Frances Bula header image 2

The transit-tax debate roadshow first stop: Langley, where the argument is made: “Langley will get nothing. It never does.”

January 22nd, 2015 · 304 Comments

Made the trek to Langley (75 minutes there, 40 minutes back) to hear Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Jordan Bateman and pro-Yes campaigner Bill Tieleman face off, to get a sense of the main messages we’ll be hearing for several months.

My Globe story is here but to add a few observations to what is in the story:

1. First off, my mistake, not Bill’s, re the LRT to Langley. It is planned to end at Langley Centre, not Cloverdale, which I had so fixed in my head the last two years that I didn’t hear what was actually said at the meeting. Langley Centre, Langley Centre, Langley CENTRE.

2. Bateman’s focus on Langley as the poor cousin who never gets anything, but pays to support the rest of the region, was fascinating. (And as I tweeted the same that night, I got more than a few tweets from people claiming that Langley and various other suburbs actually get a huge amount of stuff, more than their tax dollars amount to.)

There was a lot of talk about how a local significant business park, Gloucester Industrial Estates, will end up paying $17 million in extra taxes (Bateman wasn’t specific on whether this was per year or for the next century) yet get no transit. There were several references to the fact that Langley was supposed to get a highway exchange at 216th when the Port Mann and Highway 1 were upgraded, but never did. There was more than one reference to the fact that Vancouver’s “Arbutus subway,” as he kept calling it (sounds fancier than Broadway?), will get 31 cents out of every tax dollar. (Nothing about how Surrey, whose projects cost about the same as Vancouver’s and one of which will serve Langley, will presumably get the same.)

I expect that politics of resentment to keep coming up, as people in North and West Vancouver and Maple Ridge and Burnaby debate whether there’s anything in this for them.

3. The debate was out and out nasty at points. Bill Tieleman started off with a full frontal attack on Bateman, saying that Mr. Anti-Tax had never been interested in campaigning against the HST, that he passed plenty of tax hikes when he was a Langley councillor, that he was part of a shady organization, etc etc.

Seemed like a poor choice to me, given that a) Bateman is from Langley, a hometown guy, and the audience might not take kindly to having one of their own slagged by a “west side, latte-swilling, champagne socialist,” as Tieleman described himself. Not only that, but likely many in the crowd likely agree with Bateman’s opinions, so why dump on him/them? Bateman hit back with a few of his own jabs, suggesting at times that Tieleman was probably just hoping to get a cushy job with TransLink, etc. On the whole, the kind of vitriol most likely to make voters want to stay home.

My story cut and pasted below, for those for whom the link does not work.

A debate on the coming transit tax plebiscite pitted leaders of the Yes and No sides against one another in the municipality most fearful of the tax and dubious about its benefits.

The tussle Tuesday night foreshadowed the bitter, personal battle that’s ahead, highlighting the alienation in some of the Lower Mainland’s smaller cities and the resentment toward the bureaucrats who have been running transit.

More Related to this Story

The choices that Langley heard at a local chamber of commerce debate: Vote Yes for more desperately needed transit; or vote No to force the province to shake up the Lower Mainland’s beleaguered transportation agency, TransLink.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation representative Jordan Bateman, heading the opposition to a .5-per-cent sales tax for transit, hammered at people’s distrust of TransLink management and Langley’s resentment about always getting the short end of the stick.

“I’m not anti-transit. I am, however, steadfastly opposed to TransLink and the way it mismanages money,” he said in his opening.

Mr. Bateman has spent the past three years attacking TransLink for wasteful spending on executive salaries, car allowances, the failure to get its new transit card operational, the cost of transit police and much more.

He also repeatedly said Langley businesses will suffer from the tax, claiming it would lure Langley residents to shop more in nearby Abbotsford.

And he emphasized how little Langley will get from the 10-year plan the tax is supposed to pay for and how unlikely it is that even those small improvements will happen.

“It’s not coming to Langley. It never does.” In the meantime, Vancouver’s expensive subway will use up 31 cents of every tax dollar, he said.

On the other side, Bill Tieleman, the former anti-Harmonized Sales Tax crusader who is now one of the main spokesman for the Yes side, argued the vote is not a way to force the province to reform the agency.

“Don’t make a mistake. A No vote is not a ‘I want changes to TransLink and yet I want more transit.’ TransLink’s mismanagement is not on the ballot. A No vote is a no to more buses, it’s a no to the LRT line, it’s a no to SkyTrain, it’s a no to the new Pattullo Bridge, it’s a no to road improvements. No means no.”

And he emphasized what Greater Langley will be getting: two rapid-bus lines, a light-rail line from Surrey into Cloverdale and road improvements.

As they made their arguments, Mr. Tieleman and Mr. Bateman also traded a few insults.

Mr. Tieleman opened by calling Mr. Bateman “Dr. No” and suggested he sounds paranoid with his constant refrain that everyone but him is wrong. Mr. Bateman said his opponent is just a “hired gun” getting a lot of money from his flush union and city-government pals to argue the Yes side.

Both also claimed to be fighting for the little guy. In Mr. Bateman’s version, the little guy doesn’t want to pay more taxes to help bail out a dysfunctional bunch of transit managers. In Mr. Tieleman’s, the little guy needs to be able to get to work by transit.

A lot of those same arguments – and the attacks – will play out with local variations, from West Vancouver to Maple Ridge to White Rock, until the last ballot is mailed May 29.

It’s likely to provoke divisions, just as it is doing in Langley.

The mayors of both Langley Township and Langley City explained their support Tuesday for the plan and tax.

“I’m putting out what I believe is the best option,” said Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer. “If we do not do something now, nothing will happen for a long, long time.”

Township Mayor Jack Froese echoed that, saying that “we’re faced with a growing region that needs investment.”

But the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce has already decided it won’t support a Yes vote, saying there isn’t enough in the plan for Langley.

Some members of Mr. Froese’s own council aren’t supporting the Yes side and are contemplating a demand for a council vote to show who stands where.

“I’m voting no,” said Councillor Kim Richter. “The money that’s being raised is going to TransLink and I think TransLink has to be overhauled.”


Categories: Uncategorized