Could Trudeau withhold transit funding over BC's pipeline fight?

Feb 16 2018, 4:39 pm

Alberta is vowing to declare an interprovincial trade war with British Columbia over the BC NDP government’s decision to stall progress on the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain pipeline by restricting any increase in diluted bitumen shipments until further studies are conducted.

In addition, there is no question that Alberta Premier Rachel Notley will also pressure Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to turn up the heat on BC Premier John Horgan to suspend BC’s “illegal and unconstitutional regulations” given that the pipeline has received all of the regulatory approval it requires.

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Notley, in turn, could also retaliate against Trudeau and cancel Alberta’s participation in the federal government’s national carbon-pricing scheme. This would spoil Trudeau’s national plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, which requires Alberta’s inclusion given that the province has the highest emissions from its resource extraction industries.

Measures from Trudeau designed to coerce BC to accept the pipeline without further delay could theoretically go as far as withholding federal funding for other major initiatives and projects.

Last week, the federal government reached a three-year deal to provide the BC government with $153 million for expanded childcare, but a joint formal press conference over the plan was cancelled last minute.

And while Trudeau previously promised $2.2 billion to help fund the construction of the underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line to Broadway and Surrey’s new light rail transit lines, TransLink has yet to receive this funding as it is set to come in scheduled instalments.

With escalating tensions between governments, could this lead to a hold up in federal transit funding?

Such a tactic could delay the transit projects, which would increase construction costs and potentially even jeopardize the Mayors’ Council’s Phase Two transit expansion plans, as the federal government’s commitment covers 40% of the total budget.

According to Anthony Perl, a professor of political science and urban studies at Simon Fraser University, such extremes are unlikely.

“If the federal Liberals want to lose every seat they hold in the Lower Mainland, all they need to do is withhold transit funding, which was one of the pivotal electoral issues demonstrated in the 2017 BC election,” Perl told Daily Hive.

“If anything, I could see the opposite dynamic at work with Ottawa offering more transit funding to BC to offset the environmental negatives of the pipeline. That kind of buying political support is what a savvy federal government would do, if they don’t want to write off their MPs in BC, or at least in the Lower Mainland of BC.”

It remains to be seen what measures the federal government will take, if any at all.

The transit expansion plans area already at risk due to the provincial government’s snail-pace process with finalizing its funding and filling TransLink’s shortfall, which is dependent on new provincial legislation that introduces new revenue streams.

The Metro Vancouver Mayors’ Council hopes to reach an agreement next month to keep the plan on schedule.

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