Transit Referendum Policy: some thoughts

January 11, 2016

The 2015 referendum on Translink new sources of revenue initiated by the BC Province, has been painted by most of the observers as a leadership abdication on tough decisions to be taken by the Province, and as a double standard policy, where road investments, such as the Massey Tunnel replacement, are not submitted to referendum. That reading supposes to confound the referendum on new taxes with a referendum on new investments.

The BC Liberal government could have brought the referendum idea in an awkward way, but when it is time to introduce new sources of revenue, such as road pricing, referendums tend to be commonplace (e.g Stockholm, Edinburgh, Milan), or at the minimum, people give mandate to elected official through normal election process to do it (The London Congestion charge was a campaign promise of Ken Livingstone, Singapore is a city state…). All those respect a cornerstone value of our democratic systems: “no taxation without representation”.

Within the current Translink framework, Mayors have absolutely no mandate to introduce new taxes such as a sale tax (they have not been elected for that but they have all legitimacy to raise property taxes…)

To introduce new regional taxes, there is no other option than

  • to get approval of the provincial assembly, so that is put the region fate under control of mainly out of town MLA, and indirectly to a majority of people whose have no stake in it.
  • to hold a referendum, so putting the region fate directly in the hand of local people

Considering the general appetite for more direct and local democracy, the legislator should prepare for more direct input of people on the matter of regional taxes. That would infer more referendum to come.

However, if Translink is reformed, in such a way it is put under control of a directly elected regional assembly, this assembly would have the legitimacy to introduce new taxes for the region.

The real question, is then: how we get there?

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