COLUMN: Let’s make sure transit funds aren’t wasted

Independent oversight needed for administration of transportation dollars.

By now, you might have had a chance to hear about the proposed 0.5-per-cent Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax and may have received a voting package from Elections BC.

This is a great opportunity for Metro Vancouver residents to make their voice heard through the plebiscite and engage in a form of direct democracy.  I would encourage all eligible voters to fill out the ballot and send it to Elections BC by the deadline.

Voters should strive to understand both sides of the debate, as there are some groups and organizations supporting the “yes” side, while others are opposed to the tax increase. Regardless of which side one chooses, however, it is apparent the transit and transportation services in our region need to be improved, including public transit systems and infrastructure.

No matter what the result of the plebiscite is, there are certain governance reforms that need to be explored, which may ensure more effective management of transportation in our province. An elected citizen assembly could provide input on transportation, which may ensure greater representation and effectiveness.

In the U.S., the Office of the Inspector General is able to investigate and take action on transportation matters (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/programadmin/contracts/fraud.cfm).

Independent investigation capabilities here would ensure that citizens have full trust in the system, and that taxpayers’ money is being spent in a transparent manner.

Dr. Kevin Ginnell, a political science professor at Simon Fraser University, supports the idea of having an inspector general as this “would instill confidence…and ensure that money isn’t wasted.”

He would like to see some sort of citizen’s oversight committee.  While such reforms are not on the plebiscite ballot, they can and should be explored by provincial governments.

Such actions can also be supported by the Mayors’ Council. If the plebiscite results in the yes vote winning, these changes would ensure that the money being spent on transportation and transit is in fact being spent on the right priorities.

If, on the other hand, it results in a no vote, then the existing and future funds could be utilized in an effective manner to ensure our region’s needs are met.

Both sides of the debate have created websites which voters can visit to learn more about their positions. If you have any question regarding the actual voting process, you can visit the Elections BC website at http://www.elections.bc.ca/plebiscite/index.html.

Mayors have also contributed their opinions on the matter, with some favouring the tax and others opposing it. At the end of the day, it is important to look at the different sides of the argument and vote based on your own conclusion.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University. He writes regularly for The Leader.

 

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