Exasperation at a public-transit agency is probably an inevitable fact of life in urban Canada. So the voters of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia shouldn't reflexively react to delays on bus routes and other such frustrations, by voting "No" in the plebiscite on the proposed "congestion improvement tax" – for which ballots are being mailed this week to the residents of Greater Vancouver.
This is not a plebiscite on whether TransLink, the regional transportation agency, has been doing a perfect job. (It hasn't.)
On the contrary, a Yes vote offers an excellent prospect for better transportation. Last June, 20 out of 21 mayors agreed to a well-thought-out plan, including the enlightened idea of charging drivers for their usage of roads: "time-and-distance-based tolls."
Polls suggest that the No side is well ahead, perhaps by as much as two to one. There is still time for sober second and third thoughts. The mail-in plebiscite will remain open until May 29.
The ballot question has the virtue of simplicity. It is not posed as a complex plan. Instead, the voters are asked whether they approve the idea of adding half of one percentage point to the provincial sales tax – in the region, not the whole province.
On the other hand, the very suggestion of a sales-tax increase, even a modest one, could be the waving of a bright red flag, in a province with a history of populism. The lamentable history of the harmonized sales tax referendum of 2011 demonstrates the risks.
But the provincial Liberal government insisted on this approach. And it has its virtues. Voters are being faced with an honest choice. "Somebody else will pay" is not one of the options.
The plebiscite is a real opportunity to improve transit in the Lower Mainland. The proposal is a far better option than doing nothing. On balance, a Yes vote is the way forward.