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Libs not touting it in speeches, but policy position is that referendum still needed for regional share of Broadway, Surrey lines

April 27th, 2017 · 10 Comments

In the 2013 election, Premier Christy Clark was quite vocal about requiring a referendum for any new tax, fee or whatever that the mayors wanted to help pay for the regional share of transit.

This time, candidates have stayed away from that.

However, the Liberal Party made it clear — in its response to the TransLink mayors’ council questionnaire — that a referendum will still be required when mayors are trying to decide this time how to come up with the rest of their share for the 10-year, $7.5-billion plan for transit improvements. The feds and province have kicked in about $5 billion at this point and the mayors have approved some property-tax and fare increases, but none of that is enough to cover the full bill.

(My Globe story on this in today’s paper here.)

The party also said it will fund one-third of the Pattullo Bridge as long as there is a “strong business case.” I always thought the strong business case was that the bridge is about to fall into the river, but I guess I know nothing.

I couldn’t understand why that wording would suddenly appear until I remembered that the Libs also promised a cap on all tolls in the region. And the planning for the bridge had always factored in tolls. In fact, at a transit panel that I moderated recently, TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said that the one thing TransLink would do differently to avoid the problems the Port Mann Bridge has had with finances is to ensure that no money has to come out of the operations budget to help make the mortgage payments on the bridge.

So, if the possibility for revenue from tolling the bridge is now limited, that means TransLink will have to develop a new business case.

Anyway, transit planners must be praying for an end to this election campaign, before any more little grenades can be thrown their way.

As I noted last week, that started with the two major parties competing to reduce or eliminate tolls altogether, to the dismay of mayors and rational policy-makers.




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  • Lewis_N_Villegas

    What attracted our attention about the announcement of the Broadway and Surrey extensions was not that it came without a “total cost” figure. What startled a group of planners and urbanists was how the cost per km for building transit keeps going up and up and up.

    I consulted both transit experts in our region and Translink to try to get to the bottom of this. The conclusion I arrived at was that transit is getting VERY expensive in our region because—besides passengers—it is carrying a LOT of pork.

  • A Taxpayer

    It’s fair to debate whether the Province should have required the previous referendum on creating a new source of funding for transit but the fact is they did and it was voted down. There is no way they could possibly consider letting the Mayors implement a new source of funding without also going to referendum. Substitute a new HST like tax for road pricing or some other new source of transit funding and it should be clear why this is the case.

  • A Taxpayer

    Very interesting article. It would seem to suggest that the Mayors should be funding “transit” costs out of property taxes and not through some new funding source.

  • TessaGarnet

    Or they could just do what everyone else has always done and campaign in the provincial election for funding for transit and win a mandate the old-fashioned way. It’s not like the Liberals are promising referendums on any of their other spending promises.

  • Lewis_N_Villegas

    Ideally, we would have representational regional government, and the elected metro council would be making the decision on what municipality gets the next metro transit project. Beyond that, the point I am trying to raise is that Skytrain costs too much and so do the towers the municipalities are using to raise the revenues they need to pay for the transit. So, If we opt for modern tram, the costs of transportation fizzle. If we also back away from building towers, the costs of upgrading infrastructure that is already all in place (power, water, sewer, health & safety, etc) also fizzle. The unexpected kicker is that we may see land prices return to normal too.

  • A Taxpayer

    “It’s not like the Liberals are promising referendums on any of their other spending promises.”

    Not the same thing. The Liberals are not requiring the Mayor’s to obtain approval from the taxpayers for their spending on transit but rather for how they intend to fund this spending and even then only if they wish to tap a new revenue source. The Mayors can fund the regions share of transit costs through existing sources such as property taxes without going to the taxpayer.

    This is a local issue that should be voted on only by those residents affected. It is totally inappropriate to include how the region proposes to pay for their share of transit in a provincial election.

  • TessaGarnet

    In that case, then why did both the Liberals and the NDP make the tolls on the Port Mann Bridge a provincial election issue? After all, that’s a regional issue affecting Translink’s budget. It hardly affects people in Terrace.

    Last I checked, the provincial government is, according to the constitution, responsible for local transportation issues. Cities are creatures of the province, and the province can choose to amend the city’s charter any time they like. In this same election we’ve seen the Liberals meddle in Vancouver’s own building code and make that a provincial election issue, which I’m only guessing they did because certain companies and individuals made some timely donations to their party. If they’re going to amend the city’s charter, shouldn’t they also hold a referendum on that issue?

    No, the referendum on transit is a hypocritical non-policy designed to delay transit improvements and to divide and distract competing political interests.

  • A Taxpayer

    The Port Mann Bridge is owned and maintained by the BC Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure and not Translink. Therefore the people in Terrace and everywhere else in BC have an interest in the toll issue and it is fair to be debated as a provincial election issue.

    A referendum does not necessarily delay transit improvements. All the mayors have to do is to say they are proceeding one way or another. If an alternative funding referendum fails then they would fund the transit plan through property tax assessments.

  • TessaGarnet

    Of course a referendum delays transit improvements. Any time you make the decision making process more complex and less efficient it delays progress.

    And your point would be more convincing if the Golden Ears Bridge toll weren’t also being debated as part of the provincial election, not to mention the hypothetical tolls of the hypothetical replacement of the Patullo Bridge.

    What you’re doing is trying to explain away a policy designed to divide the B.C. electorate for electoral gain. There’s always some way to try to explain that away but it’s never going to create a coherent policy.

  • Kenji

    Usually construction costs do not go down the longer you wait. I’ve been thinking that about the Broadway Skytrain for years. Referenda as stalling technique, to pass the cost to future governments.

    However, Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, which he talked about at Vancouver TED, has set out to reduce tunnel costs dramatically, so maybe this is the time that prolonged hesitation will make a cheaper product.