04/23/2015 06:19 EDT | Updated 07/21/2015 01:59 EDT

Gregor Robertson, John Tory want 'flexible' private sector role in transit fund

Canada's big-city mayors are applauding the government's plan to set up a fund for public transit projects, but the organization representing Canada's towns and cities wants to ensure it's flexible enough to let the private sector role vary with each project.

Brad Woodside, the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said that while most large-scale transit projects in Canada already include some form of private sector involvement, each project is unique. 

"Getting the level right for any one project differs from city to city and project to project. No one formula for private-sector involvement makes sense for all cities and all projects," said Woodside, who is also the mayor of Fredericton. 

"For that reason, it's important that the requirement for private-sector involvement is flexible and that it recognizes cities are best-positioned to decide which model makes sense in their particular context."

The planned fund, which won't exist for another two years, will be run by the Crown corporation PPP Canada, which has a mandate to promote public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects.

The 2015 budget details the federal government's plans to set up the fund with $750 million over two years, beginning in 2017, followed by $1-billion annually "ongoing thereafter." Since it's an election year, the realization of the fund also could depend on the support of a new government or coalition.

The government said it will allocate funds in various ways, which could include payments over a 20 to 30 year period rather than an upfront sum, and could allow provinces, territories and municipalities to borrow against what it describes as a "predictable payment stream."  

"The budget also includes a flexible approach to funding design that uses debt financing as one example of how the funding might flow to cities 'as appropriate.' This model has the potential to support a greater number of projects," Woodside said. "However, each city will need to determine which funding model makes the most sense in their particular context."

Urgent investment in transit needed: mayor

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said that even though the funds are not immediately available, the promise that infrastructure dollars are coming gives a boost to upcoming projects.

"We could use urgent investment in transit right across the country but we're going to have to wait for that fund to kick in," Robertson said in an interview on CBC News Network's Power and Politics.

"For most of the big projects, there's a delay in the design before the construction starts, so it won't necessarily affect the big projects that are anticipated here in Vancouver."

Toronto Mayor John Tory echoed that sentiment.

"Would I like it to start tomorrow morning? Of course," Tory said.

"But we've waited 148 years in the history of this country for the federal government to establish a permanent, annual, reliable – and in this case it will be a $1-billion a year fund — for public transportation projects and cities across the country. And I think that is a huge step forward."