January 29, 2015

Referendum: Response to Michael Smith, West Van Mayor

West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith was one of only three mayors who voted no on the Mayors’ Council investment package.  He explained why in the Georgia Straight.  Sandy James responds.


One of my colleagues refers to West Vancouver as having the population of four reasonably sized secondary schools. Now we are seeing political rhetoric that is again more secondary school than regional. Mayor Michael Smith is urging people to vote no to the transportation referendum. Why? Mayor Smith says that “government does not have the right to ask citizens to pay more in taxes unless they can assure them that their money is well spent”.

It was the mayors of the region that chose the small increase of sales tax as a way forward for transportation improvements, and that decision did involve Mayor Smith. While Mayor Smith exhorts that the West Vancouver homeowner pays over $800 in property taxes to TransLink, it is just not for public transit, as Mayor Smith implies. TransLink funding provides for public transit, public transit improvements, and the development and maintenance of regional bridges and roads. The regional bridges and roads are what link the small 45,000 population of West Vancouver to the rest of the region. I expect that West Vancouver would be fairly isolated without that investment.

This is not a case of a “no” vote or an anti TransLink rant to merely sink the Transportation Referendum. This is talking about a very important and thoughtful decision to fund regional growth inclusive of improved and enhanced transit service that is accessible to all people living in the region. Sure we all wish that the Provincial government would just fund the needed transportation improvements without putting it to a vote. And sure as populations age, even in places like West Vancouver accessible transit is going to be more and more important. Quite frankly a “yes” vote on the Transportation Referendum is fundamentally the only way that the region can continue to grow in a thoughtful and meaningful way, with good transit, good road infrastructure, and good accessibility across the region.

This is a very important moment and we do not need to fracture the way forward by looking at all that is right or wrong in the pieces. The fundamental piece is voting “yes” to continue transit improvements and transportation accessibility overall across the region. Something we should all be working towards. There is no room for isolated village thinking.

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  1. Sandy, you fail to address the Mayor of West Vancouver’s concerns about the non-binding aspect of this plebiscite and the fact that the province is not bound to follow through on the vote as it was presented and now revised. The Province has already changed the scope of the mayor’s agreed proposal to delete the term subway from Broadway, light rail for Surrey, deleted the number of B-line buses that the mayor’s promoted and probably most important to some, the mayor’s commitment to independent audits and public reporting…So what are we voting for..more tax money for the province from its biggest centre of population without any firm plan that we as citizens can trust our tax money will go to and a period of time within which it will be accomplished. As in the history of transit in this area, trust in provincial governance has not been earned especially in capital projects. Where are the commitments from the Province and the federal government? By the way, I would vote yes as I am a transit advocate and would not object to a sales tax..But this is not a referendum with a set plan with time allocated objectives and funding sources outside of the region, it is left up to the whim of whatever provincial government is in power to do as much or as little as it wishes with an extra tax, perhaps SkyTrain expansion in Surrey?

    1. The sad thing about “no” votes for these reasons is that they will not be interpreted in the way intended by the provincial government. Much more likely that the government will assume we reject transit as an important public good.

      1. Kay, I attended a semi-public meeting on the plebiscite last night and despite my objections above, came away with the feeling that your point above and the attempt by the province is to introduce a US Repubilcan style of politics with the declining impact on public services along with the lack of any leadership, except to confuse and encourage a no vote..

  2. Most trips in West Vancouver are by car for obvious reasons (high income bedroom community with low density sprawl). West Vancouver is also the slowest growing area in Metro Vancouver and doesn’t have much growth in transit demand. So it is understandable that West Van’s mayor has little to offer for solving the region’s transportation problems – aside from “let’s all be like West Vancouver” which means relying on other municipalities to provide employment, services and low income workers for West Van retail. What is difficult to understand is why he seems to care so little about the economic impact of poor transit in the region.

    1. The good thing is that there are a lot of execs and office workers on the blue buses rumbling across the Lions Gate bridge every working day. The bad thing is that they are going to work in another city where the public services they use are covered by that city’s taxpayers.

      1. The property taxes of the commercial office space they are using exceeds by FAR the actual use of these services. In fact, those W-Van office workers downtown subsidize the City of Vancouver services to a large degree, namely services they do not use if they only work in Vancouver. Commercial taxes per sq ft (or $100,000 of assessed value) is 4-5 times that of residential.

        Perhaps if Lionsgate bridge would be widened with a rail link on it, W-Van folks might vote for a transit levy. As this is unlikely, it is understandable why the W-Van mayor opposes such measures, as the only meaningful access from W-Van to downtown is by car. Buses are for NDP voters, not for the (liberal or conservative) W-Van crowd !

        1. Vancouver is charging property taxes to office workers now? And only the ones who commute in from other municipalities, not the ones who live in the city and already pay taxes? What a crazy notion.

          If Vancouver wasn’t there, those office workers wouldn’t have jobs to go to. That is what the West Van mayor isn’t getting, that his community is part of a larger metro region.

          1. Commercial taxes are levied on space or real estate value, regardless of worker bees in them. What W Van is not getting is increased transit, say a subway under Marine Drive from Dundarave to Deep Cove, with a connection via a new wider Lionsgate bridge. Why subsidize someone else ? The mayor behaves rationally. Unlike some of the other mayors, he is not a socialist.

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