Now that everything is looking official, we can start preparing for the
TransLink Transit Transportation Transportation & Transit Referendum Plebiscite. The Premier Minister of Transportation will let the people Registered Voters of BC the Lower Mainland vote on increasing the PST installing a new Provincial MetroVancouver-only PST-like Congestion Improvement Tax to feed the piggies at the TransLink trough finally reduce congestion build a SkyTrain to UBC long-needed improvements to local transportation infrastructure.
Ugh, I should not listen to AM radio.
It should be no surprise to my few readers (Hi Mom!) that I am supporting the “yes” side of this referendum, and will be actively campaigning in the spring to help it pass. So I will be writing about the referendum on this blog until most of you are sick of it.
To start things off, I want to talk about what I see as the biggest narrative being drawn up by the NO side forces: the argument that TransLink does not “deserve” more tax money. This sounds like what we hear on CKNW daily: “We should vote NO to send them a message”. The “them” to whom the message is being sent, and the content of the actual message, are shifting details to the overall narrative: Send them a message.
I have even received e-mails and had Twitter exchanges with people whose opinions I respect on a variety of issues that repeat a version of this refrain. So let’s address it (and much below was pulled from e-mails I sent these people in response – I’m plagiarizing myself now!)
Anyone who thinks this referendum is the appropriate place to launch some sort of “taxpayers revolt” is missing their mark in a pretty significant way. A NO vote will not tell the Province or the Mayors that “we pay too much tax already”. Trust me, they already got that message ad nauseum. This is the actual reason the Premier has taken the cowardly route and created this silly referendum exercise that allows her to dodge the blame for any costs related to regional transportation infrastructure, why the Minister of Transportation has nixed all of the earlier alternative payment schemes, and why the Mayors have been diligently pushing back saying “this is your responsibility, not ours”. None of them want to own any tax once it is implemented.
Instead, a NO vote will deliver the Province exactly what they want – an excuse not to invest in public transportation, a download of their responsibility to provide transportation infrastructure funding to the Lower Mainland, and a way to reduce their operational costs by reducing public service. They will proudly talk of being prudent protectors of the public purse (despite their actual record: see BC Place, Site C, Golden Ears Bridge, BC Hydro, etc.), and if the Mayors step up to fund this basic public service through Property Taxes, the Premier play to the CKNW crowd by calling them reckless spendthrifts that throw public money around needlessly with no regard for the poor suffering taxpayer (see downloading of ambulance services, mental health, housing, etc.).
Further, a NO vote will send this Provincial Government the message that when they want to fund a public service (the Massey replacement, an $8 billion dam of dubious need, a new roof for a stadium, etc.) they will just do it without consultation, but when they don’t want to fund a public service (Transit, public health, housing, schools, etc.) they will send the plan to a Referendum and get the public to say no when they don’t have the balls to say so themselves, because they can count on another misplaced “taxpayer revolt”.
That will be a very, very bad precedent for governance in our Province, as with a continued reduction in public service, those taxpayer revolts will become more reliable. That is how the neo-liberal downward spiral is mapped.
If you agree we need to stop cutting transit service (two bus lines reduced in New Westminster in the last year alone!), and need to start re-investing in transit infrastructure, then this YES vote is the only way we will see that happen in the next decade. Because the only “Plan B” anyone can see on the horizon right now is funding this entire thing through property taxes, and I cannot imagine the Mayors will agree on a formula for that in any kind of short order. And there is no way in hell the Provincial government who just witnessed a NO vote on public transit funding is going to then turn around and introduce any kind of new funding scheme for public transit.
Worse, after a NO vote, the Province is still going to move ahead spending ~$3 Billion on a replacement for the Massey Tunnel, and will then spend billions more on suddenly-required Oak Street Bridge replacement, and widening Highway 99 and or 91, then a new Second Narrows Crossing, a 6- or 8-lane Pattullo Bridge, and on and on with bigger highways and bridges as we try to figure out how to move a million more people through this region when the public transit system fails. And they sure as hell are not going to have a referendum on any of those projects. You won’t get to say NO, because by saying NO this time, you already said YES.
This referendum is a dumb idea, and represents terrible governance. However, this is the situation we are in, and we need to make it work, for the future of the region. The Mayors have climbed Mount Impossible and come up with a unified vision and a reasonable (if sub-optimal) way to fund it. We need to get behind it, or a generation of transit infrastructure growth may be lost, and the impact on our region will be worse even than the damage that was done by the Worlds Widest Bridge.
So I am going to be going door-to-door in the spring, and I am going to be reaching out to as many people as possible – we need to vote YES for more sustainable transportation infrastructure and for the future of our region’s sustainability.