Canada will provide more than C$19 billion (US$13.99 billion) to help provinces and territories safely restart their economies and boost the resiliency of the country to possible future waves of the virus. The funds will be made available during the next six to eight months to address Canada’s priorities agreed to through the Safe Restart Agreement as the country plans to restart its economy.
Transit is one of the seven priority areas that the federal investment will support through a joint funding source with provinces and territories. In a statement, the federal government explained municipalities are on the front lines of a safe restart of the economy and will need to put in place appropriate precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and manage public spaces and critical services, like public transit.
The government of Canada will contribute up to C$2 billion (US$1.47 billion) to support municipalities with COVID-19 operating costs for the next six to eight months. Provincial and territorial governments will continue to support municipalities and will cost-match federal support with investments made this fiscal year. In addition, the government of Canada will also cost-match approximately C$1.8 billion (US$1.33 billion) to support any additional provincial/territorial contributions for public transit.
"As we continue to deal with the impacts of the virus, we are committed to working with the provinces and territories to provide the support they need to help Canadians make it through this crisis. Together, our priority is to keep Canadians safe and healthy, while building a stronger, more resilient Canada for everyone," said Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canada’s municipalities and transit advocates have been working to secure federal financial assistance for the nation’s systems since the early impacts of the pandemic became known.
The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) made note that even during the height of the lockdown, transit was moving a million people a day—many of them essential workers. The association explains ridership is increasing as the economy reopens and even though it will not reach pre-pandemic levels likely for years, transit services will need to remain relatively high to prevent crowding on board vehicles.
“Transit systems thank governments for keeping people moving safely,” said Marco D’Angelo, CUTA’s CEO. “We are grateful that the essential role transit played during the pandemic was recognized, alongside our important role in supporting a safe restart of the economy. Reaching agreement we know wasn’t easy, but our riders are the better for it that governments found a way to yes.”
Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) President Bill Karsten issued this statement calling the new funding agreement a promising start to address the financial crisis faced by the country’s municipalities.
“Municipal leaders have been working hard to protect residents and local businesses. Our unplanned costs have shot up, whether we’re turning arenas into shelters or rebalancing streets for physical distancing. At the same time, we’re losing billions from transit fares, utility charges and user fees—and we cannot run deficits. This is a crisis of non-recoverable financial losses,” said Karsten.
He continued, “Some municipalities will still be facing difficult choices about the services Canadians rely on. But this agreement provides some upfront relief, and it continues the crucial conversations Canada must have ahead of a possible second wave of COVID-19. Its support for public transit systems, in particular, recognizes the depth of the blow to municipal finances, and the central role transit must play in Canada’s recovery.”
"...this agreement provides some upfront relief, and it continues the crucial conversations Canada must have ahead of a possible second wave of COVID-19. Its support for public transit systems, in particular, recognizes the depth of the blow to municipal finances, and the central role transit must play in Canada’s recovery.” - FCM President Bill Karsten
Details of how the funding will be distributed to provinces and municipalities is not fully known. At least one municipal leader, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, expressed opinions of how he would like to see the funds apportioned.
In a series of tweets July 17, Mayor Iveson outlined the financial impacts Edmonton Transit System has experienced because of the pandemic, including a year-end anticipated deficit of C$60 million (US$44.18 million). Mayor Iveson urged the funding to be distributed using a “proportionate basis like ridership;” Edmonton’s transit system is the largest in Alberta based on that bar.
“Especially, given that such a high proportion of workers in our cities, including essential services workers, depend on a healthy transit system to participate in the workforce. In this way, big city transit has never been more essential to our economy,” Iveson said in a tweet.
His full tweet thread can be viewed here.