“Tell me the piece of the puzzle that’s going to improve by saying No,” Hunt said. “All you’re going to have is more people, more cars, more congestion, worse air and more beat-up roads.”

Fassbender, who worked for several years with other mayors trying to assemble an expansion plan and improve TransLink governance, also took issue with No campaign claims TransLink is effectively a black hole of waste that will squander every new tax dollar it gets.

“I don’t agree with them,” the Surrey-Fleetwood MLA said. “People from outside this province look at TransLink and say it’s one of the best systems in North America, if not the world.”

Fassbender said more improvements can and should be made at TransLink, acknowledging problems such as the delayed Compass card rollout.

“Is it totally mismanaged? I don’t believe that, I never have,” he said, pointing to audits in recent years. “The previous commissioner looked at it and said it was a well-run organization.”

However, Fassbender said, it’s clear the public doesn’t have confidence and the TransLink board should continue work to restore it.

Stone said the province has no plans for any more changes to TransLink governance, noting the mayors’ role was just broadened last year.

“The discussion around governance is a bit of a sideshow largely on the part of the No campaign to distract voters from the really important issue here,” Stone said. “And that’s the need for more transit and more transportation infrastructure, both from a quality of life perspective as well as growing our economy.”

Stone said the referendum is “still very much winnable” and the Yes side appears to be “stretching its legs after a bumpy start.”

LISTEN TO STONE SPEAK ON REFERENDUM

Both Fassbender and Hunt say they are strong supporters of a Yes vote.

“It’s absolutely critical to vote Yes,” Hunt said, calling the 0.5 per cent sales tax a fair way to finance critical transportation improvements that “everybody wants but nobody wants to pay for.”

No one group is singled out, Hunt said, and “everybody shares a little bit of the pain to get the benefits for all of us.”

They’re far from the only MLAs in the Yes camp. Every BC Liberal and NDP MLA in the region that’s responded to a survey has so far indicated their support.

Stone was asked at the meeting what can be done to avoid imposing tolls on the Pattullo Bridge once it’s rebuilt.

He sidestepped that question but noted the province will decide later this year whether tolls will be put on Highway 99 when the Massey Tunnel is replaced with a new bridge.

He said tolling both new bridges would unfairly leave only one untolled crossing of the Fraser at the Alex Fraser Bridge and force changes to the provincial tolling policy.