Minister: Ottawa won’t be funding ‘large’ road projects

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault’s comments on infrastructure funding have drawn heavy criticism.

Key Takeaways:

  • Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said earlier this week he was against government support for new road infrastructure.
  • He said this was because more roads encourages more car use, something Ottawa is looking to move away from.
  • This week he sought to clarify those comments, saying he was against federal support for “large” road projects.
  • The comments drew strong criticism from provincial leaders as well as the construction sector.

The Whole Story:

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has clarified controversial comments about road infrastructure investment after drawing heavy criticism from political leaders and the construction sector. 

On Monday, Guilbeault said the federal government will stop investing in new road infrastructure. However he has since clarified his comments, stressing that he meant to say Ottawa will not be funding “large” road projects. 

“Of course we’re funding roads. We have programs to fund roads,” he told reporters, adding that the federal government can be counted on to support provinces paying for maintenance. 

However, he noted that Ottawa has decided that existing road infrastructure “is perfectly adequate to respond to the needs we have.”

Guilbeault explained that the federal government’s goal is to get people out of their cars and into public transportation.

He told reporters that Quebec City’s long-proposed third link is an example of a project that will not receive funding from Ottawa.

“What we have said, and maybe I should have been more specific, is that we don’t have funds for large projects like the ‘3eme lien’ that the CAQ has been trying to do for many years,” he said of Quebec’s provincial government.

Criticism from industry

The Canadian Construction Association noted that a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) estimates that it will require $107,000 in public investments per new housing unit. This amounts to a total of $620 billion in public funding needed – an additional $375 billion beyond the current planned budget.

“These new communities need new roads. People need to be connected to their jobs, their schools, and their hospitals,” said Mary Van Buren, CCA president. “A growing population has growing demands. We not only need the road networks to support their movement; we also need to shore up our trade infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges and highways.”

The CCA added that Canada has been under-investing in its trade-enabling infrastructure for 15 years and builders need the federal government to partner with industry and work with municipal and provincial governments to build a strong foundation for a stronger Canada.

In response to the minister’s initial comments, the Ontario Road Builders Association (ORBA) stated that he did not understand the importance of Canadian infrastructure. 

“While the Minister’s previous actions – including an attempt to encroach on provincial jurisdiction over infrastructure development recently deemed unconstitutional – demonstrate a bias against development, it is shocking to see the Minister make these comments on behalf of the government, suggesting a naive understanding of Canada’s infrastructure needs at a time of record immigration and a push towards removing barriers to trade and economic growth,” said the group, adding that his comments were “elitist” and “out of touch” with the reality of everyday life in suburban and rural communities. 

They noted that the road building industry employs more than 56,000 workers in Ontario alone and earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s spoke at ORBA’s 97th Annual Convention, emphasizing the importance of road and highway infrastructure for Canadian prosperity.

“We call on Minister Guilbeault to stop playing politics and join us and provincial governments across Canada to get shovels in the ground on much needed projects in Ontario and across the country,” said the group. 

LiUNA International Vice President and Canadian Director Joseph Mancinelli called the minister’s comments “beyond disappointing”. 

“Growing regions require resilient infrastructure, including our roads,” he said in a statement on social media. “This has a direct impact on our economy, jobs, connectivity and the strength and function of our communities. Enough delays and political games. It’s time to get shovels in the ground.” 

Provincial leaders weigh in

Various political leaders took to social media to give their response to the comments.

Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said in a post on X that Mr. Guilbeault “won’t be happy until we’re living back in mud huts.”

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe also posted on social media, saying this: “Guilbeault wants us all to walk everywhere. The Trudeau government gets more out of touch with reality every day.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith suggested the minister is out of touch with the transportation needs of Canadians.

“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,” said Smith.


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