Stone hopeful for deal on TransLink referendum

Province has final say but Metro Vancouver mayors also urged to help find solution to fund transit expansion

B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

While Metro Vancouver mayors say it’s up to the province to decide the wording of its promised referendum question on new TransLink funding, Transportation Minister Todd Stone sees it as more of a combined effort.

He spoke after mayors’ council vice-chair Wayne Wright said the ball is in the province’s court and mayors are frustrated they still have no idea what Victoria intends.

“The ball is in each of our courts,” Stone said in an interview.

“At the end of the day, the province will determine the final wording and the timing of the referendum. But I hope to be in a position to do that with the support of the mayors’ council.”

Stone said he believes there is still good will among most of the mayors to reach an agreement on changes to TransLink governance, proposed new funding sources and a referendum to approve them.

He wants that deal hammered out by Christmas.

Mayors, who voted in the spring to oppose a referendum many view as unwinnable, have since insisted it’s the province’s problem to figure out since it was an election promise of the premier and neither the mayors’ council nor TransLink has any jurisdiction of its own to lead a referendum.

“I certainly intend on stepping forward and leading on this file,” Stone said, but added he didn’t want to get too far ahead of the mayors.

“The best scenarios are those where there’s consensus and collaboration.”

Stone has met with the mayors’ council as a group just once – he was not present at an Oct. 18 meeting of the council – but he said he is meeting many mayors individually.

He also acknowledged that as a new minister from Kamloops who’s been on the job just four months he has “a lot of ground to make up” in understanding TransLink’s challenges and history.

Critical to any deal is the demand of mayors that they get more say on the spending priorities of TransLink – currently under the sole control of the unelected board – rather than merely being asked to approve tax hikes.

The mayors say they commissioned a review of TransLink governance but the province has done little so far to spell out its proposals.

Stone said it’s a key piece of the puzzle.

“There can only be enhanced authority for the mayors if there’s also accountability attached to that. And the mayors are saying the same thing.”

Stone said improvements sought by Metro residents, such as rapid transit extensions in Surrey or along the Broadway corridor in Vancouver or an improved bus network, will only get done if an agreement is reached on new funding for TransLink.

“We owe it to the people of Metro to provide some certainty on the timing of the referendum and the details related to the referendum as well as what the overall vision is for the future of transit and transportation in the Lower Mainland.”

The referendum is supposed to be no later than the November 2014 municipal elections, but Stone and some mayors say a spring date is better to keep TransLink issues from hijacking the civic races.

It’s been more than three years and two transportation ministers ago that then-Premier Gordon Campbell and then-Transportation Minister Shirley Bond reached a 2010 accord with Metro mayors to pursue new TransLink funding sources for expansion.

Mayors since proposed options like a vehicle levy, a share of carbon tax or a small regional sales tax – ahead of a longer-term move to road pricing.

But Premier Christy Clark first subjected TransLink to an efficiency audit and then promised the referendum on new sources, without indicating which ones the province might support.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said.

“The problem has consistently been that the provincial government is ragging the puck. They ragged the puck prior to the election and now it appears they’re ragging the puck going into the referendum.”

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