Canada is a federation and consists of 10 provinces and three territories. It has a parliamentary system within a constitutional monarchy that serves as the base of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Except for Quebec, where the French civil law system is used, common law applies in most of Canada. Research shows that common or civil law does not play a significant role in reducing transit project timelines and costs, but the only project in Quebec happens to be the least expensive and fastest of the three tunneled projects in Canada. It is unclear whether the province’s legal structure affected this outcome or if other factors made the project in Montreal less expensive and faster to build.
The Canadian federal government oversees international and inter-province transportation, while urban transportation is entirely under provincial jurisdiction. In some cases, municipalities are also responsible for local transit systems when given authority from the provincial governments.
The federal government has a very limited role in the planning, assessment, and approval of public transportation projects, which are almost exclusively handled at the provincial level, though the federal government does serve as a major funder for transit projects. The federal government has historically funded up to one-third of project costs, but over the last decade has funded up to half, in part due to Parliament’s climate-related priorities.
Transport Canada, a federal ministry, is responsible for monitoring and updating laws and regulations that govern transportation and conducting inspections of transportation facilities, operations, and equipment across the country. Transport Canada funds relatively small projects related to transportation safety, technology, and sustainability improvements.
Infrastructure Canada is the federal agency responsible for developing, funding, and financing infrastructure projects across the country. It allocates funding through several funding programs, such as the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), which is part of the agency’s 2016 5-year Investing in Canada Plan. The ICIP includes nearly $10 billion in funding for public transit programs distributed through bilateral agreements with provinces and territories. Infrastructure Canada also provides financing through public-private partnerships (P3s) and agreements with provinces, territories, and municipalities.
In 2017, Canada established the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a state-owned enterprise independent of Infrastructure Canada tasked with leveraging $28 billion in federal financing to attract private involvement, including transportation P3s, in revenue-generating infrastructure projects in the public interest. The Bank finances projects across several sectors: clean power, toll roads, public transportation, trade and transportation, and broadband. The Bank supports private and public financing for six public transportation projects currently underway. These include the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) P3 project, a 41-mile automated light rail network in Montreal, as well as an expansion of Ontario’s GO commuter rail system (whose operations are competitively bid). The other projects include a new REM airport station in Montreal and funding for zero-emission buses in several cities.
Provinces are governed by an elected parliament, from which the premier – the province’s chief executive – is chosen. Under the constitution, Canada’s 10 provinces are responsible for much of the day-to-day governance of transportation, health, and education, among other key public services. Ultimate decision-making power to approve or reject projects lies with the provinces, given their funding role.
The provincial governments have the power to determine the structure and authorities of municipalities, as well as regional transportation authorities or agencies. Most major metropolitan areas in Canada are completely within province boundaries, except for the Ottawa region straddling Ontario and Quebec. Rail transit planning and design happens at the provincial level given that their jurisdiction includes the entire region and crosses municipal boundaries.
The structure of public transit agencies varies by province. In the Toronto region, transit planning is the responsibility of Metrolinx, the region’s planning and fare integration body. Metrolinx was created by the province of Ontario in 2006 to develop Toronto’s first-ever regional transportation plan, and to provide better regional integration of transit planning and decision-making. The board of Metrolinx consists of 15 citizen members recommended by the Ontario Minister of Transportation and approved by the province. Until 2009, the Metrolinx board consisted primarily of mayors and regional elected officials. The TTC board consists of 10 members appointed by the Toronto City Council, of whom four are members of the public and six are city councilors.
Most transit operations are carried out by independent public sector providers. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), owned by the City of Toronto, is the largest operator in the region and manages most subways and urban bus lines in the city. Smaller operators like York Region Transit and Mississauga Transit operate local bus systems. Metrolinx also operates the region’s commuter rail system (GO Train).
In Vancouver, located in the province of British Columbia, transit is governed by Translink, an entity created by the province in 1998 as a response to local officials seeking more control over public transit. Prior to the creation of TransLink, transit planning and delivery was carried out by BC Transit, a provincial corporation. BC Transit continues to carry out transit planning and delivery across the province outside of the Greater Vancouver region. Unlike Metrolinx, Translink is not a provincial agency, but rather a regional authority. It is governed by a corporate board of directors consisting of non-political, unelected experts, as well as a council of mayors from each of the 21 surrounding municipalities.
In Montreal, transit planning is under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Regional Transit Authority (ARTM), a provincial agency created by Quebec in 2017 to replace the Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (AMT) and integrate road and transit planning. The suburban bus and commuter rail operating segment of AMT was spun off into an operating agency called Exo (or RTM). The Sociéte de Transport de Montreal (STM) is the operating agency responsible for Montreal’s buses and subway system. Other operators in the region include the Société de transport de Laval (STL), which operates bus routes in the city of Laval north of Montreal, and the Réseau de transport de Longueuil (RTL), which operates bus routes in Montreal’s South Shore. Both STL and RTL report to ARTM.
Overall, transit agency structures for the country’s largest rapid transit systems range from full provincial control in Toronto to regional governance structures in Vancouver. Rapid transit systems in Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary are all municipally owned.