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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!