July 7, 2021
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to a podium to announce the approval of Calgary’s massive Green Line LRT project today — minutes after the province scooped the presser by saying it had approved the city’s business case for the line and was waiting on Ottawa.
The sequence was part of a Trudeau tour through Calgary that saw its share of political sniping.
The project, estimated to cost $5.5 billion, was supposed to get underway this summer, but was delayed as the province pored over Calgary’s plans before signing off. It demanded changes — including to the way the project was split into segments.
When built, the first phase will whisk passengers from the city’s deep southeast suburbs and into downtown Calgary, while the second phase will carry them over the Bow River and into inner-city neighbourhoods to the north.
The province and the federal government have each pledged $1.5 billion for the line.
On Wednesday, all the hurdles cleared. The province said it passed its approval to Ottawa at the end of June and today, Trudeau gave the final word.
“This fall, construction on Phase One of the LRT Green Line will begin in Calgary’s Beltline and downtown,” Trudeau said this afternoon.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi thanked his city council colleagues. He noted it has been a year since city council voted to approve the Green Line’s final alignment and said he thought it would be approved quickly by the province.
“It’s not easy to support this, especially when you’re being attacked for it, from many different corners, especially when some of the partners may not be great partners at all times,” he said. “Council support for this has been unwavering.”
Nenshi said he was surprised by the province’s sudden approval of its Green Line commitment before today’s press conference but added that, despite the political battles, the approval represents an “historic funding commitment” from three levels of government.
It was a celebratory end to a day that started with the prime minister taking shots at his political rivals in the Conservative heartland, but fit into a larger story of moving forward on green initiatives.
Climate change and the new economy
Earlier in the day, responding to a question about climate change and economic opportunities for Alberta on Calgary’s Red FM, Trudeau said his government has taken steps that will help prepare the country for the future, such as the national price on carbon.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity in the fact that some politicians here in Alberta have been fighting against even recognizing that climate change is real, has slowed down Alberta’s ability to prepare for the economic future and the jobs of the future,” said Trudeau.
On the eve of the prime minister’s visit, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson also went on the offensive, singling out Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Twitter for opposing Ottawa’s decision to label all plastics as toxic.
“With only 9% of plastics being recycled, it’s time the Premier understands the environmental harm that comes from more than 3M tonnes of plastic worth $7.9B being thrown out every year. We’ll continue our climate & economic leadership and will always welcome the Premier to join,” he wrote.
Kenney’s government has looked to the petrochemical industry, including plastics, as a growth opportunity for the province. It introduced a new grant program to help encourage the industry that could pay out billions of dollars.
That program replaced a royalty credit program for petrochemical companies established under the previous NDP government.
Trudeau also jumped at an opportunity this morning to tout his government’s work against racism and to attack the previous Conservative government, which Kenney served as a cabinet minister.
“I have recognized systemic racism and discrimination and fought against it from the very beginning of my being elected as prime minister, protecting people’s rights, protecting minorities against Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who were talking about banning niqabs,” he said — a direct reference to a policy championed by Kenney to forbid face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.
The prime minister met with Kenney later in the morning; it’s not known what the two leaders discussed. The two held a photo opportunity after the meeting but took no questions.
A spokesperson for the premier’s office said Kenney was planning to discuss pipelines and the reopening of international borders, which have been closed due to COVID-19.
Spokesperson Jerrica Goodwin said the premier intends to discuss with Trudeau a fair deal for Alberta in the federation.
She said he also plans to argue that Ottawa should wait to fill any Senate vacancies until after Alberta’s October nominee elections.
“A lot of projections suggest we’re going to lead the country in growth and I look forward to talking to you about ways that we can make that happen, so Albertans who have been unemployed or underemployed for two years can get back to work. And I sure hope we can find common ground on that growth agenda,” Kenney said during the photo op.
Conservatives’ popularity falls in Alberta
Kenney has seen his popularity plummet since first being elected in 2019. Multiple polls over the past few months have said he is among the least-liked premiers in the country. Other surveys have suggested his United Conservative Party is trailing the Opposition NDP.
Likewise, federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has been struggling, even in the Conservative stronghold of Alberta.
A recent survey conducted by Janet Brown Opinion Research, on behalf of CBC News, found just 11 per cent of Albertans were “highly impressed” with O’Toole, putting him slightly behind Trudeau (at 17 per cent) and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (at 16 per cent) on that measure of favourability.
Throughout the press conference, Trudeau rebuffed questions about whether a federal election is coming soon. He did say on Red FM that it’s important for Alberta to have a voice within government.
“Having strong Liberal voices, in our caucus or around the cabinet table, was key to getting big things done for Alberta. Buying the Trans Mountain pipeline and getting it built happened because we had Amarjeet Sohi around our cabinet table fighting for that,” he said.
The Liberals currently have no MPs from Alberta.