Yes campaigners today accused the No side in the transit referendum of misleading the public into believing they can force reforms to TransLink by rejecting the proposed regional sales tax.
Unifor union leader Gavin McGarrigle said No campaigners are deliberately derailing the debate from what is actually on the ballot – a 0.5 per cent sales tax to fund a wide swath of transit improvements that he called vital to the region’s future.
He said it will be a “dangerous step backwards” if voters are convinced to vote No and aid an anti-tax agenda that threatens to starve the transit system and other public services.
McGarrigle urged voters not to “give in to a future where cynicism descends over the region like a stifling blanket, while congestion increasingly costs us all more time, more money and more expensive choices down the road.”
The co-chair of the Better Transit Coalition was flanked by mayors from Vancouver and Richmond at the Canada Line’s Brighouse station for the release of a study estimating the economic benefits from the proposed transit and transportation upgrades.
But most media questions focused on the Yes campaign’s ebbing support after a poll the previous week showed the No side far ahead.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said people are cynical because they don’t yet have all the information about the plan and added he’s optimistic that will change.
“We’ve seen a knee-jerk response initially that reflects everyone’s concerns around taxes,” Robertson said. “When people have the ballot in their hands they’ll make the right choice for our region.”
The study by InterVistas estimated the mayors’ plan would add $450 million per year to the regional economy through the first 10 years and the annual benefit would hit $1.6 billion a year by 2045.
The growth projections come from estimated direct and indirect jobs to build and operate the proposed transportation improvements, as well as the economic productivity gains that would flow from congestion relief for residents and businesses.
It estimates the upgrades would create 7,000 new jobs by 2020 and 12,000 jobs by 2045 at wages averaging $85,000 a year.
McGarrigle said the improvements should win over workers, who know the costs of congestion in money and time away from family.
“Workers know what its like to be be late for work when the bus is full and the next bus isn’t for an hour,” he said. “Or when they can’t even get home easily after a long shift without spending more precious money as a result of yet more service cutbacks.”
No campaign head Jordan Bateman criticized the study as one that’s difficult to verify and that fails to compare the economic effect of making different uses of the $7.5 billion in expected funding.
“If you invest that much in health care or education or tax cuts or anything there’s going to be economic spinoffs,” Bateman said. “It’s a typical government ploy to pretend $7.5 billion comes out of thin air.”
He also predicted political leaders of every stripe will stampede to reform TransLink on the first day after a No decision.
If anyone is guilty of fomenting public cynicism, Bateman said, it’s the mayors by avoiding debate on problems with TransLink.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said mayors have “constantly” pressed the province for governance changes to make TransLink more democratically accountable.
“The situation we have is unworkable. I am hopeful that message has now resonated with the provincial government.”
Brodie said he was “dumbfounded” by Premier Christy Clark’s latest comments that TransLink belongs to the mayors when it’s governed by provincial legislation and mayors have very limited authority.
Wednesday’s announcement took place on the busy Canada Line, where a new mixed use development under construction served as a backdrop to the expected economic growth.
“This will be the story right across the region as we improve the entire system,” Brodie said.
He said the Canada Line has helped transform Richmond and benefits commuters across Metro Vancouver.
The rapid transit line linking Vancouver, Richmond and YVR carries 120,000 people a day – 20,000 more than projected by this point.