Smaller-town mayors fail to reroute Surrey

Members of the Mayors’ Council who do not support SkyTrain are impeding progress of the entire region

Many mayors across Metro Vancouver seem to be miffed that Surrey council wants SkyTrain to be built down Fraser Highway, instead of sticking with the planned LRT line from Newton to Guildford.

While the Mayors’ Council voted in November to scrap the LRT project and proceed with SkyTrain, it did so reluctantly. Surrey voters decisively chose to replace the LRT project with SkyTrain by throwing out all incumbent candidates and voting in just one member of the ruling slate. The Mayors’ Council took note.

There was a notable lack of support Thursday when more details came out. It took five separate weighted votes to get items related to the project approved. The votes would not have passed had Vancouver – with 32 weighted votes based on population – not backed them.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver mayors cancel Surrey LRT in favour of SkyTrain

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver mayors vote to ‘develop’ $1.65B in Fraser Highway SkyTrain plans

Weighted votes are rarely used by the mayors, but Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum requested them. Vancouver’s new mayor has been backing Surrey’s planned switch, as he campaigned on extending the system further west from Arbutus.

Now a number of mayors are complaining about the ‘unfair’ frequent use of weighted votes. This complaint is bogus. Mayors have every right to be unhappy about Surrey’s change of plans, but their rights end when they can thwart the will of Surrey and Vancouver taxpayers simply by their presence around the 23-member Mayors’ Council table. The weighted votes reflect the taxpayer base in each community; that’s the number that should count.

New TransLink chair Jonathan Cote, mayor of New Westminster, says he would like to see a more collaborative approach – a worthy objective. But when John McEwen, the mayor of Anmore (pop. 2,210), makes comments suggesting that both big-city mayors made “pretty big political commitments in regards to getting elected with no substance whatsoever,” it’s hard to see how that will happen.

To the people of Surrey, a SkyTrain line down Fraser Highway is a matter of considerable substance. Money had been set aside for an LRT project that was not popular. McCallum promised to redirect it towards SkyTrain. Voters agreed.

Here are facts for all those mayors who think Surrey’s needs should be ignored. It is the second-largest city in the region. It will be the most populous in about 20 years. Surrey gains the population of Anmore every couple months. No new rapid-transit project has been built in Surrey since 1994.

TransLink says the money from the LRT project can build SkyTrain, by 2025, at least as far as Fleetwood. McCallum says more economies can be found to build the line farther – perhaps as far as Langley City. Time will tell if that is possible.

Members of the Mayors’ Council who do not support SkyTrain are impeding progress of the entire region, because rapid transit in Surrey is essential to fulfill the regional growth plan, and to deal with existing pressures.

Perhaps the recalcitrant mayors can think that over a little bit, as they enjoy their cups of Christmas cheer in the coming weeks.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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