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TransLink referendum doomed, Metro Vancouver mayors warn minister

Transportation Minister Todd Stone. - Black Press file photo
Transportation Minister Todd Stone.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

Metro Vancouver mayors emerged from their first meeting with new Transportation Minister Todd Stone with no deal or even the makings of one on how to restructure TransLink or craft a referendum on transit expansion funding slated for next year.

Mayors also expressed frustration Thursday that the province is pushing ahead with a Massey tunnel replacement bridge that they fear could push back transit as a priority.

They object to the premier's insistence there be a referendum on new taxes for TransLink, fearing it will be defeated at the polls.

And they continue to take a stance that TransLink must be reformed to give them more control over spending priorities as a precondition for their active participation in a referendum, if the province insists it go ahead.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he doesn't see how the referendum can succeed.

"Despite the mayors saying it's the stupidest idea imaginable they continue on with the referendum, they're absolutely determined to hold it," Corrigan said. "And it's pretty clear that none of us are going to participate."

He called it a "ridiculous" way to govern to go to referendum on such a complex issue.

"Why wasn't there a referendum on the Port Mann Bridge? Why isn't there a referendum about building a new Delta bridge? Why isn't there a referendum on the Pattullo? Where they want to spend money there's no referendum. Where they don't want to spend money there's a referendum."

Corrigan noted the premier's promise to give the people the final say came after the province concluded voters were wrong and misguided when they defeated the HST in a referendum.

"I don't know how a referendum will pass," said Mayors Council chair Richard Walton,  added he's hopeful more meetings can hammer out a deal with the province by Christmas that provides some chance of success.

Walton predicted most people will vote against paying more taxes for transit – while continuing to demand more be provided – unless a very compelling case is presented.

Stone told reporters he shares a common vision with the mayors on the need to raise billions of dollars for additional transit expansion.

There is no decision yet on what exactly voters will be asked in the referendum, who will pay for it and lead it, or when it will be, other than it will take place no later than November of 2014.

Asked if voters might be denied a "none of the above" option – that they might be forced to choose from a menu of new taxes for TransLink as suggested in May by former Transportation Minister Mary Polak – Stone said he hasn't ruled it out.

"The question must be about a vision for the expansion of transit and transportation in the Lower Mainland," Stone said.

"It is therefore likely that wrapped around that vision in the referendum question itself there may be a list of options that voters have to choose from in terms of different funding mechanisms, new funding mechanisms that could come into play to fund that expansion."

He predicted the referendum can be successful if the question is worded correctly.

Stone also defended the government's decision to announce plans to replace the Massey Tunnel with a large new bridge.

If there is a referendum, the more probable sources of potential funding include an annual vehicle levy or a small regional sales tax.

Road pricing or regional tolling, while backed my most mayors, would take years longer to flesh out.

TransLink board vice-chair Howard Nemtin also spoke out Thursday when mayors challenged the board to take a public stand on the future of TransLink.

He insisted TransLink is efficiently run but cannot keep pace with the needs of the growing region.

He said the board backs the mayors' call for new revenue sources.

"We've looked at road pricing. We've looked at licence fees. We've looked at tolling. We have all been on the same page in that regard," Nemtin said.

"What we do need is some decision at a higher level, at the provincial level, to allow us to move forward and implement those particular initiatives."

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