British Columbia

TransLink tax 'Yes' campaign launched as Gregor Robertson takes lead

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will lead the campaign to push through a proposed new congestion tax intended to fund expansion of TransLink services in Greater Vancouver.

The 'Yes' campaign supports a new 0.5 per cent Congestion Improvement Tax

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson will lead the campaign to push through a proposed new congestion tax intended to fund expansion of TransLink services in Greater Vancouver. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

As the vote on the future of Metro Vancouver's TransLink funding approaches, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has been elected to lead the "Yes" campaign in support of the proposed new Congestion Improvement Tax.

The new 0.5 per cent tax will apply to the majority of goods and services sold or delivered in the Metro Vancouver region and bring in an estimated $250 million in annual revenue.

The region's mayors have said it would be used to fund part of a $8 billion 10-year transit plan, including increased service on SkyTrain, Canada Line, SeaBus, and West Coast Express.

Robertson was elected to lead the 'Yes' campaign by the Mayors' Council on Friday, with recently elected Surrey mayor Linda Hepner voted in as vice-chair.

"Its so important to the entire region, and of course Vancouver is part of that," Robertson said.  "We see the improvements in Vancouver being necessary and connecting Vancouver to the rest of the region."

Mayor of Port Coquitlam Greg Moore told CBC News that the campaign needed to get out into the region's communities.

"One of the things that we've heard, is that we need to get out in each neighbourhood and explain to them what's in it for them," he said.

"What level of service should they expect, [what] increase in bus hours will they get in their community..."

Moore said that, with a million more people expected to live in Metro Vancouver over the next 30 years, massive gridlock is the alternative to instituting the tax.

"There's 600,000 cars that will come with [those million people] and if we think we have congestion and gridlock now, that's nothing compared to what we could see."

A 'critical' choice

The "Yes" campaign has already garnered a coalition of supporters, from environmentalists to union leaders, who consider the tax critical to the future of the region. They argue that the 0.5 per cent tax will cost homeowners less than a cup of coffee a day.

"At 35 cents a day, if that can cut 10 or 15 minutes off my commute time, that's a price I'm willing to pay, that's a price our members are willing to pay, that's going to help our economy overall and put more people to work," said David Black of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees' Union.

Peter Robinson from the David Suzuki Foundation says the organization will be using its networks to get the message out.

"We'll be doing lots of outreach," he said. "Could be Facebook, could be blogging, could be email, could even be something in the mail."

'No TransLink Tax campaign launches

The campaign against the tax officially launched Thursday.

Led by the B.C. branch of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, the "No TransLink Tax" campaign argues the money would be better raised through making efficiencies within TransLink and diverting future local government revenue.

The "No" campaign has crunched the numbers in a 50-page campaign document entitled "A Better Plan".

"Based on the expected growth that is coming to these municipalities and transit and GVRD [Greater Vancouver Regional District] for the next 10 years, you can shave off half a point of that and put it towards this plan and fully fund it," said the federation's director, Jordan Bateman.

Bateman says that the other key to funding without adding the proposed tax, is to take a hard look at TransLink management.

"[We need to] get rid of the culture of waste at TransLink," he says. "Before anything, you cannot put more water into that leaky bucket."

The plebiscite will be conducted by Elections B.C. by mail-in ballot using provincial funds, but no provincial funding will be provided to campaigns on either side of the vote.

Ballots will be sent out March 16, 2015 and votes must be in by May 29, 2015. A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one will be considered support for the following question:

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan? Yes or No.

With files from Chad Pawson and Terry Donnelly.


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