In this segment, The Globe and Mail takes a look at statements made by policy makers and testing them for truthfulness.
"You're going to see that light rail on the ground by 2018. I am incredibly confident."
– Surrey, B.C., mayor-elect Linda Hepner, Nov. 15, 2014, moments after delivering her victory speech.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wants a multibillion-dollar subway along his city's Broadway corridor, but won't set a specific year in which it might open.
But southeast of Vancouver in B.C.'s second-largest city, Linda Hepner has taken a different approach as she prepares to be sworn in as mayor of Surrey. Her emphatic stand leaves no room for retreat. Ms. Hepner says a new light-rail system will be running in about three years.
That means finalizing the design and financing for the first 10 kilometres of a 27-kilometre project, then building the system and commissioning it. Phase 1 would link Guildford, Surrey City Centre and Newton. Phase 2 would run between Surrey City Centre and Langley Centre. Over all, the project will cost $2.1-billion – $900-million for the first piece alone.
And if voters rule out revenue tools for new transit projects in a planned referendum next year, Ms. Hepner says "Plan B" would see an all-out public-private partnership to make the 2018 deadline.
Community activist Daryl Dela Cruz of the Better Surrey Rapid Transit citizens' campaign says Ms. Hepner's proposal is absurd, noting no recent light-rail project in Canada has been completed or is expected to be done on the kind of schedule Ms. Hepner is proposing. "We don't believe it's possible," he said.
The senior civil servant in charge of rapid transit in Surrey chuckles when asked about the deadline. "I am not going to contradict my mayor-elect," says Paul Lee, rapid transit and strategic projects manager for Surrey's engineering department. "Quite frankly, it's too early, at this point, to say it absolutely cannot be done."
According to Mr. Lee, here's where things stand.
Design work is at least eight months away from being ready for prospective bidders. In October, Surrey was accepted for further review by Ottawa's PPP Canada wing, which assesses public-private partnerships en route to a federal-dollar contribution. "[It] means the project has merits," Mr. Lee says. But it also means Surrey has to come up with a business case for the project as well as more design work.
Outgoing mayor Dianne Watts is running for the federal Conservatives in a Surrey seat. If she wins in next fall's election, Surrey might have a well-connected advocate in Ottawa to press its case.
The project would take roughly three years to build and commission, Mr. Lee said.
He said Surrey will have to eventually decide on the private sector's role in the project. P3 projects generally see private-sector partners build infrastructure for some financial return – outright funding from the public sector or some take on revenues for the project. The private sector could build and operate the whole project. Or some fraction of it.
Mr. Lee expects obstacles to come up in reaching a deal with a private entity. "At this point, we're not sure how this project will get delivered, so it's very difficult to tell you how long it would take to set up the contract," he said.
P3 expert Thomas Ross, a regulation and competition-policy professor at the University of British Columbia, says Ms. Hepner's P3 proposal seems ambitious but possible.
"If she's really just talking about the first 10 kilometres running in 2018, that doesn't seem impossible to me. We have a fair bit of experience now doing P3s in British Columbia, which means, I think, we can do them faster."