A leader of the coalition pushing for a Yes vote in B.C.'s imminent transit plebiscite says that the removal of TransLink's CEO created negative buzz but it will fade as voters start to think about the real issues.
"It's certainly caught people's attention. Clearly it created some unfortunate media," said Iain Black, the president of the Vancouver Board of Trade and one of four co-chairs of the coalition as he announced its 100th member Thursday, the YWCA. "But I think it's early days."
Mr. Black said the coalition will be coming out in full force next week with the message about what is really important – not this manager or that government, but the long-term benefit of well-funded transit.
The TransLink board abruptly removed CEO Ian Jarvis last week and appointed an interim CEO, former B.C. deputy minister Doug Allen. That prompted a storm of public outrage, since Mr. Jarvis will continue to be paid his $300,000-plus salary, while Mr. Allen will get $35,000 a month.
"The public perception issues around TransLink are certainly there," he said. "Our challenge is to help them see there's a bigger picture than that. One of the benefits of taking the 20- or 30-year view, there are going to be mayors that come and go, there are going to be provincial governments that come and go, federal governments that come and go, transportation management teams that come and go. We have to look beyond that. What we're dealing with here is so transformative."
The coalition is planning to start public advertising and voter identification next week, three weeks before the start of the lengthy voting period that begins March 16. The mail-in ballots will be accepted until midnight, May 29.
Lower Mainland voters are being asked if they support a new 0.5-per-cent sales tax, with the $250-million a year generated to be used for a list of major transit and road improvements – a first-ever plebiscite of this kind in Canada.
Mr. Black said the coalition's strength is that it has so many organizations on board, each with a membership list that gives the Yes side a significant advantage.
"We've got a campaign planned that's very much grassroots in its focus and to gather the identified vote that exists within the coalition. We have a reach that is between 250,000 and 300,000 people," he said.
One of the messages the campaign appeared to be emphasizing Thursday was the importance of transit for particular groups.
"A Yes vote is critical for all low-wage workers and immigrants. Good public transit is critical for single mothers," said Janet Austin, the CEO of the YWCA as she talked about the reasons for the YWCA's support of the Yes side.
Two women – a single mother from Surrey and a just-graduated young woman who lives in the West End and commutes to the North Shore for work – were also there to tell their personal stories about why transit is so important to them.
But stories like that have been overshadowed in the past weeks by fractious public debates over TransLink incompetence, wasteful spending, executive pay and more.
The news that TransLink will have two highly paid CEOs for the next 18 months added fuel to that fire.
Then Premier Christy Clark, speaking at the Surrey Board of Trade Wednesday, set off another uproar by saying that Lower Mainland mayors control TransLink and it's up to them to fix whatever problems exist there.
Mayors responded by reminding the Premier that the province wrote the legislation governing TransLink and took control of the agency away from the mayors eight years ago, handing it to an appointed board.