PM Justin Trudeau promises not to meddle in municipal project-funding decisions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa won't meddle in decisions about which major projects are built in Canadian cities, towns and rural municipalities.

Tells Canadian mayors and councillors they will decide infrastructure priorities

Speaking in Winnipeg to a gathering of mayors and city councillors from across Canada, the prime minister promised to let local governments decide which projects are built with the help of $120 billion worth of infrastructure funds pledged by his government over the next decade. 11:21

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa won't meddle in decisions about which major projects are built in Canadian cities, towns and rural municipalities.

Speaking in Winnipeg to a gathering of mayors and city councillors from across Canada, the prime minister promised to let local governments decide which projects are built with the help of $120 billion worth of infrastructure funds pledged by his government over the next decade.

"We shouldn't tell you whether you need light rail or subways, better bridges or better climate-resilient infrastructure," Trudeau told about 2,000 delegates at a conference of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities at RBC Convention Centre. "That's your job as municipal leaders to tell us what you need and how the federal government should help."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told municipal leaders gathered in Winnipeg today that they will get to decide how to spend $11 billion on infrastructure over the next three to five years. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Trudeau's statement, which follows up on a similar pledge made Thursday by federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, is part of an effort to reassure municipal leaders Ottawa will not prioritize politically expedient infrastructure projects over projects deemed more pressing by municipalities.

Canadian mayors have complained in the past that federal infrastructure funds are only made available to cities if all three levels of government agree on the project. 

Trudeau, who flew to Winnipeg for the second time in a week specifically to address municipal leaders, effectively pledged to end the practice of political cherrypicking from a list of municipal infrastructure projects.

"We understand that the expertise exists on the ground and we're here to listen to what those priorities are and work with the municipalities on what they believe is most important," the prime minister said in French, speaking to reporters in a question-and-answer session after his speech.

During his speech, the prime minister reiterated his government's budget-time promise to spend $11 billion on municipal infrastructure over the next three to five years, and another $49 billion within the decade. The other $60 billion in infrastructure funding will come from gas tax revenue.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, who chairs the big city mayors' caucus of the FCM, said he was pleased to see Trudeau respect local decision-making.

"As opposed to direction coming from the top, prioritization coming from the bottom — that was music to local government leaders' ears today," Iveson said.

Trudeau also joked he hoped to earn as much support from Canadian municipal leaders as he did  at the Liberal Party convention in Winnipeg on May 28, when he received a 97 per cent mandate.

Earlier in the morning, Trudeau met with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman at the convention centre. As the duo briefly posed for photos, the prime minister praised the city's efforts to promote reconciliation between its Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.

After the speech, Trudeau repeated his assertion that generations of Canadian governments have failed to live up to both the spirit and the letter of treaties signed with First Nations.

The prime minister said the $8.6 billion pledged by his government to pay for First Nations infrastructure such as water-treatment plants is just the start of closing the gap in living standards between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Meaningful reconciliation will take years, Trudeau said.

"It is going to take continued engagement, not just by our government but by other levels of government over significant periods of time, but the fact is I am filled with optimism," he told reporters.

Trudeau also reaffirmed his government's commitment to the construction of an all-weather road that will connect the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba to Shoal Lake No. 40 First Nation in Ontario, which sits at the source of the city of Winnipeg's drinking water.

Cost estimates for that road place it higher than the $30-million figure agreed upon by the city, province and Ottawa. Trudeau said he spoke about the road when he met with Bowman Friday morning and will address the issue with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.

Bowman said he and Trudeau met for 30 minutes to discuss reconciliation, infrastructure funding and technological innovation.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.