Local governments oblivious to the real world
Mayors and councillors often seem oblivious to the world around them. They demonstrate this on many occasions, but here are a few recent examples.
Staff at Metro Vancouver had recommended a slight decline in the cost of disposing of garbage, which rose $10 per tonne last year and has jumped 60 per cent since 2006. This fee is paid by everyone, including municipalities, who makes use of garbage dumps and transfer stations.
One reason for the suggested decline was to help curb use of dumping facilities outside Metro Vancouver, notably in Abbotsford. More and more waste from the Metro area is being hauled there to save money.
The modest $2 per tonne reduction seemed like a reasonable idea. But not to the Metro Vancouver board, who turned it down on a tie vote Friday.
Then there’s the issue of TransLink gas taxes. When the suggestion was being made about a year ago that gas taxes should be raised another two cents to 17 cents per litre, this corner and others suggested that the additional burden could prove to be one of those proverbial tipping points, causing people to begin to change their behaviours in large numbers.
The mayors who make up the Mayors’ Council pooh-poohed that idea, and even bragged that they were re-elected despite voting in favour of a higher gas tax. Actually, most of those who were re-elected didn’t face serious challengers. More importantly, people didn’t protest at the ballot box. They voted with their vehicles.
Gas sales in the Fraser Valley have gone up far beyond population growth, and a large number of people cross the border regularly to buy gas and a whole lot more — seriously hurting local businesses and overall Canadian tax revenue. Meanwhile, the revenue from TransLink’s gas tax has unexpectedly gone down.
The mayors console themselves by saying more people are using transit or driving electric vehicles. While that may be true, the bulk of the tax leakage is due to their citizens engaging in economic activity outside their jursidiction.
The third area where councils show an astonishing lack of awareness of reality is in their wage settlements with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and annual tax increases on homeowners. Most people are getting paid the same or less than they were in 2008. Even more have had their pension benefits cut, or in some cases entire pension plans eliminated.
Yet when New Westminster signed a deal with CUPE, one which will likely be used as a benchmark in other CUPE negotations (including Langley City and Langley Township), workers received an extra 6.75 per cent over four years, with no reductions of any kind in pensions or other benefits.
There is no economic problem for local municipalities. When they sign a contract like this which is clearly out of step with the real world, they go to taxpayers and take more from their pockets. And they keep getting away with it.