A referendum on TransLink expansion

Rules murky for TransLink tax referendum

Victory threshold, campaign controls unclear: critic

Proposed legislation on a future referendum on new taxes for TransLink expansion leaves major unanswered questions as to how the vote will be conducted, says one observer.

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he was stunned by how few specifics the province spelled out for the referendum in Bill 23, which will be debated in the Legislature this month.

“It’s really the wild west,” Bateman said. “There are virtually no rules in it whatsoever.”

Absent from the bill is any concrete definition of the winning threshold.

It merely says Metro Vancouver mayors’ council must demonstrate “to the minister’s satisfaction” that a majority of the region’s voters support the use of new funding sources to pay for the proposed package of transportation upgrades.

Bateman said it’s unclear if that means a 50 per cent plus one referendum result passes, or if a higher threshold will apply.

Also unclear is whether a majority vote counted across the whole region would pass, or whether it must also pass in most of the region’s 22 municipalities.

If the votes are tallied only as a region, Bateman said, it will unfairly give too much clout to the biggest cities of Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby and Richmond and risk a questionable result if it passes in those big cities but not in most smaller municipalities.

Surrey and Vancouver, which both want major new rapid transit extensions, together have nearly half the population of the entire Metro region.

He argued the winning threshold should be 50 per cent plus one regionally and also passing by a simple majority in two-thirds of the municipalities, similar to the rules for referenda run by Elections BC.

Instead, the very brief bill exempts the TransLink referendum from the regulations that apply in a provincial referendum.

Bateman said the proposed legislation is also devoid of rules on spending limits during the campaign, or of any definition of TransLink’s role, including oversight of TransLink-issued information about the plan.

“One lesson of the HST referendum was the blowback the provincial government got when it was being too aggressively pro-HST,” he said.

It’s no surprise the legislation doesn’t yet spell out what new taxes or tools might be used to fund TransLink.

The province is still considering the options, which include a vehicle levy, a regional sales tax and road pricing.

Meanwhile, Metro mayors are crafting the spending plan, which may include not just SkyTrain extensions and more bus service, but more money for SeaBus, HandyDart and West Coast Express service, as well as the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge.

Mayors’ council chair Richard Walton said it’s difficult to draw up that plan without knowing yet how what sources the province would approve, subject to referendum, or the total amount of money available.

“We’re no closer to knowing what may be allowed,” he said, but added mayors are working in good faith on the basis the province will support use of a new source.

Road pricing might be pursued over the longer term, but not in the short-term referendum, which could be held by mid-2015.

Mayors fear the province will once again reject every potential new tax or levy except  higher property taxes, which city councils refuse to raise further for TransLink.

The blame for higher TransLink property taxes tends to fall on cities and come at the expense of their ability to fund more municipal services, while the province sees other sources as cutting into its own revenue streams.

“It’s all about protecting tax room,” Walton said. “So it’s a little bit of a poker game.”

He noted TransLink needs to raise an extra $200 million per year just to restore service to the levels of three years ago, never mind extra for major new capital projects.

The new provincial legislation allows TransLink to continue to raise three per cent more from property tax each year – about $9 million extra – without the mayors’ consent.

Just Posted

Langley pioneers remember heritage buildings

Ahead of November’s Douglas Day banquet, Fred Pepin speaks to importance of preserving local history

Turkeys avoid dinner plate at Thanksgiving meal in Aldergrove

Happy Herd Farm Sanctuary planned a vegan potluck dinner Sunday

Soroptimists of the Langleys host women’s health forum

Topics covered include medical assistance in dying, accessing medical cannabis, and a healthy brain

‘My heart goes out to the mother’: Carson Crimeni’s dad reacts to stabbing death of Ontario boy

Carson Crimeni, who was also 14, was bullied relentlessly, his dad says

Langley couple bring back medals from 55+ games

A gold and a silver for Brookswood residents

B.C.’s rural paramedic program expands, with home support

Advanced care ambulance staff added for six communities

BC Ferries sees steady traffic of post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Ferries filling up fast, sailing waits at some terminals

‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his Canadian wife’s death

Family held a funeral and placed Alishia Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont.

Heiltsuk Nation open first Big House in 120 years in northern B.C.

Opening means the community now has an appropriate space for spiritual and ceremonial events

Singh says NDP would form coalition with the Liberals to stop Tories

Singh was in a Liberal-held riding Sunday afternoon in Surrey where he was pressed about his post-election intentions

BC Ferries filling up fast with post-Thanksgiving weekend travellers

Monday anticipated to be busiest day of the weekend

The one with the ‘Friends’ photoshoot: Kelowna group recreates TV show intro

A friend’s departure prompted them to create something that really says, “I’ll be there for you”

Canadian Snowbirds plane crashes before air show in Atlanta

Pilot lands safely after ejecting from jet

Share crash data, private insurers tell David Eby, ICBC

B.C. monopoly makes drivers retrieve their own records

Most Read