Your Sunday 5 Minute Read – Grants & Incentives
It's All About The Process
By Victoria Gibson. Published on Jun 9, 2020 2:27pm
As the Ontario government presses ahead with its transit plans — announcing last week that it was issuing requests for qualifications for its flagship Ontario Line — Premier Doug Ford’s administration is still pressing for Ottawa to formally commit to funding.
Inking a transit funding deal with the feds is “top priority,” the provincial transport ministry told iPolitics. But a spokesperson for Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna laid out several steps ahead for the province before Ottawa would sign onto funding the province’s plan — including formal applications for some projects, and business cases for larger efforts like the Ontario Line.
“We continue to work closely with the province and ask that Ontario prioritize its projects and submit complete funding applications in a timely manner, so that we can get investment funds moving and get Ontarians working this construction season,” spokesperson Chantalle Aubertin said in an email. The wait until project applications came in for the Ontario projects was also noted by McKenna’s parliamentary secretary, Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, in a response to a recent order paper question from Oshawa Conservative MP Colin Carrie — in which asked about funding for the Scarborough Subway and Eglinton Crosstown West extension projects.
The province, for the last year, has been pressing for a conditional promise of federal money for their transit plan — an effort that has become heated at times, including before the last federal election. After an Ontario minister accused the federal Liberals of prioritizing political expediency over funding their transit projects, a spokesperson for former Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told the Toronto Star that the feds weren’t “in the business of writing blank cheques with public funds when so many questions remained to be answered as to how the funds will be used.”
The province has continually pointed to projects like the Montreal Metro’s Blue line, which they present as a case of Ottawa committing to funding for a transit effort in the earlier stages of its planning. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1.3 billion in funding for that line in Quebec last year, during the months leading up to the federal election — as the Globe and Mail reported that the project didn’t have an estimated final cost.
The federal Liberals, in response, argue that the metro line in Montreal had “long been a priority” of the city. Information about the project’s cost had been submitted to Ottawa before the project was approved and the announcement was made, Aubertin said.
Ontario’s current transit plans would put the feds on the hook for a larger sum than the Blue line, with the Ford PCs pressing Trudeau’s administration to foot 40 per cent of a nearly $29-billion planned endeavor. “The federal government has historically participated in major infrastructure investments before and there is no reason that this one should be any different,” Ontario transportation ministry spokesperson Christina Salituro argued. “With the province and municipal governments firmly aligned, we continue to urge the federal government to keep the funding commitment they made during the 2019 election campaign.”
The federal Liberals, in the fall campaign, committed to supporting “Toronto’s public transit priorities” and backed local decisions, without specifying any specific projects or dollar amounts. The announcement came as the city publicly backed Ford’s Ontario Line project as viable, at the same time that the province announced that it was backing off its plans to upload Toronto’s subway system.
The Grits were also facing pressure as their Conservative and New Democrat opponents vowed their support for the transit projects. Still, their pledge at the time did not come with glowing words for Ford’s government, with Spadina—Fort York MP Adam Vaughan denouncing Ford’s approach to transit planning as akin to “magic market on a map.” The federal Liberals were outspoken in their critique of the province on the campaign trail, but relations between the two levels of government appear to have since simmered.
The push for a funding commitment was a feature of meetings between provincial and federal ministers at the start of this year, with Ford bringing members of his cabinet to Ottawa to lobby for such a pledge in advance of a planned First Ministers Meeting in March. That meeting would eventually be postponed hours before it was slated to start, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau entered self-isolation due to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s pending COVID-19 test result. Grégoire Trudeau eventually tested positive for the virus, and has since recovered.
That effort from the province lined up with two other requests for qualifications, for the Scarborough subway and Eglinton Crosstown. Both governments, in separate statements to iPolitics in recent days, described working closely on the transit file — with the province saying that Trudeau’s government understood the benefits to the expansion work and the feds telling iPolitics that having the business cases and formal applications for Ontario’s proposed transit projects would allow them to “assess the projects and expedite funding decisions.”
Aubertin, McKenna’s spokesperson, also pointed to a bilateral agreement from 2018 that pledged $4.9 billion to Toronto for transit, much of which has already been earmarked by the city and province for other projects. That plan included $3.2 billion for a ‘relief line,’ which was the precursor to the Ontario Line project. The province announced its overhauled vision for transportation in Toronto in April of last year.
— With files from Jolson Lim