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A sealed plebiscite package that Lower Mainland voters will receive in the mail in March.

Elections BC

As B.C's electoral agency prepares to mail about 1.5 million ballots to Vancouver region voters in a plebiscite on funding new transit, a prominent pollster says time is running out for the Yes side.

Mario Canseco, vice-president of Insights West, says voters inclined to actually cast ballots will likely act quickly after ballots are mailed out by the end of March, which means the Yes side has only until about then to make the case for support.

At issue is a regional proposal to increase the 7-per-cent provincial sales tax by 0.5 per cent. Vancouver-area mayors are looking to use that money to fund new transit infrastructure that includes a subway in Vancouver.

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"Voters may have decided early in the game on how they are going to vote, so it may be a moot point to try to come up with something big after the ballots are mailed," Mr. Canseco said in an interview Monday.

"The worst scenario for the Yes campaign would be to figure out a way to engage with voters and do something more attractive for those who are on the fence let's say, for the sake of argument, in April. It might be attractive enough for a No voter to vote Yes, but if that No voter has put in their ballot already, it's over."

Elections BC, an independent agency of the legislature, will send voting packages to 1.56 million registered voters between March 16 and 27. Voters can return postage-paid packages or drop them off at nine Elections BC Plebiscite Service Offices by May 29.

Elections BC expects to have results by late June or early July, spokesman Don Main said Monday.

Richard Walton, mayor of the District of North Vancouver, said he expects decisive voters will vote "reasonably quickly" after receiving ballots, while others will hold off, seeking further information.

A new poll from Mr. Canseco's firm suggests the No side is leading, with 55 per cent of Vancouver-region voters saying they will "definitely" or "probably" vote No – up two points since February – and 33 per cent saying they will "definitely" or "probably" vote Yes, down five points since February. The results are based on an online survey of 1,604 respondents conducted between March 2 and March 5, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Mr. Walton said the poll results are not encouraging, but the only option ahead for the Yes side is to keep working at winning support.

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"I've found generally when I talk to people who are skeptical, I can have a high percentage of turning around people's vote within three or four minutes of talking to them.

"A lot of people are dealing with not enough information or inaccurate information based on some assumptions," he said.

On Monday night, Mr. Walton was scheduled to participate in a Yes-campaign telephone town hall with the mayor of the City of North Vancouver. On Tuesday, the mayor of Coquitlam, Richard Stewart, is to make the case for Yes at a bus loop in his city. All the activity continues an effort by local mayors.

While the Yes side coalition of mayors, environmentalists, labour and others say the tax is required to pay for badly needed new transit, the No side has said TransLink, the regional transit authority, is wasting and mismanaging funds it receives.

Last week, the mayors announced that B.C. billionaire Jim Pattison would lead a new accountability committee to scrutinize the spending of funds from the new tax, assuming it is supported by voters.

Mr. Canseco said Insights West polling shows only 3 per cent of No voters say the involvement of the chairman and chief executive officer of the Jim Pattison Group will persuade them to vote Yes.

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Kate White, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia, said Mr. Pattison brings what psychologists call a "halo effect" to the debate – a record of straight-shooting competence that will, by extension, help the Yes side.

But Lindsay Meredith, a marketing strategy professor at Simon Fraser University, said TransLink has such poor brand equity that even Mr. Pattison can't save the plebiscite. "To his credit, he has a damn good reputation. He runs a tight organization. But it's too little, too late."

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