McCallum mum while Surrey transit
The head of Surrey’s Board of Trade is warning that mayor-elect Doug McCallum’s transit plans could hobble the city. McCallum’s pledge to flip a $1.65-billion Light Rail Transit project on its head in favour of a new idea for Surrey’s transportation future would thwart the city’s economic development goals and mire it in political deliberations, said Anita Huberman, the board’s CEO. Already on Monday, the topic of Surrey’s LRT project dominated question period in Victoria as provincial parties dug into opposing sides on the issue. “Transportation, and LRT in itself, has always been part of the economic development strategy to bring business here (and) keep business here,” Huberman said. “We will be left behind again in our city for transportation investments, and that just simply is not acceptable.” McCallum ran on a promise to scrap the at-grade Surrey-Newton-Guildford LRT project and instead start to build SkyTrain from King George Station to Langley “right away.” He also vowed to turf the RCMP in favour of a local force — another idea the board of trade rejects. Neither McCallum nor members of his government-to-be replied to interview requests Monday. McCallum’s campaign manager said the mayor-elect would be handling media calls personally. Huberman’s concerns about McCallum’s promise were twofold: Unlike LRT, SkyTrain cannot be easily expanded into other parts of the city. And deliberating a new approach to transit will eat up time the city can’t afford to spend as its population continues to swell. In Victoria, Premier John Horgan said McCallum will need to take his SkyTrain plan to other mayors in the region. “Certainly, his first port of call … will be the Mayors’ Council, not to me, not to the prime minister. We’ll see how that goes first and foremost and then we’ll deal with that later,” Horgan said. He has previously stated: “We’re not scrapping LRT.” Andrew Wilkinson, the leader of the B.C. Liberals, said during a lengthy back-and-forth with the premier during question period that McCallum’s election victory showed voters have rejected the NDP’s LRT transit plan. Horgan said: “It is not an NDP plan. It is the mayors’ 10-year plan for transit in the Lower Mainland.” Other key players have expressed concern over McCallum’s idea, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose government is funding nearly a third of the project, and regional transportation authority TransLink, which has funded the remainder. Money for the project is not transferable and a new funding discussion would have to take place for a new SkyTrain project, Trudeau said last month. “We are moving forward with the Surrey LRT regardless of the outcome of the next (municipal) election. That money is flowing so that people get the transit they need,” he said then. Construction on the 10.5-kilometre, 11-stop LRT line was slated to start in 2020 with a target completion date in 2024. The city had also planned to extend light rail to Langley via the Fraser Highway. About $50 million has already been spent on the project, according to TransLink. As of last month, Surrey had spent $20 million for pre-construction work. McCallum’s bid to ditch the RCMP in Surrey could face its own set of troubles. The contract with the RCMP does not end until March 2032, and while it can be terminated on March 31 of any year, two years notice is required. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said Surrey “is quite free” to develop its own police force. “Having said that, my responsibility as solicitor general is to ensure that there is effective policing in place, and obviously if Surrey were to move to another model they would have to have a developed alternative policing plan. So right now, it’s very much up to Surrey and how the new mayor and council decide to move forward,” he said. McCallum’s Safe Surrey Coalition dominated Surrey’s election on Saturday, winning seven of eight council seats in addition to that city’s top job.