By John Horgan, Leader of B.C.’s New Democrats
For many of my friends and colleagues who live south of the Fraser, crossing the Port Mann Bridge twice every day is a fact of life. Some of them are on their way to their office, some to their school, and some to the job site. Last week they got hit with yet another round of fee increases from the government, making it even harder for them to make ends meet.
Premier Christy Clark stuck them with up to $100 worth of additional annual tolls, bringing the total toll burden on car drivers to more than $1,600 each year. A contractor driving a cube truck will be on the hook for nearly $3,300 each year.
It’s only the latest example of B.C. Liberal stealth taxes. MSP, ICBC, hydro rates and ferry fares are up. Anyone who spent the B.C. Day long weekend in a provincial park knows camping fees are up. Even the much-hyped Liberal liquor reforms resulted in driving up the prices of nearly 90 per cent of B.C. beers.
The Port Mann toll hike is a symptom of Premier Clark’s failure to address the urgent transportation problems in the Lower Mainland. The region’s economy depends on being able to move people and goods efficiently. Congestion hurts business and it hurts industry. Congestion means more time stuck in traffic and less time spent with family.
Metro Vancouver contains the two largest cities in B.C., and it’s one of the great urban regions in Canada. Yet Premier Clark’s government has no plan to address worsening congestion, even as Metro’s population continues to grow rapidly.
Instead, the premier stuck taxpayers with a very expensive and totally futile plebiscite. She forced TransLink, local governments and the province to spend millions of your dollars to arrive at an answer that everyone already knew: people don’t trust TransLink. After the ballots were counted and the money was all spent, the premier herself even acknowledged that people don’t trust TransLink. They didn’t vote against better transit, they voted against an unelected, unaccountable board that meets in secret.
I was stunned during the plebiscite campaign to hear Premier Clark duck any responsibility, telling reporters that “TransLink belongs to the mayors.” It’s deeply worrying that the premier of B.C. doesn’t understand how her own government works.
TransLink used to belong to the mayors, until 2006 when the B.C. Liberals fired them and brought in a hand-picked board of appointees. This is the root of our problems today: the people at TransLink who develop the plan to spend your money never have to go and be accountable to the public.
Perhaps under new TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender things will change. He made some promising remarks on his first day, vowing to rebuild trust between the transportation authority, local government, and voters. But it’s hard to take the B.C. Liberal government at their word anymore.
There can be no trust without accountability, something that is in desperately short supply in Premier Clark’s government.
Paying tolls, being stuck in traffic for hours, or watching sardine-packed buses drive past in the rain are intensely frustrating experiences. They are especially maddening when we know that this whole mess was preventable. Every major urban centre in the world is grappling with transportation issues, and there are many exciting and innovative ideas out there.
But first we need Premier Clark to stop passing the buck and start partnering with local government to get Metro Vancouver moving again.