Negative response to policy shows individual benefit still trumps collective prosperity
Kevin Kapenda // Contributor
After years of tolling on the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges, paid crossing finally came to a halt on Sept. 1. The response from B.C.’s centre-right news outlets like Global TV, The Province and Vancouver Sun was generally negative. Most of those pundits questioned whether it was fair for the province’s taxpayers to collectively take on the debt of “regional” infrastructure projects. While the result of failed BC Liberal transportation policies comes with a hefty price tag, it is not just for a restricted number of commuters to pay tolls when the benefits of their consumption and productivity are felt across the province.
By the time both projects were completed, the Golden Ears bridge cost $808 million to build, while the Port Mann came in at $3.3 billion. The decision to scrap tolls won’t come cheap. It will add over $2 billion to our provincial debt. However, it’s not like tolls were working in the first place. Indeed, the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges were not doing as well as the BC Liberals projected they would. According to an April 2017 piece in the Vancouver Sun, the Port Mann lost $407 million since its opening in 2012, while the Golden Ears has lost over $280 million since cars first crossed it in 2009.
When the NDP eliminated tolls, they argued that it was unfair to penalize motorists whose economic activity benefitted the entire region and city. It was also part of their promise to make life more affordable for working families and students, who are increasingly being driven further away from Vancouver.
Most of the media, as well as the BC Liberals, denounced the scrapping of tolls on the bridges. Those factions argued it was unfair for the rest of Metro Vancouver and B.C. taxpayers, whose tax revenue would now be tied to paying off bridges they may never use. This neoliberal worldview of public goods, in which no person should be required to pay for things they don’t directly benefit from, is why we are never able to invest in just about anything.
This conception of fairness is the same one that is repeatedly used to denounce almost any single-payer policy dedicated to equity and improving the quality of life for those on the margins. The backlash to the elimination of tolls is very much why our buses, classrooms, hospitals, and recovery houses remain overcrowded.
Furthermore, when Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Surrey residents cross the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges to commute into or around Vancouver, their economic contributions are felt throughout the region. The gas taxes these motorists pay are spent across Metro Vancouver, while their consumption outside of their bedroom suburbs create and support jobs on both sides of those bridges. The idea that not all British Columbians should pay for the commutes of Metro Vancouverites working or living in those three communities defies the purpose of having a provincial government in the first place.
Tax revenue collected by the B.C. government is spent throughout the province, regardless of who it is collected from and where they live. If you’ve worked in B.C., you may have paid for emergency services in Cranbrook, education in Prince George, highway improvements on the North Shore, and liquefied natural gas development programs in the North.
For the first time in many years, we have a government that believes justice is bearing the cost of critical infrastructure together, rather than penalizing the few in the name of individual freedom and perpetually lowering taxes.