NDP transportation critic Maurine Karagianis is calling Bill 43 "the most insidious piece of legislation" since the B.C. Liberal government won a second majority in 2005.
The bill seeks to rename TransLink as the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority and replace its elected board, consisting of municipal politicians, on January 1, 2008. When B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon debated the bill on October 24, a day after he introduced it for first reading in the legislature, he claimed "the amendments that are contained in Bill 43 will restore public confidence and accountability in TransLink".
Karagianis, MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin, told the Georgia Straight that she disagrees, but she worries that Falcon and the B.C. Liberals will slip Bill 43 through in the week leading up to November 29, the end of the legislature's fall session.
"With the creation of this new TransLink board, they are giving a group of business appointees powers equal to a municipality: the power to increase property taxes, the power to reclassify business tax for the purpose of taxation, and they are giving them the power to land-bank," Karagianis claimed. "Certainly, privatization will be a huge component of this. You mark my words: if this board has no impediments to being put in place, they are going to look at privatizing SkyTrain and everything else that is built in future in the Lower Mainland."
On November 6, other New Democrats went on the offensive in the legislature, with Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog stating: "The government should apologize and withdraw this bill.
"If this were the old Soviet parliament, perhaps, or the Politburo, or if this was the meeting of the plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party, one could understand this kind of legislation," Krog said in comments recorded in Hansard. "But this is British Columbia in the 21st century."
Bill 43 draws on suggestions from a yearlong TransLink governance review initiated by Falcon in 2006. On March 9 this year, Falcon officially endorsed most of the panel's findings, including replacing the elected board of municipal politicians with a nine-member unelected board and adding a commissioner and a "council of mayors" with limited powers.
Despite several calls over the space of a week, Falcon did not make himself available for an interview with the Straight. SFU political science professor Patrick Smith told the Straight that Bill 43 is an "erosion of democracy".
"The role of local officials now is going to be much more severely limited and takes us in the wrong direction," he said by phone. "It may produce more efficiency, vis-í -vis what the provincial government has interest in, but it certainly doesn't produce anything that provides more accountability at all."
John Winter, president at the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said he is "very supportive" of Bill 43 and does not agree that democracy is being diminished.
"We have 30 mayors that are all elected, all of whom will look at the plans when it [transit planning] is done and they can approve it or not," Winter told the Straight. "So I don't know how much more democracy we need."
When it was pointed out that the mayors' council has minimal input over board decisions, Winter added: "Hopefully, the 'panel of experts' will have created something that is not turndownable."
Andrew Radzik, public-outreach coordinator at the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, told the Straight his group is co-organizing a rally against Bill 43 on Wednesday (November 21), between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at Canada Place, before "jumping on the SkyTrain" to hand out information on the bill. The Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, Gatewaysucks.org founder Carmen Mills, and KeepTransLinkpublic.ca – a new group that has already signed up Richmond councillor Harold Steves, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, and former NPA councillor Gordon Price –re the other organizers.