Ottawa says Ontario’s Ford government is demanding a “blank cheque” for infrastructure projects, and more information is needed before it will consider funding the province’s multi-billion dollar subway plan for Toronto.
The Trudeau government put its foot down after two Ford ministers held a press conference Monday, demanding Ottawa give “conditional” funding approval for a $10.9-billion subway line in Toronto. The funding request was sent in May, according to the province. But, according to a federal source, the only information the province has sent to date to justify the expense is a two-page letter and a map of the planned subway lines.
In a statement, federal Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the request for funding was “welcome” but “lacked any accompanying applications or business cases.”
The two levels of government have been jockeying for public opinion and sympathy in recent months as they face increasing pressure from municipalities eager to get shovels in the ground on infrastructure projects, while trying to explain why fewer infrastructure projects are being started in the current construction season.
Ottawa says it’s because the Ford government didn’t submit any applications for infrastructure projects under the federal-provincial funding agreement for close to a year. The province argues that this was because they needed to review spending priorities after last year’s election and accuses the federal Liberals of dragging their feet on approving the projects that were submitted in the last two months.
At an afternoon press conference, provincial Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton accused Ottawa of “playing political games,” while maintaining his government was doing no such thing.
The Ontario Line is part of a $28.5-billion subway plan for Toronto that was unveiled by Ford in early April. It’s touted by McNaughton as “a real solution to Canada’s costliest traffic problem.” But the complete overhaul of subway planning in Toronto lacks details, according to the City of Toronto and the Trudeau government.
“Real applications and business cases are needed in order to get federal approval and we hope they follow up soon,” Champagne said in his statement. “We are not in the business of writing blank checks with public funds when so many questions [remain] to be answered as to how the funds will be used.”
In total, Ontario plans to ask Ottawa for $11.4-billion for the Toronto subway expansion. That’s more money than the total 10-year infrastructure agreement between the two governments, which is supposed to cover everything from roads and sewage systems to transit. Even though Ford said Ontario will pay the entire sum alone — if it has to — his two ministers insisted that Ottawa should also contribute.
“What we’re asking for is conditional approval on the financial commitment and we’ll provide a fulsome business case in the near future,” Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said at the press conference.