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Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is pictured in this file photo. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan argued Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner should not be in charge of the TransLink mayors council because they are in a conflict of interest over the billion-dollar projects planned for their municipalities.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

The mayors of the Vancouver region's two biggest cities are out as the leaders of TransLink's mayors council after Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan argued they should not be in charge because they are in a conflict of interest over the billion-dollar projects planned for their municipalities.

In a surprise vote, Mr. Corrigan defeated Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson on Thursday in his bid for a third term as the chair of the mayors council.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner chose not to seek re-election as vice-chair after Mr. Robertson lost the vote. District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton was elected the vice-chair over New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, another mayor who has a major transportation project looming. The votes were secret ballots.

"We need more neutrality in the chair and vice-chair positions," said Mr. Corrigan, who has frequently been at odds with other mayors over transit plans. "They have been making decisions that directly affect their municipalities. [The leaders] need to be able to reassure other mayors they're being treated equitably."

The chair and the vice-chair sit on the TransLink board of directors, which makes final decisions on projects. Some mayors feel that it is better to have representatives from municipalities that do not have big transit expansions in the works.

Mr. Corrigan is the only mayor who voted against the current 10-year plan, which envisions a new Broadway subway, a light-rail line in Surrey and a new Pattullo Bridge. That has some critics in the region worried.

New Westminster councillor Patrick Johnstone tweeted after the vote: "TransLink finally has a provincial government ready to work with them; Mayors put the most transit-regressive Mayor in charge." But Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said he does not believe Mr. Corrigan's election means any changes to the support for the 10-year plan.

He said it is more a case of suburban mayors wanting to make sure Vancouver does not get preferential treatment over the Broadway subway, which is what some mayors think happened with the Canada Line under Cambie Street.

"There is some leftover resentment about the way the Cambie line was done," Mr. Stewart said.

That's because Vancouver was successful in arguing the line needed to go underground, at a higher cost than an above-ground line would have been, for almost all of its route in the city without having to pay extra itself.

"There was no reason to go underground there except for the crème de la crème arguments," Mr. Stewart said.

Burnaby and Richmond had tried unsuccessfully in the past to argue for below-ground rapid transit in their cities for some stretches rather than having large concrete structures dominating their major streets.

In Coquitlam, said Mr. Stewart, his councillors were told that if they wanted the Evergreen Line, which opened a year ago, to go underground for the one-kilometre section of the city's downtown core, they would have to come up with $100-million.

Now, mayors want to make sure that, if the region is asked to come up with extra money to ensure that Vancouver's Broadway extension is put underground, it really is for engineering reasons, not just aesthetic ones.

TransLink's 10-year plan stipulates that, if there is no engineering rationale for putting the line underground, Vancouver must pay the extra cost.

Mr. Stewart said he thinks mayors swung their support to Mr. Corrigan because he is perceived to have a closer relationship with NDP Premier John Horgan than Mr. Robertson does. That could help, he said, as TransLink, the province, and the federal government negotiate over sharing the cost of the more than $2-billion needed for the next stage of the transit plan.

Mr. Corrigan agrees that mayors likely supported him in part because of his ties to the new NDP government.

"I have a long relationship with Mr. Horgan," he said, noting that he and his wife, former NDP MLA Kathy Corrigan, were among the Premier's first supporters when he ran for the leadership.

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