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Whistler, Squamish vote to ask provincial government to implement motor fuel tax

Regional governments plan to write a letter asking for the tax
File photo.

Both the Resort Municipality of Whistler and the District of Squamish have thrown their weight behind a Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) call for a motor fuel tax in the Sea to Sky region to help pay for regional transit.

The motion instructs staff from the SLRD to write a letter to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena and Minister of Finance Carole James.

The letter will ask for the tax to start "the effective date of a Sea-to-Sky Regional Transit System."

The MOU for regional transit includes the Lil'wat Nation, Squamish Nation, District of Squamish, Resort Municipality of Whistler, Village of Pemberton and SLRD (electoral areas C and D).

Whistler's council endorsed the resolution from the SLRD on Oct. 2, followed by Squamish's council on Oct. 8.

Around the committee table in Squamish on Tuesday, Mayor Patricia Heintzman and Coun. Doug Race clarified that other funding sources are still options, but the motion is meant to get the provincial government engaged.

"We haven't [decided] 100 per cent," said Heintzman. "We are looking to move this forward quickly this year, based on a conversation with Minister Trevena at UBCM, and we expect the provincial government to pay for it. They are in charge of the carbon tax. They are still looking at that as a possible way to fund that. In the meantime, we want to get the engine running and say, 'We need you to be looking at a motor fuel tax.'"

"They need to start moving their bureaucracy to help get us there, and this is a step towards," she said.

In the Vancouver area, motorists pay a 17 cent TransLink Tax, and a 6.75 cent Dedicated Motor Fuel Tax above and beyond the 1.75 cent Provincial Motor Fuel Tax 7.78 cent Carbon Tax and 10 cent Federal Excise Tax, and the 5 cent GST.

The TransLink tax does not apply to the communities in the Sea to Sky corridor, although gas prices in Squamish are often on par with the Lower Mainland.

The specific wording of the motion leaves open other possibilities for funding. Originally it specified a gas tax of up to five cents, but that was omitted to offer greater flexibility.

"It could be higher or lower, we just don't know yet," said Race.

A second motion, also recommended by the SLRD, supports the regional district spending up to $50,000 to hire a dedicated person or group to work on the Regional Transit System plan.

Heintzman said the municipalities need to start spending money in order to meet the ambitious fall 2019 timeline.

"Unless we have someone dedicated to moving this ball along, we will not meet the timelines to get this done a year from now. That takes a little money, because [no municipality] has the capacity. We're all busy," she said.

A similar motion will come to Pemberton council as well.

-with files from Braden Dupuis