Opposition to make pipelines 'huge priority' as Parliament resumes
Published Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:03AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 25, 2016 7:00AM EST
As the House of Commons resumes on Monday, the Liberal government will be facing an issue it probably didn’t expect to deal with right away – pipelines.
Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said the Official Opposition plans to make pipelines a priority as Parliament resumes for 2016 this week.
“It’s a huge priority,” Scheer told CTV’s Question Period. “It’s incredibly important to the Canadian economy in general, incredibly important to western Canada, and we will be pushing the government to approve these very fundamental projects."
Pipelines made their way to the top of the political agenda last week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, encouraged the world’s elite to see Canada for more than just its natural resources.
"My predecessor wanted you to know Canada for its resources," said Trudeau on Wednesday. "I want you to know Canadians for our resourcefulness."
And on Thursday, Montreal-area mayors came out in opposition to TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project, saying the economic benefits for Quebec would be small compared to the possible costs of a spill. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi then slammed Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre for his comments on the pipeline.
Scheer said he hopes the country can avoid an east-west divide over the issue. He pushed the government to consider pipelines, particularly Energy East, as a way to stimulate the sluggish economy.
"This project is a multi-billion project that could employ thousands of Canadians without a cent of government money. This is a privately-funded stimulus project if we can get the approval for it," said Scheer.
Speaking to Question Period, Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc said the government believes Energy East, which would carry crude oil from the Alberta oil sands to a refinery in New Brunswick, needs an “independent, robust and credible review.” He said input from across the country is a welcome part of that process.
“If the mayor or the premier have comments, even differing comments to offer, that’s part of building a public consensus around these projects,” said LeBlanc.
Meanwhile, the NDP is calling on the Liberals to improve the pipeline development process.
“We need to put in place a much saner, much more effective approach on pipeline development so that we can make sure that we can cover the environmental angle, First Nations have been consulted, and communities have had a chance to have their say,” said NDP House Leader Peter Julian.
Liberal priorities: EI reform, infrastructure spending
As the Conservatives go after the government for pipelines, the Liberals are laying out their early agenda items.
High on that list are employment insurance reforms, according to LeBlanc. During the election campaign, the Liberals vowed to make EI more accessible and generous for those who lose their job and rely on it.
“I would hope and believe that those measures can be before Parliament this spring. The minister of finance may include those in budget legislation or maybe in a standalone piece of legislation,” he said.
LeBlanc understands the importance of EI, especially for his home province of New Brunswick. Last week, the closure of Potash Corporation’s Picadilly mine in Sussex, N.B. left 430 people out of work.
But the Conservatives are warning the government to treat EI “very carefully.”
"They really have to be careful that they’re not adding additional burdens to employers who would like to hire more people but may find the costs of increased payroll taxes prohibitive to do so," said Scheer.
In addition to EI reforms, LeBlanc said the Liberals will prioritize stimulus measures such as infrastructure spending in an effort to create jobs. He said the government is working with the provinces and municipalities to accelerate $10 billion in existing infrastructure funds put aside by the previous government, and then allocate new money.
“We recognize that there is an urgent need to move quickly, both in the existing program but also in the new program that we campaigned on.”
During the election, the Liberals promised to spend $60 billion over the next decade on infrastructure in an attempt to boost the economy, but only $17.4 billion is slated to be spent during their first mandate.
The Liberal government will also address its plans for Canada’s role in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS. According to a report by the Globe and Mail earlier this month, the government is expected to make a decision on the mission in the coming weeks.
The Liberals have committed to withdraw Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets from the coalition, but further details for the future of the mission haven’t been solidified.
“We want to determine with our allies what is the best way for the Canadian forces to contribute in a robust, military way to the campaign against ISIL,” said LeBlanc. “The minister of defence will finalize those details.”