Capital region councillors find light-rail inspiration at Halifax conference

Municipal politicians are itching to get back to political action after spending the weekend rubbing elbows with their Canadian counterparts and, more importantly, bouncing ideas off them to see how Greater Victoria can capitalize on projects that have been done elsewhere in the country.

For Victoria Coun. John Luton, who sits on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, that was discussing transportation funding with communities like Kitchener, Ont., where light rail is currently being built to connect Kitchener and Waterloo.

“It’s a similar project, in respect to what we’re planning to do, which is connecting major trip generators and workplaces along the corridor,” he said.

Municipal councillors from all across Canada flocked to Halifax June 3-6 for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.

Federal funding for the roughly $800 million Ontario light-rail project was secured through the Build Canada Fund, the same federal fund helping to finance the Johnson Street Bridge replacement.

Through the Capital Regional District, a funding task force is being created to identify ways of paying for light rail in Victoria.

Luton hopes that the Capital Region will be able to secure funding through Build Canada – though that hinges on money leftover from other projects across the country that don’t capitalize on their share.

“The thing (Kitchener) suggested was you’ve really got to campaign for it,” Luton said. “The decisions about funding allocations are ultimately made by cabinet and ministers who are elected to office. So you have to lobby hard for your project. We need to be pushing our local MPs to put this on their radar screens.”

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, too, was intent on finding out from Kitchener how to best finance an LRT project, since the proposed Victoria system comes with an estimated price tag of $1 billion.

“Now I come back and talk to some of the other councillors about what we’ve taken in (from the conference) and what kind of initiatives we can move forward on through council, through committees, through the CRD,” he said.

Luton agrees, adding that he can bring his discussions to the transit commission to determine how to best go about securing funding.

“That’s our next step and a big priority,” he said. “I’ll put that bug into (Transit chair) Chris Causton’s ear: ‘we need to get that ask out to the province and to the federal government as quickly as we can – otherwise the ducks we need aren’t going to be in a row.'”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

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