Can the man who saved Expo 86 salvage B.C.'s transit plebiscite?
Who knows. But whoever came up with the idea to involve Jim Pattison in the transit vote deserves applause. It is the first sign Yes strategists understand the desperate position their side finds itself in. Bringing the Vancouver billionaire aboard, with all the public affection and trust his name engenders, was someone's brainstorm.
The Yes camp has needed a face, a name, like Mr. Pattison's to front its cause from the beginning. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson might be telegenic, but as a transit pitchman he's been a colossal dud. So has Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner. They're politicians. No one trusts politicians. The Yes side has needed someone voters actually have faith in, which is why persuading Mr. Pattison to oversee the auditing of the millions that would be collected by a transit tax was a brilliant move.
British Columbians of a certain age remember that it was Mr. Pattison who was tapped on the shoulder by Social Credit premier Bill Bennett to rescue Expo 86 when it was coming off the rails. People haven't forgotten that Mr. Pattison essentially abandoned his day job for the princely sum of $1 a year to ensure that his beloved province didn't embarrass itself in the eyes of the world.
Instead, Expo 86 became Vancouver's coming-out party. People from around the globe were introduced to this stunning beauty for the first time. The city could have made a debut that wasn't nearly as impressive had it not been for the carrot-topped entrepreneur. And for that, the city and province are forever in his debt.
Whether the former car salesman can perform the same magic with the transit vote is another matter. He is not the front man for the campaign, but merely a distinguished citizen who has agreed to lend his name and credibility to an important aspect of the debate that surrounds the plebiscite: ensuring the money raised by the 0.5-per-cent regional sales tax is spent entirely on the promised transit improvements.
Still, his voice is an important asset for the Yes team. Mr. Pattison's credibility is unassailable. We dare No-side director Jordan Bateman to find fault with this move.
It would have been nice to have had Mr. Pattison leading the Yes charge from the beginning. But it also would have been asking too much. In his late 80s, he can still blow a trumpet, but requiring him to be out on the hustings every day stumping for Yes votes would have been unfair. (Although he likely would have accepted the job if asked.)
Perhaps having Mr. Pattison's name associated with the Yes side will be enough to save the day.
If I were Gregor Robertson, I'd see if his city's most famous businessman would agree to cut a "Vote Yes" commercial. It wouldn't be difficult to link the seminal role that Expo 86 played in B.C.'s development with the one this transit decision could perform down the road.
In many respects, the future of Metro Vancouver is at stake. People must decide if the tomorrow they want is the bridges and highways that the provincial government is intent on building – making room for tens of thousands of more cars – or the subways and light rail systems that will help keep those automobiles off the road.
Commuters need to close their eyes for a moment and imagine what will happen when all those cars cross over all those shiny new bridges, leading them into the already-clogged four-lane arteries that head into downtown Vancouver. That is an increasingly ugly scenario I want no part of.
The length of time people will be stuck in traffic will go up, at a cost to the regional economy that grows larger every day.
Jim Pattison did not make his billions making dumb decisions. He's said he's voting Yes in the plebiscite because the region needs transit for economic, as well as lifestyle, reasons.
The man operates one of the most profitable and efficient organizations in the country. He wouldn't be endorsing the transit tax if he believed it was a waste of the public's tax dollars.
Mr. Pattison helped put Vancouver on the world map in 1986.
Now he's trying to ensure that the transportation future that exposition envisioned comes true.