Langford questions business case for running trains

Report on state of Island Corridor Foundation sparks conversation amongst councillors

Langford council members continue to push for a governance restructuring of the Island Corridor Foundation, and are questioning the viability of operating the line once again.

“I’m saying put the business case forward first,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young.

He suggested dividing the Island corridor into three sections, with separate studies done on each. If running trains isn’t viable in a section, he said, it could be converted for some other use. “Look at the business case before you go say you’re going to do it, because once you’re in it, you’re in it and you’re in deep … The train may not have been viable in the first place,” he said.

Discussion surrounding the ICF was sparked at Monday’s council meeting after members read a financial and governance review on the ICF. The report was prepared for the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) by aKd Resource’s Kelly Daniels, former chief administrative officer of the Capital Regional District.

The document provides 18 recommendations for the foundation, raises questions and makes statements about the finances, governance and management of the ICF. The report was prepared with input from 40 people, including regional district directors and CAOs, and the CEO and chair of the ICF.

The ICF’s lack of transparency regarding the business case for re-starting rail service has resulted in a lack of trust and support from even the most staunch supporters of rail, according to the report. It was a sentiment echoed in Langford council chambers.

“This is an excellent report that Kelly has done … Unfortunately, as you will read in the report, the CAO of Island Corridor Foundation and the chair of the Corridor Foundation were not very forthcoming to him or it would have been somewhat better,” said Coun. Denise Blackwell.

“He was trying to say to them, ‘well, if you were more open with your partners along the line, you probably wouldn’t be as criticized as you are.'”

Young was also quick to point out flaws in the foundation’s transparency.

“There’s not enough communication … We should be looking at a new governance model and changing the whole way this system works so that the taxpayers are better represented,” he said.

Part of the problem, Blackwell noted, is that some up-Island stakeholders see movement on the lines, which gives the impression that trains are running and the lines are operational everywhere.

“The people up there see that there is some freight going up and down, so they don’t necessarily believe it is not working,” she said.

According to the report, “a recurring theme in the interviews with regional district board members was the lack of trust in, and credibility of, the Chief Executive Officer and by association the ICF board.”

Former Liberal MLA Graham Bruce was hired as ICF executive director in June 2009. The ICF’s contract with Granneke Management, Bruce’s consulting business, expired in May but was renewed that month for a term that ends in November 2018.

The report continued, “much of this dissatisfaction was generated in the last couple of years when expectations were raised by overly optimistic predictions and public promises of funding expectations, contracts or agreements which then did not materialize … while some of these perceptions may be grounded in reality, they are nonetheless by association damaging to the ICF. This is particularly true for many of those interviewed who saw the recent contract extension of the CEO to be an example of the level and quality of oversight by the board of directors.”

The Regional District of Nanaimo rescinded last year on its commitment to provide the ICF with almost $1 million in funding. That was part of the $20.9 million in funding from different levels of government the ICF has said it could use to get passenger rail started again on Vancouver Island. The RDN also passed a motion in March saying the board “does not support the retention or continuation of Granneke Management by the ICF board.”

The ICF issued a statement last month in response to the aKd Resource report, saying it has already initiated some of the recommendations in the report but remains confident in Bruce’s abilities.

A resolution seeking a financial and governance review of the ICF, brought by the City of Langford to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention last week, was referred back to area associations. Passing and supporting the resolutions put forward in this report was a good start, Blackwell said.

With a governance review and a review of what services are actually viable, Young added, “I think we’re on the right track.”

– with files by John Harding

katie@goldstreamgazette.com

 

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