Transport Committee Passes Motion for Environment Minister to Testify on ‘No More’ Roads Comment

Transport Committee Passes Motion for Environment Minister to Testify on ‘No More’ Roads Comment
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault speaks after agreements were adopted during the plenary at the tail end of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Que., on Dec. 19, 2022. (Andrej Ivanov/AFP via Getty Images)
Matthew Horwood

The Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities Committee unanimously passed a Conservative motion for Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to appear as a witness within two weeks, following his controversial comments that the federal government would no longer invest in road infrastructure.

“We believe that this committee needs to discuss this matter on an urgent basis,” Conservative MP Mark Strahl, who introduced the motion, said at the outset of the Feb. 21 committee meeting. “These were comments that were given to a conference. These were prepared remarks by the minister of the environment designed to send a message to Canadians.”

The vote was made in response to Mr. Guilbeault’s statement on Feb. 12 that Ottawa had made the decision to stop investing in new road infrastructure. “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,” he said during a conference on public transit in Montreal.

Mr. Guilbeault said that funding new road networks would encourage more Canadians to drive their own personal vehicles, which he said increases congestion and encourages further road development. The money that has typically been used to invest in asphalt and concrete for roads would be better invested in climate-related efforts, he added.
Mr. Guilbeault’s comments were criticized by several premiers and the federal Conservative leader. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he was “gobsmacked” by the announcement, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said the environment minister should “return to the real world,” and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre claimed the “radical” environment minister “won’t be happy until we’re living back in mud huts.”
Two days after his initial comments, Mr. Guilbeault told reporters he “should have been more specific” in his initial comments. He said he was referring to funding for large projects like the Troisième lien in Quebec, which was promised by Premier François Legault during the 2018 election but has not yet started.
On Feb. 16, Conservative, NDP, and Bloc Québécois MPs released a letter calling for Mr. Guilbeault and Housing Minister Sean Fraser to testify before the Transport Committee.

‘Incumbent’ That Environment Minister Testify

Conservative MP and Deputy Leader Melissa Lantsman told the committee that when an environment minister announces a new policy, it is “incumbent” on the Transportation Committee to call him to testify on it. “To see this radical activist environment minister, tell Canadians from coast to coast, tell premiers, and tell mayors that they’re no longer funding roads, I think this committee ought to hear directly from him,” she said.

While Bloc Québécois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval wanted to go ahead with the study, he suggested the six meetings on the subject should be cut down, and that Mr. Guilbeault and two other ministers only appear for an hour each.

Liberal MP Chris Brittle said the government’s position on infrastructure had been clear since it was elected in 2015, and it was continuing to make “historic” cross-country investments in infrastructure. “I can appreciate trying to drum up some outrage, trying to send out some fundraising emails during a constituency week ... but this is much ado about nothing,” he said.

NDP MP Taylor Bachrach said it would be useful to invite ministers to the committee to ask them about their plans to fund infrastructure. “Financial resources are limited, and we need to have solid plans for how to get people where they need to go and efficiently use public resources to invest in infrastructure that does that,” he said.