Voter turnout in the transportation and transit plebiscite continued to increase on the last day of voting Friday as a steady stream of voters dropped off their ballots at an Elections B.C. depot near Vancouver city hall.
Over two hours Friday morning, the Courier observed more than two dozen people hand in their envelopes at a plebiscite service centre inside the City Square shopping centre at 12th and Cambie. As of Wednesday, Elections B.C. reported it had screened 698,900 ballot packages, or 44.7 per cent, of more than 1.56 million mailed to registered voters in Metro Vancouver since March 16.
“I talked to the manager of [the City Square] office yesterday and he said it was steady all day,” said Don Main, spokesperson for Elections B.C., in a telephone interview Friday. “However, out in Coquitlam, they said it’s very quiet.”
Main said he wasn’t surprised people waited until the last day or week to drop off their ballots, noting the same thing happened with the HST referendum in 2011. Though the transportation and transit plebiscite was designed as mail-in only, Elections B.C. opened nine depots in Metro Vancouver to answer questions and collect ballots, which have to be returned by 8 p.m. tonight.
William Yung drove from his home in southwest Vancouver to drop off his wife’s ballot package. Yung returned his ballot by mail in early April. He said he and his wife voted No largely because of concerns related to TransLink’s track record of financial mismanagement.
Yung, an accountant, pointed to delays with the $194-million Compass Card system and TransLink continuing to pay two chief executive officers. SkyTrain shutdowns, the latest occurring last week, also concerned Yung.
He acknowledged investments have to be made to tackle traffic congestion in Metro Vancouver. But, he said, TransLink should have cleaned up its financial mess before the government decided to hold a plebiscite, which asks voters whether they want to pay an extra 0.5 per cent of provincial sales tax to help pay for a $7.5-billion plan to ease congestion.
“I think we pay enough taxes,” Yung said. “But it’s not really the 0.5 per cent I’m voting against, it’s the principle of asking for more money when we’re already in this mess.”
Yung works in Richmond and he said it takes him about 15 minutes to get to his office. Taking transit from where he lives would mean a trip of more than an hour, he said, noting a vehicle is the only option for many Metro Vancouverites.
Taxes were also on George Porteous’s mind as he dropped off ballots signed by him and his wife. Holding his motorcycle helmet in one hand, Porteous said he gets around the city by motorcycle and understands the need to ease congestion, especially since one million more people are expected to move to Metro Vancouver over the next 30 years.
“It’s a compelling argument [for transit and transportation upgrades] and it’s going to be a challenge,” said the Dunbar resident, who declined to say how he voted but noted neither the Yes or No campaigns swayed his vote. “I just feel that we pay enough taxes already and people who manage our taxes should get their act together.”
Richmond resident Janice Johnson, who was in Vancouver to get her vehicle fixed, said she voted Yes because “it’s going to be a massive problem with congestion, if we don’t do anything about it.” Johnson said a “telephone town hall” meeting she participated in involving Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie helped inform her vote. But even after she dropped off her ballot, Johnson said she wasn’t sure whether she made the right decision.
“I just feel it’s going to be a No decision because I’ve heard from people who are voting this way,” she said, noting some of that pushback is because the mayors’ 10-year plan doesn’t include major upgrades for all Metro Vancouver municipalities.
The mayors’ plan 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. The 0.5 per cent tax hike would translate to more than $200 million per year towards the plan, which relies heavily on funding from the provincial and federal governments, which haven’t committed to the plan.
In an email message Friday to Vision Vancouver supporters, Mayor Gregor Robertson, who has led the Yes campaign, thanked them for promoting the plan, which was devised after the provincial government ordered a plebiscite on any new funding tools for transit and transportation improvements.
“Thank you for all your support in getting the word out, talking to friends and family, and saying you support Vision’s work to champion better transit, not just in Vancouver but for the entire region,” the mayor wrote.
Earlier in the week, Robertson told reporters it was “a huge risk for the city, if we don’t see a Yes vote here,” saying Vancouver will only stand to see more traffic congestion as people move to the region.
Jordan Bateman, who headed up the No side, had an opinion piece published in Friday’s Province newspaper, saying his team was proud of the campaign it ran, which accused TransLink of mismanagement, wasteful spending and secrecy from the region’s mayors, who refused to reveal where it received its money to run a $6-million campaign. The No side said its budget is on target for $40,000, with about half of that from the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the rest from individuals.
“It’s time to count the ballots,” he wrote. “But, win or lose, the TransLink mayors owe the taxpayers of this region a full accounting of how much tax money — including staff and other municipal resources —they spent to try and buy this vote. Surely, the people paying the bills deserve at least that much respect.”
Results of the plebiscite are expected this summer.