Bill Veenhof still doesn’t believe there will be passenger rail service on Vancouver Island any time in the next few years, if ever.
The chair of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s board of directors was reacting Wednesday to news the Island Corridor Foundation has renewed the contract of CEO Graham Bruce, a former Liberal MLA whose leadership of the ICF has come under fire from the RDN.
Bruce’s new contract will run until November of 2018. Veenhof was asked if he thought people will be able to board a train on the Island by that time.
“Not a chance,” he said.
Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime represented the RDN at an ICF members’ meeting Tuesday. He was asked the same question about passenger rail service availability before Bruce’s new contract expires.
“My gut response is no,” Haime said Wednesday morning. “I do not believe there is a fundamental long-term plan as it stands today for the ICF.”
The ICF held the members’ meeting Tuesday at the request of the RDN. It did not have a quorum.
That was followed by a board of directors meeting. The board issued the news release about Bruce’s extension after the board meeting.
Haime, a chartered accountant, said he was not impressed with the responses he got from the ICF to questions he asked at the informal discussion during the members’ meeting.
“The most frustrating parts were the answers to questions about the ICF’s business plan,” said Haime.
“The responses were limited, confusing about whether a business plan even exists for the ICF. I’m very familiar with business — the responses just left me frustrated.”
Haime also said the renewal of Bruce’s contract was “not surprising, but I think it shows a lack of respect for the concerns expressed by the RDN and (Langford Mayor) Stu Young and people in the southern (Island) area.”
The RDN board passed a motion in March saying the board “does not support the retention or continuation of Granneke Management by the ICF board.”
Bruce was hired to be the ICF’s executive director in June of 2009. Granneke is Bruce’s consulting business. Granneke’s contract with the ICF expired on Tuesday. Veehnof said Wednesday it isn’t clear if Bruce was extended by the ICF as an individual or an employee or if his management company’s contract was extended.
The ICF’s news release Wednesday did not bring clarity to those questions and there was no indication the ICF advertised for the CEO’s position or put out a request for proposals for any management contract.
“If there was an RFP that went out, I didn’t see it,” said Veenhof.
The ICF’s news release Wednesday contained no attribution for any of its statements.
“While a quorum was not achieved (at the members’ meeting Tuesday), ICF directors did participate in an hour-long conversation with the several member reps who attended,” said the news release.
Lantzville Mayor Haime put the blame for a lack of a quorum squarely on the ICF.
“I’m disappointed by the fact the ICF wasn’t able to establish a date and time when a quorum would show up,” said Haime. “That’s their responsibility.”
In announcing Bruce’s extension, the ICF release said “the board cited the importance of continuity and experience and were pleased Bruce accepted the 30 month extension. The last six months of the contract will be a transition period to a new CEO. Much has been accomplished in meeting the ICF goals and objectives however there are critical issues currently before the ICF that require the history and understanding of managing an organization with so many stakeholders.”
Veenhof said he was “disappointed” with the ICF’s decision to extend Bruce.
“The board of the ICF is an independent board, they can do what they want,” said Veenhof. “I would have liked a different option.”
Veenhof was asked about the RDN’s future relationship with the ICF and Bruce, considering the RDN not only passed a motion essentially expressing non confidence in Bruce, it also passed a motion to cancel its promise of almost $1 million in funding.
“Well, they can’t kick us out,” said the RDN board chair. “That’s not the way it’s put together.”
The ICF’s 2016 budget includes $268,000 for salaries, administration and office expenses. The salaries alone were budgeted at $196,000 for 2016.
Bruce and other ICF officials have said passenger and freight rail service could be re-started with $20.9 million of funding. Others have disputed that figure, saying it could take more than $100 million to makes the corridor safe for train travel.
“The ICF is waiting for federal funding sign-off of a multi-party track infrastructure investment plan to restore rail passenger service,” said the ICF’s news release on Wednesday.
The ICF is a not‐for‐profit corporation established specifically to preserve the 319-kilometre rail/trail corridor between Victoria and Courtenay, Duncan to Lake Cowichan and Parksville to Port Alberni. The corridor includes both rail and trail initiatives. Formed in 2003, the ICF is a registered charity, run by a board of 12 directors, representing 11 First Nations, five regional districts and two directors‐at‐large comprised of stakeholder communities along the corridor.
Passenger rail service on Vancouver Island was discontinued in 2011 due to unsafe track conditions. The ICF, mostly through Bruce, has consistently said it could get passenger rail service running again from Victoria to Courtenay with about $21 million from its partners, including the RDN. Some politicians and RDN board members, including those from Parksville, Qualicum Beach and surrounding areas, have disputed that claim.
— See ‘EDITORIAL:ICF crumbling’ in the Opinion section of this website and on Page A10 of today’s edition (June 2) of The Parksville Qualicum Beach News.