Peter Fassbender is the minister responsible for TransLink.

Minister backtracks after saying no referendum needed for vehicle levy

Peter Fassbender fans hopes of Metro mayors, then says he 'misspoke' in comments that a vehicle levy would not trigger a new plebiscite

Peter Fassbender has retracted earlier comments today that Metro Vancouver mayors can impose a vehicle levy to fund regional transit expansion without holding a new referendum.

His statements in a Black Press interview – repeatedly insisting a vehicle levy would not trigger a referendum because it’s already enabled in TransLink’s legislation – surprised Metro Vancouver mayors, some of whom said they wouldn’t have forced a referendum on a regional sales tax had they been told that in 2014.

“I misspoke when it came to the vehicle levy, and I do apologize for that,” Fassbender said, adding that in addition to the need for the province to enable ICBC to collect an annual vehicle registration fee, “it is also a new tax, therefore it would be subject to a plebiscite or a referendum with the public.”

That’s back in line with the BC Liberals’ consistent position on the transit referendum requirements since it was imposed by Premier Christy Clark as part of the party’s 2013 election platform.

Legislation subsequently passed by the provincial government spelled out not just new fees or taxes but any amendment to legislation to enable enforcement of sources – such as a vehicle levy collected by ICBC – as being within the definition of “additional funding sources” triggering a plebiscite.

“I made a mistake,” Fassbender said. “Mea culpa. My fault. I take full responsibility.”

Prior to Fassbender’s retraction, Metro politicians and other transit watchers cautiously celebrated the comments as a sign of BC Liberal softening that could break the stalemate on how to fund transit expansion in the region.

Metro mayors may not have to raise as much money as the $250 million were proposing in last year’s plebiscite to fund the regional share if the federal government offers more generous contributions than the traditional one third.

Federal officials have hinted up to one half could come from Ottawa, reducing the regional requirement to 17 per cent. Fassbender said the province won’t increase its contribution beyond one third.

Read the original version of this story on Fassbender’s comments and the mayors’ reactions.