Mike Smyth: Suburban mayors, B.C. Liberals stoke gas-tax backlash

Gas tax backlash.

Source: The Province – MIKE SMYTH

Metro Vancouver drivers, assume the position: The taxman is coming to give you another whack in your wallet. And even though the politicians say they really don’t want to inflict another fossil-fuel flogging, one thing seems clear: This is going to hurt you more than it hurts them.

The 1.5-cents-a-litre regional gas tax approved last week by Metro mayors and John Horgan’s provincial NDP government is being imposed to pay for expanded transit services.

But now the finger-pointing has begun. The B.C. government says the new tax is all the mayors’ idea, while the mayors say they really wanted a cut of the existing provincial carbon tax and a brand-new gas tax was not their first choice.

While their cynical blame game begins, a gas-tax revolt is brewing in a region with the highest gas prices in North America.

“I’ve been fighting this tooth-and-nail,” fumed Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read, who voted against the $7.3-billion transit plan because of the new gas tax.

“This is punishing people who have no choice but to drive their cars. We are underserved by transit, so a lot of people have no option. They have to drive to work and we have the longest commutes in the region. So it hurts them even more, because they have to burn more gas.”

Read is one of five Metro mayors who voted in vain against the gas tax.

Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese said the gas tax unfairly punishes residents of the region’s eastern suburbs.

“This tax was the deal-breaker for me,” Froese said, noting it won’t just hurt suburban commuters underserved by transit.

“We have a lot of transportation-sector employers here like trucking companies. This increases their cost of doing business — costs they will be forced to pass along to their customers.”

The opposition B.C. Liberals, meanwhile, are launching an all-out gas-tax attack.

“It’s time to cap these gas-tax increases so people don’t get these price shocks,” Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said Wednesday.

“When the price of gas spikes to over $1.60 a litre, people need relief. Families just can’t afford it any more.”

Premier John Horgan on Wednesday blamed greedy oil companies for the pain at the pumps.

“Prices went up nine cents overnight,” Horgan said. “That’s not a tax question. That’s a gouging question.”

But Wilkinson said Horgan is just blowing smoke to hide the real culprit.

“The NDP keep piling on taxes,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve got a big affordability problem in Metro Vancouver.”

Sky-high prices are already driving people across the border to fill up on cheaper gas in the United States.

Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies said the exodus will only increase with yet another gas-tax hike.

“They’re heading south to purchase gasoline despite the time and effort it takes to get there,” said Redies, the Liberal finance critic.

“If relief isn’t forthcoming, they will have no choice but to support the U.S. economy instead of our own.”

Metro Vancouver voters could have something to say about the issue in municipal elections this fall, if they decide to take revenge against tax-happy incumbent mayors.

(Except Gregor Robertson, Linda Hepner and Greg Moore, who are imposing the gas tax as they head out the door without seeking re-election in Vancouver, Surrey and Port Coquitlam respectively.)

As for the ruling New Democrats at the provincial level, I’d say rising taxes are their political Achilles heel.

The gas tax is just one of many taxes — new ones and old ones — being hiked by the NDP government.

Taxpayers — and voters — will only take so much.

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