Mayors optimistic as feds ready grants

Transit, sewage upgrades among regional requests, but may face provincial competition for cash for ferries, new bridge

Metro Vancouver mayors are hopeful the federal government will contribute more than the usual one third for public transit and other municipal infrastructure projects when new infrastructure grants roll out.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner was among the mayors who met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other cabinet ministers in a series of sessions last Thursday and Friday.

“I’m optimistic that the formula could look different,” Hepner said. “The hope would be that it would certainly go beyond one third and perhaps go as high as one half.”

The new Liberal government intends to dole out $60 billion over 10 years split between public transit, green and affordable housing initiatives.

A more generous federal share for transit could reduce the amount of money that would have to be raised locally and make it easier for mayors to find an acceptable funding solution for TransLink after last summer’s failed referendum on a regional sales tax.

Hepner said there was a strong spirit of collaboration between mayors and federal ministers, including Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, who singled out Surrey’s light rail project as one Ottawa supports.

“They know they can’t achieve their climate goals without the aggressive work of cities and much of that is around mass transit,” Hepner said. “There was a real sense we’re partners at the table.”

Metro mayors are also warily watching the provincial government lobby Ottawa for its priorities, including federal funding for new ferries and for the planned Massey Bridge.

It’s unclear whether success in getting federal funds for those might come at a cost of money available for public transit and Metro Vancouver’s top priority – the Lions Gate sewage treatment plant upgrade.

“I’m hoping they’re not at loggerheads,” Hepner said of municipal and provincial requests. “I’m optimistic that this government sees there’s a need for both.”

Metro Vancouver board chair and Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore said he would prefer to see the province and municipal leaders jointly negotiate with Ottawa, rather than in separate camps.

“We should all be at that table together so we can look at it in a comprehensive manner.”

Moore said a revised funding formula could be more reflective of the fact just 10 cents of each tax dollar collected goes to local governments, compared to 50 cents for the federal government and 40 for the province.

Moore said the $750-million Lions Gate wastewater plant is ready to go to a request for proposals and counts as “shovel ready” with a potential construction start of late this year or early 2017.

Regional mayors continue to stand behind their plan for transit expansion and Moore said it’s been held up by federal officials as a good example of a comprehensive strategy with broad local support.

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