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Ousting of TransLink CEO a costly setback for Yes side

It's difficult to imagine that the jettisoning of TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis this week could have morphed into a worse debacle for Metro Vancouver mayors, who were hoping the move would generate positive coverage and much-needed momentum for the Yes side in this spring's transit plebiscite.

Instead of focusing on what the mayors hoped would be the story – change at the top of an oft-maligned organization – most news reports instead concentrated on the fact that Mr. Jarvis would continue to be paid his CEO salary (base was $339,000 in 2013) for another 17 months while serving as an adviser to interim CEO Doug Allen, who will be paid $35,000 a month until a permanent replacement can be found.

So now an organization that has been justifiably pilloried for excessive executive compensation will effectively be paying for two CEOs, not one.

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Well done, mayors, well done. The head of the No forces, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Jordan Bateman, must have collapsed in gratitude when he got the word. He has been all over the news offering up juicy sound bites on the lunacy of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance two CEO salaries while a search is conducted for someone to take on the job permanently – at some unforeseen date.

And to think that someone thought this was the best way of addressing the public's contempt for B.C.'s transit authority. Not since Gigli has there been a finer idea.

Look, the mayors knew TransLink would be an issue long before this transit referendum campaign began in earnest. In the U.S., where these plebiscites are common, transit authorities are almost always a source of concern for those advocating for new funding to finance additional infrastructure investment. No one likes transit agencies. They are the fall guys for everything.

If Metro Vancouver mayors thought getting rid of TransLink's head guy would assuage some of the public angst and ultimately help the Yes cause, why didn't they insist this change be made well ahead of the campaign? That was the time to address it. That was the time to neutralize what they understood was going to be one of their enemy's biggest weapons – ahead of the actual hostilities.

You don't do it in the middle of the fight, when it comes across as a desperate move by a desperate group that has so far been outmanoeuvred by a much smaller opposition army.

As much as I want the Yes side to win this plebiscite, and as much as I disagree with most of the arguments being waged by Mr. Bateman, I have to concede that he's doing an incredible job of getting his message out. In many ways, he's been far more effective than the Yes side.

I keep waiting for the warm and fuzzy ads to pop up on my television telling residents of Metro Vancouver why this vote is so important to them. I keep looking for the Vote Yes billboards that alert people to what is at stake here. I search for the posters at bus stops that outline what people will get for their sales tax dollars. But nothing.

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Maybe the Yes movement doesn't have the money. But from a visibility standpoint? The Yes cause has been almost non-existent.

Perhaps their strategy is to low-key this thing and hope that those who aren't enthralled with TransLink, or the idea of paying more taxes to fund a transit expansion, won't bother filling out the ballot. Maybe the Yes brainiacs think because they have a vastly bigger organization – although you wouldn't know it – they will win the ground war.

I might be tempted to subscribe to that line of thinking if those opposed to the transit plan actually had to leave their home and drive to a polling booth to register their objection. But all they have to do is mark a ballot, lick an envelope and pop it in the mail. And they'll have 10 weeks to do it.

Ballots will start landing in people's mailboxes in the middle of next month. Perhaps between now and then we'll see some evidence of the concerted, discernable Yes campaign that we keep hearing is coming. Then again, maybe in terms of strategies, getting rid of Ian Jarvis is the best they've got.

If so, the Yes side is in bigger trouble than I even imagined.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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