Keith Baldrey jumps in:
You can argue all you want about a government’s “commitment” to something and whether or not it’s real, but a truism in politics is that improving transportation is a key way to winning votes. The transportation needs of Metro Vancouver, in some parts, are directly tied to the political fortunes of both the federal and provincial governments. Does anyone really believe that a No vote would kill, say, any chance of Surrey getting provincial and federal funding to build light rail rapid transit lines within its borders?
Not on your life. This is basic politics, folks. If there is indeed a successful No vote, the two senior levels of government will find ways around that outcome to curry favor with voters in key ridings.
The mayors claim there is no “plan B” should the Yes side go down in flames. There is one, of course, but no one yet knows what it will look like (perhaps it will mean raising property taxes, or bringing in a vehicle levy, or something else that produces revenue), and it may take a couple of years to sort things out.
(1) No means No.
In the event of a No win, that will be the mantra. How likely is it, do you think, that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation would be satisfied with a reform of TransLink and an accompanying proposal to raise taxes if their concerns were reasonably addressed? Ha! Their bottom line is the bottom line, and the lower the better. No matter what tax increase is proposed or where it comes from, the answer will still be No – and they will have the credibility of being the only high-profile group that won a public vote. In a post-HST environment, can they and their mantra, validated by that public vote, just be ignored if anything that smells like a tax increase comes out of the back rooms?
(2) Raising property taxes.
By whom and for whom? Is the idea that each municipality would raise its own property taxes to fund its own transit? (Can you spell ‘dysfunctional’?) Or that there would be an increase in a regional property tax, rebated to TransLink? How likely is it, do you think, that the municipalities with high-value housing like West Vancouver will vote for an increase to fund more buses in Maple Ridge? See above.
(3) Surrey gets the Big Bucks.
There’s a widespread belief that the Feds and the Province will be shoving funds down Surrey’s throat to build light rail – even if it votes no on the referendum – because that’s where the votes (and the powerful ministers) are. That should go down well in Vancouver if it votes Yes – and gets nothing. I look forward to an explanation from Suzanne Anton, Andrew Wilkinson, Sam Sullivan and other Vancouver Liberals.
More interesting, though, is the question of who exactly operates and maintains the light-rail infrastructure in Surrey. Oh yeah, TransLink. And with what, exactly, since it has only funds to maintain the existing level of service? Which means light rail either gets new operating revenue or there is a reallocation of service from elsewhere in the region. That should be popular in those places where bus routes are cut. I look forward to an explanation from their MLAs.
(4) It’ll all be sorted out in a couple of years.
More likely it’ll take that long just to get over the blame-game.
But one more small detail: Does there have to be another referendum? If so, there isn’t likely to be one for at least three more years. Or longer if there’s any doubt it will pass. (The lesson from the winning referenda in the States is that takes a couple of years to mount the educational campaign to win, assuming you have a consensus from all levels of government and the major players in the community.)
But, indeed, why would we ever put ourselves through this process again? While most will agree that we shouldn’t, how will the Premier justify a one-off referendum before we get back to negotiating and political business-as-usual. Our friends in the CTF and the Right generally will be insistent that there must be another referendum. It’s the best opportunity they have to limit the capacity of local and regional government to tax and spend – which is, after all, their primary agenda.
If, however, the Province uses general tax revenue to fund transit in Metro Vancouver without imposing a specific tax increase on the region, then it will be using money raised in the heartland to pay for goodies for the latte-swilling greenies in the Big Smoke. I look forward to their explanation.
No matter what the scenario, in the event a No vote, the damage from this referendum will just keep on giving.