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Conservative candidate and former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts says light-rail transit will ease congestion in the city and spur economic growthJohn Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The federal Conservatives are promising B.C.'s second-largest city a crucial $700-million for light rail if re-elected – the kind of bid to use transit projects to win votes that has become a refrain in this campaign.

Monday's appeal was directed at one of B.C.'s most politically competitive areas, where all three major parties have made gains in the past and are optimistic about their prospects in the six ridings – an increase, due to redistribution, from four in 2011. Former Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, now the Conservative candidate in South Surrey-White Rock, made the commitment at a news conference backed up by Industry Minister James Moore, who is not seeking re-election in his Lower Mainland riding. Other Conservative candidates in the area also attended.

Ms. Watts and Mr. Moore said the money would come from the national Public Transit Fund, which was announced as part of the Conservatives' Economic Action Plan.

Surrey's $2.1-billion light-rail project consists of two lines covering 28 kilometres and was an issue in last year's municipal election in the bustling city southeast of Vancouver.

As mayor, Ms. Watts spent three terms grappling with the issue.

"It's about shaping this city, and it's about preparing this region south of the Fraser for the growth that is coming this way. This transit project will reduce congestion and, in turn, reduce greenhouse gases," Ms. Watts said.

Mr. Moore said that, unlike the federal Liberals and NDP, a Conservative government would finance transit without raising taxes or running deficits.

He also said a Conservative government would not be averse to supporting Vancouver's plans for an east-west subway, but that Surrey's plan is more advanced, so the announcement made sense.

"This does not close the door on investing in the Broadway corridor," Mr. Moore said. "This is not an either-or."

Monday's pledge echoes transit announcements by all of the main parties.

Earlier this month, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told a news conference in Vancouver that the region – including Surrey – would get a share of $20-billion in new money for transit over the next decade if his party wins the Oct. 19 election. The Liberals have not said how much the Lower Mainland would get, but have committed to work with the region's mayors on priorities.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, a close political ally of Ms. Watts who has praised Mr. Trudeau's transit-funding promises, attended the news conference, saying she was invited and is ready to salute any federal party that announces it would support transit.

But she declined to say which promise she preferred.

"I'm not going to pick and choose which proposal is best," she said. "I can only tell you we need the funding and we need people to recognize that this is a priority for this region and certainly for British Columbia, let alone Surrey, because of the numbers of people we expect to be here. So I welcome the same kind of proposal from all parties."

However, she said, she had not heard from the NDP.

In a statement, the B.C. wing of the federal NDP noted that the party, in government, would spent $5.2-billion over the next 20 years on public transit and infrastructure in the Lower Mainland as part of being a "stable" partner with cities such as Surrey. They would, the statement said, also remove delays in the process for municipalities using public-private partnerships to fund such projects.

Ms. Hepner said she has one-third of the funding from the province, and now the prospect of another third from Ottawa. Voters in the Lower Mainland rejected a plebiscite proposal earlier this year on a regional tax to provide the other third. As a result, she is looking for that money.

That has forced her, she said, to scrap a commitment she made the night she was elected mayor last November to have trains running on one line by election night in 2018. "It is a little frustrating for me. I am so committed to it and I know it is what is required here in the city to get things moving and to shape this city," she told reporters after formal remarks at the news conference.

Ms. Hepner said she was always confident of provincial support, and it was comforting to see a commitment from federal parties.