The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation launched its ‘yes’ campaign Monday morning ahead of the upcoming transit plebiscite.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Metro Vancouver’s economy and quality of life are key reasons for enhancing and expanding transit.
“Our environment and our quality life are deeply impacted by the ease and efficiency of how people and goods move throughout the Lower Mainland,” says Robertson.
READ MORE: Will a Metro Vancouver transit tax cause a retail exodus to Abbotsford?
“So there’s really one key question that people need to ask themselves when they get the referendum ballot and that is, how does Metro Vancouver grow by one million peple and still remain livable? How do we do that? It starts by voting ‘yes’ on this referendum.”
Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner was also in attendance, along with the mayors of Coquitlam, New Westminster, Langley Township and the City of Langley.
Congestion already costs the region $1 billion annually in lost productivity, lost time and its carbon footprint — and that will double over the next 30 years, said Hepner.
The mayors project some 600,000 new jobs will also cram at least as many more cars onto the roads, unless their alternative is made reality. Plan B would be keeping the status quo, said Greg Moore, mayor of Port Coquitlam.
“Which means no new money, it means added gridlock.”
Transit will be top of the agenda for Robertson and Hepner when they head to Toronto on Feb. 5 for the Big City Mayors’ Summit. Robertson said the gathering will strategize to coax financial promises from the government in the lead up to the federal election.
That funding is required along with provincial money to get the major pieces of the project built.
“Our needs reflect a fast-growing city and many cities across Canada are in the same situation,” he said.
WATCH: Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore on transit plebiscite
The political stakes will be high as the plebiscite plays out over the coming weeks, said transportation expert Gordon Price, who described it as an confidence vote on the leadership of an entire region.
A No vote could also set back the environmental movement, which looks to Vancouver as one of the greenest municipalities on the planet, he added.
“If Vancouver can’t do it? My god,” said Price, who is the director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University.
“The damage that will do, not just to our reputation but to the people who are trying to fight these battles elsewhere.”
READ MORE: Which people and groups are for and against the transit referendum?
Opinion on how to vote is split right down the middle for SFU student Eva Habib and several of her peers, who just started a research project on public transit.
“The most obvious thing to do is to vote Yes, because we know the system we want will be in place,” she said.
“But at the same time, for people to take a stand against politicians and the way their policies are running, then voting No is the option because it will force them to find a different way.”
The No campaign has been spearheaded by the B.C. wing of The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, saying TransLink, the corporation that operates the transit system, is wasteful.
The mayors’ council has avoided including the TransLink logo on campaign posters, and the mayors distanced their plan from criticism of the corporation.
The campaign kicked off a day after B.C.’s Minister of Transportation confirmed that the proposed tax would simply be added to the provincial sales tax on receipts.
Todd Stone sent a letter to the mayors’ council this weekend saying the new tax would be harmonized with the PST.
This means retailers would not have to change their systems to accommodate a new line item on receipts, which would have caused headaches for local businesses.
Residents will receive ballots in the mail beginning March 16 and have a deadline of May 29 to submit their vote.
-with files from Canadian Press