Burger not going federal

GUEST COLUMN — Parksville mayor to Lunney: I’m speaking out for citizens

I am compelled to respond to the assertions of our Member of Parliament as printed in The NEWS on March 6. Most importantly, I wish to be absolutely clear, I am not seeking federal office; in fact, I do not even hold membership in a federal party.

The concerns I have expressed, both in my recent speech to the Parksville Chamber of Commerce and in other local settings, are a reflection of the concerns which I hear from our citizens and my colleagues around the council table. As their representative, it’s part of my job to express this on their behalf. If in the process I am critical of wider government, it does not mean there is a secret agenda.

With regard to federal investment, I did not suggest federal dollars are not coming to Vancouver Island. With 92 cents of every tax dollar collected on the Island sent to Ottawa and Victoria, I would hope and fully expect some of this funding would be returned to support our communities.

I have no issue with the support the City of Parksville has received and expect both our MP and MLA will continue to work with us just as they have in the past to ensure we receive our fair share of funding for the benefit of our collective constituents.

The federal Building Canada Plan will provide $14 billion over 10 years in infrastructure funding and is broken down into several categories: $4 billion for projects of national significance, $9 billion for projects of national and regional significance and $1 billion earmarked specifically for cities and communities with populations fewer than 100,000.

In order to be at the table in a meaningful way, I suggested the Island act as a single entity with one unified voice. With a population in excess of 750,000, we too should be able to access funding pools typically reserved for larger population centres.

We need to make the case that our railroad is indeed a project of national significance. As a condition of joining confederation, the colony of British Columbia was promised a railroad on Vancouver Island. In order to facilitate the building of that railroad we also saw the bulk of our land base on the east coast of Vancouver Island sold off. Are we now supposed to simply accept that the railroad is lost and that all that sacrifice ultimately leaves us with a trail corridor? I think trails are important however, an efficient transportation system for our local economies is even more important.

We’re all working hard to attract investment to our communities. A mothballed railroad only serves to hamper our efforts.  For Parksville to be successful over the long term, the entire Island must be successful. It’s true I have expressed, along with many of my local government colleagues, serious concerns with current board and staff of the ICF. We are not alone in this. Federal Conservative (North Island) Minister John Duncan has also stated on more than one occasion that a new approach is needed and that the status quo isn’t working. The current $15 million federal/provincial commitment  is  insufficient to save this railroad.

Without significant government investment, I fear the many municipalities, regional districts and First Nations involved in preserving this corridor will not see much of a benefit for all of our collective efforts. This is especially true of our First Nations partners. As an Island we are so dependent on our ability to move people and goods efficiently. Our railroad is a major, now publicly owned, transportation corridor which should be saved and funded for the benefit of all Islanders.

In 1886, near Cowichan, Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, drove the final golden spike in the E&N Railway and in doing so he fulfilled his promise to British Columbia. Let’s ensure we honour this and do everything possible to save our railroad. Not only is it an important part of our history, it is also an important part of our future.

— Chris Burger is the Mayor of Parksville. E-mail: cburger@parksville.ca.

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