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Stephen Harper promises $2.6 billion in SmartTrack funding

The announcement came Thursday ahead of a fall federal election - Mayor John Tory called it a great day for Toronto.
June 18, 2015
By Tess Kalinowski

Mayor John Tory says he’s confident that the city can find its third share of the $8-billion cost of his signature SmartTrack transit plan now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has offered a $2.6-billion, pre-election commitment to the project.

The funding promise, announced Thursday at a TTC shop near Bathurst St. and Davenport Rd., is in addition to $2.8 billion pledged by the province for the electrification of the Kitchener and Stouffville GO lines.

The city still needs to find another $2.7 billion to build new stations and a spur off the Kitchener tracks west along Eglinton toward the airport employment lands in Mississauga.

But Tory said he remains convinced that tax-increment financing will pay for Toronto’s share. (TIF is a means by which governments leverage future tax revenue along a transit line to pay for its construction.)

“With just the interest I’ve had today from people in the development industry about the opportunities SmartTrack’s going to present to them to construct developments in different parts of the city ... the financing can work,” he said.

Both Tory and Harper downplayed the possibility that council would not approve SmartTrack, which is still in the study phase.

“Far be it for me to tell Toronto City Council how to vote or not to vote but when the federal government comes along with $2.6 billion to assist the visionary project of the mayor on which he was just elected I would have a very optimistic view of city council adopting this project,” said Harper.

SmartTrack remains on track to be delivered on the seven-year schedule he promised in his campaign, the mayor told reporters. The plan to run commuter trains every 15 minutes on the GO tracks to relieve TTC crowding and coax more drivers onto transit coincides with the provincial regional express-rail program to electrify all the GO lines.

Tory said he isn’t concerned that the funding depends on the Conservatives - seen to be in a tough re-election fight - being returned to power in the fall.

Harper made the announcement alongside federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who is in a race against high-profile Liberal candidate Eve Adams for the Eglinton-Lawrence riding.

The mayor also dismissed concerns that the city’s formal application would be approved and the funding would flow in time to build the transit.

“What I do have today is something a lot of people told me in the election I would never have which is a commitment from the prime minister and the minister of finance and the government of Canada ... to commit $2.6 billion to build SmartTrack and I’m really happy about that,” he said.

The move comes ahead of an October federal election, as federal Liberal and NDP rivals are also promising big help for Toronto, including transit.

The money promised by Harper is part of the Conservative government’s Public Transit Fund intended for projects that cost at least $1 billion and benefit broad urban regions. They also need to include a private-sector component.

Toronto Liberal MP and former councillor Adam Vaughan dismissed the funding announcement as a stunt. “They stepped up and put a lot of money on the table without a lot of thought. The real need is for the federal government to partner with the province, to partner with cities and build a regional transportation system that works. This is a half-baked idea that’s only partially funded and it’s not going to arrive for half a decade,” he said.

The province said it welcomes the federal contribution but said it wasn’t enough. “By comparison, the Ontario government is investing over $130 billion in the province over the next 10 years - three times more per capita than the federal government,” said a press release from Ontario Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.