Close observers of Vancouver-area transit say many more changes will likely be coming to TransLink, after news the beleaguered agency has dumped two of its top executives in the aftermath of a failed plebiscite.
TransLink said Tuesday it was eliminating Bob Paddon's job of vice-president of planning, while also replacing Doug Kelsey in his role as acting president of B.C. Rapid Transit Co., one of the subsidiaries inside TransLink. The announcement was accompanied by references to TransLink's previous efforts to reduce executive salary costs, one of the sore points for years leading up to the plebiscite on transit funding, which saw 62 per cent of voters opposed to a new sales tax for improvements.
But those management changes are only the beginning, many say.
The TransLink board – the group nominally in charge – should be reviewed, said transit advocate Gordon Price, who was a strong Yes vote supporter. "There's been no attention to the actual board – those who made the decisions, and then never defended them," Mr. Price, a former city councillor who is now director of Simon Fraser University's city program, wrote in an e-mail. "They're good people, but there has to be some sort of review. I don't think they can make the very tough decisions now required."
Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesman Jordan Bateman, who led the No side, said the job changes are good, since they will pave the way for the new CEO, who is about to be hired, to set a new culture for the organization. "It certainly clears the decks for meaningful change," he said.
The TransLink board removed CEO Ian Jarvis shortly before the plebiscite vote. Since then, the agency has been managed by Doug Allen, a former deputy minister, who is due to end his contract Aug. 10. Vice-president Cathy McLay will run the organization between Aug. 10 and when a new CEO is hired.
However, Mr. Bateman said more than just personnel changes are needed. He said TransLink should revamp its complicated structure, which has several subsidiaries, each with its own board, operating inside it. As well, the central TransLink board needs to answer to some set of elected people, Mr. Bateman said.
"If they keep this setup, then have them accountable to the minister of transportation," he said.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson welcomed the management changes, saying it's what the board and mayors' council, of which he is the chair, have been asking for. He said he hopes there are more changes to improve the system, though he acknowledged that's up to the provincial government. "It's hard to predict what the province is going to do next, but the ball's in their court," he said.
Mayors have said they are going to quit participating in TransLink's mayors' council by Dec. 31 if the province doesn't change the agency's governance system, with its unelected board, and if it doesn't provide the region with some new source of revenue for transit improvements.
Observers disagreed on what prompted the firings.
Mr. Bateman suggested the changes were the direct result of the strong No vote. Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, a strong Yes supporter, thought otherwise. "I think regardless of the outcome of the vote, TransLink was going to make some changes. Now we are seeing them," said Mr. Moore, who expects many more changes to come.
Mr. Paddon had been with TransLink since 2002, after having previously been a director of communications at the Greater Vancouver Regional District for several years. Mr. Kelsey, who had been with the agency since it started in 1999, was replaced by another veteran TransLink employee, Mike Richard.
According to the most recent report available from 2013, Mr. Paddon was paid $276,000 and Mr. Kelsey made $335,000.
Unlike their former boss, Ian Jarvis, who was kept on at full pay until his contract ran out, the two will be given some type of severance. TransLink did not provide details on the amount.
TransLink also got rid of two senior planners a few weeks before the plebiscite voting period ended.