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Details demanded on housing, transit

Politicians cautious over Throne Speech

JENNIFER LEWINGTON and GAY ABBATE

Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The federal government’s promise of help for public transit and low-rent housing — two lines in yesterday’s Throne Speech — now needs firm funding commitments and a timetable for action, politicians in the Toronto area say.

“The dialogue is over. What we need is a decision on what they are going to do about it,” Mayor Hazel McCallion of Mississauga said in reference to Ottawa’s pledge to launch a “dialogue” with provinces and municipalities on ways to improve public transit and stimulate the creation of more affordable rental housing.

What municipalities need, she said, is a share of the federal gasoline tax — a view endorsed by politicians in and beyond the Toronto region but so far rejected by Finance Minister Paul Martin.

“It’s the only way we are going to fix the gridlock,” said Ms. McCallion, adding, “we need to know what is coming [in funding help] so we can get on with the job.”

Toronto Transit Commission chairman Brian Ashton shared her impatience. “I can’t buy a bus with tepid promises,” he said, echoing Ms. McCallion’s call for municipalities to share in federal gasoline tax revenues to finance major transit initiatives.

In an interview from Ottawa, federal Transport Minister David Collenette conceded the lack of specifics, but added that the Throne Speech marks a new interest by Ottawa in urban issues.

“It’s a good start,” he said. “Now we have to put meat on the bones.” Even without financial details, the federal government’s promise on transit funding is still significant, according to Michael Roschlau, president of the Canadian Urban Transit Association.

“It’s a major step compared to what we have seen in the last 30 years,” he said, noting the absence of any federal funding for transit since the early 1970s.

Councillor Jack Layton of Toronto, a leading advocate for a national housing strategy, said he was discouraged by the scant reference in the Throne Speech to low-income housing.

“It’s pretty vague, pretty soft,” he said.




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