VICTORIA - British Columbia's transportation minister says he's preparing to introduce legislation that paves the way for a Vancouver-area transit-funding referendum tied to municipal elections in November.
Todd Stone urged regional mayors to drop their opposition to proposed transit expansions beyond their own geographical boundaries and together develop a unified vision that all affected residents will support.
"This continues to be a disappointment because the referendum is actually all about asking the taxpayers to approve a fully funded vision for expanded transit and transportation in Metro Vancouver," Stone said Thursday.
"They are the mayors, they have a responsibility to lead as a region."
Earlier this week, the mayors announced they were united in their opposition to Premier Christy Clark's plans for a fall referendum.
"While the mayors have put numerous ideas out there in terms of what priorities should be for each of their respective communities, to date, they have not agreed on a common vision, a total price tag for that vision or how to specifically pay for it," Stone said of the mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey and about 15 other municipalities.
He said Vancouver wants an extended transit line along Broadway, near the city's downtown core, while Surrey is examining three light-rapid transit lines and other municipalities are calling for better roads, new bridges and more buses.
The legislation, to be introduced in the spring, will confirm there will be a region-wide referendum in the fall but the question will be formulated at a later date.
Stone said municipalities cannot change the question once it has been finalized, adding the province will pay the costs of including it on municipal election ballots to save money and attract voters.
A region-wide transit referendum that would ask voters to approve spending an unspecified amount of tax dollars on transit expansion and improvements was one of Clark's election promises last spring.
Opposition New Democrat transit critic George Heyman said Stone's plan to force a fall transit referendum is bound to fail. He said the Liberals have derailed earlier transit proposals by area mayors and now there isn't enough time to convince Vancouver-area voters to pay more taxes to improve transit.
"The transportation minister has painted himself into a corner with this referendum," he said. "He knows it cannot pass in the amount of time that's left, so he's attempting to deflect blame onto the mayors."
Heyman said improving transit in the Vancouver area is an issue that has economic, environmental and social impacts.
"What's at stake here is not just public transit for people who use it," he said. "It's congestion on the roads for cars and it's a great cost to the economy of B.C., estimated at up to $1.5 billion a year. We need to come up with a funding formula for transit and we need to begin to implement increased bus service hours and the building of new infrastructure where it's needed."
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