An evening of jokes couldn’t hide regional differences and disagreements among the region’s five mayors, who offered their views on transportation, affordable housing and cannabis retailers Thursday during a Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce barbecue.
With Belcarra's mayor joining the annual event for the first time, the Tri-Cities' five top elected officials showed they share many concerns in one of the Lower Mainland's fastest growing regions.
Belcarra's Neil Belenkie said his small village, with a population of just 630, struggles to pay for needed infrastructure. And it wants to ensure residents have access to transportation, with a proposed shuttle to Inlet Centre SkyTrain possibly on the horizon, he said.
“[TransLink] accepted the proposal,” Belenkie told the crowd, suggesting the model, if approved, could be used for other communities to get people from transit to their homes.
Indeed, transportation concerns surfaced as the issue that revealed the most division between the mayors as they explained why there are bottlenecks from Port Coquitlam to Belcarra, and offered solutions to fix them.
“Ride-sharing has got to be a game changer for our municipality,” said Anmore Mayor John McEwen, who said he welcomes the coming arrival ride hailing services such as Lyft and Uber.
Port Moody’s acting mayor, Coun. Hunter Madsen, suggested mobility pricing as one possible solution to the city’s traffic jams, a notion that was quickly opposed by Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who said transportation solutions have to be “grounded in the reality of people’s lives,” and McEwen, who suggested charging to reduce congestion would “punish those who can afford it the least.”
Madsen’s suggestion to widen Lougheed Highway to encourage Coquitlam residents to avoid St. Johns Street, where traffic stalls during rush hour, was quickly shot down by Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who said there isn’t enough room to add more lanes unless a planned overpass at the Pitt River Road to boost rail traffic is approved and funded.
Indeed, a commitment to federal funding is key to improving transit for the region, and Stewart said he hopes federal leaders will address the issue during the upcoming election campaign.
“We really need the politicians to determine what kind of of predictable federal funding [there will be],” Stewart said, noting that building more roads isn’t the answer to moving one million more people who will be coming to the region.
“We need sustainable transit for this to be a livable region,” he said.
The mayors also revealed that more work is needed to resolve alignment concerns for the Fremont connector to get Burke Mountain residents out of the city without clogging up roads in Port Coquitlam.
As for density, the mayors agreed that building more homes is the solution to the region’s affordability crisis and said they are streamlining processes for building and business applications.
How quickly cannabis stores will open up, however, differs from city to city.
PoCo’s West said his city has concluded a lengthy public process and could have a cannabis store open within a month, if approved by the province. Madsen said Port Moody is still working on a plan to have four stores and is looking at next year to conclude the process. And Stewart admitted getting cannabis retail in the city wasn’t a priority when council first looked at the issue because regulations weren’t in place, and has yet to start a year-long public consultation process.
The discussion prompted what might have been the best zinger of the night when West quipped that “Coquitlam is going to get its pot from Port Coquitlam like they always have.”