The federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi is in B.C. today, defending his government's plan for infrastructure funding.

"This is about building the capacity of the local government to be ready for the long term," said Sohi.

The federal Liberal's first budget contained two phases of transit funding. The first will see around $370 million spent in the Lower Mainland on renovating stations and aging SkyTrain cars.

If the Liberals maintain their governing party status, the second phase would roll out in the 2020/21 budget and would include more money for major projects like the Surrey LRT and Broadway subway line.

The federal government would also increase its share of funding from the standard 33 per cent up to 50 per cent.

Minister Sohi is speaking at a the Richmond Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning. But first, he joined Rick Cluff on The Early Edition to defend his government's budget on infrastructure.

The first phase of infrastructure spending is for investment in existing projects only. Where does this budget leave the plan by Metro Vancouver's mayors to expand the transit system?

We have designed our plan in consultation with big cities mayors and mayors across the country. They agree that the approach we have taken is the responsible approach. Because our first phase of funding is to allow municipalities to get ready and have their projects planned and designed for the second phase, for the long-term plan.

Evergreen Line

This year's funding from the federal government will be put toward fixing existing transit systems. (CBC)

Our first phase will be flexible. Municipalities can determine where that money should go. If they need to replace their tracks, they can do that. If they need to replace their buses, they can do that. If they want to use that money to design the Surrey line, for example, or do more advance work on Broadway, they can do that.

We want municipalities to be ready to be ready to take on the opportunities to take on the next phase, which is the long-term phase to support the building of the LRT in Surrey.

A light rail system for Surrey and a subway along Vancouver's Broadway corridor still require years of planning before ground is broken on the projects. But what will this year's budget do for them now?  

We are committed to those projects that you have referenced. This first phase money will actually allow those projects to be advanced to the level where they are shovel ready. Those are the projects we will fund for the long term. Within the next year, our long-term plan will be ready.

This is about building the capacity of the local government to be ready for the long term and that's exactly what we have done and that is why you have seen and we have seen the overwhelming support from mayors across the country.

hi-bc-120702-surrey-lrt

Minister Sohi says the federal government is committed to helping fund the Surrey LRT project.

We need to have a more coordinated long-term sustainable approach and this is what this funding will deliver over the next 10 years.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was in Ottawa just last month to ask the federal government for half a billion dollars to build social housing on $250 million of city-owned land. Will that go ahead?

We appreciated the innovative approach that are being proposed and looked at mayors across the country. Mayor Robertson's approach is definitely one of those innovative approaches. My colleague, Minister Duclos [(Minister of Children Families and Social Development] and I will be working together to develop a long-term strategy.

Having said that, we have put significant amount of money into housing in the first phase and that money can be used to repair the existing set of housing, to bring them on to the market, or if they want to do investments into new housing, that flexibility is within the first phase.

Again, both phases are interconnected and intertwined and that is why we want to make sure that we listen to municipalities, that we work with them to explore every option they bring to us.

With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Amarjeet Sohi defends infrastructure funding.