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TransLink Referendum: Can It win? What do we need to know?

June 19, 2013

I’ve been conducting a very informal (and too limited) poll to ascertain whether the referendum on TransLink funding options, required to go to a vote in the Metro region no later than the next civic election on November 15, 2014, has a reasonable chance of passing.

If the vote is lost, then the consequences are dire, since surely it would be suicidal for a Liberal government, with the HST still painfully fresh, to go back to British Columbians with a new, negotiated deal that involves a tax.  In other words, there is no Plan B.

So we need a very hard-headed discussion now as to whether this process is actually do-able.  If not, then why start?

The region might still at this point say to the provincial government: “This initiative is not, in our assessment,  winnable, so we’re not starting.  There won’t be a ballot measure next year.  What do you want to do?

“If your position is ‘No vote, no transit,’ then say that now.  We’ll be no further behind than where we would likely be on Nov 16.  And you would have to take some political responsibility for rejecting transit plans and, with it, our regional growth strategy.”

If the Province then wants to consider other options, now is also the time to start discussions, before the machinery gears up, sides are taken and we’re locked into a process that could, in its worst manifestations, rip the region apart.

Or, more optimistically, if this referendum is winnable, then we need to decide that now too, since it would break a deadlock and move us forward in a way that wouldn’t be possible without public affirmation.  But we’d need to move fast, be united, and find strong leaders to make it a reality.

So you can see why it’s necessary to get a realistic sense of ‘winnability.’

Yesterday I had the chance to ask a group of knowledgeable Vancouverites on matters urban.  It was at  Stantec’s Urban Development Innovation Series that brings together key industry leaders who, in many ways, shape our urban environments across public and private sectors, academia and industry.  Who better to ask.

I tried a straw poll with a question phrased as neutrally as possible: “Can a question on the ballot at the time of the next civic election that specifies taxes needed to fund transit growth in the region (with none of the above as an option) have a chance of winning a majority?

Of the group of about 50, not a single hand was raised.  None thought it had a chance.

But it’s still too early to decide.  We’ve hardly had a chance to consider how this process will work, much less all the factors that need to be weighed.  No one has yet looked at this challenge, or the process involved, in any depth.

The first off the mark is NPA councillor George Affleck, who yesterday tabled a motion at Vancouver City Council that calls for the Mayor and those councillors who represent Vancouver at Metro to report back on the needed information before the discussion gets serious.

Here it is:

4. Transit Referendum

MOVER: Councillor George Affleck

SECONDER:

WHEREAS

1. The City of Vancouver believes strongly in an efficient, effective transit system;

2. The Premier of British Columbia recently announced that a referendum on Metro Vancouver transportation funding will be held no later than the Civic Election of 2014.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of Vancouver Directors to the Metro Vancouver Board ask Metro Vancouver to report back on:

1) Transportation and funding issues in Metro Vancouver that need to be included in a consensus position, possible funding options and mechanisms, and impediments or issues that need to be identified or resolved beforehand;

2) The potential economic, social and environmental ramifications of referendum results on Metro Vancouver;

3) Who would be responsible for developing transportation priorities for Metro Vancouver;

4) How campaigns for the referendum will be funded and estimated costs;

5) The possible roles of Translink, its Board, the Mayor’s Council, Metro Vancouver and its Board, and Municipal Councils in a referendum process;

6) Clarification of the rules by which the referendum would be held, how the outcome would be determined and whether the results would be binding on all parties involved.

It will likely be weeks before there’s a response.  As of June 19, there are 514 days left.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    June 19, 2013 5:52 pm

    Like the creation of TransLink itself, this referendum is an exercise in deflecting blame and downloading cost. I’m sure the provincial government will be able to claim some sort of victory from every possible result.

    I don’t think the outcome is in doubt even this far in advance. There will be 4 or 5 possible “yes” options for increased funding and one “no” option for doing nothing. It’s mathematically unlikely that any single “yes” will exceed the “no” vote and nearly impossible for any one of 5 choices other than “no” to achieve 50% support.

    Only 25% of eligible voters cast ballots for the BC Liberals in the last election. It won’t matter how few people vote in the referendum, they will still claim to have gotten a mandate to do little or nothing.

    If Victoria actually wanted to help move people and goods around Metro Vancouver there wouldn’t be a referendum 17 months from now, there would be real money today to support the livable region strategies that have been developed here for many decades. There would be government propaganda telling us that transit requires lower subsidies than roads and generates more jobs. There would be a commitment to link complete communities with high quality transit and an implied threat to do nothing for municipalities that support sprawl. That would in itself help reduce the need for people to travel so much. Complete communities have a much higher percentage of trips made on foot, bicycle and transit.

    • mezzanine permalink
      June 19, 2013 9:50 pm

      I think you are being too cynical about translink. IMO they are more responsive and can plan things regionally than a crown corporation. TL lacks power, but they also can state things with less political influence that if it were under the control of mayors/victoria.

      Look at the priming they are doing for for the mayors for this referendum and the issue of road pricing:

      “The regional transportation authority is challenging Lower Mainland mayors to take a stand on road pricing as the province begins planning a referendum on transit funding.

      “We believe this needs to be a fundamental part of our long-range strategy. If the people of this region and elected officials don’t feel it needs to be, then we’re going to have to step back, regroup and say: ‘Well what can we really deliver?’” Bob Paddon, the executive vice-president of strategic planning for TransLink, said Wednesday as the regional authority presented a report on the issue to the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.”

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/be-clear-on-road-pricing-mayors-urged/article12694526/

      ————

      Victoria doesn’t want to be the bagman for novel taxes and fees. Despite what the premier says, IMO she will wash her hands and not overturn a decision to create new taxes if the mayors can build consensus and put money where their mouth is and be the driving force here.

      • mezzanine permalink
        June 19, 2013 9:53 pm

        The problem of course is seeing what some mayors will do, like my fave, Derek Corrigan:

        “Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said TransLink’s intent to raise up to $23 billion, presumably funded in part through road pricing, is “far too ambitious” even for an aspirational plan.

        “There is a point where reality has to set in for all of us,” Corrigan said. “We go out to the public with an unrealistic plan, that raises expectations as to what could be accomplished, when in fact none of that is a reasonable possibility in the near future.””

        http://www.langleytimes.com/news/212238231.html

        Inspiring….

      • David permalink
        June 20, 2013 11:58 am

        In the unlikely event that the mayors, other than Corrigan of course, can reach some sort of consensus, there will still be multiple choices on the ballot. When there are multiple choices the “yes” votes get spread out leaving no single funding solution with enough votes to overcome the “no” side.

        Sadly there will be an anti-TransLink vote, even by people who favour additional funding for transit. Some will choose a non-TransLink supported idea just to spite them while others will switch to the “no” side. Unfortunately TransLink has been the victim of bad propaganda for the last 20 years and a significant number of people believe it needs to be reformed or scrapped despite numerous audits showing that it’s actually doing a good job. The people in BC never let facts get in the way of ideology.

        The fact that TransLink and the mayors have to find the funding in the first place is objectionable. The Ministry of Transportation can always find billions for new highway projects, but cries poverty when asked about transit or old highways they downloaded onto TransLink. On the rare occasions when there is money for transit the Ministry undermines local decision makers and imposes their own solutions.

      • Adam Fitch permalink
        June 21, 2013 7:20 pm

        Mezzanine, we all know that Derek Corrigan is not a typical local politician, nor is he a diplomat. He is known as leftist, but moreso as a knee-jerk, reactionairy gadfly to the provincial government. As long as there is a Liberal government in Victoria, he will do all he can to make it look bad and make himself look like a scrapper. He does not care about the region or regional planning.

    • Adam Fitch permalink
      June 21, 2013 7:16 pm

      David, very thoughtful comments, although I do think it is too cynical. I agree with most of the points, except the part where you said: “There would be government propaganda telling us that transit generates more jobs.” IF transit is a more efficient way of moving people than private vehicles, then it will generate fewer jobs. One mechanic can repair many buses, one gas station can gas up many buses. Maybe you meant that mass transit generates more employment-centre development in certain locations. That is very different.

  2. June 19, 2013 10:05 pm

    there is some irony to see a motion reading

    1. The City of Vancouver believes strongly in an efficient, effective transit system;

    when, at the same time, Translink announce the rerouting on a circuitous and indirect route of bus 5, among other, all that to accommodate the pet project of the same city’s council!

    Honestly, if Vancouver was starting to pay attention to surface transit,

    -first lot of Translink operating expense could be reduced (see http://voony.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/bus-performance-preliminaries/ and half of the translink bus budget is spent in Vancouver proper!), (*)

    -and secondly, it could be easier for them to advocate for increased funding thru a referundum

    But so far, we know Vancouver council, is not interested in anything else than the Broadway Subway (up to UBC of course!)…what will make their advocacy a bit complicate and certainly lacking of conviction.

    (*) As a recent example, to make way for a proposed bike lane, on Union, the city propose to relocate some car parking in the way of the bus on Main…they already did that with Hornby (parking “relocated” on Howe/Seymour,which are still used by buses under the insistence of the same council): Not only the current council didn’t do anything to improve the transit efficiency, and effectiveness- but in each and every instance, they favor car parking over transit…

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