MPs call Guilbeault to explain road funding remarks at committee

Click to play video: 'Federal environment minister ignites uproar over road project funding'
Federal environment minister ignites uproar over road project funding
WATCH - Federal environment minister ignites uproar over road project funding – Feb 14, 2024

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has been asked to a House of Commons committee to explain his controversial remarks on federal road funding.

Last Monday, Guilbeault told a crowd in Montreal that Ottawa will “stop investing in new road infrastructure,” according to quotes published in the Montreal Gazette.

When pressed by reporters two days later, Guilbeault said he “should have been more specific,” clarifying the government doesn’t have the funds for “large projects.” He referred to the trosième lien, a highway tunnel connecting Quebec City to Lévis, as an example.

MPs on the House of Commons transport committee voted Wednesday to have Guilbeault appear within 14 days, as well as Housing and Infrastructure Minister Sean Fraser and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez.

Click to play video: 'Environment minister clarifies feds will continue to fund roads'
Environment minister clarifies feds will continue to fund roads

The committee met at the request of the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois and NDP. Conservative transport critic Mark Strahl has called Guilbeault’s comments “outrageous,” and was among the signatories of a letter requesting for Guilbeault to explain his comments at the committee.

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Strahl moved a motion at the start of Wednesday’s meeting to have no fewer than six hearings on infrastructure in Canada, and wanted Guilbeault, Fraser and Rodriguez to appear, as well as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, the CEO of the Canada Infrastructure Bank and any witnesses deemed necessary by members.

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Liberal MP Chris Bittle, who is parliamentary secretary to Fraser, walked MPs on the committee through several infrastructure investments the Liberals have made since 2015.

“I’m not surprised the Conservatives have brought this forward. I’m very surprised the NDP and Bloc have supported this feigned outraged by the Conservative Party. We saw immediately that the minister of the environment clarified his statements with respect to this. This is not a change in government policy. This has been a government that has provided historic investments in infrastructure, all the while Conservatives voting against,” he said.

“I can appreciate the opposition wanting to try to squeeze some news out of nothing, during a break week, but here we are.”

Click to play video: 'Calgary mayor ‘can’t believe’ Guilbeault’s comments on road infrastructure'
Calgary mayor ‘can’t believe’ Guilbeault’s comments on road infrastructure

Bloc MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval proposed an amendment to Strahl’s motion for a single meeting to have Guilbeault, Fraser and Rodriguez appear within 30 days of adoption. Strahl’s motion called for the ministers to appear within a week.

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Conserative MP Dan Muys then introduced a sub-amendment to Barsalou-Duval’s amendment to have the ministers appear for one meeting within 14 days of Wednesday, and to hear from each of them, separately, for one hour each.

The motion as amended by Muys was eventually adopted unanimously by the committee.

Guilbeault’s comments raised concern after stirring controversy among premiers and mayors who use federal funds to improve their networks.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said on Feb. 15 that if Ottawa were ever to cut funding for new road projects, it “would literally be terrible for every municipality in this nation.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. premier questions what federal road funding remarks mean for ongoing projects'
B.C. premier questions what federal road funding remarks mean for ongoing projects

“Making that kind of a public statement and not having any rationale behind it is not ministerial,” she said.

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“(If Guilbeault) wants to have conversations with local leaders and find out why we need improved roadways … we’re happy to chat with him.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford had said he was “gobsmacked” by Guilbeault’s remarks before he clarified them.

“A federal minister said they won’t invest in new roads or highways. He doesn’t care that you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I do. We’re building roads and highways, with or without a cent from the feds,” Ford said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, last Tuesday.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith echoed a similar sentiment on social media.

“Does this minister understand that most Canadians don’t live in downtown Montreal? Most of us can’t just head out the door in the snow and rain and just walk 10km to work each day,” Smith wrote on X.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Guilbeault’s comments “made a lot of us very nervous,” and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clarify them.

“I understand the federal environment minister has tried to clarify his comments,” he said last Wednesday.

“It would be good to understand from the federal government and to have some clear commitments, a recommitment to the promises they made to us around this essential infrastructure because these comments have obviously made a lot of us very nervous.”

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Trudeau has said his government’s policy on contributing to infrastructure projects remains unchanged.

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