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‘I should have specified’ road funding remarks, Guilbeault tells MPs

Click to play video: 'Guilbeault questioned on federal road funding remarks at committee'
Guilbeault questioned on federal road funding remarks at committee
WATCH - Guilbeault questioned on federal road funding remarks at committee – Mar 21, 2024

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says he should’ve “specified” his remarks on federal road funding when he made them, MPs heard Thursday.

Guilbeault faced questioning by members of the House of Commons transport committee over his controversial Feb. 12 comments that Ottawa would “stop investing in new road infrastructure.”

He would later clarify his remarks after criticism, which continues to dog him.

“In fact, what I’ve said several times, and I will repeat it here for the committee: I should have specified that these comments were made in the context of the Third Link in Quebec City,” he said in French.

“I think many people understand that my comments were related to that project in Quebec,” he said later in English.

Click to play video: 'Federal environment minister ignites uproar over road project funding'
Federal environment minister ignites uproar over road project funding

The Quebec project Guilbeault is referring to is the Trosième Lien – a highway tunnel connecting Quebec City to Lévis.

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Guilbeault referenced that project when he initially clarified his remarks in Ottawa on Feb. 14.

Those remarks came from quotes published in the Montreal Gazette last month. Guilbeault told a crowd in the city on Feb. 12 that Ottawa won’t be funding any projects that “enlarge the road network.”

“The analysis we have done is that the network is perfectly adequate to respond to the needs we have,” he said.

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

Conservative transport critic Mark Strahl had called Guilbeault’s comments “outrageous,” and was among the signatories of a letter requesting that he explain his comments at the committee.

Housing and Infrastructure Minister Sean Fraser and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez were also summoned, and appeared Thursday.

Liberal MP Chris Bittle, who is parliamentary secretary to Fraser, said he was “surprised” the Bloc and NDP would support the Tories in summoning the trio at a Feb. 21 meeting.

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“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 that day.

“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: '‘We do build roads,’ Fraser says amid Guilbeault comments'
‘We do build roads,’ Fraser says amid Guilbeault comments

Fraser stressed on Thursday that Ottawa does “build roads.”

“I can reassure you: We maintain support for road building and that there hasn’t been a policy change,” Fraser said.

“It’s important to me … that we can demonstrate when people have concerns about whether we build roads, that we do build roads.”

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Guilbeault’s remarks caused a scramble among officials at Infrastructure Canada – the department responsible for federal public infrastructure policy.

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

Internal emails obtained by Global News under access to information legislation showed how they worked to respond to the “blowback” the remarks caused.

Outside Ottawa, premiers and mayors who use federal funds to improve their networks also voiced concern.

B.C. Premier David Eby said on Feb. 14 that Guilbeault’s comments “made a lot of us very nervous,” while 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.”

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

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

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 said on Feb. 13.

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