Whining a Losing Strategy for Metro Vancouver Mayors

You have to feel sorry for Todd Stone, B.C.’s minister of transportation, as he tries to hammer out the details of a transit referendum in Metro Vancouver. The odds are higher that Amanda Knox will go on a two-week Italian vacation next month than they are getting unanimous approval from local mayors on the final wording of the question.

Try as he might, Stone will never please a group of civic politicians who have yet to meet a tax dollar they didn’t want to spend. But therein lies the problem for the minister, whose stated goal is to ensure taxpayers have a say before local mayors dip into their wallets — yet again.

While his career in provincial politics has been relatively brief, Stone may want to look to a former political rival for a solution to the current impasse.

During the last provincial election, John Cummins, the former leader of the BC Conservatives, had a rather novel idea when it came to funding future transit projects. He argued that if every municipality cut spending by a mere 1%, they could re-allocate almost $40 million toward much-needed transit projects.

Rather than endlessly lobbying for more taxes, just imagine if local mayors actually put real money on the table to fund new rapid transit lines and buses. It most certainly would have strengthened their collective bargaining position with Victoria politicians who appear in no mood to further enable a municipal spending spree.

“The Metro Vancouver mayors control operating budgets totalling over $2.9 billion and TransLink spends another $1 billion,” said a BC Conservatives campaign news release. “Finding $40 million through restraint in a budget of nearly $4 billion, is savings of only 1%.”

Had civic politicians taken up Cummins’ challenge and found some loose change within their operating budgets, they could have avoided the political mess they find themselves in today.

If the referendum does end up coinciding with the November civic election, watch for it to have profound impacts on the final results. A much higher voter turnout could result in a whole new breed of anti-tax municipal politicians making their way to city hall.

It should come as no surprise that our civic politicians are having sleepless nights about the timing of the transit referendum. They have good reason to be worried. The last thing they want to be doing during an election is campaigning for higher taxes when most have demonstrated only feeble efforts to curb their own spending.