Time to move past the Referendum

I haven’t written too much about the proposed TransLink Referendum. Yeah, I mentioned last year what a terrible idea it was, but it has come to the point where that is the consensus opinion outside of the Premier’s Office, so it seemed unnecessary a point to belabor.

Then, last week, the Minister of Transportation circulated an “Editorial” (raising the question of just what he is the editor of) outlining the need for a referendum. It seems a strange thing to do right now, as he has been saying essentially the same thing since he got the job (even if he and his boss have consistently disagreed about the form of the referendum she promised back when he was still in the private sector), and it seems meaningless to spend time convincing us that we need something that he is already committed to delivering, whether we like it or not.

What might have been more useful at this point in the discussion would be for the Minister to affirm that a successful referendum that sets a stable funding mechanism in place to build and operate a sustainable transportation system for the entire region is of utmost importance, and his #1 job this term, and he won’t let us down. That would be inspirational about now.

Instead he demonstrates what a few people have suggested: the Minister from Kamloops simply does not understand the transportation needs of the Lower Mainland.

Allow me to quote The Minister in full, with a few marginal notes:

The issue of transportation in Metro Vancouver is very topical, and that’s a good thing. Making sure that traffic congestion is reduced to improve your daily commute is important to our economy and maintaining this region’s great quality of life.

You have got to be kidding me. The Minister thinks “making sure traffic congestion is reduced” is the #1 transportation issue in the Lower Mainland? This, after they just spent $5 Billion building and expanding freeways and the widest bridge in the world, and have already decided the next $2 Billion will not be up for referendum, but will be blown on yet another oversized bridge? He still thinks the priority is yet more roads and bridges?

This opening paragraph, more than any below, demonstrates that Todd Stone has no idea what the hell is happening on Broadway, in Central Surrey, on the packed Canada Line, the increasingly unreliable Expo Line, on all those neighborhoods that are seeing their bus service cut, or on the traffic-clogged streets of New Westminster.

But to improve transportation in Metro Vancouver, big decisions lie ahead. Decisions that the people who live, pay taxes, and commute in the region need to be a part of.

I’m not one to get all grammar marm on his Honourable, but this paragraph starts with a conjunction, ends with a preposition, and contains two incomplete sentences (pretty much the perfect NWimby paragraph, come to think of it). Regardless, I wish the Minister had asked the people of the region to be part of the decision to replace the tunnel, or the decision to allow tankers to ply our northern coastal waters, or the decision to cut BC Ferry services, or…

Today, transportation improvements are supported through taxes and fees like property tax, gas tax, transit fares, and tolls for new crossings. And while there are many taxes, there is only one taxpayer—and that’s you.

Ugh. Note that the Minister is talking about transportation improvements (but not the ones he has already promised, like the tunnel) and not about maintaining the transit service we currently have. While he bickers and dithers about how to pay for any imagined transportation improvements, bus routes are being cut, major pieces of infrastructure are failing, and our communities are becoming less livable because there isn’t even enough money to maintain the overcrowded transit system that we have.

To support expanded transit and road networks for the region, many local government leaders have advocated for additional sources of funding to be created, on top of those taxes and fees you already pay.

Ok, see what he is doing here? The Minister does not want to raise your taxes! He wants to make things better for you, but he doesn’t expect you to pay for it. He wants it to be free. It’s those evil spendthrift local governments though: they are the ones who want you to pay for it!

Please, Mr. Minister, if we agree that improving transportation infrastructure is “important to our economy and maintaining this region’s great quality of life” as you suggest in paragraph 1, how will we fund the necessary “expanded transit and road networks” without increasing what people already pay? 

Further, if we agree it is important, can you assure us there won’t be a “none of the above” option on the referendum? Can you chat with your boss about that?

The provincial government does not disagree with this idea. But our position is clear. If the people of Metro Vancouver are being asked to pay new taxes or fees, on top of those that local governments and TransLink already collect, then taxpayers must have a say.

See, he did it again? No, not the starting a sentence with a conjunction (which he did do), but see how he pointed out the evil ones – it is local governments and TransLink that collect taxes and fees. It is almost as if the Province doesn’t collect any taxes or fees at all. How, exactly did we pay for those $5 Billion in freeways?

This is why the provincial government is committed to a public, region-wide referendum. It’s a commitment we made in the last election and that citizens supported. We will deliver on that promise.

Yeah, your referendum promise also said November 2014, and it looks like you might bend on that. It is clear that no-one outside of your caucus room supports the idea. One promise people did support was the money for hospital expansions in Dawson Creek, Penticton, Burnaby, and New Westminster. Your government has already admitted those were just empty promises made for votes, and you pretty much got away with it…

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Asking people to vote on a new transportation vision comes after governments and citizens work together to clearly determine and articulate what that vision actually is.

Please do. Because the only thing worse than this referendum idea is the stunning lack of leadership and vision from the Minister and the Premier on making this thing actually work.

If you’re following the news, you’ll have heard about passionate and important transportation projects that individual local governments are behind. The job ahead is to bring this into a common vision.

I’m not even sure what a passionate transportation project is, except maybe this? but you are starting to creep me out here, Todd. p.s.: The mayors are united in a common vision, just not the way you want them to be.

And, I would argue, success depends on a vision that is affordable for taxpayers, fair for all communities, and secures the movement of people and goods for generations to come.

(Again with the conjunctions). The worst part about this all, is that we have that vision. The region had a long term plan for a Livable Region supported by Transport 2040. It is the plan that TransLink has to keep cutting back on because of lack of funding, in part because they are stuck giving $30 Million a year to the operators of the Golden Ears Bridge because of a bad deal signed by the Minister of Transportation for a bridge that TransLink didn’t want, because of the $170 Million (so far) white elephant that are the FalconGates, and because of other short-sighted moves by the Provincial Government that would not allow that plan to be realized.

I will continue to work with the mayors to facilitate and help enable a process to bring focus to the regional transportation vision, so that the people can decide what’s best.

See, the Mayors are not interested, you screwed them enough times. You managed to do what no other Minister of the Provincial Government has done, and you have got all of the Mayors to be unanimous on a Transportation idea – the idea of killing the referendum.

If you and the Mayors did, miraculously, come up with the ultimate vision, the grand plan that will solve all, then why the hell delay and go to referendum? What happens if that great plan fails at referendum? What is the back-up plan, here. Sir?

If we work together for the benefit of the whole region, mindful of taxpayers big and small from Whalley to Whytecliff, Maple Ridge to Arbutus Drive, we will all succeed.

Arbutus Drive!? Is Whistler in the referendum zone now?

Look, Minister Stone, with all due respect and my sincere hopes that you succeed at setting a new, bold, plan in place for transportation in the region, I feel for you. I know you are new to the role, and your boss has given you an untenable task. Being a Minister means you are responsible for this file, it is time to step up and make the case. This letter didn’t do it. Read the writing on the Wall: everyone from Barbara Yaffe to Gordon Price to Vaughn Palmer is saying it is a bad idea. The Board of Trade and the major trade unions are agreed (!) that it is a bad idea. Every Mayor (except the one who just wants to destroy TransLink and replace it with a tunnel) and the management of TransLink are against it. The referendum is now only a distraction from the real conversation: how are we going to move the region forward?

Time to stop editorializing, Mr. Minister, and time to start leading.

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