It is probably an understatement to say the Yes side in the upcoming transportation referendum has its work cut out for it.
This week, West Vancouver Mayor Michael Smith made his case for the No camp, saying that deciding something as complicated as how transit should be funded is not a question for a referendum. Mr. Smith says while the need for transit is not in dispute, the government has no right to ask taxpayers for more money unless it can assure them it will be well spent. He says TransLink doesn't have a reputation as a well-managed corporation that delivers good value.
While the Yes side wants us all to imagine a future with a first-rate transit and transportation system, like it or not, this referendum has come down to how Metro Vancouver residents feel about TransLink and whether the transportation authority deserves another dime.
That means that, as well as making all of the standard arguments for why the region needs better transit, the Yes side has been put in the unenviable position of defending TransLink. With fare gates collecting dust for more than two years, the widely reported executive salaries and bonuses, an expensive and ever-growing transit police force, and service disruptions that have stranded tens of thousands of riders, it's a hard sell.
All those negatives are hardly outweighed by the tepid "no one is perfect" and "they're not that bad" defences half-heartedly tossed out by the Yessers. Even the ballot acknowledges the skepticism of the public, making it clear that only projects in the Mayors' Transportation Plan would be funded with the 0.5-per-cent tax, and that revenues and expenditures would be subject to annual independent audits.
The challenge between now and mid-March, when the ballots are mailed out, is to re-cast TransLink as a source of good. Sure, the SkyTrain runs well most of the time, we're told executive compensation is in line with what executives get at a billion-dollar private corporation, and fare gates were foisted upon TransLink by the province, but no one wants to hear any of that.
What the Yes side needs are messages that are uncomplicated and easy to digest.
TransLink doesn't just need to "change the channel," it needs to hit that little button on the bottom of the remote that takes the signal from an entirely different source, like Netflix or YouTube or something.
Think there's nothing good to say about TransLink? Think again:
TransLink has never held captive cetaceans
This is true. Never mind the obvious "why would they?" question. When it comes to whales and dolphins in captivity or the capture of cetaceans in the wild, TransLink's hands are clean.
Since its inception in 1998, TransLink has never had a single tailings pond breach
While there have been changes to the governance structure of the authority, at no time has a TransLink dam been compromised or spilled mine tailings into a pristine lake.
Not a single TransLink bus operator job has been outsourced to a foreign country
All TransLink bus operators live within driving distance of Metro Vancouver and contribute to the local economy.
TransLink has not contributed to the spread of Ebola
Sure, you may suspect that you picked up something after being coughed on during an arduous crosstown ride on the No. 14, but Ebola? No way.
TransLink opposes terrorism
TransLink believes that terrorists are bad.
TransLink does not cause earthquakes
The occasional sinkhole, maybe. But TransLink has not been responsible for any detectable earthquakes or damage resulting from a major quake. Same goes for tsunamis.
TransLink does not now, and will never transport oil products on any of its light rail lines
The opportunity to do so may not have arisen, but rest assured when it does, TransLink will forcefully probably decline.
TransLink is not sitting atop an aging nuclear arsenal
The likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe triggered by a TransLink employee is virtually zero.
Translink thinks kids should stay off drugs and stay in school
TransLink transports thousands of healthy, non-drug-using young people to and from school every day.
By promoting these nine messages leading up to the plebiscite, TransLink has an opportunity to sway public sentiment in its favour.
Sure, it does nothing to educate the public about what we'll be voting on, but this isn't about what we know. It's about how we feel.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver. @cbcstephenquinn