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Election 2019: How Toronto’s transit priorities collide with the federal parties

WATCH ABOVE: Transit funding is one of the biggest issues identified by the majority of members of Toronto City Council during the Federal Election, but there are many questions remaining over how much money the federal leaders are willing to contribute to the city. Matthew Bingley reports.

Transit funding is one of the biggest federal election issues identified by the majority of Toronto city councillors, but there are many questions remaining over how much money federal leaders are willing to contribute to the city.

Daily overcrowding on transit lines, combined with stalled expansion projects, and a critical backlog of state of good repair funding are just some of the issues at stake for Toronto voters.

Coun. Jaye Robinson, who is also chair of the TTC board, said transit funding should be the number one issue swaying Toronto voters this election.

“It’s the most pressing issue we face as a city because it really is about our livability,” she said.

Federal Election 2019: Canadians with longer commutes by car more likely to lean Conservative: Ipsos
Federal Election 2019: Canadians with longer commutes by car more likely to lean Conservative: Ipsos

Robinson said it was critical that the next federal government is committed to predictable, sustainable and annual funding for transit in Toronto.

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“We’re heading into a crisis point,” she said.

A full analysis of the TTC’s capital investment plan has identified that there is a $33.5-billion challenge over the next 15 years, said Robinson.

The Ford government laid out its plan for Toronto transit earlier this year. The plan included the government’s version of a subway relief line dubbed the Ontario Line. All of it comes with a nearly $30-billion price tag. But Ford made it clear in April the province wouldn’t be footing the entire bill.

The Liberals, NDP and Conservatives all mention commitments to infrastructure projects, including transit, in their platforms. While the Greens mention several initiatives to move transit to carbon-neutral targets, none of the projects cited in their platform speaks specifically to the transit issues Toronto faces. The People’s Party of Canada has not posted a transit platform on its website.

READ MORE: Scheer promises to financially support Ontario Line, Yonge Subway Extension if elected

So far the Conservatives are the only party to specifically mention Toronto transit projects during the election campaign. Leader Andrew Scheer said a Tory government would prioritize the Ontario Line and the Yonge-Bloor subway extension. But Scheer left out any details for how much money the Conservatives would be willing to pay into those projects.

In late August, the former Liberal government contributed more than $1 billion to transit projects in the city. The money came from the 12-year, $180-billion infrastructure fund and would go to expanding the city’s busiest transit hubs at the Yonge-Bloor subway station, along with constructing several stations along the GO Transit corridor.

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Federal Election 2019: Toronto subway lines to expand, receive funding if Conservatives elected: Scheer
Federal Election 2019: Toronto subway lines to expand, receive funding if Conservatives elected: Scheer

But Matti Siemiatycki, the interim director of the School of Cities at the University of Toronto who focuses on transit policy and planning, warned against expecting too much from the next federal government when it comes to solving the city’s transit woes.

“The bigger question is what role does the federal government actually play in infrastructure and transit planning,” said Siemiatycki.

Transportation falls under the province’s jurisdiction under the constitution, he said, making Ottawa’s part a complex one.

“On one level, they have deep pockets and are one of the funding sources,” said Siemiatycki.

Federal Election 2019: Trudeau pledges to ‘further’ protect environment, bring clean power to Indigenous communities
Federal Election 2019: Trudeau pledges to ‘further’ protect environment, bring clean power to Indigenous communities

He noted that previous federal governments have paid anywhere from a quarter to half of the cost of transit projects.

“The bigger question then is what is their role in policy setting?” he said.

Ottawa may be able to guide that path, he said, but tensions often arise over what projects will actually be chosen.

READ MORE: Ontario government introduces Toronto subway upload bill in omnibus transportation legislation

“In Canada, much of this is negotiated and it’s posed real challenges in moving quickly to get projects built,” said Siemiatycki. “Especially when there’s not alignment between the provincial and federal governments.”

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Meanwhile, Robinson said she sees reliability and capacity issues on a daily basis on the TTC. She said she doesn’t care which party is elected as long as they are prepared to get transit projects done.

“This to me is low-hanging fruit, this is a big win,” said Robinson.

“If one of those parties wants to step up and commit huge dollars, I think they would cash in on serious votes.”

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