By Ryan McGreal
Published June 09, 2009
The City of Toronto decided to take a chance and apply to the federal government for infrastructure money for just one project: a little over $300 million toward replacing 204 streetcars.
Under the Building Canada Fund rules, the Province and the city would each have to contribute matching funds, to a total of $1.2 billion. Toronto made a tentative contract with Bombardier to buy the replacement streetcars pending federal and provincial approval.
This, of course, is precisely the sort of thing we should be doing with our stimulus money: investing in long-term infrastructure that will continue to deliver value for decades.
Unfortunately, as Transport Minister John Baird explained testily in earshot of microphone, Toronto's bid didn't follow the federal government's criteria, which entail a wishlist of projects that will drive job creation within the city over the next two years.
"Twenty-seven hundred people [from other cities] got it right," said Baird after walking into a media workroom. "[Toronto] didn't. That is not a partnership and they're bitching at us. They should f--- off."
Baird later qualified his dismissal. "This project, while it fits into Toronto's vision of what they want to do, it doesn't fit into our vision of moving quickly. We don't want to see Toronto left out of infrastructure stimulus."
He added, "What I don't want to see is a year or two from now people say that the federal government plans aren't creating jobs in Toronto."
He didn't say whether it would fit into the Federal government's vision of moving quickly to create jobs in Thunder Bay, where the streetcars would be built.
"F--- off" is also pretty much the attitude Baird took toward the City of Ottawa's plan to build a light rail system there, a plan that Baird sabotaged after interfering with local politics by leaking the city's contract with the manufacturer and forcing the issue into a de facto election referendum in the 2006 municipal election after all parties had already signed off on it.
After arranging the defeat of the light rail project, Baird went on to replace Rona Ambrose as the federal Environment Minister after the latter proved ineffectual at deflecting public criticism of the government's inaction on environmental issues.
Baird's job, as Andrew Coyne pointed out at the time, was "to ensure [climate change] does not become an issue."
Apparently now his job is to ensure that the government's infrastructure plan focuses on the real goal: not being effective, but appearing to be effective.