At 10:05 this morning (July 2), Elections B.C. announced Metro Vancouver residents had overwhelmingly voted “no” in the non-binding transit plebiscite. Minutes later, reactions began pouring into reporters’ inboxes across the city.
The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition (BTTC), a large and diverse group composed of some 145 organizations consisting of more than 450,000 members, warned the plebiscite’s failure was a setback for the region.
“It was an uphill battle and we knew it wouldn’t be easy,” said Peter Robinson, BTTC co-chair and CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation. “We’re disappointed and concerned about the impact of this result on our region’s livability.”
From the unions, Unifor B.C. area director and BTTC co-chair Gavin McGarrigle suggested people might not have been casting ballots with the mayors’ plan for improved transit in mind, but instead took the vote as an opportunity to punish TransLink.
“It’s impossible to say exactly why people voted no,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the real issue of how we can get much-needed improvements became mixed up with issues introduced around TransLink. Despite all the distractions, residents know that our traffic gridlock crisis is a huge problem in need of an immediate solution.”
From business, BTTC co-chair and Vancouver Board of Trade CEO Iain Black said the “no” vote will result in more traffic jams.
“This result likely means years of delays before any new transit comes on-line — with the unfortunate and predictable increase in road congestion and pollution as our population grows,” he predicted. “Our economy and businesses will continue to suffer without improvements.”
Leading the charge for the “no” vote was Jordan Bateman and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He called for reforms at TransLink.
“It’s time for the premier, minister, mayors and TransLink board to fix this money-wasting, poorly-run agency,” Bateman said. “TransLink has lost the public’s confidence and now they have to listen to taxpayers and rebuild it properly.”
The non-binding plebiscite asked residents if they supported a 0.5-percent increase in sales tax for money that would go towards a plan to improve transportation infrastructure and public transit services throughout the Lower Mainland.
According to Elections B.C., 38.32 percent of people voted in favour of the tax and 61.68 percent voted against it. The turnout for registered voters was 48.64 percent.
TransLink interim CEO Doug Allen responded in a short pre-recorded video.
“This is democracy,” he said. “One accepts a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. The fact that it’s a ‘no’, it’s not my preference. But that’s the will of those who voted and we must respect that.
Adriane Carr, the Vancouver’s lone Green city councillor, said she regrets the loss of new funding for public transit, but also took a more optimistic tone.
“I look at this as an opportunity for a different kind of transit planning in our city: citizen-involved planning that links the kind of city people want with the kind of transportation that will support it,” she said. “This kind of planning and citizen engagement just didn’t happen prior to the plebiscite.”
She continued: “The ‘no’ vote is only a rejection of what was offered to citizens on the ballot. Some people rejected Translink, some the process of having to vote at all, some the plan, some the tax. But in all those conversations I heard a big ‘yes’ for a lot of things: ‘yes’ for reforming the governance of Translink to provide local control and stable funding; ‘yes’ for more open and transparent bottom-up instead of top-down planning; ‘yes’ for a more community-friendly transit plan with a comprehensive network of transit routes.”
NPA city councillor George Affleck blamed Mayor Gregor Robertson.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said it “welcomed” today’s results.
“Small business owners support continued transportation improvements, but were obviously not sold on the need for a new municipal sales tax to do it,” said Richard Truscott, CFIB vice-president for B.C. and Alberta. “One thing is clear from the vote results, before adding any new money into the system, citizens want more accountability for the billions already being generated and spent by TransLink.”
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) said it would continue to advocate for transportation improvements.
“The residents of Metro Vancouver have spoken, and though the results of the plebiscite are not what we hoped for, the Chamber network respects the decision made by the voters,” said Jon Garson, BCCC vice-president of policy development and government relations.
He maintained the majority of Lower Mainland residents still want money spent on better transit services.
"We’re not aware of a single person who said no to the transit and transportation infrastructure investments presented in the Mayors’ Council plan, not even those opposed to sales tax increase said no the improvements," Garsen maintained.
The Surrey Board of Trade expressed its disappointment and said it will now work with the city and higher levels of government to ensure Surrey gets the infrastructure improvements it needs.
“Surrey is a strategic economic area for this province,” said Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade. “Light Rail Transit and other projects will remain a key priority for the Surrey Board of Trade.”
The BCIT Student Association (BCITSA) also said it was dissatisfied with the plebiscite results and then focused on what should happen next.
“With close to 48,000 students commuting to the five BCIT campuses, it’s essential that we have a strong transportation network in place to support them,” said vice-president external Shubhi Singh. “This result means we have to work towards finding an alternative transit funding mechanism – one that will both reflect the wishes of the voters and support the transportation needs of our region and its students.”
Metro Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson was speaking in Burnaby as this article went to press. He said the “no” vote was an indictment of TransLink governance, and said the Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council will have to rethink its role in relation to that body.
B.C. Minister of Transportation Todd Stone is expected to speak about the vote this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.