Federal finance minister stops short of committing dollars to light rail in Surrey

While some hoped Bill Morneau would announce funding to the city's proposed LRT line while visiting Surrey last weekend, that didn't happen.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner says light rail is still at the top of her agenda for Surrey.

SURREY — While some hoped Canada’s new finance minister would officially commit dollars to the city’s proposed LRT line while visiting Surrey last weekend, that didn’t happen.

“We’ve made important commitments in transit,” said Bill Morneau during a Surrey Board of Trade breakfast on Jan. 16 at Aria Banquet & Convention Centre.

“We’ve committed to spending an additional $20 billion over the next decade in transit. That means we’ll need to think about important investments in places like Surrey and in places across the country that can enable people just to get moving again.”

The stop was his first speaking engagement in the province, part of the Liberals’ “pre-budget consultations.”

Morneau spoke with Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner earlier that morning and he said the information she presented him will “feed into our budget process.”

The Liberals are listening to the municipalities and provinces, according to Morneau.

“They’re in the position to give us the best insights…. I’m not in a position to identify how much we’re going to invest collaboratively with municipalities and provinces,” Morneau said, adding, “more specifics will come out as we get further down the road.”

SBoT boss Anita Huberman said she was thrilled Morneau chose Surrey as his first provincial stop, saying it signifies Surrey’s coming of age. But what she had really hoped for was a light rail commitment.

“Really what I wanted to hear from the minister was some level of announcement related to light rail transit,” she said.

Despite that, she is optimistic the federal budget will include Surrey’s LRT.

“I believe that Ottawa does consider Surrey to be a strategic economic area. We reinforced this with the minister,” said Huberman.

Hepner also spoke at the event and emphasized that LRT remains at the top of her agenda.

“I am still optimistic that we could be shovel ready and in the ground by 2018 and have some progress. I hope this year is one of defining the funding partners and next year is going out to the market and we’re constructing in 2018.”

Asked if Surrey would go it alone, Hepner replied, “No. I think with the change in government and with the transportation emphasis that we see coming out of Ottawa right now that we actually know the regional plan is gaining momentum.

“I’m optimistic that the whole plan, which is an important thing for all of the Lower Mainland, will be seen as an important project in and of itself.”

She said the province will be at the table as well.

B.C. Minister Responsible for TransLink Peter Fassbender said the province “is ready.”

“Our money is on the table for these major projects in Surrey, Vancouver and the province,” told the crowd. “I take heart in the fact that the federal government is prepared to invest. We’re ready to put those projects into the ground and make it happen.”

Fassbender said the province has accepted the mayors’ plan., adding he is planning to meet Hepner this week to discuss the LRT line.

“We’re absolutely to move ahead for the benefit of British Columbians and indeed Canada.”

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

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