PM busy rebuilding relationships
by Paul Wells
The federal government plans “big announcements in coming weeks,” in Toronto and elsewhere, to put infrastructure money to work in time for the summer construction season, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.
Trudeau made the promise in an interview at his Centre Block office as he discussed the intricacies of rebuilding a working relationship between the federal government, the provinces and municipalities.
Ontario spent a decade “having to defend against a federal government” – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives – “that didn’t understand Ontario and didn’t particularly care about it, except around election time to make sure that they won seats,” Trudeau said. “That’s completely changed. We need to work together on a broad range of issues. Infrastructure’s one of them.”
Trudeau offered no details. Senior federal and provincial government sources said the exact list of projects that will receive new federal funding is still being discussed among governments. But the potential is enormous: in their 2016 budget the Trudeau Liberals roughly doubled their predecessors’ infrastructure budget, to $125 billion over 10 years. Much
of that spending will go toward megaprojects in later years, but
$11.9 billion was earmarked for the nearer term, the first two to five years.
Trudeau said he is working on a wholesale change in relations among levels of government in Canada, after several years when Harper met rarely with the provincial premiers and preferred not to deal directly with municipal governments. Now Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Trudeau are in close consultation on major projects.
Infrastructure is only one file that’s seeing closer collaboration between Ottawa and other levels of government, Trudeau said. Pension reform is another.
Harper rejected Wynne’s plan to supplement the Canada Pension Plan with her own Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, calling it a tax grab. Trudeau wants to work with all provinces to “strengthen” the CPP, and Wynne has delayed the implementation of her plan so governments can co-ordinate.
Working together is “taking a little bit of adjustment,” Trudeau said, but he promised “significant headway in the coming months.”
When he handed out cabinet assignments last November, Trudeau kept a couple for himself. He is the government’s designated minister for youth – and for intergovernmental affairs. The other big federal-provincial issue on his desk is climate change.
Trudeau and the premiers agreed before Christmas that carbon pricing must be part of the solution to meeting aggressive carbon-reduction targets. Well, the targets aren’t that aggressive – Trudeau inherited them from Harper – but any measures to actually meet them would have to be. Trudeau is in no mood to limit provinces’ options on this score.
“We actually believe that different provinces have different models that work best for them,” he said. “And as long as we’re driving the emissions down, as long as they’re putting forward things that work, that’s fine.”
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, a frequent Trudeau ally, was in Ottawa this week to argue against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project because it would increase tanker traffic out of the Port of Vancouver. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a frequent Trudeau ally, called Robertson’s critique of Trans Mountain “really overblown.”
Given the kind of year Alberta has been having, would Trudeau rather get a pipeline built, to show the federal government can sometimes make a decision Albertans like?
He didn’t like the question.
“If we’re going to get a pipeline approved and resources to market, it’s not about symbols or demonstrating collaboration, it’s because it’s something that needs to happen and should be happening in the right way,” he said.
“The only way to build pipelines, eventually, will be to have Canadians understand that we’re both protecting the environment and building a strong economy at the same time. That’s why we’ve refreshed and renewed the process, that’s why we’re listening to broader voices, that’s why we’re building relationships with indigenous Canadians, with communities, with scientists – so we can fulfill one of the fundamental responsibilities of any prime minister in Canada, which is to get our resources to market. But in the 21st century, it’s to get them to market in sustainable, responsible ways.”
Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services