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"It is essential that job creation and continued, sustained economic growth be a priority, so that we can strengthen our middle class and make it accessible to those who wish to join it."
Justin Trudeau • November 4, 2014
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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
As you all know, we are expecting a fiscal update from the government very soon.
Unfortunately, we also know that fiscal update will be about how this government will confront the challenges of the next election, rather than about how Canada will confront the challenges of the next decades.
A case in point: that fiscal update is expected to herald a surplus for the first time in many years of this Conservative government’s tenure.
The question that should be asked is this: What should that surplus be invested in?
We already know the government has committed to spending it on immediate tax credits that are designed to get people to vote Conservative.
But is that what we need to build our country’s future?
I humbly offer that a much better thing for the government to be focusing on is investing in infrastructure.
That ought to be the priority.
Indeed, investing in infrastructure needs to be high on a list of things we can start doing right now that will guarantee a better Canada in the coming years.
For ourselves, and for our children.
As you may have noticed, there are a lot of new challenges emerging lately that need to be addressed.
Responsible integration of a sustainable environment into a prosperous economy.
Stalled incomes for the middle class, and greater barriers for those who look to join the middle class.
More extreme weather events, occurring more frequently.
And the rapid growth of our cities.
Facing it all is our infrastructure – the very thing we rely on every day to ensure our safety and comfort, and our high quality of life.
It’s something the Liberal Party has been thinking about for some time.
Solid, strategic infrastructure will help our economy grow, help create jobs, and help Canada remain competitive.
This is why over the past two years I’ve already engaged with many of the people in this room on multiple occasions.
Canada’s infrastructure and asset management sectors have been bright spots of economic growth in the last two decades.
You have been busy.
You have been figuring out how to build better, adaptive infrastructure – and more of it.
What you need is a government as ambitious as you are.
Let’s talk about why that’s important, and how we can make it possible.
You’ll forgive me for stating the obvious: Canada is a pretty great place to live.
But we should aim to make it even better.
Thanks to tough decisions Canadians made in the 1990s, our federal fiscal position is strong.
But even if the federal government is in a good position, Canadians aren’t.
Indeed, too many are still waiting to get their share of the growth they’ve been promised for years.
The Conservative government has offered tax credits to a handful of Canadians – a little bit here and there, but not enough to help most middle class families.
It’s a classic election goodie strategy. But it doesn’t do much, fundamentally, to help build Canada for the future.
I think things should be different. I think all the sacrifices Canadians have made to achieve a federal surplus should leave them with more to show for their hard work, like long-term investments in their communities.
It is essential that job creation and continued, sustained economic growth be a priority, so that we can strengthen our middle class and make it accessible to those who wish to join it.
One of the ways to do both is to invest in our infrastructure.
But investing in infrastructure isn’t just a tool to boost economic growth and create jobs now. It’s a way to confront major challenges we will face in the future.
Take congestion, for instance.
I don’t know how long it took you all to get to work today, but no doubt you’re familiar with sitting in traffic.
It’s not just an annoyance. It actually costs us – about $15 billion each year.
Or climate change.
What used to be freak weather patterns or unexpected extreme storms are now becoming more common.
And will continue to be so in the future.
Before 1996, there had only been three natural disasters in Canada that did more than $500 million worth of damage.
Since then, on average, we’ve had one such natural disaster almost every single year.
But I don’t need to tell you this.
Every corner of the country has seen its fair share of examples, and maybe you already know the costs involved.
Last year’s flash flood here in Toronto cost over $1 billion to clean up.
The tally for the flooding a year ago in Alberta was $6 billion.
But the point is not that we can somehow avoid these issues in the future – it’s about being as prepared as we can be when they arise.
If we are prepared now, we can reduce some of the future costs.
Just last month, the CEO of Waterfront Toronto estimated that to properly protect the lower Don River from flooding, it will cost $1 billion.
But at the same time, he estimated that that investment would save the government $5 billion in total down the road.
This is the kind of math other countries are doing.
They are working to attract investment and business for the future while building an infrastructure legacy.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, the Conservative government’s inaction and lack of leadership is increasing our infrastructure deficit.
Most frustrating of all, for those of us who understand the benefits of future investments, is that now is the right time to make them.
We’ve heard a lot from the Conservatives about Canada’s economic performance.
They say Canada is doing well, but the story is more complicated than talking points would have us think.
Our economic recovery since the depths of the recession has been slow, and our GDP is lagging.
But at the same time, interest rates have fallen to levels not seen in decades, and the dollar is still relatively strong.
All of which, combined, means we’re staring at a historic opportunity – if we choose to see it that way.
We can use long-term financing as a way to provide lasting and sustainable funding for projects that will take years to complete.
In addition, we’ll create well-paying jobs and growth today in the process.
This is a historic moment for us to do what previous generations of Canadians have always done: invest in the future of this country.
Every single day we benefit from the bridges and subways, highways and ports that past generations built for us.
We have a great opportunity to do the same now for the future.
This is a chance we must not miss.
And yet, our current government is letting it slip by.
They are making the wrong choices.
The Conservatives are focused too much on poorly designed tax credits like income splitting, or schemes like their small business E.I. tax credit.
Instead, they should be investing in our collective prosperity.
They should be investing in increasing our productivity.
It’s time the federal government pulled its own weight.
For too long, provinces and municipalities have been left to foot the bill on infrastructure even though they are less and less able to afford it.
Even though Ottawa holds 50 percent of revenue capacity, it contributes only a small portion in annual infrastructure spending.
And now might be a good time to remind you that the Conservatives don’t plan on boosting that anytime soon.
In fact, in its last budget, this government decided to slash the Building Canada Fund by nearly 90 percent.
It dropped from $1.7 billion down to just $210 million this year.
Not just for one project – but for the entire country.
They are back-loading infrastructure spending – promising funding escalation only after the next election.
You might understand my skepticism about a promise Mr. Harper won’t need to keep for another 5 years.
I don’t think that is the way a Prime Minister builds confidence, and I do not think it is the way to build a nation.
So, what do we do?
The answer is clear: We commit to investing more in badly needed infrastructure projects.
We need to set a new standard, and we start by doing more of what we’re here to do today: working together.
Working with provinces and cities to make sure we’re getting our priorities straight.
Because once we commit to investing, we also need to ensure we are targeting our funding correctly.
So private capital will obviously be important because it will enhance – and complement –increased federal investments.
Together, we can seize this opportunity to embark upon a new kind of nation building.
The challenges ahead are multi-faceted, but as we have done in the past, Canadians can work together to meet them.
Our future prosperity depends on it.
Businesses cannot continue to lose money because basic infrastructure costs threaten bottom lines.
Instead, their capital must be freed to create further economic growth and create new jobs.
Ensuring our trade corridors are functioning at full capacity isn’t just good for businesses that need to get goods to the marketplace – it means further benefit for working Canadians.
In other words, we need to keep Canada’s economy moving, along with the Canadians who drive it.
Let’s remember: tackling things like congestion is about more than just getting people to work –it’s about increasing productivity and quality of life at the same time.
We’re one of the most urbanized countries in the world, but we’re also one of the only developed countries in the world without a national approach to public transit.
Canadians need to get where they need to be quicker, more efficiently, and safely.
To a lot of people in this room, myself included, infrastructure is about growth and productivity. But for a lot of people in cities all over Canada, infrastructure is about whether you can get to a good job on time, or at all.
It’s as basic and as critical as that.
If you want to know why the people who voted for Doug Ford are frustrated, try driving from Rexdale to Scarborough for work in the morning.
Commitment to our social contract means we also need to re-examine our plan for affordable housing.
The private sector has lots of experience building and running housing in various ways. The government should harness that knowledge and ability to make finding a home easier for Canadians.
We can also fix the shameful lack of investment in our First Nations communities, because this isn’t just about laying new roads or putting down tracks; it’s about all of us, the country we want to live in, and the one we want to pass down to our children.
How do we do it?
We need to be creative in ensuring that money spent on infrastructure has the maximum impact in communities where it is invested.
This could include things like skills training for young people or employment for returning veterans.
We also need to have better tools at the federal level to plan and finance infrastructure investment, to support other orders of government to invest their assets, and bring private pools of capital to bear.
Which brings me back to people like you.
The government needs you to help in identifying new and more innovative mechanisms to finance and build public infrastructure.
Here, we can learn from the provinces.
While they have been taking the lead developing innovative financing models to build more public infrastructure, the federal government has dragged its feet.
Ottawa should look to places like Ontario and B.C. for inspiration on how to move forward again.
Quite frankly, the Conservative government’s efforts pale when compared to the ambition and achievement of Infrastructure Ontario.
We can also explore the possibilities of building sustainable infrastructure projects through the use of Green Bonds.
We have infrastructure now built for a climate that no longer exits. Infrastructure is about building for the future. As I heard from a Prairie mayor recently, cities can handle once in a century storm events.
Just not every year.
And we can develop clearer and more transparent planning and prioritization, with more accountability for getting funding out the door.
The reality is that the current federal government has been better at announcing infrastructure dollars than actually investing them.
The bottom line is this: not only can we promise infrastructure investment, we can make it happen, feasibly, sustainably, and responsibly across all levels of government.
It’s a pretty simple fact: infrastructure investments help the economy.
But don’t take my word for it – ask the Finance Department. Their own numbers prove it.
Investing $1 billion in infrastructure could boost Canada’s GDP by as much as $1.6 billion.
That’s a solid R-O-I.
But it’s all those other ways infrastructure can benefit us that we can’t calculate in numbers that we’ll probably think of more often.
The health and prosperity of our future generations, for instance.
As Canadians, we tend to think a lot about our kids.
I know I sure do.
I think about the kind of country we could leave them if we act now, and about what sort of debts they may incur if we do nothing.
It just doesn’t seem fair to not do our part.
For generations, Canadians have left their children with a better country than the one into which they either arrived or were born.
I see no reason why we should be the generation that stops that pattern.
We cannot be passing along unpaid bills to our children because we refuse to invest now.
Not when the circumstances have aligned to offer us this historic opportunity.
We can position Canada to remain competitive in our global economy and respond to what lies along the road ahead.
It’s what Canadians have done for generations.
It is, after all, why we built the highways that connect us, and the airports that allow us to connect with the world.
It’s why we built a Seaway to move our resources to market.
And it’s why we built that very first railroad that united us from coast to coast.
It’s why we come together so often to build together the things we cannot build on our own.
We can and must do it again.
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