Governance & Politics
June 19, 2013

TransLink Referendum: Can It win? What do we need to know?

I’ve been conducting a very informal (and too limited) poll to ascertain whether the referendum on TransLink funding options, required to go to a vote in the Metro region no later than the next civic election on November 15, 2014, has a reasonable chance of passing.

If the vote is lost, then the consequences are dire, since surely it would be suicidal for a Liberal government, with the HST still painfully fresh, to go back to British Columbians with a new, negotiated deal that involves a tax.  In other words, there is no Plan B.
So we need a very hard-headed discussion now as to whether this process is actually do-able.  If not, then why start?
The region might still at this point say to the provincial government: “This initiative is not, in our assessment,  winnable, so we’re not starting.  There won’t be a ballot measure next year.  What do you want to do?
“If your position is ‘No vote, no transit,’ then say that now.  We’ll be no further behind than where we would likely be on Nov 16.  And you would have to take some political responsibility for rejecting transit plans and, with it, our regional growth strategy.”
If the Province then wants to consider other options, now is also the time to start discussions, before the machinery gears up, sides are taken and we’re locked into a process that could, in its worst manifestations, rip the region apart.
Or, more optimistically, if this referendum is winnable, then we need to decide that now too, since it would break a deadlock and move us forward in a way that wouldn’t be possible without public affirmation.  But we’d need to move fast, be united, and find strong leaders to make it a reality.
So you can see why it’s necessary to get a realistic sense of ‘winnability.’
Yesterday I had the chance to ask a group of knowledgeable Vancouverites on matters urban.  It was at  Stantec’s Urban Development Innovation Series that brings together key industry leaders who, in many ways, shape our urban environments across public and private sectors, academia and industry.  Who better to ask.
I tried a straw poll with a question phrased as neutrally as possible: “Can a question on the ballot at the time of the next civic election that specifies taxes needed to fund transit growth in the region (with none of the above as an option) have a chance of winning a majority?
Of the group of about 50, not a single hand was raised.  None thought it had a chance.
But it’s still too early to decide.  We’ve hardly had a chance to consider how this process will work, much less all the factors that need to be weighed.  No one has yet looked at this challenge, or the process involved, in any depth.
The first off the mark is NPA councillor George Affleck, who yesterday tabled a motion at Vancouver City Council that calls for the Mayor and those councillors who represent Vancouver at Metro to report back on the needed information before the discussion gets serious.
Here it is:

4. Transit Referendum

MOVER: Councillor George Affleck



1. The City of Vancouver believes strongly in an efficient, effective transit system;

2. The Premier of British Columbia recently announced that a referendum on Metro Vancouver transportation funding will be held no later than the Civic Election of 2014.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the City of Vancouver Directors to the Metro Vancouver Board ask Metro Vancouver to report back on:

1) Transportation and funding issues in Metro Vancouver that need to be included in a consensus position, possible funding options and mechanisms, and impediments or issues that need to be identified or resolved beforehand;

2) The potential economic, social and environmental ramifications of referendum results on Metro Vancouver;

3) Who would be responsible for developing transportation priorities for Metro Vancouver;

4) How campaigns for the referendum will be funded and estimated costs;

5) The possible roles of Translink, its Board, the Mayor’s Council, Metro Vancouver and its Board, and Municipal Councils in a referendum process;

6) Clarification of the rules by which the referendum would be held, how the outcome would be determined and whether the results would be binding on all parties involved.

Read more »