Details of a referendum on expanded transit service and new taxes to fund TransLink are now not expected until December.

TransLink referendum question unresolved until after local elections

Voting on new taxes for transit could be online or by mail next spring.

  • Sep. 24, 2014 5:00 p.m.

A final decision is unlikely until after the November municipal elections on what proposed new taxes would be put to a spring referendum to finance a major transit expansion for Metro Vancouver.

Metro mayors met again Monday but are still in discussions with Transportation Minister Todd Stone as to how much money can be raised and what sources are acceptable to the province.

Mayors’ council chair Richard Walton previously said the referendum question and parameters needed to be settled by September, but now hopes it will be mostly determined by an Oct. 17 meeting and finalized Dec. 11.

The delay may spare Metro mayors the need to defend the specifics of proposed new taxes for TransLink in mid-campaign, but Walton denied the election timing is a motive for delay.

“No, I don’t think that’s come up,” Walton said. “The sooner we can get on with this the better.”

The main challenge, he said, is determining how much TransLink might reasonably expect in contributions from the federal and provincial governments.

Mayors in June unveiled a vision proposing $7.5 billion in capital upgrades – two-thirds of it coming from senior governments – for new rapid transit lines in Surrey and Vancouver, more frequent SeaBus service and broad improvements in bus service.

At that time, Stone cautioned the plan sought too much, too fast from Ottawa and Victoria and also ruled out the mayors’ preferred funding source: sharing of the existing carbon tax.

Although mayors support a longer-range pursuit of road pricing – which could involve regional bridge tolling or per kilometre road use fees – that won’t be among the proposed short term sources as it’s far from being clearly defined and explained to voters.

Asked if that leaves the mayors to seek either a regional sales tax, an annual vehicle levy, or both, Walton said he saw “no fault in that logic” but added the deliberations are “still very much in flux.”

He admits there will be little time to inform voters before the referendum.

Instead of a one-day vote, Walton anticipates a mail-in ballot, perhaps even allowing online voting, that could begin in March but run through the spring, with a final voting deadline that could be as late as June.

Walton reiterated the importance of provincial government support as part of a broad coalition for the ‘Yes’ side, noting the harmonized sales tax referendum failed despite provincial support.

Although the proposed improvements include a replacement Pattullo Bridge, some mayors still think it will be a tough sell to get majority support for new taxes that are mainly for improved transit.

“A lot of people are going to vote no,” Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said, noting 85 per cent of residents don’t use transit.

He voted against the mayors’ proposal in June, predicting then it was too ambitious and unwinnable, and says the odds may be worsening.

“It appears to me there’s some cold feet on the part of the provincial government about being an advocate for the referendum,” Corrigan said. “Without the province behind it and actively supporting it, it’s almost hopeless.”

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