Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak. It's a new committee for me, and I look forward to speaking to you on future occasions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to meet with the committee.
I am joined today by several of my colleagues: Michael Keenan, deputy minister; Anuradha Marisetti, assistant deputy minister; and Kevin Brosseau, assistant deputy minister.
When I can't answer a question, I'm sure that, with their expertise, they will be able to pipe up and help.
It is my great pleasure to once again appear before this committee to talk about the excellent work being done across the federal transportation portfolio in support of my recent mandate letter from the .
We are taking steps to make Canada's transportation system safer, more secure, more efficient, and more environmentally responsible. And we are committed to doing it with sound fiscal management and solid stewardship of government resources. Needless to say, I consider the commitments in my mandate letter to be my highest priorities.
As such, I would like to outline a few of them for you today. Among others, these commitments include improving rail transportation, improving trade corridors to increase access to global markets, and helping to protect Canada's waters and coastlines.
It's important to note that the Prime Minister has directed me to undertake this work in the spirit of partnership with all levels of government and our indigenous partners.
As I've often said, rail safety remains my top priority.
That is why, immediately following the derailment in Saskatchewan, near Guernsey, earlier this month, I issued a ministerial order to slow down trains carrying a significant amount of dangerous goods. This was only the latest of many steps that we have taken to enhance rail safety.
It's why, in response to the Railway Safety Act review panel's report, Transport Canada continues to fund support for grade crossing improvements and public education through the rail safety improvement program. We have also worked to increase transparency on Canada's grade crossings by publishing a risk-ranked grade crossings inventory on the Government of Canada's open data portal.
ln light of recent incidents, I would like to stress that I believe that the right to protest and freedom of expression are important parts of Canada's democracy. The has been very clear that one of my most important tasks is supporting indigenous self-determination, building on the progress the Government of Canada has made with first nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. I believe it's critical for all parties to engage in open and respectful dialogue on transportation issues of mutual interest.
However, in terms of the blockades, tampering with railway lines, rail cars or signalling systems is an act that is illegal and dangerous. ln addition to putting themselves at risk, people who engage in such actions are endangering railway workers and train passengers, as well as the communities around them.
Another important mandate commitment is supporting infrastructure projects that contribute most to Canada's success in international markets. This includes investments through the national trade corridors fund to ensure that the transportation system continues to provide the global market access that Canadian businesses need to compete and grow. To date, more than 80 projects have been announced across the country, and more than 50 of these either are already under construction or have been completed.
The transportation system is an area of shared jurisdiction, so I'm pleased to say that I met recently with my provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss our shared priorities. We discussed our common goals, which include enhancing road safety—with an emphasis on school buses and improved training for commercial train conductors—and reducing international and interprovincial trade barriers.
I am happy to report that we also agreed to collaborate on the pan-Canadian competitive trade corridor initiative. This initiative will focus on how we can work together to help Canada's transportation system support trade, and identify areas that we can improve.
The focus will be on strengthening competitiveness, accommodating future growth, and finding ways to make our infrastructure more resilient to climate change.
One of the initiative's objectives is to strengthen Canada's standing as a reliable trading partner, supported by a competitive transportation system. We want to, where possible, reduce physical and regulatory barriers to the efficient movement of international commerce in the transportation system.
As I stated earlier, these measures support the commitments outlined in my mandate letter and reflect the Government of Canada's commitment to transportation policies and programs that promote safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation.
As I continue to implement Transportation 2030, the Government of Canada's strategic plan for the future of transportation in Canada, I am working with the to create high frequency rail between Toronto and Quebec City. This work includes investing in dedicated tracks exclusively for VIA Rail's passenger service. This would make service more frequent, faster and more reliable.
Right now, VIA Rail shares tracks with other train traffic. This can negatively affect timing and scheduling, making passenger trains a less attractive option for travellers.
I am looking forward to seeing this project's progress soon.
Canada is a maritime nation, with more coastline than any other country in the world. Canadians expect our marine safety system to protect these coasts while supporting the shipping that provides thousands of jobs and is critical to our economy. This is why the Government of Canada has been implementing over 50 measures under Canada's oceans protection plan since 2016.
We are working to deliver around-the-clock emergency response to marine incidents, to increase on-scene environmental response capacity and to develop near real-time information on marine traffic with indigenous and coastal communities, among other things. I stand before you today confident in saying that thanks to the oceans protection plan, our marine safety system is stronger today and our coastal ecosystems are better protected than ever before.
In support of our coasts and waterways, Transport Canada also runs the national aerial surveillance program. The program monitors shipping activities for pollution prevention and environmental protection, as well as ice reconnaissance and other conditions that could affect marine safety and security. Each national aerial surveillance program aircraft is equipped with a specialized maritime surveillance system. Through the whales initiative, a Dash 8 aircraft is being added to the program's fleet. With this additional aircraft, the program can increase its ability to observe and protect Canadian waters, especially whales and other marine mammals in those waters.
We're making progress, and Transport Canada officials are working to develop strategies for implementing the commitments I've mentioned here. I intend to begin publicly reporting on progress by mid-summer 2020, in line with the time frames from the Privy Council Office.
With that, Mr. Chair, I conclude my opening remarks. If the committee has any questions, I would be pleased to answer them.
Thank you very much. I'm thrilled to be here.
This is my first appearance before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities as the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.
I'd like to start by congratulating the newly elected chair and vice-chairs and thanking all of you for your efforts on behalf of Canadians.
I'm here with my excellent deputy, Kelly Gillis, whom I've leaned on heavily as I've been getting up to speed in this important portfolio.
As you all know, infrastructure impacts every single Canadian every single day—the way we work, do business, live, play; it determines how much time we're able to spend with our families, how we manage a sustainable way of life and what type of communities we leave to our children and grandchildren.
I'm here today to speak with you and answer your questions about the progress we have made in delivering the government's historic investing in Canada plan.
When we first took office in 2015, we recognized that our country faced a historic challenge and opportunity, an opportunity to use low interest rates, strong federal finances and the challenge of the energy transition at a time of climate change to invest in transformative projects like public transit, high-speed broadband and renewable energy.
Countless studies have pointed to clean and low-carbon infrastructure investments as one of the best ways to prepare for the economy of the future, and the 's economic advisory council identified infrastructure as the most powerful driver for growth and productivity, both in the short term and in the long term.
The flip side, presented by groups such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Insurance Bureau of Canada, is that significant investments in resilient infrastructure can save us billions of dollars.
We spoke with Canadians in communities across the country. We spoke with indigenous partners, provincial, territorial and municipal leaders, and countless stakeholders.
They told us what they needed for their communities and their residents to be successful, and we listened. It was with this important feedback in mind that we designed the investing in Canada plan.
The plan includes big cities and smaller communities, suburban, rural and northern, and it's designed to create good jobs and grow the economy, invest in cleaner air and water, modern and reliable public transit, resilient infrastructure, and sustainable communities. And we are making tremendous progress.
The Government of Canada has already committed over $65.1 billion in federal funding through the investing in Canada plan, funding more than 52,000 projects, most of which are either under way or completed.
We have invested $2.2 million in clean drinking water infrastructure in Plessisville, in your riding, Mr. Berthold. Federal funding has been invested in a pumping station and wastewater upgrades in Vercheres, in your riding, Mr. Barsalou-Duval.
There is also the $12 million invested in Prince Rupert's drinking water system in your riding, Mr. Bachrach.
Our government has been investing in projects that are creating good jobs and supporting our nation's ongoing transition to a clean-growth economy, and that was just the beginning, which brings us to today.
Our investments focus on five main priorities. These are public transit, green, social, trade and transportation, and rural and northern communities' infrastructure. The goal is to improve Canadians' quality of life.
That's why we're committed to working with provinces and territories to purchase 5,000 zero-emission school and transit buses over the next five years, and it's why all new public transit funding will be zero-emission options by 2023.
We are very fortunate to have Canadian companies who are world leaders in electric buses, like Nova Bus and New Flyer.
With the capacity and the know-how to build those electric buses right here in Canada, this is a win-win.
Since 2015, Canadians have created approximately 80,000 jobs in the infrastructure sector, which has contributed significantly to the million-plus jobs created across Canada on our government's watch.
In fact, I'd like to see us promote Canadian companies that use low-carbon building materials, such as CarbonCure Technologies from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, or cross-laminated timber from Chantiers Chibougamau in Quebec, or carbon-free aluminium from Elysis, a Montreal-based joint venture.
Just like infrastructure and the economy go together, so too, do infrastructure and the environment.
Through bilateral agreements with each of the provinces and territories, we are investing over $33 billion across the country.
And we're encouraging them to work closely with their municipalities, their communities, and their municipal associations to bring projects forward quickly for federal approvals so no one misses a construction season.
We want Canadians to see and feel the benefits of these projects as quickly as possible.
In addition to my provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as indigenous leaders, I met recently with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the big city mayors' caucus, TransLink mayors in British Columbia and many other stakeholders across the country to hear about how we can improve their communities, to listen to their priorities and to see the impact our investments are having. The progress is real, such as the 88 on-reserve long-term drinking water advisories that we have eliminated across Canada, or the more than 900 rural and remote communities that are now benefiting from improved high-speed Internet access.
Consider the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will connect Windsor to Detroit, Michigan in 2024, vastly improving Canada’s single busiest trade artery, which handles about a quarter of all Canada-U.S. bilateral trade every year.
Or the new Samuel De Champlain Bridge in Montreal that connects commuters, cyclists, pedestrians and tourists, not to mention providing a modern link that allows for $20 billion of international trade each year.
The list goes on, but the work doesn’t stop. For example, we are committed to moving forward on clean power to help support rural and remote communities transition from diesel power to clean, renewable and reliable energy. We’re also working with the Canada Infrastructure Bank and others to deliver high-speed Internet access to every home and business across the country by 2030, and we will support major nation-building projects through a national infrastructure fund, projects that connect people and businesses and help raise the standard of living for Canadians in significant and long-lasting ways.
Thinking long-term, we recognize that it’s much cheaper to build now for a changing climate than to deal with the impacts later. That's the goal of our disaster mitigation and adaptation fund. When natural disasters strike, sending out our military to sandbag after flooding or to put out fires is far less effective than investing to mitigate the effects of disasters before they even happen. The return on investment from disaster mitigation has been estimated to range anywhere from six dollars of savings for every dollar invested to as much as $14.
I have three key priorities: to work with partners to get projects built quickly; to leverage the power of infrastructure to grow our economy, create jobs and boost productivity; and to ensure that our projects help build a more resilient, low-carbon future.
The bottom line is that I see infrastructure not only as a fantastic nation-building exercise, but also as our chance to build the strong, prosperous Canada of tomorrow. When Canada builds, Canada grows.
I'd like to thank the members of the committee for the opportunity to update you on the important work we are doing to benefit Canadians. I'm pleased to answer any questions you might have.
That's a very good question. It actually responds to the previous member's question, so he may be interested.
Clearly we've indicated the areas of priority, whether in green infrastructure, in public transit or rural and northern, but I think we do need to better understand our infrastructure investments.
I was in the U.K. They have a national infrastructure assessment that sets out very clearly to 2050 what the long-term goals are. I agree that to get the maximum benefit for the dollars.... Infrastructure investment is the largest driver of GDP. It is a huge opportunity, with a declining population. Municipalities obviously want public transit, and so do we, but we need to be making sure we're getting the long-term benefits and are able to quantify them.
We absolutely have a sense of all the projects we've done and can see the impacts in terms of jobs, but I think we need to be mapping out now where we want to be in 2050, as we make these historical investments, which we know are creating jobs.
We know we're growing the economy and we know we're improving lives. This all helps to transition us to a cleaner future, but I think we can do a better job of mapping it out by learning best practices from other countries. The U.K. has done it, Australia has done it, New Zealand has done it.
We have some road maps already. We have the economic adviser's report to the ; we have the pan-Canadian framework on climate change; we have the national housing strategy. I think, though, that we have to be very focused on outcomes.