Mayor Moore and Mandarin Mike mum on moving moolah

$6M spin spending spree, but how much are Vision and Liberal insiders getting paid?

On Feb. 11, TransLink pulled its CEO switcheroo, bringing in Doug Allen from the SNC-Lavalin built-and-operated Canada Line at $35,000 a month to warm Ian Jarvis’s seat until a new full-time CEO is hired in the summer. Jarvis, the sacrificial lamb who was paid $468,000 in 2013, will remain as an advisor to the board of directors until mid-2016.

TransLink SpokesMayor Moore
TransLink SpokesMayor Moore

On Feb. 12, the Mayors’ Council held a closed-door meeting, where power was delegated to the chair, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and vice-chair, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, “to make requests to TransLink on behalf of the Mayors’ Council with respect to the Mayors’ Campaign Plan.”

Four days later, on Feb. 16, I interviewed Port Coquitlam’s Greg Moore, the SpokesMayor of the TransLink Mayors’ Council. Among the questions I had was one about the advertising campaign to convince the public to vote Yes to the proposed 0.5% sales tax hike, the first step to fund the $7.5 billion, 10-year expansion of TransLink.

Moore confirmed the budget would be around $4 million. But, in the audio clip below, you can hear him trying not to answer questions about the advertising, public relations and polling contractors — Kirk and Co., Counterpoint and Stratcom — or the dollar values of their contracts.

Moore referred me to Mayors’ Council executive director Mike Buda, who did not respond to repeated phone calls and email.

On Feb. 20, I asked TransLink’s media office the following:

“What is the status of the Kirk and Co. (Public Affairs and Engagement) and Counterpoint Communications (Business and Stakeholder Outreach) contracts with TransLink? Both were extended via Notice of Intent. Did any other suppliers contest or overturn the arrangements? What are the dollar values of the Kirk and Counterpoint contracts?

“Also, what is the latest on the Professional Planning Research and Policy Services tender? Which companies have been pre-approved for the preferred suppliers’ list?”

I wrote about some of the applicants for the Professional Planning Research and Policy Services preferred suppliers’ list on Jan. 9, including Kirk, Counterpoint, Stratcom, West Star Communications (Bill Tieleman) and Interfleet Technology, a division of scandal-plagued TransLink partner SNC-Lavalin.

On Feb. 23, Cheryl Ziola of the TransLink media office replied:

“Please FOI any of the information you requested related to procurement/approved suppliers and contracts.”

TransLink could have found and delivered to me an answer to those questions in under an hour, but now I am in the middle of a five-week wait that could last longer. For example, I’m still waiting to find out what the B.C. Lions pay to play in B.C. Place Stadium after filing an FOI request in July 2011.

Kirk is the BC Liberal-allied PR firm that Mike McDonald, the BC Liberals’ 2013 campaign manager, helped score a TransLink contract that was extended without a bidding process. Its boss is Judy Kirk, the former executive director of the BC Liberal caucus during its days in opposition. Counterpoint is a PR and lobbying firm whose principals include Bob Ransford, the Vision Vancouver strategist, Vision-appointed chair of EasyPark and lobbyist for real estate developers. Stratcom is the Vision Vancouver robocalling, polling and research firm. Among its duties are hosting TransLink Mayors’ telephone town halls and telephone canvassing for the Yes campaign.

Mike Buda
Mike Buda

I kept pressing Buda and the TransLink Mayors’ Council, for the who, what, why, when and how much of its advertising campaign spending. On March 11, Justinne Ramirez of the Mayors’ Council sent this non-answer by email:

“Thank you for your inquiry. As you know, the Mayors’ Council has agreed to spend up to $6 million on the education component to promote the benefits of Mayors’ Plan for regional transportation. This is part of the implementation cost of the plan. All other questions regarding the budget for the campaign will be considered once the campaign period is complete.”

Later that night, at North Vancouver District Library in Lynn Valley, Buda gave a Vote Yes sales spiel to more than two dozen people. Afterward, I asked him about the contractors, how much their contracts are worth and how they were chosen. As you can hear on the audio clip below, Buda ducked the questions, including important ones about the roles of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. The public deserves to know whether Robertson and Hepner were involved in recommending contractors or subcontractors or if they, with or without the rest of the Mayors’ Council, approved change orders to increase the dollar values of contracts.

Though the ballots will be counted and a result known by July, Buda says you and I will have to wait until after the May 29 mail-in ballot to find out how that $6 million was doled out. This is a case of transparency delayed=transparency denied. This is already a campaign that lacks campaign finance disclosure rules for the Yes and No campaigns and any third parties that want to influence the vote.

What does $6 million look like in the bizarro world of TransLink? The $6 million Mayors’ Council Yes campaign advertising budget is, according to the 2013 TransLink annual report, almost one fifth of the entire $30.6 million spent by Transit Police in 2013 or 6.4% of the entire $93.5 million cost of roads and bridges upkeep for 2013. It is, however, less than half of the $13.9 million TransLink quietly spent last December to buy a building in Burnaby that BC Transit sold for a $9 million loss in 2004.

And, $6 million is also the cost to buy a dozen brand new, compressed natural gas buses (or 14 diesel models).

To summarize:
  1. Instead of buying more wheels on buses to go round-and-round, TransLink is spending millions of dollars of public dough on spin doctors and doesn’t want you to know the details.
  2. The SpokesMayor for the Mayors’ Council referred me to the top staffer of the Mayors’ Council, who avoided my phone calls and email like the plague. His underling sent me a prepared statement that didn’t answer my questions. That top staffer, when quizzed in-person, refused to answer the key questions about how contractors were chosen, who chose them and how much they are getting paid.
  3. When asked for the same information, TransLink’s media relations officer refused to answer. Go file an FOI. That’s what she said.

This is TransLink, the $1.4 billion-a-year, public-owned corporation with severe efficiency and integrity problems. Metro Vancouverites rely on this regional monopoly daily to get from point A to point B. It wants your trust, your vote in the non-binding, March 16 to May 29 plebiscite and your money to pay for its $7.5 billion, 10-year expansion.

If it does not feel like being transparent right now about how it is spending millions, just wait until TransLink gets its hands on billions of your dollars to play with for the next decade!

13 thoughts on “Mayor Moore and Mandarin Mike mum on moving moolah

    1. kegler

      No its not terrier, but on the Team 1040 he’s referred to as Bob the Hammer Mackin. Keep up the good work Bob.

  1. RS

    Bill Tieleman has railed against cloak ‘n’ dagger politics and championed for transparency in government in the past. Maybe it’s time for Tieleman to walk the walk and talk the talk.

  2. Cameron Taylor-Noonan

    Yeah. Poor BC Transit. Those Translink executives must have suckered them into selling the building at a $9m loss. $13.9m is way too much to pay for a 120K sq. ft. building in a city where the average housing price is pushing a million. Besides, there are plenty other already purpose-built locations along the Skytrain where they could put the new depot for way cheaper.

  3. Maple Ridge Resident

    I will agree to the .05 sales tax increase when the residents of the areas covered agree to pay their share for our new bridges! The Golden Ears Bridge and Port Mann bridge tolls unfairly impact residents who live in Surrey, Langley, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. For someone who works on the other side, monthly tolls average $130 per month, that relates to $1500 per year. Over 10 years, a regular bridge user will pay $15,000! I think that is more than enough to ask someone to pay already, I will not vote yes.

  4. Brian Bosworth

    Translink is just a pawn in Gregor’s deal with developers:
    “What many others reject is Vision Vancouver’s template of developer-led urban growth, pegged to the shoddy performance of an unelected body tasked with megaproject-friendly transit expansion.

    When urban growth models are slanted toward the desires of wealthy offshore investors and local developers, transit tends to follow civic function. The long-term costs to the taxpayer balloon along with property values.”

    “There is plenty of proof over the last two decades that hub to hub transport by TransLink is merely a ploy for businesses to make money from building the concrete intensive SkyTrain lines and concrete intensive condos along the SkyTrain lines,” insists Chris.

    This argument is echoed by Charles Menzies, a UBC professor of anthropology:
    “Fundamentally the transit referendum is about subsidizing the real estate development industry of the Lower Mainland. It is a wealth transfer from the majority to the elite minority who are raking in big dollars by revalorizing land through the development of public transit. This is not a new plan, it’s one used by developers historically and the world over: use the mechanisms of the state to take money from the majority to fund the profit making ventures of the minority.”

    Menzies continues: “UBC, for example, wants a subway so that they can realize the highest rate of return off the land they have. The same goes for each of the town centres created by the regional plan and the expansion of public transit. The push for transit in Metro isn’t about ecology, sustainability, or making our communities nicer: it’s about using public means to facilitate the accumulation of profit by a minority of developers.”

    1. kegler

      If this passes it will establish a precedent that the provincial government is no longer responsible for the funding of regional transportation infrastructure expansion. It will download the costs of proposed projects onto the specific regions themselves. As well this proposal absolves the federal government from funding regional transportation and transit projects. Thus the cost to regional taxpayers, businesses and citizens increases dramatically, as the cost isn’t shared amongst the province and the federal governments… but single sourced instead. This will inevitably lead to “3P” funding of these types of projects, plus increased costs to users in the form of fare increases, tolling and the like.

  5. Hilarious

    “As you know, the Mayors’ Council has agreed to spend up to $6 million on the education component to promote the benefits of Mayors’ Plan for regional transportation.”

    The subject is Translinks Magic Pi In The Sky New Algebra. My new math is called Users start Paying and don’t expect dirt cheap public transit subsidized by everyone else. No, taking the skytrain to a hockey game is not a necessity of life like healthcare and education.

  6. Phil

    One has to wonder whether this current exercise by Translink and the Mayor’s to spend $6 million of public money on one side of a voting issue has to be against the law! It is in the U.S. Public funds cannot be used to promote one side of a voting issue! And speaking of how many buses you can buy for $6 million is kind of moot considering Translink since April Fools Day 1999 (the day it was incorporated, no kidding) has only added 300 buses to the fleet while 500,000 people moved to the region. That’s one bus for every 1700 residents! This dismal performance after six fare increases, adding a levy to property taxes, and a 250% increase in fuel surcharges! Weren’t all these added revenue streams suppose to improve mobility, decrease congestion? Fitting 1700 residents into one bus seems to me a tight fit but then again when the CEO’s salary goes from $125,000 in 1999 to $468,000 who cares about performance and service. I wonder if all those transit dependent minimum wage earners saw a 400% increase in their minimum wage or if any other worker in the region saw this increase in their earnings? Vote NO! Don’t be hoodwinked again!

  7. PoCo Resident

    I can’t help but think that Moore is up to his chin in the BC Liberal trough. He plays it fast and loose. When a company called PERC was given a contract by the City of Port Coquitlam, both he and his wife were listed as associates. Conflict of interest much?
    It is this shameless gorging at the public trough that is what BC has become under Campbell and now Clark. And that culture has much to do with what is wrong at Translink. A belief that you just pay your friends big money and no problem, just jack up the rates. We have seen this at BC Ferries, BC Hydro (where Christy’s family members haul in some big salaries) and I am sure many other crown corporations and the like. But for now at least start on fixing translink.

  8. Ifa

    for the BC NDP leadership. Having cdtaiadnes from the Tri-Cities can only help, and you never know, the Evergreen Line might get built before my kids leave home. Kids still leave home eventually,


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