Okay, so now what?
After last week’s multi-act debacle, the question hovering over Toronto city council’s Scarborough subway gamble is the obvious one: how long will it take the Harper Tories to respond to a council flip-flop that will direct well over $1 billion in new public spending to a municipality Canadians love to hate?
Before I get to the timelines, it’s important to note what won’t be important viz federal decision-making:
• Paula Fletcher’s motion “requesting” that the province and the feds “commit their portion of the funding by September 30, 2013. Although it carried 28-16, there’s no “or else” provision, which means the other orders are free to ignore Councillor Fletcher’s initiative. Absent a two-thirds majority to re-open – hey, anything’s possible, but I’m not going to wait up for that one – there’s no reason to think council has any intention of holding their funding partners feet to the flames.
• The war of mutually-assured destruction between TTC chair Karen Stintz and Glen (“take my Blackberry, please”) Murray, the soon-to-be-former Ontario transportation minister. Ottawa can always wait. It costs the feds absolutely nothing to not spend money in Toronto. CP24’s Stephen LeDrew’s comical peace-making claims notwithstanding, the City and the province can continue to haggle over that AWOL $400 million for as long as they want. The feds just have to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Here, rather, are the real timelines: As city manager Joe Pennachetti confirmed in council last week, the City has to submit a formal proposal for an as-yet unspecified quantum of subway extension dollars under the Building Canada Fund, including Toronto’s “fair share” of the P3 Canada Fund (as the motion stated).
He needn’t hurry. The deadline for the last tranche of funding [PDF] was June 14, 2013, with formal evaluations of said applications not expected to be complete until next March. But according to an Ottawa source who is familiar with federal infrastructure programs, Ottawa was on track to deplete the balance of the P3 fund by the end of this year. (As an ironic aside, the largest P3 Canada grant to date, for $250 million, went out this spring to Edmonton’s…LRT system [PDF].)
In other words, the City now has to wait until the provincial Liberals and the federal Conservatives re-negotiate the Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Framework Agreement (the previous one is here), which enables the transfer of our portion of the new seven-year/$53 billion Building Canada Fund, announced in Jim Flaherty’s last budget. My source says that agreement will likely be signed at some point next year, at which point the Scarborough subway extension proposal can be submitted.
The Ontario-federal infrastructure negotiations have always been politically fraught, and this next round will be no exception. And from Stephen Harper’s perspective, there’s a bit of a dilemma: the Tories probably want to give Ford something to help him get re-elected. But by the same token, they’d be loathe to hand that very same something to Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals if it means helping her defeat Tim Hudak. My guess, in fact, is that a Hudak victory is more important to Harper than a Ford win, so the feds have every incentive to drag out this decision until the Wynne Liberals are safely relegated to the Opposition benches.
So in all likelihood, it may well be a year or more before Ottawa antes up a dollar figure for its share. And if the number is anything less than 50% of net capital costs — the ask in the winning motion from council last week — we get to wade into yet another swamp of haggling over who fills the gap. Until those funding commitments get sorted out, the city won’t likely begin spending money on an EA for this subway or preliminary engineering and planning studies. All this manoeuvering, I should add, will take place in a double-election year.
Conservatively, the re-approval delays, all the extra regulatory requirements, and the inevitable political horse-trading in council will add two to three years to this scheme, bringing the expected completion date to 2026.
By the way, Mr. Ford, there’s a hefty cost to your ambition: 2% annual inflation alone over three years on a $2.3 billion project will adds almost $150 million. It makes the #StClairDisaster cost-overruns look like chump change.
Post-script: Darts & Laurels from last week’s circus
Laurel: Janet Davis, for trying to warn Council that the proposed Scarborough subway tax hikes will be competing with anticipating water rate hikes to help finance storm water management infrastructure upgrades.
Laurel: Nick Leeson, the Green Party’s Scarborough-Guildwood candidate, who — unlike the NDP’s Adam Giambrone — has the courage to publicly back light rail as the most cost-effective rapid transit solution.
Dart: Glen Murray, for conducting himself with appalling stupidity last week. Since when do ministers of the Crown get into Twitter wars?