Thousands of conversations: notes from the #yesfortransit campaign trail

“Where can I get my Yes button?” demanded the woman next to the back door on the Number 50. “You can have mine,” I told her. “I can’t wear it where I’m going now,” she told me in a low voice, “but I”ll put it on right after.”

It was just one of many conversations in the last week that tell me a real debate is under way across the region about the Better Transportation and Transit Plan as ballots reach every household. (Everyone is supposed to have one by tomorrow, but a number of UEL and UBC residents at a meeting last night were still waiting.)

It’s still unfashionable to be out and proud about supporting the Mayors’ Council plan, but many people do want to see congestion reduced, commuting times slashed and all the economic benefits that flow from the proposal.

The Translink haters have had their day. I think many will be voting Yes in the privacy of their homes.

Will it be in time to put the Yes team over the line? That remains to be seen, but in the course of four public forums in the last week and a number of other encounters, I find lots of room for optimism:

  • Unifor 111 president Nathan Woods and his membership, who need no assistance in listing reasons to be critical of Translink, have been doing outstanding work, both on the street canvassing for votes and in the debates. The transit unions have not been shy about spelling out the problems they see every day on the job and how 400 more buses will make a world of difference. Tens of thousands of labour voters are being contacted in the course of the campaign.
  • Metro Vancouver post-secondary student organizations have been doing outstanding work among their 100,000-plus members, publicizing the referendum and urging a Yes vote. These commuters need no long arguments to be alive to the need for better transit;
  • the Mayors Council telephone town halls, which are happening several times a week, have contacted literally tens of thousands of voters. These longer conversations, which give the Mayors the chance to interact with voters and answer specific questions, are not on the media radar but have probably touched several hundred thousand people since the campaign began;
  • specific community outreach events, like those organized the Metro Vancouver Alliance and elected officials like Maria Harris, of Electoral Area A, adjacent to UBC, consistently attract attentive and substantial crowds. (I attended one for UBC law students, one for Electoral Area A residents, a Vision Vancouver membership event, and an MVA event in the last week.) Maria Harris and her alternate on Metro, Bill Holmes, have done an incredible job with a 20-page FAQ sheet that does the best job I have seen on the various issues before voters.

All these events, thousands of conversations, are a sign of the deeper reflection going on away from the ranting about Translink. Setting up a loudspeaker to broadcast anger at Translink is a simple affair that takes little time or effort. Organizing materials and outreach for hundreds of thousands of voters across about 30 provincial ridings, with sufficient information to answer all the questions, takes a lot longer.

The Yes campaign is on the ground. Let’s hope what I believe is the quiet Yes majority get those ballots back to Elections BC.