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New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote advocates for a Yes vote in the upcoming Vancouver-area referendum asking the public to approve a new tax for transit investment.

Courtesy the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation

Metro Vancouver mayors are heading into a transit-funding plebiscite without saying how much taxpayer money they will spend to get a Yes vote.

As members of the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation kicked off their Yes campaign on Monday, they said work on the numbers continues and that the fund will include money from TransLink, the regional transit authority that has been criticized for such issues as pay hikes for senior managers and the failings of the Compass card system.

That money will be added to a pool of dollars individual cities, such as Vancouver, plan to spend to make the case for a new transit tax.

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From March 16 to May 29, Lower Mainland voters will cast mail-in ballots to support or reject a 0.5-per-cent tax harmonized with the provincial sales tax to fund a $7.5-billion, 10-year transit plan.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, said on Monday he expects cities in other parts of Canada – and possibly around the world – will be looking closely at the outcome as a possible lesson for their own transit needs.

A Yes vote, he said, would bolster the case of the mayors as they go to the province and, especially, the federal government, for matching funds, because they would have the backing of regional voters who are willing to pay their share for new transit.

The new tax would help fund a $7.5-billion transit-improvement plan over the next decade that would include a new east-west subway in Vancouver, light-rail lines in Surrey, a new Pattulo Bridge and a third Seabus linking Vancouver and North Vancouver.

Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who has been at the forefront of the No campaign, said on Monday that the mayors should be "embarrassed" to be spending taxpayers' money on a political campaign.

"Like all things TransLink, the Yes campaign is proving to be top-heavy, late and disrespectful of our tax dollars," he wrote in an e-mail exchange with The Globe and Mail.

Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore, chair of Metro Vancouver, said any funding from TransLink to the mayors' council will come from existing advertising budgets and not an operating budget.

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But, like other mayors at the campaign launch, Mr. Moore said it is too early to offer say how much money will be spent.

"We're looking at how the different resources are coming together," he told reporters during the kickoff news conference.

He noted, in response to a reporter's question, that the mayors' council was paying for Monday's news conference – including a sound setup so journalists could record remarks – held amid crowds of commuters headed for SkyTrain, Seabus and the Canada Line at the Waterfront Station.

Pressed on "how many zeroes" will be attached to the cost of winning voter support, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson said it was too early to offer any forecast.

Last month, Mr. Robertson said staff at the City of Vancouver were conducting an analysis of how much the city might provide to the campaign, but that he was not in a position to speculate on the amount that would be required.

One challenge, he said, is the extended nature of the campaign. "We want to be sure we have resources to run a robust campaign."

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Linda Hepner, the mayor of Surrey, forecasts a sustained fight. "The debate happens every single day as we go out and about on the engagement process," she said.

Both Mr. Robertson and Ms. Hepner will be in Toronto this week for a meeting of the Big City Mayors' Caucus – a collective of Canada's largest cities, of which Mr. Robertson is chair.

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