Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won’t stand in the way of Surrey’s plans to dump light rail transit (LRT) in favour of a new SkyTrain.
That change was one of Surrey Mayor-elect Doug McCallum’s key campaign promises in his election victory last month.
Trudeau was in Vancouver on Thursday where he met with McCallum and Vancouver Mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart, in addition to addressing the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT).
“We have a very simple approach. Ottawa shouldn’t be deciding what the Lower Mainland needs,” Trudeau told the GVBOT.
Trudeau also hinted that the $483.8 million the feds have already committed to LRT would not be in jeopardy.
“If the mayors’ council and various local voices decide they want to do things differently and they have a plan coming forward, we will be partners on that plan. There are $2.7 billion we have set for infrastructure and we trust the people of British Columbia know what the best way to do that is.”
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McCallum described his meeting with Trudeau as positive, and said the prime minister quizzed him on the next steps for Surrey to switch gears to SkyTrain.
“He asked us, as far as the city is concerned, when we are going to make a motion to cancel light rail and build a SkyTrain and I advised him we would do that on Monday’s council meeting… and once we do that, the next step is to go to the mayors’ council and get a motion … to change the technical part of the 10-year plan from light rail to SkyTrain,” McCallum said.
“He said that certainly, he would be watching those steps…. and the mayors council on that, and that the federal government would be completely co-operative with the decisions that come out of both of those bodies.”
However, McCallum said he and the prime minister did not discuss the question of funding the gap in cost between LRT and SkyTrain. TransLink has pegged the cost of LRT at $1.65 billion, while SkyTrain comes in at about $2.9 billion.
“We actually didn’t talk about that,” McCallum said. “But he did say he respects what the motion will be in the mayors council as far as switching the technology from light rail to SkyTrain.”
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McCallum said he will make Surrey’s case to the mayors council at its next meeting, adding that the 10-year plan budgets $3.5 billion for rapid transit in Surrey, arguing it is more than enough for SkyTrain.
Vancouver Mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart also described his meeting with Trudeau as positive, though noted the two had agreed to disagree on Ottawa’s support of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
“My job is to get housing and transit for the region and not to pick fights where I don’t need to,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who is seeking to have the proposed Broadway subway line extended all the way to the University of British Columbia, rather than to Arbutus Street as currently planned, said he also backs McCallum’s transit plans.
“It doesn’t really clash with the mayors’ overall plan that was presented before, but he was elected on a clear mandate on this being the top issue in his city, the change of technology, so I’m supportive,” he said.
“Looking from a regional perspective, I know he does support my push to get the SkyTrain to UBC as well, and I think it’s a very good start on that partnership as well.”
Stewart said he and the prime minister also discussed housing issues and the opioid crisis, and set up plans for more detailed conversations in the weeks to come.
— With files from Jordan Armstrong