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The Globe and Mail

Liberals build a new municipal brain trust

am Sullivan is photographed in the Vancouver-False Creek electoral district of Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, November 8, 2012.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

B.C.'s new government will include a group of people with some very specialized expertise.

They know the gritty details of garbage, transit and sewers, and the impact of funding cuts on little arts groups. And they will bring some of those local concerns to Victoria.

They are the unusually large group of mayors and city councillors elected as part of the B.C. Liberal team, accounting for nearly a fifth of the new caucus.

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They include high-profile politicians from the Metro Vancouver region with strong views on transit funding, affordable housing and other issues that have been priorities for local governments. In that group: City of Langley mayor Peter Fassbender, a vice-chair of the TransLink mayors' council at one point; Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt, chair of Metro Vancouver's zero-waste committee; former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, and former city councillor Suzanne Anton.

Those new MLAs will be joined by others from their political level, such as Linda Reimer, Scott Hamilton and Linda Larson, councillors in Coquitlam, Delta, and Oliver; and Mike Bernier, Dan Ashton and Jordan Sturdy, the mayors of Dawson Creek, Penticton and Pemberton, respectively.

"We have an in-depth understanding of the pain of all those local issues," Mr. Hunt said. "There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed [in municipalities] and it will help when there are now so many municipal voices at the table."

Mr. Hunt's main concern is finding a better method for running TransLink. The Lower Mainland transportation agency has been in limbo for the past two years, deadlocked with the provincial government on how to pay for transit improvements.

"It's the biggest one we've got to solve. It dominoes through the whole province. And it's one of my hopes for this election that we can find some ways to change how the provincial government does things."

Mr. Sullivan, who won the Vancouver-False Creek riding, also said all cities and towns in B.C. will benefit from having so many former municipal politicians in the provincial government.

One of his priorities is stable funding for local arts groups, something that was a flashpoint for many after the Liberal government under Gordon Campbell drastically cut funding in 2009.

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"We do need a real sense of stability and certainty in the arts."

He said he is also hopeful that, as an MLA, he can pick up a project that he started as mayor: a streetcar in central Vancouver.

"The streetcar follows the contours of my riding. That's a natural."

Mr. Fassbender simply said he hopes the municipal presence will help the province learn to communicate better and develop solutions collaboratively.

None of the three who spoke to The Globe and Mail promised to fight for extra funding, but talked instead about finding "creative" or "innovative" solutions to problems without adding to provincial debt.

"We know there's not a lot of money around in the next four years," Mr. Hunt said.

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Metro Vancouver chair Greg Moore, a former provincial politician who is now the mayor of Port Coquitlam, said he is hopeful about the new city-minded crop of MLAs.

"It's a really good thing. I know from dealing with Terry Lake [the former Kamloops mayor who is the MLA for that region now] that there's a deeper understanding of what we're going through at the local level. They know the challenges."

Mr. Moore said the region is anxious for the provincial government to find a new deal with cities to pay for big projects like waste-treatment facilities.

Transit is another priority that he will push. Mr. Moore said he believes this group understands that improved transit is not about just making people in the Lower Mainland happier.

"If it's not working, it hurts the whole economy."

And, he said, Metro Vancouver will work to persuade the new provincial government it needs to help encourage developers to build apartments.

"We want some commitments to build rental stock."

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