Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, headline generation, and TransLink bashing

It seems like a month doesn’t go by without Jordan Bateman and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation either issuing a press release or “leaking” a document to the media about the evils of TransLink. The CTF’s low point was when they revealed that TransLink buys locally-roasted coffee for their staff.

This week, the media covered the fact that TransLink executives get a car allowance. It’s a good byline, TransLink Execs get Free Cars; there is some implied irony. Many people don’t realize that TransLink funds both transit and all major non-provincial roads and bridges in Metro Vancouver.

TransLink’s executives took home $2.5 million in wages and benefits, like the car allowance, in 2013. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this represents less than 0.2% of TransLink’s $1,406.9 million of operating expenses in 2013.

For comparison, it costs $1.2 million to operate the 555, $2.7 million to operate the 601, $5.2 million to operate the 502, and $9.4 million to operate the 99 B Line bus route in 2013.

The CTF’s goal is to get as much media coverage as possible. They make a lot of noise, but are devoid of providing any really solutions. TransLink executive compensation is a great example.

TransLink has no money to expand transit service. Bashing TransLink execs makes for sexy headlines. But even if TransLink had no executives, the "savings" wouldn’t even fund one frequent transit route.

So why does the CTF always target TransLink?

It should come as no surprise that many supporters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation would consider themselves to be more on the conservative side of the political spectrum. In BC and federally, we have governments which have branded themselves as more conservatively minded. If the CTF was to go after the provincial or federal governments directly, it would risk alienating its support base.

If the CTF can’t go directly after the government to get media coverage, then it makes sense that they would go after public agencies which are firewalled from provincial and federal politicians.

If there is one CTF message that I can support, it is the message that there is a lack of accountability between TransLink and the public. It was the BC Liberals that removed TransLink from the direct control of Metro Vancouver, and put it into the hands of a private board. It was also the BC Liberals that instructed TransLink to operate like a private company.

If the CTF was truly interesting in making agencies like TransLink more accountable, they would lobby the provincial government to put arms-length agencies back into the direct control of province or local government.

Of course that would be a solution, and the CTF is only interested in generating headlines.

No comments: