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British Columbia Vancouver-area mayors are fed up, want relief from TransLink

A TransLink Sea Bus travels across to North Vancouver from Vancouver.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

At least one Vancouver-area mayor says he will no longer participate in the TransLink Mayors' Council – and most of his peers are warning they will do the same if they don't see changes that give them more control over the region's transit system by the end of the year.

The mayors' increasingly public frustration with TransLink is part of the continuing fallout from the disastrous transit plebiscite results announced almost two weeks ago, which saw 62 per cent of local residents reject a sales tax increase that would have helped pay for transit expansions.

Premier Christy Clark had asked the mayors to put the issue to a vote. Almost all local mayors were part of the Yes campaign, pitching a 10-year plan they were required to develop in a few months last year – despite having no authority over transit planning or spending for almost a decade.

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"Personally, I'm done," said Darrell Mussatto, the mayor of North Vancouver. "The Mayors' Council is just legitimizing a dysfunctional system. We really are at a crossroads here."

Mayor Nicole Read of Maple Ridge, one of the few mayors who advocated for a No vote, is not quite there – but almost.

"If I had to make the decision today, I would say no [to staying on the Mayors' Council]," said Ms. Read, though she plans to reluctantly attend meetings to see what the team comes up with.

Coquitlam's Richard Stewart says he's willing to stay on until Transportation Minister Todd Stone indicates whether the province is willing to make any changes. But he's also pessimistic about participating in TransLink.

"Someone's going to have to convince me we're heading toward reforming the governance to allow the region appropriate control over transportation planning," Mr. Stewart said. "If that doesn't happen, I'm out. This is really dysfunctional public-policy control."

A group of mayors and councillors voted unanimously last week to examine advocating for transit planning at Metro Vancouver, where they have some control.

"I am here to hang on until December," said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote, who initiated the motion. "I think it's wise for the mayors to wait and see if the province is generally going to come to the table."

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But if that doesn't happen, "the mayors might disband the Mayors' Council," he said.

Mr. Cote and Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said Metro Vancouver has a lot of resources that could help local politicians have a voice in transit planning.

Mr. Becker made an additional motion, also supported, recommending that staff develop new options for managing regional transit that mayors could present to the province.

"We need to take the initiative," he said.

The mayors are considering whether to hold a Mayors' Council meeting before the scheduled one in September, so they can get an early start on deciding whether they should continue to participate.

When TransLink was created in 2000 with the aim of giving the region control over transit planning and spending, a board of 12 mayors had control over the agency.

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After they balked several times before approving the construction of the Canada Line, then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon had the legislation rewritten in 2007 to put an appointed board in charge.

The mayors' powers were reduced to minor approvals, along with the ability to say yes or no to tax increases greater than 3 per cent a year.

Over the years, they were often surprised and dismayed by TransLink board decisions – as in the case of installing fare gates – which sometimes appeared to be guided by the provincial government.

Last year, the mayors got the right to have two representatives on the board, so at least there would be more direct communication between TransLink and the region's politicians.

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