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Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum: Time For The Yes Campaign To Hit 'Reset'

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Ted's photos - For me & you/Flickr
Ted's photos - For me & you/Flickr

A few weeks back I wrote about my experience of working on the ill-fated 1992 Charlottetown Accord "Yes" referendum campaign, and provided some so far unheeded advice to the pro-transit tax side.

Metro Vancouver's mayors, I argued, must humble themselves with the voters in order to see the world as they do. Furthermore, the yes campaign must be painstakingly transparent about ALL aspects of their plan -- as in how they will raise revenues, and how they will spend it.

I am still convinced that real openness is the mayors' last best hope for victory.

Premier Christy Clark, in a shrewd political move, made the mayors masters of their domain by requiring them to seek public approval for new taxes. We now have a cohesive transportation plan and a scheme on how to fund it. Chalk one up for Clark that this happened at all.

With their support in free fall, it is time for the Yes campaign to hit the "reset" button.

This means no more costly consultant reports or boring YouTube videos that have no resonance with anyone riding the system or stuck in traffic. No more announcements about the expanding yes-side bandwagon or celebrity endorsers (why do I think that George Clooney or Gwyneth Paltrow are waiting in the wings to back the mayors' plan?).

Please, no more gloomy and patronizing newspaper columns or blogs criticizing No-side voters. They only serve to strengthen the opposition.

And stop making absurd insinuations that the No campaign is part of a global right-wing conspiracy. In fact, stop talking about the No-side campaign altogether.

Why do I think the Yes side can win? Of the dozens of conversations I have had about the congestion tax, the opposition to voting yes is surprisingly soft. I am convinced that most voters are seeking a reason to back the tax, and failing so far.

Because public opinion surveys have already identified voters' concerns, the Yes side has all the information it needs to re-launch a successful campaign.

The Yes Campaign: Plan B

It might be the mayors' plan, but pollsters tell us the public does not trust these elected leaders to deliver it up. The most prominent among them was even singled out as a "colossal dud" in selling the plan. So the politicians must take a step back and new spokespeople must take their place.

An important first step will be to consolidate the two Yes campaigns. The Mayors' Council and Yes Coalition are running separate campaigns that should be merged with one credible leader from each of the political right and left.

Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Iain Black has been hands-down the most convincing voice of the yes side so far. Next to him should be Gavin McGarrigle, B.C. director for Unifor 111, who has performed well in public during recent labour disputes.

Then they must take TransLink out of the equation by acknowledging the public's concerns, and set a course on how to address them. We keep hearing that the transportation authority has unwieldy governance -- so why not promise to conflate six boards of directors into one? How about adding a transit user or two onto that board? Commit to reviewing executive salaries, and make any bonus pay conditional upon real achievements.

Why not tap YVR Airport CEO Craig Richmond for some advice on fixing TransLink? For six years straight, B.C.'s biggest airport has been ranked number one in North America by a travellers' survey, a credit to Richmond's leadership.

Reach out to small business owners, who are rightly peeved because they must shoulder the burden of collecting the tax. Commit to working with them to lessen their red tape challenges, and show them how the plan will benefit their businesses and employees. As the region's biggest employers you need their support.

Welcome media scrutiny of the Yes campaign itself. Kicking reporters out of telephone town halls was a stupid move, so invite them back in. Be transparent about what you are spending on the campaign and commit to full voluntary disclosure of your campaign finances.

Finally, issue an easy to understand one-page explanation of the mayors' transportation plan priorities and how the tax revenue will be spent.

A well-run campaign can make all the above happen in a matter of days. I challenge the Yes side to make it so.

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