Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


April 9, 2014

Remarks on Bill 23, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Funding Referenda Act

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to stand and take my place in this debate around Bill 23, the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Funding Referenda Act. This is a piece of legislation that will enable this referendum in the Metro Vancouver area, in the TransLink area, on the question of transportation funding — not exclusively transit but transportation funding, a lot of it transit.

It's a very controversial position. It's controversial for a whole range of reasons, and we'll get into a little of that. But you know, just everything about this is a bad idea. I note the previous speaker, the member for Vancouver–False Creek, a previous and a past mayor of Vancouver, has come out and embraced this idea of the referenda here in his comments today.

I would have thought that the member — who has been intimate with Vancouver and Metro Vancouver politics for an awfully long time and played a key role as a councillor and as the mayor of Vancouver and on the Metro Vancouver board as one of the key representatives for Vancouver — would have known just how bad the mistake of 2007 was, when the previous Minister of Transportation, Kevin Falcon, basically blew up TransLink and its governance and created the situation that we have today, which has been an unmitigated disaster, no matter how you cut it.

There's been some recognition of that, I think, by the current Minister of Transportation, who with a pretty flawed piece of legislation in Bill 22 is still trying to cobble together some kind of recovery from that, with at least some recognition that local leadership in the form of the mayors really is integral to the success of the transportation system. Having had that pitched out by the 2007 changes, we now need to recover from that.

I would think that the member from False Creek would have understood that, and he would easily understand that this referendum is just as equally a bad idea, in terms of actually getting to where we need to get, which is to fix the transit and transportation problems that exist in the Lower Mainland area — to be able to deal with the challenges that are faced by fast-growing communities like Surrey and with communities like Vancouver that have significant and high concentrations, and all that's involved in that.

Whether it's more SkyTrain or it's light rail or it's buses, whether it's the capital costs or the operating costs, I would have thought he would have known better, but apparently not.

So what's the situation we have? We have a situation where the minister…. Well, before him, the Premier announced this notion of a referendum before the last election. I think there was pretty much a consensus view that in doing that…. And we're all thinking about the Canucks today, with Trevor Linden. Well, this was the greatest puck-ragging deal that I saw in a long time, where the government essentially did not want to deal with its responsibility, which is to fix the transit problems in the Lower Mainland and to be a partner in fixing those problems.

Instead, what do they do? They say: "We're going to have a referendum. We don't know what the question is. We don't know when it'll happen. We don't actually know what the role of it will be. But we're not going to talk about how to fix this problem. We're going to have a referendum." That's what happens. Then they have the gall to say to the mayors: "It's your responsibility to decide the question. It's your responsibility, essentially, to take ownership of this."

Thankfully, the mayors —they're pretty smart folks, pretty smart men and women — said, quite rightly: "You created the mess around this referendum proposal. You figure it out, and you fix it."

 That creates a conflict. What do we see when that happens? Well, we see a Minister of Transportation, who I think is making some efforts. My understanding is he was meeting with the mayors. He's making some efforts to try to figure out how to move this thing forward and how to fix this problem as it exists.

But at every step — and this is part of the chaos of all of this — whether it was around the date of the referendum, around the nature of provincial involvement in the campaign, around the question…. Pretty much every time the Minister of Transportation expressed a view and a position, the Premier would come out and contradict him and suggest something different.

Then, presumably, the two of them would have to go and huddle and try to figure out who was taking what position on what and how they put this all together. So we're still not much farther ahead.

The result of all this is uncertainty, unbelievable uncertainty about our transportation system in the Lower Mainland — a system that is fundamental, that needs to be fixed and that, as much as the province would like to avoid its responsibility, the province is going to be an integral player and funder in fixing. That's just the reality.

What we have, though, is we have this situation. We have a piece of legislation now where…. Originally, the Liberals said, "We're going to do this at the municipal elections in 2014. We're going to have this vote then," but that seems to have fallen by the wayside somewhat at this point.

Now, we could have a stand-alone vote — maybe in June of 2015. Maybe in the 2018 municipal election, assuming we go to four-year terms. Who knows? Maybe not 2018; maybe 2022. It's totally unclear because the government just does not know what it's doing with this, and I suspect that continues to be the case.

We don't have any clarity around the question. Again, the minister, probably because he is scared to try to ask the Premier what the question should be…. It's a game trying to get the Mayors Council to make some recommendations about the question or questions. But even with that, while the Mayors Council is being asked to make recommendations, they are not being told that they get to set the question. At the end of the day, every recommendation they make, if they make any, could be thrown out in a minute by the minister, and the minister could write a whole new question — depending, presumably, on what orders he gets from the Premier.

We have a situation where this bill, Bill 23, does nothing to alleviate the chaos that was created by the Premier and the B.C. Liberals when they introduced this idea of this referendum. Nothing is being done to resolve the situation. We continue to have a chaotic situation.

People say to me: "Well, we're going to have this referendum around funding for TransLink. I don't remember when I got to vote on a referendum about the Massey bridge tunnel. How come I didn't get a referendum about that? When was my referendum vote on the Port Mann? When was my referendum vote on any number of these things?" They didn't get a vote, and they didn't necessarily want one. But they understand the hypocrisy of the government suggesting that transportation planning and support for transportation planning and implementation should face a referendum when the pet project of the Premier, the Massey bridge, doesn't have to have a referendum. It raises interesting contradictions.

What happens with this referendum? Well, first of all, we all know that if you take this outside of the election period…. We have enough challenges with voter turnout in municipal elections, but make it a stand-alone in June of 2015 and you're going to get 10, 15 percent turnout, maybe 20 percent turnout if you do well. And you're going to make a decision based on that?

Well, good chance it doesn't pass. Let's assume for a minute that it doesn't pass. That will not remove one iota of responsibility from this government to be at the table figuring out how it invests in transportation in the Lower Mainland — not one iota of responsibility.

The reality is that those investments have to be made, whether it's light rail in Surrey, whether it's another SkyTrain line, whether it's more buses or whether it's simply trying to deal with the increasing operating challenges and costs that TransLink faces. It's going to be about: what are the tools available?

If you really want to do this properly, what you do is you empower the mayors. You give them the power that has been omitted in Bill 22, the governance bill that we dealt with the other day that says they don't have control over budgets. You give them that control, including the authority and the ability to make some decisions about revenue streams, and make them politically accountable for those decisions so that they, as the mayors, are accountable for the decisions they make about revenue streams.

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You do that, and you begin to fix the problem. You have a plan that makes sense, and you have a real conversation with the people of the Lower Mainland and the people who will pay this bill, ultimately — the taxpayers. But have a discussion about people's needs and what they want and how you move forward. That means engaging people.

That leads back to this debacle we've had since 2007, when you took the elected representatives out of the mix, essentially, to create a private board that met in secret, did its business in secret and essentially alienated much of what is TransLink from the people it's supposed to serve. We have to rebuild that trust, and that's a big part of the challenge.

As we look to do that, and if we do that well, we will create the opportunities for the kind of discussion…. Whether it's a discussion at Metro Vancouver, whether it's discussions by the Mayors Council specifically around these things, whether it's the minister and the provincial government engaging in joint discussions with the people of the region on how to resolve these problems and how they get paid for — all of that is a fair and open discussion.

Instead of playing this game around this referendum, we would be much better off to acknowledge we're going to have to fix the problem. We're going to have to deal with the shortfalls. We're going to have to deal with the operating challenges that my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake talked about. We're going to have to make decisions about capital investment and priority. We're going to have to move ahead and do it, and we're going to have to do it in the coming years.

We do ourselves no favours by saying we're going to have a vote on some undetermined question in 2015 or maybe 2018 or maybe 2022. That's not fixing the problem. The challenge it creates is that the longer the Liberal government drags this thing out, all of that is lost time for effective and thoughtful planning. All of that is lost time for engaging the people in the region, the stakeholders and the people who are our local leaders, in a real discussion. Instead, we have this back-and-forth game going on around this referendum.

It really is time to talk about fixing the problem; it's not time to talk about another delay. It's not time to talk about a game. It's time for the Premier and the government and the minister to understand that regardless of what happens with this vote, whether it passes or fails, whether it ever happens, the responsibility cannot be shirked.

The responsibility to be a full partner in creating the solutions that need to be made around transportation, the solutions…. The member for Vancouver–False Creek talked about the linkages between planning and transportation — and we all know about that — and development and transportation, about the movement of goods. All of those things that create the kind of sustainable communities…. Things that we know transportation is integral to, all of those issues, we've got to have in that discussion.

That is not the discussion that this referendum will create. It hardly ever does. These kinds of votes hardly ever do. What we get is the people…. It's interesting. When you look at the people who are supportive of this, just about the only voice outside the Liberal side that embraces this is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

We know the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is about cutting anything that has to do with government: "Just cut government. Government's bad, and if we can cut something out of government, that's good." If they think they can reduce the size of government in some perverse way by having this referendum fail, then they'll be good to go on that. But it doesn't solve the problem. It doesn't resolve the issue. It doesn't deal with any of that. At the end of the day, we still have to fix the problem.

It's a bad piece of legislation. It's a bad idea. It was a bad idea when it was proposed before the election. It continues to be a bad idea. We don't seem to be a whole lot farther ahead. I know we have a minister who feels frustrated that he's kind of been blindsided on occasion after occasion by the Premier taking contrary positions to his.

Let's just get this work done. I believe the minister is prepared to sit down with the mayors and try to find a solution that resolves this. Try to open a debate with the people in the region on how to solve this problem. That would be a more preferable way to go than this game around this referendum.

We should set this plan aside, give the minister the direction to do that, empower the mayors to really be a key player at this table, tell the two sides to sit down and have that meaningful discussion, figure out how to fix this problem and move forward on a solution that creates, reinforces and strengthens the kind of sustainable communities that we all want to see in our region. If we do that, we will be much farther along.

It's a bad piece of legislation. It should be defeated. Sadly, I'm sure it will probably go ahead.

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