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Regional District of Nanaimo directors want changes in the Island Corridor Foundation

RDN directors voiced their frustrations with the Island Corridor Foundation at a meeting Tuesday where they labelled an April 2 ICF news conference "a dog and pony show," "smoke in the mirror" and "a farce."

Directors passed a motion to call a meeting between First Nations and regional districts in an attempt to resolve their frustrations over the ICF — but not without a lengthy discussion about the organization, a failed deferral and some minor changes in vocabulary.

The motion will need be rectified at the regular RDN meeting April 22.

Parksville city councillor Marc Lefebvre brought the motion forward Tuesday, calling for "due diligence and governance" from the ICF.

"As an RDN shareholder in the ICF, we have an obligation to ensure appropriate oversight is taken over ICF activities," said Lefebvre. "Part of oversight is having applicable knowledge in order to exercise due diligence and avoid and mitigate risks."

The proposed meeting comes after passenger service on the rail line, running through Parksville Qualicum Beach, was suspended in 2011 due to poor track conditions. Since then, local government has been working to get service reinstated, however cost speculation has hindered progress.

RDN chair Joe Stanhope estimates the project will cost around $100 million; while ICF CEO Graham Bruce insists the $20 million earmarked by all three levels of government — federal, provincial and municipal — will be enough to resurrect the track for passenger service.

The RDN has pledged approximately $900,000 in taxpayer funds to the ICF in hopes of returning rail service to its previous standards.

Qualicum Beach town councillor Dave Willie was vocal about his concerns on Tuesday night.

“That meeting (hosted by the ICF April 2) was so frustrating,” said Willie. “There was no announcement and as far as I’m concerned it was a clear attempt to influence this board tonight.”

Willie made it clear he supports the rail line but takes issue with “the process” the ICF is taking.

“We have to send a clear message that we’re unhappy with the leadership of the ICF and we’re unhappy with the leadership at the (ICF) board level,” said Willie. “The board chair has had eight years — even the Canucks know after three years when it’s not working. I’m not going to keep throwing millions of dollars at this, not knowing what the real costs are — I need a clear map, clear directions and clear numbers that I can take to my community.”

Director Bill Veenhof, who represents Bowser and Deep Bay, said transparency in government is important because it builds confidence.

“There is no transparency in the ICF that I’ve seen and I have no confidence in them,” said Veenhof.

While the majority of directors were eager to move forward with calling a meeting and effectively dealing with the railway, Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan wanted to defer the motion May 27.

Ruttan said he was concerned about an alleged pending contract between VIA Rail and Southern Rail and didn’t want to jeapordize the RDN’s relationship with the two bodies by targeting the ICF.

“I’m concerned a non- confidence motion targeting the ICF will have a negative affect on getting a signature from VIA or Southern Rail (if this contract is pending),” said Ruttan. “We’ve waited eight years, whats another five weeks?” Heckles and sneers came from the audience and Ruttan’s deferral motion was defeated.

The RDN board is expected to ratify this no-confidence motion at its next regular meeting April 22. Details of the meeting between First Nations and regional districts will be finalized by then. While Lefebvre’s original motion called for a meeting this weekend at the 2014 Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Conference, staff recommended that asking First Nations to attend a meeting with only three days notice would be “ill-advised.”

However, Lefebvre said “we have to start somewhere” and he said informal conversation about the ICF will be a topical issue at this weekend’s conference.

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