New TransLink chair calls referendum wait ‘frustrating’

Marcella Szel now heads board of directors, also serves on Port Metro Vancouver board

Marcella Szel is the new chair of TransLink's appointed board of directors. Szel was a longtime CP Rail executive who says she's 'absolutely passionate' about transportation.

The new chair of TransLink’s appointed board of directors says it’s not yet clear what role she can play in the forthcoming referendum on transit expansion funding.

Marcella Szel, a retired CP Railway vice-president, has been elected TransLink board chair, replacing Nancy Olewiler, an SFU public policy professor whose three-year term just expired.

“It has been frustrating,” Szel said of the delay in waiting for details of the referendum ordered by the provincial government, but added it has sparked valuable public debate.

“It’s unclear exactly how it is going to unfold,” she said. “We stand ready to provide any and all information that we can to enable the referendum to be successful.”

The transportation industry veteran, lawyer and past chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said it’s not yet clear whether the board can formally campaign for the ‘Yes’ side.

“The critical role we are going to play is to ensure we keep looking at the organization for ongoing cost savings and efficiencies and translate those whenever and wherever we can into better additional services.”

Szel is also vice-chair of the Port Metro Vancouver board, which has presided over its own controversies, including increased coal exports, the expansion of Deltaport and the potential conversion of farmland for port uses.

Asked if serving both boards poses any conflict of interest, Szel said she has consulted conflict advisors for both boards and been assured it’s fine.

However, she said she won’t stand again for vice-chair and will revert to serving as just a director on the port authority board.

“I just don’t want there to be any perception of any form of conflict between the two.”

Szel said her background and position on both boards positions her well to “see the big transportation picture in this entire region and how it affects the rest of Canada.”

SFU City Program director Gordon Price called Szel a good choice who brings more depth to TransLink on goods movement issues.

“I think she’ll be an effective spokesperson, which is going to be critical, assuming the board will be playing a role in the referendum,” he said.

Szel was first appointed a TransLink director two years ago.

She’ll be paid $100,000 a year as TransLink board chair, in addition to her compensation from the port board.

Brenda Easton is the nine-member board’s newest director, appointed this month to a three-year term. Directors Don Rose and Barry Forbes were both reappointed by the Metro mayors’ council to another three-year term.

Directors are paid $25,000 per year, plus $1,200 per meeting, plus fees of up to $8,000 for chairing or serving on committees.

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