The B.C. New Democrats will side with Metro mayors wary about a proposed $3.5-billion bridge over the Fraser River if they win power in the looming provincial election.
NDP Leader John Horgan this week said he would be inclined to defer to the mayors' stand on the project instead of the B.C. Liberal government.
The Liberals have touted a plan for a 10-lane bridge to replace the current four-lane Massey Tunnel, which opened in 1959. It links the communities of Richmond and Delta. However, the mayors are calling for more consultation on the project.
"I won't rule out a bridge, but I don't believe that bridge is supported by the mayors and it's not, certainly supported by the people of Richmond," Mr. Horgan told reporters at the legislature in Victoria.
Of the mayors, Mr. Horgan said, "They know the community far better than the member for [Westside-Kelowna] or the member from Juan de Fuca."
Premier Christy Clark, who committed to the new bridge in 2012, represents the riding of Westside-Kelowna. Mr. Horgan is the member for Juan de Fuca.
Given the Liberals' support for the project, the Opposition leaders' stand sets the stage for a pointed debate in the coming campaign ahead of voting day on May 9.
During the last day of legislature sitting Thursday before the election, Ms. Clark criticized Mr. Horgan for his stand on the bridge.
"He hates the plan to renew the George Massey bridge and put thousands of people to work," Ms. Clark said in the legislature, responding to a question from Mr. Horgan about election campaign financing. She was implying Mr. Horgan's stand puts him on the wrong side of several popular policies.
In an interview on Friday, Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Mr. Horgan's position is muddled, and the province has decided it's time to build the bridge. Construction over about four years is to start later this year.
Mr. Stone said the province has considered the views of stakeholders over the five years since the premier committed to the project.
"We are now moving forward with the bridge. The decision has been made, period," he said. "The talk is over. We're moving forward with action."
Ms. Clark's government has suggested the bridge would ease one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in British Columbia, namely the tunnel, reducing travel time and creating a safer route for traffic. The Liberals have also said the tunnel would not withstand a significant earthquake, with Mr. Stone calling that a "significant motivating factor" in proceeding with the project.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, the chair of the Metro Vancouver Regional District, said regional mayors oppose the scope of the project, and would like to talk about that point with the provincial government.
In an interview, Mr. Moore said the province has plunged into the project without consultation. "It was, 'Here's what we're going to do. How do you like it?'"
Mr. Moore, speaking for Metro Vancouver mayors, said there is a consensus that something has to be done about congestion in the corridor, where the tunnel is now and the new bridge would go.
"However, a 10-lane, auto-oriented bridge is too big in scope," Mr. Moore said, expressing concerns about increased traffic and pressure to develop area farmland.
He said the mayors didn't focus on the bridge issue in their recent 10-year transportation plan, which was more focused on transit expansion.
"We didn't want to be presumptuous in stating what needs to be built. A more inclusive dialogue would get us to a better result," he said.
Mr. Moore said he is "absolutely" looking forward to a debate on the issue in the coming election campaign.
Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said he suspected the Liberals are intent on having the bridge built as an excuse to dredge the Fraser River to allow for the easier transit of tankers for the liquified natural gas sector the Liberals back. In an interview, he also said he was concerned about farmland being impacted by the project.
Mr. Weaver said it would be a better idea to twin the current tunnel instead of building a bridge.