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

Boma Brown won the Emerging Leader Award for her work founding the Support Network for Indigenous Women and Women of Colour. (Courtesy of Boma Brown)
Victoria SNIWWOC founder up for national women’s award for volunteer efforts

Victoria’s Boma Brown is a semi-finalist in the running for the L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth award

(Black Press Media file photo)
Aggressive bus passenger arrested in Saanich for uttering threats

Suspect had outstanding warrant for assault at bus stop, two assaults on BC Transit buses

(Pixabay photo)
New program to provide recovery beds for at-risk Greater Victoria youth

It will aim to meet ‘health and social’ needs of wide range of youth

Pacific Coastal Airline flights 8P1543 on Feb. 22 and 8P1538 on Feb. 24 had cased of COVID-19 onboard, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. (Pacific Coastal Airlines photo)
Two flights between Kelowna and Victoria report COVID-19 exposures

Pacific Coastal Airlines flights on Feb. 22 and Feb. 24 affected

Aerial view of the Capital Regional District residuals treatment facility at Hartland Landfill where residual solids are turned into Class A biosolids. (Photo courtesy CRD)
Plant closure sends more biosolids to Hartland Landfill

Saanich residents are concerned they were never consulted

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

(File photo)
RCMP arrest man after report of gun-toting, threat-maker near Parksville schools

43-year-old man taken into custody; students at nearby schools were asked to stay inside

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria both have a MySafe machine to help reduce overdoses

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Vancouver Island sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Nanaimo store, cutting himself in the process

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)
B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

Most Read