Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

They may be clear to John Tory, but both budgets mystify me

By: Metro Published on Mon Apr 27 2015

After a week in which both the federal and provincial governments unveiled their 2015 budgets, Toronto Mayor John Tory seemed to be in a pretty good mood.

“What’s clear is that Toronto has partners at both the federal and provincial level to get transit built in this city,” Tory said in a statement Thursday.

Maybe the mayor and I have different ideas about what the word “clear” means, but, after a close read of both budgets, I don’t get it.

The federal government, making no specific reference to Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan, used their budget to talk up their commitment to transit investment but failed to put their money where their mouth is.

The Conservative government does plan to spend a billion dollars a year on transit, but not this year — they just wanted to let us know they plan to get to it, you know, eventually.

The federal plan to invest new money in transit doesn’t start until 2017, a year that will see just $250 million invested in public transit nationally. The billion dollars promised to transit won’t start flowing until 2019 — a date that notably falls after the next municipal election.

The provincial Liberal government, on the other hand, does mention SmartTrack in their budget, but in the context of their plan to electrify GO Transit corridors and provide frequent, all-day service.

Tory was quick to point out this kind of investment in GO service will provide the foundation for his SmartTrack plan. That’s true, but it’s also true that the provincial government committed to making these kinds of enhancements a year ago, long before Tory was elected.

In other words, it was something that was probably going to happen anyway.

Then there’s the matter of the cost — the giant, unfunded cost. The budget document specifically notes that building SmartTrack will require another $5.2 billion — money that will need to come from the federal and municipal governments.

But, whoops, we already know the federal government doesn’t intend to invest new dollars in transit until 2017 at the earliest. Which leaves Tory staring at a giant fiscal hole in the signature transit plan he pledged to deliver by 2021.

With that kind of pressure facing him, I don’t see good reason for Tory to be celebrating these budgets.

Yes, they could have been worse. Both budgets acknowledge transit and cities as important. And there are no snide references to spoiled Toronto or drawings of the CN Tower with stink lines coming off of it.

But still, I’m disappointed — and I find it odd that Tory isn’t. On transit, all Toronto really got last week was delayed promises and the reiteration of things already said.

Is that really what the mayor thinks success looks like?

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-04-27T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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