Address by Catherine McKenna Minister of Infrastructure and Communities at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Thank you very much; it's great to be here.
I want to start by recognizing that we're on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe peoples.
It's great to be back amongst friends, and I really mean that. I’m really pretty new to this file, but the nice thing about this file is that this is about real things that matter to real people.
Canadians understand how important municipalities are: small towns, big cities and everything in between.
And as much as I care greatly about talking about 2030 targets – which are very important – and about carbon pricing, this file is really about how we accomplish important, tangible things that will really improve the lives of Canadians.
So it’s really a great pleasure, a great honour, to be here to talk about infrastructure which actually changes the lives of Canadians.
One of the things that I think is critically important is the role that we all play together – cities, provinces, the private sector, and not for profits – in delivering infrastructure that improves the lives of Canadians all across this country.
And in my first major public address since I have been given the really awesome – on all levels – responsibility of managing over $180 billion under the purview of the Department of Infrastructure and Communities, I want to recognize my amazing deputy, Kelly Gillis, and the great public service.
And I know I'm following in big shoes; those of Amarjeet Sohi, and also of my very good friend, François-Philippe Champagne, in a department that's been working very hard to get money out the door to get projects built, and most of all, to improve the lives of Canadians.
As Canada's mayors, councillors, reeves and wardens, and as members of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and staff, you represent the front lines of our great and pressing – and, dare I say never ending – infrastructure needs and demands.
Municipal leaders are the ones who see and hear and feel it first when the 100-year old water main crumbles, the bridge fails, the storm sewers overflow, a major transformer blows, or the public transit system, well…fails.
And with the changing climate, we have new challenges, including flooding, droughts, wildfires, and extreme heat that are impacting citizens, especially our most vulnerable.
Infrastructure must respond to and be more resilient to climate change.
But it must also be part of the solution.
And people – individual Canadians and the communities where they live – are the very real beneficiaries of good infrastructure.
And they're the very first ones to feel the impact of aging or inadequate infrastructure. This holds true wherever you live, raise your families, and work.
This issue is every bit as much about rural broadband, safe drinking water in remote communities, and leveling the playing field on other baseline community infrastructure as it is about big city, mega transport projects, which do tend to capture all the media attention.
Infrastructure is all about making life better for people.
The purpose of infrastructure is to improve people’s lives. In recent years, we have witnessed major meteorological events and we will see even more in the future owing to climate change.
We have seen the floods in Calgary, Toronto, in the Atlantic Region and here along the Ottawa River. A heat wave that claimed almost 100 (one hundred!) victims in Montreal, unprecedented forest fires all across Canada, a severe drought in Manitoba and destructive tornadoes right here in Ottawa.
So, here we are on the cusp of the year 2020. Everyone here in this room knows that the impact of climate change is very real and that this impact will increase.
I don't have to tell you that climate change is real. You live it every day, as do your citizens.
We will need to prepare ourselves more effectively and adapt to these changes.
So you see, it’s true: every week is in fact infrastructure week.
As the FCM itself said about our 2019 Liberal budget, and I quote, "it marks a turning point for cities and communities across Canada. It doubles down on the idea of working directly with municipalities and our partners and stakeholders to build better lives for Canadians nationwide."
More than ever, the priority of our Liberal Government is to invest in the economy, support families, contribute to the growth of communities and create jobs that strengthen the middle class.
To keep it simple, if only for my own understanding of this portfolio, should we not build things that help people, communities, the economy, and the environment?
Or, to be more precise, we help you build things because we live in a federation, and because partnership with municipal leaders – such as yourselves – and provincial governments is key to our success.
And we're seeing successes: the Green Municipal Fund, for example – one that I know well from my previous portfolio – supports 1,141 environmental initiatives in communities across Canada.
To date, these projects have helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 378,000 tonnes per year, and reclaim 77 hectares of previously contaminated lands.
But what does that really mean? That means cleaner, healthier, greener communities that are better for people.
Through our Investing in Canada Fund, we rolled out new buses and light rail, and we built new community and recreation centres.
So let me just be clear about my priorities.
One, my first priority is getting things built quickly that matter to the lives of Canadians.
This takes collaboration, cooperation, and open communication, and that means we can actually make a real difference.
We're all partners in this. It is our job – everyone in this room – to ensure that all orders of government work for people. Otherwise, we'll see the continued erosion of the faith of Canadians in all of us.
But there's another priority of equal importance: ensuring better jobs and economic outcomes for Canadians wherever they live. That comes through faster, more efficient transportation, like the Gordie Howe International Bridge underway in Windsor, Ontario.
It comes through indispensable 21st century infrastructure such as high speed internet.
I visited a farm of Colin McRae just north of Winnipeg last year, where I saw and heard about the importance of broadband access to precision agriculture.
And when I spoke to my friend Don Iveson, the mayor of Edmonton, this week, he pointed out that just 100 kilometres from Edmonton, in Parkland County, getting high speed internet access can be a real problem.
So right now, the federal government is partnering with Telesat to build low Earth orbit satellite infrastructure that will ensure high speed internet access to rural and remote parts of the country.
Because whether they're selling soapstone sculptures out of Arviat or canola from Kenora, Canadians need modern digital infrastructure to get their products to market.
And we also need that so people can stay in their communities, wherever those communities are.
The third federal priority in infrastructure is both a challenge and an opportunity: we will be putting – and are putting – a climate lens on everything we do, and infrastructure has to be at the top of that list.
In July 2016, I was with Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, when he told me that it will be necessary to invest $7 trillion – yes, you heard right – 7 trillion dollars that will need to be invested globally in infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 15 to 20 years.
To repeat that in English: in 2016 I did an event in Toronto – it was on Bay Street – it was right after Brexit, actually, during which Bank of England governor Mark Carney was going to speak.
Everyone thought they were coming to hear about Brexit. And while Brexit was a problem, he said, “That’s a problem, but let me tell you about an even bigger problem: climate change.” And he talked about the $7 trillion investment that was needed for infrastructure that would help reduce emissions and also ensure resilient communities.
Mark Carney is convinced of the need to create new infrastructure funding models – such as infrastructure bonds – which will be an opportunity to generate fixed income.
Regardless of the funding model, his main argument is that it is less expensive for an economy to adjust to climate change proactively.
You know what they say: “The best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.” So it is much cheaper to build now for a changing climate than to deal with the impacts later.
Well today, we're making infrastructure decisions that will contribute to a low carbon future for decades. And those infrastructure choices aren't just about better public transit, more energy efficient – or net zero – affordable housing, and smart grids.
They also include natural infrastructure.
Think of the major green spaces in our cities – such as the amazing Rouge National Park in the Greater Toronto Area, the largest and only urban national park of its kind in Canada – or the new federally funded projects to restore marshlands in Nova Scotia around the Bay of Fundy.
Natural infrastructure can help protect against climate change, but it also can ensure cleaner air, cleaner water, and more green space for people.
Look, we owe it to Canadians – all orders of government owe it to Canadians – to pull together to provide the essential infrastructure that will maintain and improve the way of life for people around the country; the way they live, the way they work, the way they get around, and the way they raise their families.
And fact is, the most exciting part of being the federal Infrastructure Minister at this time in the country’s history is the opportunity to make positive changes that benefit people, that benefit the economic health of our communities, and also that benefit the environment.
It truly is a win-win-win.
Because when we invest in infrastructure, we build neighbourhoods, lives and ways of living. From roads, to public swimming pools, and hockey rinks, infrastructure keeps communities connected, helps grow businesses, and allows people to live healthier lives.
And the time to invest in Canada's infrastructure is now, to bring Canadians good jobs, a cleaner environment and thriving communities to come.
So I look forward to working with all of you to get to work to building a better Canada for all Canadians all across this great country.
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