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British Columbia TransLink mayors to province: This debacle is not on us

Call it fighting back, call it setting the record straight; this week, the TransLink mayors' council launched a website aimed at clarifying its position on a referendum on transit funding.

The mayors' position is already fairly clear – they don't want a referendum – but given the back and forth between the council and B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone, you may have lost track. At last count, Mr. Stone was willing to extend the deadline for the referendum and hand more decision-making authority to the mayors' council.

Scrolling through the translinkmayors.ca website, it appears the mayors' council is not just setting the record straight – it's also refusing to take the blame for the debacle that the issue of transit funding has become.

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Let me save you the trouble of having to go to the site yourself.

The homepage features a slide show of sorts: six photographs on endless rotation.

The first – a word cloud with the words "affordability" and "housing" appearing in just slightly smaller text than the word "transit," but larger than the word "transportation." Smaller yet are the words "funding," "density" and "public." If you glance quickly at it you may be forgiven for subconsciously linking transit with affordable housing.

Next up, a shot of something almost never seen: a mostly empty 99 B-Line bus. It appears the person boarding it might even get a seat.

The third shot: a grimy-looking Hastings Street bus speeding past in a blur. Who among us has not seen that?

The next slide: a group of highly disorganized people attempting to board a suburban bus.

This is followed by a faint glimmer of optimism: The fifth shot shows the construction of an unidentified SkyTrain guideway, dangling in front of us an alternate future.

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The sixth and last photograph shows an anonymous suburban intersection with cars whizzing past and strip-mall signage jutting into a typical Lower Mainland sky.

To be generous, I don't think a lot of thought went into the slide show. If these shots were on your phone, you probably would have deleted them for how random and unremarkable they are.

But let's continue.

Not sure how the mayors' council has voted on specific issues? Lucky for you there's a section titled, "Are you not sure how the mayors' council has voted on specific issues?"

Four columns make it clear: The mayors' council is opposed to a referendum on transit funding. A vehicle levy and road pricing are the preferred funding methods, but any funding source should be based on transportation demand management.

Reading between the lines, it's clear the phrase "and not an increase in property tax" is silently implied.

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The third column is a reminder to the provincial government that decisions about major transportation projects, say the replacement of the Massey Tunnel, need to be co-ordinated with the region's overall goals.

The last column reminds readers that the mayors' council isn't happy with the current TransLink governance model.

Below that, one more blurry photograph of unhappy-looking transit riders.

Digging deeper, under the heading "Who's Responsible For What?" you'll find a point-form history of TransLink, dating back to 1970 and referring to the current TransLink board as TransLink 2 – the board made up of "non-elected people."

The section makes it clear that regardless of what the Transportation Minister says, under the current legislation the power of elected officials to make decisions about transit and transportation is severely limited. Oh, and the provincial government is responsible for the referendum, not the mayors.

That point is repeated yet again under the heading Resolutions, which details the voting history of the mayors' council.

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Then there is what I would guess is the least clicked-on heading: MOU – which takes you to a copy of the actual Memorandum of Understanding between the mayors' council and the province from September, 2010. It's full of all sorts of mumbo jumbo about carbon and responsible growth and greenhouse-gas emissions and creating cleaner, safer and healthier communities. It's signed, by the way, by Peter Fassbender, who at the time was the mayor of the City of Langley and chaired the mayors' council. He is now, of course, the province's Minister of Education.

The mayors' council has said the website is about clarifying its position on the referendum and offering information in a "one-stop shop."

But the website could be replaced with a single line directed at the province and the Minister of Transportation. It could appear in all block caps and read something like: "Bailing you out of your ill-conceived idea to hold a referendum on transit funding isn't our job, and we're not going to wear this one."

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