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Conservative platform could threaten planned SkyTrain projects, Mayor’s Council chair says

With only 10 days left in the federal campaign, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has released his party's fully costed platform. David Akin breaks down the ambitious plan.

The chair of the TransLink Mayors’ Council says the Conservative Party’s platform could threaten Metro Vancouver’s major transit projects.

Under the platform revealed in B.C. Friday, the Conservatives would spread the massive, $187-billion infrastructure program created under the Liberal government over 15 years instead of 12.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the measure was one of several meant to balance the budget within five years, and that his government would follow through on existing infrastructure commitments.

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau defends infrastructure investments, criticizes Conservative premiers
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau defends infrastructure investments, criticizes Conservative premiers

But Mayors’ Council chair and New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote said Saturday the plan could lead to delays in projects already approved and underway, including SkyTrain extensions to Fleetwood in Surrey and along Broadway to Arbutus Street in Vancouver.

Even worse, further planned extensions to Langley City and the University of British Columbia could end up getting cancelled altogether, Cote said.

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READ MORE: Tories’ plan to balance budget relies on delaying billions of infrastructure spending

“It’s a disappointing platform,” Cote said Saturday. “It’s more than just moving it down a few years, it could end up actually jeopardizing completing both of those projects.”

The council has been lobbying the federal government to help pay for the extensions, which have been approved by the Mayors’ Council ahead of securing full funding.

The SkyTrain subway extension from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street is approved and funded, with an estimated price tag of about $2.83 billion. Construction is set to begin in 2020.

Federal Election 2019: Scheer says he would ensure committed infrastructure projects completed if elected
Federal Election 2019: Scheer says he would ensure committed infrastructure projects completed if elected

The full Langley extension is currently estimated to cost $3.12 billion, of which just $1.6 billion is secured. In July, the Mayors’ Council voted to use those funds to start building the Surrey SkyTrain extension to 166 Street while it awaits further funding.

Cote said the Conservatives’ platform is especially disappointing when the party has promised billions of dollars to expand Toronto’s subway.

“Why is every other major city including Metro Vancouver not a part of that deal?” he asked. “Why do you pick one major city and leave out the others?”

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver mayors call for parties to commit to permanent transit fund

Cote said the council would raise the case with Scheer if the Conservatives form government.

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“The existing projects are already well underway, we’ve started the procurement process,” he said. “It’s really not fair to the major cities who have been working on partnering with the different levels of government to move ahead.”

The Conservatives have explicitly vowed to help fund a replacement to the George Massey Tunnel connecting Richmond to Delta, which has not yet been finalized. The party has made no mention yet of public transit projects in the region.

READ MORE: TransLink to move forward with Surrey SkyTrain extension, but getting to Langley remains in limbo

Scheer on Friday rejected Liberal accusations that he would make any cuts to infrastructure spending, arguing the Liberals had yet to fully cost their own promises while in government.

The party repeated the accusations in a statement Saturday, saying Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is “desperately lying” about the Conservative’s infrastructure plans.

The NDP and Green platforms have both committed to increasing funding for public transit across Canada, but have not mentioned SkyTrain explicitly.

At last month’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, the Mayors’ Council put forth a plea to the federal parties to establish a permanent transit fund for Metro Vancouver.

—With files from the Canadian Press