Liberals promise referendum on Vancouver subway

Details of question, costs unclear

Vancouverites in favour of or opposed to a proposed $2.8 billion subway from Commercial Drive to the University of B.C. will vote on the need for such a transit upgrade in a referendum tied to the civic election in 2014.

That vote will only take place if the ruling B.C. Liberals are re-elected in the May 14 provincial election, according to the partys election platform released Monday.

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The Liberals say residents of all other municipalities in Metro Vancouver will vote in the same referendum for any transit improvements in their communities.

Premier Christy Clark told reporters a referendum would help keep life affordable for British Columbians by giving residents a chance to say how much money they want to spend on transit.

So it seemed to me like a democratic way to make sure that that happens, said Clark after unveiling the Liberals platform titled Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow at the Sheraton Wall Centre. Weve always said that any transit plan for the Lower Mainland must be regionally sourced, it must be affordable and it must be supported. What better way to make sure its supported than to put it to a referendum.

The Liberals platform, which is focused on creating jobs and eliminating debt, doesnt say what the referendum would cost or provide details on the type of question put to voters.

A referendum would be a first for the Liberals when it comes to funding expensive transit and transportation improvements such as the Canada Line and the new Port Mann Bridge. Both projects, which cost billions of dollars, went ahead without referendums.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong, who spoke to reporters after Clark unveiled the platform, said a referendum is needed because the government, municipal mayors and TransLink have been unable to finalize a sustainable funding mechanism for transit improvements.

What has emerged at this stage is something of a deadlock amongst decision makers who are responsible for developing the options or charting the course, said de Jong, noting there is always an expectation that government will step in with a solution.

He said a referendum would have two immediate impacts: It will focus peoples minds when that vote takes place as to what theyre being asked to contribute and what they are going to receive in return. Nothing wrong with that. And, two, they may say no.

Mayor Gregor Robertson is on record of wanting a subway to run from Commercial Drive to the University of B.C. The B.C. government estimated the cost in 2008 at $2.8 billion.

The Courier reached Robertsons colleague, Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs, who handles most of the partys transit issues, but he said he hadnt gone through the platform and therefore couldnt provide a comment on the call for a referendum.

Robertsons interest in a subway is competing with that of Surrey, where Mayor Dianne Watts has been vocal about the need for major transit improvements in her municipality. Surrey has six kilometres of SkyTrain track and needs another 300 kilometres, Watts told the Courier in February, adding that a preferred system would be at grade and cost $1.8 billion.

The B.C. NDP has not released its full platform and the partys leader Adrian Dix has not been clear on whether a ruling NDP government would fund a subway in Vancouver or light rail system in Surrey.

mhowell@vancourier.com

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