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Help cut commute times in 2012 budget, cities urge Ottawa

An average trip to and from work in Toronto takes 80 minutes, something the Federation of Canadian Municipalities wants the Harper government to fix with new commitments to cut commute times in Canada's cities.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The Harper government should fund a new infrastructure plan for Canada's cities that sets clear targets for speeding up the daily trip to work, the House of Commons finance committee will hear on Tuesday as pre-budget hearings resume in Ottawa.

Getting to work in Toronto and Montreal now takes longer than in some of the world's largest cities, including New York, Los Angeles and London, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities says. Tackling the issue in the budget along with targets for performance, the FCM argues, is the way to go as infrastructure spending shifts to the longer term after a three-year recessionary spending spree.

The FCM is among several groups that will appear Tuesday before the Commons finance committee, whose pre-budget hearings are returning to Ottawa after touring parts of the country last week.

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As the federal government moves away from stimulus spending toward years of restraint, some economists have already told the committee that new infrastructure pledges could help the Canadian economy at a time when a full recovery is uncertain.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty repeatedly says he will be "flexible" as the government tackles the deficit, but it's not clear whether that opens the door to new spending. The June, 2011, budget included a general pledge to work with the FCM and the provinces on "a long-term plan for public infrastructure," but no details were offered and that plan likely won't be ready for the 2012 budget. Cities are now actively campaigning for a new funding order by the 2013 budget.

FCM president Berry Vrbanovic said cities are certainly interested if Ottawa wants to do more stimulus, but he said the priority now is to hammer out a national vision that looks beyond the short term and out 15 to 20 years.

"We need to develop a long-term plan," he said. "That really is the best way and the most effective way to get the biggest bang for our buck."

Canada's cities note that about 40 per cent of the federal programs for municipalities are scheduled to expire by 2014, and the annual $2-billion-a-year gas tax transfer effectively shrinks each year because it's not indexed to inflation.

The recession was a boon for cities and towns across the country as thousands of federal and provincial stimulus projects replaced sewers, paved roads and renovated hockey arenas. But the stimulus spending is drying up, as are pre-existing infrastructure funds. Both the $1.2-billion-a-year Building Canada Infrastructure Fund and the $80-million-a-year Police Officer Recruitment Fund are scheduled to end in 2014, and a $300-million-a-year Public Transit Capital Trust ended in 2009 with no sign of renewal.

Statistics Canada reported in August that the average Canadian commute for 2010 was 26 minutes each way – longer in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

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The daily commute is even longer for public transit users, who reported an average one-way travel time of 44 minutes. That may be one reason only 12 per cent took public transit to work in 2010, while 6 per cent either walked or bicycled.

NDP MP Peggy Nash, a Toronto MP, noted the Toronto Board of Trade's research found commute times and infrastructure troubles cost the city $6-billion a year.

"For business in urban centres it's a priority, certainly for environmentalists it's a priority, and for Canadians who've got to get around from place to place it's a priority," she said.

Liberal MP Scott Brison said the committee is hearing that stimulus spending may have helped with short-term infrastructure issues, there is still a need to tackle projects that would have long-term benefits.

Overall, he said the finance committee is hearing a lot of unease across the country, particularly about "a high level of joblessness in Canada."


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Average time, in minutes, of a trip to and from work (including suburbs) of census metropolitan areas











Los Angeles


San Francisco
















New York










Source: Toronto Board of Trade

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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