After half a year of blogging on the transit referendum, I was wondering whether anyone really cared about it – and the consequences of what appears to be its likely failure. Apparently it took the politicians sniping at each other to get the media’s attention. And in the last couple of weeks, they certainly have.
Just today, for instance, in The Sun alone:
- Metro Vancouver to have TransLink referendum on municipal ballots
- Editorial: Regional transit referendum shaping up to be messy
- Vaughn Palmer: A bridge too far, a referendum too far gone
There’s a lot of ‘false equivalency’ going on – the meme that each side is equally at fault for the inability of the region to move forward on transit funding, that the local leaders are unable to agree among themselves. That charge suits the Province since it seems to justify an imposed referendum.
Palmer, however, sees it differently:
… Stone overreached when he argued that the Metro Vancouver mayors were therefore obliged to come to the table with the Liberals, agree on transit priorities and possible revenue measures, then help frame the referendum question.
… notwithstanding Stone’s call for them to “show some leadership,” I don’t see that the Metro mayors, as a contingent, are notably weak on that front. …
A better case can be made that provincial governments – NDP and Liberal – have been incapable of following through on the consensus of the mayors for new or expanded revenue sources, notably the vehicle levy.
But in the charge and counter-charge, however, one question still remains unanswered: Why a referendum at all?
- Why a referendum only for Metro Vancouver. Why not all taxing proposals in all regions around the province? (Or perhaps that’s the eventual intent.)
- Why only on transit? Even though TransLink has responsibility for roads and some bridges, the Premier framed this as a transit-only question. Why not, in particular, an inclusive vote on provincial infrastructure within the region too, notably the Massey crossing? After all, no road-pricing scheme or universal bridge-tolling is viable without provincial participation.
- Why are only the mayors expected to provide the leadership, whether to craft the question or fight for its approval – especially when the outcome is weighted against them?
The province is sometimes forced to assume a leadership position on transit when the locals balk, the best example being the decision to impose construction of the Canada Line ahead of regional preferences for the Evergreen Line.
The Liberals are not proposing to go that route this time. Rather, they want to enlist local government leaders in setting priorities and promoting revenue sources that might well go against the interests of their own ratepayers.
Ironically, by imposing the referendum on the mayors, the Province has achieved what it claims they lack: unity. Save for the Mayor of Delta, all the others are agreed in their opposition to the vote.
So what to do?
Perhaps everyone can take a step back, inhale, and decide, no, we don’t have enough time to agree on priorities, settle on the funding sources, craft the question and mount a campaign in the time available (now 295 days). Let’s punt. There’s no actual requirement to have a referendum on November 15 if there’s no request for new funding at this time.
This region deserves a successful outcome if there is inevitably to be a referendum.
Let’s take the time to do it right.