Painful Truth: Victoria drops ball on the region

 

When SkyTrain passengers got stuck in the middle of some of the busiest times of the day, twice in two weeks, it revealed a lot about how our region is governed.

First, there was TransLink’s rather petulant apology, which managed to wag an accusing finger at the riders who had pried open the doors of their trains and walked down the tracks. “Bad!” said TransLink officials. “That damaged the train! And it was dangerous!”

Well, let’s lock the TransLink executives in a small room, with no washrooms, inadequate air conditioning, and no idea when they’ll ever get out, or if any help is coming. Let’s see how long it takes them to start kicking down the doors.

Of course, TransLink is now getting a verbal kicking from the mayors (who don’t have control over day-to-day operations) and from provincial politicians (who don’t directly control it either). Notice a pattern?

TransLink was ostensibly created to give the most densely populated part of B.C. a single agency that would oversee major roads, buses, trolleys, and SkyTrain.

In practice, it has evolved through a variety of systems of control, all of which have only one thing in common: they allow the province to wash its hands of the situation.

Right now the local mayors, who still have some control over TransLink’s budget and planning, are trying to put together a budget that will allow for the massive growth in the South of the Fraser and other suburban regions, while being told that the province will essentially not kick in any cash. 

How about other “regional” authorities?

Fraser Health has recently been the subject of a fairly scathing report suggesting it is falling down on the job, is underperforming compared to pretty much every other health region in B.C., and needs to shape up.

This comes as little surprise to most residents. While our health care providers are still working hard, doctors and nurses can only do so much. They need more hospital beds, expanded wards, new equipment, better systems to slash wait times.

We do get improvements, in dribs and drabs, and almost always too late.

Yet again, it’s Fraser Health that gets the brunt of the hatred, not the province. Yet again, a regional authority is administering a provincial responsibility, and not doing a terribly good job of it.

How about education? 

Well, here we have a system of school boards that goes back to the start of the province. And of course, municipal governments have to plan neighbourhoods. And between the two of them, they make informed guesses about how many more students are coming… and then they have to wait until existing schools are groaning under massive overcapacity before the province will grudgingly loosen the purse strings and toss out some funds for new construction. Hope you like portables, kids! Don’t worry, the lack of air conditioning will help you and your teachers sweat off a couple of pounds come next June!

All of these local and regional systems are children of the province. Victoria’s control of the money remains nearly complete. 

Here in the suburbs, from Maple Ridge to the South of the Fraser, we’re seeing massive growth. People are moving here in droves. And our hospitals date back decades, our bus service is stalled, and we haven’t seen extended SkyTrain service since the 1990s. 

We don’t need another reorganization of TransLink or consultation with local school districts. We need Victoria to take responsibility for the future of B.C. Because the outer suburbs are the future of B.C.

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