Another day, another chapter in the neverending saga that is transit funding in British Columbia, as mayors of Metro Vancouver municipalities meet in New Westminster Dec. 11 to rubber stamp a question for a March 2015 referendum.
The Mayors, enjoying the opening weeks of their new four-year terms of office, want their citizens to tick the Yes box in the March 2015 mail-in ballot on a $7.5 billion, 10-year funding package. They hope citizens will conveniently forget the spending waste and service SNAFUs that have plagued TransLink, and agree to pay more taxes.
I caught up with District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton, the chair of the TransLink Mayors’ Council, after learning that a $4 million campaign war chest is expected for the Yes campaign. Walton neither confirmed nor denied.
“It’s a number I’ve heard, but I don’t know what it represents,” Walton said.
With just over three months to go, will there be a proper tendering process for advertising agencies?
“I would think there certainly would be a tendering process, Mayors’ Council and or any other entity or TransLink board, is going to have to make sure they have good value for money for any contracted services, whether it’s TransLink funds, donated funds or Mayors’ Council funds, we need to make sure there’s good value for money.”
Will the opposition get any funding?
“There’s nothing in the (South Coast Transportation) Act at all that says funds are to be provided by Mayors’ Council or TransLink towards funding an opposition, and if there’s a moral prerogative somehow that exists to do that, it’s certainly not in legislation.”
Will campaign donations be disclosed, so that citizens understand before they vote what interests may stand to benefit from a Yes vote?
“That will be decided obviously by the structure of the support of the yes campaign. It has to constitute itself and determine that. Transparency is going to be very critical and everybody ‘s going to want that. There needs to be absolutely no distraction from the efficacy of the campaign and I would think the people who are investing their time in this would be fully committed to the importance of it and would want to know their support was recognized and registered.”
After the SkyTrain service outages last July, the Compass card boondoggle and the likelihood that scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin would bid on the Broadway Subway, why would anyone want to give TransLink another dollar, let alone $7.5 billion?
“It’s not a public confidence vote in TransLink, the ballot is very clear: are you in favour of passing a new funding source to invest in these particular projects over the next decade in Metro Vancouver? At this point in time, TransLink is the delivery vehicle for most of the projects and funds, but that can change. The legislation that guides in California that guides the ballot referendums is pretty clear, whether it’s CAL Trans, or BART or LA Move, it’s a delivery vehicle and doesn’t get heavily involved in the referendum itself. Whether or not what develops here for this first time referendum of its nature in Vancouver parallels some of the practices south of the border. They develop pragmatically over time.”
The referendum was promised in the B.C. Liberals’ 2013 election campaign. Four months after winning by surprise, Premier Christy Clark announced a $3 billion bridge would be built to replace the Massey Tunnel between Richmond and Delta. Without a referendum.
“The legislation laid this out, obviously mayors indicated consistently they don’t think this is particularly good policy and don’t understand why public transit is being singled out for a referendum when highways and bridges and things like that aren’t.”
In California and Washington, there are no limits for donations to referendum campaign committees or how much they can spend. Washington had a $5,000 limit, but a judge overturned it in 2010 because it was seen as a violation of free speech guarantees during the final three weeks of an election.
In November, King County voters approved a proposition for a $60-a-year licence plate tax and 0.1% sales tax hike to pay for more transit. The measure, expected to raise $45 million-a-year, has a six-year sunset clause.
British Columbia’s most-recent referendum was on the Harmonized Sales Tax in 2011. Some $8 million was spent by the government, including $500,000 for the Yes and No campaigns and $5 million for the infamous Stickman ad campaign. Meanwhile, the pro-HST Fair Tax Coalition that was allied with the BC Liberals was under no requirement to disclose its donations or spending. Alas, the underdog Fight HST campaign prevailed and the Provincial Sales Tax returned.
Fight HST co-founder Bill Tieleman will be on the Yes side in the transit funding campaign. The Vision Vancouver and NDP supporter is registered as a provincial lobbyist for Unifor Local 111, the bus drivers’ union, “to secure increased, sustainable funding for public transportation.”
Expect the No side to be led by Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.