10 Reasons To Vote Yes In Vancouver's Transit Referendum

03/17/2015 07:06 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT
Bayne Stanley/CP

This week, Metro Vancouver residents begin voting on a plebiscite that will ask if they support a raise (formally known as the Congestion Improvement Tax) to the provincial sales tax by half a percentage point, to be applied only to those living in Metro Vancouver, to help fund new infrastructure projects to the public transportation system.

Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe recently published a dreadfully under-researched article listing 10 reasons to vote No. What follows is a counterpoint-by-counterpoint list of 10 reasons to vote Yes.

1. "Taxation needs limits. A consensus exists that we are sufficiently taxed. Moreover, B.C. has a couple of levies unique to this province, such as a carbon tax and Medical Services Premiums."

Counterpoint: Ignoring for a moment that Ms. Yaffe does not actually provide any evidence for claiming a "consensus," merely suggesting that we are already "sufficiently taxed" is, at best, inherently relative and subjective (not to mention lazy), and at worst, an argumentative fallacy. I would be willing to wager that a vast majority of respondents, when polled -- regardless of the size of whatever pre-existing tax rate is under question and for what it pays -- would complain that taxes are too high. Basic human psychology tells us that people, by and large, are still inclined to disfavour a tax increase even when it can be demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Also, if you are going to point out that B.C. already has some taxes that are unique to them and then listing the carbon tax as one of your only two examples, it is incomprehensive and misleading, if not irresponsible, to not add that the province uses revenues from the carbon tax to reduce income taxes.

2. The Metro Vancouver municipal governments overspend and TransLink, the corporation responsible for the area's transportation network, is financially wasteful.

Counterpoint: Again, Ms. Yaffe fails to cite any sources proving that the local municipal governments are prone to overspending. If she had done the research, she perhaps would not paint in such broad strokes. For instance, the Fraser Institute, arguably a usual bastion for right-wing think-tanking, released a report late last year summarizing that municipal spending per resident across Metro Vancouver varies "wildly," and they even went so far as to speculate that the comparatively higher spenders' motivations might be circumstantially valid.

And while we are on the topic of municipal-government budgets, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) reminds us that, despite projected revenue growths, "those revenues will be needed to cover inflation, population growth, and downloading of responsibilities from senior governments onto municipalities (for example, costs for wastewater treatment and policing which used to be covered by the federal government but now are paid for by municipalities)."

As for castigating TransLink for "cavalier expenditures," let us put things in perspective and consider that only a sheer 0.13 per cent of their total budget is almost unequivocally wasteful (any waste beyond that is merely debatable). TransLink, I might add, slashed their budget from 2013-2013 by about $26 million by identifying cost inefficiencies, a number that is larger than what that 0.13 per cent represents.

3. "TransLink does not have a terrific record when it comes to providing service."

Counterpoint: The only evidence for this claim is anecdotal, and whining about personal bad experiences on public transit is almost laughably clichéd.

But heck, let us take the claim at face value, just to see what happens. Charles Montgomery (no, not Mr. Burns, for you Simpsons geeks out there), an expert on urban design, asserts that if you look at the evidence, "TransLink is arguably one of the most efficient and reliable big-city transit agencies in North America." And even conceding "recent high-profile service shutdowns on the SkyTrain," poignantly highlights that it remains "a mystery, however, why anyone would believe that voting No [on the plebiscite] could solve [such] problems."

4. "A Yes vote could set a dangerous precedent for more revenue-raising-by-referendum in future. Politicians should govern, standing or falling on their decisions."

Counterpoint: Even the Yes campaign admits referenda are not ideal. But any issues you have with Christy Clark, you should take up with her. Like it or not, this referendum is the meal that is being served on the table, and just as food-science studies consistently demonstrate that picky eating is merely the result of cultural conditioning, you can learn to suck it up for the sake of getting your badly needed nutrition.

I do not know what else to tell you if you root your complaint in nothing more than a hypothetical, but if you want a more serious counterargument in regards to the issue of precedent setting, read this commentary from Andrew Coyne, a man who has been called a radical left-wing kook by no one ever.

5. "If annual tax revenues exceed the $250 million [per year] to be raised, would surplus funds be returned to taxpayers? Importantly, would the new tax remain once road pricing and more tolls are introduced?"

Counterpoint: The former question is not entirely unfair but also not wholly damaging. You could ask the same question of any proposed tax increase. Expectations of tax revenues are based on calculated projections, and governments (or corporations for that mater) are understandably not in a position to commit to speculative alternative outcomes that deviate from projections, as that would entail knowing what the economic outlook will be in the future based entirely on foolish guesswork (as opposed to educated guesswork, which is why we have projections).

The more problematic latter question presupposes that road pricing and tolls will work hand in hand. Turns out that the opposite is the plan.

6. What if the provincial and federal governments renege on their funding contributions?

Counterpoint: And what if the sky falls tomorrow?

7. Higher taxes will obviously cost people more money.

Counterpoint: Both the National Post and The Globe and Mail directly claim or refer to sources that the proposed transit plan will save the average family money in the long run, despite the tax increase.

8. Toronto is not proposing new taxes for transportation infrastructure spending.

Counterpoint: Even the right-of-centre National Post, in their endorsement of a Yes vote from their editorial board, laments Toronto's situation by comparison, given that countless Toronto mayors seem to rehash the same bloated promises on transit overhaul over the years while accomplishing little.

9. "The mayors did not include in their budgeting plans even a small amount of the needed revenue from their own current spending."

Counterpoint: I refer you to the CCPA citation from counterpoint two. There simply are no available funds. This is not a revenue-neutral tax-hike proposal; the money is entirely earmarked for much-needed new infrastructure projects, not upgrades or maintenance.

10. "The campaign has not been fought fairly. Normally, when such a referendum is held, the two competing sides receive the same amount of funding to lobby."

Counterpoint: As long as money and politics remain bedfellows, there is no evidence to suggest that two sides on a referendum will ever have equal funding, and it is naïve to think otherwise. Plus it is unfair to imply that government should regulate or supply funding in such a way that would work against their own plan.

So vote Yes, with your head held high.


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