Some Toronto councillors are slamming Conservative infrastructure minister Denis Lebel for flatly rejecting a request for a $1-billion-a-year transit infrastructure fund, proposed this week by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities during lobbying sessions with federal ministers and MPs.
"My jaw dropped when I read the statement," said Toronto Transit Commission Vice-Chair Glenn De Baeremaeker. "It's saying that Ottawa is just abandoning every city in Canada. They're walking away from the file."
Councillor Shelley Carroll added that it "makes no sense" for the federal government to be pushing cities to look at public-private partnerships for large infrastructure projects but then not create a dedicated stream of funding for major transit schemes, which are the mostly likely candidates for such financing arrangements.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail Thursday, Mr. Lebel said the government wants to allow provincial and territorial governments to decide how the new funds, expected to be included in the 2013 federal budget, will be spent. "We will not dedicate money for a specific program for transit or other ideas like that. We prefer to work with provinces and territories," he said.
But TTC Chair Karen Stintz said in an e-mail that the Tories' approach doesn't preclude funding arrangements, such as the three-way shared financing of the Spadina subway extension up to Vaughan. "Minister Lebel's comments give me hope that the federal government would come to the table with funding for well-planned transit projects in and through Toronto."
Ottawa last spring signalled that it would accelerate plans to develop a new "long-term infrastructure fund" (LTIP) to replace the seven year/$33-billion Building Canada fund that expires next year.
The negotiations over the shape of the program come at a time when both the City of Toronto and Queen's Park are closely studying the delicate question of how to raise new sources of revenue to pay for an estimated $50-billion in transit expansion across Greater Toronto and Hamilton over the next quarter century.
Earlier this fall, the FCM board unanimously backed a proposal calling for the government to allocate $5.75-billion a year for cost-shared infrastructure projects over the next 15 to 20 years. The group's plan included a $1-billion-a-year "Commute Times" fund and also asked Ottawa to allow the $2-billion/year gas tax fund to grow by 3 per cent annually, the same pace of growth as the federal government's latest health deal with the provinces.
But City of Toronto officials quietly chose not to back the FCM's plan, pitching instead an infrastructure funding proposal that appears to be much more in line with the Conservatives' thinking.
Mayor Rob Ford's chief of staff Mark Towhey said on Twitter last week that Toronto is "dealing directly" with Ottawa. The City "speaks for itself and made its own submission," he wrote, adding there was "no need" for Mr. Ford to attend the conference or join forces with the FCM.
The City's 15-page submission – which was not circulated to councillors and only released in response to a media request – calls on Ottawa to establish a "national transportation infrastructure fund" that would lump transit funding requests in with road, highway and bridge projects. It also asks Ottawa to give municipalities much more authority to determine how the funds will be spent.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said the city would seek to use new transportation infrastructure dollars for shovel-ready road projects as well as subway or LRT schemes.
However, Toronto has told Ottawa it wants more autonomy to move ahead with major projects, including the next tranche of LRT lines, as soon as the long-term funding gets the green light, he said.
"Even though I disagree with the direction we've gone [on transit], it doesn't mean I wouldn't accept the money."
Special to The Globe and Mail
Two Visions of Ottawa's Long-term Infrastructure Plan (LTIP)
City of Toronto
Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Minimum 10 years
No figure cited; $2-billion/year gas tax fund indexed to inflation
$5.75-billion/year including $2.5-billion/year for “Core Economic Infrastructure Fund (CEIF); gas tax fund to grow 3 per cent/year
“National Transportation Infrastructure Fund” which underwrites both transit and other roads projects; annual amount unspecified
Establish a “Commute Times” fund of $1-billion/year, to be drawn from CEIF, for projects designed to alleviate congestion
Use of Public-Private Partnerships or “Alternate Financing and Procurement” (AFP)
“All federal funds should leverage P3/AFP where appropriate.”
Assess viability of P3 financing for projects over $200-million
Green Infrastructure/Climate Change
Proposes adding a new innovation infrastructure endowment to FCM Green Infrastructure Fund
Make affordable housing projects eligible for CEIF