OTTAWA The federal budget points to the renewal of Toronto's main railway station as one of the marquee projects that could be financed under the Building Canada infrastructure fund.
“The crucial commuter hub for the Greater Toronto Area – Toronto's landmark Union Station, will at last be revitalized,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in his budget speech.
But the plan does nothing to increase the size of that two-year old fund or change the way the money will be awarded. Municipalities will still have to pay for a third of the cost of anything they build – and Mayor David Miller has made it clear that Toronto does not have the cash.
Mr. Miller and other mayors of Canada's large cities said in the weeks leading up to the budget that they want infrastructure money to be doled out in the same way as the municipal share of the federal gas tax. That means they want to receive it with no strings attached and, specifically, with no requirement of matching funds.
The money from the $33-billion Building Canada fund, said Mr. Miller, was not leaving Ottawa because there was too much red tape and because cash-strapped cities were required to be financial partners in any undertaking.
In the budget, the federal Conservatives have tried to make it easier for Toronto and other cities to tap into the infrastructure cash by providing them with up to $2-billion over two years in low-cost loans that can be used to cover their share of the costs. Those loans, to be distributed through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, can also be directed toward locally funded housing, sewers, water lines, and neighbourhood regeneration projects.
In addition, the federal government has offered to reduce what it calls “duplication and inefficiencies” by streamlining environmental assessments.
But Mr. Miller's requests for unfettered infrastructure cash have fallen on deaf ears.
The Building Canada fund is just one way that the budget promises to pay for municipal infrastructure. The federal plan also allots $2-billion in each of the next two years to pay for projects that can be started in the 2009 or 2010 construction season. But that money will be distributed across the entire country. And it must be matched dollar for dollar.
As will $500-million over the next two years that the federal government has set aside to upgrade and build new community recreation facilities such as hockey arenas, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts and swimming pools.
But no matching funds will be required to obtain a portion of a small $30-million fund that has been established to support infrastructure-related costs for local and community cultural and heritage institutions. The budget specifies that the Toronto Public Library revitalization project, and Toronto's Famous PEOPLE Players are projects that could claim part of that pot.
The federal government also says it will devote $57- million over two years to improve the passenger rail service in the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor.
The money, according to the budget, will increase the speed and frequencies of trains, cutting the travel time between Toronto and the other two cities by up to 30 minutes.