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McKenna Pledges Fast Action on Infrastructure Through a ‘Climate Lens’

Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna donned a hard hat for her first major speech in her new portfolio this week, telling the Federation of Canadian Municipalities she plans to get money out the door and shovels in the ground on projects that are all undertaken through a “climate lens”.

“Let me just be clear about my priorities,” she said Wednesday evening. “One: My first priority is getting things built quickly that matter to the lives of Canadians,” and the second is to deliver jobs and prosperity.

At the same time, McKenna said the government is “determined to work with cities and other partners in pushing out funding to projects that will make cities more resilient to the new impacts of climate change,” iPolitics reports. “She warned that heat waves, floods, and other effects will put a strain on cities, [which] are often the first to face its impacts.”

“Infrastructure must respond to and be more resilient to climate change, but also be part of the solution,” she said. That will mean applying a “climate lens on everything we do, and infrastructure has to be at the top of that list,” she added, describing her prescription as “both a challenge and an opportunity”.

As the minister responsible for a C$187-billion, 12-year infrastructure plan, iPolitics says McKenna will be looking to release funds at a quicker rate than communities have seen over the last four years. “The rollout, I hope, it can be faster,” she said.

“We’re all partners in this,” she added during the FCM meeting. “It’s 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.”

The Canadian Press says McKenna took a more conciliatory tone than a Liberal campaign platform that blamed provinces for dragging their feet on identifying priority infrastructure projects. The platform promised to act unilaterally if necessary. McKenna said she’d go it alone if she had to, but stressed the need for collaboration and cooperation across all orders of government.

A day later, the FCM released a roadmap for the government’s first 100 days that asks for more direct infrastructure funding to local governments. “While many proposals are rehashed from the advocacy group’s election wish list, some of FCM’s core [requests] suggest local governments want to deal more directly with Ottawa than to go through the provinces, some of which have restrained spending or battled politically with the Trudeau Liberals recently,” iPolitics writes.

The wish list includes $34 billion over 10 years for public transit.

“We suggest that all orders of government need to work better, closer together when federal issues are on the table,” said FCM President Bill Karsten. “One of the best ways to do that is to empower local leaders to get more done.”

In a separate release yesterday, Climate Crisis Legislation NOW (CCL NOW) urged the Trudeau government to support green jobs for fossil fuel workers in its Throne Speech next week. “Polls have shown that most Canadians want job creation and they want to minimize the climate crisis we face,” said spokesperson Kathleen O’Hara.  “The government must recognize these two demands by supporting a Green Jobs Transition Bill.”

Meanwhile, newly-appointed Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is talking about a “thoughtful and sensitive” approach to climate action that combines more aggressive greenhouse gas emission cuts with a bid to “explore technological breakthroughs to preserve the oil and gas sector,” the Toronto Star reports.

Wilkinson, a former cleantech executive born and raised in Saskatchewan, “said Canada ‘would be silly’ not to explore nascent technologies that could allow the energy from oil and gas to be extracted without heavy emissions—a moon shot development that he said could soothe tensions between fossil fuel boosters and advocates for more drastic climate action,” the Star writes.

“I’m not going to say to you that I have a magic bullet. I certainly don’t,” Wilkinson said. “That is a technology challenge, and I’m not going to tell you it’s a simple one, but I think that there are lots of pathways for us to explore that are ways in which we can try to be thoughtful and sensitive about the needs of all people that live in this country.”So far, the government’s previous bid to be “thoughtful and sensitive” toward the fossil lobby has netted it an $88-million loss over nine months on its purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Radio-Canada reports. “What was put forward as an economic initiative has become a political project with the objective of pleasing Western Canada,” said Bloc Québécois natural resources critic Mario Simard.