BALDREY: Horgan hits home run with transit politics

The fledgling NDP government, in many ways, has simply continued the policies of the previous B.C. Liberal administration, but last week’s big transit improvements announcement is a major exception to that pattern.

While the transit announcement was really about Metro Vancouver mayors finally figuring out how to fund their share of the $7 billion budget, it is clear such an agreement would have remained elusive – if not impossible – had Christy Clark continued to serve as premier.

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Clark pitted her government against the mayors for political reasons, most of them bad ones. Her government was primarily focused on communities outside of Metro Vancouver and that is where it set many of its priorities.

The NDP, on the other hand, has precisely the opposite outlook. The party is in power because it won a whole bunch of ridings in the suburbs and in Vancouver, areas where transit and transportation is of utmost importance.

Two moves by the NDP government obviously made it easier for the mayors to revisit actions such as raising property and parking taxes and development fees:

First, by upping its share of transit project funding to 40 per cent (up from the B.C. Liberals’ 33 per cent share) the NDP government took hundreds of millions of dollars of funding pressures off the mayors’ backs, requiring lower revenue streams from them.

Secondly, the out-of-the blue announcement by Premier John Horgan that his government would entirely fund the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge also relieved TransLink of an enormous $1.3 billion cost.

I cannot imagine Clark doing either of those moves. In fact, if she had been re-elected, it is conceivable neither the Broadway subway line nor the Surrey light rail lines would have been built (the only project on her government’s plate was the Massey Tunnel bridge replacement).

Now that the mayors have a deal with the province, the stage will be set for Horgan to don his own hard hat during the next election campaign and visit all those ridings in Vancouver and its suburbs where a lot of shovels will be in the ground, building those projects. Many photo ops are coming your way.

The transit deal comes as the NDP is being boxed around the ears by a significant number of its supporters for taking positions on certain issues that are not much different from the ones held by the B.C. Liberals. Most of these issues are near and dear to activists, a constituency that Horgan appears to have little time for.

For example, the government is simply reviewing the practice of fracking for natural gas, not banning or subjecting it to a full public inquiry, as environmental activists are demanding. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall, who appointed a scientific panel to conduct the review, says she will not prejudge the findings (which is precisely what the activists wanted her to do).

The NDP now says fish farming is largely subject to federal regulation, not provincial ones. In the legislature last week, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson made this point several times under questioning by Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, thus giving the impression that even with a government review of the industry underway, not much may change.

In addition, the government has cleared a research lab of any conflict of interest with the aquaculture industry, belying claims from activists.

The NDP is willing to embrace the LNG industry, much to the chagrin if not horror of the B.C. Green Party, which firmly opposes it. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has threatened to bring down the NDP government if it does a deal to bring in LNG, but I suspect New Democrats will call his bluff on that.

Then, of course, there was the decision to complete the Site C dam, a decision that continues to be condemned by many on social media. There seems to be a number of people out there who cling to the notion that they can stop the dam, yet B.C. Hydro – now under the control of the NDP – just signed a massive $1.6 billion contract to build the spillways and generating station.

However, massive transit improvements? That is a political home run, one that might drown out all the criticism on other issues for a while.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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