Harper not a fan of high-speed rail link

Published: February 24th 2009
Canadian Press
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TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is frowning on a proposal for a high-speed rail link between Ontario and Quebec that would boost the economy and help the environment, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.

Without federal support, the proposed link between Windsor, Ont., and Quebec City may never get off the ground, McGuinty said.

"I continue to be a big fan of (the plan), as does (Quebec Premier) Jean Charest," McGuinty said.

"The prime minister is not as much of a fan on this score."

McGuinty didn't say what objections Harper may have to the proposed high-speed link, which has floated around for more than a decade.

There are plenty of reasons why it should go ahead, McGuinty said.

"I like it because it fights climate change, it fights traffic congestion ... it creates jobs, and it enhances our quality of life," he said.

Experts have advised the province to do a better job of connecting big communities to build a strong economy, he added.

"It does all those things, which is why I think it's a worthwhile project."

The federal Conservatives have said in the past that Canada wasn't ready for high-speed trains, but in recent weeks have announced billions of dollars for infrastructure projects to fight a recession.

In their January budget, the Tories announced plans to spend $40 billion over two years on measures to kickstart the troubled economy, including infrastructure, social housing, home retrofits, railways and tourism.

However, the government is looking for infrastructure projects that can stimulate the economy quickly and create jobs, said Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Harper.

"Our No. 1 priority is identifying projects that are basically shovel-ready that can begin as soon as possible," he said.

All three governments are jointly spending $3 million on a feasibility study that will examine the high-speed rail proposal, including how much it will cost and its environmental impact.

The study, awarded to EcoTrain Consortium, will take a year to complete and update information previously gathered in other studies on the project.

"We're working co-operatively with Quebec and Ontario and my department on updating the studies that have been done so we would know how much it costs before we sign on," said federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister John Baird.

"It's a gigantic $20-billion to $30-billion project. I don't think it would be able to be ready in the next two years to provide important economic stimulus."