OTTAWA—Toronto will receive nearly $5 billion from Ottawa for transit projects, but it’s contingent on the province forking over cash too, at a time when such funding has been a source of tension between the two lower levels of government.
The federal government is committing $8.34 billion in infrastructure funds to Ontario. Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi sent letters to the provinces and territories July 6, outlining various such pledges. None of the money can flow without funding agreements in place with provinces and those negotiations will now begin.
More than half of Ontario’s share—$4.8 billion—is going to Toronto for its transit network expansion plan, including major projects of a subway relief line, a surface rail Smart Track plan, light-rail transit on Eglinton East and waterfront transit.
“I would be astounded if the government of Ontario, especially facing an election (in June 2018), but even if they weren’t, left billions of dollars on the table,” he said Thursday.
“When the federal government says, ‘You must match this to a minimum of 33 per cent,’ if the government of Ontario says no, I’m assuming the federal government will say, ‘Well, I’m terribly sorry, you haven’t met the qualifications.”’
Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli didn’t commit to matching the federal funds in a statement Thursday, but said Ontario would be working closely with both the federal government and municipalities to negotiate agreements.
“A productive federal partnership that supports Ontario’s strategic investments in public infrastructure across the province is a high priority for our government, and we’re pleased that today we are taking this next step,” Chiarelli wrote.
He noted that Ontario itself has promised to spend $190 billion on infrastructure over 13 years, and said the province has contributed over 70 per cent of the funds for rapid transit projects in Toronto.
Tory said he doesn’t yet know where Toronto’s 20 per cent share would come from, since in January the provincial Liberal government denied him the power to impose road tolls—a decision that has soured the relationship between the city and provincial leaders.
But transit funding is desperately needed, Tory said. Ottawa hasn’t specified funding allocations for Ontario’s transit authorities, but Tory said it is allocated based on ridership, so Toronto gets the lion’s share.
“I know it aggravates people sometimes from other cities when I say this, but there aren’t any other cities in Ontario or Canada that have 500 million passengers per year on their transit systems,” he said.
“So it means the challenge for us of building out a new system and maintaining the current system is way bigger than for anybody else in the country. Nobody even has anything even close to the scale that we deal with here. So it’s appropriate that that should be recognized in government funding.”