National News

B.C. gets more choices on gas tax spending

By Steven Chua, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's local politicians will have a harder time passing the buck on funding complaints to higher levels of government now that Ottawa has broadened its scope on the Gas Tax Fund, Federal Industry Minister James Moore said Thursday.

The federal government has loosened the reins on how local municipalities can spend almost $2.76 billion from the fund, allowing money for projects supporting culture, tourism and sports, instead of just infrastructure projects.

Moore said the 10-year-funding plan will force local politicians to follow through on their campaign promises, and a lack of money will no longer be an excuse.

"I think this is a now a good time for politics — 'small-p' politics in its most perfect form," Moore said, referencing the upcoming November municipal elections in the province.

"Before, the debate was 'elect me and I'll fight for the opportunity to have the ability to move forward with projects.'" said Moore. "Now we actually have some of the certainties."

Metro Vancouver's cities and municipalities will be receiving over half of that money and Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie said the regional district plans on spending about 95 per cent of that on public transit.

"They've expanded the scope," he said. "They've expanded the duration of the fund and the amount of money in the fund — which are all positive things from a municipal standpoint, because it gives us stability."

The $2.76 billion in funding is in addition to $1.1 billion from the New Building Canada Fund, which gives the province $3.9 billion in federal funding over the next decade.

Coralee Oakes, B.C.'s minister of community, sport and culture, says the new flexibility in funding will allow local governments to better meet spending needs.

"I'm incredibly pleased the scope has been broadened," said Oakes. "It meets the needs of individual distinct communities."

Past money from the gas fund has been used to support numerous projects in B.C. including new SkyTrain vehicles, the expansion of a recycling centre in Ladysmith and for green energy projects in Fort St. John.

The province and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities signed the first Gas Tax Fund agreement with Ottawa in 2005.

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