Getting past the clutter to get to YES

The mayors’ clear referendum question at left and the ministry’s plebiscite question at right

Voting well in the Metro Vancouver plebiscite takes clear thinking. The two versions of the ballot illustrate one of the obstacles to that.


Yes-EnvironmentEven for the Garden City Conservation board, there was an emotional pull toward NO when we sat down to analyze the plebiscite. After we cleared the clutter, our unanimous decision was YES.

For a healthy environment, YES is clearly best. It’s hard to quantify how good it will be, but it is certainly better than NO or No Response.

The reality is that the Mayors Council put forward a solid plan for transportation and transit. Some people argue for stopping population growth instead of improving the system, but the task was to prepare for projected growth. Therefore the mayors planned how to help a larger population and their goods to get around Metro Vancouver.

With its transit emphasis, the plan has the potential to combat air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and loss of vegetation to pavement. In contrast, we couldn’t think of any environmental advantage to a NO vote.

Fortunately, almost all the Metro mayors have come down firmly on the side of environmental value, so it also seems likely that the direct benefit will have a bonus benefit—motivating the mayors to take the value further.

Yes-2To see this clearly, we’ll need to get past clutter like this:

  • The Ministry of Transportation fouling of the Mayors’ plan
  • The scuttling of the Massey Tunnel for the “Port Metro Bridge”
  • The Translink red herring

Let’s take those obstacles one at a time.


Ministry of Transportation fouling

The YES side started slowly because the ministry fouled the mayors’ plan. The ministry weakened the promised referendum to a plebiscite, and it turned the mayors’ clear sales tax change (blue image at top) into an oddly named new tax, the “Congestion Improvement Tax” (black image). The ministry then backtracked to make the tax sound similar to the mayors’ proposal after all, but the ministry still left the problem on the ballot.

In the critical early weeks of the referendum/plebiscite discussion, the weakening of the plan and quasi-backtracking of the ministry shrouded the YES option in confusion. If the ministry intended to work with the mayors, it was self-defeating.

Meanwhile, the NO side gleefully fired salvos of negative sound bites into the disarray. Carnage may be a better word than clutter for that, but either way it’s hard to clean up.

Despite being let down so badly, the mayors have made a solid effort. For instance, Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie did an excellent job in a town hall meeting via teleconference yesterday evening. The mayors have earned a fair hearing on the basis of their thorough ten-year plan, with the ministry’s fumbling and other clutter cleared away.


Scuttling of tunnel for “Port Metro Bridge”

Unfortunately the mayors had to acknowledge the province’s intended “Port Metro Bridge” in their plan (even though it is not at all their decision and would not be funded by the plan). As you may recall, we have shown that a simpler Massey solution would be far better for the environment. With five lanes into Richmond instead of the current two (on average), the bridge would be either an underused waste or a fully used one that chokes Richmond with an influx of vehicles from the south (i.e., aggravates congestion).

One might vote NO because of the Port Metro Bridge factor and a range of environmental problems that would come with it (too much to go into here), but it makes far more sense to address that factor separately. The bridge is not yet a “done deal,” but voting YES at least reduces the big-picture harm that the bridge would bring on.


The Translink red herring mayors' plan for regional transportation investments

In the mayors’ basic plan, the four-page Regional Transportation Investments: A Vision for Metro Vancouver, the mayors didn’t even mention Translink at all. That was fitting because it kept the focus on the current issue, not a related one the mayors happen to be addressing anyway.

Since the NO spokesman just proposes to require a different funding source for the Translink function, not eliminate it, even he must know that the anti-Translink campaign has been a red herring. It’s a distraction from the question of whether Metro citizens want better ways to get around or not.

It is, of course, also important that the Metro mayors continue to take action to improve Translink. The word is continue because they’ve repeatedly asked the minister of transportation to reform Translink—and received no cooperation. That happened again this week when the minister closed the Translink-reform door in the mayors’ face once again, as the Globe and Mail reported.

While the plebiscite question is not about Translink, the NO strategist has managed to make it the issue in the public mind. The effect is that undecided voters now need to hear about Translink reform. Fortunately, it happens that YES offers the best chance of bringing Translink into line. Jim Pattison

That’s because one of our most accomplished business leaders, Jimmy Pattison, will lead the public accountability panel. It will set expectations each year, it will audit the results, and it will not suffer fools gladly.

In fairness to Translink, the NOs may have over-vilified it. In fairness to the mayors, the ministry that has hogged control of Translink has let them down. In fairness to us, a YES result would bring in the leader best able to adress the problem.

With his mastery of accountability, Jimmy Pattison became a self-made multi-billionaire.
He can bring accountability to Translink too. In short, whether we prefer to vote YES for the mayors’ 10-year plan or vote YES for Translink accountability, YES votes are best for a better future.


Does winning matter? 

Even a YES majority would not guarantee that the provincial government would respect the result of the referendum, especially since the ministry weakened it to a plebiscite, which is more like an opinion poll. It all depends on how impressed the Ministry of Transport chooses to be, and an increased number of YES votes can only help, since politicians do sometimes listen.

Yes-1In the reality of the situation, each YES vote gives more credibility to the Metro mayors. It strengthens the hand of the only people who have come up with a thorough plan to meet needs that must be met if we want to keep getting around.

A YES majority is best for a livable region and for the environment, but in any case every YES vote is a small but important win.


The Garden City Conservation Society is a member of the Coalition for Better Transit and Transportation.

If you have received a ballot, you can help the environment by choosing Yes and mailing it now. If you need a ballot, until May 15 you can start by registering and receiving a voting package. Click here to register or phone 1-800-661-8683.

Update: We have added a brief further article on this topic, “Finding the way to vote in transit plebiscite.”



  1. 2
    William Dunn Says:

    Well said, Jim.

  2. 3
    Maxwell Anderson Says:

    I’m voting Yes, but it really is a mess. For example, the head of the Yes campaign wants continuing increase in density in the City of Vancouver with the traffic problems that implies, but no-one seems to have the political courage to push for an approach they take in China, which would be to put the infrastructure farther out where it’s not yet needed, and let private development follow it.

    • 4
      kewljim Says:

      Thanks, Max! There’s actually one existing example I know of. Ashcroft has taken significant steps toward being an inland port, with support from the mayor of Delta. Richmond council has referred it to staff for analysis.

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