Several Metro Vancouver mayors are blasting what they say is the potentially disastrous election promise of the BC Liberals to put any new taxes or tolls for TransLink to a regional referendum.
Some of the outspoken critics, including Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, have links to the party, but warned the move could thwart much-needed transit expansion because voters hate paying more for anything.
“The hypocrisy of this policy platform proposal is unbelievable,” said Moore, noting the province hasn’t hesitated to raise medical premiums and some tax rates.
“It just doesn’t work, any way you look at it.”
The issue was debated Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie called the proposed referendum “one more example of the abdication of leadership” by the governing Liberals on the question of how to refinance TransLink so it can build new transit lines.
Brodie said area mayors have stuck their necks out to promote unpopular tax increases because they know improved transit is critical to the future of the region.
And he said Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is right to worry that a referendum could split the region into transit haves who refuse to vote in higher taxes to pay for new lines to the transit have-nots.
“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” Brodie said.
“Going to referendum on a complex subject like this is an absolute utter and total mistake,” White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said, adding it’s a “total abrogation of responsibility” for a government to suggest it.
Despite best efforts to inform the public on any proposal, Baldwin predicts perhaps 20 per cent will bother to vote and they’ll be dominated by tax-hike opponents.
“We need a solution, we don’t need political posturing,” said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who predicted the pledge won’t be helpful.
Meanwhile, Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who is running for the Liberals in Surrey-Fleetwood, admitted some concern with the platform promise, while defending his party’s intent and urging other mayors not to overreact.
“A referendum the way it is in a three-line platform statement raises a lot of questions,” he said, adding it doesn’t explain how it would be carried out.
“Is that [referendum] question a dollars and cents question? Or is it a suite of options question? I don’t know. But the commitment is to work with the mayors’ council to determine what that is.”
Fassbender acknowledged Watts’ concern South of the Fraser transit expansion could be blocked if a referendum fails.
“I got a call from Mayor Watts, who took the top of my head off when she heard that and said ‘Are you guys nuts?'”
He said he agrees any new system to fund TransLink expansion must be fair and equitable and a referendum must not pit different parts of the region against each other.
Fassbender said the regional vision for transit expansion needs to be better explained to residents ahead of any talk of costs and how to pay for it.
“We have to stop TransLink being the whipping boy in all of these discussions and focus on what the region needs,” he said.
Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said she’s not sure a binding referendum on a complex question would be wise, but said Delta has successfully used non-binding referenda before to gauge voter support for some initiatives.
“I don’t think referendums should be poo-pooed necessarily because that is one way to get information from the public,” Jackson said.
Metro Vancouver mayors have asked the province for new funding sources for TransLink including a vehicle levy, a share of carbon tax, a small regional sales tax or some form of road pricing.
Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation meeting Wednesday morning in Burnaby.