BC: Mayors Totally Oblivious to Taxpayers’ Woes
This piece first appeared in the April 17, 2017, edition of The Province, and is now available for other outlets to use, free-of-charge.
Another week, another weak attempt by the Lower Mainland mayors to pin all the region’s problems on the provincial government.
Fastballs of problems are flung fast and furious by the city politicians: homelessness, property taxes, TransLink. But, in the style used by frustrating, petulant children since the dawn of parenting, the mayors never take responsibility for their part in any of these problems.
This week, Metro Vancouver rushed out the preliminary results of its 2017 homelessness count, showing a one-third increase in the number of homeless people in the region from 2014.
It made for a shocking headline number. “Metro Vancouver mayors have been ringing the alarm bells for years,” said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. Robertson, of course, famously promised to end homelessness by 2015, but has overseen Vancouver’s count grow from 1,576 when he was elected in 2008, to 2,138 in this report.
The mayors’ prescription, of course, is more provincial money for more housing projects. The dirty little secret Robertson doesn’t want you to know is that his city hall continually slows down these projects with its burgeoning bureaucracy, high housing taxes and ridiculous red tape.
Last week, the mayors’ push was “curing congestion.” Their cure is to give themselves more provincial money and the ability to tax people for every inch they drive. Specifically, the mayors want to elect a premier who will let them bring in a massive road pricing tax to generate money for TransLink. The second-highest gas taxes on the continent aren’t enough: drivers need to be choked for even more.
Still, TransLink – the beast that eats money – demands more. A road tax will disproportionately hurt suburban drivers and will drive up the cost of goods and services across the Lower Mainland. Just what we need: a way to make life even more unaffordable.
On Sunday, their road tax plans were dealt a death blow. The BC Liberals promised to cap bridge tolls at $500 per year; the NDP promised to get rid of them altogether.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote went into hair-on-fire mode: “I’m feeling a lot less confident today than I was even a week or two ago that those [rapid transit] projects will ever get built,” he told the Vancouver Sun.
If those projects don’t get built, it’s on no one except Cote and the mayors. If transportation is such a high priority for the mayors, they should reprioritize their own spending to reflect that. By putting a small percentage – less than one third of one per cent – of municipalities’ 5 per cent annual revenue growth toward their plan, they could fund the whole thing without raising our taxes.
And remember, these are the same mayors who blow millions plowing bike lanes before clearing roads, subsidizing a bike share program, bloating bureaucracy to carry out cockamamie schemes like banning natural gas, and overpaying their staff, among many other spending sins.
The Lower Mainland mayors also turned on their colleagues in other communities, claiming in a report on property taxation that they get a raw deal compared to the rest of BC. “The system needs an urgent overhaul,” said Robertson’s lieutenant, Raymond Louie.
Lower Mainlanders are overtaxed, but again, the mayors refuse to acknowledge their part in it. They simply ignored the chart in their study that showed municipal property taxes – the ones they directly control – have gone up 4 per cent per year. That’s faster than the province’s school tax.
Judging by their deft deflections of responsibility, the mayors’ efforts in the 2017 provincial election seem designed to try and save their own electoral skins in their 2018 municipal campaigns.