Business

Bateman on mission to help taxpayers

Jordan Bateman, B.C. communications director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is putting TransLink under the microscope for its huge expenses and the massive taxes it takes from local ratepayers for inadequate service. - Natasha Jones/Langley Times
Jordan Bateman, B.C. communications director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is putting TransLink under the microscope for its huge expenses and the massive taxes it takes from local ratepayers for inadequate service.
— image credit: Natasha Jones/Langley Times

Although he didn’t know it at the time, the Township council meetings of July 29, 2011, turned out to be Jordan Bateman’s last as a councillor.

The week before, the regional mayors, including Langley Township’s, had secretly voted to raise TransLink gas taxes two cents per litre.

“I was incensed,” Bateman told a large crowd of supporters of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation last week at Redwoods.

“This is precisely the wrong kind of idea that was spreading in politics. Instead of making the tough decision and looking inward for cash savings, TransLink simply increased taxes on an already burdened public. We already paid 15 cents/litre for the great privilege to be part of TransLink and receive our handful of buses a day, plus we pay them property taxes, a Hydro levy, parking taxes, Golden Ears Bridge toll, AirCare and transit fares.”

Within days of that meeting, Bateman had been hired as the B.C. director of the CTF, a position vacated by another high-profile political affiliate from Langley, Gregory Thomas, who moved to Ottawa to become the CTF’s federal director.

Since then, Bateman’s profile has risen as he takes on government corporations and agencies that waste taxpayers’ money.

“The good politicians are always on the hunt for best practices from elsewhere, and ideas. Ideas separate the good from the mediocre in elected life. It takes social and political skill to get those ideas passed, whether you are in a city hall or the provincial legislature, but it’s the currency of politics,” he said.

While still a Township councillor, Bateman spent  several hundred dollars for an automated poll of 6,000 Langley households. Almost half responded,

“That’s a huge number,” he told the Redwoods audience.

“The response was emphatic: 91 per cent opposed the TransLink gas tax increase. I had dozens of people who missed the call but heard the poll on their voice mail call me and ask me to add them to the opposed side. They told me how stretched thin they felt, how concerned they were about receiving less value for their tax dollar than ever before, and asked me if anything could be done.”

A day later, he was being interviewed for the CTF job and likely had the job wrapped up by his answer to a question about TransLink.

“I had been living and breathing the TransLink file for weeks and smoked the question. I mean, total home run answer.”

He was offered the job the next day and, after almost six years at Township Hall, he was ready for a change.

Today, he feels he can have real influence all over the province by formulating, pushing and encouraging new ideas to save taxpayers money.

“I’m the first person to join the CTF out of elected life, which gives me a unique perspective on how to influence and present ideas to decision-makers. I know the political constraints they sometimes feel, and I can help them find ways around that,” he said.

“I haven’t regretted a moment. This job is the most fun I’ve ever had working, and challenges me to push my speaking, media, research and writing skills to another level.”

He said that working for the CTF is a lot like what he did in politics, “but without public hearings and the excruciating minutiae of working through . . . soil deposit permit recommendations. It’s about getting ideas into the hands of people who can make them happen.”

The Township and TransLink have been at loggerheads for years over council’s claim that its residents do not receive value for their tax dollars.

“TransLink has been a huge issue during my first year with the CTF,” Bateman said.

“Their burgeoning bureaucracy is the gift that just keeps on giving to me as a less-government advocate, and just keeps on taking from us as taxpayers.”

With the media, Bateman has helped to uncover some other astounding TransLink blunders, paid for with tax dollars:

• TransLink spends more on equipment and administration than any other transit authority in Canada;

• Bonuses for executives — $60,000 at the same time they ran a deficit, hiked fares and increased every tax they levy;

• Up to $50 million in lost fare evasion fine revenue;

• Nepotism hiring of SkyTrain attendants at $60,000/year;

• Creating the $30 million (and growing!) transit police department;

• Losing $150,000 to FareSaver theft due to lax security procedures;

• Losing $15 million a year to U-Pass fraud;

• Bribing stakeholders to fill out a survey with $100 charitable donations;

• Failing to address bus driver assaults (resulting in higher turnover and benefit costs);

• Studying a Burnaby Mountain gondola that didn’t have local support, and

• Sunday bonuses for transit police and other staff.

The day before his Redwoods address, Bateman received the results of an FOI request. It showed that TransLink spent more than $500,000 to install 10 video screens in various SkyTrain stations.

“Watch for that story next week,” Bateman said, promising  that “we’re just getting started.”

He said that TransLink does not deserve another nickel of taxpayers’ money until it address the waste within its system which already gets $1.4 billion a year from taxpayers and transit riders.

It’s due in no small part to Bateman and the CTF that last month Premier Christy Clark announced a full audit of TransLink,

When the auditors begin their work in June “you can bet we will be ready,” Bateman said.

“We plan to present them with a document of concerns and waste we and the media have identified, and other tips that whistleblowers have sent us but we haven’t been able to fully prove yet because of TransLink’s reluctance to release information.”

The document will give the auditors “a road map of places to look and hopefully contribute to a thorough review,” he said.

“That’s a big win for us as taxpayers, and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.”

One of the CTF’s next big projects is focusing on pay equity.

Academic and think tank studies show that government employees, on average, are paid 6 to 10 per cent more than their private sector counterparts.

“When you factor in pension and benefits, that gap grows to as much as 30 per cent in favour of government employees,” he noted.

He said that taxpayers cannot afford to keep overpaying the market for labour. Government shouldn’t be a charity — taxes are taken us under the law and should be spent efficiently and effectively.

“This organization is more than just a bunch of guys like me chattering away about taxes. In a lot of ways, we’re a family of 70,000 supporters across the country, sharing ideas and giving each other support and strength.”

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