Business, environment groups join forces behind transit referendum

Coalition launched on eve of mayors' decision includes Vancouver Board of Trade, B.C. Chamber of Commerce, David Suzuki Foundation

John Winter is CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

John Winter is CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

A broad coalition of business, environmental and labour groups has formed to campaign in favour of the Yes side of an expected spring referendum on new taxes for TransLink.

It comes on the eve of a final vote by Metro Vancouver mayors Thursday on which tax or taxes to put to voters – a regional sales tax, a vehicle levy or a regional carbon tax.

The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition includes the Vancouver Board of Trade, Unifor Local 111, Tourism Vancouver, Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association, David Suzuki Foundation, Greater Vancouver Gateway Council and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s critical that we breathe new life into our transportation network,” said Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Iain Black. “For years, chronic congestion has stifled the movement of goods and people, suffocating our regional economy.”

B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO John Winter also framed the referendum as a choice between “a strong economy and job creation” that will come with a Yes vote versus “more congestion and less service” if new transportation funding is defeated.

The David Suzuki Foundation’s Ian Bruce said improved transit is critical to the Lower Mainland with a million more people expected to move here in the next 30 years.

“Choosing to invest in the region will mean a better environment with less traffic, cleaner air to breathe, and more transportation and transit options for everyone,” he said.

Coalition organizers call the referendum one of the most important decisions facing Metro Vancouver for the next generation.

That’s part of a pledge they’re circulating for other groups to sign, endorsing the need to “expand transportation options, strengthen our economy, reduce pollution, improve the health of our communities, and help make this region a more affordable place to live.”

The mayors’ full $7.5-billion 10-year package of upgrades – unveiled last June – includes a Broadway subway, light rail in Surrey, 11 new B-Line express bus routes, frequent SeaBuses and a 25 per cent general lift in bus service, as well as more money for HandyDart and West Coast Express.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone warned last week the provincial and federal governments are unlikely to contribute as much capital grants as the mayors expect and also suggested their request additional taxes may not be affordable to voters.

It’s expected the tax hikes would total $285 million in additional revenue.

The Mayors Council on Regional Transportation will include seven newly elected mayors after others retired or were defeated.

The BC Liberal government said in 2013 any new taxes for TransLink will have to pass a referendum, which is expected to be a mail-in ballot.