Conservative budget promises new fund for transit projects involving public-private partnerships

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      The Conservative government is dangling the promise of billions of dollars for public transit projects in its pre-election budget.

      Tabled today (April 21) by Finance Minister Joe Oliver, the 2015 budget proposes the creation of a new Public Transit Fund.

      Starting in 2017–18, the government would contribute $750 million over two years to the fund. After that, the fund would grow by $1 billion a year.

      "This new Fund will complement the Government’s existing infrastructure support by providing significant long-term support for public transit projects that can improve the mobility of goods and people and provide broad economic and social benefits to Canadian cities," Economic Action Plan 2015 states.

      Money from the fund would only go to projects that use "alternative financing and funding mechanisms involving the private sector" including public-private partnerships.

      "The Government will adopt a flexible approach to delivering payments under the proposed new Fund. As appropriate, the Government will consider providing payments over an extended period of time, for example, over the useful life of the public transit assets or over the typical term of provincial or municipal debt issued to finance construction costs. This approach will provide a predictable stream of payments over several years that provinces and municipalities can borrow against, providing greater financial flexibility to raise sufficient funds to move forward with greater infrastructure investments in the short term," the budget plan says.

      In a news release, the NDP says the Conservatives' transit proposals are "limited and create red tape that prevents funds from getting into the hands of cities".

      "The Conservative proposal also falls short of the NDP’s bold urban agenda for permanent, stable and predictable transit funding," the NDP release states.

      The budget plan notes that the feds contributed $416.7 million toward the construction of the Evergreen Line in Metro Vancouver. It also mentions that the Evergreen Line's Lincoln Station is being built with the help of private funding from a real estate company that will benefit from the project.

      The proposal of the Public Transit Fund comes as Metro Vancouver residents are voting in a plebiscite on a new tax to fund transportation projects.

      The Mayors’ Council, which is pushing for a "yes" vote, reacted positively to the budget proposal.

      “The new transit funding commitments in today’s budget are good news for Metro Vancouver. The Mayors’ Council’s 10-Year transportation and transit plan needs almost $2 billion over 10 years in federal cost-share contributions, matched by the province and new revenues raised locally, to build two new LRT lines in Surrey and Langley, and extend the Millennium Line underneath Broadway,” Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, chair of the Mayors’ Council, said in a news release. “This new funding program, together with existing federal infrastructure programs announced in previous budgets, means the federal government now has the resources needed to partner with us in realizing our vision.”