It may be three months until people in Metro Vancouver begin voting in the transit referendum, but already the battle lines have begun to form.
The question, approved by the provincial government yesterday, will ask voters in Metro Vancouver “Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?”
If passed, the tax would fund light-rail lines in Surrey, a new Pattullo Bridge, an extension of the Millennium Line, and general improvements to B.C.’s roads and transit structures.
Here’s a brief list of who has lined up for and against the question so far. We’ll be updating the list as needed.
Nearly every Metro Vancouver mayor: On December 11, 18 of the region’s 21 mayors voted in favour of bringing the question to the public, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who say the region can’t go without a long-term transportation plan any longer.
Support among the 18 mayors has varied in enthusiasm. Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart has said “it’s an enormous jump forward”, while Delta mayor Lois Jackson, a longtime critic of TransLink, has said it’s not a perfect plan but is the fairest option to present to voters.
Business groups: A broad range of business groups are supporting the referendum under the banner of the “Better Transit and Transportation Coalition”, including the Vancouver Board of Trade, the BC Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, and the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce. Many other groups are also expected to join.
“Our coalition is quickly gathering momentum,” said Iain Black, CEO of the Vancouver Board of Trade, in a release announcing the group. “We’re one proud part of a full range of environmental, labour, transportation, tourism, health and other groups, and together we’re focused on fighting congestion through transit and transportation improvements.”
Labour and environmental groups: Non-business groups that have joined the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition so far include Unifor 11, which represents nearly 4000 transit workers and the David Suzuki Foundation. The B.C. Federation of Labour also voted unanimously to support the referendum at their annual convention last month.
For a full list of groups supporting the referendum under the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, click here.
The NDP: The official opposition has come out in favour of the referendum as well.
“Traffic congestion in our region is costing the economy billions, and it’s leaving drivers stuck in gridlock and transit users waiting for overloaded buses. If this referendum fails, it will have a serious impact on our provincial economy and the future of this fast-growing region,” says TransLink transportation critic George Heyman.
Bill Tieleman: A longtime communication consultant and NDP supporter, Tieleman’s support is notable because he was a successful organizers in the two recent high-profile referendums in British Columbia: the “YES” side on the referendum to revoke the HST, and the “NO” side on the referendum to change B.C.’s voting system to single transferable ballot.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation: Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has promised a vigorous campaign against the referendum, arguing TransLink shouldn’t be trusted with an additional $250 million a year.
READ MORE: Translink ridership down, higher fares blamed
“TransLink already takes 17 cents per litre on gas, five cents per litre of the federal government’s gas tax, ever-increasing property taxes, a 21 per cent parking tax and a levy on BC Hydro bills. Then they waste it on over-budget projects, executive perks, and dozens of other bad decisions,” said Bateman. “We’d all be better off if TransLink spent as much time and effort looking to save money and cut waste as it did dreaming up new tax grabs.”
Canadian Federation of Independent Business: The organization representing many small businesses has called for a NO vote after an online survey of its membership.
Langley Chamber of Commerce: While most Chamber of Commerces in the Lower Mainland support the measure, the Langley Chamber of Commerce became the first business group to oppose the referendum in December 2014.
West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith: The mayor has heavily criticized the plan, saying TransLink cannot be trusted to oversee the $7.5 billion that would be raised through the referendum over its first 10 years.
“I fully support an efficient and effective transit system, but to make it a reality we need local control to plan, operate, and fund the system and be accountable for results.”
OPPOSING BUT NOT CAMPAIGNING
Derek Corrigan: The longtime Burnaby Mayor is the most prominent local politician to come out against the referendum, voting against it when it was approved by Metro Vancouver mayors. He says there aren’t enough details in place, and there’s no guarantee the money raised will be used efficiently. Maple Ridge’s Nicole Read also voted against the referendum .
SUPPORTING BUT NOT CAMPAIGNING (YET)
Christy Clark: The Premier had applauded municipal politicians for coming up with a question, but originally didn’t have public stance on the vote itself when it was approved in 2014.
“If this B.C. Liberal referendum fails, billions more will be lost, and this region will remain stuck in gridlock,” said New Democrat spokesperson on TransLink George Heyman.
“The premier and her ministers need to step up to the plate today and commit to doing everything they can to secure a yes vote in the spring.”
This year Clark has said she will vote yes in the referendum, but has resisted calls to personally campaign.