Forget the parochial concerns of local mayors. The greatest argument against a regional police force is the performance of Greater Vancouver's two existing regional agencies, TransLink and Metro Vancouver.
While TransLink's habitual tax increases, never-ending budget deficits and lack of direct accountability have been well documented over the past several years, Metro Vancouver has slid somewhat under the radar. That needs to change.
The mayors and councillors on Metro Vancouver's board voted last month to protect their lucrative meeting fees — $346 for any meeting up to four hours and $692 for any meeting going longer than that.
Every single member of the board already collects a salary from the public, ostensibly to represent us as their mayor or councillor — many at full-time wages. But for some reason, they feel they need even more when they sit at a Metro table.
Those payouts add up quickly. In 2010 (the latest non-election year with data available), Gayle Martin was paid $40,471 for sitting on Metro Vancouver committees — 25 per cent more than the $32,243 she made as an elected Langley city councillor. Most Metro regulars take home $15,000 in meeting fees or more.
Those fees are also paid to Metro politicians sitting in conferences, whether they speak or not.
Taxpayers may remember the Canadian Taxpayers Federation calling on five local politicians — Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, Surrey Coun. Marvin Hunt and Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer — to pay back more than $2,000 in fees they collected for attending Metro's own Zero Waste Conference while every professional speaker and expert at the event waived their usual honorariums.
This lack of accountability to taxpayers has been a problem at Metro Vancouver for a long time, fostered by staffers playing political games and local politicians distracted by their elected duties at their various city halls.
A recent B.C. Business article reported on several roasts celebrating the retirement of longtime Metro Vancouver Chief Administrative Officer Johnny Carline. Normally, retirement roasts involve staff ribbing their outgoing boss for his choice of Christmas sweaters, or his fondness for Starbucks chai tea lattes, but this one got weirdly specific. While no doubt amusing to the assembled Metro bureaucrats, some of the stories should set off alarm bells for taxpayers.
TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis recounted some lessons in handling elected officials that he learned while working for Carline, including agenda management — "placing strategic investment and budget decisions after debates on off-leash dog bylaws," and downplaying unfavorable statistics — "numbers get in the way of a good story - never, never ever mix numbers with strategy."
Jarvis continued with Carline's biggest lesson of all: "Procedural quagmire — the art of knowing when to refer [a] procedural issue to the corporate secretary, and then watching the debate turn into a series of votes on amendments to amendments, knowing full well that, in the end, you're going to get a resolution that can be interpreted any way you like."
Between the two of them, Carline and Jarvis oversaw nearly $2 billion in spending last year, funded by taxpayers.
In the same article, Carline noted there are times "when a relatively small minority of the board has read a particular report with the attention necessary for an informed debate — and sometimes I'm writing [the report] so that even those will lose interest halfway through."
Were they joking? It was apparently a roast, but their comments seem awfully specific, and most jokes have more than a kernel of truth behind them anyway. One has to wonder: were these two executives letting their guard down and giving taxpayers a glimpse into how two powerful, relatively unaccountable government agencies make decisions?
On the other hand, taxpayers shelled out $713,717 to already-paid mayors and councillors for sitting on Metro committees in 2011. For that kind of money, they should be reading every word of those reports, no matter the bureaucratic wizardry.
Regional policing may be worthwhile but more study is needed on costs, form, governance and impact of a regional force. Anyone truly interested in a regional police force would do well to address the significant concerns many taxpayers have about TransLink and Metro Vancouver. So far, regionalization hasn't delivered much in the way of political accountability in the Lower Mainland.