Public transportation: Quebec in Ontario’s rearview mirror

Public transportation: Quebec in Ontario’s rearview mirror
Public transportation: Quebec in Ontario’s rearview mirror

Today president and CEO of the Foundation of Greater Montreal, Karel Mayrand has been a privileged observer of environmental issues for 25 years.

The government of François Legault has cultivated the ambition of closing the wealth gap between Quebec and Ontario since coming to power in 2018. This economic catch-up is based on Quebec’s comparative advantages: abundant and affordable electricity, access to export markets and fiscal and economic policies favoring foreign investors. Northvolt is the best-known example. But the government’s economic vision has a blind spot that risks killing its ambitions: mobility.

A productive economy must be able to rely on efficient transport networks, which ensure good mobility of workers and goods. However, for three decades, the Quebec state has bet all its money on road transport, which has generated uncontrolled growth in Quebec’s automobile fleet and, inevitably, congestion. In 2018, the Montreal Metropolitan Community estimated that traffic jams generated costs of $4.2 billion in the Montreal region alone. Despite the pandemic and teleworking, congestion remains significant. Our goods and our workers are stuck in traffic jams. Our economy is suffering from our immobility.

Ontario, which finds itself in a similar situation, particularly in the greater Toronto area, has radically changed its approach over the last decade by devoting more than two-thirds of its mobility investments to public transit. According to figures compiled by the Transit Alliance (an organization that aims to promote the improvement of public transportation services in Quebec) and based on budgetary data from the two provinces, Ontario will allocate 71% of its mobility investments to transportation. collective and 29% for road transport in the next decade. In Quebec, it is exactly the opposite. While Ontario will invest 70 billion in public transit, including 50 billion only in the greater Toronto area, Quebec is content with 14 billion for its entire territory. In other words, Ontario, whose population is 1.7 times larger and the economy twice as large as that of Quebec, will devote five times more money to public transit.

While Quebec dreams of a third link and while it has practically scuttled the Quebec tramway, Ontario has taken a head start in mobility that will be difficult to catch up with. The most surprising thing is that it is the province at the heart of the Canadian automobile industry, and moreover led by a conservative government, which made the shift towards sustainable mobility 10 years before Quebec.

This situation is incomprehensible. After all, Quebec does not produce automobiles, but buses, trains and metro cars. A study by the Montreal Chamber of Commerce carried out in 2010 showed that investments in public transport generated economic benefits three times greater than investments in road transport. Although the study is more than a decade old, the situation remains the same, according to several observers. A dollar invested in public transportation creates wealth where it is spent. If Quebec had as much ambition in public transport as in the battery sector, we could be world leaders, an entire sector could be developed here, and the tens of billions of dollars invested in our transport would make our economy turn.

But this is not the case. In 2023, according to figures from the Quebec Statistics Institute, Quebec imported $17 billion worth of motor vehicles, and $8.8 billion worth of oil and diesel. That’s more than $25 billion of our wealth that we send abroad each year to travel by car. Or 250 billion over 10 years. We are presented with roads as an economic investment and public transportation as an expense, when it is quite the opposite. All-inclusive fuels our trade deficit and diminishes our collective wealth.

The lack of investment in public transportation is also a factor in the impoverishment of Quebec households. It must be remembered that transportation is one of the three largest budget items: it represented 16.3% of Quebec household expenses in 2021, according to Statistics Canada — after housing (27.4%) and just after food ( 16.8%). However, according to the personal finance service Hardbacon, the average price of a car has almost doubled in five years to reach $68,350 in the Montreal region. With interest rates and other expenses rising, owning a car in Montreal costs 65% more today than in 2019.

Quebecers are prisoners of a transportation system that forces them to have two, sometimes three vehicles per household. 10 years ago, CAA-Quebec estimated that it cost $6,500 to $8,800 per year to own a car. According to Hardbacon, in 2024, the average cost associated with owning a vehicle in Quebec would be $15,720 per year, or $1,310 per month. Offering sustainable mobility options that would allow Quebecers to get rid of a second or third car would put thousands of dollars back in their pockets like a tax cut. Dollars taken from car manufacturers and oil companies…

What must be done to initiate the shift towards public transportation? First, ensure stable sources of revenue for transport companies and index taxes on gasoline and registration, which have not kept pace with inflation. We must also reverse the proportions of our transportation investments that go to public transit and road transportation, as Ontario is doing. Then, establish a 25-year investment plan as the mayor of Quebec, Bruno Marchand, suggested, to attract companies here that can carry out projects while ensuring predictability to make their investments profitable. This will strengthen this economic sector and reduce project costs.

But above all, we must change our view of public transport. It does not represent an expense or a deficit to be filled, but rather a strategic investment. Public transportation is one of the cornerstones of our economic prosperity; it generates more economic benefits per dollar invested, it helps reduce our trade deficit and it puts money back into the pockets of households. Ontario has understood this, and it sees us far in its rearview mirror.



PREV ex-minister Aurélien Rousseau, candidate of the left, in the campaign in the face of great political confusion