Peter Fassbender, provincial Minister Responsible for TransLink, responded to The David Suzuki Foundation’s open letter to various Metro Vancouver and provincial politicians urging them to come together to ensure Metro Vancouver receives a share of available federal transit funding. Unfortunately, the letter seems more aggravating than conciliatory to the Mayors’ Council.
The Minister re-commits the province’s oft-re-committed $246,000,000 as its contribution to Phase One of the Mayors’ Plan for Metro Vancouver’s transit future. Further in the letter, he states that the province’s “increased funding” (no figures or timing given) will ensure that Metro Vancouver does not miss out on federal funding. Tellingly, he refers to negotiating “bilateral agreements” with the federal government while, separately, working with the Mayors’ Council on local funding details. This seems to be telling the mayors that they are not welcome at the federal table and to let the ‘big boys’ negotiate the major funding agreements while they gather their pennies together.
Fassbender also commits the province to work with the mayors, through his Deputy Minister, to investigate how to capture some of the land development benefits (increased property values) that result from transit investments. It should be noted that property value increases are largest along rapid transit lines, which is only one component of the Mayors’ Plan, which includes major increases in bus service and several new B-Line (express) services. Rapid transit construction is long term so any benefits from increased property values are far in the future. How these values can be ‘taxed’ in the near term to support the Mayors’ Plan is not addressed? And in the Lower Mainland’s housing market, how would it be possible to differentiate, for taxation purposes, between increased property values due to transit investment and those caused by market demand.
After dictating to the Mayors that the province will handle federal negotiations, that they must deal with a Deputy Minister on taxing future, transit-related property value increases, and that they “confirm details of [their] respective funding commitments.” with him, Fassbender categorically states the province will not change the TransLink governance structure to give the mayors more control over how the agency spends the tax dollars the mayors are mandated to raise.
Rather insultingly, he states they can attend TransLink board meetings, as individuals with no voting rights, to “share their views”. Apparently, this could lead to greater confidence that the board is spending tax dollars to benefit the region.
None of this augurs well for an early agreement between the province and the Mayors’ Council on the transit funding issue.
Minister Fassbender’s letter is attached here – Minister Fassbender Letter to Mayors-2016-05-30.