From Sooke to Sidney, every Greater Victorian pays for transit, but not every municipality has an equal say over how their tax dollars are spent.
The unjust nature of taxation without representation was the primary argument Capital Regional District directors brought to the board table on Wednesday (May 23), when they asked to take control of regional transit planning.
If given the chance to assume the role of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, the CRD could deliver better service, make B.C. Transit spending more transparent and hold local politicians more accountable to taxpayers, directors argued.
“My colleagues in local government refer to transit in third person … it’s not a part of us,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. “We take no ownership of it, we take no responsibility for it, and … we can criticize it quite freely without feeling conflicted.”
Leonard leads the CRD’s transportation select committee, which formed last year to improve regional transportation and to discuss seeking transit control with a Ministry of Transportation-appointed independent review panel. That talk came one year after the board first pitched the plan to the province.
“Even if the government does move governance to the CRD, there still is this problem around accountability on the spending side of B.C. Transit. With or without this change, that still needs to be addressed,” Leonard said. “We would like to see a mechanism by which B.C. Transit is more responsible and accountable to local government. Full stop.”
Directors expressed frustration with the makeup of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, which has representation from seven elected officials hailing from just five of 13 municipalities and one electoral district in the CRD.
While not every director felt the CRD’s proposed transit takeover would eliminate transportation planning woes in the region, most agreed the power shift would be the first step in the right direction.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who joined the commission following November’s municipal election, expressed frustration over her municipality’s representation on the commission for the previous six years by Christopher Causton, the former mayor of Oak Bay.
Desjardins spoke in support of the increased representation, but remained on the fence over whether or not the CRD should helm transit planning – an endeavour she hopes to see approached holistically, with rail included in the conversation.
“It has to be multi-modal,” Desjardins said. “For me (B.C.) Transit is transit … They don’t do anything other than buses in this region. They can’t think outside the bus.”
Though he remains a strong proponent of the change, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin acknowledged one potential pitfall of allowing more voices in on the transportation discussion.
“The big danger of bringing it to the board is that everybody gets their small piece and so alls we ever do is fix roads, but we never, ever really collectively pool our stuff together to actually get something big that moves us forward,” Fortin said. “That’s the risk, right? We’d never actually do anything big.”
The B.C. Transit independent review panel, comprised of ex-Ministry of Finance staffer Chris Trumpy, consultant Catherine Holt and longtime transit planner John King, were receptive to the proposal, but didn’t make any promises on the future of transit governance.
“You’ve got half of the solution, maybe, but you don’t have the other half, which is the relationship with B.C. Transit,” Holt said.
The panel, now midway through meeting with local governments across the province, has until the end of August to submit recommendations based on information gathered from community consultations and B.C. Transit to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.