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Referendum: Will it even happen?

September 13, 2013

What are the odds that the provincial government, after considering more carefully the corner it is painting itself into, will decide that, um, no, it’s not actually necessary to hold a referendum in 2014?

The mayors are clearly not going to cooperate by taking on the heavy lifting: conducting, paying, campaigning or doing anything for a referendum that wasn’t their idea.

Anyway, the Mayor’s Council members may not be the ones representing TransLink.

The Minister of Transportation emphasized at a Chamber of Commerce event that there will be a change in the governance structure of TransLink.  Does it make any sense to negotiate with a body that won’t likely exist in its current form on the wording of a referendum question if it means that some other group will have to commit to the projects and tax measures that it will enable? 

Amendments to the TransLink governance structure must go before a Legislature which is now not sitting until spring. Therefore, the timing of the vote is likely to be in a very small window: sometime after the legislature sits and sometime before municipal elections. 

Even if the last possible date, November 15, is chosen, and the summer is used to get agreement on the particulars with a new TransLink governing body, that leaves a couple of months for the actual campaign. That’s too short, likely, for all the events needed to explain the options and implications, but long enough for the No campaigners to fill the vacuum left by the absence of leadership.

If public meetings are part of the campaign, they will attract anyone who has a grudge about transit in parrticular and government in general.  This could get very ugly, with a lot of unpleasantness for Metro MLAs who will be expected to take a stand.  (I’m thinking of you, Sam Sullivan.)  They might be looking around for an alternative too.

And who, by the way, is going to lead and pay for the Yes campaign, along with the costs of the vote itself – an accumulative amount in the many millions? Especially if the polls indicate that this sucker is going down. 

Since the prospect of no transit expansion in the future for the Lower Mainland is realistically unacceptable, a No vote would mean that the forces in favour would have to reunite, rebuild and start the process all over again, hoping for a more favourable outcome in a year or so.

So why hold the referendum in the next year?  Why stick to an unrealistic date?  Why not just say, well, we’re not ready to go to to the voters with a tax proposal.  We’ll get back to you later.

That means, of course, no progress on transit expansion for Metro.  But that’s where we’d likely end up on November 16 anyway, only with a vote that rules out any considertation of an alternative deal.  At least with a delay to some unspecified time in the future, this region might have time to put together a coalition, a plan and the prospect of a winning vote with a provincial government that might have a more sympathic perspective, or at least a better grasp of reality.

But at the rate we’re going, the paint will have dried and all the players will be cornered.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew Browne permalink
    September 13, 2013 2:55 pm

    The puzzling thing about the referendum being set up to fail is that… generally, one doesn’t need to make special preparations to do nothing (re: transit investment, or anything, really). It just happens as a natural result of NOT doing something.

  2. mezzanine permalink
    September 13, 2013 4:13 pm

    the CoV always has a capital plan plebicite with the municiple elections. I am unsure if one was contested or rejected at the ballot box.

    me, i’m willing to take a wait and see approach. Victoria could always threaten to move unilaterally and use politically expedient property tax increases to the displeasure of the mayors council.

  3. David permalink
    September 16, 2013 12:12 pm

    The CoV plans usually pass with 55-65% in favour. They are carefully crafted to appeal to the masses and the city has a vested interest in having them pass.

    The province has no interest in having the transit referendum pass. “You’re getting what you voted for” is a rock solid defence.

    The Liberals go into this whole thing with zero political risk. The ridings most interested in transit never vote Liberal anyway and I cannot see lack of transit becoming an important enough issue in surrounding areas to pose any threat in the 2017-2021 timeframe. It’s far more important for Christy et al to deliver something visible and at least minimally believable on the “jobs, jobs, jobs” mandate. Failure to do that is the only real threat to their gold plated pensions and corporate gravy train.

    • mezzanine permalink
      September 16, 2013 1:10 pm

      I would respectfully disagree. There is a lot of interest in transit in the SoF. Even the corporate world realizes that robust transit is needed to drive growth and transport workers. The Surrey Board of Trade has a special interest in what may happen:

      My hope? there is provincial and metro impetus to build skytrain to langley city.

      • David permalink
        September 16, 2013 2:00 pm

        I know Surrey is very interested in transit and Langley City has been encouraging a walkable downtown with mixed use buildings. I tried driving west along Fraser Highway from Abbotsford a few weeks back and was shocked to find the road came to an effective dead end in downtown Langley.

        We both agree on the importance of a more developed bus grid SoF and increased rail transit there. Where we disagree is whether that one issue is important enough in the minds of voters to change who they’ll vote for in 2017 or 2021.

        First people have to believe that they’ll still have a job to go to under a different provincial government. Only when they’ve made it past that mental hurdle can an issue like transit service make any difference.

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