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Jan 16,2008 Globe and Mail


With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria

RICHMOND -- A little bit of lobbying was not on the menu for Gordon Campbell last week when the B.C. Premier joined Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa for a meeting of first ministers.

As Mr. Campbell attended a working dinner at 24 Sussex Dr., he was days away from announcing the largest expansion to date of public transit in B.C. - a $14-billion program of new SkyTrain, LRT and bus lines that hinges on Ottawa ponying up $3.1-billion. B.C. is paying $4.75-billion, with the regional transit authority, Translink, and municipalities covering other costs.

Mr. Campbell, when asked yesterday whether he discussed the program with Mr. Harper, replied: "No. Not specifically, no."

The Premier said at a 2010 Winter Olympics event he is confident that Ottawa is good for its share of the program to meet the transit demands of municipalities across the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in the province.

"We clearly have a partner in Canada," he said, making specific reference to B.C.'s expected share of the $33-billion Building Canada infrastructure plan, half of which is aimed at municipal infrastructure.

B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon suggested it would have been tacky to request money during the first ministers meeting.

"I think that the Premier, especially at a meeting like that, would be loath to just go and be asking for money," Mr. Falcon said. "Frankly, it can be very depressing when you go to these federal-provincial meetings and all you hear is people saying, 'Give us more money.'

"... We want to allow them to have the chance to absorb what the plan is and what it involves, and what the benefits are, and go to work on seeing if we can get them to commit additional dollars."

Federal ministers have this week referred to an array of programs from which B.C. could draw infrastructure cash, including the Building Canada program, a gas tax fund that allocates monies to municipalities and the $400-million Public Transit Fund.

But Mr. Falcon said this won't be enough. "We'll need additional funds down the road."

But he said B.C. can pay for the engineering, design, planning and other costs to get the projects going before it needs the bulk of federal money.

Tory MP James Moore, representing the federal government yesterday at a ceremony to install the last piece of the roof for the Olympic speed-skating oval in Richmond, said Ottawa would budget for transportation in five-year blocks.

"The bottom line is we are very enthusiastic about what the province has put forward. It's green. It's ambitious. It's good for the Lower Mainland and we're going to be working on a project-by-project basis with the province to see that British Columbians get the best transportation system in the world," said Mr. Moore, MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam.

The first key part of the program, the Evergreen light-rail system valued at $1.4-billion, will run through Mr. Moore's riding.

"There's all kinds of money on the table to work with the province on a lot of these projects, including light rail to my community in the northeast sector," said Mr. Moore, who is parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Works and to the Minister of Pacific Gateway and the 2010 Olympics.

Lawrence Cannon, the federal Transport Minister, said he is receptive to discussion. "I can't tell you what share of federal funds will be allocated to Premier Campbell's transit plan as we are currently discussing joint funding priorities under Building Canada with the province," Mr. Cannon said in a statement. "Premier Campbell's transit plan is a good indication for us of where that province wants to invest and we continue to discuss joint funding priorities in the spirit of open federalism."

But Joe Trasolini, mayor of Port Moody, yesterday noted the absence of federal representatives from the transit announcement.

"I am concerned," he said. "I would have expected the federal government and the province to be there together."


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