Painful Truth: Plan B absent in Taxpayers diatribe

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is a strange beast.

It exists to bash any and all attempts to raise taxes, and to call attention to wasteful government spending. And sometimes that sends it down weird rabbit holes of stupidity.

Take the recent case of TransLink’s proposed 0.5 per cent hike of the PST. We’re going to get to vote on this sometime next spring, in a region-wide referendum. The provincial government will be staying neutral, but business groups and unions are forming a Yes lobby already. On the No side are a lot of people who hate TransLink on principle, and the Taxpayers Federation.

TransLink wants the money to expand transit service, of course. More buses, more light rail in Surrey and out to Langley, money for bike lanes and pedestrian improvements.

But the Taxpayers Federation reminds us that TransLink hasn’t always been the best custodian of cash, calling it “a stunningly bad record of waste.”

I have no argument with the fact that TransLink is badly managed – their CEO is vastly overpaid for the job he is doing – or that it is badly governed. In fact, let’s take a moment to remember some of TransLink’s greatest hits!

Broken down SkyTrains! Blaming trapped riders for making the problem worse instead of actually fixing the trains! Overpaid executives! A system of governance so needlessly complex it would make the court eunuchs of ancient Byzantium weep! Some of the highest paid police in the country! And in the big tent, the Compass Card system – massively over budget, behind schedule, hopelessly mired in technological bugs! A big hand, folks, it’s TransLink’s biggest blunder to date!

But…

The Taxpayers Federation’s position has two, closely related parts: 1) TransLink is wasteful and generally messed up (true) so 2) we should not give them any more money.

“Instead of finding efficiencies, TransLink Mayors want your family to pay $258 more in sales tax every year,” says the Taxpayers Federation’s call to action. 

The problem is the word “efficiencies.” They’re implying that we can find enough money to expand transit if we dig into the couch cushions and maybe fire some executive vice-presidents of made up do-nothing jobs.

You know what? I’m all for house cleaning. Hell, I’ll even put some of the Taxpayers Fed guys on a task force! Let ’em loose with a dozen meat-fed forensic accountants hungry for blood. Drag Victoria’s legislators kicking the screaming down here to clean up their mess. Let’s do it now!

And from that we’ll save how much? Maybe $5 million a year? If we’re very, very lucky, maybe we could find $10 or even $20 million in efficiencies? Nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not enough.

We need enough to buy a whole lot of buses, to pay an expanded roster of bus drivers, mechanics, cleaners, and maintenance workers. We need serious capital cash to start building more rail lines.

Seriously, what’s the alternative? We are drowning in fast-growing new communities, especially South of the Fraser in Surrey and Langley. We planned for transit, and transit never came. The Port Mann expansion has helped, but we’re choking on local gridlock, and students, the elderly, and the poor have little to no mobility across vast stretches of the Lower Mainland.

It’s good to have a critical voice when TransLink is wasting money. But the Taxpayers Federation needs to offer its own plan. Because right now, it looks like it simply doesn’t care how, or if, we ever get better transit service at all.

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