Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson unseated North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton to take the chair of the TransLink mayors’ council in a vote Friday as regional politicians head into a challenging transit tax referendum campaign.
A second election saw Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner picked over Delta Mayor Lois Jackson for the mayors’ council’s vice-chair position.
Both Robertson and Hepner, as well as Walton, pledged to fight hard for a Yes outcome in the plebiscite to create a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax, dubbed the Congestion Improvement Tax, to fund transit and transportation expansion.
Both mayors will also get seats on the TransLink board of directors dedicated for the mayors council chair and vice-chair. Serving on the TransLink board brings more time commitments and roughly $50,000 a year in extra pay.
Robertson said he wanted the top job to ensure Vancouver had representation in TransLink decisions at the board level and to give the Yes campaign a high profile in the region’s biggest city.
“I want to make sure we win this referendum,” Robertson said.
Hepner predicted a “very tough campaign” ahead, adding a Yes outcome is crucial to the region’s economy and livability. She promised to provide South of the Fraser representation and deliver Yes votes from the region.
Hepner last fall campaigned for mayor on a pledge to get a Surrey light rail network built by other means if the referendum failed, and she was pressed by reporters on whether she still takes that position.
“I’ll deal with that (promise) if I have to,” Hepner said. “My focus right now is making sure we get a plan A, which is making sure this referendum passes.”
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore, the mayor of Port Coquitlam, was nominated for vice-chair but declined, as did Walton.
Moore – who nominated Hepner – said victory may ride heavily on the ability of the Surrey and Vancouver mayors, and their powerful election campaign machines, to get Yes votes from the region’s biggest cities.
“There are large populations there and we need those mayors to play a predominant role in working at the mayors’ council and with their electorate to win this campaign.”
At Moore’s request, the mayors council made the chair and vice-chair elections a population-weighted vote.
Because Surrey and Vancouver have nearly half Metro’s population, the move meant Hepner’s and Robertson’s wins were guaranteed with Moore’s backing, even if every other mayor opposed them.
Jackson, the only mayor in the region to support the province’s requirement of a referendum on new transit taxes, was nominated by Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, one of only three mayors who oppose the new tax.
Jackson voted in favour of the tax at the last mayors’ council meeting in December but in her pre-vote speech she stressed her ability to be a strong voice and highlighted concerns about goods movement in the region.
She had been at odds with several other mayors over her support for the replacement of the Massey Tunnel with a new bridge.
Afterwards, Jackson said she knew she had no chance of winning the position once it became clear Surrey and Vancouver were working together.
Jackson said she will definitely vote and campaign for Yes in the referendum, but said her council hasn’t yet taken a position.
Delta may also send out educational material to its voters, she said, but added that may go out along with tax notices, reducing costs to just photocopying. “If it comes down to (No campaigner Jordan) Bateman having a problem with that I’ll pay for it myself,” she said.
The mayors’ council intends to send out an information householder on their transportation plan before the ballots go out in mid-March.