British Columbia’s second-most-populous city was in the campaign spotlight on Thursday as leaders of two of the province’s main parties made major infrastructure promises ahead of the Oct. 24 election.
Surrey is B.C.'s fastest-growing city, with seats that have generally swung between the Liberals and New Democrats. In the 2017 provincial election, the NDP won six of nine seats, a gain of three as the party defeated three Liberal cabinet ministers.
On Thursday, the party leaders made pitches around transit and hospitals.
NDP Leader John Horgan was first, promising that a re-elected NDP government would complete the entire planned SkyTrain expansion between Surrey and the nearby city of Langley. He said the NDP would declare the project an infrastructure priority, committing $1.5-billion and lobbying Ottawa for its contribution to complete the transit system.
Then, Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said in a brief news conference that his party would build a second Surrey hospital in Cloverdale if elected, returning to power after being ousted in 2017.
“In the event of a BC Liberal government forming, one of our highest priorities will be building a second hospital in Surrey, in Cloverdale,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Surrey needs more infrastructure, and we believe in building for the needs of the future, not just for today."
Mr. Wilkinson did not provide specific details on how much the project would cost or a timeline for completing it.
The NDP has previously announced plans for a hospital in Surrey, with Mr. Horgan saying on the campaign trail that Mr. Wilkinson had cabinet responsibility for the past sale of land intended for a second hospital in the city.
On Thursday, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum offered his support to the NDP transit commitment.
“It is no secret that investment in rapid transit has not come remotely close to keeping pace with the phenomenal growth of Surrey. I wholeheartedly welcome and fully support John Horgan and the BC NDP’s promise to fully fund SkyTrain through Surrey all the way to Langley,” Mr. McCallum said in a statement.
“The BC NDP’s promise to build this line all the way to Langley makes good sense. This project is shovel ready, will create well-paying jobs immediately, and will take more cars off the road with the built-in ridership from the growing cities of Surrey and Langley.
Earlier in the campaign, Mr. Wilkinson promised to hold a referendum on a Surrey plan to replace the RCMP as the city’s police force with a newly created municipal force. Mr. McCallum has said a new force would be more responsive to Surrey’s needs.
The referendum plan had drawn scorn from Mr. McCallum.
Mr. McCallum’s office had previously said that he preferred not to comment on the election, but the Liberal promise on policing – that was key to his successful 2018 bid to lead the city – pulled him off the sidelines.
On Oct. 4, Mr. McCallum said in a statement that the Surrey Police Service “is a done deal,” and accused the Liberals of playing politics with public safety in the city.
“I am appalled that the BC Liberal Leader has stooped to this level of desperation in an effort to garner votes," he said. "Surrey City Council acted in accordance with the law when we unanimously voted to transition to a municipal police service. For the BC Liberals to interfere in the unanimous decision of an elected city council should be a concern to all municipal governments in our province.”
Jonathan Cote, Mayor of New Westminster and chair of the council representing mayors on transit issues, said on Thursday that he welcomed the prospect of the NDP transit commitment because it could help the project get done.
“This would certainly be a big deal to get SkyTrain expanded into Surrey and Langley faster,” Mr. Cote said in an interview.
Vancouver-region mayors previously voted to proceed with a plan to build the first seven-kilometre phase of SkyTrain from Surrey to Langley, using funds allotted for more extensive light-rail lines.
Plans for a streetcar-style light-rail system were cancelled after Mr. McCallum was elected on a platform that included a promise to replace that system with the SkyTrain to Langley.
At dissolution, there were 41 NDP members in the 87-seat legislature, 41 Liberals, two Greens, two independents and one seat vacant.
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