COLUMN: ‘Everyone pays’ seems fair to me

The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council decision to propose a .5 per cent sales tax increase to fund transit needs in the region ...

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council decision to propose a .5 per cent sales tax increase to fund transit needs in the region is a sensible allocation of financial responsibility.

The sales tax increase means that everyone who buys anything in Metro Vancouver will help pay for improvements. Any other of the suggested solutions – vehicle levy, carbon tax, gas tax, property tax – meant specific groups would have been, in many cases unfairly, taxed to provide service to others.

This proposed tax increase is so small it will be hardly noticed, yet will generate some $250 million in revenue to provide expanded transit options and infrastructure improvements.

Will it change shopping habits across the region? Hardly. Why, for example, would someone drive from Langley to Abbotsford to save $5 on a $1,000 television, spending $10 on fuel to achieve that saving?

And anyone in Metro thinking they can avoid the sales tax increase on big costs like a new car or truck by buying in Abbotsford, think again, because the .5 per cent could be levied on where you register the vehicle, not where you buy it.

Of course, there are those who suggest folks who live outside Metro Vancouver should pay too. Sorry, but there won’t be any service provided to us through this levy. Yes, Valley residents do travel west, but we also pay a toll to cross the bridge.

The B.C. branch of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is apparently gearing up to fight the proposed sales tax increase. All well and good, but where do they think the funding for improvements should come from? Come up with an alternative solution and, if I lived in the region, might buy it.

But to oppose this small tax increase, based only on the contention that TransLink is a poor steward of the funding it receives now, and the increase it will get if the tax referendum is approved this spring, is weak at best.

I agree that TransLink needs a major shake-up. After all, its aim is to get people out of cars and onto transit, so why do its executives receive hefty car allowances? If they led by example, and used the service themselves, the rest of us might be encouraged to get out of our cars too.

Perhaps while the provincial government is pondering the mayors’ council proposal, they might also look into the current in-house expenditures and costs of running TransLink. Might be enough savings there to provide a couple of buses, or possibly even a whole slew of them.

Regardless, the urban growth of Metro Vancouver demands both a change of attitude of the car culture, and vastly improved and efficient transit systems.

And then, the pressure will shift to Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Industry, jobs and housing must be both encouraged and planned for so that when there comes a need for rapid transit here, corridors will be in place, housing located adjacent to industry and our urban cores densified.

Metro Vancouver is playing catch-up. We have the opportunity here to prepare for the future. Gloucester Industrial Estates, Fraser Highway, lands adjacent to Abbotsford Airport, what will eventually be abandoned rock quarry sites on Sumas Mountain, are key to our future job creation.

When Abbotsford’s Official Community Plan is completed, and it seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time to achieve that, all of the above and more must be factored into it.

It would be a shame to squander the opportunity to be prepared for the future.