Finance Minister Bill Morneau says several major economic issues are contributing to a broad sense of anxiety in the business community, and resolving these challenges is important to Canadian competitiveness.
Mr. Morneau sent the message that Canada would take a firm stand on several key issues, including the building of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Western Canada, the protection of its security interests when courting foreign investors and in the continuing North American free-trade agreement negotiations.
“You can’t potentially change trade relationships with your largest partner, face effectively a constitutional crisis between a couple of provinces and see tax rates significantly change in that largest partner without having people say, ‘What does this mean for me?’” Mr. Morneau said at a dinner event as part of the CanInfra Transformational Infrastructure Summit on Wednesday in Toronto. The summit follows months of crowd-sourcing ideas to solve the country’s major building challenges, and a contest to identify the top projects.
Mr. Morneau stressed that the government’s months of discussions on how to ensure Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd.’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is completed had become particularly important, not only as a piece of infrastructure to transport landlocked oil, but as an indicator of how the country can ensure that large, ambitious projects get built in Canada.
The remarks come as Kinder Morgan is negotiating with the government ahead of the deadline it set to reach a deal on the planned pipeline project. The company suspended all “non-essential” spending on it in April amid concerns about the amount of risk that legal uncertainty had added to the project. Kinder Morgan set an ultimatum that it must overcome B.C. government opposition and reach a deal to move ahead by May 31.
With B.C. and Alberta still at odds over whether construction should go ahead, the federal government said it would offer Kinder Morgan “indemnity,” or protection against losses on the project, to help ensure that the pipeline is built. On Monday, Mr. Morneau again stressed that building the pipeline is crucial.
“We really do … see it as an issue of the rule of law in our country. We’ve got a project that was federally approved after the most robust environmental assessment that has gone on in this country. It was provincially approved. We put in place a $1.5-billion oceans protection plan,” he said at the event.
Mr. Morneau also addressed Ottawa’s recent decision to block the proposed $1.5-billion acquisition of Aecon Group Ltd. by China Communications Construction Co (CCCC). He stressed that Canada’s relationship with China is still strong, but that the two countries have some fundamentally different approaches to trade and foreign investment to overcome.
“We wouldn’t even know how to make some of the investments that they’re making in our economy,” Mr. Morneau said. “When our businesses go over there they need joint-venture partners to do things their businesses can come here and do without joint-venture partners. So, there will always be differences between the two economies. We still think we can stage an opportunity for continued growth.”
He noted that reaching a free-trade agreement with China was a “long-term endeavour.”