June 13, 2017

PTERR: Ending the Referendum Requirement – 3

One down, two to go.
Sam Sullivan, newly (if briefly) appointed minister responsible for TransLink, made a breakthough announcement yesterday (reported in the post below):

… his party will no longer require another referendum in order for the region to develop new funding for the transit system.

Price Tags is going to take (a little) credit for this one.  When we started PTERR (the Price Tags Initiative to End the Referendum Requirement), Sam was the first MLA we contacted, hoping he would come on the record with his position.
Though PT has been critical in the past for Sam’s lack of voice on issues critical to his constituency, this time he took up the opportunity.  Indeed, within hours he was on the phone (calling from a SkyTrain car) and, after noting that his position was personal, committed himself to the wording we reported on June 6:

 I would be in favour of removing the referendum requirement if an agreement for funding the Mayor’s plan can be achieved among the three levels of government.

Clearly, Sam would not have made the official and even more unequivocal announcement on behalf of the government unless it had been vetted by the Premier (she who pulled the referendum requirement out of nowhere prior to the 2013 election, applicable only to Metro, only for regional transport).   So this constitutes a significant change of policy – an attempt, no doubt, for the  Liberals to pivot on their approach to Metro Vancouver after being so severely punished by the voters.*
PT sent individual emails to every MLA in Metro requesting their position on the referendum requirement – and so far Sam remains the only one to respond.  But given the rush of events these days, we’re still giving them more time, recognizing that for most they will want an official position from their party before replying.
According to the ‘NW report, “The NDP and Green party said they’d kill the plebiscite requirement.”
Not according to any documentation we’ve seen.  Perhaps it has been stated or implied, but nothing has been sent to us by the NDP or Greens to clarify that stance in writing.
So PTERR will continue pressing forward until, ideally, all three parties agree to remove the referendum requirement from the books.


* Why did the Liberals taken such an obstructionist approach to transit in Metro?  It makes no political sense.
If you want to be the Party of Jobs and Economic Prosperity, then the Broadway and Surrey lines are exactly what you want to put on the hardhat for.  What, after all, are the jobs and investments you want to attract to BC (given that LNG hasn’t exactly panned out)?
Like every other competitive region, you want jobs in tech, research, education, health, corporate services, tourism and culture.  They are literally along Broadway: universities, hospitals, the second largest ‘downtown’ in the province.  At the other end of the rapid-transit line, similar institutions and prospects in Surrey Central.
Given the wealth and jobs generated by real-estate and construction, rapid-transit is a no-brainer.  Given the need to address housing affordability and traffic congestion, again rapid-transit is key.
But no one would have confused the Liberals as being the Party of Yes when it came to transit.  Is it because they saw transit as a social service more than infrastructure investment?  As something that should be funded more locally than provincially? Because they feared being seen as too supportive of the latte-sipping Lower Mainland, or whatever cliche occupies the minds of their up-country voters?  Was it simply because they decided they didn’t really need Vancouver electorally, so screw it?
Up until the election results, they were once again prepared to impose a referendum on the region, even after all the work and political capital that would have to be spent to examine mobility pricing.  After more years of delay, they were prepared to let the whole process be highjacked and turned into another shitshow by whomever could discredit the negotiated compromises and trade-offs, killing any proposal for increased funding with social-media exaggeration and misinformation, adding more years and costs to critical investments that the provincial government would have to fund in any event.
It makes no sense.
But if it hadn’t been for the election outcome in Metro, would it still be BC Liberal policy? And are the NDP and Greens prepared to join in and unanimously kill the referendum requirement once and for all?
We still need to know.

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  1. Page 47 of the NDP platform (under Fixing TransLink) specifically states they support “getting rid of the referendum requirement that has delayed progress on fixing lower mainland traffic.”

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      1. Not true. John Horgan has specifically said that just because a policy is not mentioned in the NDP-Green agreement document does not mean that an NDP government would not be commited to it.

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  2. Finally … someone has come to their senses on following the Region’s Transit priorities. The Liberal Provincial Government has frustrated solutions for years while imposing its own misguided agenda on the region. Will wait and see what happens in the Legislature!

  3. Holding the line on new taxes & new debt was part of the Liberal agenda for years. Many people agree with this world view.
    Is it now: any new tax is a good tax ?
    Where are the discussions on acceptable debt levels as well as services cost delivery costs, specifically wages, benefits and pension of public sector employees that make up 70%+ of any government expenditures ?
    Not everyone agrees with a bigger-government-is-better world view !
    The debate on what form of taxation and efficient government spending is extremely vital in a society, not just more taxes in any form !

  4. Ok, but the political headwinds against mobility pricing are picking up (personal anecdata).
    The biggest challenge of the new commission will be selling the benefits and the lack of effective alternatives.
    Already the discussion is about tax-gouging and “didn’t they learn anything from the referendum results?”.
    Tax-haters are citizens too, and need to be heard, respected and, dare I say, educated about the total picture of mobility pricing and how it will benefit them.

    1. Why not just raise property taxes and be done with it? The mayors will get tarred with mobility pricing anyway, not the province, so I’m not sure why they are so afraid of political fallout from property taxes.

      1. The issue is to raise prices on stuff you want LESS OF, for example carbon or road use or car ownership. If you price properties higher that has no bearing on car use whatsoever, but if I have to pay $5 to cross a certain bridge (or perhaps even $10 in rush hour) I might not cross it, take a bike, walk, take a subway or find alternative arrangements.
        Of course missing among the pro-tax crowd is ANY debate on services delivery costs, specifically wages, benefits and pension of public sector employees that make up 70%+ of any government expenditures !
        The populace is taxed enough, and if roads are taxed, then which taxes are lowered in lieu? Gasoline taxes ? Income taxes ? PST ? Property taxes ?

    2. yes, below is what I was writing in 2016:
      The BC Liberal government could have brought the referendum idea in an awkward way, but when it is time to introduce new sources of revenue, such as road pricing, referendums tend to be commonplace (e.g Stockholm, Edinburgh, Milan), or at the minimum, people give mandate to elected official through normal election process to do it (The London Congestion charge was a campaign promise of Ken Livingstone, Singapore is a city state…). All those respect a cornerstone value of our democratic systems: “no taxation without representation”.
      Within the current Translink framework, Mayors have absolutely no mandate to introduce new taxes such as a sale tax or a road pricing scheme …they have not been elected for that but they have all legitimacy to raise property taxes…

  5. Okay Thomas and Peter. But first we should be entitled to independent analysis of the actual value of and return on tax dollars charged and spent.
    Just as some votes are worth twice as much as other votes in rural vs urban ridings, tax dollars are not obtained or created equally. It can be argued that a tax dollar spent on extending the Millennium Line to UBC will be worth orders of magnitude more than a tax dollar spent on building Site C to offer LNG operators subsidized power. As Gordon mentioned, rapid transit effectively stimulates the urban economy for generations, whereas the ability to generate jobs and revenue through LNG isn’t even close, even if it ever gets off the ground.
    That’s the POV form a straight return. Please consider the social values too. What value does a tax dollar hold to society when it’s spent on education compared to the same dollar spent on a gigantic bridge?
    We certainly should listen to an array of opinions on taxes, but that should be in the context of values.

      1. I’d disagree with this view. There are many people who do not share a socialist world view espoused by many other “news” outlets .. like Huffington Post, MeteoNews, Tyee, MSNBC, CBC, etc .. and prefer a news coverage that actually focuses on efficient tax spending and fair value for your (tax) money !

        1. In other words, to limit your world view to one measuring stick.
          Some people are middle of the road and read various information sources with many political stripes and are able to maintain a broader perspective.