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MPs want Guilbeault to explain road funding remarks. Will it happen?

Conservative, Bloc Quebecois and NDP MPs on the House of Commons’ transport committee want Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault to explain his comments around federal road infrastructure projects.

Guilbeault’s comments last week stirred controversy among premiers and mayors who utilize federal funds to improve their networks.

Last Monday, Guilbeault told a crowd in Montreal that Ottawa will “stop investing in new road infrastructure,” according to quotes published in the Montreal Gazette.

When pressed by reporters two days later, Guilbeault said he “should have been more specific,” clarifying the government doesn’t have the funds for “large projects.” He referred to the trosième lien, a highway tunnel connecting Quebec City to Lévis, as an example.

Conservative transport critic Mark Strahl called Guilbeault’s comments “outrageous” last Wednesday. He was among the signatories of a letter requesting for Guilbeault to explain his comments at the committee. The letter also called for Sean Fraser, minister for infrastructure and housing, to appear.

“His public comments are shocking to hear as they have massive consequences on infrastructure development for Canadian communities and on the ability of communities to grow and prosper,” the letter requesting the committee meeting reads.

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“In particular, rural, remote and northern communities cannot grow and thrive without sufficient federal support for road infrastructure.”

The committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to discuss the matter.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said on Feb. 15 if Ottawa were ever to cut funding for new road projects, it “would literally be terrible for every municipality in this nation.”

“Making that kind of a public statement and not having any rationale behind it is not ministerial,” she said.

“(If Guilbeault) wants to have conversations with local leaders and find out why we need improved roadways, … we’re happy to chat with him.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford had said he was “gobsmacked” by Guilbeault’s remarks before he clarified them.

“A federal minister said they won’t invest in new roads or highways. He doesn’t care that you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I do. We’re building roads and highways, with or without a cent from the feds,” Ford said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, last Tuesday.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith echoed a similar sentiment on social media.

“Does this minister understand that most Canadians don’t live in downtown Montreal? Most of us can’t just head out the door in the snow and rain and just walk 10km to work each day,” Smith wrote on X.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Guilbeault’s comments “made a lot of us very nervous,” and called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clarify them.

“I understand the federal environment minister has tried to clarify his comments,” he said last Wednesday.

“It would be good to understand from the federal government and to have some clear commitments, a recommitment to the promises they made to us around this essential infrastructure because these comments have obviously made a lot of us very nervous.”

Trudeau has said his government’s policy on contributing to infrastructure projects remains unchanged.

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