Mayor warns other Canadian cities leapfrogging Vancouver for federal transit funding

Jun 16 2017, 9:53 pm

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is sounding the alarm bells that Metro Vancouver could lose out in the race against other Canadian cities for scarce federal transit dollars if the provincial government keeps dragging its feet on key funding decisions.

This follows yesterday’s announcement that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had finalized a $1.2 billion commitment towards Montreal’s REM – a new $5.5-billion, 67-km-long fully-automated light rail system similar to Vancouver’s SkyTrain.

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“Vancouver is falling behind other cities to secure much needed federal funding for our 10-Year Vision,” said Robertson, who is also the Mayors’ Council Chair.

“Metro commuters are waiting for a new BC government to work with Mayors to move forward on major transit projects as quickly as possible. Mayors are ready to go, but we need a new provincial government to take action on landing federal investment for transit.”

Both projects for the Millennium Line extension under Broadway and the new light rail system in Surrey are ready to proceed as soon as funding comes in from both the federal and provincial governments.

However, federal funding is dependent on the provincial government making the first move. While some progress was made in the run up to the recent provincial election, when all three political parties promised to allocate $2.2 billion towards these projects, there were still obstacles.

Criticism over transit inaction has been mainly directed at the BC Liberals, who forced the unsuccessful transit referendum in 2015 and included another transit referendum in their campaign platform.

But this transit vote requirement was reneged earlier this week by Sam Sullivan, the newly appointed Minister for TransLink, in an acknowledgement that the BC Liberals lost its majority partially because it ignored urban voters in Metro Vancouver.

“Because of Christy Clark’s delays, like her failed transit referendum, we have yet to see any progress being made on the mayor’s plan and the transit improvements people need,” said BC NDP leader John Horgan in a statement responding to Montreal’s federal funding.

“TransLink is at a stand-still and can’t use the funding until a new government negotiates funding and governance models.”

The political uncertainty that comes with a hung legislature, with the government currently working in a ‘caretaking’ mode, will not end until June 22 at the very earliest when the legislature reconvenes for a possible confidence vote on Premier Christy Clark’s leadership.

“The sooner a new government is in place, the sooner we can sit down with them to finalize the remaining provincial and regional funding needed to make these projects a reality,” said Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, the Vice-Chair of the Mayors’ Council. “My residents have waited long enough for action to cut congestion and improve transit.”

Last month, the Mayors’ Council released a 90-day ‘action plan’ that urged the new provincial government to:

  • Formally approve BC’s funding for the new tolled Pattullo Bridge replacement
  • Confirm a 40% provincial funding share by September to transit projects, including $360 million for upgrades to existing SkyTrain infrastructure and matching the federal government’s $2.2 billion for the Broadway extension and Surrey light rail transit
  • Create a “fair regional funding strategy” with the Mayors’ Council by September
  • Eliminate the BC Liberal government’s referendum requirement on transit projects by September
  • Authorize a new development levy for transportation
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