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An eastbound SkyTrain stops at Main Street Station in Vancouver on Jan. 8, 2013. (Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)
An eastbound SkyTrain stops at Main Street Station in Vancouver on Jan. 8, 2013. (Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail)

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Public transit in Metro Vancouver: Where B.C.’s parties stand Add to ...

While party leaders have been crisscrossing the province in the dying days of the provincial election campaign, trying to hold on to ridings they already have and trying to swing the ridings that might be swung, Metro Vancouver would like their attention – and yours. The pitch is this: Local Government Matters.

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With much of the campaign focused on the economy and jobs, pipelines, natural gas extraction, skills training, back-dated memos, doughnut and pizza lunches, red lights, windmills and weather vanes, the organization that represents 24 municipalities and other agencies that make up the metro region (which contains about half of the province’s population) has sent a questionnaire to the four major parties asking for answers to some very specific questions on urban issues.

Here is where they stand on one issue close to my heart: public transit and moving people around the region.

On public transit, the first question is how the parties will provide local governments and transit authorities with long-term, predictable funding for transit infrastructure. Think light rail through Surrey or a subway line through the Broadway corridor to UBC. Or maybe a few more buses to the most service-starved areas south of the Fraser River.

The Liberals begin by saying that “transit funding is a challenge,” then toss the question back to TransLink, saying the mayors’ council needs to explain the regional priorities, the costs and how new projects will be paid for. They say the provincial government has been working with the mayors’ council to find a solution that taxpayers can agree with.

You may recall that in 2007, the Liberals overhauled the TransLink board because it was, in the words of then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon, “dysfunctional.” The board of elected officials was replaced with a group of “professionals” whose meetings are closed to the public. The mayors’ council has no real power under the new structure, beyond signing off on fare increases and property tax hikes.

On the specific question of TransLink governance, the Liberals agree with a consultant’s report that concluded “there’s more right than wrong with TransLink.”

The NDP says it would reform the TransLink board to once again include elected officials as decision-makers. It also says it would provide a portion of the carbon tax to fund enhanced transit service.

On the carbon tax, the Liberals replied: “There are no funds generated by the carbon tax that could be distributed to Metro Vancouver without raising taxes on individuals and families. Today’s B.C. Liberals are focused on controlling government spending and growing the economy so we can keep taxes as low as possible and get to a debt-free B.C. for our future generations.”

On the issue of tolls and road pricing, the Liberals say any new funding sources will need to be approved in a referendum, to be held at the same time as the next round of municipal elections. They recognize that there are many questions about the referendum.

I’ll say. For instance, what happens if voters in one municipality vote to fund transit and another municipality votes against it?

The NDP, meantime, “will be open to a discussion with a reformed TransLink board.” Good to know.

The Conservatives say, “Drivers should not be punished with tolls and taxes at every road and bridge to pay for TransLink.” Points for not surprising me.

And the Green Party wants to “shift people out of their vehicles.” On the question of funding, it replied: “All transportation issues need to be looked at holistically including involving private and public sector employers reducing employee travel by car.” Again, colour me not surprised.

Public transit is just one of the issues Metro Vancouver asked about. There are five more: affordable housing, municipal financing, the relationship between cities and the province, protecting the environment, and regional planning.

Generally, the Liberals provided the longest answers in each category, which is perhaps not surprising considering they’ve been governing for more than a decade. But in their replies they also employed the same technique I used when trying to pad out a Grade 12 history essay. A lot of it meant nothing.

The NDP’s answers were succinct and, somehow, at the same time repetitive.

And the Conservatives and the Green Party – well they can dare to dream, can’t they?

But in an election where urban issues seem to have fallen off the map, Metro Vancouver has provided a handy tool. If using that tool required a hard hat and a reflective vest, I bet the issue might get some traction.

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