NDP transportation critic Harry Bains and BC Conservative leader John Cummins.

Tories seize on TransLink gas tax issue

NDP transporation critic coy on support for two-cent solution for transit

The BC Conservatives moved quickly to exploit anger over a proposed two-cent-a-litre gas tax hike in Metro Vancouver to build the Evergreen Line.

Leader John Cummins unveiled a website – AxeTheGasTax.ca – and online petition drive he says the public can use to pressure Metro Vancouver mayors and the governing BC Liberals to drop the tax hike.

“The last thing drivers need is higher taxes when they fill up their car or truck,” he said, accusing the BC Liberals of treating Lower Mainland commuters like “cash cows.”

In an earlier interview, Cummins was unable to indicate specifically how he thinks the region should pay its $400-million share of the cost to build the Evergreen Line, suggesting extra money could instead be somehow found in the provincial budget.

The two-cent tax would raise $40 million out of $70 million a year needed to fund the SkyTrain extension to Coquitlam plus a broad set of other transit upgrades. Mayors hope the other $30 million comes from either a vehicle levy or a second carbon tax, but if neither of those are implemented property taxes would be raised as a last resort.

It’s not the first time politicians have rallied motorists to “axe” a gas tax.

The NDP’s 2008 axe-the-tax campaign was aimed at B.C.’s then-new carbon tax, which the New Democrats eventually decided to support.

NDP transportation critic Harry Bains wouldn”t say if he will support or oppose provincial legislation to raise the gas tax for TransLink from 15 to 17 cents a litre.

It’s not his first preference to raise the money, he said, but added he’s glad the Evergreen Line appears to be back on track.

“Considering the way the mayors have been pushed into this corner, I applaud them for coming up with this solution,” Bains said. “They were placed in a very tough situation.”

He said a letter from Premier Christy Clark appears to offer at best “wishy washy” support for transportation minister Blair Lekstrom, who agreed to the funding deal with the mayors.

“The premier’s flip-flopping from one position to another undermines the efforts of the mayors and her own minister,” he said.

The NDP’s proposal for a long-term strategy to fund TransLink is to earmark Metro Vancouver’s share of the carbon tax – likely around $400 million of the tax’s $1.1-billion take by 2012.

The province would make up for the lost cash from its coffers, Bains said, by raising the corporate income tax.

It’s a tidy solution that doesn’t tie the NDP to backing one of the more contentious ways to raise money directly from Metro Vancouverites.

But it’s also one that’s unlikely to fly with the government.

Successive transportation ministers have insisted the $400 million must come from Metro Vancouver and not be seen to be raiding money from the provincial budget that arguably should be shared equally with other regions of B.C.

Bains argues the Liberals are raising the corporate tax anyway – in order to promise an HST cut to try to win the referendum.

“Christy Clark’s way is to buy HST votes,” he said. “That money could have been used to buy us the transit services that the public need and deserve.”