VANCOUVER—Mayors and British Columbia politicians each say the other side must pay for crucial transportation upgrades now that Metro Vancouver residents have voted against paying a higher sales tax to fund major projects.
Sixty-two per cent of Metro Vancouverites have rejected the mayors’ proposal to raise $7.5 billion over 10 years through a half-per-cent tax hike.
Mayors and representatives from 21 municipalities, an electoral area that includes the University of British Columbia and a First Nation, called on the province to address the funding gap after Elections BC released the results Thursday.
However, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the onus was still on the region to generate its one-third share of funding.
“Doing nothing is simply not an option,” Stone told a news conference as he endorsed the mayors’ plan for more buses, roads, a subway extension, a new bridge and other infrastructure.
“Voters have made their decision,” he said. “Now it’s up to the mayors to go back to the drawing board and take a look at their plan.”
All sides agree the region that’s expected to grow by one million people over the next 30 years faces increasing traffic congestion that will have environmental and economic consequences.
Stone said higher property taxes may be the answer but the mayors’ council unanimously opposed that option earlier Thursday.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who heads the council, noted the province mandated the plebiscite and must now take action.
“We need an alternate solution from the B.C. government,” Robertson said. “The ball’s back in the province’s court for next steps.”
Jordan Bateman, who was a prominent force in the campaign against the tax increase, said the plebiscite failed because residents weren’t prepared to trust TransLink, the region’s transit authority, with more money.
“TransLink has lost the public’s confidence and now they have to listen to taxpayers and rebuild it properly,” said Bateman, who heads the western chapter of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
He noted the No side prevailed with a budget of $40,000 while the Yes side spent over $5.8 million promoting its stance.
Maple Ridge, Langley and Richmond residents voted overwhelmingly against the tax, while the highest support came from residents on Bowen Island.
The village of Belcarra and an unincorporated electoral area that includes the University of British Columbia were the only other jurisdictions to register more than 50-per-cent support for the tax.
Vancouver residents voted 51 per cent against the proposal.
Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said Premier Christy Clark should have joined Yes the campaign after calling for a plebiscite on Metro Vancouver transit projects during the 2013 provincial election.
“She called the plebiscite and then walked away from it,” Horgan said.
Doug Allen, TransLink’s interim CEO, said he expects the search for an “acceptable source” of regional funding will continue.
Metro Vancouver’s transit plebiscite was the first of its kind in Canada. Some American cities, including Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., have used direct votes to successfully garner support for new transportation infrastructure.