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UPDATE: Guilbeault backtracking ‘no more’ road funding comment ‘not good enough’: OSWCA

Don Wall
UPDATE: Guilbeault backtracking ‘no more’ road funding comment ‘not good enough’: OSWCA

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault spent last week walking back statements he had made on federal policy on funding roads but enough damage was done to alarm stakeholders like the Canadian Construction Association and heavy civil contractors.

Guilbeault had been speaking in Quebec about the proposed Third Link (3eme lien) project in Quebec City. The snap controversy arose when various media reported Guilbeault said on Feb. 12 that the federal government decided that existing road infrastructure “is perfectly adequate to respond to the needs we have.”

“There will be no more envelopes from the federal government to enlarge the road network,” Guilbeault was quoted as saying.

“We can very well achieve our goals of economic, social and human development without more enlargement of the road network.”

On Feb. 14, Guilbeault was twice asked by reporters about his remarks and he walked them back, saying he should have been “more specific.”

“What I said is, and I specified that I should have been more specific in that conference that I gave last weekend in Montreal, I was referring specifically to projects like the 3eme lien,” said the minister.

Steven Guilbeault
Steven Guilbeault

“But in that same conference, I specified that we still have funds, obviously, to maintain and enhance our road network across the country, but I was talking specifically about projects like the 3eme lien that the CAC 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.”

He said during another scrum, “We have programs to fund roads. What we have said, and maybe I should have been more specific in the past, is that we don’t have funds for large projects like the 3eme lien that the CAC has been trying to do for many years.”

The next day, ministry spokesperson Kaitlin Power stated in an email, “The minister’s comments were taken out of context.”

She also offered a statement: “The federal government has, and will continue to make, investments in roads, infrastructure and highway projects through our various funding programs.”

Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association executive director Patrick McManus said Feb. 16, “No, the minister’s walk-back of his comments is not good enough.”

McManus said his association has been working on infrastructure issues through a large coalition of heavy civil contractors across Canada through the CCA.

“The federal government has made it clear that housing is a priority, and the minister’s comments demonstrate a lack of understanding of what it takes to build a home and the communities that support it,” he said. “The government is asking our industry to build 5.8 million new homes, yet it has consistently overlooked the investment needed to support these homes and communities. We are a geographically large country and we require roads and highways to connect our communities.”

The coalition said it is demanding several clarifications on this issue:

∙ confirmation that the federal government will continue funding new roads and related infrastructure;

∙ a commitment from the federal government to contribute the necessary infrastructure funding required to build trade enabling and housing enabling infrastructure; and

∙ a commitment to put forward a regulatory framework that will allow and accelerate major infrastructure projects, including those designed to support housing and trade.

On Feb. 15 the CCA issued a media release stating, “Canada’s construction industry is demanding clarity from the prime minister on future investment in new road infrastructure after comments made earlier this week by Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault.”

Referring to a need for more housing, CCA president Mary Van Buren stated, “These new communities need new roads. People need to be connected to their jobs, their schools and their hospitals.

“A growing population has growing demands. We not only need the road networks to support their movement; we also need to shore up our trade infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges and highways.”

The CCA release added the government is asking the construction industry to build 5.8 million new homes, “but is overlooking the investment needed to support these homes and communities.

“We need the federal government to partner with industry and work with municipal and provincial governments to build a strong foundation for a stronger Canada.”

Follow the author on X/Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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