Trudeau hits road for green announcement in campaign-style appearance

·4 min read

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is back on the road, announcing hundreds of millions of dollars in climate spending from his Liberal government Monday in what would not have looked out of place on the campaign trail.

Seeing the prime minister, his shave and haircut still fresh from last week, behind a podium for an announcement unrelated to COVID-19 is a marked shift from what millions of Canadians have grown used to over the past year.

Trudeau, like others, has been getting out more as the number of new COVID-19 cases keep falling, vaccination rates are rising and provincial health authorities have loosened some of the most stringent public health measures that have kept people largely at home.

Last week, he visited the Ottawa suburb of Kanata to talk about housing and also toured a vaccination clinic in the city, where he bumped elbows with people receiving their shot and posed for a photo or two with those who wanted a picture.

Trudeau's announcement on Monday from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., to provide a steel plant up to $420 million to phase out coal-fired steelmaking further fanned expectations that his government is preparing to send Canadians to the polls.

Trudeau teased that a similar announcement would be coming about another steel company, this time in Hamilton.

Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra is also on the move. On Twitter Monday, he shared images of himself boarding a train from Toronto to Quebec City to make what he called a major announcement the next day about high-frequency rail. He also posted a video appearing to show him speaking through the announcement system on board the train.

Asked about the campaign-like appearance of Monday's event, Trudeau didn't directly answer about a potential summer election call. He said the announcement had been in the works for a while, with the groundwork laid out in the spring federal budget.

"I think Canadians expect us to keep moving forward on our priorities, which are and have always been to grow the economy, create good jobs for Canadians and … climate change at the same time. That's what we'll keep doing," Trudeau said.

Around $200 million set to flow into Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie will come from an $8 billion pot of cash set up in the federal budget to finance companies' efforts to decarbonize their production processes over the years to come.

The rest of the government funding will come from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a federal agency the Liberals set up to attract private capital on projects like clean power. Opposition parties have criticized the program for being ineffective at getting billions of dollars out the door.

Jean-Luc Ferland, a spokesman from Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne's office, clarified Monday evening the money provided is through repayable loans, with some of the climate cash conditionally repayable "based on incentives for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

During his speech Monday, Trudeau took a dig at the Opposition Conservatives over how serious that party is about fighting climate change while growing the economy.

He also touted his Liberal government's record over the past six years on making climate change a priority, from its introduction of a national carbon price on industrial emitters and fuel consumers, to committing the country to reach net-zero missions by mid-century.

On Twitter, Conservative environment critic Dan Albas said it appears the Liberal government "is now in full-on campaign mode," pointing out it also announced on Monday that $900,000 would go to a Quebec-based spa manufacturer.

Trudeau holds power in a minority government and in recent weeks has criticized opposition parties for obstructing legislation important to his party, which has fuelled speculation that he will use this argument to justify triggering an election.

Federal New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh called Monday's event a "show."

"If the Liberals were serious about tackling climate change, they wouldn't have waited until they're about to plunge the country into an election to make this announcement. Canadians deserve a government that will fight the climate crisis like they actually want to win," he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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