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Federal budget leaves out many items on B.C.’s infrastructure wish list

The $3.5-billion bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel was at the top of B.C.’s priorities for funding, but didn’t make the cut.

The federal budget promises an injection of $11.9-billion over five years in infrastructure spending across the country but includes very few items from the B.C. government's wish list.

There is cash for social housing and light-rapid transit expansion in Metro Vancouver, but there is no mention of the provincial government's No. 1 infrastructure request: the George Massey Tunnel replacement project.

However, the province, seeking to maintain positive relations with the federal Liberal government, masked any disappointment on Tuesday. The bigger concern in Victoria is the fate of the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project, which now lies in the hands of Ottawa.

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A contingent of seven senior B.C. government officials went to Ottawa this week seeking to clear the way for the $11.4-billion liquefied natural gas export terminal on Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert.

B.C.'s Liberal government says the project – when the pipelines and other infrastructure components are added in – would be the largest private-sector investment project in Canadian history, creating more than 18,000 jobs.

Ottawa's $29.4-billion deficit budget, by comparison, promises to create or maintain 100,000 jobs across the country.

The PNW project was supposed to be in operation by 2020, but a final investment decision has been withheld while the federal evaluation process, which has now run for more than 1,000 days, continues. Last week, the federal government extended the review for another three months. While the province says it is not concerned about delays, the intense lobbying effort this week suggests it is acutely anxious.

Peter Fassbender, the senior B.C. cabinet minister speaking for the province, put a positive spin on the budget.

"We in British Columbia are delighted with the budget," he told reporters in Victoria. He said the transit funding and social housing dollars are welcome, and expressed relief that Ottawa did not remove a capital cost allowance that had been established to help attract LNG investment. "It is a significant statement that Canada sees LNG as one of the huge opportunities for Canada, let alone for British Columbia."

The B.C. government did not expect to be first in line for fiscal stimulus – as the province leading the country in economic growth and job creation, there is not much of a case for handouts. However, the provincial government had presented a list of its priorities for federal infrastructure funds, including public transit, ferries and highway improvements. It has also lobbied for an investment in a proposed transmission line upgrade that would allow British Columbia to sell more excess power to Alberta.

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Mr. Fassbender was one of the provincial ministers who went to Ottawa in December to present the province's priorities for the federal budget. At that time, he said the $3.5-billion bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel was at the top of B.C.'s list.

On Tuesday, with no indication in the budget that Ottawa is ready to contribute to the bridge project, Mr. Fassbender suggested it could still happen at a later date. "I don't know that they overlooked it – it isn't detailed in the budget," he said Tuesday. "We are going to continue to press for that." He added that the province will proceed with construction, with or without federal funding.

Carole James, the New Democratic Party finance critic, said the omission of the Massey Tunnel project from the budget "must be a bit of a blow to the Premier and her government."

But she said the federal budget is a good one for British Columbians. "I'm pleased to see the infrastructure dollars and glad to see B.C.'s share, that's a plus. Certainly the priorities of public transit and housing are what we had hoped to see in the budget."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More


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