Will British Columbia benefit from what appears to be a remarkably new tone of government slowly emerging in Ottawa?
There’s every reason to think so, on a number of policy fronts. And in many cases a large amount of federal dollars flowing B.C.’s way seems likely to happen.
A lot of attention has been paid to newly-minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s massive infrastructure plan, which could free up billions of dollars for transportation projects in Metro Vancouver.
Suddenly, building a Broadway subway line — long-considered a political orphan lacking senior government support — now looks like it might actually happen. So do those rapid transit lines in Surrey.
Of course, both projects have yet to develop a coherent business plan, which is required to get the federal government’s commitment of big dollars. If the mayors of Vancouver and Surrey are paying attention, they would be wise to kick start that planning post-haste.
Presumably, the new prime minister would also provide partial funding for the proposed new Massey Bridge. This project still seems a bit iffy, as the reason the Massey Tunnel was built in the first place was because the soil at that part of the Fraser River was deemed unsuitable (too much silt) to support a massive bridge.
But it’s not just bricks and mortar that may be coming from Ottawa. What has received less attention — but involves more money over a longer period of time — is Trudeau’s promise to re-introduce a health accord with the provinces.
The last one (also authored by a federal Liberal government) was arbitrarily torn up by the Harper government, which served notice to the provinces that starting in 2017 the annual funding “lift” for federal contributions to provincial health budgets would be tied to the rate of economic growth.
This new formula would translate to a net reduction of hundreds of millions of dollars to places like B.C., whose older population (the Atlantic provinces fall into this boat as well) means health care costs here may rise higher and quicker than in other provinces. That increase will inevitably exceed the annual economic growth increase, which usually hovers around two per cent (annual health care funding increases are closer to three per cent and higher).
If the Trudeau government revisits this funding formula and changes it to better accommodate B.C.’s position, that could translate into hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis.
And there is reason to think Trudeau will listen to the political voices coming out of the West, especially from British Columbia. His party picked up 32 seats West in the election, with a record 17 of them coming from this province.
He put eight of his Western ministers in a shrunken cabinet, and three of them are from B.C. One of them — Jody Wilson-Raybould, the new justice minister — will oversee a number of files that are of particular concern to B.C..
Presumably, Trudeau doesn’t want to repeat his father’s mistake, which was to alienate the West in various ways. Trudeau the Elder won 16 seats in B.C. in the 1968 election, and then quickly frittered away all that good will.
The new prime minister also has a personal connection to this province. His mother was born here, his maternal grandparents lived here, he went to university here and he taught here (plus, he evidently likes running the Grouse Grind).
This should allow him to avoid the alienation of the West that always lurked fairly close during federal Liberal governments over the years, with little respite, from Lester Pearson through Paul Martin.
Trudeau would be wise to build on his party’s breakthrough in this province, in places like the Okanagan and on both sides of the Fraser River in Metro Vancouver. To do that, he has to be seen as helping a province that usually feels ignored in favor of the two gorillas in the middle of the country — Ontario and Quebec.
And that means helping out with building infrastructure and protecting health care.
Then there’s that promise to change the marijuana laws, which could have a profound impact on B.C.’s economy. But that’s a topic for another day.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. This is reprinted from his weekly column with Glacier Media.