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Ultimately, it may not much matter whether people love or hate Derek Corrigan and his election as head of the mayors' transit council for the Lower Mainland.

The Burnaby mayor is well-known as a contrarian and not a team player. Those who mistrust him fear he will try to use his new position and clout with the NDP government in Victoria to scuttle TransLink's ambitious growth plans.

Two major rail projects are currently on the table, backed by a $2.5-billion federal infrastructure pledge: Surrey's light-rail project and Vancouver's Broadway rapid transit extension toward UBC.

Both have merit, although it's easy to argue a third project – the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge, which engineers say is so decrepit it could crumble in a major windstorm let alone an earthquake – should top the list.

Mr. Corrigan, whose own city's transit needs are nicely served by two rapid transit lines, is on record as saying it's not possible to proceed with all three projects simultaneously. And, he has already expressed antipathy toward Vancouver's and Surrey's aspirations by being the only mayor to vote against TransLink's 10-year transportation plan, which supports both rail projects and the Pattullo replacement.

But no one mayor, or even the mayors' council as a whole, is powerful enough to set the transit agenda. The provincial government calls the shots on major transportation expenditures, frequently overriding the council and TransLink board, for political gain.

The Millennium Line, which serves NDP-friendly Burnaby and New Westminster, was former NDP premier Glen Clark's pet project. The Canada Line and Port Mann Bridge were pushed to the fore by then-premier Gordon Campbell and were popular in the Liberal stronghold of Richmond and ridings south of the Fraser.

Most recently, former premier Christy Clark announced a new bridge to replace the aging Massey Tunnel, a provincially owned crossing. Each announcement pushed the Pattullo replacement to the back of the bus, forcing TransLink to throw money away on repairs to keep it driveable.

Once elected, the new John Horgan government quickly reversed course on the Massey project, making clear that it, too, is committed to directly steering the transportation agenda.

The 23-member mayors' council never fully controlled large infrastructure projects. What power regional politicians had was largely stripped in 2007, when the Campbell government shifted control of TransLink to an unelected board.

As head of the mayors' council, Mr. Corrigan will have a seat at that board table. But there are 11 other members who have worked long and hard on all three projects to keep him in check. TransLink's board is raring to move forward with the 10-year plan, but first needs provincial approval.

Mr. Corrigan told Globe and Mail contributor Frances Bula one of his first moves will be to suggest the provincial government manage one or more of the big projects.

That in itself would not be new. What is different is having a regional politician at the helm who instead of pushing rapid transit projects forward seems bent on slowing them down.

Just how much influence Mr. Corrigan has in Victoria is debatable. His wife, Kathy Corrigan, was an NDP MLA until 2017, when she opted not to run again. Both are aligned with organized labour, but labour supported the yes side in the failed 2015 regional referendum to approve funding for the 10-year transit plan. Mr. Corrigan has also burned some political capital on the left of the NDP with his intransigence on affordable housing issues.

At this point, Mr. Corrigan appears dismissive of the transit needs of those living beyond Burnaby's borders, as evidenced by his lone-wolf stand on the 10-year plan. It is good stewardship to question public expenditures and no one will fault Mr. Corrigan if he uses his considerable experience to that end. But one politician's parochial approach to regional issues should not lead us to squander opportunity.

The governing agreement between the NDP and Greens calls for immediate improvements to transit infrastructure. What a waste it would be if the province did not aim high while the federal money is available.

Major cities in China and metropolises including Los Angeles and London are making massive investments in rapid transit. Here at home, continuing suburban population growth, increasing traffic congestion and the looming threat of climate change demands we do likewise.

Justin Trudeau helped mark the opening of a subway extension on Friday, connecting Toronto to Vaughan, just north of the city. The prime minister says the six-station line is the first rapid transit to cross Toronto’s boundary.

The Canadian Press

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