As Canada's economy lags, Trudeau talks infrastructure
Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, January 13, 2016 1:18PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 13, 2016 10:53PM EST
As the loonie dips and the economy splutters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Toronto Mayor John Tory Wednesday for a closed-door meeting that touched on infrastructure investment -- a major Liberal campaign promise touted as a fiscal jump-starter.
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Trudeau described investing in infrastructure as “the key” to helping lift Canada out of a slumping economy. He did not outline specific numbers or dates for a proposed stimulus.
"The infrastructure investments that the mayor is counting on are not a problem -- they are part of the solution to the challenges that Canada has been facing," Trudeau said.
"That's exactly what we're serious about tackling."
But according to Tory, who spoke with CTV’s Power Playafter the private meeting, Trudeau repeated the same figure for infrastructure investments that he promised voters during the election campaign.
That figure was an additional $60 billion of spending for infrastructure projects across Canada over 10 years. The pledge included $2.6-billion towards Tory’s SmartTrack initiative, a wide-ranging plan to link Toronto with surrounding regions via public transit.
The Liberal platform outlined that $5 billion would be spent in the first two years and $3.45 billion over the following two years.
Critics have pointed out that those figures only cover the next four years -- Trudeau’s entire first mandate -- and do not account for the leftover $42.6 billion.
Regardless, Tory said “the signals are all good” and Trudeau hasn’t “tried to back away” from old promises.
“Our private conversations were very much devoted to the matter of how they could start to move that money to get people to work, to get these projects going, but do it in a responsible manner so that people would know there is accountability for the money,” Tory said.
Trudeau did not pinpoint a date for the budget to be revealed, Tory said. However, the mayor speculated that, based on the current economic climate, it will likely come soon.
“I put two and two together and assume we’ll probably be getting some of these details sooner than later,” he said.
The need for economic stimulus extends from coast to coast.
In Alberta, where the effects of plummeting oil prices are most visible, the government recently announced a wage freeze for 7,000 non-union civil servants. The two-year freeze is seen as a cost-saving measure for the cash-strapped province, which expects to save $28.5 million per year, according to Alberta finance minister Joe Ceci.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil also made a pitch to Ottawa Wednesday, saying his province “is ready” to work together to reboot the province’s economy, “which in turn will help the national economy.”
In addition to municipalities, CTV News has learned that some Canadian universities have been asked to give the government a list of building projects that are ready to break ground.
Sources also told The Canadian Press that the Liberal government is “actively considering” speeding up infrastructure spending in hopes of stimulating the deteriorating economy. The source added that the Liberals wanted to ensure that extra money wouldn’t go towards beautification projects like those funded in Ontario's cottage country before the 2010 G8 summit.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau was also questioned Wednesday about infrastructure spending, and while he did not rule out the idea of spending more than the promised $5 billion extra on infrastructure in the coming year, he stayed mum on the details.
"It will include significant infrastructure spending, but the exact details of the budget we haven't completed yet so I can't provide more information on the exact numbers," he said during a visit to a Toronto refugee centre.
Speaking with reporters last week, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz called infrastructure spending an "important ingredient" in boosting the economy.
The budget is expected sometime in mid- to late-March.
Senior government officials told CTV News that the infrastructure funds won’t begin flowing until the budget is tabled.
A light-hearted exchange unfolded after Tory and Trudeau’s meeting as the mayor tried to offer Trudeau -- a native Montrealer -- a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. In response, the prime minister lifted a pant cuff to reveal a Montreal Canadiens sock.
“I’m not counting on seeing him in it any time soon,” Tory said with a laugh.
The Wednesday meeting was the first time in 18 years that a Canadian prime minister made an official visit to Toronto city hall.
Special gift for our PM but he came prepared! pic.twitter.com/oNqkSlbPTY— John Tory (@JohnTory) January 13, 2016
With files from CTV’s Laurie Graham and The Canadian Press