An increasingly bitter standoff between the B.C. government and mayors in the Lower Mainland hardened further Thursday with Transportation Minister Todd Stone chiding the mayors for their lack of vision and the mayors accusing Mr. Stone of avoiding his own responsibilities.
The mayors agreed at a Wednesda- evening meeting that they would not support the province’s plans for a refendum held in tandem with municipal elections in November.
Mr. Stone fired back Thursday, saying the referendum will go ahead regardless, and said the province will introduce legislation enabling the vote in the upcoming spring session of the legislature.
He said the mayors must come up with a plan for transit expansion in Metro Vancouver before the referendum question is nailed down.
“To date, they have not agreed on a vision,” he said. “It’s their responsibility to do so.”
But Malcolm Brodie, mayor of Richmond, said Metro Vancouver mayors have a very limited role when it comes to transit, and the municipalities don’t have the “staff, the resources or the ability to conduct analysis” to come up with a definitive policy.
“It doesn’t help that the Minister should say that we need to come up with a vision, because if he’s talking about the vision for transportation in general, we have no way to do that other than to give our own personal ideas,” Mr. Brodie said.
“The Minister needs to be reminded that the mayors’ role is very limited.”
Mr. Stone confirmed that the B.C. Liberal government will not back down on its campaign promise to let voters decide on how much they are willing to pay for new transit services. Legislation to authorize the referendum will be introduced in the spring, but he would not say when the mayors will have to agree on a proposal.
He said he would not offer up a question for the ballot until the mayors agree on what projects they want funded, how much they will cost, and how they should be paid for.
The Minister would not say what will happen if the mayors do not agree on a proposal. He hinted that without an agreement, there simply will be no new money for transit.
“If any expansion involves new funding levers, there will be a vote.
“The referendum is about putting Metro taxpayers first,” he said. “We intend to give taxpayers a voice. There will be a referendum.”
Mr. Stone said the province will pay the incremental costs associated with holding the referendum at the same time as the November municipal elections.
Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said suggesting Metro Vancouver mayors be responsible for developing priorities and a vision goes against provincial legislation. She insisted that planning is up to an independent board and Translink.
“We still have not received any information [from the province] in terms of their parameters. We want to help the province.”
But she said what the Minister is asking for has never been part of the mayors’ duties.
Mr. Brodie said two or three years ago, the provincial government asked the mayors to develop a funding vision and they did.
The Richmond mayor said he and his collegues suggested applying regional sales tax, vehicle levy and carbon tax initially. In the long term, they suggested road pricing, whereby drivers are charged for the number of kilometers they travel along designated toll roads.
“It’s contentious because all those four sources require the approval of the provincial government,” he said. “That’s where the province has refused to approve it.”
George Heyman, the NDP critic for Translink, thinks both parties need to meet in order to resolve this.
“The best way to deal with this and the most expeditious way to deal with this would be for the Transportation Minister to sit down with the mayors and negotiate and have a discussion about a fair and equitable funding model.”