by Grant Granger – New Westminster News Leader
posted Feb 16, 2015 at 3:00 PM
Adults tell kids what to do all the time. New West teenager Sadie DeCoste has no hesitation telling her elders what to do. For one subject anyway.
That would be on how to vote on the upcoming regional transit and transportation plebiscite.
DeCoste is president of the New Westminster secondary’s environment club. She told a media gathering for the launch of the Vote Yes New West coalition at city hall Monday that she doesn’t want adults to blow a chance to help out her generation and future ones, too.
DeCoste said they will be the ones to pay the cost if measures like the transit and transportation plan aren’t taken.
“We will be inheriting this infrastructure and environment and we won’t be able to vote on it,” said DeCoste on why she’s making her plea. “We want to have the infrastructure as we keep going so we make sure we can address the issues of our ability to get around and the greenhouse gas emissions issue when we had the opportunity.”
The Yes coalition cobbled together by New Westminster includes city council, the board of education, several community organizations, and ex-Mayor Wayne Wright.
The No side, led by Canadian Taxpayers Federation executive director Jordan Bateman, has been gaining traction. He opposes TransLink mayor’s council’s plebiscite to add a .5 per cent provincial sales tax to help pay for a 10-year transportation and transit plan. The proposal includes replacing the Pattullo Bridge, extending the Millennium SkyTrain line to UBC, adding light rapid transit to Surrey, and improving cycling and pedestrian routes in the region.
Bateman believes TransLink is so inefficiently run it could pay for the plan with savings from current revenues. He recently tweeted “TransLink mayors continue desperate attempt to obscure real issue of TransLink mismanagement and loss of public confidence” and “No one except TransLink mayors think all transportation investment will cease for 30 years with a no vote.”
“The No side is doing a very good job of deflection on what this referendum is about,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté. “TransLink has its issues that need to be addressed. I’m worried that people aren’t going to be able to distinguish [between the issues of leadership and the future plans].”
The city has allocated $20,000 to promote the Yes campaign, and to get residents to make sure they register to receive the mail-in ballot.
“It’s a good investment because transportation is so important to New Westminster,” said Coté when asked why council approved the expenditure. “If it is successful it will be money well spent.
“It’s a lot more than individual projects [such as the Pattullo Bridge replacement]. It’s more than just about getting on SkyTrain or a bus. It’s getting where you need to go.”
Wayne Wright, the four-term incumbent Coté beat out in the municipal election in November, was at Coté’s side during the press conference. He was a member of the mayors’ council that struggled to hammer out a feasible plan they felt was sellable.
“We spent three months and lots of talent to make this plan up,” said Wright. “I would be very upset if it didn’t go through.”
Wright said the voters can’t look back at TransLink’s past leadership, they have to look to the future.
“The future of the Lower Mainland is going to be enhanced by this,” said Wright.
New Westminster NDP MLA Judy Darcy said although, like Coté, she’s been hearing a lot from constituents about how TransLink is run, it shouldn’t affect the way they vote.
“We’re not going to solve those leadership issues at TransLink by voting No,” said Darcy. “[The plan is] good for the health of New Westminster. This is good for our economic health, and our mental health because they won’t be spending so much time in traffic congestions. And it’s good for the environment.”
Lisa Mu, Fraser Health medical health officer for Burnaby and New Westminster, pointed out the health benefits of the plan. She said on top of air pollution issues, obesity is 36 per cent more prevalent in car users than those who use other methods of transportation to get around.
The coalition has the backing of a couple key business organizations in the city, the chamber of commerce and the Downtown business association. Chamber chair-elect Jean Hincks said the region’s economy and movement of goods will be helped if there’s less congestion.
“It’s vital we invest in transit and transportation improvements in our area,” said Hincks. “It’s critical to a strong local economy.”
Tourism New West is backing the coalition because traffic snarls aren’t tourist-friendly.
“It’s important for visitors to be able to move around without the massive congestion issues we have today,” said Kathy MacKerricher, president of Tourism New West and general manager of the Inn at the Quay.
The province plans to mail out the ballots for the plebiscite in mid-March. Eligible voters will have until May to return them.
Coté and Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said they are concerned many renters who use transit won’t be registered because they’re not on the voters list since they’ve moved in the last few years.
Organizations and individuals backing the Vote Yes New West Coalition:
New Westminster city council
New Westminster school district
New Westminster and District Labour Council
New Westminster Chamber of Commerce
Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association
Fraserside Community Services Society
New Westminster Environmental Partners
Fraser Health medical health officer Burnaby-New Westminster Lisa Mu
HUB Cycling coalition
New Westminster secondary environment club
Tourism New West
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1518
Douglas College Student Union
David Suzuki Foundation
New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy
Former Mayor Wayne Wright