Parksville Mayor Chris Burger says Vancouver Islanders are getting a raw deal from senior governments and he wants a group of his colleagues to make some noise about it.
Burger was the guest speaker at a chamber of commerce dinner Thursday night at The Beach Club.
“We need to assert ourselves,” said Burger. “I’m just not feeling like we’re getting any attention. We don’t have an effective voice, someone to pull us all together.”
Burger told the gathering of 100 business people he would like to see a caucus of mayors representing the Island’s 750,000 residents be the group that lobbies both Ottawa and Victoria to bring more tax dollars back to the Island in the form of infrastructure money. He said he was reading a federal government document about billions of dollars in infrastructure projects being funded nationwide and a search of the document using the key words “Vancouver Island” returned no results.
“They are putting $600 million into the subway in Toronto,” said Burger, who received a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of his address. “What are they putting into projects here?”
Earlier the same day of Burger’s speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper provided some details of a $14-billion, 10-year infrastructure fund that will take effect on April 1. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford told reporters he believes much of that money should go to his city.
“We’re the largest city in Canada, and I think we deserve a lion’s share of the money because we have unique needs that other cities don’t,” said Ford, according to The Globe and Mail.
Thursday night at The Beach Club, Burger said the rail lines on Vancouver Island would be a good place to start for infrastructure money from senior levels of government.
“We need our single and only rail line up and running here,” said the long-time municipal politician who is in his first term as Parksville’s mayor. “We need to bring industry back to this Island.”
Burger also said he didn’t believe the current owners of the railway, the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF), is the right group to lobby on behalf of Islanders.
“I’m not going to send them (senior government officials) to (ICF boss) Graham Bruce, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “We need that line running into Port Alberni — we need industry back.”
Burger also pointed to transportation projects getting attention in B.C.’s north and other parts of the country which are helping the economies of those regions by easing the flow of good and services. He spoke of the Sea to Sky Highway, the BC Ferries system and even the Confederation Bridge linking two provinces (New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) that have a total population (about 900,000) close that of Vancouver Island.
“We’re working so hard at the local level and I just think there’s a voice missing,” Burger said in an interview after his speech. He was asked if his comments were directed at the job being done by local provincial (B.C. Liberal MLA Michelle Stilwell) and federal (Conservative MP James Lunney) representatives, members of parties who are in power in Victoria and Ottawa, respectively.
“I’m talking about a unified voice for the Island proper,” he said. “And I’m thinking that the way to do it is through the mayors.”
Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Kim Burden seemed to agree with what Burger said, and he said he liked the concept of a mayors’ caucus.
“I think we need to do something or get off the pot as far as the railway is concerned,” Burden said after the meeting. “Its been going on for way too long, the tracks are deplorable, the efforts by the ICF are not working. I think we do need more commitment from our senior levels of government on both the railway issue and the ferries issue. We get very little back in the way of infrastructure funding considering the size of our contribution to the tax coffers both in Ottawa and Victoria.”
Burger was asked what he would say if he had an audience with Premier Christy Clark and/or Harper.
“I would say the Island is drifting away from the province and you need to bring us back in,” said the Parksville mayor, who also denied his speech was the start of any unofficial campaign for him to seek senior political office.