01/16/2015 03:52 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT

TransLink tax 'Yes' campaign launched as Gregor Robertson takes lead

As the referendum over Metro Vancouver TransLink funding approaches, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has been elected to lead the "Yes" campaign in support of the proposed new Congestion Improvement Tax.

The new 0.5 per cent tax will apply to the majority of goods and services sold or delivered in the Metro Vancouver region and bring in an estimated $250 million annual revenue.

The region's mayors have said it would be used to fund part of a $8 billion 10-year transit plan, including increased service on SkyTrain, Canada Line, SeaBus, and West Coast Express.

Robertson was elected to lead the 'Yes' campaign by the Mayors' Council on Friday, with recently elected Surrey mayor Linda Hepner voted in as vice-chair.

Mayor of Port Coquitlam Greg Moore told CBC News that the campaign needed to get out into the region's communities.

"One of the things that we've heard, is that we need to get out in each neighbourhood and explain to them what's in it for them," he said.

"What level of service should they expect, [what] increase in bus hours will they get in their community..."

Moore said that, with a million more people expected to live in Metro Vancouver over the next 30 years, massive gridlock is the alternative to instituting the tax.

"There's 600,000 cars that will come with [those million people] and if we think we have congestion and gridlock now, that's nothing compared to what we could see."

'No' TransLink Tax campaign launches

The campaign against the tax officially launched Thursday.

Led by the B.C. branch of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, the "No TransLink Tax" campaign argues the money would be better raised through making efficiencies within TransLink and diverting future local government revenue.

The "No" campaign has crunched the numbers in a 50-page campaign document entitled "A Better Plan".

"Based on the expected growth that is coming to these municipalities and transit and GVRD [Greater Vancouver Regional District] for the next 10 years, you can shave off half a point of that and put it towards this plan and fully fund it," said the federation's director, Jordan Bateman.

Bateman says that the other key to funding without adding the proposed tax, is to take a hard look at TransLink management.

"[We need to] get rid of the culture of waste at TransLink," he says. "Before anything, you cannot put more water into that leaky bucket."

The plebiscite will be conducted by Elections B.C. by mail-in ballot using provincial funds, but no provincial funding will be provided to campaigns on either side of the vote.

Ballots will be sent out March 16, 2015 and votes must be in by May 29, 2015. A simple majority of 50 per cent plus one will be considered support for the following question:

Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan? Yes or No.