Tuesday March 2, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends
Addressing business and community leaders for nearly an hour today starting at noon, Transportation & Infrastructure (MOTI) Minister Rob Fleming covered a lot of ground on policy, project and business levels.
The online episode attended by about 68 people via Zoom was hosted by the Victoria Chamber of Commerce as a paid-attendance event. The moderator was veteran journalist Bruce Williams who is currently the CEO of the Victoria Chamber.
Without being bold in words but sometimes forthright in policy and making clear his boundaries and that of his government, Minister Fleming made it pretty clear that he’s supportive of shipbuilding contracts, looking further at the idea of a west shore ferry service (which BC Ferries has spearheaded as a ‘seabus service’), and not too keen on investing further in the E&N rail line for commuter use (“its been well studied and is disproportionately expensive, and we don’t have indigenous buy-in”). There were political and business reasons for those planks.
The South Island Transportation Strategy is something he spoke favourably about, and is keen that the Capital Regional District (CRD) has struck a transportation committee to have input into regional planning of coordinated approaches to transportation networks on the south island.
Asked to summarize the overall strongest thrust of his goals for what the Transportation & Infrastructure Ministry can do under his leadership, Minister Fleming didn’t hesitate to say that he wants to see less use of single-occupant-vehicles (a goal he’s heard talked about for over 20 years on the south island) and greater use of public transit.
Fleming noted the economic impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, including on the transportation sector as well as the tourism sector that relies on effective transportation. He said that BC will be “building back better” as part of economic recovery.
He’s enthusiastic for a concept plan for the Belleville Terminal in downtown Victoria which brings visitors from Washington State (in non-COVID times). “We benefit disproportionately,” he said (as more people head to Victoria from the US than the other way around), adding that the BC government will likely “make a significant investment there”.
Meanwhile, the cruise ship industry is pretty much on hold until February 28, 2022 due to federal restrictions during the pandemic.
Highways & transit in the south island region:
As for highways, Fleming listed off Highway 1 (with more median barriers to be installed to enhance safety — another 1.5 km installation this year from north of West Shore Parkway to north of Finlayson Arm Road, to support access to Goldstream Provincial Park and to better service traffic to and from upisland); Highway 17 (a project he called “an engineering challenge” to reduce traffic backups at Keating Cross Road overpass project — with public consultation to March 24); and Highway 14 (to better service traffic out to Sooke and beyond, not only with the current Connie Road/Glinz Lake project but another $85 million including federal dollars which is being bid on soon for further work).
He said that the almost-completed McKenzie Interchange project (98% done) has cut commuter time between downtown and the west shore in half.
BC Transit will use zero-emission buses only by 2040, said Fleming. There is an RFP out for high-occupancy battery-powered buses, to be in service by summer 2022 he said today.
He highlighted BC’s strong tech and innovation research and development sector, both public and private. Cluster battery innovation and green technology were two points made.
Ride hailing is a tough one for BC, as the NDP government sees the existing taxi service as ‘family-supporting businesses’ and does not want to have a negative impact there.
Fleming says the NDP provincial government is focussed on affordability in BC as “a major objective”, given that the cost of living — particularly in the south island area — “has gotten out of control in the last couple of decades”.
Fleming chats twice weekly with Attorney General David Eby who is also the Minister of Housing. There are goals to coordinate transportation where people are housed.
Fleming says his ministry has a lot of contact with the Jobs & Recovery Ministry led by islander MLA Ravi Kahlon. That ministry “oversees a lot of critically important programs”, said Fleming, whose home riding is Victoria-Swan Lake with an office in the Hillside area of the city.
Fleming was not shy to say that the BC NDP government and the federal Liberal government are not working at cross-purposes to each other, which helps projects move ahead more smoothly.