Recently blogTO did a piece outlining the sources of funding for Toronto’s six active transit projects: the Spadina subway extension, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the Georgetown South GO line improvements, the Union Pearson Express, the Sheppard East LRT and the Finch West LRT. It broke down as follows:
You can find all the specific numbers here, but what is obvious is that the province is paying for most of this city’s transit expansion. Unfortunately though, it’s being done on an ad hoc basis. Toronto first asks for money and then the province decides whether or not it wants to give it.
This is problematic for a few reasons.
First, it’s an inconsistent funding stream. We all recognize the need for better transit and infrastructure in the city, but the big question is always: Who’s going to pay for it? So far, as we can see, it’s been the province. But that’s not always a sure thing. And it can often become political. If we’re going to get serious about building transit, Toronto needs a consistent funding source that would allow us to start building and not stop.
Second, how come, as one of the major economic engines in this country, we aren’t in a position to pay for our own infrastructure? It’s because our governance structure does not properly reflect the economic realities of today’s world:
Most local governments are formed by a charter or act granted by the province or territory. Local governments are not mentioned in the Canadian Constitution other than to say they are responsibility of the provinces. Consequently, municipalities can be created, amalgamated, or disbanded at the whim of the provincial government which controls them. They are also limited in the amount of interaction they have with the federal government because this would infringe upon an area of provincial jurisdiction. Since each province is responsible for creating local governments in its own territory, the names, functions, and powers of local bodies vary widely across the country. Local governments generally have limited powers, namely creating local by-laws and taxation (property tax).
And yet cities, not provinces, are our biggest economic drivers. We have it backwards. And so I think it’s critical that we look long and hard at ways in which we can better equip our cities with the tools and resources to compete globally. Transit funding is just one example.