Transit plebiscite Yes side mounts final push

Friday deadline for requesting new ballots

With only three weeks until voting closes, the Yes side in the transportation and transit plebiscite battle launched a big push this week to urge its supporters who still haven’t voted to mail in their ballots.

Organizers will use newspaper and radio ads, a rally in Surrey, a telephone town hall meeting and a “ride-in-your-vote” bicycle event to urge voters to cast a ballot for a 0.5 per cent tax hike that will help pay for a $7.5 billion plan to curb congestion in Metro Vancouver.

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“It’s just really finding those people who have already decided to vote yes and encouraging them to vote,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor B.C.’s area director and one of four co-chairpersons of the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition.

Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on May 29 but McGarrigle, whose union represents bus drivers, said the coalition is focused on this Friday’s deadline. Eligible voters who didn’t receive a ballot, lost it or misplaced it have until midnight May 15 to request a new ballot package, which includes a “certification envelope” that must be signed and birthdate provided.

“A lot of people, we think, may have just accidentally recycled their ballot, or lost it somehow, and we just want to remind the public about this and that it’s so important for our region,” he said of the mayors’ plan which promises more buses, increased HandyDart and SeaBus service, upgrades to roads and cycling infrastructure, rapid transit in Surrey, a new Pattullo Bridge and a subway along the Broadway corridor.

New ballots can be picked up — or completed ones can be dropped off — at one of nine Elections B.C. plebiscite depots in Metro Vancouver, including two in Vancouver. A complete list can be viewed on the agency’s website.

Elections B.C. reported May 6 that it received more than 600,000 ballots, or about 38 per cent of the 1.56 million packages mailed to registered voters in Metro Vancouver. Although voters cast ballots at polls, Vancouver’s 2014 election saw a 43.4 per cent voter turnout. The agency will provide an update Wednesday on the returns.

Don Main, communications manager for Elections B.C., said the HST referendum in 2011 was the last mail-in only vote in the province. Voter turnout reached 52.7 per cent, with almost half of the returns sent in during the last two weeks of the voting period, Main said.

“If history repeats itself, we won’t know that until it happens,” said Main when asked if the agency was anticipating the same last-minute wave of ballots.

Jordan Bateman, the main spokesperson for the No side, said his campaign team is also urging its supporters who haven’t voted or didn’t receive a ballot to take the necessary steps to ensure they cast a ballot before May 29.

But, Bateman said, his team is not spending even close to the millions of dollars the Yes side has spent on its campaign. Elections B.C. does not require either side to disclose its spending or the names of people or companies or unions who donated to the campaigns.

The Yes side has refused to release details of its estimated $6 million campaign but the No side has said its budget is on target for $40,000, with about half of the money donated by individuals and $20,000 from the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, of which Bateman is the B.C. director.

“Certainly a far cry from $7 million in taxpayer dollars,” said Bateman of the Yes side’s campaign, which from the outset its senior members estimated would cost $6 million.

A 0.5 per cent hike to the provincial sales tax would translate to more than $200 million per year — about 35 cents per day for the average household — to help pay for the mayors’ $7.5 billion plan. The provincial and federal governments would be required to pay the bulk of the funding for the 10-year plan to be fully implemented.

The No side has suggested the mayors’ plan could be funded with increased revenue each municipality receives as the region grows. An estimated 1 million new residents are expected to move into Metro Vancouver by 2040.

Results of the plebiscite are expected sometime this summer.

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