Jim Pattison wasn’t the only celebrity endorser considered by the TransLink Mayors’ Council.
British Columbia’s richest tycoon was controversially announced March 5 as the head of a proposed external accountability committee, should the Yes campaign convince Metro Vancouverites in the May 29-ending plebiscite to pay more sales tax for TransLink’s $7.7 billion expansion.
The 86-year-old’s privately held company boasts $8.4 billion in annual sales of cars, advertising, groceries at vehicle-reliant shopping malls and coal. His conglomerate is even developing downtown Vancouver’s third-tallest skyscraper, complete with a parkade and car dealership. A successful businessman? Absolutely. An ambassador for public transit? Not so much.
The past-chair of the Mayors’ Council revealed to the Blueridge Community Association on March 24 that Pattison was on a list of five men (but no women) that he thought could help win the campaign.
Richard Walton, the Mayor of North Vancouver District, talked about his fact-finding trip to Southern California last year to learn about Los Angeles County’s 2008 vote to approve a half-cent tax for 30 years to pay for transportation upgrades. Walton said the L.A. experience told him a big name endorser and external oversight were needed.
“When I came back from Los Angeles with the idea that we need to move in this direction, I talked to the Mayors’ Council about it. I threw out a bunch of names of people who are broadly trusted in Metro Vancouver. I threw out (two-time NBA MVP) Steve Nash, (Vancouver Canucks’ president) Trevor Linden, (ex-Premier) Mike Harcourt, Jim Pattison, (ex-Vancouver 2010 CEO) John Furlong,” Walton said on March 24.
“Those are the names I threw out. I got a very lukewarm reception from my colleagues about it at the time. I was replaced by Gregor (Robertson of Vancouver) in the election on Jan. 9. When this next came back it was about month ago and Gregor had contacted as chair, Jim Pattison. I think it was the first call that he made, and Jim Pattison agreed. That came forward to Mayors’ Council, it was one of the five names I thought would resonate well that people trusted and there really wasn’t a broader discussion.”
Furlong’s name was a surprise. The Vancouver 2010 Olympics CEO sued the Georgia Straight and reporter Laura Robinson for defamation over a September 2012 story that alleged he abused aboriginal schoolchildren in 1969 and 1970 and that his memoir, Patriot Hearts, contained inconsistencies. Furlong dropped both lawsuits, but Robinson is proceeding with a B.C. Supreme Court defamation trial against him in June. Three lawsuits against Furlong by people who claimed they were sex abuse victims fell apart and never went to trial. When the last of those was dismissed on March 30, one of Furlong’s lawyers told a judge that the negative publicity had cost Furlong unspecified job opportunities.
The Pattison committee’s terms of reference do not require meetings in public. Indeed, as the mail-in plebiscite winds down, TransLink remains a public-owned utility that is stubbornly shielding itself from public scrutiny.
No public or media allowed inside board of directors meetings. No release of the 2014 financial report or annual general meeting before the plebiscite’s end.