Thursday, November 21, 2013

Flaherty not in favour of national transit strategy

Although it likely comes as no surprise, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty--the member of parliament who holds the purse strings for the federal government--is not in favour of a national transit strategy to offer predictable funding to municipalities for public transit projects.

Flaherty was recently quoted in the Edmonton Journal about a project taking place in Alberta's capital on the issue:
"Quite frankly, I’m not a big fan of fancy, big national programs. I’d much rather take the approach we’ve been taking, and deal with the City of Edmonton … deal with the various municipalities."
So far, that strategy has worked fairly well for Ottawa, as the city has received $600M in federal funding for the $2.1B Confederation Line LRT project. However, it also means that the city--as well as other cities across Canada--are forced to plan transit blindly, designing systems they'd like under the assumption that the federal government might offer one-time funding for it. We're seeing that right now with Ottawa's Stage 2 draft transit plan, which has a price tag of about $2.5B and therefore expects the federal government to come forward with another $830M or so--roughly one-third of the overall cost (the remaining two thirds, in line with past funding agreements, would be split equally between the city and the Province of Ontario).

A national transit strategy was a campaign promise of both the NDP and Liberal parties in the last federal election (the NDP even tabled a motion to establish one), and it's something very strongly supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The idea behind the strategy would be to commit dedicated funding in the annual federal budget that would be invested in eligible transit-related projects. Ideally, it would provide more predictable funding and make municipalities more able to plan transit projects thanks to the guaranteed funding.

Canada is, according to FCM, the "only OECD country without a long-term, predictable federal transit-investment policy."

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