Lower Mainland mayors harbouring high expectations for a new, more collaborative relationship with an NDP provincial government are anxiously awaiting some answers to two crucial questions on how to fund their priorities.
The NDP's critic for Metro Vancouver's transportation agency, TransLink, said in an interview on Wednesday that if the party is asked to form a government, as expected, it will sit down with the mayors to work on solutions, but provided no details.
An agreement signed this week that would allow the NDP to form a minority government with the support of the Green Party sticks in part to the New Democrats' commitment to eliminate tolls, a significant source of funds that the mayors had been relying upon. While the Green Party objects to eliminating tolls, it has said it would vote in favour of a budget that does so.
"Our commitment is clear. And it's too soon for [the mayors] to be nervous," said David Eby, the NDP TransLink critic. "There's going to be a really remarkable and noticeable improvement in transit and transportation."
But Translink had counted on using toll revenue to pay for as much as 70 per cent of the billion-dollar replacement of the Pattullo Bridge – the current one is crumbling.
New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté said the bridge is the most anxiety-generating issue for the TransLink mayors' council.
"That project cannot move forward unless that funding is replaced," Mr. Coté said. "And any funding shortfall from the tolling policy has to come from the province."
He said that if TransLink does not start the procurement process for the bridge by the end of the year, the old bridge might have to be shut down before a new one is completed.
He said a new bridge has to be in place by 2023 to prevent that.
During the election campaign, the NDP had said it would cover the missing toll revenue for the Golden Ears and Port Mann bridges from the province's Prosperity Fund. But that did not take into account missing Pattullo toll revenue as well.
However, Mr. Eby said, a funding solution will be found.
"We all feel the urgency about that bridge and its safety."
The NDP and Greens announced this week they would form an alliance to topple the minority government of BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark at the earliest opportunity. Ms. Clark said Tuesday that she would recall the legislature to face certain defeat on a confidence motion in the next few weeks.
At that point, the NDP is expected to become government, with Green support, although their combined majority would be only one seat.
The alliance will be under intense pressure from a growing list of interest groups excited at the prospect of their own initiatives taking more prominence, groups ranging from teachers to health-care workers to environmentalists.
The Lower Mainland mayors are on that list.
The mayors' second priority is whether the new government will pass legislation to create a new development levy on construction that would be used to finance transit.
Mr. Eby avoided that question in an interview on Wednesday, although he has been critical in the past of mayors' suggestions of creating new taxes on development for transit, saying that that just makes housing – where prices are already at stratospheric levels in Vancouver – more unaffordable.
He would not make any commitment to supporting the new charge, something mayors had asked for earlier this year as a way of paying for their share of the first phase of new federal transit initiatives.
Mr. Coté said that passing legislation for the new charge could be "quick win" for the new government.
The mayors have also said that this charge – or some way of paying for the regional share – has to be in place by the end of the year, or TransLink will have to roll back some of the planned service improvements.
But Mr. Eby indicated his government would like to take a different approach to that piece of the funding puzzle.
"One of my hopes is we would have a fresh start with the mayors. We want a long-term plan," said Mr. Eby, who promised that "the shared goals between the mayors and us is going to provide remarkable opportunities in transit and housing."
Both the NDP and the Green Party had promised during their campaigns to match any federal funding for phase two of the region's transit improvements. That means $2.2-billion from them dedicated to the new Broadway subway and Surrey light-rapid transit projects.
That issue no longer will be a tug of war between TransLink and the province, it appears.