Who is paying millions to fund the Yes campaign on the transit plebiscite? Who pays the Mayor’s Council’s budget?

Mayors' Council logo for plebiscite

Mayors’ Council logo for plebiscite

Preamble: Follow the money. If you can. Many proponents of the YES vote for the current transit plebiscite in the Metro Vancouver region must also have a sense of justice and fairness, and must expect transparency and accountability from government.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, if some day the funding details come out, everyone who supported the YES side may have to grapple with the fact that they enabled and actively supported the interests funding the YES vote. Perhaps they too are in the dark at the moment. They may not realize with whom they were really in bed.

Vancouver Sun columnist wrote an article entitled “A fair fight? Where is money coming from to fund Yes campaign?” (6-May-2015). In it, she describes her attempts to get a clear answer to that question, and laments that it was impossible to get proper answers. Further below are some excerpts from her article (please visit Vancouver Sun for full text.)

Meanwhile, MetroVanWatch tried separately to get some answers. Here is a brief sequence.

QUESTIONS: 23-March-2015 (First of all, the Mayors’ Council website provided no contact information. No phone number or e-mail address. So we tried the online form for making queries.) Subject: “Questions about transit plebiscite and Mayor’s Council.” Message: What is the funding source for the Mayor’s Council? It seems to be buying a lot of ads on buses, direct mail pieces, etc. Exactly how is all of this funded, and if it is public money, are detailed financial reports available for public scrutiny?

ANSWER: 23-Mar-2015: The Mayor’s Council has up to $6 million dollars authorized for this campaign, money that has come out of Translink’s normal budget for advertising and promotions – it is not new money. The Mayor’s Council believes that funding the Vote Yes campaign is important, because the proposed transit plan will ensure the region is ready for the 1 million new residents who are coming here in the next 30 years. If you are unhappy with the way the Vote Yes campaign is being run, or you require additional information, you are encouraged to reach out to your local mayor’s office to raise your concerns with your elected official.

SECOND ATTEMPT: 2-Apr-2015: Dear Mayors’ Council, It has occurred to us that you actually did not answer our questions completely. Could we please received a full response? What is the funding source for the Mayor’s Council? OUR COMMENT: Your response only addressed the plebiscite campaign, not the Mayor’s Council. Our question remains unanswered. If a precise answer is already on your website, please provide a link. Otherwise, e-mail response is appreciated. …. are detailed financial reports available for public scrutiny? You did not answer this question. We would appreciate a YES/NO answer, and if the answer is YES, a link to the location where the detailed financial reports are available.

ANSWER 2-Apr-2015: We are providing your message to relevant Mayors’ Council staff to respond to directly. We apologize that we were not able to completely answer your question.

ANSWER 23-Apr-23: The Mayors’ Council funding is covered as part of TransLink’s administration expenses. TransLink revenues come transit fares, fuel sales tax, and property tax – in about equal parts. All TransLink revenues and expenditures are publicly reported and audited annually. You can find past annual reports, financial reports, and audit results here.

Excerpts from Ms. Yaffe’s column:

  • Don’t bother trying to learn how the budget for the transit plebiscite Yes side is being sourced, or spent, because no one is talking. And, of course, the reason for that is obvious. The Mayors’ Council, spearheading the Yes side, knows that shelling out $6 million to push a sales tax hike for transit resources is not likely to be appreciated.
  • … I have asked for specific details of the spending and revenue sources from the Mayors’ Council, TransLink and the City of Vancouver. They say that the Mayors’ Council has agreed to spend up to $6 million on “the education component to promote the benefits of Mayors’ Plan for regional transportation.”
  • Mayors’ Council Secretariat representative Justinne Ramirez adds: “All other questions regarding the budget for the campaign will be considered once the campaign period is complete” at the end of May.
  • … But taxpayers, at this point, have been kept in the dark about where the tax dollars for these efforts are coming from, or which municipalities have contributed.
  • … From the start, one of the problems with this campaign has been a perception of unfairness. Instead of having No and Yes sides with two clear options and equal funding, the sales tax hike was presented as the one and only conceivable option. And the Yes side has enjoyed the considerable advantage of having public monies at its disposal.
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