Change in TransLink tactics

Metro Vancouver mayors have until June 30 to come with a plan to pay for transit or the province will tack on a referendum to this November
Metro Vancouver mayors have until June 30 to come with a plan to pay for transit or the province will tack on a referendum to this November's civic ballot.
— image credit: The News/Files

Metro Vancouver mayors have till June 30 to come up with a transportation vision and how to pay for it, or else the provincial government will tack a TransLink referendum on to the  2017 civic election.

If they meet the deadline, mayors will have up to a year after that to sell their vision to voters, followed by a referendum.

If they miss the first deadline, though, the province will pursue a referendum during the civic elections, Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced in a letter Thursday.

Stone’s letter to the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation chair Richard Walton caught Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin by surprise.

“Wow,” he said. “It would be nice to be part of the conversation.”

Daykin knew some announcement was imminent, but thought mayors would be involved.

He liked having the extra year before the vote that could determine TransLink’s future, but disagreed with the concept of using a referendum to decide transportation issues. That could lead to U.S.-style stalemates, in which decisions come down to the 11th hour.

However, being forced to come up with a vision and to explain how it will be funded could show the provincial government that mayors can work together, he said.

“It just feels like they’re shifting the work or the responsibility to us. It was their election promise, their idea.”

Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters was also caught off guard by Thursday’s announcement.

“What a mess,” she said as she tried to grasp the details.

“It kind of would have been nice if we had this letter and this discussion with the minister and had a better understanding before it was released to everybody at the same time.”

Regional mayors will meet Feb. 14 to figure out exactly what the letter means. Mayors initially we’re supposed to discuss the topic that day with Stone, she said.

Walters said it was “somewhat good news” that the referendum could be delayed.

“Are we throwing the 2014 plan out the window that we spent, I don’t know, how much money on?”

Stone says TransLink’s long-range Regional Transportation Strategy will form the basis of the vision.

“But as noted, a clear, detailed, fully costed vision, with specific priorities and project phasing, is needed,” he said.

“This will frame the referendum question for the Mayors’ Council and fully inform the public on the decision that is theirs to make,” Stone said.

Walters agreed that developing a vision to sell to voters will require mayors to sort out priorities for each city and to work them into a single plan.

And she liked the change that gives mayors authority to decide TransLink salaries and to approve TransLink’s Regional Transportation Strategy and its 10-year financial plan.

But Walters wanted to confirm if that was actually a veto.

“Is this truly the mayors having the right to implement the plan?

“We’ve always said we want a say in how transit is delivered to the region.”

The mayors would also get authority to approve fare adjustments and a have a say in setting TransLink salaries, while the province would pay for the referendum costs.

Daykin wants discussions to focus on transit and transportation, not TransLink. Long-range planning should include the entire Lower Mainland, from Vancouver to Hope, he said.

NDP transportation critic George Heyman said Stone’s announcement lacks details of the promised new authority, and repeats an offer for the chair and vice-chair of the mayors’ council to join the appointed board that now controls policy.

The mayors were “blindsided” by Thursday’s announcement and offered two seats on the board, which they rejected earlier because they want full control, Heyman said.

“The minister continues to threaten the mayors and hold sticks over their heads and give them deadlines,” he said.

Stone’s offer includes a promise to provide one third funding for a replacement to the aging Pattullo Bridge, which is designated as TransLink’s sole responsibility.

Stone previously told municipal officials they can avoid a referendum if they decide to use their existing authority to raise property taxes to fund new roads, bridges and transit.

– with Black Press files








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