Burnaby mayor sees Yes win in transit referendum

Superior organization may trump majority opinion: Corrigan

Kay Teschke

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan thinks the broad coalition behind the Yes side will eke out a narrow win in the transit tax referendum despite internal polls that continue to show the No side ahead with most Metro Vancouver voters.

Corrigan is not a Yes supporter – he voted against the $7.5-billion 10-year plan last June, saying it was too ambitious and doomed to defeat, and voted against going to referendum on the 0.5 per cent sales tax increase to fund it in December.

Speaking Tuesday after a meeting of the Metro mayors’ council, Corrigan said he still thinks most voters are against the tax hike but the Yes side is “very powerful” and doing a much better job at persuading supporters to mail in their ballots.

“The Yes side’s got a lot of muscle and they’re exerting it over this period of time,” Corrigan said, citing the 145-group coalition’s long lists of supporters and contacts.

“I think that while the polls are saying No, the Yes side has the troops on the ground to be able to get their vote out. I think it’s going to be a narrow Yes victory on a very low turnout.”

Corrigan isn’t wavering in his opposition, particularly to the decision of most mayors to campaign for a Yes win in the referendum, which the province set as a condition for any new transit tax.

Even if the referendum passes and the new tax goes ahead, he predicts there will be lasting damage from a fractured region, especially if Yes votes from Vancouver and a handful of other cities overwhelm No sentiment in the rest of the region.

“The referendum is a bad public policy tool,” Corrigan said. “It’s been divisive across the Lower Mainland and it’s been harmful to TransLink. I think we should have stood our ground on the referendum from the very beginning.”

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said the outlook is worse for the Yes side in White Rock/South Surrey, where he said new internal polling indicates a 76 per cent No vote.

Only Delta has fewer declared Yes voters, he said, while there was more than 50 per cent support in Vancouver.

“It’s concerning and it’s unfortunate,” Baldwin said. “It’s emotion versus logic. When riders are passed up instead of saying ‘We need more transit’ they say ‘I’m mad at transit because they didn’t provide the bus here now so I’m going to vote against it.'”

The Yes campaign has featured slick video ads, transit system signage and numerous community meetings and other events, including 14 telephone town halls that dialed in voters via robocall.

One of the latest techniques are dubbed “lunch and learn” sessions where Yes campaigners go to a major employer like Hootsuite or VanCity Savings to answer questions from employees about the transportation plan.

The strategy of Yes forces is to get every possible Yes vote mailed in to Elections BC before the May 29 deadline and potentially keep on campaigning for transit upgrades if the Congestion Improvement Tax is defeated.

Better Transit and Transportation Coalition co-chair Gavin McGarrigle, a Unifor union executive, called it the most diverse coalition ever assembled in B.C. on an issue.

“We have no intent of quitting or scaling back our efforts before May 29,” he said.

He said the organizations behind the coalition – which include business, labour and environmental groups – are prepared to fight together for transit and transportation upgrades in future elections if necessary.

“The coalition has a good chance of lasting beyond this vote,” McGarrigle said. “We don’t agree on everything but we agree there is a broad need for transit and transportation in this region.”

He said voters who oppose the tax are often swayed when campaigners have a chance to talk to them about the issues.

The mayors’ council also heard concerns from a UBC student leader that the online voter registration system at Elections BC – preferred by students over a phone-in option – was heavily backlogged, raising the possibility that some university students wouldn’t get ballots at their campus residences before vacating at the end of this month.

Elections BC spokesman Don Main said the backlog had resulted in delays of up to four extra days processing time but was cleared up as of today.

“The last 313 were processed this morning, both by phone and online, and that will be in the mail in the next couple of days,” he said.