We've known for a long time that Todd moves in mysterious ways.
Todd Stone, B.C.'s minister of transportation, has apparently told the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC) that he will approve their long-standing request for a two cents per litre gas tax hike in the Victoria region. The VRTC wants the tax, which would generate $6.6 million, for bus improvements.
Stone had dithered on this for a long time, but the VRTC's Susan Brice told the Times Colonist that their effort to show "public support" for the tax hike by having a dozen local city councils send supportive letters, swayed him. However, Stone has yet to make a public announcement.
If Brice is right, Stone has neglected a vital point: these city councils have never asked the public if they support a gas tax hike. They have no idea what the will of the people is on this.
After Brice made her comment that the public is on board this tax, we asked the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's supporters in the region what they thought. We received hundreds of emails, many of which were copied to Stone. Hopefully he's reading them, because they paint a different landscape than the one Brice and city politicians are living in.
"If Victoria City Council thinks this is a good idea, they don't represent me!" wrote one Victoria resident. "Tough love -- not handouts -- is required to help BC Transit be the best that it can be."
"I do not support higher gas taxes, and I want BC Transit to find other ways to pay for un-improved service," added a Langford resident. "I really don't care what Todd Stone claims, city hall might support a gas tax hike, but Victorians don't. We are already taxed too much."
Another Langford taxpayer wrote, "I was most distressed to hear that [Stone's] reason for now going along with this 'rip off' was that [Stone] had spoken with the local politicians and determined that everyone in the area was 'on side'. Perhaps [Stone] should start listening to the actual residents not the politicians before [Stone] make(s) a decision like this."
"I can tell you that there is definitely not support from most of the citizens in the Victoria area, at least the many I see and converse with on a regular basis," said a Saanich taxpayer. "It is my opinion that the only real support comes from the elected politicians who in this area appear to make up their own minds on such matters irrespective of what the local public deem appropriate."
There are better options to find this $6.6 million a year without taxing drivers more. A provincial audit of BC Transit revealed millions of wasted dollars within the agency. Transit staff get paid a 50 per cent premium for working on Sundays, at a cost of $700,000 a year. Too many spare drivers and buses are scheduled to sit around, sick days have gone through the roof and the board of directors are improperly collecting extra meeting fees.
BC Transit CEO Manuel Achadinha was paid $349,891 in 2015, including a $66,000 bonus and a $8,650 car allowance. Achadinha, unbelievably, got paid $10,000 more than the CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission.
The audit also showed purchasing issues, a lack of interest in going after advertising revenue, poor scheduling, questionable management of two commercial ventures and expensive choices in bus types.
So Stone's own government audit shows there's plenty of room for efficiency at BC Transit. His alleged reaction: side with the municipal politicians to gouge drivers for more gas taxes.
Minister Stone, it's not too late to change your mind. But don't take our word for it (and certainly don't take city hall's word for it) -- hit a Tim Horton's and see what the people really have to say about a Victoria gas tax hike.
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