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

Shirley Falstead is running for city council in the byelection. Photo: Submitted
Shirley Falstead enters Castlegar council race

Shirley Falstead is the first candidate to aim for the council seat in byelection

This Dec. 2, 2020, file photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)
Interior Health notes 80 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

108 people in the region have died from the virus

Selkirk College’s Tenth St. Campus in Nelson is among the locations where Interior Health will deliver the COVID-19 vaccine within the West Kootenay. Photo: Selkirk College
West Kootenay vaccine locations announced

Interior Health has released a list of places to receive the COVID-19 vaccine

A West Kootenay man died in an avalanche on March 4 while snowmobiling near Mount Payne, which is indicted by the red flag. Illustration: Google Maps
Father of 3 dead after avalanche in West Kootenay

The man was snowmobiling with a group when incident occurred March 4

Last week warming temperatures were a concern for Avalanche Canada forecasters, and those trends likely contributed to an avalanche that killed a West Kootenay snowmobiler on Thursday, March 4. Jen Coulter file photo.
Warming trend contributed to Kaslo fatality: Avalanche Canada

Concern for persistent layers has reduced since then

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

A special committee has been appointed to look at reforming B.C.’s police act and is inviting the public to make submissions until April 30, 2021. (Black Press media file)
Have thoughts on B.C.’s review of the provincial Police Act?

Submissions will be accepted until April 30

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complaints about that condo

Most Read