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Beyond the Ballot: Sector snapshot Transportation & Infrastructure

This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.

By: Hunter Doubt, Senior Consultant; Patty Toner, Senior Consultant; and Andrea Beltran, Research Analyst

As with other recent federal elections, this campaign has taught us that when it comes to party promises surrounding transportation, the issue is often closely linked to two other important policy priorities – investment in infrastructure and climate change. And, quite frankly, this should not come as any surprise.

The relationship between investing in transportation infrastructure and the associated impact on a country’s economic development has always been strong. Canadians depend on transportation services for day-to-day travel, and for the movement of resources and goods vital to economic growth.

At the same time, there is also a very real correlation between transportation and the environment. In 2016, 25% of Canada’s GHG emissions came from the transportation sector. As a result, governments will be called on more and more to be seeking avenues to promote a transition to a low carbon economy via the transportation sector if there is to be a real impact on climate change levels.

What’s new to this particular election campaign around transportation, however, are the connections being made by major parties between transportation and the issue of affordability. Affordability is arguably the top priority for swing voters — especially large urban centres including Metro Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area – where sky-high housing costs and transit go hand-in-hand. These voters are often younger, live outside of the city (because they cannot afford to live downtown) and spend hours on transit every day. Be it advocating for subsidy incentives for buying electric cars or free public transit, all parties this campaign are trying to appeal to this demographic. As a reminder, this is the first federal election where millennial voters will outnumber baby-boomers voters.

All to say, while transportation is generally not a top-of-the-ballot issue, leaders – through their campaign announcements and platforms – have and will continue to tie it to other big public policy issues (the environment, investment in the country’s infrastructure, affordability, etc.) to get as much uptake as possible.

A Look-Back at the Last Four Years


On November 04, 2015, the Hon. Marc Garneau was sworn into Cabinet as the new Minister of Transport.  Almost exactly one year later, Minister Garneau unveiled “Transportation 2030,” the Trudeau government’s national transportation strategy focused on five key themes: the traveller; safer transportation; green and innovative transportation; waterways, coasts and the North; and, trade corridors.

The first step in this plan was the introduction of Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act. The Act proposed a number of both minor and major changes to Canada’s rail, marine and air travel frameworks – including a passenger bill of rights for air travellers, required recording devices in railway locomotives, and introducing new financing options for Canadian port authorities, to name just a few. Significant aspects of Bill C-49 were drawn from the preceding review of the Canada Transportation Act initiated by the previous Harper government.

Minister Garneau would also become one of the lead ministers involved in the government’s ambitious Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), which encompassed the largest investment ever made to protect Canada’s coasts and waterways. Under the OPP, the government focused on the protection of marine mammal populations, proactive vessel management solutions, oil spill response and a review of the marine pilotage regime in Canada.

A number of other policy reviews were also launched under Minister Garneau, including the Railway Safety Act Review, the Ports Modernization Review, the Airports Policy Framework Review, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Review. Next steps from these policy exercises are not yet known, but whomever becomes the next Minister of Transport will have the opportunity to consider the recommendations from these various reviews seriously and decide whether to take any of them forward or not.

In all, the Government of Canada has been very active in the last four years on transportation policy matters, which is not always the case, and Minister Garneau generally was able to leverage this work into augmenting his own profile and standing among Cabinet Ministers.


One of the platform announcements that made headway in 2015 and, some argue, helped Justin Trudeau and the Liberals get elected was his plan to run deficits for two years. While that specific promise may not have panned out in the long-run, the Liberal Party convinced many Canadians in that election campaign that now was the time to be investing heavily in Canadians, including in the infrastructure they rely on in their communities and regions.

The Trudeau government’s Investing in Canada Plan allocated an ambitious $180 billion over 12 years for a wide range of infrastructure projects – everything from social housing, trade-enabling, rural, green, social, and public transit infrastructure.  All of this done under the banner of boosting the economy and “building the cities of the 21st century.”

But, as with other federal governments that came before them, the Liberals ended up having to contend with significant delays in negotiating framework agreements with provinces & territories and ultimately being able to see money get out the door.  The two ministers who handled the infrastructure portfolio during the Trudeau government’s mandate – first the Hon. Armajeet Sohi, followed by the Hon. François-Philippe Champagne – both learned that tying federal funding to a province’s ability to designate projects can create challenges in getting projects approved quickly.

In this same context, the Trudeau Liberals were also met with the gradual election of a number of conservative provincial governments throughout Canada, significantly changing fed/prov dynamics from those in 2015. Some provinces that changed over to conservative governments were arguably less determined to get their projects prioritized so as to frustrate the federal Liberals’ ability to keep their commitments in the lead-up to the 2019 election. For instance, Alberta (an NDP government for most of the Trudeau government) and British Columbia (an NDP government) have already approved projects worth some 60 per cent of their shares of federal  funds, Quebec about 35 per cent, Ontario and Manitoba (both led by conservative governments) have approved 10 per cent or less of their shares.

Relevant Party Platform Commitments

While there has not been a significant focus on transportation & infrastructure issues in this current campaign, the main parties have each made policy commitments pertaining to them. See below for more:


  • A national infrastructure fund to support yet-to-be-determined “major nation-building projects.”
  • Require all provinces and territories to identify and approve their long-term infrastructure priorities within two years.
  • Make permanent the federal commitment to fund public transit, and put in an additional $3 billion a year in stable funding on top of gas tax transfers.
  • Require that new federal investments in public transit are used to support zero-emission buses and rail starting in 2023.
  • Support transitions to zero-emission fleets for school and transit buses while encouraging businesses to convert fleets as well.
  • Impose an additional 10 per cent excise tax on luxury cars, boats and personal aircraft with price tags of more than $100,000.


  • Scrap the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
  • Prioritize funding for the 15-kilometre “Ontario Line” as well as a 7.5-kilometre extension of the existing Yonge Line to Richmond Hill in the GTA; the George Massey Tunnel replacement; and, the third link between Quebec City and Levis.
  • Reintroduce a 15 per cent transit tax credit which will apply to any transit pass and some electronic fare cards when used for an extended period.


  • Introduce a permanent funding mechanism for public transit.
  • Electrify transit and municipal vehicles by 2030, expand rail service, work with provinces and municipalities toward “fare-free transit” and re-establish rural bus routes formerly covered by Greyhound.
  • Encourage zero-emission vehicle adoption, it would extend federal incentives for vehicles and chargers, waive federal taxes on purchases and expand charging networks.
  • Introduce a national cycling strategy.
  • Increase annual federal funding for BC Ferries by $30 million.
  • Create a $40 million coastal protection fund to defend wild salmon, remove derelict vessels, clean up coastlines and improve coast guard equipment and training.


  • Develop a national transportation strategy with the goal of reaching zero-carbon public transportation — rail, light rail and electric buses — across Canada by 2040 and revamp the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
  • Ban the sale of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by 2030, require all passenger ferries to convert to electric or hybrid by 2030, exempt new and used zero-emission vehicles from federal sales tax, expand charging stations, implement a passenger rail transportation policy, create a cycling and walking infrastructure fund, and develop “green freight transport program.”
  • Spend $600 million in 2020-21, rising to $720 million by 2023, to develop regional rail networks and strengthen regional connections by building high-speed rail in the Toronto-Ottawa-Quebec and between the Calgary-Edmonton corridors.
  • Rebrand the Gas Tax Fund as the Municipal Fund and double current funding for transit and urban infrastructure.Environmental assessments.


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