Dale Parker: In the TransLink Driver’s Seat


Dale Parker brings corporate clout to TransLink.

Dale Parker’s office on the 17th floor of Metro- tower II in Burnaby’s Metrotown is stripped bare. A shelf leans askew in an empty bookcase; the polished desk surface gleams in the afternoon sunlight. A blue and white wooden pole marked “bus stop” stands in the corner, bearing an empty coat hook.

Behind the desk, Parker looks on quizzically as an assistant leans over, tapping a few commands on the keyboard.

It’s an inauspicious beginning to a new era at TransLink. The old TransLink was broken, the province decreed, and a sweeping new structure was ushered in. On January 1, Par­ker began his new job chairing the board of a freshly reorganized transit authority, charged with charting the course of transportation in the Lower Mainland.

Seventy-one-year-old Parker appears lean and fit, a shock of grey hair raked across his forehead. The veteran bureaucrat speaks in measured tones, glancing frequently at the tape recorder on the desk between us.

His wariness is understandable: the appointment of the new TransLink board was shrouded in controversy. Parker is eager to set the record straight, explaining that the new board was not appointed by the province – a misconception perpetuated by the media – but was chosen by a council of Metro Vancouver’s 21 mayors from a list compiled by an independent board headed by former premier Mike Harcourt.

And Parker dismisses criticism over the board’s lack of apparent expertise in trans­­portation and regional planning. “When it comes to expertise, that’s what you look for within the management team,” he explains. “Yes, we must have some understanding, but I don’t think you have a group of experts in transportation second-guessing management. They have that expertise and they bring that to the board.”

Parker began his career as a banker and was president of the Bank of British Columbia before it was bought by HSBC in 1986. Since then he has earned a reputation as a hired gun specializing in transitions. In 1989 he was named inaugural chair and CEO of the Financial Institutions Commission of B.C., charged with getting the newly minted regulatory arm of the Ministry of Finance off the ground. In 1994 he was named CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C., where, according to Parker, he whipped the under-funded and under-performing agency into shape, leaving it fiscally and operationally healthy when he left in 1998.

In between, he took a detour to the private sector, joining Larry Bell in executive management at Peter Toigo’s Shato Holdings Ltd., where Bell served as CEO and Parker as president of White Spot Ltd.

Attempts to wrest anecdotes from past battles in the corporate trenches are rebuffed, Parker’s answers continually steering back to the topic at hand: TransLink and the need to move on with the new governance structure.

Attempts to elicit a glimpse of insight into Parker’s personal life meet a rock wall. A question about leisure interests elicits vague comments about golf, a regular routine at the fitness centre, and “family and all of those things.”

In closing, Parker returns to the message of the day: “I believe the structure does have potential, and takes a lot of goodwill on everybody’s part.”

Thanks. Have a nice day.