Skip to main content

Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the Mayors’ Council for Translink, is warning a Liberal majority could set back transit plans in Metro Vancouver and put billions in federal funding at risk.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

With the dust yet to settle from the provincial election, the Mayors' Council for Translink is warning a Liberal majority could set back transit plans in Metro Vancouver and put billions in federal funding at risk.

"My biggest worry is the status quo continues – and the potential slim BC Liberal majority continues to drag its feet on transit investment and insist on a transit referendum for significant new funding," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the Mayors' Council, said on Thursday.

"That would be another devastating blow for the region."

The Mayors' Council is made up of representatives of 21 municipalities, the Tsawwassen First Nation and Electoral Area A, which takes unincorporated areas such as the University of B.C.

Recounts in two ridings and the tallying of absentee ballots begin on Monday and will determine the final outcome of last week's cliff-hanger election. The Liberals currently lead in 43 ridings, one short of a majority, compared with 41 for the NDP and three for the B.C. Greens. If any of several close ridings change in the Liberals' favour, the party could have a majority.

Mr. Robertson said the Mayors' Council wants to make its concerns known as the Liberals and New Democrats attempt to win the Greens' support to govern.

"Metro Vancouver voters spoke very clearly in the election that they want change – and more urgent investment in city projects, starting with transit," said Mr. Robertson, who was a New Democrat MLA from 2005 until 2008, when he left provincial politics to run for mayor.

"I hope whichever parties form the next government respond to that urban agenda."

The mayors' council in 2014 put forward a 10-year, $7.5-billion transit plan for Metro Vancouver.

A first phase is under way, but a second phase – which includes major projects like the Broadway subway line – is not yet fully funded.

The federal and provincial governments have pledged nearly $5-billion for the plan, but the region has yet to come up with a way to pay for the rest.

In a 2015 transit referendum, voters in Metro Vancouver rejected a proposed increase of 0.5 per cent on the sales tax that would have helped pay for transit improvements.

The Liberals have said a referendum would be required to approve new sources of funding. The Mayors' Council insists another referendum would result in costly delays, pushing major projects such as the Broadway subway back for a year or more.

"We have to determine a regional funding source … prior to year-end, and we need a provincial government that's going to help us get there quickly and not push it through to a referendum," Surrey mayor and Mayors' Council vice-chair Linda Hepner said on Thursday.

Last month, the mayors' council launched a "cure congestion" campaign calling on all parties to commit to funding transit upgrades, including replacing the Pattullo Bridge.

That campaign did not endorse any party. But Mr. Robertson on Thursday said he had concerns about a potential Liberal majority government.

"We compared the platforms – the NDP and Green transportation platforms are vastly superior and beneficial to the whole region," Mr. Robertson said.

"The prospect of the BC Liberals [forcing] another referendum for transit funding would be dire and cause more delays."

Whatever the final results, the mayors hope the new government will take heed of an election that swept the minister responsible for Translink, Peter Fassbender, from his Surrey seat and resulted in NDP taking six of nine ridings in the area.

"The election results in Surrey spoke broadly to a number of issues in Surrey – not the least of which was transportation," Ms. Hepner said.

"We expect some movement on this file … I would hope that whoever forms government also recognizes that we need this [expanded transit] system to continue to grow at the pace we're growing," she added.

"In order to access the monies, there needs to be a provincial and federal bilateral agreement, and that's what we really need by the end of this year," Ms. Heppner said.

"And in order to achieve that, we have to define where the regional funding source is coming from. So there's a lot of work to be done, in a short period of time – when we don't know who's wearing the hat," she added.