July 2, 2015 5:08 pm
Updated: July 2, 2015 11:10 pm

‘Referendums to raise taxes are hard to win’: Baldrey

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WATCH: Keith Baldrey has more details on what happens next now that the plebiscite has ben defeated

Global BC’s Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey gives some quick takeaways from Thursday’s unsurprising defeat of the plebiscite proposal to hike the sales tax to pay for transit improvements in Metro Vancouver.

The Elites Lost


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Rather than being a huge for victory for the No side, the 62%-38% vote was really more of a massive repudiation of the Yes side’s forces. Don’t get me wrong — it was indeed a decisive and impressive No vote — but the Yes side spent millions of dollars and boasted its coalition of disparate organizations with hundreds of thousands of members would spell the difference.

Instead, this coalition of politicians, business leaders, organized labor and environmental organizations utterly failed to connect with folks.  Less than 20 per cent of eligible voters heeded their call, as more than 80 per cent sat on their hands or voted no.

Referendums To Raise Taxes Are Hard to Win

People don’t like to be told that raising taxes is good for them, which is exactly the approach taken by both the pro-HST forces and the Yes side in the transit vote. A natural suspicion (which then turns to thinly-veiled anger) greets such pronouncements, and a growing disenchantment with institutions and government ensures such initiatives are doomed from the start.

It’s also worth asking whether referendums should be used to build infrastructure, such as transit. Strangely, the B.C. Liberal government has literally spent billions — yes, billions! – of dollars over the last decade on a massive infrastructure initiative to build roads, bridges, hospitals and schools. But not transit? What?

More Evidence Political Power is Leaking Out of Vancouver had Heading South of the Fraser

The only city’s electorate that came even remotely close to voting Yes was Vancouver, where just 3,400 votes of more than 200,000 cost separated the two sides. But the Yes side was nowhere to be seen in places like Richmond, Langley, Surrey, Delta as well as Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

The 2013 provincial election showed the power axis had been tilted, as Vancouver largely rejected the B.C. Liberals while much of the rest of the region embraced them.  The population (and votes) are growing south of the Fraser (and the Eastern suburbs along the river), and that is where the power is now centered.

READ MORE: Reactions to transit plebiscite results pour in

So What Happens Now?

It looks like a stand-off between the Mayor’s Council and the provincial government.  The mayors want the province to provide the answer to the riddle of how to cover the “funding gap” for transit services, but they would be foolish to expect Victoria to start shoveling huge amounts of money to Metro Vancouver to buy some buses just because this poorly-conceived plebiscite scheme got blown out of the water.

The two sides will likely begin yet another dialogue, and some changes to Translink’s governance model may be made (again).  But the province will no doubt dare the mayors to look at the various revenue measures they potentially have in their arsenal, but refuse to consider: hikes to property taxes, a vehicle levy, parking taxes, higher gas taxes etc.

And so the game of transit chicken will continue for some time. Some big ticket items like Surrey’s rapid transit lines, a new Pattullo Bridge and a new Massey Crossing Bridge will undoubtedly all get built over the next decade.

But the hopes of improved transit among those who stare forlornly as yet another bus passes them by on the Broadway B-Line have been dashed, at least for a while yet.  Riding a bus is going to become even a bit more trying.

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