Province approves, amends transit referendum question

METRO VANCOUVER – The province has approved a ballot question for a vote on TransLink in the spring. Just don’t call it a referendum.

The government approved a plebiscite vote that will ask Lower Mainland residents to approve a new 0.5 per cent sales tax that will go toward a list of transit improvements, including a subway in Vancouver, rapid transit in Surrey, a replacement for the aging Pattullo Bridge, a third SeaBus, new rapid bus lines and other improvements.

Termed the “Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite,” the non-binding vote will ask residents to approve a new Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, which would be applied as a half percentage point to sales taxes on the majority of goods and services currently subjected to the Provincial Sales Tax.

Revenues from the tax will be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan, according to a letter issued to Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone by the region’s Mayors’ Council on Dec. 11. The text of that letter called on the province to support a public mail-in vote starting in mid-March 2015.

“The mayors have come together in unprecedented consensus around a plan to accommodate one million more residents expected in our region by 2040 by fighting congestion to keep people and our economy moving,” said Mayor Richard Walton, chair of the Mayors’ Council. “This plan, which we shared with you in June, 2014, has

been positively received by business, labour, environmental, education, health and community leaders.”

There are a few notable changes in the text of the referendum, not least of which being the change of the name to plebiscite.

The original text called on TransLink to “build light rail transit connecting Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton and Langley.” The amendment now makes ambiguous mention to “build rapid transit” connecting those areas.

In her inaugural address on Dec. 8, Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner stated promoting a “yes” vote in the referendum would be her first order of business, which she said she plans to do through an engagement strategy.

And whereas the original text calls on a new, “earthquake-ready” Pattullo Bridge, the amendment simply says it will build a new Pattullo Bridge.

Rather than committing to 11 new B-Line rapid bus routes, the amended text calls to simply add new B-Line rapid bus routes without specifying any number.

Significantly, the question itself has changed. Whereas before it read, “Do you support a one half percentage point (0.5%) increase to the Provincial Sales Tax in Metro Vancouver, dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan, with independent audits and public reporting?” it now reads, “Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?” The purpose of the plebiscite is to come to a transit agreement throughout the Lower Mainland that will be able to handle the expected influx of one million additional residents to the region by 2040.

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