The City of Surrey has been pulling “No TransLink Tax” signs from city property and the group that put them there is crying foul.
For about the past two weeks, City of Surrey bylaw officers have been taking down signs opposing the ongoing transit referendum.
The city is spending $300,000 in taxpayer dollars to get out the “yes” vote for a 0.5-per-cent hike in sales tax in order to pay for better transit and transportation projects.
Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, has been working a spirited campaign against the plebiscite proposal – on a shoestring budget of $40,000.
Cities in the region and TransLink are spending upwards of $7 million to promote a yes vote. Bateman says Surrey is being heavy-handed in using bylaw officials to further hammer down his meagre campaign initiative.
“All of our signs are gone in Surrey unless they are on private property,” Bateman said. “We had a bunch near the Pattullo Bridge, we had some in the Green Timbers park area, a few on King George, a few on Fraser Highway.”
He believes the city could be taken to court over the signs’ removal, but he says his group has neither the time nor the money to take on a publicly funded municipality.
Surrey’s Manager of Bylaw Enforcement Jas Rehal confirmed that officers had taken down about 20 signs from public property in the city over the past two weeks.
Mayor Linda Hepner said the signs had to come down because they were in direct contravention of city bylaws.
“They can go on private property, just not on public space property,” Hepner said Wednesday.
The City of Surrey sign bylaw does include language that permits signs in public spaces during elections.
Asked if the “no” signs would qualify, as Elections BC is overseeing the transit referendum, Hepner said no.
“I would think not, it’s a plebiscite, not an election,” Hepner said.
The city is renting advertising space on bus shelters in public spaces promoting the yes vote, which Hepner said Bateman’s group is also entitled to do.
There is also a “vote yes” sign in the window of city hall, which is also public property.
“On city hall, yes,” Hepner said. “I don’t think you can define the ‘yes’ sign on city hall property the same way you can define the ‘no’ sign on public rights of way.”
Johal said there have been no requests to put up a “no” sign at city hall.
Asked if no campaigners would be allowed to post a sign if they asked, Rehal said “we would review that request accordingly.”
Bateman wrote Hepner and the city on Thursday morning, lodging a complaint and asking for equal space in public facilities.
“Despite the proliferation of hundreds of non-conforming, illegal and ugly signs throughout Surrey, ours were singled out for near-instant removal,” Bateman says in his email to Hepner. “We believe this is an inappropriate political statement by City of Surrey staff, fuelled by your support for the TransLink tax.”
He said the no side should have equal space in taxpayer-funded facilities.
“Fairness is a key tenet in any campaign. TransLink and various local governments, including your own, are spending $7 million in taxpayer money to push for the TransLink tax,” Bateman said in the email. “We believe a few lawn signs and posters, paid for voluntarily by No TransLink Tax supporters with their after-tax dollars, should be allowed.”
He said because of the tight timeline – ballots are due back by May 29 – he would appreciate a response immediately.
As of The Leader’s press deadline Wednesday, there was no word on whether Bateman’s signs would be allowed.
Hepner said she understands the optics of Surrey taking down the no signs, seeing as the city is supporting the yes side.
“I can certainly see how it could be interpreted that way,” Hepner said. “That’s not the way I would interpret it.”
She said the no side should collect its signs that were taken and put them on private property.
“If they can find a store that will put up the no signs, nobody is going to have any trouble with that at all,” Hepner said.
She said the yes campaign is going well, with the abiding challenge being to get the message out to voters.
That message is that about 45 per cent of the transit benefits contained in the proposal will be coming south of the Fraser, with the bulk of them in Surrey.
“I hope (voters) realize that the cost is going to happen regardless down the road,” Hepner said. “Whether that be ‘I’m stuck for an extra length of time in traffic,’ or whether that is ‘I can’t get there at all, because the service isn’t there’.”
She also understands the yes campaign is an “uphill struggle” and that a lot of people face financial constraints.