I write to comment on Elizabeth James’ column Transit Governance is Mired in Conflict, published Jan. 7. The future of transit in the region is an extremely important issue. Unfortunately, Ms. James’ column on the subject is not up to her usual standards.
Ms. James asserts that “newly elected members of council swear an oath under the Local Government Act to foster the economic, social and environmental well-being of their (own) communities.”
The truth is, we do no such thing. Rather, our oath requires us to swear that we will “faithfully perform the duties of (our) office and will not allow any private interest to influence (our) conduct in public matters.” Pursuant to the act, our role is to determine what it is in the public interest.
The main point Ms. James makes is that is that regional governance structures place local officials, like Mayor Walton, in a “conflict of interest.” Unfortunately, this term is widely misunderstood and all too often misused.
Broadly speaking, conflicts of interest are situations in which an individual is in a position to exploit a professional or official capacity in some way for their personal or private benefit (hence, the wording of the oath). The conflict of interest can be real or (reasonably) perceived.
Mayor Walton (or any other elected official) is simply not in a “conflict of interest” when, as part of his role as mayor, he sits on regional decision-making bodies and is asked to consider the interests of the region.
There are no personal or private benefits from this work that corrupt Mayor Walton from fulfilling the duties of his role as mayor.
In fact, Mayor Walton cannot properly protect or serve the interests of his constituents without also considering the needs of the region. For example, on the issue of transit, don’t North Vancouver residents travel to the rest of Metro Vancouver?
Don’t they work at or own businesses that depend on the vitality of the region?
Naturally, all elected officials — including Mayor Walton — must balance various interests when making regional decisions.
No elected official sitting on a regional committee is blind to the interests of their own communities.
Rather, they attempt to think broadly and strike an appropriate balance. Every informed voter understands that local officials have to sit on regional committees and strike this balance.
Ms. James appears to favour TransLink being governed by “internationally experienced transportation professionals.”
Well, the current board has an extremely broad expertise including North Shore resident and chair Marcella Szel who sits on a federal transportation advisory board. Of course, without the mayors’ council, such a body would be unelected and unaccountable to all but the province.
This would hardly ensure that “the best interests of the constituents the mayor was elected to serve” are better protected.
There is no doubt that the TransLink governance model is less than ideal and that TransLink can stand to improve both financial and operational efficiency and accountability.
However, it is misguided to advocate voting against the referendum until the governance system is perfected. A failed referendum will be interpreted as public opposition to spending on transit improvements. It will not improve TransLink governance.
Ms. James and I agree that “we need an efficient, regionwide transit system and that ... a small addition to the sales tax may be the fairest way to provide TransLink with more funding for its $7.5-billion plan.”
Vancouver is increasingly in gridlock and “transportation professionals” feel that significant transit improvements are urgently needed. The only way to ensure we get these necessary improvements this decade is to ensure that the referendum succeeds.
District of West Vancouver councillor