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Clark warns mayors will have to raise property taxes if No vote prevails

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is speaks at a news conference in Surrey on Friday Feb. 6, 2015.

Tamsyn Burgmann/THE CANADIAN PRESS

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says Lower Mainland mayors will have to raise property taxes as a Plan B if voters reject a proposed sales tax to pay for new transit in this year's plebiscite.

On Friday, Ms. Clark speculated that the property-tax option would be necessary if the No side prevailed in the mail-in vote, which would derail a proposal for a 0.5-per-cent sales tax to help fund $7.5-billion in regional transit improvements over the next decade.

The vote is being held between March 16 and May 29.

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"Plan B is to go back to the old way we used to do things, which is TransLink mayors not able to make a decision around what vision they agree with, not able to make a decision about where they want to get the money," Ms. Clark told reporters during a Surrey news conference on another issue. Surrey is slated to get new light-rail lines if the plebiscite passes.

"If they decide they do want to build transit without a Yes vote in this referendum, mayors will have to fall back, I guess, on the existing funding mechanism they have.

"They have always had the ability to raise money for transit through increasing property taxes and I suppose that would be one of the options available to them if the referendum fails."

But Ms. Clark said she is optimistic about a Yes win, citing the detailed new transit services mayors are proposing if they secure the new tax revenue. It includes a new east-west Vancouver subway, light rail in Surrey and a new Pattullo Bridge.

The Premier also said mayors are campaigning "with passion" to win public support for the Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax.

"I have no doubt that mayors like [Surrey's] Linda Hepner are going to be passionate and make sure they're heard."

And Ms. Clark said she would offer her support.

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"As a voter, I am going to vote Yes in the referendum."

Although Ms. Clark represents a Kelowna-area riding, her office noted that she has residences in both the Okanagan city as well as Vancouver.

Asked for comment, the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, representing Lower Mainland municipalities, said in a Friday statement that the funding model now before voters is the "most affordable way" to fund growing transportation and transit needs. "[It's] a funding mechanism that is fair for all residents and businesses."

The mayors also said they were "pleased" to hear Ms. Clark would be voting Yes.

The comments came the day after the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, representing more than 90 organizations, including business groups, postsecondary student institutions, environmentalists and labour, kicked off their campaign to get a Yes vote with a boisterous rally in Vancouver.

Lower Mainland mayors and others are now at the forefront of the plebiscite debate, but the whole exercise came about because of Ms. Clark.

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As the Liberals faced apparent long odds to win the May, 2013, provincial election, Ms. Clark promised that voters would get to approve any new transit funding sources in the Lower Mainland.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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