In Throne Speech commitments that will likely never be enacted, the BC Liberals have proposed a far-flung expansion of Vancouver region transit that includes light rail reaching as far as Abbotsford, Langley, the North Shore and even to Squamish.
The suggestion is one among several bold initiatives that represent an expensive and radical departure from the fiscally rigid platform the Liberals ran on in last month's election. However, Premier Christy Clark has said her government likely will be defeated in a confidence vote on the speech expected to come within a week.
Area mayors were skeptical.
"Are a lot of those next steps realistic?" said Jonathan Coté, New Westminister's mayor and chair of the Mayors' Council Transportation Planning and Funding Committee. "No, but I think we do need to be starting conversations." He said the commitments are not terribly relevant to current transit needs outlined in a 10-year Metro Vancouver mayors' plan on transit, but worth noting.
In the Throne Speech read on Thursday by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, the Liberals say: "Your government heard more needs to be done, and more will."
The text promises "to significantly expand a transit network that will transform the Lower Mainland."
That means feasibility studies for rapid transit, light rail and other means of expanded transit east from the Evergreen Line SkyTrain system to Maple Ridge and Mission, into South Surrey, and to Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
There's also, among other proposals, a call for such transit to the North Shore and even to Squamish, which is 64 kilometres north of Vancouver. There's also a call for light rail on southern Vancouver Island.
"This vision won't happen overnight, but we must be bolder in mapping out our future to shape growth," read the speech, delivered at the legislature in Victoria.
Asked about the relevance of BC Liberal commitments given the expected demise of the government, Mr. Coté said they, at least, show that all three major parties in B.C. are committed to funding the expansion of transit.
"Once we have expanded light rail south of the Fraser River, we've got other growing communities that have similar needs, and we do need to be asking what are the projects that should be coming after those ones come on line."
The governance agreement between the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Greens commits to improving transit and transportation infrastructure in co-operation with the mayors' council and the federal government as well as working with the mayors on finding a "more fair and equitable" means of long-term funding for transit.
Ahead of the speech, the Liberals reversed a policy that would require new taxation powers to fund transit projects in the Metro Vancouver region to be confirmed in a referendum – a turnabout restated in the speech.
"Removing the referendum requirement for funding transit investment will avoid pointless and costly delays we've seen in the past, but we need immediate action," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the mayors' council, said in a statement.
"Metro Mayors are waiting to get beyond the current uncertainty in Victoria so that we can move these projects forward with the province as quickly as possible."
The Throne Speech also commits to matching federal funds to complete the mayors' 10-year plan for transit, including the Broadway subway, and replacing the Pattullo Bridge.