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The Liberals pledge to cut tolls on the Port Mann Bridge in half, and the NDP to eliminate them altogether, if they won the election next month. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
The Liberals pledge to cut tolls on the Port Mann Bridge in half, and the NDP to eliminate them altogether, if they won the election next month. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

b.c. election 2017

B.C. parties forge election battle lines over bridge tolls in Surrey Add to ...

The B.C. election battle for seats in one of the province’s fastest-growing cities is underway with both major parties Sunday promising cuts or the elimination of tolls on a major Surrey bridge.

The Liberal pledge to cut tolls on the Port Mann Bridge in half and the NDP to eliminate them altogether came as BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark and NDP Leader John Horgan both held rallies in the city southeast of Vancouver, where nine seats are on the line for the May. 9 election.

Mr. Horgan said it was a no-brainer to come early to Surrey. “Surrey is foundational to success in an election campaign,” he told reporters following a campaign speech to about 800 New Democrats at a banquet hall.

Read more: B.C. Premier Clark reflects on lessons learned as campaign season looms

Read more: B.C. politicians prepare for the ground war

He said Surrey’s seats – nine in 2017, up one from 2013 due to redistricting – “are all in play for parties.”

Going into the B.C. election, the Liberals have six of Surrey’s seats and the NDP has two. Margins of victory vary though some ridings have been close.

“Surrey is a battleground for both the Liberals and the NDP when you look at the number of ridings and concentration of population,” said Jinny Sims, a one-term NDP MP from Surrey defeated in the 2015 federal election, now running for the provincial New Democrats.

The former president of the British Columbia Teachers Federation had been content to work as a director at the BCTF following her run as an MP but decided to run again, this time provincially, after John Horgan suggested the idea last summer.

Cabinet ministers Peter Fassbender, who has been in charge of the regional transit agency Translink, is based in Surrey as are Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux, and former Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk. Mr. Virk, a former RCMP inspector, will be running against another former RCMP inspector, Garry Begg, in Surrey-Guildford.

The NDP leader said many issues he will be raising on the campaign trail, such as health care, education, transit and seniors care, are intensely relevant in this city, which is growing by about 1,000 people per month.

The NDP is committing to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann Bridge, opened in 2012 and linking Surrey and New Westminster, as well as the Golden Ears Bridge, opened in 2009, linking Langley and Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.

“Zero dollars a year. That’s our offer to the people of B.C,” said Mr. Horgan. Asked how an NDP government would pay for such a measure, Mr. Horgan talked about the amortization costs of the bridge but did not provide details.

In contrast, the Liberals said Sunday that drivers using the two bridges would pay no more than $500 a year. They also said the toll cap would apply to the replaced Pattullo Bridge and the replacement bridge for the George Massey Tunnel.

The current Port Mann Bridge Toll is $3.15 each way, leading non-business drivers to pay about $1,600 a year if they register and obtain a free decal. In a statement, the Liberals said the measure would cost $30-million per year for the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges. They said a re-elected government would introduce the toll cap on Jan. 1, 2018.

Throughout his Sunday remarks, Mr. Horgan made references to hot-button issues in Surrey such as the “unconscionable” number of children in portable classrooms, and problems with access to hospital emergency rooms.

Premier Christy Clark made fewer references to pointed Surrey issues in her remarks on Friday. She acknowledged Surrey as one of the fastest growing and most diverse cities in Canada and noted that families in the community were counting on Liberal candidates to win and carry on the Liberal agenda.

But much of her speech referred more to the larger metrics around jobs, taxes and the economy that will be key to the Liberal campaign.

Puneet Sandhar, a lawyer running for the Liberals in Surrey-Panorama, said in an interview Sunday that more specific Surrey policies will be coming in the party platform, expected on Monday.

“Her purpose in visiting was not as much getting into details as addressing supporters and kicking off the campaign,” said Ms. Sandhar, recruited to run by Ms. Clark.

She said Ms. Clark’s visit was helpful in firing up volunteers for the campaign ahead in Surrey – a reality she recalled from being a volunteer herself. “It’s always helpful, not as much for the candidates as for all the people who support the party and want to hear what the leader has to say.”

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