Regional voice needed to get Ottawa’s attention

Without a Conservative Member of Parliament to champion their projects, the region’s mayors agree top priorities need to be identified to build a stronger case to secure  federal funding.

Former Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Gary Lunn served as minister of Energy and Natural Resources, and more recently, as minister of State for Sport, he helped facilitate the flow of federal stimulus funding for projects like the McTavish Interchange.

In his absence, regional consensus is crucial to decide on essential projects, especially if the Conservative government goes ahead with its plan to reduce the deficit.

“What we’re being told by the federal government is there’s only so much money in that kitty,” said Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders.

“Right now dollars to cents or best bang for your buck, I’d rather be putting money into health care and transit issues than sewage treatment,” he said.

From extending the runway at the Victoria airport to implementing a light rail transit system, several big and small projects are essential for region’s viability, but are reliant on federal help, said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.

“I have full expectation that Greater Victoria will receive its full share of federal investment and federal attention,” Fortin said. “I think on some of these key economic issues, we’re going to see results.”

Pricier items, such as the billion-dollar light rail, that would benefit the entire Island, have a good chance to be funded, even by a majority government, said Lynn Hunter, Victoria city councillor and former NDP Saanich-Gulf Islands MP.

That points to the pivotal need for a regional voice.

“I think we have to be optimistic, and we have two New Democrats and a Green that would be very supportive of that project,” Hunter said. “I think there will be differences even among New Democrats, but on this issue I don’t think there will be.

“Light rail is looking into the future of what we need here.”

Securing federal grants for projects, which involve an application process, will pose a greater challenge in this political climate, said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, adding that, thankfully, federal gas tax funding is allocated and therefore secure for municipal infrastructure projects.

If municipalities want a fighting chance for grants, they will have to bend the ears of MPs Randall Garrison, Elizabeth May and Denise Savoie.

“We’ll make sure they’re all up to speed on all of our applications, and look for them to knock on the door and help it along,” Leonard said.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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