Environment Minister Says Ottawa Will Stop Investing in ‘Large’ Road Projects to Discourage Private Vehicle Use

Environment Minister Says Ottawa Will Stop Investing in ‘Large’ Road Projects to Discourage Private Vehicle Use

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says Ottawa has decided to stop investing in new roads and highways, saying the country’s existing network is “perfectly adequate.” Amid questioning and criticism by premiers, Mr. Guilbeault later said he specifically meant “large” road projects.

“Our government has 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,” Mr. Guilbeault said during a conference on public transit in Montreal on Feb. 12, Montreal Gazette reported.

The minister said the Liberal government believes that federal investment in public transit, active transit such as walking and biking, along with territorial planning and densification means economic, social, and human development goals can be met “without more enlargement of the road network.”

The money that has usually been used to invest in asphalt and concrete for roads would be better invested in projects to fight climate change and adapt to its impacts, he added.

Mr. Guilbeault said funding more road networks would encourage more car usage, in turn increasing congestion and prompting more calls for road expansion. He said around a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, and Ottawa has been heavily funding programs to get more Canadians to use public or active transit instead of private vehicles.

Mr. Guilbeault also said being overly reliant on electric-powered transportation to solve climate change would be “an error, a false utopia that will let us down over the long term.”

Following confusion over Mr. Guilbeault’s comments on roads, including from Ontario Premier Doug Ford who said he was “gobsmacked” by the news, the environment minister told reporters in Ottawa on Feb. 14 that he “should have been more specific.”

“Of course we’re funding roads,” Mr. Guilbeault said.

“We have programs to fund roads, but 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 Troisième lien that the CAQ [Coalition Avenir Québec party] has been trying to do for for many years,” he added.

The Troisième lien is a road tunnel project aimed at linking Quebec City to its south shore across the St. Lawrence River.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe have also spoken out against Mr. Guilbeault’s new remarks.

“Can we return to the real world, Minister Guilbeault?” Ms. Smith said on Feb. 14.

Mr. Moe said the latest comments showed that the federal government is getting “more out of touch with reality every day.”

Infrastructure Spending

After the Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first came to power in late 2015, their first budget, released March 2016, proposed spending $11.9 billion on infrastructure over five years. This included $3.4 billion over three years to upgrade and improve public transit systems and $5 billion over five years for water, wastewater, and green infrastructure. The rest was for social infrastructure such as affordable housing and recreational infrastructure. No money was specifically allocated to new road networks.

Then in February 2021, the feds announced an additional $14.9 billion over the next eight years for public transit projects across Canada. Of that amount, $5.9 billion was to be given in the first five years as near-term funding on a project-by-project basis starting in 2021–22. The rest was to go toward a permanent transit fund—$3 billion per year from 2026–27 to 2028-29—to provide predictable funding for cities to build and expand public transit systems.

That funding emphasized investments in public transportation like buses, subways, bicycle paths, and other public transit infrastructure, and not in new roads. The funding was also meant to reduce pollution by switching public transit systems to “cleaner electrical power, including supporting the use of zero-emission vehicles and related infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s swiftly expanding population may add pressure to the country’s existing road networks. Canada’s population increased by more than 430,000 in the third quarter of 2023 alone, putting the Oct. 1 population estimate at over 40.5 million, fuelled by international migration.
Canada’s 2024–26 Immigration Levels Plan sets a target of 485,000 immigrants for 2024, followed by 500,000 in each of 2025 and 2026.
According to mapping and navigation company TomTom’s latest traffic index, released Jan. 10, Toronto ranked as the third-worst city for congestion out of 387 cities around the world in 2023, behind London, UK, and Dublin, Ireland, while Vancouver was in 32nd place.

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Written by colinnew

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