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Scheer promises coast-to-coast energy corridor as he outlines economic vows

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OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pledged Thursday to pursue a coast-to-coast energy corridor, achieve Canadian oil independence within a decade and adjust mortgage rules with the aim of making home-buying more affordable.

With the federal election less than six months away, Scheer used a speech Thursday in Toronto to share his economic pitch to voters.

The address tried to sell the Tories as careful stewards of the public treasury as opposed to the deficit-running Liberals that Scheer accused of using taxpayers’ pockets as a “bottomless pit.”

The Opposition leader told a business crowd that, if elected, he would work to create a dedicated route where it would be easier to approve major energy projects — from pipelines to power lines.

“With a single corridor, we could minimize environmental impacts, lower the costs of environmental assessments, increase certainty for investors, and, most importantly, get these critical projects built,” Scheer said to the Economic Club of Canada.

Planning and consulting for the right-of-way would be done up front, sparing industry of the complicated process of submitting proposals for new projects, he said. The corridor, he added, would be designed in full consultation with provinces and Indigenous communities.

Scheer promised to help ensure Canada no longer needs foreign oil — and be “fuelled exclusively by Canadians by 2030.”

Oil imports from countries like Iran, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia have supported regimes that “abuse human rights and take virtually no steps to protect the environment,” he said.

“The fact is Canada has more than enough oil — not only to displace imports from the aforementioned rogue states — but to put an end to all foreign oil imports once and for all,” he said of a goal that could boost the economy in Western Canada.

Scheer also touched on a housing-policy change that could have a significant impact on the economy and financial stability. Without providing much detail, he promised to adjust the tougher mortgage-lending rules introduced in recent years.

The policies were designed to cool sizzling housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver, and to slow further build-up of household debt loads already at record levels.

“I will re-work the mortgage stress test the Liberals brought in a couple of years ago that have pushed the dream of home ownership out of the reach of so many Canadians across this country,” Scheer said.

He also promised to work with provinces and municipalities to make sure new homes can come on the market at lower prices by eliminating regulatory barriers for construction.

The tightened mortgage rules, brought in by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, mandated would-be borrowers undergo a stress test to determine whether they could still make payments if faced with higher interest rates or less income.

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has credited stricter mortgage policies — the federal measures as well as those implemented by other levels of government — for helping ease vulnerabilities related to household debt and speculative behaviour in some markets.

Parts of Scheer’s speech followed the Conservatives’ almost-daily criticisms of the Liberals for abandoning their 2015 election vow to post annual deficits of no more than $10 billion and to balance the books by 2019. 

Instead, the Trudeau government has run bigger shortfalls, including deficits of more than $18 billion in each of the last two years, without a timeline to return to balance. The Liberals have argued the extra investments have been done in a responsible way and were needed to lift long-term economic growth.

Heading into the election, the fate of the federal balance sheet is poised to be among the most frequently debated issues.

Scheer didn’t provide a Tory vow for eliminating the deficit — but, in a line designed to fend off opponents’ attacks, he stressed that “drastic spending cuts” wouldn’t be necessary to get there.

Morneau said Scheer’s economic plan wasn’t credible and would indeed lead to cuts.

“They’re going to hurt people and, worse than that, they’re actually going to shrink our economy … and what that’s going to mean is fewer jobs,” Morneau told reporters in Toronto.

“What I can tell you is that Andrew Scheer is taking a risky approach.”

At the national level, the economy has enjoyed a strong run since 2017, except for a recent slowdown that lasted through much of the winter. The Liberals have tried to take credit for the performance.

On Scheer’s energy-corridor proposal, Morneau says it would only succeed in pitting provinces against each other. He also said Scheer’s vow on mortgage lending tests was “cavalier.”

In his speech, Scheer also pledged to kill the so-called infrastructure bank, a Liberal creation designed to attract private-sector investment for public construction projects. The Liberals have committed $35 billion in federal funding and backstops towards the bank.

Scheer promised to preserve Ottawa’s existing child benefit plan, create a “CETA accelerator” to help Canada reap the full benefits of its trade deal with Europe and reiterated an earlier promise to scrap the controversial federal carbon tax.

The address was the second in a series of speeches Scheer is using to introduce major Conservative policies ahead of the October vote.

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press


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Trans Mountain puts contractors on notice to get ready for pipeline restart

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OTTAWA — Construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is set to restart in the next month, just in time for the official kick-off of the federal election.

Trans Mountain Corp., the federal crown agency that owns and operates the pipeline, said Wednesday that work on the terminals in Burnaby, B.C. is set to restart immediately, while work laying pipe on the route in parts of Alberta are on track to start within the next month. Construction contractors were told they have 30 days to hire workers, prepare detailed construction plans and mobilize equipment.

“This is a major milestone,” said Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

Getting construction underway likely leaves many Liberals breathing a sigh of relief, including Sohi, whose riding is just a few kilometres from the Edmonton terminal where the pipeline begins. His already shaky re-election prospects would be even tougher if the pipeline remained stalled.

The federal campaign has to begin no later than Sept. 15 for an Oct. 21 vote, but Sohi said getting shovels in the ground on Trans Mountain has nothing to do with politics.

“I know people want to link this to elections,” he said. “I have never linked it to elections. I always tell that we owe it to Albertans, we owe it to Canadians, energy sector workers and communities who rely on middle class jobs that we get the process right.”

Sohi won in 2015 by less than 100 votes, one of only four Liberals elected in Alberta in the last election. All four seats are considered in play in this election, and anger in Alberta about the struggling oil industry is one of the reasons why.

Sohi visited with pipeline workers on site in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Wednesday. He told them that 4,200 people should be working on the project before the end of the year and the new completion date is in 2022. When the pipeline was initially approved in 2016, construction was supposed to be done by the end of this year.

Sohi also said the construction is going ahead “despite the fearmongering of some Conservative politicians to tell Canadians minutes after we approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that the construction will never happen.”

Edmonton Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux was not impressed with the news.

“Canadians have heard time and time again that Justin Trudeau wants to get pipelines built, yet in four years he has done the exact opposite,” Jeneroux said in an emailed statement.

The Conservatives say the Liberals have killed other pipelines and now have a new environmental assessment process coming in that will ensure no more pipelines are ever approved going forward.

“These decisions are all part of Justin Trudeau’s plan to phase out Canada’s oil and gas sector,” Jeneroux said.

The federal Liberals approved the Trans Mountain expansion in 2016, but the pressure to bring the project to fruition heightened in May 2018 when the government decided to buy the pipeline for $4.5 billion when Kinder Morgan Canada backed away under the uncertainty of numerous legal challenges and political fighting. The Liberals said the government would buy the pipeline, build the expansion and sell it back to a private investor.

The court decision three months later to rip up approval threw all those plans in jeopardy.

After another round of Indigenous consultations and a new review of the project’s impact on marine life off the coast of Vancouver, cabinet green-lighted the expansion for a second time in June.

Six British Columbia First Nations and at least two environment groups have filed new court challenges against the approval.

The Canadian Press


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Controversial Chateau Laurier expansion not good enough, McKenna says

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chateau-laurier-redesign-image1

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Catherine McKenna wants the owners of the iconic Chateau Laurier by Parliament Hill to come up with another plan for an addition to the historic hotel even after Ottawa’s city council approved the controversial expansion.

McKenna is the Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre and the senior minister for the Ottawa area.

“We are building for the next 100 years and I believe there is still time for common sense to prevail and for the community and the private sector owner to come together to achieve an outcome in which everyone can take pride,” she said in a statement after a second city council vote in two days supported the expansion plan.

The national historic site sits across the Rideau Canal from Parliament Hill and is just outside McKenna’s riding. Although she is the minister for Parks Canada, which oversees historic properties, McKenna doesn’t have direct authority over the privately owned building.

Larco Investments, which owns the hotel, has worked on its plan for nearly four years and sent five versions of the design to Ottawa city hall in that time. The squarish addition, to hold nearly 150 rooms, is designed by Toronto-based firm architectsAlliance, which is known for its condominiums.

Heritage architecture principles say that a new addition to an old structure shouldn’t copy the existing building; the multiple designs the Chateau Laurier’s owners have submitted have all been distinctly modern, as a choice to live up to the rule with an addition that’s clearly of its own time.

Critics, including numerous federal politicians, architecture professors and Ottawa’s most prominent civic heritage group, say the contemporary style clashes with the French-castle look of the existing building. Some have compared it to a radiator or a shipping container, or the box the rest of the Chateau Laurier came in.

With the backing of Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa city council voted 14 to 9 on Wednesday to let the project go ahead and confirmed that decision in a second vote Thursday, shutting down some councillors’ efforts to reconsider.

Nevertheless, McKenna said she believes it’s not good enough.

“I have been hearing loud and clear from residents in Ottawa Centre, the National Capital Region, and across Canada about the proposed Chateau Laurier addition. They care greatly that any addition to this iconic building in the heart of our capital be compatible with the building they love. Overwhelmingly, they do not and I do not believe that this outcome has been achieved,” she said.

McKenna said she’s been in touch with Larco and the city government and is willing to “participate in any discussion to achieve a better outcome.”

The National Capital Commission followed up by saying it will do everything it can to ensure the project is “executed in accordance with the highest standards of excellence.”

The Crown corporation stewards federal land and property, including Parliament Hill and a major park immediately next to the Chateau Laurier. That means the commission has some control over landscaping, public access to the hotel and the light and shadows it casts.

“In its discussions in the weeks and months ahead, the NCC will urge the proponent to be open to finding solutions and approaches that take into account the historic setting of the Chateau Laurier and its important role in defining the capital experience,” the commission said.

David Reevely, The Canadian Press


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