Leadership...or photo op?

Post by Mike Klassen in

1 comment

Mayors gather to ask for transit funding - Vancouver Sun photo.
Mayors gather to ask for transit funding - Vancouver Sun photo

Metro Vancouver mayors gathered last week with their hands out for more transit cash. The above photo says it all — Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts at the podium flanked by the others from Metro Vancouver's city councils. Mayor Gregor Robertson, not seen here but also in attendance, is wearing a playoff beard that makes him look like he's been kept up late reading CityCaucus.com posts.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at the site of this bunch of civic leaders seemingly crowding behind Dianne for protection. You can't tell by the above shot but the people behind Watts were slowly backing up and were in the parking lot by the time she finished speaking.

You see, none of them have the nerve to make a decision on transit other than to punt it back upstairs to Victoria & Ottawa. Even Watts had the moxy to state, in effect, we don't want to be put in the position of having to ask our citizens for more tax money, both at the above press conference and repeated it on a radio program this morning.

Watts rambled off this explanation on the Bill Good Show when asked about the mayors' request:

"It's more about a redistribution of funding as opposed to additional funding. When we looked at the carbon tax, albeit it's revenue neutral, however that money is being collected, about $300 million, is being collected from the Translink network, and what we're saying is instead of giving it back, you know, we can claw it back through new taxes, is just redistribute it, it's already being collected, we don't have to come up with new taxes, and as well the agreement between the Provincial and Federal government for the permanent stream of gas tax, about $120 million, we want that agreement amended to go into the operations of translink. It's all there, it's collected."

Robertson followed Watts saying that Metro Vancouver mayors had offered two choices: Feds give us more gas tax dollars, or Province give us the carbon tax revenue. Some choices. I'm sure both senior levels of government are scratching their chins and mulling it over.

So the Metro mayors are asking for their portion of the carbon tax to go to Translink to fund upcoming funding pressures so they don’t have to go back to local taxpayers. Simple enough. You can bet that the global economic collapse and non-existent building permits have put the scare on local governments who cannot see an easy way out of their imminent financial calamity.

But was going after the Carbon Tax such a wise idea? I think it's either naive or extremely duplicitous of the Metro mayors to use this issue during an election campaign to try and squeeze money out of the BC Liberals, and here's why:

  1. The Carbon Tax Act is explicit that every dollar collected goes back into tax relief. Without the revenue neutrality on the other side there is no point to a carbon consumption tax. Watts should understand this, and so should Gregor because he was in the Legislature when the act was introduced and passed. You would think he’d be particularly informed given that he stood and registered a vote against it.
  2. The NDP promises to axe the tax if elected as BC's government. So the message certainly isn't aimed at Carole James, it's pointed at Campbell's BC Liberals – show us the money, bro.
  3. Mayor Robertson even stood up at a recent conference and applauded it: “As premier, he [Premier Campbell] has shown leadership on the environment, including overseeing BC becoming the first jurisdiction to introduce a Carbon Tax in North America."
  4. Finally, municipalities are the only entities (along with school boards) who actually get their carbon tax costs rebated to them. It was a program launched by Premier Campbell at the last UBCM. So basically Metro Vancouver mayors are advocating for benefits from a tax that everyone pays EXCEPT THEM!!

So the basic question is: Gregor knew the law well enough to vote on it. He knew it was revenue neutral and that a the dollars go back to taxpayers. He even endorsed the carbon tax the way it was structured. Does he not believe it should go back to taxpayers? Does he now think it should be a revenue stream? Either he never understood it, or he's just faking it now.

As for the rest of the mayors, they have to go back to the drawing board. Experience shows that pulling media stunts is not the way to finesse revenue streams from senior levels of government. Come back with a plan, negotiate, offer something in return such as density or property tax incentives to sweeten the pot.

Standing there with only cap in hand will do nothing to resolve Translink's financial pickle.

1 Comment

I think we are looking at the next premier of BC. I watched her in a panel discussion with Gregor at a Board of Trade function last week. From my perspective she talked circles around him. Confident, articulate, knowledgable and approachable. If she was up against Carol James I think it would be a cakewalk.

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