B.C. politicians are back at it, this time talking about liquor law reforms, liquefied natural gas and a 10-year transportation plan, as the legislature opened Tuesday with the premier’s throne speech.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing said he’ll be focused on transportation, in particular.
“I think that’s something that really needs some attention and it’s going to get it in the next little while.”
Bing cited an announcement by Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone last week, delaying this fall’s TransLink’s referendum and changing how it’s governed, giving mayors more power.
Now, the Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation will have final say over TransLink’s long-term plan.
“It’s going to be the mayors who set the priorities. That’s quite a change I think,” said Bing, who resigned from Pitt Meadows council last week. “The mayors have to accept it, of course. They will decide what are the priorities and they can act accordingly.”
The new MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows wants a referendum on TransLink sooner rather than later.
“Ideally, I think I would prefer to do it this fall. I’d just like to see things move forward,” he said.
“My preference is to, ‘Let’s get going here. Let’s move forward as quickly as we can. We’ve got lots to do here.’”
On the other hand, Bing understood that mayors didn’t want a referendum to be a distraction during civic elections.
Bing said recently he didn’t like referendums. But the government is committed to doing it, so he wants it done as soon as possible.
Stone recently gave mayors until the end of June to come up with a “vision” for TransLink, with a referendum on that to take place by June 2015.
There’s also no reason why the wording of the referendum question has to elicit a ‘no’ from burdened taxpayers, said the MLA.
Both mayors and the province have to find a question “that makes sense to people and it’s something they can say yes to.
“I don’t see why you can’t ask a question that people will vote yes to. If you ask, for example, do you want a fair and equitable transportation system that works for everybody … I don’t see why most people wouldn’t say yes.
“If you just say, ‘Do you want higher taxes?’ Then I can see people saying, ‘No, I don’t want that.’
“I’m assuming they’re going to come up with a question that works, otherwise, what is the point?
“It really is a cooperative thing that benefits both parties to ask the right question and get the right answer.”
Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows also needs better bus service. The mayors of Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are lobbying TransLink for a RapidBus link to the Evergreen SkyTrain line in Coquitlam which opens in 2016.
Bing said if there were more No. 701 buses from Maple Ridge’s downtown to Braid SkyTrain station, some of those could be express routes, running straight along Lougheed Highway instead of through Pitt Meadows.
“I don’t see why, if we had more buses, you couldn’t have some that went direct.”
Bing expects a gradual approach to liquor laws and said it’s likely that a store-within-a-store approach will be followed, allowing existing private liquor store licence holders to operate locations in food stores.
Former NDP MLA Michael Sather said he supported the changes to liquor legislation, but criticized the government for focusing too much on the oil and gas industry.
“We’re just really missing the mark so much by not trying to go with alternative sources at all.”
Bing, who was a councillor for the City of Pitt Meadows when he was elected last spring, resigned from council Feb. 4 after voting earlier this year for the 2014 budget on a split council.
Sather agrees with Bing stepping down from council after doing both jobs since last May’s provincial election. Bing wasn’t taking his councillor’s salary.
“The bottom line is that an MLA is a full-time job. You should not be trying to do both jobs. It’s not fair the taxpayers and the voters,” Sather said.