Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks outside Rideau Cottage on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Trudeau says the federal government will provide nearly $15 billion for public-transit projects across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks outside Rideau Cottage on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Trudeau says the federal government will provide nearly $15 billion for public-transit projects across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Feds promise billions in new funds to build, expand public-transit systems

The money promised on Wednesday is intended for new systems and expansions

The federal Liberal government is promising cash-strapped cities billions of dollars in permanent funding for their public-transit systems — though most of the money won’t start flowing until later in the decade.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the $14.9-billion announcement Wednesday as he prepared for a virtual meeting with the mayors of Canada’s largest cities, many of them struggling to make ends meet due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These investments will support major public transit projects like subway extensions, help electrify fleets with zero-emission vehicles,” Trudeau said during a virtual news conference.

“They will also be used to meet the growing demand for walkways and paths for cycling and help rural and remote communities deliver projects to meet their mobility challenges.”

About $6 billion will be available to municipalities right away for projects that are ready to go, according to the government, while the remainder will go into a $3-billion per year fund that can be doled out on a project-by-project basis starting in 2026-27.

Exactly what needs towns and cities will have over the long term remains uncertain as municipal leaders consider how their communities will be after the pandemic, including the extent to which working from home will replace many people’s traditional commutes.

Trudeau acknowledged those uncertainties, but suggested the importance of public transit will continue to grow, particularly as governments at all levels move to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and fight climate change.

“There will be no question that cities will still be incredible, vibrant places for economic growth for jobs,” he said.

“Yes, there will be more working from home, but people will still want to be getting around and there may actually be less need for certain single-occupant vehicles, and more use of better-quality, cleaner, and safer public transit.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who is also chair of a group of mayors from Canada’s largest cities and participated in Wednesday’s announcement, echoed that assessment in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“Until there’s mass vaccination, it will take some time for ridership to recover,” he said. “But even in the worst-case scenario, most of us are assuming transit ridership returning to normal within three to five years. And so these systems that we’re building will be here for generations to come.”

The money promised on Wednesday is intended for new systems and expansions, and will not specifically help municipalities struggling to pay the costs of operating public-transit systems during the pandemic, when many buses and subways are largely empty.

While the federal government and provincial counterparts stepped up to help cover many of those shortfalls last year, Iveson said discussions about assistance this year remain ongoing.

“The federal government very much understands the need economically and as a matter of fairness to local governments who really aren’t in a position to run deficits in the same way,” he said.

“So we do need that backstop support. Provinces got there last year, and we’ll need to work with them to get there again for 2021.”

Iveson nonetheless welcomed the promised funding as a win for municipalities that have called for long-term stability and predictability when it comes to building and expanding transit systems, as well as a way to help the economy and fight climate change.

The task now: securing commitments from various provinces to pick up their parts of the tabs for individual projects.

To that end, the federal government says it will work with provinces, territories and municipalities along with Indigenous communities and others to identify projects and other potential uses for the $3-billion annual fund.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna’s spokeswoman Chantalle Aubertin says that unlike previous infrastructure commitments, the new money will not be specifically divided up between provinces, but instead put into a pot that can be dipped into whenever a project is ready.

That is because some provinces have not been using the money previously allocated to them, while others have been calling for more.

Wednesday’s funding announcement was applauded by the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, whose mandate includes developing low-carbon public transit and whose membership includes transit agencies across Canada as well as numerous industry players.

“This is exactly the type of leadership we need right now to build back better through Canada’s comeback from the pandemic, and the kick-start required to accelerate low-carbon transit projects across the country to meet the mobility needs of Canadians,” CUTRIC president Josipa Petrunic said in a statement.

Toronto Mayor John Tory as well as various environmental groups also chimed in with their support for the promised public-transit funds.

Conservative infrastructure critic Andrew Scheer, however, accused the Liberal government of failing to address the needs of Canadian municipalities and provinces due to delays in past infrastructure-spending promises.

The Liberal infrastructure program is awful, Scheer wrote on Twitter. “Just ask the (parliamentary budget officer), their own internal audits, and Statistics Canada. Justin Trudeau hopes you will be fooled by his promises for the future, when he cannot get the job done today.”

ALSO READ: Man facing charges after ‘reprehensible’ attack on SkyTrain custodian: transit police

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Transit

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo by Tom Zytaruk
Surrey 2021 tree sale begins Friday

City of Surrey says it’s selling quality trees for $20 each

The Washboard Union in the video for the song “If She Only Knew.”
WATCH: Washboard Union’s new ‘double feature’ videos filmed by Surrey director Barberis

‘Double feature’ release for the award-winning country music trio

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Drivers who ignored a speed reader board were pulled over by police in Langley on Feb. 18. (ICBC)
Ignore a speed reader board, get a ticket: some Langley drivers didn’t take the hint

One driver ticketed last week was doing close to double the posted limit

Surrey Mounties says they seized a luxury car, drugs and cash in Newton. (Photo: Surrey RCMP)
Surrey gang cops seize Alfa Romeo Stelvio, drugs and cash in Newton

This happened in the neighbourhood of 121A Street and 85A Avenue on Feb. 20

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after a news conference at the legislature in Victoria on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. reports 559 new cases of COVID-19, one death

4,677 cases of the virus remain active in the province; 238 people are in hospital

Vancouver Canucks left wing Antoine Roussel (26) tries to get a shot past Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) during second period NHL action in Vancouver, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks cough up 3-0 lead, fall 4-3 to visiting Edmonton Oilers

Vancouver falls to 8-13-2 on the NHL season

Jessica McCallum-Miller receives her signed oath of office from city chief administrative officer Heather Avison on Nov. 5, 2018 after being elected to Terrace City Council. McCallum-Miller resigned on Feb. 22, 2021, saying she felt unsupported and unheard by council. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Terrace’s 1st Indigenous councillor resigns citing ‘systemic and internalized racism,’ sexism

McCallum-Miller said in a Facebook post she felt unheard and unsupported by council

Temporary changes to allow for wholesale pricing for the hospitality industry were implemented June 2020 and set to expire March 31.	(Pixabay photo)
Pubs, restaurants to pay wholesale prices on liquor permanently in COVID-recovery

Pre-pandemic, restaurateurs and tourism operators paid full retail price on most liquor purchases

Wade Dyck with Luna, a dog who went missing near the Chasm for 17 days following a rollover on Feb. 5. (Photo submitted).
Dog missing for 17 days through cold snap reunited with owner in northern B.C.

Family ecstatic to have the Pyrenees-Shepherd cross back home.

Quesnel RCMP confirmed they are investigating a residential break-in at a home on the Barkerville Highway. (File image)
Thieves make off with $300K in Cariboo miner’s retirement gold

Tim Klemen is offering a reward for the return of his gold

Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire. Image: The Canadian Press
Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell makes third attempt at bail on sex charges

Maxwell claims she will renounce her U.K. and French citizenships if freed

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Feds agree people with mental illness should have access to MAID — in 2 years

This is one of a number of changes to Bill C-7 proposed by the government

Most Read