News / Toronto

Toronto needs to get its priorities straight on infrastructure: councillors

From potholes to different subway lines, city council can't agree what to spend federal infrastructure dollars on.

Toronto's over-burdened transit system could be a potential recipient of federal infrastructure funding.

Torstar News Service file

Toronto's over-burdened transit system could be a potential recipient of federal infrastructure funding.

If Toronto wants billions from the feds, it’s time to stop arguing, local politicians say.

The city is due a slice of $60 billion in federal infrastructure money, but the city’s oft-divided council will need to first decide what to spend it on.

“The clearer council is on Toronto’s priorities, the more likely we will be to receive funds for them,” said Coun. Josh Matlow. “For far too long there have been bickering and divisive debates on what priorities Toronto has.”

When it comes to the promised federal cash, Toronto councillors are pushing to use it for everything from the downtown relief line to pet projects and potholes.

That could spell trouble for Mayor John Tory, who will need to corral a consensus from council before making a final pitch to the government.

Tory attended the Big City Mayors conference in the nation’s capital over the weekend – and came away urging the Liberals to get moving on their infrastructure plan, saying cities don’t have years to argue over the details of how and where the money will be spent.

“Canadians, Torontonians, want to see stuff done now so that people can go back to work,” he said.

If Toronto doesn’t provide Ottawa with a clear list of possible projects – and soon – then it risks losing federal funding to cities that better articulated their needs, Matlow said.

Tory said he’s angling for federal money to help pay for repairs to Toronto Community Housing buildings, as well as maintenance for public transit and the Don River naturalization project that will allow for further development in the Portlands.

Matlow said he shares the mayor’s priorities —housing and transit—but for him SmartTrack and the relief subway line are top of mind.

Coun. Jim Kargyiannis, on the other hand, said any infrastructure wish-list must address gridlock and traffic.

“We certainly need to upgrade our roads, they’re in bad shape. Sewers roads and all that stuff,” he said. “I also think we need to look at getting money for subways—and my pet project is the Sheppard subway.”

A ‘second look’ at some projects

In order to take full advantage of the Liberals’ infrastructure stimulus, Toronto council needs to prove to the federal government that it can spend wisely, said Coun. Mike Layton.

That could include taking a second look at some projects Layton argues are less cost-effective, including the Gardiner hybrid plan and the Scarborough Subway.

“We’ve got to look like responsible stewards of the funds we’re receiving, in order to do that we need to pick reasonable project with bang for our buck that serve our community,” he said. “Perhaps, those are areas where we need to demonstrate leadership and a responsible approach by re-examining our approach.”

-with files from The Canadian Press