The province is "looking at everything it can do" to ensure that $370-million in federal transit money from this year's budget isn't lost, says B.C.'s minister responsible for TransLink.
"We know that, by the end of next month, we need to be very clear on how to move forward and what the province is prepared to do," Peter Fassbender said.
"We recognize there is a need to move quickly. I'm looking hard at what the province is prepared to do."
But the minister said he couldn't give any details yet or make any promises that the province might provide more than the one-third share that it typically does in infrastructure projects or allow municipalities access to a new funding source. The federal budget included a plan to increase Ottawa's share to 50 per cent.
Local mayors and councillors say all they see from the province is more tactics to try to delay making any new long-term commitments to helping fund much-needed transit in the region.
And, they say, that may put Vancouver at the back of the national line for federal dollars, as other cities and provinces speed up their planning processes and come to the table with their proposals all worked out on how they'll share the costs.
"We are in a period of time where it is important for the province to step up," said Vancouver Councillor Raymond Louie, who is also the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The issue is heating up, with all sides saying that if the province is going to reach a formal agreement with the federal government for its promised infrastructure money, it will need to be done before everyone leaves work for the summer.
The tough negotiations are also happening at a time when a wide range of organizations expresses concerns about the transit-funding deadlock in the Lower Mainland.
The Conference Board of Canada and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade issued a report Wednesday that said Vancouver's economic future is in danger because of its underinvestment in transit and road infrastructure.
And a group of 30 organizations and individuals issued an open letter to Premier Christy Clark and the TransLink mayors' council Wednesday, urging them to show leadership in order to take advantage of the federal funding.
Saying that congestion is costing the region $1-billion annually, the writers, who included members of business groups, unions, the David Suzuki Foundation, architects and people such as former Vancouver councillor Peter Ladner, wrote: "We ask you show leadership by putting history and political differences aside to work together and ensure we are ready to take full advantage of federal support and start improving transit and transportation."
The federal Liberals committed $20-billion for transit infrastructure in Canada over the next 10 years. In this year's budget, it announced a first phase, which worked out to a promise of $370-million for the Lower Mainland as a 50-per-cent share of transit spending.
But that will only come if the province and cities can agree on how to raise the other 50 per cent.
The B.C. Liberal government has been adamant that it won't put in more than its normal one-third, and that it expects cities to come up with the other 17 per cent.
TransLink's mayors' council leaders, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, have said cities shouldn't be putting in more than 10 per cent, since that's about the proportion of tax dollars they collect compared with other levels of government.
Mr. Fassbender and Ms. Clark have floated the idea in the last few days that a special new development charge for projects close to new rapid-transit lines could generate enough money for municipalities to cover their portion.
Mr. Fassbender has talked about as much as $1-billion, although it's not clear whether he means per year or during the life of the 10-year plan.
But Mr. Louie said that's just not feasible. "It falls well short of what's needed to fund the overall plan. And our Broadway corridor is mostly built out. We have a substantial amount of density there already."
Calculations done at the mayors' council indicate that developers would need to pay a $50,000 transit charge for 20,000 units a year to generate $1-billion. There are only about 20,000 units a year built in the whole region, many of them far from rapid transit.