Thursday, December 18, 2014

Transit referendum, now plebiscite, ballot finalized by province

This morning, the provincial government approved the final version of the ballot that will be mailed to registered voters in Metro Vancouver this spring for funding much needed transit expansion in our region.

Provincially-approved ballot. Select image to enlarge.

The first thing apparent to me is that the province doesn’t want to be associated with this referendum which they forced upon the region. If the referendum fails, it will be the province that will have to deal with the aftermath; I believe the referendum will succeeded.

The province is calling the proposed regional 0.5% sales tax the “Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax.” I actually think it is a good name as it links the 0.5% sales tax increase directly to the transportation improvements that the tax will fund.

The referendum is now called a plebiscite.

Of course, the province also performed some “minor refinements” to the ballot question. The changes made were actually pretty major.

In the mayors’ proposed ballot, the “what” and the “why” of the transportation vision were provided. The province’s final version of the ballot removed the “why” component. This was likely to ensure that the ballot didn’t seem biased.

As an example, the mayors version of the ballot stated:

One million more people will live and work in Metro Vancouver by 2040. The region’s mayors worked together to develop a plan to reduce congestion on roads and bridge and to provide more transit to communities across the region.

The final version as approved by the province states:

The region's mayors have developed a Transportation and Transit Plan called Regional Transportation Investments -a Vision for Metro Vancouver.

Another interesting point is that the list of items included in the mayors’ version of the ballot were simplified in the provincial version. For example, the mayors’ version stated “Build light rail transit connecting Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton, and Langley”, while the final provincial version says “Build rapid transits connecting Surrey Centre with Guildford, Newton, and Langley”.

I’m happy that the final version of the ballot contains the wording “revenue and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits and public reporting.” People need to know that the 0.5% tax will go 100% to improving transportation in Metro Vancouver.

The province stated today that the 0.5% sales tax “would be applied as a sales tax to the majority of goods and services that are subject to the PST and are sold or delivered within the region.” This leads me to believe that more items will be exempt from the new regional sales tax than the provincial sales tax.

The plebiscite will require 50%+1 regional support to be approved.

With the ballot now finalized, the work begins to let voters in Metro Vancouver known that a small increase in tax will provide a large increase in transit service throughout all of Metro Vancouver. The South of Fraser is set to receive about half of this investment if the plebiscite is approved.

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