Jan16/08: Transit Authority Defends Right To Hold Secret Meetings ...
His seat hardly warm, the new chairman of TransLink is coming under
fire for deciding to move the provincial transit authority's
previously public board meetings behind closed doors.
Dale Parker, former chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board, took
over Wednesday and announced that in future TransLink directors would
meet in private, away from public and media scrutiny.
Parker said it's more effective for TransLink to develop its strategic
plans without the public or media present, adding private board
meetings are standard practice with provincial Crown corporations.
The decision comes just days after Premier Gordon Campbell announced a
12-year, $14-billion plan to expand transit in the province, for which
TransLink must come up with $2.75 billion.
NDP transportation critic Maurine Karagianis blasted Parker's
announcement, saying the B.C. Liberal government has handed
TransLink's unelected directors the authority to make tax decisions
and it would be wrong to conduct that business in secret.
"When you have a group like this that can levy property taxes, that is
enormous power," she said. "Without any kind of accountability to the
public it's inappropriate to have taxation without representation.
"TransLink is not a Crown corporation ... This is an organization that
has been given powers equal to a municipality and powers to levy
The New Democrat MLA said it is unacceptable that such a body should
meet in private and their actions be kept secret from the public.
The government passed legislation in December scrapping the existing
TransLink board, made up of municipal politicians from the Vancouver
area, and replaced it with a team of "professionals."
The new board, in turn, will answer to a new level of governance
called the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, which will have
ultimate approval on fare increases and transit expansion plans.
B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon weighed in late in the say,
saying he sees nothing wrong with holding the previously-public board
meetings in secret, insisting there will still be ample accountability
"It's the same model that every Crown corporation, essentially,
operates under. They're still required to hold an annual general
meeting, they're still required to publish all the minutes of their
board meetings, including any committee meetings they may have. All
that has to be made available to the public," he said.
TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said that is where the public oversight
and accountability will come in.
"You don't see public meetings very often, even among public
entities," he said, pointing to Crown corporations such as B.C. Hydro
and the Insurance Corp. of B.C., as well as agencies such as the
Workers' Compensation Board, now called WorkSafe B.C.
Hardie said the public will still be invited to make representations
to the board through "town hall meetings," and the board will still be
available to delegations several times a year.
"The only thing that changes is that, under the old system, some
people might hang around as the board went through its agenda and
voted," he explained.
"Now, when the board goes through the agenda, that will take place in
camera (in private), but the decisions they make will be posted
The only thing the public or media might miss is any exchanges between
board members "as they knock about some of the concepts," he said.
"The fact of the matter is you won't be able to accomplish everything
if you had every meeting wide open that anyone could just wander
into," he said.
Previous open TransLink meetings have been notable for the sometimes
bitter feuding between board members from different municipalities
arguing passionately about its priorities.
Hardie rejected the NDP critic's assertion that the board has the
authority to levy property taxes. While the board may make plans and
approve revenue measures, final approval rests with the mayors of the
"Our board can not approve any kind of increase," he said. "It has to
go to the mayors' council, which of course, is all duly elected."
An official with British Columbia's information watchdog said her
office has no authority to keep the TransLink board from conducting
its business entirely in private.
But Mary Carlson, the executive director of the Information and
Privacy Commissioner's office, said that if a board conducts all its
business in-camera, that represents a "diminution of transparency."
Records of those meetings may be available through freedom of
information laws, she said, but it does create "another legislative
hurdle" for the public to get access to that information.