Vancouver’s mayor has lauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for treating Canada’s cities with respect following a fractious relationship with the former Conservative government.
Gregor Robertson welcomed Trudeau to Vancouver for the first time since he was elected prime minister, and his comments signalled a new partnership between cities and Ottawa.
Robertson and Trudeau held a news conference Thursday after the two discussed issues like infrastructure, affordable housing and climate change in a private meeting.
“Vancouver and the big cities right across Canada are really looking forward to working with you to strengthen our communities and to build a better country now and into the future,” said Robertson, who is also the chairman of the 21-member Big City Mayors’ Caucus.
“It’s so refreshing to have a partner in Ottawa that treats cities with respect and recognizes that we are so vital to the country’s success.”
Hundreds lined up in the rain and crowded the city hall rotunda to greet the prime minister. First Nations chiefs, city councillors and police and fire chiefs were among those clamouring for handshakes and photos.
The visit was largely symbolic, resulting in no new announcements but marking the first prime ministerial trip to Vancouver city hall since 1973.
That’s when Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau transferred the final 91 hectares of an area later called Jericho Park, which was a federal airfield during the Second World War.
Robertson handed Trudeau a photo of the senior Trudeau’s visit 42 years ago.
Trudeau said he was “amazed” to learn he was the first prime minister to visit since his father. He recalled walking through Jericho Park during the election campaign but had no idea about his dad’s connection to it.
He once lived in Vancouver, teaching French and math among other courses at an elite private school in the late 1990s and said he was happy to be back in his second home.
“Vancouver, like cities across the country, will now have a partner in the federal government on issues of housing, on issues of public transit specifically,” he said.
Trudeau said the government has dedicated $20 billion in transit funding over the next 10 years.
Part of the funding for the $1.9-billion Broadway rapid transit line planned for Vancouver is expected to come from the federal government.
The prime minister and mayor are friendly. Trudeau wished Robertson a happy 50th birthday in a video playful message last year, congratulating him on transitioning out of the “handsome young politician” range to the “distinguished older gentleman” phase.
More importantly, Trudeau has vowed to lead and invest in areas where Robertson often complained Stephen Harper would not—including drug policy, housing and transit.
“We did not see significant investment in Canada’s cities and our infrastructure and we slipped behind,” Robertson said of Harper’s government.
“That strained the relationships. They remained respectful, but certainly that was damaging for Canada.”
He thanked Trudeau for following through with an election promise to reopen the Kitsilano coast guard station after it was shuttered by the Conservatives in 2013.
Trudeau praised Robertson, calling him “as strong an advocate for Vancouver as I have seen in the country.”
Asked about the possibility of marijuana sales in liquor stores, Trudeau said while it’s the federal government’s job to change the Criminal Code, decisions about sales and distribution will involve provinces and municipalities.
He said in response to a question about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that the Conservatives eroded public confidence in pipeline projects.
“There needs to be public trust before projects like these can go ahead,” he said.
“I’ve been saying for years that the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for an oil pipeline,” Trudeau added, referring to the vast forest covering B.C.’s northern and central coast.