Budget cash for transit, housing repairs 'very sexy, indeed,' mayor says

Mayor John Tory says the investment in housing and transit in yesterday’s federal budget will allow the city to make repairs to key infrastructure that may sound unglamorous, but which he defended as “very sexy stuff, indeed.”

John Tory defends repairs over new projects, saying they will make transit system more reliable

Mayor John Tory says repairs to key infrastructure like transit are about maintaining "the reliability of the system." (CBC)

Mayor John Tory says the investment in housing and transit in yesterday's federal budget will allow the city to make repairs to key infrastructure that may sound unglamorous, but which he defended as "very sexy stuff, indeed."

Speaking to CBC's Metro Morning Wednesday, Tory said "you never know exactly to the dollar" how much of the cash allocated to cities for various priorities will make it to Toronto. The federal Liberals have pledged $3.4 billion in public transit systems over the next three years, as well as $2.3 billion for affordable housing.

These funds are part of an overall pledge of $120 billion over 10 years on both new and existing infrastructure projects.

Tory said he has heard people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, refer to infrastructure repairs as "unsexy stuff.

"For me as the mayor of Canada's biggest city and with the biggest deficits probably in the country on transit repairs and on housing repairs, this is very steamy stuff. I find this very sexy, indeed."

He said transit and social housing repairs are key for the city.

"This is stuff that will help us a lot because the transit repair isn't just about having fewer streetcars that are in the shed. It's about the reliability of the system," he said.

"If you can fix the signals and you can fix the vehicles so they run better and if you can fix the housing obviously it's more habitable and humane for the people that live there."

Coun. Josh Colle, chair of the TTC, on Wednesday called the funding pledge "a really good first step." He estimated that as much as $880 million could go to transit in Toronto.

"We've got a pretty clearly stated backlog on our repairs and maintenance, it's almost $3 billion, and this will put a big dent in that and it starts to address some of the things that I think are always neglected because they're not as exciting or as maybe politically sexy," Colle told CBC News. "And at the same time, though, what they do is they provide for more reliable service."

These include new tracks, upgrades to signal systems and repairs to buses, all of which riders will notice during their commutes, he said.

"The fact is the things we hear about on an everyday basis is, 'Why was there another signal failure? Why wasn't there a working bus ready to pick me up?' And so those are some of the things that we can start to address with that funding and I think it helps out the federal government because it gets money flowing and people working," Colle said.

The money will likely be transferred to the city via the province and whenever the money arrives, the city will be ready, he said.

"The good news with some of the things on our list is because they've been analyzed and costed and on waiting lists in essence for so long, in many cases those projects are ready to go yesterday," he said.

'We need a long-term vision'

Asked Wednesday whether a long-term infrastructure plan back-loads money beyond the federal government's current mandate, Minister for International Trade and MP for University-Rosedale Chrystia Freeland said infrastructure investment has to be a long-term plan.

"To build this country we need to have a long-term vision," Freeland told Metro Morning.

Conservative MP and finance critic Lisa Raitt said a deficit of nearly $30 billion, which was forecast in yesterday's budget, is troubling because the budget did not include a plan to get back to balance.

"Everybody understands borrowing money, and everybody understands that you have to pay it back," Raitt told Metro Morning. "And there's a lot of borrowing going on."

Spending to spur economic growth didn't work in Ontario, she said, "and I fear the same lessons are being applied on the federal side."

Tory says the investment is badly needed on repairs, "which should have been done a long ago."

This year, the city is spending $250 million on social housing repairs, but remains $2.5 billion behind, he said. Tory is happy to comply with the government's request that it get projects off the ground quickly in order to create jobs.

The money could be lost otherwise, he said.

"And they've told us, 'by the way, if you don't spend it, we're going to put it into the gas tax and redistribute it,'" Tory said.

"So in that sense there's a real incentive for us to get on with it."


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