Montreal Gazette

Guilbeault clarifies comments on funding for new highways following backlash

- MICHELLE LALONDE mlalonde@postmedia.com

Federal Environmen­t and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault put some water in his wine Wednesday, after his assertion Monday that the federal government has stopped funding new road or highway projects drew outrage from opposition Conservati­ves and some premiers.

“Our government has made the decision to stop investing at the federal level in new road infrastruc­ture,” Guilbeault said in a benefit-luncheon speech Monday, addressing by video a gathering in Montreal organized by public transit advocacy group Trajectoir­e Québec.

“Of course, we will continue to be there for cities, provinces and territorie­s to maintain the existing network, but there will be no more envelopes from the federal government to enlarge the road network. The analysis we have done is that the network is perfectly adequate to respond to the needs we have. And thanks to a mix of investment in active and public transit, in territoria­l planning and densificat­ion, we can very well achieve our goals of economic, social and human developmen­t without more enlargemen­t of the road network.”

On Tuesday, those comments, published in the Montreal Gazette, drew critical responses from at least two premiers on social media.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith posted: “So now our Environmen­t Minister wants to cut federal funding for roads ... because we should all just walk more. Does this minister understand that most Canadians don't live in downtown Montreal? Most of us can't just head out the door in the snow and rain and just walk 10 km to work each day. Can we return to the real world Minister Guilbeault?”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford had this to say: “I'm gobsmacked. A federal minister said they won't invest in new roads or highways. He doesn't care that you're stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. I do. We're building roads and highways, with or without a cent from the feds.”

And on Wednesday, Mark Strahl, federal Conservati­ve critic on transport, released the following statement:

“After eight years of Justin Trudeau, Canadians are struggling. Trudeau's inflationa­ry taxes have driven up the cost of everything, forcing people to choose between putting food on the table and filling up their car. Now, on top of the misery Trudeau has already inflicted, Canadians learned yesterday that they would have to deal with gridlocked traffic, deteriorat­ing roads, and a dangerous lack of road access . ... This is the first government anywhere or at any time that has said they are not going to build roads for the people who need them. This radical and extreme position shows how out of touch the Trudeau government is with the vast majority of Canadians, especially in rural areas, who depend on roads for every part of their life. If the Trudeau government refuses to invest a single penny more into our roads or highway infrastruc­ture, millions of Canadians will find it impossible to go to work or pick up their children from school.”

Asked about his comments at a news conference in Ottawa Wednesday, Guilbeault seemed to backpedal somewhat, claiming he only meant the federal government has stopped funding certain types of megaprojec­ts, such as the proposed tunnel under the St. Lawrence River linking Quebec City to Lévis (also called the Troisième Lien, or Third Link)

“I should have been more specific in that conference that I gave (Monday) in Montreal,” he said. “But in that same conference, I specified that we still have funds, obviously, to maintain and enhance our road network across the country . ... I was talking specifical­ly about projects like the Troisième Lien that the CAQ government in Quebec wants to move forward with, which is something myself and many of my Quebec cabinet colleagues have said time and time again. This is not a new policy at all.”

Guilbeault went on to repeat his other point from the public transit conference, which was that replacing gas-powered cars with electric cars will not be sufficient to meet Canada's climate goals.

“We can't fight climate change if we don't get rid of our dependence on fossil fuels,” he said. “And in the sector of transporta­tion, notably, it will take electrific­ation. (But) electrific­ation is not the only solution.”

 ?? JUSTIN TANG/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES ?? “I should have been more specific in that conference that I gave (Monday) in Montreal,” Steven Guilbeault said Wednesday, seeming to backpedal on earlier comments about federal funding for roads. “We still have funds, obviously, to maintain and enhance our road network across the country.”
JUSTIN TANG/THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES “I should have been more specific in that conference that I gave (Monday) in Montreal,” Steven Guilbeault said Wednesday, seeming to backpedal on earlier comments about federal funding for roads. “We still have funds, obviously, to maintain and enhance our road network across the country.”

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