Canada needs an infrastructure overhaul. Can any federal party get it done? –

Canada needs an infrastructure overhaul. Can any federal party get it done? -
Scheer promising carbon tax will be history by January if he gets majority
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer today called on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to resign as prime minister if his party does not win the most seats on election day, saying that practice has become a "modern convention in Canadian politics."

Scheer said that if Trudeau's Liberals slip to second place in the seat count after Monday's vote, he should step aside rather than try to pursue an arrangement with the NDP to hang on to power.

In a Wednesday statement, the Liberals promised federal funding for a new $11-billion transit line in Toronto if they form the next government. But making that promise required some very careful messaging — since the project is the brainchild of Ontario's Progressive Conservative government and, until yesterday, Liberal MPs from the area had spent most of this year mocking it.

Trudeau staked out the middle ground of climate and energy, and now it seems to be shrinking

"It is quite clear that Justin Trudeau will try to do anything to stay in power," Scheer said at a campaign stop in Brampton, Ont.

The Liberals are offering an additional $3 billion annually in permanent transit funding. The Conservatives want an east-west energy corridor. The New Democrats are promising 500,000 new affordable homes in 10 years, while the Greens want to retrofit every building in Canada to optimize energy use. And that's not even an exhaustive list.

"But what I'm saying is that the party that wins the most seats should be able to form the government, and the other convention in modern Canadian politics is that a prime minister who enters into an election, and comes out of that election with fewer seats than another party, resigns. That is a modern convention in Canadian politics."

Politicians have become involved not just in the decision making but also in the evidence making.- Matti Siemiatycki, U of T associate professor In short, it was a pretty big mess, with all three levels of government locked in a politically-charged standoff while Toronto transit riders suffered.

Former prime minister Paul Martin resigned after the 2006 election handed opposition leader Stephen Harper and his Conservatives a plurality of seats — but not a majority — in the House of Commons.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau also promptly resigned as prime minister after Joe Clark's Progressive Conservative party won a plurality of seats in 1979 election. Trudeau then rescinded his resignation as Liberal Party leader after Clark's government fell on a confidence vote some nine months later.

Some parts of the plan materialized. The Trudeau government earmarked $188 billion over 12 years for projects throughout the country. New construction and upgrades helped move the needle several percentage points on what was nearly flat growth when the Liberals took power.

The talk of resignation comes as the Liberal and Conservative parties are locked in a battle for front-runner status. The CBC's Poll Tracker is projecting that neither party will secure a majority government on Oct. 21.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer said as much in a March report. The PBO concluded that in the last two years, Ottawa spent only 60 per cent of its allocated infrastructure budget — a figure Conservatives have been eager to mention during the campaign.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said he'd consider working with a Liberal minority government. Trudeau has only said he wants to secure the most seats.

In Canada's system of Westminster parliamentary democracy, the prime minister and the cabinet must answer to the House of Commons and they must enjoy the support and the confidence of a majority of the members of the chamber to remain in office.

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The sitting prime minister is given the first chance to test the confidence of the Commons after an election — even if that PM's party does not command a majority of seats.

Then there is the $35-billion Canada Infrastructure Bank established by the Trudeau Liberals. As of this summer, the bank had invested in fewer than five projects across the country. Both the Tories and NDP have said they would scrap the bank.

For example, recent elections in B.C. and New Brunswick produced very close results, with the two main parties all but tied for first place in the seat count. The sitting premiers tested the confidence of the provincial chambers to see if they could secure enough votes to pass a throne speech.

In both cases, the government failed to win the required support from provincial legislators and was defeated by a vote of non-confidence.

"There is only one taxpayer but there are three tax collectors. That creates a unique set of circumstances, and often the tax collectors can't come to terms or agree on how they should spend that money," he said.

According to convention, in such a scenario the premier must either resign or call for the dissolution of the chamber to allow for a new election. The same is true for a prime minister at the federal level.

Given the bottom-up nature of infrastructure planning in Canada (provinces, territories and municipalities own 98 per cent of the country's infrastructure assets), the federal government can do little to fix the situation.

However, in both B.C. and New Brunswick, the non-confidence vote came quite soon after an election. So the lieutenant-governors in those provinces turned instead to other party leaders to ask them to assemble enough votes to pass a throne speech.

But that sluggishness is in large part due to political meddling in the infrastructure planning process at the municipal and provincial levels — something that seems to have intensified in recent decades, Siemiatycki said.

In B.C., the Green Party agreed to support the governing NDP. In New Brunswick, the Progressive Conservative party has relied on support from the People's Alliance.

Despite Trudeau's commitments, his mandate ended with a "mixed record" on delivering infrastructure funding, said Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto.

Asked by reporters Sunday whether he'd work with other parties, including Trudeau's Liberals, Singh replied, "Oh absolutely, because we're not going to support a Conservative government."

But the Ford government and the City of Toronto recently reached a compromise, and the project looks set to move ahead. With local resistance nullified, the Liberals were left with little choice but to promise federal funds.

"We're going to fight a Conservative government, gonna fight it all the way," the NDP leader said at a rally with supporters in Surrey, B.C. "So we're ready to do whatever it takes."

For his part, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said a government led by him would streamline the planning process by prioritizing projects that are in the national interest and cut down on commute times.

Trudeau has been asked repeatedly about Singh's comments but, so far, he hasn't publicly said he supports the idea of a coalition government or of governing as a minority with New Democrat support.

Its why the Conservative campaign has changed course in the last week before the vote, spending more time in La Belle Province. A Conservative source told Global News Scheer will make at least one more stop in Quebec later this week in an effort to save seats.

"Our focus is on electing a progressive government, not a progressive opposition, and ensuring that we stop Conservative cuts," Trudeau said.

Scheer echoed Lessages nationalistic call to Quebeckers to be maîtres chez nous — “masters of our own house” — saying a Conservative government would allow Quebec to keep jurisdiction over its culture and institutions.

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected]

Quebec is a focus for other parties, too. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was scheduled to speak in Montreal and Sherbrooke on Wednesday. Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh planned to visit Hudson, Que., and Montreal on Wednesday.

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The Conservatives are now polling third in Quebec and havent been able to count on a strong NDP vote to split the progressive vote in some ridings, allowing the Tory candidate to come up the middle.

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The Bloc Québécois is currently in a statistical tie for first place with the Liberals when it comes to voter intentions in Quebec (30 per cent), according to the latest Ipsos poll for Global news.

Mr. Trudeaus strategists thought that in the end, climate-conscious voters would choose the Liberal proposal to reduce Canadas emissions over Mr. Scheers assertion there isnt much point in trying. Instead, Mr. Trudeau has faced criticism for not going far enough.

Scheer began speaking 30 minutes after advanced polling closed across the province. So anyone who may have been motivated by the mainly French speech will now have to wait six days to cast a ballot.

It was supposed to be Justin Trudeaus grand bargain: a pipeline for a climate-change plan. In 2015, he campaigned on the promise that environment and economy would go together. He put forward a carbon-pricing plan. And in May, 2018, he gambled to fulfill his promise to get Canadian oil to international markets: he bought the Trans Mountain pipeline.

We want to be sure that the blues of Quebec return to power, said Scheer, hearkening back to 1984 when Brian Mulroneys Progressive Conservatives took 58 of 75 seats in the province.

The Liberals thought they had a Goldilocks policy – a middle ground. But when it came to a climate plan in a country with a major oil and gas sector, the centre did not hold. That has been a big part of Mr. Trudeaus trouble in this election campaign.

In an impassioned speech, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer evoked images of former prime minister John Diefenbaker and the man known as the father of Quebecs Quiet Revolution, Jean Lesage.

The Liberals knew that Andrew Scheers Conservatives would come out gunning for the carbon tax – and that hed have a sizable segment of the voting population behind him. Mr. Scheer tuned into oil patch frustration and has massive support in Alberta and Saskatchewan. And he has also appealed to those who dont believe much can be done in Ottawa – arguing that if Canada wipes out its greenhouse gas emissions, it will have no impact because other countries will quickly emit more.

Scheer had aspirations of growing his seat count in Quebec, but now there are some indications the party could lose a number of the 11 seats it held at the dissolution of the 42nd Parliament.

But Mr. Trudeaus strategists thought that in the end, climate-conscious voters would choose the Liberal proposal to reduce Canadas emissions over Mr. Scheers assertion there isnt much point in trying. Instead, Mr. Trudeau has faced criticism for not going far enough – and some of those voters have looked to other parties.

Its also why Scheers speech took several shots at the Bloc Québécois, imploring Quebeckers to vote for a party with a different hue of blue.

In leaders debates, Mr. Trudeau sputtered that experts have rated his governments climate-change plan highly, only to hear Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh dismiss the Liberal plan as woefully unambitious.

In fact, experts such as climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and environmental economist Andrew Leach have rated the NDP and Green plans – but also given them poor grades for feasibility. Their report card, published in Chatelaine, gave the Liberals plan a B for ambition, but an A for feasibility – rating it doable. Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard said, in essence, that it represented a shift from hollow words to real emissions-reduction action.

If Tuesdays 19-minute appeal to Quebec was supposed to motivate voters to cast a ballot for the Conservatives, the timing was off.

One reason Mr. Trudeau is having a hard time selling those policies to climate-conscious voters is that he has lost a lot of credibility across the board. Another is that feasibility hasnt been the issue, especially during this campaign. When the issue of climate change has come up, it has been about urgency and ambition.

But Conservatives gathered at a banquet hall on Montreals south shore Tuesday night say it was too little, too late.

Think of Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, whose How dare you? accusation was an alarm bell for many young, climate-conscious Canadians. She agreed to meet Mr. Trudeau, but said he wasnt doing enough. Mr. Trudeau marched with climate strikers, but got booed by people carrying signs asking about the pipeline he bought. TMX came up repeatedly in debates.

His political opponents have essentially argued that when it comes to reducing emissions, not doing enough is the same as doing nothing at all. The Liberals current policies will get Canada a long way toward Paris accord targets for greenhouse gas reductions – and Mr. Trudeau argues more measures will be introduced – but Mr. Scheer and Ms. May alike say that is just a fail.

Mr. Trudeaus policies are certainly in between those two. An analysis by environmental economist David Sawyer concluded the Conservative climate plan would actually increase emissions. The Green Party plan has more ambitious targets, but would shut down Albertas oil sands, an $80-billion industry, in a decade.

Politically, the middle ground was always a gamble. Three months after Mr. Trudeau took office, his first natural resources minister, Jim Carr, put it this way: Ill say theres a 100-per-cent chance there wont be unanimity. The Liberals didnt realize then that so many would find flaws with their bargain.

Approving a pipeline, though not buying one, was always part of the Liberal plan. In 2015, Mr. Trudeau promised to get Canadian oil to market. But he also promised environmental reviews and climate action. Each decision on one side disaffected someone on the other. Back in 2015, some Liberals dreamed of a political breakthrough in Alberta, but by the time the government bought TMX in 2018 that dream was dead. By that point, it was the only way to keep the pipeline project alive, and that was part of Mr. Trudeaus middle-ground bargain. In this campaign, it appears the middle ground has shrunk.

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