Finance Minister Bill Morneau had good reasons for dropping in on Surrey and snubbing Vancouver

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      Canada has no shortage of economic challenges.

      The loonie closed at US$0.6882 yesterday and West Texas Intermediate crude oil ended the week below US$30 for the first time since 2003.

      Meanwhile, the parliamentary budget officer has forecast far higher deficits from 2018 to 2021 than the finance ministry is willing to acknowledge.

      This was the backdrop for Bill Morneau's first visit to B.C. since being appointed finance minister.

      Normally, a finance minister's first stop would be at the Vancouver Board of Trade. It's always offered a showcase for these types of events.

      However, Morneau decided instead to hold his inaugural B.C. prebudget consultation today with the Surrey Board of Trade.

      Light rail on the agenda

      One of the hottest issues in Surrey is rapid transit.

      Council in B.C.'s second largest city supports a $2.1-billion plan for three new street-level light-rail lines extending out from Surrey Centre.

      One route would go along 104 Avenue to Guildford; the second would travel south along King George Highway to Newton; and a third would move down Fraser Highway to Langley.

      In the last election campaign, the Liberals promised to invest $6 billion in rapid transit over four years and $20 billion over 10 years.

      Surrey politicians are angling for federal money to fund rapid transit.

      Vancouver city council also wants federal funding for rapid transit along the Broadway corridor.

      Partly as a result of the infrastructure promise, Morneau's party did exceptionally well south of the Fraser River and in Vancouver.

      Surrey MPs sit on back benches 

      The Liberals won four of the five seats covering Surrey, as well as the only seat in neighbouring Delta. Despite this show of support, no Surrey MP was appointed to cabinet.

      The only Liberal south of the Fraser to make the cut was Delta's Carla Qualtrough. She was appointed to the relatively junior post of minister of sport and persons with disabilities.

      Contrast this with Vancouver, which is represented by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

      None of the Surrey MPs were named parliamentary secretaries to cabinet ministers, either.

      Instead, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave these plums to three North Shore MPs and Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray. Parliamentary secretaries are often first in line to join cabinet when a minister stumbles or retires. 

      So it shouldn't be a surprise that the Trudeau government felt the need to show love to Surrey by sending the finance minister there for his first major address in B.C.

      But Morneau also mentioned Vancouver (and not Surrey) on his Twitter feed in case anyone on the other side of the river was paying attention.

      Surrey and Vancouver boards are squabbling

      Ironically, the Surrey Board of Trade hosted Morneau while it's public feuding with the Vancouver Board of Trade over its proposed name change to Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

      "The Vancouver Board of Trade does not speak on behalf of the region’s business community," Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman declared in a recent news release. "Organizations such as the B.C. Chamber of Commerce were established to bring chambers and boards of trade together on issues of common interest."

      Perhaps feeling the sting of the Morneau snub, the Vancouver Board of Trade has invited interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose to give a lunch-hour presentation on Wednesday (January 20) about the future of her party.

      This will take place at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel (1180 West Hastings Street).

      Rona Ambrose will discuss where her party should go without Stephen Harper at the helm.

      Whenever high-profile politicians or a Bank of Canada governor speak to a board of trade, it becomes a fundraiser for the organization. That's because it's not difficult to sell tickets for celebrity newsmakers who don't charge for their time.

      The board of trade also gets to bask in some positive national media attention when someone of Morneau's stature shows up to deliver a speech.

      Morneau's choice of going to Surrey has likely ruffled some feathers in the Vancouver business community. But the Liberals had to do something to offset their decision to shut Surrey MPs out of key positions in government.

      Thus, there was this peace offering to the Surrey business community. And now, Morneau can get on a plane and return to Ottawa.