I'm going to start off by calling the meeting to order.
I welcome you to meeting number seven of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities.
Members of the committee are meeting today because a meeting was requested by four members of the committee, pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), to discuss their request to undertake a study of ministers' spending priorities.
Today's meeting is taking place in person, and the proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, I will tell you that the webcast will show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
Occupational health and safety have requested that we limit our movement in the room throughout the meeting. Individuals should always respect social distancing rules and remain two metres away from one another. Should you need to move around the room, please follow the arrows on the floor.
You will note that, to minimize health risks, limited personnel have been permitted to attend today's meeting. Staff have received a phone number where they can listen in to the proceedings in real time.
You will note, as well, that no paper documents have been distributed. All documents have been distributed electronically to all members. Should you require a copy of a document, please advise the clerk of the committee immediately by emailing the committee at TRAN@parl.gc.ca.
With that, I'll go to Mr. Doherty.
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
We're pleased to be here with you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting us to present supplementary estimates (A) for Transport Canada and the other agencies and Crown corporations that make up the transportation portfolio.
I am pleased to be accompanied, virtually of course, by the deputy minister of transport, Michael Keenan, and the assistant deputy minister of corporate services and chief financial officer, Ryan Pilgrim.
I would like to preface my remarks today by noting the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the transportation sector here in Canada and, indeed, around the world.
On behalf of all Canadians, I want to thank the transportation workers who help ensure the steady flow of essential goods and services during the COVID-19 crisis. This includes truck drivers, flight and train crews, air traffic controllers, dockworkers and many more.
Transport Canada strives to be transparent. This is why the department links each grant and contribution vote to its purpose. The supplementary estimates (A) that are now before committee members include a summary of incremental financial requirements, as well as an overview of major funding requests and horizontal initiatives.
Transport Canada continues to foster a modern, leading-edge transportation system that will support Canada's growth for years to come. Canada must be ready for new technologies such as connected and automated vehicles. When new technologies can help us promote cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation, we must be ready to integrate them.
To this end, the supplementary estimates (A) include $47.3 million to extend the incentive for the zero-emissions vehicle program. Originally announced in budget 2019, this program will help achieve key targets for new light-duty vehicles in Canada, with objectives of 10% by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040.
Two items relate to VIA Rail. Our national passenger rail carrier aims to provide a safe, secure, efficient, reliable, and environmentally sustainable service. In addition to service through the Quebec-City-to-Windsor corridor, and long-haul service between Toronto and Vancouver, and between Montreal and Halifax, VIA Rail also serves many regional and remote communities.
For some of these communities, VIA Rail is the only year-round transportation option.
The supplementary estimates (A) request $264.6 million to ensure that VIA Rail continues to operate reliably and to maintain its capital assets adequately.
The second item for VIA Rail relates to proposed high-frequency rail service in the Quebec-City-to-Windsor corridor. The supplementary estimates (A) include $14.7 million for research and preparatory work related to the proposal. Of this amount, VIA Rail requests $12.8 million and Transport Canada requests $1.8 million. This work is important, to consider how the high-frequency network would complement and operate in tandem with other rail services in the corridor.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, CATSA, is seeking $309.4 million to help ensure that air travellers and workers at airports are effectively screened. This funding would support increased use of full-body scanners as well as other initiatives.
In budget 2019, the Government of Canada announced its intention to introduce legislation that would enable Transport Canada to sell the assets and liabilities of CATSA to an independent, not-for-profit entity. To this end, the supplementary estimates include $2.8 million to support negotiations for this transition.
The final item I will highlight is a request for $84.9 million for Marine Atlantic. A Crown corporation, Marine Atlantic operates ferry services on two routes between the province of Nova Scotia and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I believe the items I have outlined today demonstrate the direction that the Government of Canada is pursuing to keep transportation in this country safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible.
I value input from committee members, and I look forward to continuing our work, to strengthen our transportation system and build a strong future for Canada.
Thank you, Mr. Scarpaleggia.
Originally, as you know, $300 million was approved in the budget, and we expected that this would be deployed over a three-year period; however, the uptake in the first year was more than we expected, to our very pleasant surprise, of course, because of our commitment towards cleaner vehicle technology.
This amount of $47.8 million is planned spending that comes from that $300 million funding envelope as we move forward. In fact, we doubt much, although COVID has slowed down things, as you can appreciate. We're feeling in January that [Technical difficulty—Editor]
If you don't mind, Minister, I'll move on to VIA Rail. We know that there's some planning going on with respect to a high-frequency rail link from Quebec City to Toronto. Of course, that's of great interest to my constituents, because we're along the route. I'm wondering if you'd give us an idea of where we are in terms of coming to the end of the planning stages and starting the project.
As well, in terms of COVID security, I believe it is not required to wear a mask on trains, and yet it is on planes. That sounds counterintuitive, but I'm sure you can explain the difference.
With respect to the high-frequency train, the progress is continuing. Despite COVID, we've been able to move ahead on this project. As you may know, a joint project office was struck, composed of people from the Canada Infrastructure Bank as well as from VIA, and they are continuing. They are in the final phases of the assessment of this proposed link between Quebec City and Toronto. They are making steady progress. They are on schedule. They will be making recommendations to the government later this year.
We hope we'll be in a position sometime before the end of this year to make a decision on whether we will go ahead with this project and in exactly what form it will be. We do believe this is something that shows the promise of providing a faster service and a more reliable service. As you know, it would use its own dedicated rail lines.
With respect to the measures, at the moment there is limited service operating on VIA because of COVID. There's a requirement for only 50% volumes in each of the passenger cars, no more than that, to preserve distancing. It is recommended that people bring their masks and wear their masks where physical distancing is not possible. That hasn't happened very much so far because of the low volumes. Essentially, they're below 10% compared with normal volumes.
The difference between that and aircraft is that we know that with aircraft, the whole process of going to the airport, going through security, going to the gate and getting on board the airplane is a difficult environment in which to preserve physical distancing. We felt it was extremely important to mandate the wearing of masks. We think a different approach can be used with respect to passenger ships, such as ferries, and rail operations, where the approach is to recommend that masks be worn.
WestJet announced that it would be reimbursing some of its customers. But it is not bankrupt. Yet you've often claimed that airlines will go bankrupt if they reimburse their customers for a cancelled flight.
Air Canada, which had $6 billion in cash at the beginning of the crisis, now has $9.7 billion, according to analysts. Its liquidities have increased and it is not at all on the verge of bankruptcy. Air Transat, for its part, has said that it would be prepared to reimburse its customers if there was government assistance.
Is the government going to offer any assistance? If so, will it be conditional on passengers being reimbursed for cancelled flights?
Minister, I'm proud to say our air carriers fly the newest aviation equipment. As you know, a 737 transfers fresh air every two minutes.
A number of my constituents who work for airlines feel airlines are almost being punished. You have to get on an airplane with a mask to fly from Toronto to Ottawa, but you can get on a VIA Rail train and not wear a mask. Then they're told that it's more dangerous to get on an airplane than on a train.
I'm trying to encourage the general public, and I'm sure you are, to think about getting back in an airplane and flying. Let's instill that. We shouldn't be scaring people by saying there's a much higher risk and, therefore, you have to wear a mask on an airplane, when the general public should know that there's a fresh air transfer every two minutes.
I try to ignore gratuitous statements that are not based on any factual evidence. I have spent the last three months working very closely with all the transportation sector and particularly with the airlines because they have been profoundly affected by the COVID pandemic.
Their revenues have decreased by 90% to 95% to 100%, and I or my officials have been in constant touch with the airline industry right from the beginning. I have spoken a great deal, and I know where the organizations like ATAC and NATA and ACPA and all the organizations, and CUPE on the union side, stand on different issues, and I and my department are working with them to do the best we can.
I'm comfortable that my department and I are doing the right thing.
Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
The health and well-being of Canadians have been and will continue to be the top priority of our government, but this pandemic has affected more than our personal health. It's having a profound effect on our economy.
Our government's historic plan, Investing in Canada, is to build a more prosperous, resilient and sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
Over the last three months, we've assessed and approved hundreds of projects. We've talked with every province and territory about their changing infrastructure needs and priorities. We've put in a new chair at the Canada Infrastructure Bank, Michael Sabia, a leading businessman from Quebec who headed the Caisse de dépôt. Just this month, we announced an MOU with the Government of Alberta on an exciting proposal for a Calgary-Banff rail line. We're funding electric buses, renewable energy and water projects, as well as better broadband that will help create good jobs and help communities get back on their feet.
Our Government understands the challenging situation that cities and towns are in. I have spoken with provinces, territories, mayors, and indigenous leaders, and I’ve heard about the financial pressures this pandemic has imposed. That is why we are looking at ways to help them safely restart their economies—without losing sight of our long-term goals: to create jobs, and build a stronger, cleaner and healthier and more connected country.
Our investing in Canada plan is investing more than $180 billion over 12 years in five key priorities: public transit, green, social, trade and transportation, and rural and northern communities infrastructure. We are making great progress.
Together, the 20 federal departments and agencies that deliver funding through the plan have already committed over $68 billion, investing in projects across the country and making a huge difference in the lives of Canadians. Most of these projects are either under way or completed—projects like the ones I was happy to announce this morning in Waterloo. There are investments in public transit and active transportation, from improvements to bus shelters and pedestrian crossings, to new and expanded walking and cycling routes. These will help create jobs, get more people moving and make our cities and towns better places to live. It was great to be able to make this announcement with the provincial government as well as with the municipality.
We are also proposing to introduce a new COVID-19 funding stream that would allow provinces and territories to redirect over $3 billion of existing federal funding to projects that can start quickly.
Communities must have the resources they need to get projects going during this pandemic. As announced on June 1, we pushed out all of this year's funding to municipalities through the federal gas tax fund, and we provided it in one single payment last week. It's a first step to help ease the immediate cash crunch.
We believe that better is possible when it comes to maximizing the value of infrastructure investments. That's why my mandate letter includes instructions from the to look at best practices globally when it comes to assessing and funding infrastructure needs. I firmly believe that a national infrastructure assessment, which they have established in the U.K., would benefit our country and our long-term infrastructure planning.
I also believe that there may be room to explore outcomes in a broader sense, so we consider infrastructure projects as part of overall plans to achieve outcomes for Canadians. The idea is to better connect national infrastructure priorities with long-term provincial and municipal strategies, while also improving accountability for all orders of government, for example from provinces and municipalities for gas-tax funding.
COVID has also shown that we need to ensure we are building resilient and inclusive communities. This includes affordable, high-speed broadband across the country, including for people living in rural communities and for first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples; housing for all; and more access to open spaces and nature.
Finally, I can assure you that I'm focused on getting value for taxpayers. We need to ensure that every dollar does double and triple duty, with outcomes that benefit our climate, marginalized populations and disadvantaged communities while creating jobs and growing our economy.
What we build and where we build matters. That is why we're focused not simply on projects being shovel-ready but also on ensuring they are shovel-worthy.
We're contributing to a safe restart for our economy, helping communities get back on their feet, supporting them to get more infrastructure built—such as high-speed broadband, public transit, affordable housing and clean water—creating jobs and building a stronger, cleaner, healthy and more connected country. When Canada builds, Canada grows.
I look forward to answering your questions.
Madam Minister, for three years the Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that only half of the money promised under the Liberal plan has actually been invested.
In 2018, he was told the Liberals had no plan. In 2019, the Parliamentary Budget Officer asked for the list of 53,000 projects and was told that there was no such list. It has only been a few days since the Parliamentary Budget Officer received a supplementary list of projects, including the famous projects related to the federal Gas Tax Fund. He was told that Infrastructure Canada did not have the project information from CMHC.
You yourself said on May 12 that the Liberal plan wasn't working.
You said that it is “an attempt to be smarter and more efficient”.
Recognizing the failure of the previous plan, how can you have voted against additional funding for the Auditor General, so that we could find out exactly where the money went?
I'm going to talk about another issue that shows the lack of transparency of the Liberal government.
In January 2019, Minister Carolyn Bennett signed an agreement with the Huron-Wendat Nation and Grand Chief Konrad Sioui, obliging the federal government to consult with the nation for any project on a territory about the size of half of Quebec. This agreement was signed in secret and was not revealed until December 2019, when municipalities received a letter from Grand Chief Konrad Sioui advising them of this obligation. The municipalities were never notified by the federal government or advised on this new approach. Dozens of projects under the Fonds pour l'infrastructure municipale d'eau, or FIMEAU, the municipal water infrastructure fund program, are currently stuck on the minister's desk because no consultation has taken place. Work was expected to begin soon.
Madam Minister, how many projects are stuck on your desk because of this unacceptable situation?
Of course, that is a top priority for us—public transportation but also active transportation. In fact, there was a great announcement just this morning in Waterloo, where we're investing with the city and the province on active transportation and public transportation projects that are making a real difference.
We recognize, especially right now, that Canadians want to be able to get out, to get active and to do that in a safe way. That's why we have looked at additional flexibilities so that active transportation projects can be considered not only under the public transportation stream we invest in but also under the green infrastructure stream.
We're going to continue moving forward. I know how important it is to the member's community. I think there are real opportunities to make more investment, so I am looking forward to working directly with the member to make that happen, to improve lives, to reduce emissions, to reduce congestion and to get people out and active in healthy ways.
I absolutely agree with the member. We need to be continuing to make investments in broadband across the country. I think we need to be accelerating investments.
The investing in Canada plan includes investments in broadband through our rural and northern stream. There are also investments made through ISED and through CRTC, and I think we recognize right now just how critical that is. It's no longer just a productivity issue for folks to have access to high-speed, affordable broadband. It's also an equity issue.
Many parents including me are home-schooling our children, and they need to have access to broadband. Folks who run businesses and who are now having to run businesses virtually need access to high-speed broadband. Now you can access doctors and health care services, but you need access to broadband.
This is something I'm absolutely committed to, and I know our government is looking at how we can accelerate these investments to ensure that everyone across the country has access to affordable, high-speed broadband as quickly as possible.
Thank you. That's a really great question. That was one of my priorities when I came in, to get projects approved quickly, working directly with provinces, territories and municipalities. I've worked very hard at that.
In the Province of Ontario, for example, I work extremely closely with the two ministers responsible for infrastructure and transportation. In fact, we have weekly calls where we talk about infrastructure. We also sometimes talk about the challenges of home-schooling our children.
We are moving forward on projects. We also demonstrated flexibility. We've taken the time. We recognize that we need to think about how we can be more flexible and respond to the priorities of municipalities, provinces and territories. We think that different orders of government that are potentially closer to Canadians should be setting their own priorities. We've listened to that. Also, we recognize that in the time of COVID there may be different challenges and different needs. We've worked very hard to show flexibility and to work directly with provinces, territories and municipalities because, at the end of the day, we are all here to improve the lives of Canadians.
I know full well, as do you, from all the door knocking we've all done, that people don't want to hear about fights between levels of government. They want to hear about investments that are going to improve lives.
Good afternoon, Minister McKenna. It's good to see you. Obviously, it would have been even better to see you in person.
My first question concerns the situation of municipalities in Quebec. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, their revenue has dropped significantly. They're very worried, especially since they're not allowed to run deficits. According to a study by the Raymond Chabot group, the coffers of cities in Quebec are short $1.2 billion, and 60% of the cities' total losses are related to public transit. We're talking about $670 million for public transit. Municipalities are losing 70% to 80% of revenue from this sector. That's a huge amount. People are no longer using public transit, but the buses must still run.
Unfortunately, supplementary estimates (A) don't seem to include any new money for municipalities. I want to know whether any money is forthcoming.
Thank you. I think that the answer is no.
I want to ask you another question, which I didn't get the opportunity to ask the Minister of Transport earlier.
Over the weekend, my leader went to Trois-Rivières to talk about the high-frequency train, or HFT, that keeps getting closer and closer but never arrives. Since 2015, or even earlier, studies have been announced and discussions have been held regarding the next steps. From one government to another, we sometimes lose hope. However, since supplementary estimates (A) include funding for studies and for VIA Rail, I want to know whether you can tell us when the work will begin.
It's important that Canadians understand that we've provided information about all of the projects, so on 33,000 projects, we have detailed information.
I know the member would care greatly about this. When we talk about CMHC projects, those are under bilateral agreements. We've provided information on a whole range of those projects, but provinces and territories, to protect the privacy of individuals and the security of survivors of domestic violence, give us aggregated claim information for some projects. They do not provide project-level detail, but their claim information is audited by a third party. In the interest of transparency, we've included these taxpayer-funded projects in our overall count. It's important to recognize that the information really lies with the provinces and territories.
As I say, in these cases, for some of the CMHC projects, the information is not provided disaggregated to us because the provinces and territories do not want to be providing us with information that would impede the privacy of individuals and the security of survivors. This has been transmitted to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Maybe my deputy might like to add to that.
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to see you virtually, Minister.
I just wanted to touch a little bit on some of the questions that came out earlier.
In the previous Parliament, I had the great pleasure of working with your predecessor on securing $70 million for 34 projects for Réseau de transport de Longueuil in my riding, including electric buses and much needed green infrastructure for our transit. We are working on a project for a tramway between Metro Longueuil in my riding to the Terminus Panama, which is the first first phase to connect up with the REM. You mentioned the REM earlier, which is under way—I can guarantee it. Every time I'm on Highway 10, there are a lot of orange cones, so the work is progressing, absolutely.
I wanted to get a sense, if you can elaborate a little more, of the importance of green projects in Quebec and of what you've been hearing.
Certainly, I've been working closely with the Government of Quebec. It is a top priority of the Government of Quebec but also of Quebeckers to advance projects of public transit. There's a huge appetite, I can tell you, for the Government of Quebec to make investments in public transit across the province, and also for green infrastructure projects.
We've seen investments ranging from electric vehicle charging stations to renewable projects, and we continue. We want to move forward with Quebec.
I think Quebec is a great example of a province that understands that their competitiveness rests on moving to a cleaner future, and they've been able to demonstrate that. They are also very fortunate with Hydro-Québec. There are real opportunities there.
I think it's a great example for other provinces of how we can partner to make a real difference to reduce emissions, to do things like reducing congestion in your own riding for residents there. We're going to continue moving forward, looking at opportunities to partner with the Government of Quebec and to improve the lives of all Quebeckers and of course all Canadians.
Certainly, when I came in, I had three priorities. One of the priorities was getting projects moving as quickly as possible, working in partnership with provinces and territories.
I want to give a real shout-out to my deputy as well as all the public servants who are working so incredibly hard. I will get my deputy to provide you with stats about how we've been able to reduce the timeline for projects that do not require Treasury Board approval, which is a large number of projects. We have been able to exceed the timeline required.
Also, I'll just mention one other thing that we have done in the time of COVID. I've explained how the flexibility is incredibly important. We have a new COVID stream that is intended to help provinces advance projects extremely quickly. We want to create jobs. We want to advance investments.
Maybe I'll just ask my deputy. She can just talk about the timelines, maybe, and how we're exceeding the timelines, because it's a very good-news story.
Minister McKenna, we learned today that we still lack many answers.
We don't know how many FIMEAU projects were blocked in Quebec as a result of the issue with the consultation process. We don't know the severance package for the former president of the Canada Infrastructure Bank. We don't know how many billions of taxpayer dollars were invested in housing. We don't know how much money will be provided to municipalities for public transit and to help them stick to their upcoming budgets. Municipalities can't run deficits.
The government moved ahead with providing the money that it already owed municipalities. However, we don't yet know how the new program will work. What's a “shovel-ready” project?
The federal government announced $14 billion. However, the federal government is telling the provinces and municipalities how to use the money. It doesn't trust them. Many projects are ready to begin. Unfortunately, the federal government is slow to move forward and to allow municipalities to launch projects.
Why aren't you helping municipalities deal with the public transit crisis?
Why aren't you helping municipalities deal with the costs incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Right now, there's no agreement, and municipalities aren't receiving any funding.
I will say, I was a bit surprised by the previous view that seemed to be espoused that we shouldn't have a duty to consult. It's actually a constitutional obligation, the duty to consult with indigenous peoples. But it's not just a constitutional duty; it's how we get better outcomes. Right now, we're having a discussion across the country, across the world, about systemic discrimination and racism. We need to get better outcomes, and duty to consult is not red tape. It's how you make sure you're advancing reconciliation, getting outcomes for indigenous peoples. I think we should all agree that every indigenous child should have the same opportunities as our children, the same opportunities to succeed, the same investments in infrastructure. That is what we want as a country, and I think that's incredibly important.
That's a reflection that I have had recently as there's been a discussion about systemic racism. What are the social determinants of infrastructure? How do we make sure that it's not just how much money we invest, but it's where we invest and who we're investing in and who we're supporting? Think about the community centres in communities that have a lower socioeconomic status. We need to be making sure that those investments are being made, that we're working together with indigenous peoples. We know there's been an underinvestment in infrastructure. This is incredibly important.
The duty to consult is part of that. It is not just a constitutional obligation. As a lawyer...it is a constitutional obligation, so we need to take it very seriously, but it's also about outcomes. I think at the end of the day, I know all of us got into politics because we believe in building a better Canada. That is exactly what the duty to consult is about. It's about building a better Canada for all Canadians, not just some Canadians, but all Canadians, including indigenous peoples.
Thank you very much, Minister.
I am wondering if you could also expand on the climate lens because we see that, even during this pandemic crisis, the crisis of climate change continues. We don't have to look very far. We saw what happened in Alberta with the recent storms; there's story after story. It seems that we hear from the Conservatives that this is red tape, not something worthy of discussion, but the costs of inaction are so great. It's unfortunate—I know you can't see them—but they're laughing at that notion.
This is fundamentally serious. I'm being shouted down on one of the most fundamental questions of our lifetime, and they continue to think that it's funny to talk about climate change. However, Minister, I hope that you have the opportunity to expand on the climate plan, the importance for the government—
That's good. You all believe in climate change and that it's man-made and that we can do something about it, which is great because that is exactly what we're doing with our infrastructure plan.
We believe the climate lens is incredibly important, and I want to give a shout-out to my parliamentary secretary, , who you all know, because it was through his private member's bill that we brought in a climate lens.
As I said, we had already said that we needed to get a 10-megatonne reduction in emissions through our infrastructure plan. I could talk about climate change in many ways, but let's just talk about how it saves us money in the long term. Think about where we need to get. As a country, we've committed to net-zero by 2050. Why we are doing that? We are doing that because we know that if we don't do that, the impacts of climate change are going to be so severe that they're going to have a huge impact on every aspect of our lives. You've heard Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and former governor of the Bank of England, talk about this.
That's why we look at the investments that we are making that are going to help reduce emissions. Those can be investments in renewable energy; those can be investments in public transportation. Also, what are the investments that are going to help us adapt to the impacts of climate change? That's why we have the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund that has been a huge success and oversubscribed.
We need to be making sure that we think about how we're building. I like to say that when you build, you can either increase emissions, or you can reduce emissions. You can either become more resilient or less resilient. That is the work that we're doing with municipalities that are on the front lines of climate change. You don't hear many municipalities doubting whether climate change is real because they have to deal with the floods, as Ms. McCrimmon said of her own riding where they were sandbagging once every few years.
We're making those investments, and we will continue to do that.
Ministers Garneau and McKenna, thank you for your time today and for coming out and answering questions from the members of this committee.
Members, thank you for making the time to travel down to Ottawa to be a part of this session.
Most importantly, thank you to the people beside me and behind me, the team who made this happen. Thank you very much. I know we're under challenging times right now, and for you folks to pull this off and allow us to have this meeting is really appreciated.
With that, I will adjourn.