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Rejecting TransLink Referendum Won't Make Problems Disappear

01/22/2015 05:01 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT
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Depending upon your point of view, TransLink is either a wasteful, marginally competent transit authority or it's a wasteful, marginally competent transit authority.

At least both sides in Metro Vancouver's upcoming transit referendum seem to agree on that one point, even though they may express it differently.

In the weeks ahead, expect the No side to talk TransLink ad nauseum, while the Yes side will try to talk about anything but. "TransLink? Sorry, doesn't ring a bell."

Well -- as the Yes side may learn to its chagrin -- in politics it's not he who laughs last who laughs longest; it's he who defines first who defines best.

And hate to be a party pooper, but the elephant in the living room -- TransLink -- can't be ignored.

With assets operating on the sea, the roads, under the roads, and in the air (well, at least elevated), TransLink is unique.

It boasts that it's "the first North American transportation authority to be responsible for the planning, financing and managing of all public transit in addition to major regional roads and bridges."

Good reason for that. The two mandates don't go well together. It's kind of like Steve Nash Fitness World operating a chain of burger joints.

TransLink has three subsidiaries, not including its own police force. All told there are 22 members on the four boards of directors, only one of whom is elected to local government. But then TransLink has that other layer of governance: the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation.

In 2013, it had 232.5 million passengers. Its much vaunted Compass Card will be deployed. Sometime. Really.

Montreal's transit authority -- the Société de transport de Montréal -- has no operating subsidiaries. Its one board of directors has 10 members, seven of whom are elected to local governments. No Mayors' Council.

In 2013, it had 416.5 million passengers. Its equivalent to the Compass Card was introduced in 2008 and fully deployed by 2010.

But the real problem with half-baked campaign promises such as the transit funding referendum is that any one of a host of unforeseen factors can lead to a doozy of a political hangover. TransLink is one.

Another? A No vote won't make the problems go away.

As Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore told Pitt Meadows council last month: "If this plan fails, there's no plan B," adding that the "Mayors' Council would then go back to the province and ask for leadership." Goody. Something you can always count on from Victoria.

If the anticipation of having your say on transit has left you on the edge of your seat anxiously awaiting the campaign festivities, have no fear.

This past week, charges and counter-charges picked up a bit when the No side unveiled its website and alternative transit plan. The Yes war room was fast out with this gem from Greg Moore: "If you don't have good, quality content, then you come out with something shiny to distract the conversation."

Undoubtedly -- if the Yes side comes out with a website before the vote -- it won't be shiny.

In fact, they're even making grumblings about engaging in battle later this month. According to the Vancouver's Board of Trade president Iain Black, the Yes side hopes to launch its campaign at the end of January.

Which won't come a moment too soon for Globe And Mail columnist Gary Mason who, in a column on January 15, noted that if the transit vote is to succeed, the "campaign must start now." One thing, though: Mason reached that view on January 15...2014. Last year.

The Yes side may have great intellectual arguments, but the No side has one big emotional one. It's spelled T-r-a-n-s-L-i-n-k. And at the end of the day it may be the only one that counts.

If the Yes forces do prevail, at least the New Car Dealers Association of B.C. stand a good chance at getting their money's worth from all those political donations to the B.C. Liberal party.

B.C. finance ministry officials are already busy at work identifying what goods will be exempt from that 0.5 per cent increase in the PST. Bet new cars will be at or near the top of that list.