Nfld. & Labrador

Justin Trudeau won't commit to $200M a year for Muskrat rate mitigation

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was in St. John's on Tuesday for announcement on new benefits for families, but he fielded questions on local issues.

Liberal leader more firm on federal government not increasing its share of waste-water plant

Justin Trudeau made a quick stop in the riding of St. John's East, which is expected to be a close race. (David Cochrane/CBC )

During a brief stop in St. John's on Tuesday, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his government "will continue to be there" for people of this province when it comes to rate mitigation, but he stopped short of committing to the $200 million a year the provincial government wants from Ottawa. 

"I can tell Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that a federal Liberal government will continue to be there for you, to be there as a partner on the challenges you're facing," he told reporters at an event where he announced several family-friendly benefits. 

"We will be there to support on rate mitigation, and I can tell you that we're working very hard on that, and we'll continue to work very hard on that with [Premier] Dwight Ball."

Trudeau was pressed if he would commit to the $200 million a year the provincial government is counting on to help offset electricity rate hikes related to the Muskrat Falls megaproject — and he would not say he would. 

"We are committed to resolving the issue of rate mitigation in a way that works for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," Trudeau replied. 

Won't budge on federal cash for St. John's waste-water facility

Trudeau was more equivocal about the federal government's share of a new, secondary, waste-water facility planned for St. John's. 

The price tag has has jumped $32 million above its previous estimate, but the amount promised by the federal government hasn't kept up. First, 50 per cent (of the original, lower estimate) was promised by the Liberal government, but with the higher price tag, that percentage is now 44 per cent. 

That means municipalities are on the hook to cover the increased costs, and the mayors of St. John's, Mount Pearl and Paradise have warned tax hikes may have to offset the difference. 

When asked Tuesday if he would commit to footing half of the actual cost of the project, Trudeau replied, "We made that commitment to 50 per cent off the very top and we are still committed to that amount of money."

"We know that investing in infrastructure, particularly in things like waste water, is essential to growing communities like St. John's … and we look forward to continue to work on getting that new waste-water facility for St. John's."

New federal government regulations require new waste-water infrastructure to further clean water beyond the water treatment that is done at the Riverhead water treatment facility on the south side of St. John's harbour. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The issue has generated friction between mayors in the St. John's metro region and the federal government. 

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen has complained there just isn't enough time to meet the 2020 deadline to build the $255-million facility, which will reduce the amount of waste in the water coming out of the plant on South Side Road in St. John's.

He struck a more conciliatory tone in August when the mayors met with François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of infrastructure and communities.

"I think we had a great discussion. We had some ideas that went around, and minister Champagne has committed on getting back to us on a number of issues," he said at the time. 

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen has said there isn't enough time to meet a deadline to build a $255-million waste-water treatment plant.

But it remains unclear how the extra costs are going to be offset, now that Trudeau has reiterated the federal government is sticking to its original funding promise. 

"There have been some challenges from the municipal side but we continue to be committed to working in partnership with municipalities and the province to settle this issue," Trudeau said Tuesday.  

More money for parents

Trudeau's announcement, which was held at a daycare, promised that a re-elected Liberal government would give families up to $1,000 more by increasing the Canada child benefit by 15 per cent for children under a year old. The CCB was introduced in 2016, and the Liberals have credited it with lifting 300,000 children out of poverty.

The Liberal proposal to make maternity and parental benefits tax-exempt at source means no federal taxes would be taken off the employment insurance payment, Trudeau said.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau played with some children ahead of his announcement on new financial benefits for parents Monday in St. John's. (CBC News)

He also pledged to work with the provinces and territories to establish guaranteed paid family leave for parents who don't qualify for paid leave through EI during the first year of their child's life. The party's proposal calls for the program to launch in 2021.

A riding to watch 

The announcement and media availability was held in the riding of St. John's East, which is expected to be a close race. 

NDP candidate Jack Harris and Conservative candidate Joedy Wall are vying for the seat, hoping to win over Liberal incumbent Nick Whalen. 

Trudeau began the event with praise for Whalen, and St. John's South-Mount Pearl incumbent Seamus O'Regan was also in attendance. 

Earlier in the day, Trudeau was spotted running around Quidi Vidi Lake. 

It was a quick stop for Trudeau on the campaign trail.

His schedule puts him at a Liberal supporter rally in St. Peter's Bay, P.E.I., by 6 p.m. AT.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Kathleen Harris, David Cochrane, Mark Quinn and Stephanie Kinsella

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