Fraser Forum

Metro Vancouver mayors won’t take ‘No’ for an answer

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Back in 2015, as Vancouverites may recall, Metro Vancouver held a somewhat heated plebiscite over whether or not to approve a 0.5 per cent hike in the sales tax to finance a portion of the TransLink 10-year investment plan, estimated to cost $7.3 billion over 10 years. The vote was very clear—61.7 per cent of voters said “No,” with higher no votes in certain communities such as Maple Ridge (77 per cent) and the Township of Langley (75 per cent). Even the City of Vancouver was 50.8 per cent “No.”

At the time, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (pictured above) acknowledged the loss and said “there is no Plan B” and the “sales tax is off the table, voters have stated that clearly.”

Fast-forward three years, and it seems a Plan B has been approved. Motorists in Vancouver will see the gasoline tax increase by 1.5 cents per litre by next spring (from 17 cents per liter to 18.5 cents per litre) to raise between $30 million and $33 million per year to contribute toward the TransLink Phase Two investment plan. Other funding sources include a two per cent transit fare hike, a three per cent parking tax increase (hitting motorists again), a property tax hike of $5.50 per average household, and a development cost charge of $300 to $600 per unit on new developments.

But as Fraser Institute researchers Charles Lammam and Hugh MacIntyre observed, there are ample opportunities to fund the TransLink investment plan by tightening the belt on loose government spending:

Beginning in 2003, had Metro Vancouver municipalities increased their collective operating spending in step with inflation and population growth, together they would have spent $4.7 billion less on their operating budgets over the decade (in 2013 dollars) than was actually the case. More telling, they would have spent $778 million less in 2013 alone, which is more than three times the $250 million that the Mayors’ Council wants to collect by raising the provincial sales tax.

So to recap, three years ago Metro Vancouver voters solidly rejected an increase in sales taxes to contribute to the Phase Two investment plan put forward by the Mayor’s Council. How does the Mayor’s Council respect that judgment? By piling taxes on housing, gasoline and parking. And hiking transit fares. Clearly, when it comes to voter rejection of funding TransLink’s expansion with new and higher taxes, the Mayor’s Council refused to take “No” for an answer.

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