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2015 Transit Referendum©

TransLink’s new CEO Doug Allen rides transit to work every day. Using the media as a propaganda to garner support is a common political ruse.
Billionaire businessman Jim Pattison agreed to head an oversight panel if the yes camp wins.

A disturbing tax-related issue outside the 2015 B.C. budget is the Transit Referendum scheduled in March 2015. Metro Vancouver voters will be asked to approve a 0.5% sales tax increase to fund future improvements to roads and public transit. The new funding will go towards a $7.5-billion plan to improve transportation in the region, which includes a subway on the Broadway corridor, light rail in Surrey, a third Seabus, a new Pattullo Bridge, new bus lines and other upgrades across the region. Be mindful that taxpayer's nightmare just begins if the Referendum is passed. There is no indication that the 0.5% sales tax increase will cease upon completion of these projects. Furthermore, there will likely be a toll on the new Pattullo Bridge. Toll fee on public projects paid by tax dollars amounts to double taxation.

Many elected officials from all levels of government are supporting the tax hike and spent tax dollars to publicly urge voters to vote yes. To garner a last minute support, TransLink replaced former CEO Ian Jarvis with the 66-year-old former B.C. deputy minister Doug Allen. This is a desperate attempt to restore public confidence in the transit authority. Mr. Allen was a founder and principal in Sage Group Management Consultants from 1998 to 2008. His salary is $35,000 per month. Ian Jarvis will be kept on as a consultant and paid his full salary until June 2016. According to CBC News on 15 August 2013, the salary of Mr. Jarvis in 2013 was $394,730, which was more than that of our Prime Minister Stephen Harper ($320,400) in the same year. Now TransLink is paying two CEO salaries simultaneously. The farce reached its climax when the new interim CEO Doug Allen appeared on TV news riding public transit to go to work. This salvage operation is another count of lack of accountability, abuse of tax dollars and further strengthens the position of the No camp.

As many voters are inclined to vote no to the referendum, the Mayor’s Council (a prominent player in the Yes camp) headed by Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner made another desperate move to salvage public trust. They called a press conference to announce that the 86-year old (as of 2015) businessman Jim Pattison, one of the richest men in Canada, will lead a committee to monitor how TransLink spends the new 0.5% Metro Vancouver transit tax, if the yes side wins the upcoming referendum. Independent audit reports will be produced each year to ensure that the additional tax dollars are spent wisely. Will this panel help to establish accountability and efficiency in the public transit authority with a track record of incompetence and free spending of tax dollars? Unlikely for the following reasons:

  1. Although Mr. Pattison will not be paid to lead the oversight committee, other committee members are most likely paid by taxpayers when attending meetings. Meetings will also incur overhead expenses, which could be quite high in public services. This means taxpayers will have to pay extra for a bureaucracy of doubtful value. After all, the oversight function is supposed to be the job of elected officials. Mayors are passing the buck to another party. This is another count of free spending on meaningless activities.
  2. Why is the proposed panel meaningless? Even Mr. Pattison himself knows very little about the exact role of the panel. According the CBC News posted on 6 March 2015, "I have no information about it, except that they asked me if I would help oversee the funds if the yes vote wins and I said I would be happy to do that." Pattison said. How can taxpayers trust that the oversight committee is an effective watchdog when a prominent member does not even know the role and the power given? It is like hiring a manager without giving him a job description. This is another sign of mismanagement. The clout of Mr. Pattison is being used to get a yes vote. This is nothing but a political ruse.
  3. The proposed committee obviously consists of more than one member. Even if taxpayers trust the ability of Mr. Pattison, his decisions could be overruled if other members are not on the same page with him. Who are these other members? They could be union heads, Translink managers and other service providers whose financial interests are tied in with the tax dollar funding.
  4. Mr. Pattison's expertise and experience are in the private sectors governed by a free market economy, not in a Crown corporation funded with taxpayer money in a quasi command economy. We doubt whether his business skills are applicable in correcting TransLink's fallacies if it becomes necessary for him to act in his new role.
  5. Taxpayers' money is not Mr. Pattison's personal asset. For his own interests, Mr. Pattison would like to be on good terms with all levels of government. We are unsure whether he will be critical on TransLink which could turn into politically sensitive issues that may undermine his relationship with governments.
  6. Transit infrastructure constructions are long term projects. We doubt whether the 86-year old Jim Pattison can undertake this long term commitment and effectively contribute his talent in overseeing TransLink.
  7. The last but not the least, it is uncertain whether the new committee would have any legislative or statutory authority. In his new role, it is unlikely that Mr. Pattison has the authority to fire TransLink executives or to make any binding decisions on TransLink operation. His mandate is most likely restricted to writing reports and providing audit. There is no indication that TransLink is obliged to accept and implement his recommendations and audit findings. His reports could sit on the shelf and collect dust. This means this proposed panel is merely a pseudo watchdog with no real power to correct inappropriate decisions and no real mandate to effectively protect the interests of taxpayers and TransLink users.
Photos of parking lots in Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia taken in 2014 suggest that many students are driving still after paying for their transit passes. The Yes camp launched a Youtube video in March 2015 targeting college students. Some of these students who do not use public transit are forced to pay the mandatory U-Pass BC as part of their student fees.

In view of the foregoing, it is unlikely that Mr. Pattison will have any meaningful significant impact in monitoring TransLink transit tax spending. His involvement, however, does have enormous propaganda value to attract more support for the new tax from gullible people who lack the discernment to see through well contrived schemes. Mr. Pattison's clout is used by politicians to serve their interests. It is safe to contend that the proposed panel is a shrewd and desperate ruse to swing voters to the yes camp.

Setting up a pseudo watchdog is common in government to deal with controversial issues. The objectives are to portray a delusional perception of accountability, diverting public attention from the real problems (which often embarrass the authority) and to beat the same drum using a seemingly critical and ameliorative approach. A mirror image of this proposed panel is the Representative for Children and Youth (RCY), supposedly a watchdog of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Controlling the official opposition channel is vital to manipulate public opinions and a brilliant political ruse. If the yes camp wins, the reports produced by this panel are likely critical on the surface and often recommend more fundings and more perquisites to service providers under the TransLink umbrella.

TransLink has grown to become the fourth level of government with the ability to tax without the need of going through proper tax increase legislative scrutiny. It is a shrewd political setup to circumvent tax raise legislative procedures. Transit authority receives a cut whenever British Columbians buy gas, cross toll bridges, pay hydro fee, parking and property tax. To inflate ridership and to raise revenue, university students must pay for their U-Pass as part of their student fees, despite whether or not they use public transit. Taxpayers are given a federal non-refundable tax credit if they buy monthly transit pass. Traffic laws grant transit buses a right of way, hence obliging other vehicles to yield. Some major routes now have bus only lane. This is a gradual migration to road usage domination. Some transit operators drive aggressively and often create situations dangerous to other road users when exercising their right of way privilege. Extra penalty must now be imposed on those convicted of assaulting transit drivers.

The $200 million automated Compass card fare-gate system, which promised to save money by stopping fare evaders, was supposed to be operational before 2012. However, the roll out date has been repeatedly delayed due to glitches with the system and is still not running after a huge amount of tax dollars spent. Contactless smart card fare-gate system is not a new technology. Similar system has been used in other cities (like the Octopus card in Hong Kong) for decades. Compass card failure is a clear sign of incompetence and mismanagement. Should we continue to give more money to those who are proven incompetent?

CEO positions in Crown corporations are too highly paid. They serve as political payoffs to those who have close tie with the ruling party. Cronyism is a political corruption seldom caught in the West. Intended candidates are often given an interim appointment for a brief period of time, and therefore granting the experience necessary to satisfy a make-to-order qualification requirement. Shrewd emulation of an open and impartial hiring will keep those involved out of hot water.

When public transit industry is monopolized by an authority that lacks accountability and a self-serving transit union, additional tax dollars spent will likely benefit service providers more than consumers. Society will enjoy little or no improvement in public transit even if the Transit Referendum is passed. Extra funds will be abused in no time and they will come back for more. Taxpayers have deep pocket and are easy target. Taxpayers should not feel relieved if the No camp wins in the forthcoming plebiscite. Politicians will find other ways to financially support the lifestyle of transit service providers.

Voting Results of the 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite

34 days after the voting deadline on 29 May 2015, Elections BC published the results of the Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite on 2 July 2015.

Beginning 16 March 2015, Elections BC mailed a 2015 Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit Plebiscite voting package to each registered voter in Metro Vancouver. As of the 15 May 2015 deadline to register to vote and ask for a voting package, there were 1,562,386 registered voters in Metro Vancouver. A total of 798,262 ballot packages were returned, representing 51.09% of the total registered voters. 38,393 ballot packages were not considered as they did not meet the requirements of the plebiscite Regulation.

According to section 282(1) of the Election Act, the purpose of a plebiscite is to determine the opinion of voters on a matter of public concern. Of the 759,696 ballots considered, the majority of validly cast votes were opposed to the question on the ballot.

Question: Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors' Council transportation and transit plan?

The final voting results are (municipalities in which Yes votes exceeded 50% are highlighted in red):

Municipality Yes votes Yes% No votes No% Total valid votes
Bowen Island Municipality   847 61.92% 521 38.08% 1,368
City of Burnaby  
City of Coquitlam  
City of Langley  
City of Maple Ridge  
City of New Westminster  
City of North Vancouver  
City of Pitt Meadows  
City of Port Coquitlam  
City of Port Moody  
City of Richmond  
City of Surrey  
City of Vancouver  
City of White Rock  
Corporation of Delta  
District of North Vancouver  
District of West Vancouver  
Metro Vancouver Electoral Area "A"   1,586 58.57% 1,122 41.43% 2,708
Township of Langley  
Tsawwassen First Nation  
Village of Anmore  
Village of Belcarra   158 52.15%
Village of Lions Bay  
Rejected ballots  
Total ballots considered  

Despite the No camp won this round, Translink will return to haunt taxpayers as long as it remains a public body. If transit service providers are smart, they will find a better time and a more popular justification next time. Mark our words. This is just a matter of time.

[This page was added on 6 March 2015, last revised 7 July 2015.]