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Here's what the provincial opposition leader has to say about regional transit and higher gas prices in Squamish

BC Liberal Party leader Kevin Falcon touches on issues facing the town.
BC Liberal Party leader Kevin Falcon in Victoria on his first day. The Squamish Chief spoke to Falcon on Jan. 11.

The leader of the BC Liberal party, which is changing its name to BC United, says there's a business case to be made for regional transit in the Sea to Sky.

Kevin Falcon also promised to once again make the gas tax revenue-neutral to ease the burden that residents are feeling at the pump.

These were some comments made by the province's official opposition leader in a roundtable discussion with reporters from across the Glacier Media chain of news publications, which includes The Squamish Chief.

Falcon addressed questions posed by the Squamish Chief about Sea to Sky issues during the discussion on Jan. 11.

For some time, the issue of regional transit has been on the wishlist for local governments in the Sea to Sky Corridor. In recent years, the municipalities in the area have banded together, along with local First Nations, to show the province their united support for a regional transit system.

This service, they say, would reduce traffic on Highway 99, make their communities accessible to those who can't afford a vehicle, stimulate economic growth between the corridor and the Vancouver area, and play a significant role in reducing their carbon footprints.

Falcon said there is presently a "very, very strong business case" for regional transit that perhaps wasn't there when he served as Minister of Transportation back when the BC Liberals were in power.

"I do think that the population growth in the time since I left office, and what we're seeing now — the growth in Squamish, the growth in Whistler, right up and down the corridor, transit, I think, is increasingly crucial — not just for convenience sake, but, I think, fundamentally, it's wedded to the economics of Squamish and Whistler," he said.

"If we're going to have workers working in so many of these small businesses, they have to have an affordable way to get back and forth, and it's got to be reliable."

He said that when he was in senior government, transit experts said that regional transit for the Sea to Sky Corridor couldn't be justified.

"You'd be spending a lot of money and wouldn't get much of a return," recalled Falcon. "I am pretty certain that that calculation has changed considerably. And I think if we don't have reliable transit on that corridor, we are going to see a deterioration of the economic circumstances, both in Squamish and Whistler."

Falcon also had some comments regarding another issue very close to Squamish residents' hearts — the overcharging of residents at the gas pump.

Under the BC NDP government, the province's utilities commission found that Squamish was one of several communities paying a higher price at the pump, despite the fact it's not subject to the 18.5-cent TransLink gas tax.

As a result, the province adopted a name-and-shame approach, publishing information on which gas stations were charging more than others.

However, there have been no tangible penalties for gas stations that overcharge.

Falcon said that there isn't an easy answer as to why Squamish's fuel is more expensive than fuel from the Vancouver area.

However, he noted that taxes make up much of the cost of gas.

"If you look at the cost of fuel here, a huge chunk of it still is provincial taxes," he said.

Falcon added that when the BC Liberals were in power, they introduced the widely-acclaimed revenue-neutral carbon tax. All the extra tax money charged at the pump would go back to residents via lower income taxes.

However, since taking power, the NDP government has shifted away from a revenue-neutral policy and has been using the money to prop up green technologies.

Falcon said that if his government gets elected, he would restore the revenue-neutral policy.

"We will go back to revenue-neutral. We will return those dollars to British Columbians," he said. "And then, at least, residents of Squamish would see a pretty significant reduction in their personal income tax rates they're paying, and that makes at least a difference to help them deal with the fact that they've got higher fuel prices. In terms of why they're higher there, I'd have to do more research."

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