Well, it didn’t take long. Doug Ford’s Conservative government has eliminated the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program (OMCCP). The program was to provide $93 million to 120 municipalities in Ontario in 2018, of which Ottawa’s share was $9.7 million.
Cutting this provincial money for cycling is part of Doug Ford’s decision to end the cap-and-trade program, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The result is that Ontario’s efforts to fight climate change have suffered a double whammy – a set back for cycling, which is an excellent tool for reducing carbon emissions – and the dismantling of the cap-and-trade program means less incentive for industry to reduce greenhouse gases.
The frustrating thing about the cut is that the $93 million for cycling was really small potatoes compared to the billions of dollars being spent every year in Ontario on roads, highways, and other infrastructure projects. However, it should not come as a surprise given how Doug Ford often acted in lockstep with his late brother, Rob Ford, when they were both members of the Toronto City Council. Rob Ford was well known for his fanatical anti-bicycle views, and he was largely responsible for having Toronto’s Jarvis Street bike lane ripped out when he was mayor of that city.
The report in the Ottawa Citizen indicates that the Ontario Government currently doesn’t have anything to say about any future funding for cycling programs. If the actions of the federal Conservatives are any indication, we shouldn’t hold our breath. When they were in power, the federal Conservatives budgeted money to develop trails for snowmobiles and ATVs, provided tax breaks for various sports equipment, but did absolutely nothing for cycling. They simply didn’t see cyclists as part of their constituency (despite the fact that an ever increasing number of cyclists fall on the right side of the political spectrum).
The City of Ottawa was lucky insofar that it already received its share of the OMCCP money for 2018 before the program was cut. Nevertheless, Councillor Keith Egli, the chair of the city’s transportation committee, is worried that the lack of funding from the province in the future will hurt Ottawa’s cycling programs. He thinks that progress on cycling infrastructure will likely slow down unless other sources of funding can be found. It’s important to note that this situation also affects other urban centers throughout Ontario, including smaller ones. For example, the Towns of Arnprior, Perth, Mississippi Mills (Almonte), and Carleton Place were each slated to received $25,000 under the OMCCP program.
This demonstrates that all the progress realized in recent years in providing for cycling infrastructure is very fragile. It seems that money budgeted for cycling does not have the same ‘staying power’ as funding for roads, highways and other infrastructure projects, at least at the provincial level. It may be time to contact your MPP, especially if they are part of Doug Ford’s government, to let them know that you expect them to continue to fund cycling on the same basis as other essential infrastructure.