Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for July 22nd, 2009

Mayors kick off quest for ways to fund transportation system

with 18 comments

Globe and Mail

Frances Bula writes about the problem of funding transit expansion as though it were a dialogue between two levels of government – the province and the Mayors of the region. But it clearly is not a dialogue of equals. Transit expansion is necessary of course. That is not new – it has been a critical issue for as long as I have been around here and has never been dealt with properly. The province has always expected that local property taxes will be a major part of the funding formula. That is because the province does not have to take the political consequences that raising local taxes will bring. The municipal governments have always said that they do not think property taxes are the right way to pay for transit – and the senior levels of government have much more “headroom” than they do.

The debate is old and tired. The province also has much more power than the Mayors do. The province has now framed the debate with its new arrangements which leave the Mayors holding the bag – but without any powers to influence (let alone  control) how the money is to be spent. “The mayors’ council legally has until Oct. 31 to approve a plan for the next decade.” And what happens if they don’t? The province decides anyway. So there is no pressure on the province at all to reach any kind of settlement – they “win” even if they do nothing. So that is what they are doing.

According to several sources, provincial politicians have been pressuring local councils to approve the $450-million-a-year improvement, but pay for it through property taxes. Local mayors have been adamant in saying that’s a no go.

So if they do not agree, there is no transit expansion and the provincial politicians can say it was the Mayor’s decision. Meanwhile, the massive road building projects will be steaming ahead at full speed.

Fances Bula quotes Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson

“The provincial government legislated greenhouse-gas-reduction targets and they announced a $14-billion capital plan for transportation and now that we’re at the nitty-gritty of how to fund those two commitments, we’re not seeing a solid dialogue with them about how we do it.”

But the province does not actually give a damn about greenhouse gas reductions – its actions speak much more loudly than its words. The revenue neutral carbon tax has not – and will not – reduce emissions by one iota. The Gateway program – by its own calculations published as part of the environmental assessment will greatly increase emissions – but of course by far more than they admit. The “capital plan” was no such thing. The $14bn included the under construction Canada Line – and of the rest two thirds had to come from federal and municipal governments who had not even been consulted let alone committed. So that’s not a PLAN – that’s a wish list – and not even an original wish list but a hastily cobbled together rehash of old plans designed as a PR spin on an untenable position – that the Gateway “included” transit when it never did because it was designed by the port and the truckers association and a few Liberal supporters in the “Gateway Council”.

Gordon Campbell is a bully. He is also self centered and mainly interested in his own image. There is no intention whatever of reaching a deal with the Mayors – they either fall in line and take the hit of the wrath of the local taxpayers – or don’t and take the wrath of local transportation users – who are, of course, the same group of people. This is not governance – it is politics. Which is neither pure nor simple. In BC it is a blood sport. It does not serve us – or our environment well. But do not expect Mr Campbell to lose much sleep over that. He has at least four more years in power and no doubt has something cushy lined up for afterwards – well rewarded and requiring little effort.

There is only one, very faint, hope. That the corruption scandal of the BC Rail sale will finally blow apart and bring down the provincial government. For they are the architects of the present mess – and until they are removed we are stuck with it.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 22, 2009 at 10:42 am