Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, addresses the GLOBE 2020 Conference Session, “Climate Crisis: Mobilizing Capital.”


It’s great to be here, to be back among friends. Obviously I’m thrilled to be back here in my new role as Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.

I’d like to start by acknowledging that we’re on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh Nations.

It is great to be back here at Globe, just even going around the trade floor and seeing all these amazing companies coming up with new solutions. This is where you can really feel we are changing, that the world is changing. It’s a positive thing that we’re doing this, not only because climate change is real but because we value clean air, we value clean water, we value innovation, and we value jobs and economic growth. 

I know you guys know this: that there’s no contradiction between economic growth and climate action. They just have to absolutely go together. 

Given the imperatives of climate change and our duty to our children and our grandchildren to act, we’re entering into a period where economic growth will be all about building a low carbon, more resilient future. We’ve heard the estimates, that there’s a $26 trillion global opportunity in deploying clean energy, clean tech, clean solutions. 

It’s kind of funny because I see people fact-checking it, and they’re saying, “Is it really $26 trillion? Maybe it’s only $23 trillion…or maybe it’s $34 trillion in Canadian dollars?”

The quantum is huge, and I don’t think there is a need to quibble over the actual amount. It is the biggest economic opportunity of our generation, and I really see my role as Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities through that frame.

I’ve talked a lot about what my top priorities are as Minister: when you come in, the media ask you, “So what are your top priorities?” and you’ve literally been in the job for five minutes. But it’s always good to put the frame in the window. First, it’s working with provinces and territories, municipalities and Indigenous peoples to get projects built quickly that improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

Two, build projects that grow our economy, create local jobs, and boost our productivity. 

Third, to ensure that all projects help to build a low carbon and more resilient future. 

When it comes to infrastructure, when Canada builds, Canada grows.

We can’t really discuss sustainable business innovation without acknowledging the challenge of climate change. I don’t have to talk to you about all the studies that have pointed to clean and low carbon infrastructure investments as one of the best ways – if not the best way – to prepare the economy of the future.

If you go back to the Finance Minister’s economic advisory council report, it identified infrastructure as the most powerful driver for growth and productivity in both the short term and long term, growing local economies and creating good jobs across the country.

That report was important to me, but equally important to the Finance Minister. It really talked about how we can leverage the private sector. How we can leverage private finance to do extraordinary things that are going to grow our GDP, increase productivity, and of course, help tackle climate change.

We know the flipside to this; as has been highlighted by groups such as the Insurance Bureau of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, significant investments in resilient infrastructure can save us billions of dollars. There has been a calculation by the National Institute of Building Sciences in the U.S. that there’s a benefit of $11 for every $1 spent on national hazard mitigation.

Others have put the benefit as high as 14 to 1. We cannot afford not to invest.  I think now is really the time to start planning in a very strategic way for the decades to come.  That’s what we’re doing with our infrastructure investments. I’m also proud to say that’s also what’s happening with the private sector and with the clean solutions we’re seeing. Once again Canadian companies are punching above their weight. Twelve Canadian companies were listed among the global clean tech top 100 list of clean tech companies in the world.

It’s companies like Carbon Engineering – from right here in Squamish – which is pioneering technologies to capture and reuse CO2 from the atmosphere, and CarbonCure Technologies from Dartmouth Nova Scotia, the North American clean tech company of the year, which is growing a huge international business by injecting carbon into concrete.

Actually, I was just in California yesterday, where I saw Carbon Cure in action and visited the LinkedIn building. They have new builds in Mountain View California where they’re using CarbonCure. I also went to visit Apple, where they’re committed to using Canadian carbon-free aluminum from Elysis. It’s a Montreal-based joint venture – you probably all know this – between Alcoa and Rio Tinto, supported by the governments of Canada and Quebec.

And then I went and saw the first cross-laminated timber building in San Francisco.  They’ve changed their building code so they can have tall wooden structures. This is wood that is coming from Quebec. It’s been precut. It assembles like bricks. We are providing solutions that the world is using. We are building the low carbon future.

Of course, that is all about creating jobs here, economic growth here, and also hope, I think, for the world. Building clean, smart, sustainable infrastructure will put Canada on the front foot as we manage the transition to a low carbon economy. If you look at where we are investing our public dollars: in public transit, which is incredibly important. 

I’m meeting with all the mayors of the Vancouver area, and they’re very excited to talk about their vision for better public transit here. If you think about the Canada Line between Richmond and Vancouver, which added another four trains last month, that was thanks in part to Government of Canada funding. It’s going to increase rush hour capacity by 15%. You can look at Guelph, Ontario, where I was able to help announce the city’s green transit project, which includes 35 diesel buses being replaced by long- range electric buses in the short term, 30 more in the longer term, as well as en-route charging stations.

This is great because it’s an opportunity we need to take advantage of. It’s electrifying our bus fleet. I know all the mayors have talked to me. They’re pitching me on this, how we can work with public transit authorities to meet our goal of 5,000 electric buses over the next five years.

The good news, once again: a clear economic case.  For a Cabinet retreat I was in Manitoba, Winnipeg. I went to visit New Flyer – a huge opportunity – to work with New Flyer.

As well as Novabus, another leader in electric bus technology.

We’ve committed that by 2023 all new public transit funding will be to zero-emission options. 

One other story – I love stories. I went to Summerside PEI, population 15,000, and they are just reimagining how they power their city. With the help of the government, the province and the private sector, they’re building their own solar energy farm and storage facility.

They teamed up with Samsung to build a smarter, more efficient grid. They’re saving money and they’re also creating jobs, and they’re showing it’s not just big cities that can do this; everyone can be part of this. They’re going to meet two-thirds of their electricity needs through renewable energy. They’re going to reduce carbon emissions by 21,000 tons a year.

It’s an example of how we can improve lives, how we can transform communities, how we can create good jobs. Now, when you look at the risks – I don’t have to talk to you about those because you live here in BC, you see them – whether it’s flooding, or wildfires, or coastal erosion, it’s a huge challenge.

When we look at what the World Economic Forum said is the biggest risk, six of the top risks identified by business leaders are related to the environment and climate change. 

Mark Carney just talked about how we have a huge economic opportunity. That is really what we need to be talking about. I want to get out of the frame where we’re fighting. I just want to talk about what the future looks like, how we can make sure it happens, how we can bring together unusual suspects and how we can make sure we have the financing, because it is expensive to do this.

The government can certainly not do it alone, and we have willing partners. I think we need to change how we look at financing models. We have to change and look at the huge opportunity. We have to scale. I think Canada really can be a model for the world in that regard. That is why I am very excited to be in this role – my new role as Minister of Infrastructure and Communities – to help make that happen. I say, “When Canada builds, Canada grows,” and that’s exactly what we’re going to do! Thanks.

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