Biggest city gets rail line - and not much else
Published: February 27, 2008
Source:  Globe & Mail - OMAR EL AKKAD AND JEFF GRAY With a report from Marjan Farahbaksh

OTTAWA, TORONTO -- Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty gave an odd gift to Torontonians in the federal budget presented yesterday: the resuscitation of a rail line between Peterborough and Union Station that passes through the minister's own riding.

The rail link's re-establishment - part of a $500-million national investment in public transit infrastructure - marked one of the very few times Canada's biggest city warranted a mention in the budget.

Indeed, the only other substantive mention of Toronto appears to be its inclusion in a $110-million pilot project on homelessness and mental illness.

Toronto Mayor David Miller slammed the federal budget yesterday as a "missed opportunity" that neglects Canada's largest city.

"As far as I can tell, Toronto is mentioned twice. At the end of a Peterborough-to-Toronto-rail link, and for a pilot project in housing. You know, that doesn't befit a nation that's going to succeed in a 21st-century economy," Mr. Miller told reporters at city hall.

The old Peterborough-Toronto line ran across the northern end of Whitby-Oshawa, Mr. Flaherty's riding.

The Conservative government did make some overtures to Canada's big cities, one of the most notable being a move to make the slice of the federal gas tax shared with cities permanent.

Mr. Miller praised the move, which will see $2-billion in funds distributed across the country in 2009-2010, with about $160-million of that headed for Toronto. And he had muted praise for the pilot project for housing the mentally ill mentioned in the budget.

But the mayor said more of the federal government's surplus should have been reinvested back into cities and especially Toronto, which is looking for Ottawa to support its plans to build $6-billion worth of light-rail lines to combat traffic congestion and pollution. He said the city is responsible for 10 per cent of the country's economy, and deserves more attention.

He also said the budget failed to make any significant strides on fighting climate change, an issue he argues cities have been left to address on their own.

"It's the greatest threat facing our generation. Cities are acting. We're acting without waiting for the federal government."

Mr. Miller also defended his "one cent now" campaign, which has so far failed in its attempt to get Ottawa to hand over a percentage of the GST to cities. He said the lobbying was partly responsible for the government's move to make the gas tax funding to cities permanent, a move endorsed in an all-party parliamentary vote.