Premier won’t do more to avert transit referendum defeat

Clark insists TransLink problems are up to mayors to fix (with video)

Premier Christy Clark is rejecting calls for her to directly campaign for a Yes vote in the transit sales tax referendum that some proponents fear is at risk of failing.

And she deflected suggestions that the province must enact new reforms to TransLink to make it more accountable.

“Only the mayors – if there are problems that need to be addressed in TransLink – can fix those problems, because it’s not a provincially run organization,” Clark said Wednesday in Surrey.

“TransLink belongs to the mayors. These decisions belong to the mayors and they are the leaders of this.”

Clark said the province has “done what we can” and suggested Yes campaigners who are worried about defeat are just “concerned they won’t get the answer they want” and should try harder.

The premier was fielding media questions after a post-budget speech to a business audience.

Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman said Clark is wrong to characterize the mayors as fully in control, noting TransLink runs under provincial legislation.

RELATED:Only B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone can fire TransLink’s appointed board

Huberman stood by her comments earlier in the day that the premier made a mistake in requiring the referendum on a new transit tax source and that politicians are elected to make the hard decisions on critical issues.

“This plebiscite should not even be taking place – It’s too complex a subject for the population to even consider.”

She’s just one of the Yes campaigners who has expressed concern that a No outcome will block a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax and the accompanying $7.5 billion in transit and transportation projects.

The Surrey Board of Trade wants the government to commit to never hold such a referendum again.

Huberman said the province needs to reform TransLink’s governance structure to help rebuild public confidence in TransLink, which she said was further damaged by the decision to replace its CEO.

She also urged Clark and Transportation Minister Todd Stone to get directly involved in educating voters about the merits of the mayors’ proposal.

“We want her and the transportation minister to really try to push the Yes vote,” she said. “The challenge is we have a very short period of time to explain what the investments will be and some people don’t even know what a B-Line bus is.”

Clark said she still believes the Yes side has a good chance to win with mayors from Surrey and Vancouver taking prominent roles.

The premier also defended her decision to require a referendum, which was a campaign promise in the 2013 provincial election.

“I’m proud that we are giving people a chance to have a say in this,” Clark said. “We are going to respect what people tell us.”

Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore said area mayors believe they should have greater control of TransLink, adding it can be run effectively, much as the Metro regional district manages major utilities for the region.

He said issues like governance of TransLink are not part of the referendum ballot and are a distraction from the key issue of how communities and their residents will be affected by a Yes or No outcome.

Pattullo tolls opposed

While the Surrey Board of Trade is an active partner in the Yes campaign, one of its positions could actually unravel the regional plan if it gets any traction.

It wants the new Pattullo Bridge to remain untolled – a problematic demand since the Metro Vancouver mayors’ plan is predicated on tolls paying for nearly all of the billion-dollar bridge replacement project.

Huberman wouldn’t say how the toll revenue needed to build the new bridge should be replaced or whether the money should come out of other capital projects in the plan.

“What we’re hearing from the business community is they need a way to get out of the city for their businesses without having another bridge tolled.”

SBOT is also advocating for a phase two plan for light rail to extend to Cloverdale and South Surrey, which is currently promised a B-Line express bus.