OTTAWA – The federal treasury is doling out $1.49 billion worth of transit funding among cities in Ontario for track upgrades, new buses and improvements and accessibility upgrades to stations, the prime minister announced Tuesday.
Five Ontario cities are the first recipients of $688 million of the dedicated transit funding for projects that have been approved. The funding can be used for up to half of the costs of an eligible project. It’s retroactive to April 1 to cover any costs cities and provinces have already incurred since then.
“For larger cities like Toronto it means upgraded vehicles, more timely subway track repairs and vehicles and stations that are more accessible,” Trudeau said in Barrie, Ont.
“In communities across the province this investment will shorten commute times and make public transit more efficient and more inclusive.”
About $500 million of the projects will be in Toronto, with Ottawa next on the list at $156 million.
Waterloo, Barrie and Sudbury, where the federal cabinet just wrapped up a two-day retreat, will receive about $30.6 million combined for 20 projects.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, who has long made a push for more federal infrastructure funding, was on hand for the announcement. She said Ontario is “already putting every available dollar towards infrastructure” as her government has committed to spend $160 billion over 12 years.
“So today’s federal investment of $1.5 billion adds to that amount and it adds to that amount at a critical moment because we’re still catching up from years of underinvestment,” she said.
Ontario is still in negotiation with the federal government to finalize an agreement on another phase of transit funding, Wynne said.
Several federal cabinet ministers also fanned out across the province Tuesday as the Trudeau government seeks to capitalize politically on the long-awaited deal. Newly minted House leader Bardish Chagger was in Waterloo, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in Ottawa and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Toronto, the city that’s getting the majority of the funding destined for Ontario.
The federal Liberals are betting that the $6.6 billion set aside this year and next for infrastructure work — the first infusion of a promised extra $60 billion over 10 years — will help kick-start the economy and pad government coffers with new tax revenue that will help bring the budget back to balance.
The federal government has also been pushing to spend the money quickly so as not to miss the summer construction season, but has been stymied by provincial delays in finalizing funding wish lists, including Ontario. Under the new federal program, provinces are required to fill half of their funding wish lists before Ottawa can begin distributing the money.
The province is using a streamlined funding process to get money to municipalities as soon as possible.
Federal officials say Ontario has yet to finalize a funding wish list of water and wastewater projects, something that it must do over the coming months to get $570 million for projects like water treatment facility upgrades and sewers. Similar work is ongoing in British Columbia, which — like Ontario — signed a transit funding deal first, given the volume of outstanding work required.
The federal government must still sign agreements with Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. For Saskatchewan, the deadline of finishing new construction or expansion projects by March 2018 has raised concerns that municipalities may rush the due diligence needed to prepare funding proposals, or may not be able to complete projects on time, said Jay Teneycke, a spokesman for Saskatchewan Government Relations Minister Jim Reiter.
The infrastructure money this year and next is focused on repairing Canada’a aging water and public transit infrastructure, as well as for smaller projects that can be completed by 2019.
There is also money available for planning larger projects that are to be the focus of the second and more lucrative phase of the Liberal infrastructure program.
— with files from Allison Jones in Barrie