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B.C. Community Minister Peter Fassbender says the province expects Lower Mainland cities to come up with whatever is needed to cover the remaining cost for big rapid-transit projects proposed in Surrey and Vancouver. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
B.C. Community Minister Peter Fassbender says the province expects Lower Mainland cities to come up with whatever is needed to cover the remaining cost for big rapid-transit projects proposed in Surrey and Vancouver. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

British Columbia to cap contribution to transit infrastructure at one-third Add to ...

The province has told Canada’s federal Infrastructure Minister that British Columbia absolutely will not contribute more than a third of the money needed for major transit projects, even though Ottawa has hinted that it may increase its traditional one-third share.

And, says B.C. Community Minister Peter Fassbender, the province expects Lower Mainland cities to come up with whatever is needed to cover the remaining cost for big rapid-transit projects proposed in Surrey and Vancouver.

“I was asked if the province is willing to increase its share and I said, ‘No,’” said Mr. Fassbender, who met Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi in December in Ottawa and then in January in British Columbia. “We’ve had our money on the table for a while and we remain committed to that.”

The share from cities could come from a new one-time development cost levy on projects around transit lines, a permanent additional property tax on those projects or just a general increase in property taxes for everyone, he said.

“I think a property lift around transit corridors is a good way to contribute,” he said.

“But a one-time contribution on property lift will only help you with building.”

He said a long-term property-tax increase on corridors might be necessary.

The province and cities are anxiously awaiting the federal budget on March 22, which will reveal what the Trudeau government’s exact spending plans are and what share of infrastructure projects it will cover.

If the federal government came up with 50 per cent of transit-project costs, a number that has been circulated, and the province won’t increase its share, that would means local cities would have to provide the remaining 17 per cent.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and other mayors have been pushing to have city contributions limited to 10 per cent.

City hall staff said the mayor was too busy with this week’s Globe 2016 conference to comment on the issue, adding that they didn’t want to get into a debate via the media.

The two big regional projects – light rapid transit in Surrey and a tunnel along Broadway in Vancouver – have been pegged at about $2-billion each, which would require $680-million in local taxes for the 17-per-cent share over the presumed 30-year financing period. That would be on top of the almost $350-million collected a year in taxes by TransLink now.

Mr. Fassbender said he reminded Mr. Sohi that taxpayers in the Lower Mainland got exempted 15 years ago from another tax that everyone else in the province pays – the hospital tax – in order to make room for the region’s transit agency to charge higher transit taxes than other cities pay.

“He was actually quite surprised by that,” Mr. Fassbender said.

He said the Lower Mainland is getting the benefit of some large, expensive hospital projects, including the planned new St. Paul’s in Vancouver, a Lions Gate renovation in North Vancouver and recent construction of two major projects in Surrey.

But taxpayers aren’t having to contribute to that, because of the old agreement, he said. Lower Mainland residents were paying about $50-million a year in hospital taxes in 1999. The estimate is that they would now have to pay at least double that if there hadn’t been an agreement.

Mr. Fassbender said it wouldn’t be fair to taxpayers elsewhere in the province to ask them to pay both hospital and transit taxes while Vancouverites are exempted from one.

And, while he acknowledged that ultimately taxes all come from the same people, the province doesn’t want to increase its share of transit projects because “we become the bad guys because we’re hammering the taxpayer.”

But, in spite of the province’s refusal to budge on the share issue, one thing the minister said he won’t ask cities to do is make a commitment to increase density along transit lines in order to get money.

He said there’s already enough ridership along the Broadway line to warrant construction of a subway, without Vancouver needing to promise to add more density.

And he believes that other cities that have received new transit lines or are asking for them have done a good job of planning for new density around them.

Mr. Fassbender said the province is also asking the federal government to contribute to the construction of a new Pattullo Bridge and the new Massey Bridge.

While many environmentalists have criticized the plans for a new 10-lane Massey Bridge between Richmond and Delta, the minister said he has been making the case to federal politicians and bureaucrats that the new bridge will help the environment.

“It is as much about the environment as moving people and cars. We believe clearly that it will reduce greenhouse gases.”

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