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E&N rail line group isn’t trusted, CEO is ‘lightning rod’: consultant

The Island Corridor Foundation’s credibility is suffering from a lack of transparency and it should do more business in public if it hopes to regain the trust of its members and the public, says a consultant’s analysis.
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Parts of the E&N rail line have become overgrown with weeds. Municipal leaders are exploring the idea of using the tracks for a commuter train.

The Island Corridor Foundation’s credibility is suffering from a lack of transparency and it should do more business in public if it hopes to regain the trust of its members and the public, says a consultant’s analysis.

Much of the distrust of the foundation, which owns the E&N Rail Line corridor, stems from CEO Graham Bruce, who is “a lightning rod” for discontent among some municipal politicians, says the report, prepared for the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities by aKd Resource Consulting principal Kelly Daniels.

The foundation’s prime mission has been to restore passenger rail service on the E&N line, which runs between Victoria and Courtenay. Passenger service was halted in March 2011 because of safety concerns arising from inadequate track upkeep.

“Whether it is his salary, the perceived lack of performance in achieving a train service on Vancouver Island, the fact he was found to have been in violation of the federal lobbying code of conduct, or the perception of his controlling and non-transparent approach to management, in their minds, he is a major source of the discontent and loss of credibility with the ICF,” the report says.

Bruce did not return calls for comment.

In preparing his report, Daniels, former chief executive of the Capital Regional District, interviewed more than 40 people — representatives from the five regional districts that are members of the ICF, the province and the ICF itself.

Daniels said “a significant majority” of regional district directors expressed disillusionment with Bruce and his management style, believing he over-promised and under-delivered.

“Early poor communication and unfulfilled promises have resulted in a significant loss of trust and confidence in the CEO that also reflects badly on the ICF board. The damage to their reputation will be a significant hurdle to overcome in their efforts to gain back political support at the local level,” the report says.

Daniels notes that in the spring, the ICF board extended Bruce’s contract for two years, and says recent efforts to improve communication “have been positive and should continue.”

Judith Sayers, ICF board co-chairwoman, said the board remains confident in Bruce’s abilities and what he’s accomplished to date. She disputes that there is a lack of transparency, saying ICF officials meet regularly with regional directors.

At annual general meetings, comprehensive reports are provided by the co-chairs, solicitors, auditors and the CEO, she said.

Sayers said there’s some unfairness in pointing the criticism solely at Bruce. “Graham [Bruce] acts on the direction of the board of directors and he has done that admirably,” she said.

While some of negative perceptions may be grounded in reality, Daniels’ report says, there have been “some significant gains in the development of the corridor” — something that is more complicated than many realize.

“To appreciate this fully one has to understand the complexities of dealing with at least eight federal and provincial regulatory bodies, a private rail operator, disaffected rail companies who don’t want to discuss rail on Vancouver Island anymore, two senior levels of government and many local and First Nation governments. There are also, we understand, approximately 1,000 agreements that exist to keep the line active as well as ongoing corridor land use requests, and issues with adjacent landowners,” the report says.

The report makes recommendations, including:

• allow the public to attend the annual general meeting

• open a portion of board meetings to the public

• post non-confidential portions of agenda and minutes on the ICF website

• develop a long term strategic plan to be reviewed annually and updated every three years and made public

• make public a comprehensive business plan for achieving rail service on Vancouver Island

• conduct an annual CEO performance review that evaluates progress toward measurable benchmarks.

Sayers said the ICF will respond to the recommendations during a meeting with Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities today. Langford has forwarded a resolution to the association, calling for a new governance model for the ICF “that better represents the interests of local taxpayers living along the rail corridor.”

Langford council has endorsed all of Daniels’ recommendations and passed a resolution encouraging other municipalities and regional districts to do the same.

Langford Mayor Stew Young has been a vocal critic of the ICF’s lack of progress in securing passenger rail and of the fees it charges for road improvements near the rail corridor.

Young said “it’s time to kill the ICF” as it is structured.

“They’re just not forthcoming with all their stuff. It’s time to kill it. Get rid of this non-profit. I don’t see it working ever because when you’re a nonprofit, you don’t have to give out financial stuff,” Young said. “It hasn’t worked for five years and they’ve pissed away millions of dollars with no train running.”

Sayers said the ICF has invited Young to meet with the board three times to address his concerns. “He remains a critic without coming to talk to us directly.”

— With files from Katie DeRosa

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