What the federal election results mean for SkyTrain to Langley and UBC

Oct 21 2019, 11:19 pm

There is good news in the federal election results for voters in Metro Vancouver who are keen to see the SkyTrain extension projects reach Langley Centre and the UBC campus.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised new long-term funding for public transit that could potentially be used to fund the Mayors’ Council’s Phase Three projects, entailing the big items of a seven-km-long Millennium Line Broadway Extension from Arbutus Street to UBC and the nine-km-long Expo Line Fraser Highway Extension from Fleetwood to Langley Centre.

There is reason for some optimism. The Liberals are returning to power, albeit in a far weaker position with a minority mandate that will require the support of Jagmeet Singh’s NDP, but the areas where both proposed SkyTrain extensions will run through have voted for the governing party.

The Arbutus-UBC Extension will run through Vancouver Quadra, which has been re-secured by the Liberals’ Joyce Murray.

South of the Fraser, the Liberals have won two of the three ridings the Expo Line Fraser Highway Extension runs through.

In Surrey Centre and Fleetwood-Port Kells, incumbents Randeep Singh Sarai and Ken Hardie, respectively, of the Liberals have also been re-elected.

But the Conservative Party’s Tamara Jansen has narrowly unseated incumbent John Aldag of the Liberals in Cloverdale-Langley City, where the Expo Line Fraser Highway Extension will end.

History shows the governing party typically prioritizes spending in areas where it has won seats or in tight battleground groundings where it needs more of an edge. Serving their loyal constituencies is simply political pragmatism.

It was no coincidence that Paul Martin’s Liberals provided $450 million in federal funding towards the cost of building the Canada Line, two months before the 2004 federal election.

Vancouver during the transition between Jean Chretien and Martin was clearly a haven for the Liberals, and it remained so after the 2004 federal election with Vancouver Quadra under Stephen Owen, Vancouver Centre under Hedy Fry, Vancouver Kingsway under David Emerson, and Vancouver South under Ujjal Dosanjh.

With the Millennium Line Evergreen Extension, the project received $417 million from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to help elevate cabinet minister James Moore in his riding of Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam.

These same patterns are also well documented in provincial politics; the BC NDP in the late 1990s pushed through the original Millennium Line as it ran through its Burnaby ridings, and the BC Liberals prioritized the Canada Line in the early 2000s partly because it served its stronghold ridings in Vancouver and Richmond.

Conversely, in exact opposite fashion, Metro Vancouver paid dearly after voters in the King’s Landing of ridings rejected Premier Christy Clark.

Clark ignored the needs of Vancouver’s urban residents — notably public transit investments, forcing a plebiscite that delayed projects like the Broadway Extension — after the 2013 provincial election, when she lost against the NDP’s David Eby in Vancouver-Point Grey and was forced to pursue a seat in Westside-Kelowna in a by-election.

Going into this federal election, Trudeau’s Liberals expressed their commitment to proceed with the Expo Line Fraser Highway Extension project to at least Fleetwood. This would be accomplished by reallocating $1.6 billion in federal and regional/TransLink funding that was previously directed to the now-cancelled Surrey Newton-Guildford LRT.

For Phase Two of the Mayors’ Council Plan, the federal government contributed $1.37 billion to help cover the cost of the Broadway Extension to Arbutus Street and the LRT. For the $1.65-billion cost of the LRT, $484 million was covered by the federal government, while $1.12 billion was covered by the region/TransLink.

TransLink and the Mayors’ Council are hoping the federal government will formally approve the reallocation of the federal funds for LRT to the Expo Line Fraser Highway Extension reaching Fleetwood by the middle of 2020. If this funding approval timeline is followed, construction could begin in early 2022 for an opening in late 2025.

Moreover, if both the federal and provincial governments cooperate and provide an additional $1.5 billion in funding, the remaining nine kms of the SkyTrain project between Fleetwood and Langley Centre could also be built within a 2025 opening timeline.

Beyond 2027, when the existing Investing In Canada infrastructure program ends, the Liberals have promised a new permanent, stable funding stream of $3 billion more per year for public transit projects across the country. This future funding source could help fulfill projects like the Arbutus-UBC Extension.

For the gondola public transit line between Production Way-University Station and the SFU campus atop Burnaby Mountain, TransLink is pursuing the federal green infrastructure fund introduced by Trudeau to help cover the $197-million construction cost.