Federal budget 2016: Questions still linger on transit funding

Metro Vancouver mayors are applauding the commitment from the federal government to fund transit in the Lower Mainland.

Budget 2016 opens door for federal Liberals to cover 50% of funding on major transit projects

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, waves as he's welcomed by Mayor Gregor Robertson, left, during a visit to City Hall in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday December 17, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Metro Vancouver mayors are applauding the commitment from the federal government to fund transit in the Lower Mainland, though questions remain on how big-ticket projects, such as new rail lines, will be financed.

The federal Liberals' first budget announced plans to fund national infrastructure in two phases.

The first phase of Budget 2016 will cover costs around station renovations, improvements to aging cars and system upgrades. That initial investment will be around $370 million for the Lower Mainland.

"The funds used to have a lot of strings attached to them," said Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson. "The Trudeau government has basically removed the strings and said it's up to the local governments and provinces to figure it out on the ground."

More funding to come

The second phase will include much more substantial investments.

Starting in the 2020-21 budget, the federal government, if re-elected in 2019, will start doling out cash for projects like the Surrey LRT and the Broadway subway line. The federal government is increasing its share of the funding by committing 50 per cent to any major project, up from the standard one third.

"With the federal government coming up with 50 per cent funding, it's a real game changer on how this region can move forward," said Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore.

"We are feeling pretty confident that we can come together with the province and the federal government to make good of this major investment from the federal government."

The federal government has promised more funding towards transit projects. (CBC)

The provincial government has reaffirmed its one third stake in both major projects — but won't budge any more.

That means the municipalities will need to cover 17 per cent, or about $817 million for the Surrey LRT and Broadway subway line.

Moore said a decision should be made in the next six months about how that capital will be raised, and he has already ruled out another referendum.

The province hasn't ruled it out, but acknowledges a lot more discussion needs to take place.

"What we need to do now is sit down with the Metro mayors and work through the details," said Peter Fassbender, the minister responsible for TransLink. "I know that working with the mayors we will be able to see these projects moving ahead."

Additional funding to track foreign home ownership

There is more than just transit money in the budget for British Columbia.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced a $500,000 fund that would be allotted to Statistics Canada to track foreign home ownership in Canada.

The federal government has given Statistics Canada more funding to study foreign real estate ownership. (Canadian Press)

There is also $60.4 million over the next five years designated for a new RCMP forensic laboratory in Surrey. Surrey will also be getting a new service centre for Canadian veterans, while closed veterans centres will be slated to re-open in Kelowna and Prince George.

The Kitsilano Coast Guard base also has a dollar figure for re-opening. The federal government has committed $23.6 million for five years starting this year to enhance emergency response and restore search and rescue capacity.

Search and rescue teams across the country, including in Metro Vancouver, are also slated to get $15.5 million over five years.


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