Eleven mayors from the Vancouver region will be in Ottawa on Monday to make the case for federal funding for public transit priorities that include a $21-billion program over a decade.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim is not making the trip. Nor is Brenda Locke, mayor of Surrey, British Columbia’s second-most populous city after Vancouver. Ms. Locke has a city council meeting to attend. Mr. Sim has dental surgery. Both are committed to the meeting agenda, said their offices.
But mayors – and one councillor – from a cluster of other key cities such as Burnaby, Richmond, North Vancouver and New Westminster will be in the national capital from Monday through Wednesday.
“We’re all going to wear Canucks jerseys,” Brad West, the mayor of Port Coquitlam and the chair of the TransLink mayors council representing municipalities united on transit issues, quipped in an interview. “People won’t miss us.”
Smaller delegations of mayors have made the trip before, but the Vancouver-region team is coming en masse to make a point.
As transit operations across Canada seek to recover from the impact of COVID-19, and seek federal support for their priorities, the B.C. mayors have decided a team approach is their best bet to make an impression on government leaders as well as politicians across the Commons.
They are pleased at a Vancouver-region rebound in transit use since the pandemic but are worried about challenges, including the resulting overcrowding and expected population growth that will apply new pressures to the system.
Mr. West said the delegation’s visit includes meetings with Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, as well as opposition politicians. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is scheduled to meet members of the delegation. They are also hoping to meet with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Work on the mayoral delegation’s visit has been in the works for several months.
The group wants to talk to politicians from all parties about supporting a 10-year plan to expand transit in the Vancouver region, with an emphasis, over time, on doubling bus service over 2022 levels, adding traffic-separated lanes for buses, and expanding cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Mr. West said the delegation hopes the federal government will be a one-third partner in capital delivery, and support operating costs.
Work is under way in Vancouver on an east-west light-rail transit subway spanning about six kilometres at a cost of $2.8-billion. In due course, the coalition of mayors would like to see that system, the Broadway Line, extended to the main campus of the University of British Columbia on the west side of Vancouver.
Other issues on the to-do list include seeking early access to a multibillion-dollar federal transit fund that was supposed to be accessible as of 2026-27. And they also want to talk about new funding models for transit beyond their current status quo, which includes a mix of fares, gasoline taxes and property taxes.
“We’re not prescribing what a new funding model will look like. That will be the subject of discussion,” Mr. West said. “I suspect it will include a variety of considerations and include a mix of things.”
Jean-Sébastien Comeau, press secretary for Mr. LeBlanc, said the minister is looking forward to meeting the mayors.
“Our government has been a reliable partner to municipalities in British Columbia and across the country,” Mr. Comeau said in a statement.
He said the minister looks forward to meeting with delegation to discuss joint efforts to guarantee modern and reliable public transit.
Ironically enough, federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray was in Burnaby last Friday, with Burnaby’s mayor, Mike Hurley, vice-chair of the mayor’s council for regional transportation and the chief executive officer of TransLink, the agency responsible for transit in the region, to announce a joint investment of more than $34.9-million to support a rail maintenance project for the SkyTrain.
Mr. West said the delegation is not expecting any immediate final decisions.
“I’ve been at this for a while. I am not naive that there’s going to be a cheque presentation at Minister LeBlanc’s office. That is not my expectation,” he said.
However, he said he is looking forward to substantive dialogue. “That is the nature of these things. They don’t get resolved in a single meeting but you have to begin the process. I’ll be looking for that commitment to begin this process with us.”
Mr. West said the mayors are mindful of the possibility of political change in government while talks proceed over the next few years.
“From our perspective, this is not about currying favor with one party or the other. This is about having the voices of all Metro Vancouver residents heard. I am sure all parties will pay attention to that.”
Mr. West noted that the next federal election is expected to be especially competitive and that the outcome of the competition for seats in the Vancouver region will be decisive in the outcome of the larger election.
“I’m sure that all the parties will be looking to put their best foot forward,” said the Port Coquitlam mayor.