Maple Ridge residents will keep paying the tolls while those on the other side of the Fraser River will still get a free ride, according to the premier, who made a campaign stop in Maple Ridge on Monday.
Liberal leader Christy Clark said universal road tolls applied to existing roads and bridges would be unfair to residents in the suburbs.
“If you’re living in Maple Ridge and you’re commuting into Burnaby every day,” you don’t need to pay charges on every major road or bridge used, particularly those that were built two or three decades ago.
“Just the concept of it, I don’t think B.C. can afford right now,” she added.
“Universal road pricing is basically a tax on the suburbs.”
But such a system could make it more fair for local residents, said NDP candidate for Maple Ridge-Mission, Mike Bocking. It does seem like Maple Ridge and Surrey residents have been singled out for more user-pay for projects.
Clark was in Langley, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, and accompanied by local candidates Doug Bing and MLA Marc Dalton, met with business people, stopped at The Create Shop pottery and glass studio, and the Delizie Italian Cafe and the Remax real estate office on Dewdney Trunk Road.
While TransLink’s Mayor’s Council grows increasingly frustrated about finding ways to pay its bills, Clark reiterated that it’s a regional problem.
Any funding source must be affordable, supported by the public and regionally based, she said.
“I think TransLink can find a way to come with some solutions and still meet those criteria. It’s up to them to come up with solutions. They’re a regionally governed transit group for a reason.”
That contrasts, though, with a frustrated Mayor’s Council, which recently rejected a temporary two-year property tax hike of about $23 per house as a way of bailing out TransLink.
The mayors also ordered a report, which called for TransLink reform and pointed out that its structure – with an appointed board of directors in control of all decisions except major revenue increases – is an anomaly.
Clark said if the provincial government is able to generate budget surpluses, the priority will be education spending.
“We are in a global hunt for talent and everybody wants talent if you want your economy to grow. You have to grow your talent base. We have to give our kids the opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows NDP candidate Elizabeth Rosenau said classrooms are already facing a shortage of special needs teachers, which is affecting the quality of classroom teaching.
She wants to work to improve services in the Fraser Valley, citing a 2012 report titled Getting It Right for Seniors. “To be old and to get lots of great services, you’re going to want to live in Vancouver or the North Shore.”
Clark’s government has been in constant campaign mode, which creates cynicism among voters who Rosenau encounters while she’s campaigning.
“I go to the door step and I get a serious grilling. The amount of skepticism that I get at the door is enormous and discouraging,” Rosenau said.
Dalton said the NDP wouldn’t give the economy the same attention. “This is a very important election, and it will impact every single voter.”
Motorists also have a free alternative to the tolled bridges, over the Pitt River Bridge, he added.
Clark said she doesn’t regret canceling the Harmonized Sales Tax and reverting to the old provincial sales tax of seven per cent and the five-per-cent goods and services tax. The change back takes place April 1.
“If people say they wanted to get rid of the HST, I promised that, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Dalton won the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows riding by only 68 votes in the 2009 election.
Maple Ridge-Mission NDP candidate Mike Bocking wondered why Clark was visiting when the formal campaign doesn’t start until after April 16, when the writ is issued.
“Was Michael Sather there, because he is the current MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows.”
Bocking said it’s disappointing that the Evergreen SkyTrain line, supposedly just starting construction, took so long to get started, adding that a site office was opened in 2009.
“It does seem like we get the short end of the stick here in Maple Ridge and Mission when it comes to transportation.”
The Port Mann and Golden Ears bridge tolls affects people in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Surrey Langley people far more than the rest of the Lower Mainland, he added.
The B.C. Conservative Party recently proposed a bridge and road toll tax credit that could give commuters about $400 on every income tax return.