Welcome to the sixth meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of Thursday, November 25, 2021. Members can attend in person or using the Zoom application.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all the meeting participants that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.
Given the ongoing pandemic situation and in light of the recommendations from public health authorities as well as the directive of the Board of Internal Economy on January 28, 2022, to remain healthy and safe, the following is recommended for all those attending the meeting in person.
Anyone with symptoms should participate by Zoom and not attend the meeting in person. Everyone must maintain two-metre physical distancing, whether seated or standing; everyone must wear a non-medical mask when circulating in the room. It is recommended in the strongest possible terms that members wear their masks at all times, including when seated. Non-medical masks which provide better clarity over cloth masks are available in the room. Everyone present must maintain proper hand hygiene by using the hand sanitizer at the room entrance. Committee rooms are cleaned before and after each meeting. To maintain this, everyone is encouraged to clean surfaces such as the desk, chair and microphone with the provided disinfectant wipes when vacating or taking a seat.
As the chair, I will be enforcing these measures for the duration of the meeting. I thank members in advance for their co-operation.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on January 31, 2022, the committee is meeting today to study the mandate letter of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities.
Appearing today is the minister himself, the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc.
Minister, it is a pleasure to have you appear before committee today. We know that the members are very much looking forward to asking you their questions and so without further ado, I would like to turn it over to you to provide your introductory remarks.
However, prior to doing so, Minister, I see there is a hand raised by Mr. Bachrach.
As you will see, I am joined by our Deputy Minister, Kelly Gillis, and a series of senior officials from the department. You saw some of them before the meeting opened. They are both with me for the next hour. Mr. Bachrach's point is a good one, and, of course, they are available to offer precision for colleagues who may have questions with respect to specific programs or expenditures within the infrastructure portfolio.
Mr. Chair, let me begin by apologizing for cancelling at the last minute two weeks ago. It was the Monday that the Emergencies Act was proclaimed. I participated in a first ministers meeting with the and then had a number of calls with different premiers to follow up. I regret doing that. I wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but there was no way on that particular morning that I would have been able to attend the committee, so I apologize.
Finally, if I seem a bit short of breath and if I perhaps have a red face, colleagues cannot construe that in any way as proof of the truthfulness of what I'm about to testify. You talked about people with symptoms, Mr. Chair. Last week, I developed what felt like COVID symptoms in New Brunswick. I went through a series of COVID tests and it turns out I developed a form of pneumonia that can affect immunocompromised people. It's entirely treatable, but I had a difficult weekend. This is why I'm not in Ottawa this week, but it's expected to run its course over the next week or 10 days. I wanted colleagues to know that I'm not short of breath because I'm nervous, or even perhaps because I'm not in excellent physical shape; it's simply because I ended up with this lung infection.
Mr. Chair, I welcome this opportunity to discuss the 's mandate letter to me. I'm happy to do so with the team from Infrastructure Canada who are working with me to deliver the results that Canadians and the Prime Minister expect.
Delivering results means establishing, maintaining and leveraging partnerships across the country. It's partnerships with other orders of government—municipalities, provincial and territorial governments—that are critical for us to get the work done that we must get done. Through collaboration with different orders of government, we believe we're in the best position to improve the quality of life for Canadians, and we will continue to build a country and the country's infrastructure that work for everyone.
This means that support must be provided for major nation–building projects that will enable us to better connect. We are talking about transformative projects, such as the Toronto waterfront revitalization, as well as connections, such as the Gordie Howe international bridge project, in Windsor, Ontario, whose construction is well advanced. This is about planning key infrastructure projects, such as the Bonaventure Expressway redevelopment.
Mr. Chair, we keep Canadians moving forward in a number of ways, including investments in transit that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide health benefits and better serve disadvantaged groups, including women, seniors, youth and those on low incomes.
Our support toward the purchase of 17,000 new buses, including 7,469 green, reduced-emission buses, has significantly increased the capacity of Canadian municipal public transit systems.
We will work with provinces, territories, municipalities, indigenous communities and other stakeholders to design a permanent public transit fund. I have held fruitful discussions with a number of mayors of Canadian cities and with representatives from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
While promoting greener transit, we are implementing a number of additional measures to enhance Canadians' climate resilience.
Since 2018 our government has committed almost $3.4 billion through the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund to help communities remain resilient in the face of natural disasters triggered by climate change. To date we've announced over $1.9 billion in funding for 69 projects across the country to mitigate threats of natural disasters, such as floods, wildfires and drought.
The work of the climate resilient built environment initiative and the standards to support resilience in infrastructure programs across the country are helping to increase public awareness of the existing tools and resources available to enhance the resilience of public infrastructure.
Mr. Chair, we've seen this across the country, for example, in Mr. Bachrach's province of British Columbia. I think all Canadians were surprised at how quickly and how devastatingly critical public infrastructure can be damaged, leading to economic and social consequences for millions of people who depend on that infrastructure. We're obviously working with the Government of British Columbia, as one example, with respect to how we can rebuild a more resilient climate-adapted infrastructure, and those conversations are very encouraging.
Mr. Chair, the green and inclusive community buildings program will help build more community buildings and improve existing ones, making them more energy efficient, reducing carbon emissions, enhancing climate resilience, and increasing accessible and inclusive spaces.
In budget 2021, we announced a $200‑million investment over three years in the natural infrastructure fund. This is a program for funding natural and hybrid infrastructure projects in Canadian communities in order to enhance climate change resilience, improve environmental quality and protect biodiversity.
As we look ahead, Canada's first national infrastructure assessment will provide an evidence-based and expert-driven assessment of Canada's infrastructure needs over the coming decades to tackle climate change, support our quality of life in big communities and in small ones, and enable our economy to flourish. The assessment will better enable infrastructure planning and will be available to all orders of government as well as the private sector to help them make informed decisions on future investments.
Throughout, we are leveraging partnerships, both public and private, and developing innovative means to get infrastructure built for Canadians. These include, for example, the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the $10-billion growth plan that involves investments in five key sectors: public transit, clean power, green infrastructure, broadband, and trade and transportation projects.
We're committed to supporting families and communities to ensure that infrastructure all across the country is safe and reliable while protecting people as well as we can from the effects of climate change and creating economic opportunities and quality of life, from housing to active transportation.
Mr. Chair, I'm looking forward to a conversation with colleagues.
Thank you for taking the time to hear from me. I apologize once again for what happened two weeks ago. I am very happy to see you and I am looking forward to seeing you in person soon.
Perhaps I can add to that.
During that particular period of time, we also adjusted our programming to create something called a “COVID stream”. During that time, we changed our terms and conditions to have projects to a maximum of $10 million to be COVID-resilient while we're living in this particular environment. We approved almost 2,000 projects worth $2 billion, so a high volume of projects went through.
However, because they were about changing infrastructure to allow for social distancing, putting in ventilation and HVAC, they were lower value projects, with a maximum total of $10 million—but a very high volume went through the department. We saw the flow and the volume coming through at a much higher pace, but the value was not as high for each individual project. That also accounts for some of the workload within the department during that particular period of time.
Since COVID came into place, we've approved 4,500 projects, worth $15.5 billion. There's a lot of economic activity going on.
Mr. Iacono, thank you for your comments. Of course, I would have liked to join you in person, but maybe next time.
You mentioned your riding, in Quebec. You are absolutely right. Traffic congestion significantly impacts not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also people's quality of life, be it in your area or in other regions. This is often an issue that affects people who live in the suburbs of big Canadian metropolises.
We feel that the Highway 19 extension is the perfect example of the government working with other levels of government to find a way to improve public infrastructure efficiency, but also to reduce traffic congestion and give residents a more effective and safer way to participate in the economy or in other social activities.
It is a perfect example of the type of project we would very much like to make progress on, be it in Quebec or in other provinces. I am very encouraged by the conversations I have had so far with my provincial counterparts and with the mayors of a number of Canadian cities.
Welcome, Minister. We are happy to be hearing from you today. I hope your health will improve over the coming weeks.
In your opening remarks, you said that adapting to climate change was important for you and that you have made investments for that purpose. Of course, those initiatives are quite commendable and necessary. However, I have noted that those investments were used mostly in situations where there was some sort of extreme pressure on infrastructure or during climate disasters.
You said you represent a predominantly rural riding. My riding also has largely rural parts that are also affected by climate change, but not of the natural disaster variety.
I will talk to you about a specific case involving ferries. At certain locations on the Richelieu River, where there were ferry crossings in the summer, there were ice bridges in the winter. Management of those ice bridges has become impossible, so people can no longer cross the river to get to the other shore in winter.
I searched through programs available at Infrastructure Canada, at Transport Canada and at other departments, but I have not managed to find a fund that would be used to remedy those kinds of issues.
Is your government interested in those types of situations and could there be relevant initiatives in the future?
Mr. Chair, I thank Mr. Barsalou‑Duval for his question.
The country was indeed tremendously concerned by the fires in western Canada and by the floods that destroyed infrastructure in British Columbia last fall. Those are examples of rebuilding megaprojects, and we can all work together to build resilience through those projects. As you are saying, that does not change the fact that we need to invest in smaller projects that are directly related to climate change.
I was not aware of the ice bridge situation in your riding. However, New Brunswick has the exact same kind of a problem. My colleagues have often told me about the ferry that crosses to Rivière‑du‑Loup, making it possible to get to New Brunswick.
So we are seeing infrastructure that was once adequate, but that, for financial or other reasons, can no longer be supported today by small municipalities or community groups that used to ensure its operation.
I will not hide the fact that the federal government could buy ferries. Provincial premiers have suggested this to me. They are apparently using the example of the CTMA ferry, which goes to the Îles‑de‑la‑Madeleine.
It would be my pleasure to discuss these kinds of issues with you, as I am very interested in them. The example is pretty interesting.
Thank you for the answer, Minister.
I am rather talking about ferries on waterways, such as rivers, where it was once possible to manage ice bridges. Of course, I am not talking about places with a very large distance to cover, as in the case of the Îles‑de‑la‑Madeleine. To get there, you practically have to cross the ocean, or at least part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. So I'm talking about specific cases, which are surely found on the Ottawa River, for instance.
My second question for you is about the active transportation fund. Your government has been working on that for over a year, and that is very honourable. This is a $400‑million fund for projects. A number of announcements have been made concerning the fund. However, no agreement has been signed with Quebec to give it access to the fund in order to implement active transportation initiatives.
In my riding, for example, the City of Boucherville would like to build a bike path along the Louis‑Hippolyte‑La Fontaine bridge-tunnel to give pedestrians and cyclists access to the Îles de Boucherville. This is a major project that has been generating a great deal of enthusiasm in the community, but the city cannot submit a request to get access to that kind of funding.
Will a relevant agreement soon be signed with Quebec? That would be important for the province.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Welcome, Minister. It's great to have a minister from a rural riding who understands the needs of rural communities.
If you know about the place that I represent, it's a very rural place, very spread out, and with many small communities that have infrastructure needs. I have a lot of questions on a whole suite of topics, but I want to start out with the community of Stewart, on the northern coast of British Columbia, right up against the Alaskan border.
I was talking with the community leaders. They have a lot of challenges with high-speed Internet; they don't have it. They have low-speed Internet. The local service provider that provides fixed wireless solutions for the residents is totally maxed out. People get five-megabyte service, and there's so little broadband available that the service provider can't add any new customers, so the community can't attract any new residents or any new business.
Now, the local service provider applied to your universal broadband fund with a solution that would have increased service for the residents and allowed the community to expand; however, the government turned down their application. I'm wondering if you can speak directly to the residents and the community leaders in Stewart and tell them what the path forward is. What role will the federal government play to ensure that they get high-speed Internet, given that the government has turned down the application that the community supported moving forward?
Mr. Muys, it's a very important part of the mandate I have as the intergovernmental affairs minister for the reasons you said. It does seem strange that there are...and every Liberal and Conservative government for the last 20 years has made significant progress, but we don't seem to be able to get the fine series of exemptions to the Canada free trade accord that was signed five or six years ago. There are still schedules attached to it that list a whole series of exemptions where different governments advance a particular reason why we can't have across the country a true free trade context.
To your point, you're absolutely right. I share entirely your connection of that issue to some of the fragility of supply chains that we have seen during COVID and certainly during some of the events of the last number of weeks.
I remain quite optimistic. My colleague and I have a number of provincial and territorial ministers who would be our counterparts on the internal trade file. A number of premiers have kept internal trade as an area of responsibility for themselves. I have had extremely encouraging conversations with Premier Kenny, Premier Houston, Premier Ford, a number of premiers who really want us to finally drop the last remaining number of barriers. It would add immediately to the GDP of the country. It would also secure some of the supply chains.
It does seem rather bizarre that we could renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration in the United States, and we haven't collectively as a federal government and provincial governments found a way to make our own domestic market truly free.
A final point is that the Government of Canada does not come to that conversation with clean hands, in the sense that we as a national government still have a few remaining barriers that the and I are working on eliminating. If we want to speak to some provinces that are perhaps less enthusiastic than the ones I mentioned, the Government of Canada has to be able to show what we have done within our jurisdiction. Financial services and food and agri-food industries are the obvious ones that keep getting raised.
I'm enthusiastic about the progress we can make in the next few months.
Mr. Chair, through you to our colleague Mr. Chahal, thank you. I'm happy to see you as well. I don't have as elegant a backdrop as you do. I'm at home in Moncton.
I have visited Calgary many times. I used to hang out in Calgary with your brother some years ago. I am very familiar with your city.
To your point, I remember the devastating consequences of sudden and severe weather events. In my conversations with both our finance minister and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, one thing is on how we can use infrastructure programs—either create new ones quickly or add flexibility and funds to existing infrastructure programs—precisely to be able to respond not only to the circumstances of what happened in your city of Calgary, but as we rebuild damaged infrastructure, to do so in a way that we're not back at it again in three years because there's been another extreme weather event.
We have the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund. That's one example. Since 2018, the Government of Canada has put out about $3.4 billion to help communities rebuild and remain more resilient in the face of natural disasters created by climate change.
We've announced $1.9 billion of funding for 69 projects across the country to look at exactly those kinds of threats: wildfires, floods, drought. We're looking at a series of smaller-scale projects that can be applied for, and we launched an intake for small- and large-scale projects, including a guaranteed $138 million being set aside for some of the indigenous communities that are also very much affected by this.
I think we could do more, Mr. Chahal. I think we have to do more. My conversations with the finance minister are encouraging in terms of our ability to step up. The example in your city is sadly one of many across the country.
Excellent. Let's try that again.
Mr. Minister, just today the IPCC released a new report warning that climate change, which is already deadly, is about to get much worse. Your government has acknowledged that urgent action is needed to tackle climate change. Today, you have talked about the need to invest in infrastructure relating to climate change.
We also, though, have an infrastructure bank that could be doing this work, investing in infrastructure that mitigates climate change, as well as helping communities adapt to this devastating reality. This committee, however, has heard that Canada's infrastructure bank is running on a parallel track, focused on profiteering and not helping those in greatest need.
My private member's bill, Bill , aims at shifting the mandate of the Infrastructure Bank, by using public ownership to mitigate climate change and by investing in infrastructure desperately needed by vulnerable communities, such as indigenous and northern communities that are already paying the price of climate change. These projects focus on mitigation as well as adaptation, including the transition from diesel to green energy, to all-weather road construction, to forest fire protection, to public transit and so on.
Given the sense of urgency once again reiterated today, will you and your government support Bill C-245 ?
Ms. Ashton, thank you for the question. I'm happy to see you.
We've taken note of it. The government has not yet taken a position with respect to that private member's bill. We have a process. It's the cabinet operations committee that I chair that looks at different private members' bills. We've certainly taken note of it, but the government has made no decision yet with respect to that. I'm happy to continue the conversation with you as well.
I recognize that the Canada Infrastructure Bank has to really step up in helping, and not only large projects...whether they're transit projects or green energy projects.... In Atlantic Canada there's the Atlantic Loop, which would potentially bring renewable energy to maritime provinces, for example. Those are megaprojects where the bank, we hope, can play a constructive role in Canada's fight against climate change.
To your point, you represent a huge swath of northern Canada. I've visited your riding as well a couple of times, and I think what you said is absolutely true. The tools the Government of Canada has to help smaller indigenous communities or smaller community groups, municipalities, with their climate change mitigation and adaptation needs have to be varied.
It's great that the Infrastructure Bank can buy zero-emission buses. It's great that we can work on big projects like the Atlantic Loop, but I do recognize and agree with you that there is a gap that I'm certainly happy to commit to try to close with those smaller community projects. I think the green and inclusive community buildings fund will, hopefully, in indigenous communities and some smaller remote communities, offer at least a start in that work.
I'm happy to continue the conversation with you, including projects in your own riding, Ms. Ashton, where we can hopefully suit up.
Thank you, Minister, for joining us virtually here today.
I want to drill down a bit on some of the comments and questions coming from Ms. Lantsman's opening round of questions.
You stated that there were $6.7 billion in private and institutional investment. According to your website, it's actually $7.2 billion, so I'd hate to think that you lost half a billion, Minister. I'll leave it to you to explain the difference.
Then you go onto the website and look at who some of these partners are and it's very clear that there are other municipalities. For example, for the New Westminster bridge, the partner is actually the Government of Canada, which is you, Minister. The other interesting one is the Montreal international airport REM station. Again, the Government of Canada is the partner.
In my own city of Edmonton, the partner for the zero-emission buses is the City of Edmonton. There's only one taxpayer. Does that mean me as a taxpayer and the City of Edmonton are doubly on the hook for the Infrastructure Bank investment?
Colleagues, we will go to the second part of our meeting. We have witnesses appearing from Infrastructure Canada: Ms. Kelly Gillis, deputy minister, infrastructure and communities; Alison O'Leary, senior assistant deputy minister, communities and infrastructure programs; Erin Lynch, associate assistant deputy minister, communities and infrastructure programs; Nathalie Bertrand, assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer for corporate services; Glenn Campbell, assistant deputy minister, investment, partnerships and innovation; and Gerard Peets, assistant deputy minister, policy and results.
To begin the third round of questioning today, we will go to Ms. Lantsman.
Ms. Lantsman, the floor is yours. You have six minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you as well to all our guests who are here today.
As someone who was a mayor for quite some time, I think probably the number one thing that most mayors and everyone wants to do is get shovels in the ground. It was certainly a priority when I was a mayor, and it's a priority now. I have seven towns and townships in Simcoe—Grey with many needs, and I understand, quite frankly, that we need large, different infrastructure, even for lending the money out for certain projects that are larger than the municipalities—say, connecting different towns and cities together. I understand that. I think it would be a lot easier, and maybe I could get your thoughts on it, that when the gas tax was introduced, it gave us an opportunity that's sitting there—and it's a frustration I get—to have reliable and stable funding to know how to move forward.
To give you insight into what goes on outside Ottawa, the politicians who are in those areas know their area. It costs a lot of money to get these applications going forward. You get your planners and engineers, and you do up the application. Then you sit and wait, and it's like a lottery to see if you get the money or don't get the money. Some of these towns and townships don't have that much money to begin with when it comes down to just getting into the application process and for the size of the project.
I wonder if there's any thought or insight into that we make it similar to the gas tax, other than those huge projects, for every town and township, so we don't create winners and losers. I know that's a frustration. If they know what that is, it's easier to do a large project and to do a debenture if you know those funds are coming in. Could you comment on that process?
Thank you, Mr. Chair; and thank you to all of the officials for being here today.
I want to clarify some things on the record that I think were unclear. I want to make sure there are no misperceptions out there.
Earlier, in the panel with the minister, as well as in this round, it was suggested that no infrastructure is actually being built. First, can we clarify that piece?
Secondly, then it was suggested with the minister that his portfolio is so large and there are questions that only 33 infrastructure projects are being undertaken at this time. However, to clarify, those 33 projects are actually the Canada Infrastructure Bank's, not the totality of the infrastructure portfolio.
Then, Ms. Gillis, you spoke about 10,000 projects currently under way, worth about $83 billion. Can we get some clarity on the record that there are currently significant amounts of infrastructure not only being built but also have been built, and that the 33 projects are specific to the Canada Infrastructure Bank and not the entire infrastructure portfolio?
Thank you for the question. I'm very happy to clarify.
First, the 33 projects that were mentioned, both by the minister and me, are the Canada Infrastructure Bank's and only the Canada Infrastructure Bank's.
The 10,600 projects that I mentioned are the projects that have been approved for the various programs, not including the gas tax, here at Infrastructure Canada as a department, worth $43.9 billion of federal investment. On top of that, we've also approved $17.5 billion in the gas tax. The gas tax goes to about 3,600 communities for about 4,000 projects every year. Hence, there is significant activity that has happened since 2015 in infrastructure, both being built, having been built, and active right now, with that volume of investment.
Those numbers that I just quoted do not include the 33 projects; I'll put that aside. That's almost $20 billion of separate investment that the Canada Infrastructure Bank oversees.
There are two other major projects that I have not mentioned in there, which is $11 billion worth of investment, both the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is four years into a six-year build, as well as the new Samuel de Champlain Bridge, which is built and in use in Montreal. Therefore, significant investments have happened since 2015 through this ministry, with a lot of infrastructure projects that are completed as well as being built.
I'll turn maybe to my assistant deputy minister Alison O'Leary. She might have a bit more on the built and under way.
That's perfect. Thank you so much for that clarification.
With 10,600 projects and $43.9 billion, and then an additional 3,600 through the gas tax, certainly the Conservatives' suggestion that this represents no projects.... I mean, that's a significant amount of investment in communities right across this country that the Conservatives downplay as absolutely nothing being built.
Coming previously from municipal politics as well, I know how significant it is to get that approval process. We have, in this country, construction seasons in certain parts of the country. If contractors tend to be busy, that can delay projects and things like that, but can you maybe speak to—because you touched on it, Ms. Gillis, in the earlier round—the issues around COVID and some of that, in getting those after approval by municipalities or community groups and indigenous organizations, to then engage with contractors, as an example, causing some of the delays...? Can you maybe elaborate on some of that experience and the work that you and your department are doing to ensure those approved funds translate into shovels in the ground?