Introduction

Thank you for that introduction, it’s great to join you, albeit virtually.

I am speaking to you from Ottawa and the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin. 

2020 has been a year like none other in our lifetimes. There’s no hyperbole in saying this.

The worst pandemic in a century. The worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

This year has tested our collective resolve, our community spirit. It’s tested governments – in every country and at every level – to respond quickly to a host of challenges, all in real time. It has tested our health systems, our education systems and our social safety net.

I’m here to talk to you about our government’s plan and vision for infrastructure. It’s the key to getting out of this economic crisis and ensuring our long-term prosperity and to building a cleaner and more resilient future for all Canadians.

I’m going to make the case why significant, smart investment in this country’s infrastructure will keep us strong and healthy, whatever 2021 and beyond throws at us.

Investing in Canada Plan

We are all adjusting. That’s what we’re doing with our $180-billion Investing in Canada Plan.

Our Government set the Investing in Canada Plan in motion when we took office in 2016. It’s an historic 10-year plan for investing in all kinds of infrastructure – sure roads and bridges, but also renewable energy, affordable housing, public transit, clean drinking water, better internet everywhere — as well as building climate resiliency.

When you factor in that most of our programs require matching funding from other levels of government (including $33 billion delivered in partnership with provinces and territories), we’re talking about half a trillion in government investment to Build Canada Up. 

My priorities

When the Prime Minister asked me to take on this critically important portfolio one year ago, I set three overarching priorities:

  1. To work collaboratively to get projects built quickly, creating jobs and economic growth.
  2. To ensure that the money we invest is helping us move to a low carbon future that is cleaner, more resilient and more prosperous.
  3. And to build infrastructure — more public transit, high-speed broadband, wastewater, clean energy — that improves the quality of life for all Canadians. To build more equitable and inclusive communities.

COVID-19 did not change those priorities. It just made them all the more immediate and urgent.

We need to ensure that every tax dollar does triple duty.  It’s all about focusing on outcomes.

Adapting our infrastructure programs

But first, I want people to know that our infrastructure plan hasn’t paused during this pandemic.

When the COVID-19 came along, I recognized that we needed to adjust our programs to help Canadians deal with the economic and health crisis.

Since March 1, under the largest program led by my department – the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program – we have approved over 700 projects, representing a federal investment of over $1.2 billion. This contributes to good jobs across the country – from planning to design to construction to businesses all along the supply chain.

We also launched a new COVID-19 stream within that program, with the federal government paying 80 cents of every dollar so that provinces can get working on a wide range of pandemic-resilient projects. Projects like upgrading schools or long-term care homes with things like HVAC and physical distancing measures, or building new parks, cycling and walking paths to help Canadians get outside and stay active.

In Ontario alone, this stream represents $1 billion in federal funding. I’m hoping all provinces move quickly so that projects can go ahead with what is left of this construction season.

Multiple outcomes

But it’s not enough for governments to simply shovel out infrastructure dollars – it’s about the outcomes Canadians get in return.

I’m a woman and a mother.  That means (as many of you well know), constantly multitasking and making sure to stretch every dollar. That’s the same approach I’ve taken to our infrastructure investments.

Every taxpayer dollar that is spent has to do triple duty – growing the economy, combating climate change and promoting social equality.

Economic growth

Let’s talk about economic growth and jobs.

We are in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

And as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said recently at the Toronto Global Forum, getting to a broad, robust and complete recovery means we’re going to have to build our way out of this pandemic. And that means investment – and I quote her – “on a meaningful scale.”

And don’t worry, I have spent the last six months reading about Roosevelt and the New Deal for inspiration. FDR understood that investments in infrastructure were not only needed to help the economy recover from the Great Depression, they were critical to creating jobs across the country, to getting nation-building projects built, and to inspiring hope for a better future.

That is the opportunity of meaningful and targeted investments in infrastructure.

In the Speech from the Throne on September 23 we set out our government’s direction and goals, including our ambition to create a million jobs as we recover from the economic shock of the pandemic. Investments in infrastructure are key to that ambition.

And there’s a clear business case.

According to the IMF, in terms of jobs, investment in traditional infrastructure – clean water plants, storm sewers, wastewater treatment, bridges — generates between 2 and 8 jobs for every $1 million spent.

And when you invest in green infrastructure, such as public transit and more efficient buildings, the job payoff is even bigger — between 5 and 14 jobs for every $1 million spent.

Climate Action

As you know, I previously served as Environment Minister in this government.

Now at Infrastructure and Communities, I have the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and help build the clean future we want.

The way I look at it, investments in infrastructure either increase or reduce emissions and they either make our communities more or less resilient to climate change. And I’m sure you know my choice: cleaner and more climate resilient.

I’m not alone. 2020 began with a wake-up call to the financial sector by Blackrock. The international investment giant told its clients that it was making sustainability central to how they invest and manage risk. “Climate risk is investment risk” says Blackrock. Simply put, sustainable portfolios can produce better long-term, risk-adjusted results.

Promoting social equality

I also got into electoral politics to make a difference, and frankly, the effects of COVID-19 have only highlighted some of the concerns that made me want to seek public office.

Vulnerable communities and people are disproportionately impacted by the infrastructure deficit. Whether its inadequate access to public transit, affordable housing or safe community spaces – it’s clear that what we invest in, and where, can have a huge impact in a person’s daily life.

The pandemic has only heightened the need for these public services, such as inclusive community spaces that deliver child care, employment services, and health and mental services. We’re also reminded that public transit is critical to get essential service workers to their jobs in hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores.

We need to keep investing in infrastructure that improves social equality outcomes by targeting underserved communities

I’m thinking of the YMCA Calgary Hub Facility project.  In 2018, our Government provided $6 million in funding for this project — supportive, transitional housing for 100 women; 90 childcare spaces; as well as a variety of other spaces and services with social benefits.

Or the retrofit of Baie Verte High School, in the Town of Baie Verte, Newfoundland and Labrador. Library, gymnasium, family resource centre, daycare – and yes, even a bowling alley.  Don’t doubt for a second how important that facility is to the people of that community, and their futures.

Projects delivering multiple benefits

Let me give one example of how significant, smart, focused investments in infrastructure achieve multiple benefits.

If you live in the GTHA, you all know about traffic congestion. I grew up in Hamilton and it used to take 45 minutes by car to get to Toronto. Some days, it can take double that time. That’s less time for people to spend with their families, less time being productive at work. It’s also more air pollution and the transportation sector accounts for 30% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions

There’s a clear case for the historic investments we’re making in public transportation, including major subway and LRT projects, our commitment to get 5,000 zero-emission school and transit buses in circulation over the next five years, and better cycling and walking paths to get people around. Each dollar does triple duty.

And the really exciting part is that Canada has terrific zero-emission innovators in this field – companies like New Flyer in Winnipeg, Green Power in Vancouver, NovaBus in St. Eustache and Lion Electric in St. Jerome. Que – plus electric bus charging companies like eCamion here in Ontario.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association suggests that the economic benefits of Canada’s transit system is $19 billion annually and provides hundreds of thousands of jobs. Conversely, traffic congestion in our cities and lack of transportation between smaller communities is costing our economy $15 billion in lost productivity.

By improving transit networks in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal alone, we can reduce emissions by up to 4.2 megatons per year.

And investing in public transit particularly benefits women, youth and members of marginalized communities.

If you look at our other investment priorities – whether it’s broadband, clean energy, retrofits, affordable housing, childcare, community and recreation centres, clean drinking water — they all bring triple benefits.

The bottom line is that good infrastructure supports economic and human development. It’s the key to growing Canada’s economy, fighting climate change and reducing social inequality and ensuring a better quality of life for all.

Since first getting elected in 2015, our Government has been making truly historic investments to address the infrastructure deficit across Canada. That’s not just a talking point – and yet there is a need to do more.

Our government invested 13.3 billion dollars in approved public transit projects from November 2015 to December 2019.

Even with all that recent investment — Canada’s current infrastructure deficit is estimated to be between $110 billion and $270 billion.

So we can’t pat ourselves on the back. For the good of our economy we need to continue investing.

So how do we get there?

Canada Infrastructure Bank

Well, direct public investments are one way, and we’ve stepped up as a government.

But there simply aren’t enough taxpayer dollars to meet our infrastructure needs.

The good news is that international investors – including major Canadian pension funds – are looking for safe, long-term opportunities.

That’s why the Canada Infrastructure Bank is critical to expanding Canada’s ambition by bringing in the private sector to partner with the public sector to get more infrastructure built.

The Bank’s new Growth Plan announced on October 1 is another piece of the puzzle.

It’s a three-year, $10-billion plan that will create approximately 60,000 jobs while growing our economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The CIB is leveraging the private sector to get more good infrastructure built:  Projects that will deliver more high-speed broadband, investments in renewables and transmission of clean energy, green retrofits for commercial buildings, agricultural investments in areas like irrigation as well as investments in zero emission buses and their supporting infrastructure, like charging stations.

These investments align with our government’s priorities – in addition to the direct investments we’re already funding.

So we have direct government investment in infrastructure – more than $180 billion over a decade – and we have the Canada Infrastructure Bank drawing in private capital to make public dollars go even further.

National Infrastructure Assessment

But we need to draw it all together. How?

I am focused on developing Canada’s first-ever national infrastructure assessment. This means using data and evidence to identify Canada’s long-term infrastructure needs and priorities, linking our investments with our policy outcomes, and ensuring a plan for recovery that creates jobs, competitive advantage, and long-term growth, while building a cleaner, more inclusive future for all Canadians.

Assessments of this type are already underway in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Both the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, and the Advisory Council on Economic Growth emphasized how important such a national inventory and analysis is to better outcomes.

I’m making it my mission to see that we get it done – and do it right.

Conclusion

If anything good has come of this pandemic, it’s a heightened awareness of what it means to be part of a community. How crucial it is that we can count on each other, look out for each other, and protect each other. I find myself constantly thinking about how infrastructure investments support and strengthen communities across Canada.

It also means helping attract new investments from everywhere. Businesses want to locate and build where they know infrastructure is modern, clean, and resilient. Canada has an excellent opportunity to be the low-carbon economy that global investors beat a path to – if we keep making smart choices right now.

Every dollar we invest should do triple duty—creating jobs and economic stability, making communities more resilient, especially given the changing climate, and making communities equitable so that everyone has a fair shot to succeed.

Together, we need to act now to re-think our approach to infrastructure planning. Our actions and policies will shape both this moment in history and what will come after.

Thank you. 

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Author: Editor
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