EDITORIAL: Transit referendum a Grimm tale

Government's insistence on transit referendum smacks of political game-playing

There’s nothing democratic about making the public the fall-guy for not funding significant improvements to regional transit.

But that appears to be what the BC government is trying to do with its insistence the mayors’ council on regional transportation meet a Dec. 11 deadline to come up with a transportation-referendum question.

It’s a riddle worthy of the Brothers Grimm. For the referendum to succeed, the mayors have to come up with a pretty magical question indeed.

It must not only garner public support for the council’s 10-year transit expansion strategy (including two light-rail lines for Surrey, more bridges and many more buses), but also propose a funding approach (read: tax or levy) that will somehow be instantly palatable to the electorate.

There’s such a thing as canvassing the public. There’s also such a thing as being set up to fail, and the mayors argue this is just what is happening to them.

If the referendum fails, they fear, transit planning in the region could be set back by a decade, at least.

And the B.C. government, presumably, will stand pat on the excuse that the people were asked, and this was the will of the people.

It doesn’t take a very astute mind to know what the public’s knee-jerk reaction will be to being asked to open its pocketbooks even wider.

But the same public – engaged in a longer, deeper discussion than a ballot box yes or no – would be the first to agree that transit in the region is a mess, and is not serving the public well.

The provincial government has its own ideas, of course, about what it is prepared to do. As Metro Vancouver directors have pointed out, the provincial plan heavily favours highway construction – no doubt with appropriate feel-good photo-ops – over dealing with thorny transit issues.

The way forward out of the current transit quagmire is not an easy one. It comes with costs that will not be easily or painlessly borne. There are tough decisions to be made here. And that is why the public elects governments – to make those tough decisions.

Merely throwing the question back at the public is not responsible leadership. And being willing to blame the public for the response is not responsible leadership either. It smacks of political game-playing by a government that would rather scapegoat regional mayors and their constituents than do the right thing.

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