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

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

Deane Gorsline, is a former Burns Lake resident who has been diagnosed with ALS. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
ALS Action Canada group ropes in political leaders

Hopes to get more support and ultimately better treatment options for Canadians

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

(Black Press file photo)
Charges laid against two suspects in pre-Christmas home invasion

An 88-year-old woman was hospitalized after being bear-sprayed in the face Dec. 18, 2020

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Most Read