Not that I want to publicize Jordan Bateman (the local spokesman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation) even more, since the media do enough of that already (and let’s face it, I get my fair share of coverage too), but in the absence of leadership from local leaders, his strategy regarding the transit referendum may well prevail.
And what strategy is that? Why, getting people to vote against their self-interest in order to effectively disable TransLink – and with it, the regional vision we have pursued for decades with considerable success.
Not, of course, that Metro citizens will intend to vote against more transit or a more sustainable region. But thanks to Bateman’s strategy, that’s what will happen.
Here’s how the strategy works.
1. First, discredit government – in this case, TransLink, and the collective goods we pay for with taxes. Ignore the larger purpose of the organization and concentrate on the “bureaucrats,” whom you can dismiss contemptuously.
2. To do that, use small examples, real or manufactured, to tar the entire organization. Whether free coffee for staff, bonuses for executives, teething problems for Compass cards, transit policing costs (or not enough policing), the installation of fare gates (or not installing fare gates) – it doesn’t matter what the examples are, so long as there is a steady beat of criticism, amplified for and by the media.
3. Maintain that any new programs can be paid for by eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse.” Never give credit for any instances where that actually occurs. TransLink has already had three performance reviews and an audit, it has already saved millions in “efficiencies” (often a euphemism for cuts) – but never mind. Always maintain that spending is “out of control.”
4. Establish the bottom line as “No More Taxes.” Do not ever get into a debate about the value and merit of what those taxes purchase. Simply repeat, and repeat: NMT.
5. Suggest that voters can “send TransLink a message” by voting for “none of the above” on the transit-funding referendum. It matters not that eliminating the entire administration of TransLink (about four per cent of its budget) would barely pay for a few more bus routes, much less a multi-billion-dollar rapid-transit line. Insist that cutting salaries and perks is a necessary condition (though never sufficient) before discussing new revenues. At that point, simply assert that we’re taxed out, even if we’re paying less taxes or getting new services.
By aggressively attacking the organization so that those in favour of a new tax will have to defend it before they can argue in favour of its funding, you disarm the proponents before they even begin a “yes” campaign.
Meanwhile, time is running out – 442 days left til Nov. 15 (though it’s possible that the referendum might be held in May or June of 2014) – and we haven’t even got the wording yet, much less leadership for a “yes” vote.
One wonders whether the Canadian Taxpayers Federation was instrumental in convincing the premier to go with the referendum idea during the election since it gives them an ideal platform to pursue their agenda. Better yet, blame for a “no” vote can be put on local politicians for their inability to convince the electorate. And the subsequent cutbacks on local transit services as other sources of revenue decline thereby justify another round of criticism of TransLink.
It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Gordon Price is director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He blogs on transportation and urban issues at pricetags.wordpress.com.