When the provincial government set the rules for the non-binding plebiscite on a sales tax hike for TransLink expansion, it didn’t include any campaign fundraising or reporting regulations.
“We think it’s embarrassing for a mature democracy like B.C. to not have disclosure rules,” said Jordan Bateman, leader of the No TransLink Tax campaign. “The fact that we may never know how much these government agencies spent in tax dollars on this yes vote is ludicrous, it’s a breach of the public trust.”
Bateman, who is also the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation’s B.C. director, is against the proposed 0.5 per cent provincial sales tax increase in Metro Vancouver. The TransLink Mayors’ Council wants it to raise $2.5 billion over 10 years toward a $7.5 billion wish list for a subway under Broadway, light rail in Surrey and Langley and a new Pattullo Bridge. Bateman said his group expects to run a $40,000 campaign and would voluntarily disclose donations before the scheduled March 16 to May 29 mail-in voting period.
Without rules, Bateman said large multinational engineering and construction firms hungry for TransLink contracts could spend millions of dollars to influence the vote.
“There’s no accountability, no one will ever know,” Bateman said. “It’s secret money, just the way the province has set this up to be.”
Coincidentally, the Feb. 12 cabinet order called Plebiscite 2015 (Regional Transportation System Funding) Regulation came a day before the statutory Feb. 13 deadline for candidates, elector organizations and third-party sponsors in last November’s municipal elections to submit their campaign finance reports to Elections B.C.
IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis said there is nothing to prevent plebiscite campaigners from voluntary disclosure. He pointed to the 2014 Vancouver civic election, in which the four main parties published donation lists before voting day. “Here’s an opportunity to do it again,” Travis said.
City councils, like Vancouver’s, are dedicating public staff and funds to promote the yes campaign. Residents who vote no, he said, “have a right to know how much of their dollars are being used to sway them.”
“Mayor Gregor Robertson was quoted as saying ‘we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is,’” Travis said. “Technically speaking, it’s not his money and it’s not really the City of Vancouver’s money.”
TransLink mayors’ council interim executive director Mike Buda referred the Courier to Justinne Ramirez of the Mayors’ Council Secretariat, who had no comment and referred questions to Elections B.C.
Robertson chairs the council, but the Office of the Mayor did not respond to the Courier’s Feb. 16 interview request. Neither did Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer, a campaign finance reform advocate. Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said the Vote Yes for Better Transit campaign’s TransLink-funded budget of $4 million hasn’t been finalized, but it would also rely on in-kind support from municipalities.
“The mayors’ council is not seeking any funding from outside or private interests,” said Moore.
The Better Transit and Transportation Coalition is allied with the Mayors’ Council, but is seeking donations via its website. Co-chairs Iain Black of the Vancouver Board of Trade and Bahareh Jokar of the UBC Alma-Mater Society did not respond to interview requests.
In 2003, the Courier reported that the winning Team Yes 2010 coalition in the civic plebiscite on Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics bid outspent the No Games 2010 group $700,000 to $5,000. Real estate marketer Bob Rennie bought eight full-page daily newspaper ads worth $40,000 in favour of the bid. He eventually got the Olympic Village condo marketing contract.
— with files from Stanley Tromp