Do we need a trans­porta­tion author­ity?

Times Colonist - - The Capital And Vancouver Island - BILL CLEV­ER­LEY bclev­er­ley@times­colonist.com

Stuck in traf­fic and wish­ing you had a say in what to do about it? Af­ter years of lo­cal politi­cians spin­ning their wheels over cre­at­ing a re­gional trans­porta­tion author­ity, some say not giv­ing vot­ers a chance to weigh in on the is­sue dur­ing the Oct. 20 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion was an op­por­tu­nity lost.

“I would have loved to have seen that [trans­porta­tion author­ity] ques­tion on the bal­lot, be­cause I’m con­vinced that the vast ma­jor­ity of the vot­ers would say yes,” said View Royal Mayor Screech. “The only rea­son I didn’t push it is that the min­is­ter of Trans­porta­tion and the premier have as­sured me that once the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion is over, we will have a meet­ing with the may­ors and fig­ure out what we’re go­ing to do.”

Vic­to­ria Coun. Ben Isitt said he, too, would have been in­ter­ested in hear­ing di­rectly from vot­ers around the re­gion on a trans­porta­tion func­tion at the CRD.

“Should we ask vot­ers do they sup­port form­ing a re­gional trans­porta­tion author­ity to get peo­ple mov­ing and to deal with grid­lock? To test that sup­port wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Isitt said.

Michael Prince, Lans­downe Pro­fes­sor of So­cial Pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Vic­to­ria, says cre­ation of the trans­porta­tion author­ity would have been an ideal ref­er­en­dum ques­tion and could have the side ben­e­fit of bring­ing res­i­dents closer to the re­gional gov­ern­ment.

“I think ref­er­enda are a good idea, par­tic­u­larly in a two-tier sys­tem like ours where we’ve got the re­gional dis­trict, which is kind of one step re­moved. It would help em­power the vot­ers and the pub­lic,” Prince said.

In the CRD, re­gional ref­er­enda are rarely held, as the pref­er­ence is to try to work things out at the board ta­ble, said Andy Orr, se­nior man­ager of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Orr notes that the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act gives the re­gion the author­ity to hold a non-bind­ing vote seek­ing com­mu­nity opin­ion on an is­sue, but re­gional ref­er­enda are not cheap.

Sim­i­lar to an elec­tion, a re­gion­wide ques­tion would re­quire statu­tory ads, polling sta­tions, polling sta­tion staff and vote­count­ing ma­chines, which would prob­a­bly add up to about $100,000.

“The CRD has gen­er­ally worked by con­sent of coun­cils to bring in new ser­vices or new ex­pen­di­tures,” Orr said.

But ef­forts to cre­ate a re­gional func­tion to pri­or­i­tize and co-or­di­nate trans­porta­tion have not met with much suc­cess at the CRD board ta­ble.

The lat­est ef­fort died in March, when only five of 13 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties at the CRD board ta­ble sup­ported the idea.

One of the op­tions brought for­ward this year was to hold a re­gional ref­er­en­dum, but that was aban­doned be­cause of strong op­po­si­tion at the CRD board, Orr said.

Iron­i­cally, the most vo­cal op­po­si­tion came from the West Shore com­mu­ni­ties of Col­wood and Lang­ford, whose res­i­dents waste count­less hours in con­ges­tion dubbed the “Col­wood crawl,” but whose elected of­fi­cials ar­gued the new ser­vice would do more to build an­other layer of bu­reau­cracy than it would to smooth out com­muter traf­fic.

Such a ref­er­en­dum would have been a non-starter for Lang­ford Mayor Stew Young.

“All you’re do­ing is ask­ing peo­ple to spend money on a study that doesn’t re­ally get any­where. All a re­gional trans­porta­tion author­ity does is give [the CRD] the abil­ity to tax the sh— out of you with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Young said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Young said any new body deal­ing with re­gional trans­porta­tion in the cap­i­tal re­gion has to in­volve the province — through B.C. Tran­sit, for ex­am­ple — be­cause the province will be the pri­mary fun­der. “The CRD form­ing an author­ity to put $10 mil­lion to man­age that author­ity doesn’t mean you’re go­ing to get money,” Young said. (The lat­est pro­posal con­sid­ered at the CRD board ta­ble had ac­tu­ally re­duced the fund­ing pro­posal to $2 mil­lion from $10 mil­lion.)

“You just need to re­vamp B.C. Tran­sit a lit­tle bit to be a lit­tle bit more for­ward think­ing,” Young said.

Vic­to­ria Mayor Lisa Helps, who sits on the Greater Vic­to­ria Re­gional Tran­sit Com­mis­sion, agreed.

“I don’t think we need a re­gional trans­porta­tion author­ity,” Helps said. “I think B.C. Tran­sit is a good start and that body can be re­pur­posed, po­ten­tially to address more than just tran­sit.

“But, again, if the next four years show that we need a trans­porta­tion author­ity, then I would to­tally be in sup­port of putting that out to ref­er­en­dum. It’s a per­fect ref­er­en­dum ques­tion.”

Mean­while, the Cap­i­tal Re­gional Dis­trict is also con­tem­plat­ing a ma­jor change to its suc­cess­ful park­land ac­qui­si­tion levy when it ex­pires in 2019, which some say should be put to a vote be­fore it’s im­ple­mented.

CRD staff are now con­duct­ing sur­veys to get res­i­dents’ feed­back on mak­ing some of the mil­lions of dol­lars col­lected an­nu­ally in the levy avail­able for parks cap­i­tal projects such as build­ing wash­rooms or park­ing lots, to open up new parks or even for main­te­nance in ex­ist­ing parks. Cur­rently, the funds are used solely to buy prop­erty.

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns op­poses the change, say­ing it would have the ef­fect of trans­form­ing a pop­u­lar and suc­cess­ful pro­gram into a type of hid­den parks main­te­nance tax.

“It’s debt-free ac­qui­si­tion of park land and you don’t ac­quire it un­til you can pay for it. To switch that to do­ing main­te­nance, which is some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent, def­i­nitely is a com­plete change in the man­date we were given to do it in the first place,” Ranns said.

Screech, who chairs the CRD parks com­mit­tee, said staff are still just gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion and no de­ci­sion has been made whether to rec­om­mend the changes.

“The fund has been a re­mark­able suc­cess in terms of the amount of land that we’ve pro­tected. So do we con­tinue that way or do we look at other op­tions? I think that’s the sort of in­for­ma­tion that they are try­ing to get,” Screech said.

The levy has al­lowed the CRD to buy and pro­tect about 4,500 hectares of greenspace since it was in­tro­duced in 2000.

It was ini­tially $10 per house­hold when es­tab­lished in 2000. In 2010, it was ex­tended for 10 years, start­ing at a rate of $12 per av­er­age house­hold and then in­creas­ing by $2 per year to a max­i­mum of $20 in 2014 through to 2019. It now gen­er­ates about $3.7 mil­lion per year.

Lo­cal politi­cians were so timid about the orig­i­nal levy that about half a dozen ju­ris­dic­tions polled their res­i­dents be­fore agree­ing to it.

Should there be any change in the levy’s use, res­i­dents should be polled again, Ranns said

“I think there’s still lots of land that needs to be ac­quired. You’ve got very in­ter­est­ing po­ten­tial now to co-part­ner with First Na­tions and I think it’s too early to con­sider switch­ing.”

Isitt, who also op­posed the change, pointed to “vast tracts of wild lands” in the Juan de Fuca Elec­toral Area that should be pro­tected in part­ner­ship with the province and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

DAR­REN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Traf­fic on the Trans-Canada High­way, near the McKen­zie In­ter­change.

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