This meeting is called to order.
Welcome to meeting No. 20 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, May 5, 2022, the committee is meeting to study the Main Estimates 2022-23.
Today's meeting is taking place in hybrid format, pursuant to the House Order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room or remotely using the Zoom application.
Per the directive of the Board of Internal Economy of March 10, 2022, all those attending the meeting in person must wear a mask, except for members who are at their place during proceedings.
Appearing before committee today for the first portion of the meeting we are privileged to have the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Omar Alghabra, as well as a number of departmental officials. They include Michael Keenan, deputy minister; Craig Hutton, associate assistant deputy minister for policy; Kevin Brosseau, assistant deputy minister, safety and security; Stephanie Hébert, assistant deputy minister for programs; and Ryan Pilgrim, chief financial officer and assistant deputy minister, corporate services.
Minister, on behalf of the committee, I would like to welcome you before committee today to address the main estimates for 2022-23.
Without further ado, it's a pleasure for me to turn the floor over to you for your opening remarks.
Good morning, Mr. Chair.
It's great to be back here. It's my first appearance in person at this committee, although it feels like I've been here quite regularly. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to join you.
Let me repeat that I'm happy to be back in person to present Transport Canada's main estimates for this fiscal year. I want to thank the committee for the valuable work they continue to undertake this session. I welcome this opportunity to highlight some of the important work Transport Canada has been doing on behalf of Canadians.
I'm pleased to be joined today by representatives from Transport Canada: Michael Keenan, deputy minister of transport; Ryan Pilgrim, assistant deputy minister, corporate services and chief financial officer; Stephanie Hébert, assistant deputy minister of programs; Kevin Brosseau, assistant deputy minister of safety and security; and Craig Hutton, associate assistant deputy minister of policy.
Transport Canada's mandate is to ensure that our transportation system is safe and secure, efficient, green and innovative.
Transport Canada's mandate is to ensure that our transportation system is safe and efficient.
The department's planned expenditures in the main estimates for fiscal year 2022-23 fall under four categories essential to maintaining a safe and secure transportation system while keeping people and goods moving. The categories are $1.8 billion under efficient transportation; $419 million under safe and secure transportation; $358 million under green and innovative transportation system; and $196 million for internal services.
Mr. Chair, the events of the past two years have reinforced the critical role played by well-functioning supply chains in supporting good jobs and keeping goods moving.
Robust supply chains are essential to our economy.
It's clear that the quality of our transportation infrastructure and the efficiency of our trade corridors are crucial to our economic and social well-being.
Here it's important to pause for a moment to recognize the exceptional work done by our supply chains and those who work in them during one of the most uncertain times in 100 years. At the height of the pandemic, workers in the sector rose to the occasion and ensured that the goods that Canadians depend on were still being delivered. To the workers in the rail, air, marine and trucking sectors, thank you.
That's not to say there were no challenges. Our government is working to ensure that those challenges are responded to and our supply chains are enhanced, which is why Transport Canada is requesting $1.1 billion for the national trade corridors fund. The fund supports more efficient and resilient supply chains through targeted projects that ease bottlenecks and congestion in Canada's transportation system.
Just last week, I was in New Brunswick to announce funding for two important projects with the Saint John port authority and the New Brunswick Southern Railway. These projects will increase capacity to import and export goods in and out of New Brunswick and will help improve supply chain efficiency for Canadian shippers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a profound impact on Canada's world-leading network of airports.
We know how much the pandemic has affected the airline sector.
That's why these estimates include $270 million for the airport critical infrastructure program. This program helps Canada's larger airports recover economically by making critical investments in safety, security, and connectivity to mass transit.
As we work to ensure a cleaner transportation system, we're seeking $93 million dollars for the incentives for the zero-emission vehicles program. The program aims to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by increasing the adoption of ZEV vehicles through purchase incentives.
I'd also like to highlight some amounts for the federal agencies and Crown corporations within Transport Canada.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, known also as CATSA, is seeking $567 million to deliver security screening of air travellers and their baggage. We understand how frustrating it's been for Canadians to experience long lines and delays at airports and this requested funding, in addition to the approximately 400 new screening officers hired, will help reduce wait times.
Marine Atlantic Inc. is seeking just under $41 million to supports its year-round constitutionally mandated ferry and seasonal ferry service.
Finally, these estimates include $981 million for Via Rail to continue operations of Canada's national passenger rail transportation.
Mr. Chair, as I know the committee is studying reducing travel costs and making Canada's airports more efficient, I'd like to note that several of the funding requests I've mentioned advance these objectives.
The airport critical infrastructure program was created to address the loss of revenue Canada's larger airports faced due to the pandemic, and help ensure that our airports remain viable and continue to provide Canadians with safe, reliable, and efficient travel options, while creating and maintaining good-paying jobs in the airport sector. This program allows these airports to make needed improvements without raising fees for travellers.
Likewise, the airports capital assistance program, which provides financial assistance to Canada's local and regional airports for safety-related infrastructure projects and equipment purchases, was expanded last year to help smaller airports across Canada invest in safety.
In addition, the requested funding for CATSA will aid increasing volumes of baggage and passengers.
Our government provided billions of dollars in support to airports and airlines to help them get through the pandemic and to ensure they could retain staff. We will continue to support airports through their recovery.
As we focus on the future, the transportation sector will be vital to Canada's economic recovery. I'm confident that the investments outlined in these main estimates will help advance a transportation system that is safer, cleaner, and more competitive.
Mr. Chair, I look forward to answering my colleagues questions.
Thank you very much.
Mr. Alghabra, thank you for appearing before the committee. It is very much appreciated. I would also like to thank the staff members who are with you.
We are very happy to see people attending our meeting in person. It is good for morale, I think. I assume the other committee members feel the same way.
To begin, I would like to ask you something about the Lac-Mégantic file. It means a lot to me, as I expect it does to you and to your office.
Initially, this project was intended to bring people together. A bypass was going to be built. The project was meant to offer some comfort to the local people so the train would no longer travel through the middle of the city. Now, though, the project is dragging on and becoming controversial.
There is an outcry among community members. They are asking questions. In other words, the project is becoming problematic and there seems to be significant resistance.
Do you think that is because your government lacked transparency and took too long to move forward with this project?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the minister for being here.
As a point of clarification for the committee, air travel in Italy is really allowed for those who are fully immunized, who have a certificate of recovery from COVID and who could also have a negative COVID test. To be completely transparent, Mr. Minister, there are several ways that people, besides being fully immunized, could actually travel in Italy.
You talked, Mr. Minister, about seeing the data that would inform decision-making. You went down a bit of a different route than what my colleague, Ms. Lantsman, was actually asking. What we're curious about, sir, is understanding the data that allows you to make decisions on those folks who aren't immunized and when they can actually travel. You alluded to the fact that there is data. That's the data that we would like presented and tabled at that committee.
Would you present and table that data here at this committee, sir?
Thank you to my colleague and parliamentary secretary for her excellent work.
First, let me be clear. As I said earlier, we're seeing this phenomenon across the world. We're seeing this in different airports. Just this morning, Dublin's airport had a report of a thousand passengers missing their flights. That does not mean that we shouldn't act. I'm not saying this to instill complacency. It's the opposite, but what I want to say is that this phenomenon is happening everywhere, because we're witnessing a surge of travel demand after the pandemic.
There are several causes to it. There are labour shortages, and we're acting on those. There are significant peaks and valleys with travel volume. We're seeing at certain times of the day that we have exceptionally large volumes, while at other times of the day we have certain valleys. That's why, depending on the time you're at the airport, you could get through security with no wait time at all, or a longer wait time than usual.
We're seeing scheduled flights.... With airlines, when it comes to scheduling their flights, there's massive fluidity and quick changes to flight scheduling.
Passengers need to be prepared as they are crossing the security line, and ensure that they take their fluids and their laptops out, and we're reacting to that. That's why part of our action plan is to inform travellers as they're waiting in line to make sure that they take their laptops and their fluids out.
We want to make sure that we address all aspects of the travel issues, to make sure that everyone is prepared. We're working with airlines. We've set up a working group with airports, airlines, CATSA and CBSA to address all of these bottlenecks and to make sure that we respond to this, so that passengers are able to pass through as quickly as possible.
Mr. Alghabra, it appears that companies under your portfolio, such as Canadian National, or CN, and Air Canada, are having a great deal of difficulty complying with the Official Languages Act and applying it as regards respect for French in their operations.
The study of Bill is proceeding, and it could be adopted soon. Your objective with this bill is to make other organizations—not including CN and Air Canada, which are already subject to the Official Languages Act—subject to the same rules as those two companies.
Given the deplorable situation at CN and Air Canada, in what way will the application of Bill to the remaining federal organizations improve matters? Would it not be preferable to apply the provisions of Quebec's bill 96 and bill 101?
Is there not a risk that the same situation would arise that we see now at CN and Air Canada?
Mr. Chair, thank you. I want to assure you and colleagues that I share your overjoyed feeling to be here with you. I assure you that the pleasure is, in fact, mine.
I am looking forward to this opportunity to discuss with you how our team at the infrastructure department is delivering for Canadians.
Mr. Chair, I won't repeat it, but you properly welcomed the three senior officials who are joining me today. If there are specific technical questions, they'll be happy to answer questions from colleagues.
Our government remains committed to building a better future, a more prosperous Canada that is more resilient and more sustainable. That is why we continue to take vigorous climate action to make life more affordable, to grow our economy, and to create good jobs for Canadians.
While we do this, we are increasing our investments in infrastructure to support Canadians. Our objective is to strengthen our economy and communities in order to offer new opportunities to families, young people and seniors.
We will continue to work with all orders of government, as well as indigenous communities and other partners. Those partners are helping us bring to Canadians major bridge projects, for example, zero-emission transit options and affordable housing. We are helping to improve ventilation in public buildings and investing in green and inclusive community buildings. We are investing in sustainable water and wastewater, as well as natural infrastructure.
Today, Mr. Chair, I am here to discuss Infrastructure Canada's 2022-23 main estimates so that we can continue this important work.
Infrastructure Canada is seeking $9.3 billion in the 2022-23 main estimates. The majority of this amount, $6.8 billion, will go toward grants and contributions. The remainder includes $242 million toward operating expenditures, $13.8 million toward capital expenditures, as well as $2.3 billion in total statutory estimates, mainly for the Canada community-building fund, formerly known as the gas tax.
The amount requested in the main estimates this year represents a net increase of $2.5 billion over the 2021-22 main estimates, the bulk of which is for grants and contributions. About 25% of the increase for grants and contributions is for the new programs announced in the Fall Economic Statement 2020 and the 2021 budget, which will be implemented over the coming years.
These programs include a number of key programs, specifically the green and inclusive community buildings program, which I mentioned earlier, the public transit infrastructure fund, the natural infrastructure fund, funding for ventilation under the COVID‑19 resilience stream of the investing in Canada infrastructure program, and an increase to the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund.
The remaining 75% of the grants and contributions increase is for existing programs, such as the public transit infrastructure fund, the investing in Canada infrastructure program and the additional responsibility of Reaching Home, Canada's homelessness strategy. The increase in operating expenditures of $86.3 million includes resources secured to deliver the new programs, as well as the mandated transfer to the department of responsibilities for the homelessness policy directorate. As colleagues would know, this was previously with the Department of Employment and Social Development. These, of course, are under my colleague, the
Statutory funding has seen an increase of $8.4 million, related largely to employee benefit plan requirements tied to increases in operating resources.
Finally, capital expenditures represent a decrease in capital funding of $52.4 million compared with the estimates of last year. This is due primarily to the sunsetting of funding in the 2021-22 budget for land purchases related to the Gordie Howe International Bridge and the Samuel De Champlain Bridge corridor project, with the latter, the Champlain Bridge in your great province of Quebec, Mr. Chair, to be completed in late 2022.
The year ahead promises to be a busy one. We think it will be a productive one for the team at Infrastructure Canada. We're excited about the new programming, as I said, that was made available largely in the 2021 budget and the fall economic update of 2020.
I look forward during the questions, Mr. Chair, to speaking with you and our colleagues about our department's work and our commitment to serving Canadians in the best way possible.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the minister and the departmental officials for being here today. There is obviously a lot of joy in the occasion, and we share in that, although we do have questions.
Minister, I want to talk a bit further about the Canada Infrastructure Bank. As you know, this committee has recommended its disbandment based on its failures and the expert testimony before this committee.
Related to that, my understanding is that this committee passed a unanimous motion in March 2021. That certainly preceded my time on this committee and your time as minister. The committee asked for details regarding the CEO and director bonuses. I know there was a response provided a few months later that was less than satisfactory. It certainly lacked some accountability.
I want to fast forward a year, now that you're in the chair, and ask whether or not, as the last fiscal year ended, there were any bonuses for CEOs or senior managers at the CIB.
Could you provide any details on that?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Minister, for being here with us today.
I'm going to start off, Minister, by expressing my appreciation for your file. You have infrastructure, you have intergovernmental affairs and you have communities, which are paramount with respect to the direction that we're taking as a government to ensure that ongoing communication gets strengthened. I say this because we do recognize that lots of the files and the issues that we're dealing with are cross-ministerial. I congratulate you for doing that very successfully.
With that said, you've been dealing with different departments, different orders of government and indigenous communities to ensure that strength in communications, as I said earlier. In particular, to get to my question, between Transport, for example, Finance, the provincial government, the municipal government and the private sector.... We were down in Washington this past week, and one thing we all agreed upon, binationally, was the need to strengthen our supply chains, our trade corridors, to be more strategic in those investments that we make not just locally or domestically, but between both countries. By integrating the binational strategic trade corridors, including integrating binational capital investments, we ensure, once again, binational fluidity within our supply chains.
We look at the Great Lakes, for example. Can you elaborate on the proposed new funding of $79.1 million to protect our coastlines and waterways? What will this money pay for and why is it so important?
Mr. Badawey, thank you for your comments.
I'll offer a couple of opening comments, and perhaps the deputy can offer some specific information with respect to the waterways you mentioned.
You're right that our department works very closely with Transport Canada on precisely that supply chain resilience. You're absolutely right to say that Canadians are concerned, and properly so, with the security of supply chains and their resilience. The binational aspect of infrastructure is critical. We saw what happened to the Canadian economy when the Ambassador Bridge was blocked some months ago, and what that meant for the thousands and thousands of workers who were on layoff in your province. I think that reminded Canadians of those very real choke points. That's why obviously the Gordie Howe bridge is a key part of our department's effort to build some resilience in a critical supply chain piece.
I have conversations with the often about where the infrastructure department can complement some of the trade corridors funding. We don't want to displace their ability to properly identify, as they did last week in Saint John, New Brunswick, infrastructure upgrades to the Port of Saint John to make it easier for container rail service, for example. They're properly focused on that, but there are things that our department can do that will be complementary, that will support those investments and make sure we're getting the very best benefit for the money that that department, or our department, is trying to put in.
With respect to the waterways, I don't know, Kelly, if you want to add to that.
Thank you, Ms. Gillis. Thank you, Minister.
To dig a bit deeper, we look at what Transport's doing with the ports modernization review, the St. Lawrence Seaway review, and many other reviews that we're doing with respect to the Great Lakes and the blue economy strategy.
Minister, how do you see infrastructure, as you mentioned earlier, aligning, for example, with the NTCF to ensure that we have that fluidity? How do we ensure, again binationally, not only with respect to policy legislation but equally, if not more importantly, with respect to integrating those capital investments in roads, rail, air, water, that our distribution systems are being integrated with when it comes to distributional logistics, and ultimately to meet the demands of fluidity?
Welcome, Mr. Leblanc. It is so long since the committee has met in person. Obviously, we are pleased to see you.
My questions for you pertain to the 2022 budget. After reading a passage on page 79, I have some questions you may be able to answer. It says: “Budget 2022 signals the government's intention to accelerate the deadline for provinces to fully commit their remaining funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, to priority projects to March 31, 2023. As a measure of fiscal prudence, any uncommited funds after this date will be reallocated to other priorities.”
If I understand correctly, provinces will now have until 2023, and not 2025, to spend the funding provided under the investing in Canada infrastructure program.
What about the amounts that are not spent?
Does that mean that those amounts will no longer go to that program? Will they be reallocated to various other projects?
The provinces will not necessarily keep the unused money because it is not theirs.
Is that correct?
No, that is not the case. By the way, that agreement is working very well.
Last week, Ms. Sonia LeBel and I had a very constructive and positive discussion about the infrastructure projects we would like to conduct in partnership with the Quebec government. I am optimistic about is happening with the Quebec government and decisions about committing these funds.
Our problem relates to the provinces using up the funding. In British Columbia, for instance—where I was last week—there is essentially no money left. That is also the case in Manitoba and Ontario. These provinces have submitted requests to us. Prince Edward Island has maybe 15% or 30% of the funding that has not yet been committed. Manitoba has essentially no residual funding that has not been committed. That is the case in a number of provinces.
In a way, Quebec is not the worst off. The worst off is Newfoundland and Labrador, followed by my province, New Brunswick.
The is anxious to see these funds allocated to projects. Some premiers, however, including the Ontario premier, are asking me for a 2.0 version of these programs.
My job is to work with all the provinces to determine what a second version of these programs might be. I told Ms. LeBel that last week. Moreover, we agreed to meet to determine more specifically how this second version can offer a solution that is in the interests of both Quebec and the federal government.
Hello, Mr. Minister.
In the last while, Canadians across the country have lived first-hand the extreme weather events that are increasingly common as a result of climate change. Last summer, Lytton, B.C., was burned to the ground following horrifying wildfires that ravaged the west coast. Last fall, a month's worth of rain fell onto the south coast of B.C. over two days, forcing over 15,000 people to leave their homes. Lives were lost, and communities were destroyed.
Ottawa, where this committee is taking place, is still dealing with the fallout of a storm so extreme that 350,000 people lost power. The Northwest Territories and northern Ontario have been dealing with unprecedented flooding in recent weeks. In my riding, Peguis First Nation had to evacuate over 1,800 people, and more than 700 homes were impacted. This is a community that has dealt with flooding five times in the last 16 years.
Every year we see more and more of these extreme weather events. It's only getting worse, yet it seems the federal government is always reacting to these events and not making the type of long-term, sustainable investments to help communities keep themselves safe in the face of climate change.
Peguis, for example, has asked for flood mitigation investments to stay safe for over a decade, but the government has largely refused to deliver them. I have put forward Bill to reform the Canada Infrastructure Bank to support communities in the fight against climate change. The word is that the government will vote against this bill.
On what grounds is your government willing to say no to supporting communities to survive in the face of climate change and to finally put the Canada Infrastructure Bank to good use?
Mr. Chair, through you to Ms. Ashton, thank you for the questions. I say questions—plural—because our colleague touched on probably half a dozen different elements in her question.
It won't surprise you, Mr. Chair, that I don't share her view that the government hasn't done anything to get ahead of these extreme weather events and the challenges they represent for infrastructure across the country. She properly identified some of the devastating circumstances in British Columbia, like the atmospheric river event and the fires in Lytton. I was in her province of Manitoba a few weeks ago. I saw the flooding and the circumstances of the flooding in some parts of southern Manitoba.
All across the country we have examples, like the highways that are cut off in Mr. Rogers' province of Newfoundland and Labrador because of washouts on the Trans-Canada Highway. Right across the country, very expensive and very dangerous events are taking place that cause considerable damage to infrastructure and obviously represent a considerable risk to human safety as well.
I don't think that the Infrastructure Bank should be the first and only place that we would go to do this important work with provinces and territories. As our colleague will know, in 2018 the government committed $3.4 billion to a disaster mitigation and adaptation fund. This isn't an Infrastructure Bank program, which is a loan. This is actual federal money made available to help communities remain resilient in the face of natural disasters. To date, $2.1 billion of funding has been put out to 70 projects across the country to mitigate the threats of natural disasters, floods, wildfires and droughts.
I think the Canada Infrastructure Bank should and can play a supporting role in some of these projects. For example, in some of the irrigation projects on the Prairies, perhaps some water management projects—
Mr. Chair, to our colleague, Ms. Ashton, thank you for the question.
I certainly believe, as I know all members do, that the Infrastructure Bank, like every other agency or department of our government, should focus on closing the infrastructure gap that exists for indigenous communities.
The short answer to her question of whether I think the Infrastructure Bank should play a role in supporting indigenous-led infrastructure across the country is of course they should. I've had those discussions with the board chair. I've had those discussions with the CEO. We're looking at renewing the board of the Infrastructure Bank. We're always looking for qualified indigenous persons who could serve on important boards like this. There's one indigenous person who currently serves on the board of the Infrastructure Bank, but there's a vacancy. Some directors will be replaced over the coming months.
If colleagues have suggestions.... Ms. Ashton represents a part of the great province of Manitoba, which has some of Canada's best indigenous leadership. If there are people who colleagues might suggest for indigenous directors of the Canada Infrastructure Bank, we'd be all ears and look forward to including them, if we can, in a way going forward.
Mr. Chair, I'll just remind you that the CIB's engaged in advising investing as well as providing research and analysis to many communities, provinces, municipalities and indigenous groups about their projects and bringing in structuring at a very early stage.
There are currently 34 projects to which the CIB has made a formal investment commitment. Those are outlined on its website. Many more are active or under consideration either in advising or structuring due diligence consideration.
As many of these projects are of the more complicated variety involving the private sector, often they start earlier and are engaged. Some of them, because of their complexity, will take longer to complete.
The CIB also is not a procurement entity, so it, in itself, is not delivering the projects. It is actually making the commitment to enable them.
Mr. Rogers, thank you for the question and for your leadership in advocating for some of these smaller rural communities and their particular infrastructure needs across the country. If it's true in your great riding in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it's true in other small communities across the country.
I can tell you that I had a lengthy conversation with your premier last evening and, as I said to your colleagues on the other side of the table, Newfoundland and Labrador has a considerable balance left in its infrastructure funding. As we said to our friend from the Bloc, I said to the premier of your province that we had a very short timeline to work with the members of Parliament from his province to identify those projects where we could invest.
As you said, Mr. Rogers—and I think he referred to some conversations he had with you last week as well—in your province the Trans-Canada Highway is a critical piece of the economic infrastructure of the island that you represent. I'm very confident that with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in the coming months we will find a great list of investments that Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador would be able to make, and some smaller municipalities that would participate in other kinds of projects.
The national infrastructure assessment was something that our government thought was important and was modelled on work that, for example, is done in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. A number of other jurisdictions have an independent and long-term professional assessment of the infrastructure needs of communities, if it's rapid transit or water and wastewater infrastructure. We're in the process of finalizing what it would be. You'll note that in the budget a year and a few months ago we were allocated $20-some million to set up this national infrastructure assessment. We're well on our way. The first step, as you properly noted, was to consult with Canadians. I forget the exact number, but we had over 300 submissions from Canadians, many of them experts in the field. I spoke at the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering meeting in British Columbia last week. These are the kinds of people who had very thoughtful ideas. I had a conversation with them about the national infrastructure assessment.
We think there's a real appetite to participate in this work.
Mr. Rogers, I will make sure that it's not only a few big cities that drive that conversation, but that the work is also relevant in small communities like the ones you and I represent.
Those projects are truly transformational. Our colleagues from Prince Edward Island talked to us about what it meant. It's disturbing now that people.... The bridge to P.E.I. leaves from my riding, so people go to P.E.I. on holidays, and take a day trip. They then turn around and go back to the island because of the bridge. That can be transformational to local economies and to supply chains, as per Mr. Badawey's comments.
As you'll know, Mr. Rogers, the Canada Infrastructure Bank, in its advisory and consultative capacity that Mr. Campbell spoke of, did an initial assessment of a potential fixed link between the Island of Newfoundland and Labrador. My understanding is that it has completed a preliminary assessment, or an initial assessment. That work has been given by the bank to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I look forward to having an opportunity with our colleagues from your province, and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, to look at next steps. I haven't had any specific conversations with the premier or with ministers in the provincial government, but I know that they now have at least the initial assessment based on the Infrastructure Bank's work of a year, or a year and a half, ago.
I'd be happy to get you more information on that exact project.