Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Toronto’s plea for streetcar funds rejected

with 9 comments

Globe and Mail

New design for Toronto Streetcar

New design for Toronto Streetcar

There is a federal stimulus program available for city infrastructure programs. It was designed for “shovel ready” projects that would be ready to go straight way and could be spent in a couple of years. Obviously, the people who determined these conditions were thinking of the average Canadian city – not its biggest one.

Toronto is ready to replace it current streetcars – which are old, heavy and high floor, with this new design based on what Bombardier has been building for European cities. It would be built in Thunder Bay – which badly needs the work – using a combination of local, provincial and federal funding.

The problem is that there is no program specifically designed for this issue. So Toronto applied for the funds from the available program – and of course got turned down. Now if the federal government Minister had any sense at all he would not have made a  “a profanity-laced critique … for which he apologized the next day.”

He says that it is “not a technicality”. But what he really needs to do is give his head a shake and realise what happens when he turns down what he admits is “a fantastic project”. Obviously it cannot be made to fit the procrustean bed he has made. So he should have quietly gone behind the scenes and talked to his cabinet colleagues about how to make this thing happen.

There are no other cities in Canada that have a streetcar system that needs new cars. So obviously whatever Toronto did could not be made to fit any program. Of course the federal government should have been getting behind major urban transit investments – and somehow money has been found for projects like the Canada Line – which was also, at that time, unique. The current flap is simply political ineptitude. It is essential politically for any minority government of Canada to hold on to the centre – they desperately need to ensure that they get the votes of the people who live in Ontario and Quebec. For a government that is all the time hovering over the abyss of a potential confidence vote  to make this kind of mistake is incredibly silly.

Baird has come up with a “compromise”

Move up construction projects that can be completed in two years and use the savings to pay the federal share of the $1.2-billion streetcar contract.

So it is alright to use federal funds to build new roads but not replace streetcars? Is that any message to send when there is a critical international climate change conference coming up where Canada looks like one of the worst offenders already because of its tar sands?

Like most Canadians, I do not want a summer election – but I would also like to have a federal government that shows it is capable of rational thought.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 19, 2009 at 8:04 am

Posted in politics, transit

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9 Responses

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  1. John Baird the Light Rail killer strikes again.

    Justin Bernard

    June 19, 2009 at 8:13 am

  2. Give him credit, he’s reliable. John Baird can make an ass of himself no matter which ministry he is running (or not running).


    June 19, 2009 at 9:16 am

  3. It seems that the feds would rather fund a dubious metro project in Conservative ridings in Vancouver, than replace aging streetcars in Toronto, where the Conservatives have done poorly.

    Sadly, Bombardier seems to have had a bit of a slap in the face over this, who (I have been told) want to showcase modern European trams (LRT) in North America.

    DM Johnston

    June 19, 2009 at 1:27 pm

  4. Toronto’s bid was non-compliant.

    The city has numerous other infrastructure projects that could have been submitted as alternatives – a massive sewer pipe under the Don River that is threatening to collapse comes to mind.

    Even on the transit side there must be “construction” projects – such as the streetcar racks on St. Clair Ave. that could have been submitted.

    The city chose – of it’s own free – and strategic – will – to put all of its eggs in one non-compliant basket.

    What would you do if, in response to an RFP, a bidder puts forth a non-compliant bid? Reject the bid? Really??

    Just like the TTC rejected the original Bombardier bid to supply streetcars for being non-compliant? And didn’t the TTC also reject a Siemens bid for being non-compliant? And wasn’t there a small-scale tram manufacturer from the UK that was rejected for being non-comliant as well???


    Ron C.

    June 19, 2009 at 5:04 pm

  5. Quote below from the Toronto Star.

    Meanwhile, the mayors of Mississauga and Brampton say Toronto’s streetcar plan does not qualify for funds because the city contravened the rules, which called for quick-hit infrastructure projects to create jobs this year and next. Ottawa also stipulated the funds create jobs where the money is spent.

    Mississauga and other municipalities have similar projects which they want funded but didn’t apply for them because they played by the rules, said Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion.

    If Toronto is to be rewarded for playing outside the rules, other municipalities should be allowed as well because “there are important projects in my city that we did not submit because they were not eligible,” said Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell. “It’s really unfair to any municipality that held back projects (that didn’t qualify).”

    Imagine if all cities were allowed to submit non-compliant bids. And how does Toronto’s non-compliant bid affect Thunder Bay’s bids? Do they lose out on their own bids because a Toronto bid would create jobs in Thunder Bay?
    The article cites that the streetcar contract has a 25% Canadian content requirement. Would a different bid have created more jobs – not only in Toornto itslef, but in Canada?

    Ron C.

    June 19, 2009 at 6:33 pm

  6. The Toronto Star article is available here:

    Ron C.

    June 19, 2009 at 6:34 pm

  7. Talking about streetcars (Tramways in Europe) Siemens unveiled a new range, the Avenio. It is a low floor vehicle that comes in 3 widths (2.3 m., 2.4 m., 2.65 m.) and lengths that are multiples of a 9 metres long basic section. The shortest one is 18 m. long (105 to 120 passengers depending on width) and the longest one is a world record 72 metres long! with a 460 to 510 passengers load, depending on width)

    Red frog

    June 19, 2009 at 9:24 pm

  8. Thank goodness that Toronto did not need any work done on bridges, sewers, parks, roads, day care centers or anything like that. And in fact the city did not even seem to want to get their much balloho’d, very expensive streetcars.

    Not only did the city screw itself out any of the funds from, or the city’s request does not fit or Toronto made sure it cannot get access to the federal anti-recession package. Was this political gameship or good negotiating orpersonal issues? Or a mix of them.

    So instead of getting funds or not only does Toronto not quality for funds or Miller really pooched this one as the city will be giving funds to Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant-an area far away from Toronto from 2011 to 2018 for the streetcars/trams. And tying up funds from Ontario that could be earmarked for Toronto then or during that time.

    Toronto Councillor Karen Stintz said: “If this were the one project we wanted to fund, it would have been important to speak to the minister in advance to ensure that this was the right project. It certainly appears that that didn’t happen, which is unfortunate.”

    Earlier, Smitherman had also expressed frustration with Toronto’s single request for streetcar money, which differed from other municipalities that submitted a list of projects. “With the streetcar contract, we’ve seen the province has been caught off guard. Now, the federal government has been caught off guard.”

    Based on George Smitherman’s comments a few weeks ago and now Minister Baird’s comments, it appears the city didn’t take all the steps it could have taken. And the mayor didn’t take all the steps he could have taken to communicate that this was the one project that meant a lot to Toronto.

    No wonder Federal Minister John Baird swore at the city.

    [Moderator: This post has been editted for both content and style: an irrelevant URL was also deleted]

    Toronto Engineer

    June 22, 2009 at 8:18 am

  9. Edmonton – played by the rules…

    Federal stimulus funds allow Edmonton to expand LRT service

    With work on the city’s South light rail transit (LRT) expansion nearing completion, an injection of $200 million in stimulus dollars is allowing Edmonton to proceed with six priority transit projects sooner than originally planned.

    Mike Koziol, general manager of capital construction for the City of Edmonton explained that the opportunity for federal stimulus funding called for shovel-ready projects, infrastructure priorities that were on the planning books and could be substantially completed by Mar. 31, 2011.

    “We put together a list of projects we felt we could get designed, tendered and constructed by that time and the federal and provincial governments agreed to six of them,” he said.
    “They’re in various stages of design or construction. Some will be completed in 2010 and some will be substantially complete, but not 100 per cent by 2011.”

    Koziol explained that the $200 million dollar injection over two years increases the annual LRT construction budget by 50 per cent each year and will allow work originally scheduled for 2011-2014 to be substantially completed before it was supposed to start.

    Ron C.

    June 25, 2009 at 12:58 pm

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