After sending a series of mixed messages, the provincial government now says it will back the Yes side in the upcoming transit tax referendum.
“We support a ‘yes’ vote in the spring 2015 plebiscite but the voters of Metro Vancouver will have the final say – this is the commitment we made to them in the last provincial election campaign,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone said in a statement emailed by his staff.
He reiterated that transit expansion is “vital to economic development in Metro Vancouver and will be a critical component of ensuring that the region is able to accommodate the million additional people expected over the next 30 years.”
The proposed 0.5 per cent Metro-only sales tax – dubbed the Congestion Improvement Tax – would raise $250 million a year for transit and transportation projects if a majority of regional voters approve it in a mail-in vote slated to run from March 16 to May 29.
Stone said the province believes the Metro mayors’ vision for expanded transportation is one people can get behind.
“We agree that a sales-based tax, dedicated to vital congestion improvement projects, is the most equitable funding option available.”
Provincial funding will only go to running the plebiscite, he added, while mayors and other organizations will be responsible for funding their campaigns.
It’s still unclear exactly how active Stone or other government members will be in encouraging a Yes vote.
Some observers had concluded the province was abandoning the mayors to fight alone after the transportation ministry on Dec. 29 told a Vancouver newspaper “the government will not be supporting either side – Yes or No.”
That appeared to contradict Stone’s earlier comments to reporters in mid-December that he was “committed to success” and the province would speak out strongly during the campaign on the need to fight congestion and make more transportation investments.
A subsequent Black Press request for clarification yielded a Dec. 30 ministry statement said “government is only funding the referendum and will not be financially supporting either the yes or the no side.”
There had been doubts about the province’s support since Premier Christy Clark in 2013 suggested government would remain officially neutral.
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore said he’s confident the province will actively support the Yes campaign.
“They understand the importance of transportation in the region, how good our plan is and that they need to get behind it,” he said.
New Democrats – with the exception of Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan – have vowed to campaign for Yes and had accused the premier of trying to duck responsibility after forcing the referendum on the region.