All around the Lower Mainland, mayors and city councillors are on the edge of their seats as they wait for federal dollars to start pouring in for much-needed major projects following Tuesday’s budget.
They say they’ve been reassured by their local MPs and cabinet ministers that the budget will show that the Liberal government is fully committed to carrying through with big spending on transit, water treatment plants and housing – enabling cities to move ahead on improvements that have been stalled for years.
Vancouver Councillor Raymond Louie, who is president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said all signs indicate that the government is ready to put some big money into cities, despite economic pressures that have emerged since Liberal campaign promises were made last fall.
“We understand that they have some constraints,” Mr. Louie said, just before he boarded a flight to Ottawa on Monday. “But they will put a significant amount of money in this first budget.”
The federation had asked Ottawa to change the cost-sharing formula for projects, so that cities don’t have to contribute such a large share. The cost of big projects has typically been split evenly between federal, provincial and municipal governments.
City politicians would like to see their share reduced to 10 per cent. Prebudget discussions have indicated the government might consider raising the federal share to 50 per cent.
“I am so waiting,” City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto said. He and other local politicians have struggled for years to get some commitment for help in building the $700-million Lions Gate treatment plant. “Our MPs are all on board and we’ve been lobbying heavily. [Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi] has mentioned it twice.”
North Vancouver, like many other communities, is also anxiously awaiting news on transit funding. “We can’t accept much more growth here without a sustainable transportation plan,” the mayor said.
In Surrey, Councillor Tom Gill and his colleagues are equally eager to get the full details on projects that the city wants to start, particularly on transit. “We’re expecting a big delivery tomorrow. Expectations are exceptionally high,” he said.
Surrey has asked for $3.7-billion in federal money, with $2.6-billion going to its two proposed light-rail lines.
Mr. Gill said people have high hopes because Finance Minister Bill Morneau has visited the municipality twice. Planners and politicians are hoping the budget details will mean the city can start work this summer on acquiring land for the lines.
“I truly believe it is our turn,” he said.
Mr. Louie said he’s convinced that federal ministers have received the message about how cities need new investment in basic infrastructure. “After many conversations, they really do understand our situation at the local level. Our quality of life is at risk. They just want to make sure they get the maximum leverage for their money and they want to make sure their investments reach local government.”
Politicians are also aware that not everything on the wish list will be granted.
“There will be winners and losers,” said Richard Walton, the mayor of the District of North Vancouver. “And while the federal numbers are significant on a national basis, by the time you divide by 10, the amounts are significantly watered down. So we’re holding our breath.”
The Canadian municipal federation also asked the government to remove a requirement that all projects be vetted to determine if they should be public-private partnerships. That process generated complaints from some councils, who said it was time-consuming and unhelpful.Report Typo/Error