Some New Thoughts About the Transit Referendum

By Ben

Trolley Bus in Stanley ParkWell, folks sure are passionate about the transit referendum. It has been interesting to read the responses to my last email to our supporters for our transit not tankers initiative. Some people were very supportive and glad we were looking at not only limiting the supply of fossil fuels but trying to do something about demand as well. Others were less happy to receive my email. I was sitting in a meeting when an email popped up on my phone and I noticed the first sentence was letting me know that I had “my head up my #$%”. I read the rest of it later and the language only got more colourful. Needless to say, that is not usually the kind of reaction I hope to inspire when I send out an email. I was going to post something to simply let you know about our transit town hall Wednesday April 1 (7pm SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St., Room 7000) but I have spent a lot of time since last week thinking about the feedback I received and its lead to a new idea.

I am training for the Vancouver Marathon right now and on Sunday we ran 35km in the rain. I spend the better part of three and a half very wet hours thinking about people’s concerns about the referendum. Somewhere along the way I thought of something that I hope will help  find us some common ground. Today at our town hall we will be launching a “Vote Yes, and…” pledge. Many of the groups on the ‘Yes’ side as asking you to pledge your support but this is a bit different. I’m asking you to pledge to vote ‘Yes’ and to keep working on fixing the problems with our transit system after the referendum. For many people it seems their concerns are not the BC government spending more money on transit but other issues with the referendum itself. For example, some people don’t like the fact that transit expansion would be funded by a sales tax instead of the carbon tax or income tax. Some people don’t like specifics of the projects in the mayor’s transit plan. Some people are upset about Translink’s board being unaccountable to voters. Some people don’t like Translink but they trust BC billionaire Jimmy Pattison. Many others don’t like the idea that Pattison has anything to do with our transit system at all.

We are asking you to look beyond the problems with the referendum and agree to work together to get more funding and make the transit system work. In my view simply voting no will not fix the problems. In fact the people who will be the happiest if the no side wins will be the same folks that support pipelines and increased tanker traffic. Given the race against time to take bold steps for the sake of our climate and our communities I am asking you to join me in pledging to vote ‘Yes’ and make that only the beginning of the campaign.

I fear that our frustration with government has the potential to become an obstacle to making progress for the greater good. If we don’t invest in more transit it will not only affect the availability of transit services today, but it will have big implications for how the region is developed. If we don’t get more transit we will see more and more car dependent sprawl that eats up our priceless farmland and our food security. More car dependence means more greenhouse gases, more pollution and more demand for oil. We simply don’t have the luxury to wait for a perfect transit proposal from government.

Solutions ultimately come from the grassroots up. Perhaps that is really the biggest problem with the transit referendum, it didn’t come from the community it came from government. Lets take our power back. Let’s commit to campaigning to restore democratic oversight at Translink. Let’s fight to restore the taxes that were cut for the wealthiest corporations and citizens and ensure that they pay their fair share. Let’s make sure the projects that are actually built with those funds are the right ones. It won’t be easy but the answer to our problems is not to simply vote ‘No’. We need more engagement not less. Please join me in pledging to “Vote Yes, and…” lets get to work.

Ben West
Executive Director
Tanker Free BC

P.S. We have some great speakers at the Town Hall meeting Wednesday Night. Marc Lee, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Bahareh Jokar, a co-chair of the Yes Campaign and V.P. of the UBC Alma Mater Society, Transportation Planner and Tanker Free BC Transportation campaigner Eric Doherty, and SFU Sociology Professor Arlene Mclaren. Your co-MC’s will be Sven Biggs from ForestEthics Advocacy and myself. Please join us to discuss the issue further at 7pm, April 1, SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St., Room 7000