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Clement Calls for Transit Investment

But restricts funding to big-ticket projects

Toronto Bureau Chief
Tuesday, April 11, 2000

An Ontario cabinet minister called yesterday for reinvestment in public transit, but limited his government’s support to selective projects linked to big-ticket initiatives such as the Olympics and Toronto’s waterfront.

Speaking to a one-day transit summit in Toronto, Tony Clement, Ontario’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, ruled out any return to regular, long-term capital funding commitments by the province, which now leaves municipalities to shoulder most of the financial load of transit expansion.

He also rejected calls to share a portion of provincial gasoline tax revenues with municipalities.

But in one comment that drew praise from some conference participants, Mr. Clement declared that “it is time in the greater Toronto area and in Ontario to think big again.

“It’s time to think about reinvestments necessary for our public transit, for the environmental protection and sustainability that we need.”

He warned: “It can’t be just the Ontario government thinking big. We need the City of Toronto as a partner; we need the federal government as a partner, and we need the vision as well.”

Michael Roschlau, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association, one of the sponsors of the conference with Pollution Probe and others, said the minister’s comments signalled “a crack in the door” in the government’s attitude toward funding of public transit.

However, Toronto city councillor Jack Layton said the absence of sustained funding for transit by the province or the federal government means “our transit system and air quality is in rapid decline.”

Unlike most North American jurisdictions, Toronto is dependent on property taxpayers and commuters to pay for transit. Meanwhile, there is a major shortfall in paying for big-ticket expansion of public transit in the Toronto region.

For example, for the past seven years, GO Transit’s capital spending has gone to rehabilitation and refurbishment, not new infrastructure. However, GO Transit officials estimate that the system needs to spend $100-million a year to cope with expected large growth in the number of commuters over the next 10 years.

Yesterday, Mr. Clement made it clear he is pinning his hopes for improvements in regional transit and land-use planning on the Greater Toronto Services Board.

The new body, created by the province more than a year ago to co-ordinate transit and transportation issues in the Toronto region, has come under attack for being ineffectual. Recently, the board released a report on removing transportation obstacles in the region, but attached no timetable or targets for its implementation.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Board of Trade added its voice to calls to beef up the GTSB.

“The province must expand the GTSB’s responsibilities and powers to allow for the development of a more co-ordinated public transportation network,” said Elyse Allan, president of the Board of Trade.

Yesterday, GTSB chairman Alan Tonks told the summit that his board needs new powers to help solve traffic congestion problems in the region.

“Coming to grips with congestion requires the capacity to plan for growth on a region-wide basis and to finance our transportation infrastructure priorities on a system-wide basis,” he told the summit.