Metro Vancouver is holding a plebiscite to approve funding for new transportation infrastructure.  Voting opened March 16 and closes on May 29, 2015 on the following question: “Do you support a new 0.5% Metro Vancouver Congestion Improvement Tax, to be dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan?”

The Yes campaign is reportedly spending more than $8 million by current estimates, employing hundreds of people to campaign on their behalf, and, has extensive visibility in both paid and unpaid media; while the No campaign will spend less than $75,000 and faces open hostility from most media commentators.

As of April 15, Elections B.C. had screened 235,354 returned ballots, or 15.1% of the eligible 1,555,855 voters. Most public opinion surveys were conducted and reported in March. Those suggest that the plebiscite is headed to defeat. The very low turnout suggests that the accuracy of the reported public opinion surveys may be in question.

97,208 of the 235,354 returned ballots are from the City of Vancouver where polling indicated support for the question is highest.  Older people and homeowners are generally more likely to vote. Public opinion polling showed both groups to be relatively strongly opposed.

Elections B.C. has announced the result will be known at the end of June or beginning of July. The B.C. legislature will be in summer recess at the time (returning October 5).

Objectives:

If the proposal is not headed for outright defeat in the referendum, RCC will press for the following measures:

  • The harmonization of the proposed regional sales tax with the B.C. provincial sales tax to reduce additional administrative burden and cost.
  • A statutory limitation on any increases in the regional sales tax, or new sales taxes in other regions, requiring approval through a referendum.
  • Compensation for retail merchants from impacts resulting from both the adaptation of in-store and on-line systems, and any impacts from disruption due to construction of new transit lines.

Next Steps:

  • Continue to educate both the general public and governments on the negative impacts of multiple sales tax regimes, including additional filing requirements and administrative costs to collect a third tax.
  • Continue to educate both the general public and governments on the negative impacts of the B.C. provincial sales tax (principally the lack of input tax credits and the administrative burdens surrounding sales tax exemptions).
  • Work with other organizations that hold similar or common positions on this issue.

Background:

The referendum question proposes that a new regional sales tax of 0.5% (on the majority of goods that are subject to the Provincial Sales Tax) be created to fund future growth in transportation infrastructure. The provincial government has indicated that should the referendum pass, it will introduce the enabling legislation in the next session of the legislature.

RCC remains concerned about:

  • The precedent for other Canadian municipalities to introduce such a tax – and the borderline issues that tax advantages/disadvantages will create between merchants in neighbouring communities.
  • The propensity of consumption taxes to increase from their initial rate.
  • The burden of the implementation cost, borne by the retail sector – which has already, in the past four years, borne the adoption then cessation of the Harmonized Sales Tax.
  • The lack of discussion concerning compensation for retail stores impacted by construction of new transportation infrastructure.
  • Retail is supportive of the need for new infrastructure (bringing our goods, customers and employees to our stores) while favouring funding methodologies that do not disproportionately impact retail over other business sectors.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Greg Wilson, Director, Government Relations (B.C.) at: [email protected] or 604-736-0368