Posted: Nov 28, 2007, 3:22 PM
Join Date: Dec 2006
From the Citizen today:
Councillors feel 'used' by bridge funding offer
Council won't accept $35M in federal funds if it comes from $200M for transit system
Mohammed Adam, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The City of Ottawa won't accept federal funding announced this week for the construction of the Strandherd bridge because it will jeopardize future transit plans, some councillors say.
On Monday, Pierre Poilievre, the MP for Nepean-Carleton, announced $35 million in federal funding for the $105-million bridge.
City council had lobbied hard for the money to come from outside the $200 million set aside for the failed north-south rail project. When news of the funding first broke this past weekend, several councillors, including the two area representatives, Steve Desroches and Jan Harder, praised Mr. Poilievre for pulling off a great coup for the city. But when they learned the money will actually come from the $200-million transit fund, some of the councillors accused the Tory MP of misleading them.
"Council has already made a decision that they will not spend any part of the $200 million on that bridge. We can't accept the $35 million for that use," Ms. Harder said yesterday.
"Steve and I feel we were used on this. We really believe we've been hoodwinked. Talk about taking the wind out of our sails."
Mr. Desroches was also disappointed, but said the city and the federal government can still find a way to raise the additional money needed for the bridge, which would span the Rideau River.
"Certainly, I was expecting new money, but I don't want to slam the door on the federal government. I would like a commitment from them that they will top up the money," he said.
Nancy Schepers, the deputy city manager of planning, transit and the environment was also concerned. When she learned the source of the funding, she sent a memo to councillors reminding them of their decision not to use any portion of the $200 million for the bridge.
"Today's announcement by the federal government could constrain the federal funding envelope, and require council to prioritize within the remaining $165 million of funding available for investment," Ms. Schepers wrote.
The Strandherd bridge has become something of a political football in a war between Liberals and Tories over public transit in Ottawa. It was part of the north-south rail that was eventually cancelled after Environment Minister John Baird asked for re-evaluation from a new council.
The provincial Liberals have refused to fund the bridge from their $200-million transit reserve for the city, saying a link for cars doesn't qualify as public transit.
Yesterday, David McGuinty, the federal Liberal environment critic, labelled the $35 million for the bridge "pork-barrel politics." He said it is being done under the direction of Mr. Baird, the regional minister, to boost Mr. Poilievre's re-election bid.
"This is the gang that worked with the mayor to kill the light rail project because they said it needed a value-for-money audit and now they want to raid the kitty and build a bridge for cars," said Mr. McGuinty, whose brother is the Ontario premier.
"This is grandstanding from an MP backed by the minister of the environment -- who should be protecting the environment -- to build a bridge and put more cars on the road to pollute the environment."
Councillor Diane Deans also pointed to the irony of a federal government that helped kill a rail project that included the bridge, now using public transit money to build the link.
"I feel the federal government has been playing politics on this and other funding issues for a long time and I think it is time for Pierre Poilievre and John Baird to stop," she said.
But Mr. Poilievre said city councillors and other politicians are the ones playing politics and picking unnecessary fights when they should be working together. He pointed out that when he made the announcement, Ms. Harder applauded him, but a day later "flip-flopped and picked up a political fight."
Mr. Poilievre said there is no reason to leave the $200 million "in a vault gathering dust" just because the city doesn't have a transit plan. Current priorities must be funded.
"I want to build a bridge, but city politicians are burning bridges," he said.
I live in the south end (on the east side of the river) and I know how important this bridge is. I supported it when it was a transit/road bridge. You can't just take the transit off it and still call it a transit project.
I say put transit on it, or forget it.
BTW: The cost of the actual bridge is about $40M. I think the $105 million cost also includes the extension of Strandherd from Crestway to Price of Wales, and the widening of Earl Armstrong from River Road to Limebank, in addition to the actual bridge and its approaches. There's no way you can call THAT "transit". It's purely a road project, plain and simple.