Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Baloney Meter: Which Government Has 'Invested' the Most in Transit?

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Baloney Meter: Which Government Has 'Invested' the Most in Transit?

Article excerpt

Has Trudeau 'invested' the most in transit?

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OTTAWA - "No government in the history of Canada has invested as much in public transit as we have." -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

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Pushed on Friday about why his government did away with a tax credit for transit passes, the prime minister described it as costly and ineffective. The Liberal government's multibillion-dollar infrastructure program would be different, he promised.

The Liberals are banking that spending more than $28 billion on the public transit stream of their infrastructure program will clear clogged highways and allow people to move around the country's biggest cities much more easily.

Trudeau was at a GO Transit station outside Toronto, promoting transit spending measures in the federal budget, when he made his brazen statement about how much his government has spent on public transit.

Is he right?

Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).

This one earns a rating of "a little baloney" -- the statement is mostly accurate, but more information is required. Here's why.

THE FACTS

Trudeau was referring to his government's plan to spend $28.7 billion over 11 years on the public transit portion of the infrastructure program. The spending started last year and will run until fiscal year 2027-28.

But spending is not the same as investing. Spending begins as money reflected in the government's long-term spending projections, which is then allocated to programs, then to projects within those programs, before finally being spent on projects.

Provinces, territories and cities don't get those dollars until project proponents submit receipts for reimbursement, which means money budgeted by one government can be spent by a subsequent government. Last week's announcement was one example: The $1.8 billion for the GO Transit project around the Greater Toronto Area came from a program set up by the Harper Conservatives four years ago.

The federal government's open data portal identifies projects labelled as "public transit" dating back to 2004. Those numbers show the Trudeau government has allocated almost $4 billion to "public transit" projects, outpacing Harper's government, which allocated more than $3.3 billion while in office.

Those numbers don't reflect dollars spent, but rather contributions of federal funding made from the date a project received approval.

In this case, last week's $1.8 billion put Trudeau ahead of Stephen Harper in public transit "investments."

THE EXPERTS

Trudeau's comments may hold true over the last 20 years or so, but not over the last century, said Warren Mabee, an associate professor of geography and policy studies from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. …

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