New federal government unveils its priorities

On December 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his Ministers’ mandate letters. This builds on the precedent set in 2015 when these letters were made public for the first time. Mandate letters outline the Prime Minister’s vision for each Minister’s role in his cabinet and list some of the key priorities that he would like them to deliver over the course of the government’s mandate.

The mandate letter for Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna includes many of the promises made in the Liberal Party’s 2019 election platform, such as making the federal commitment to fund public transit permanent after 2027 and rise with the cost of construction over time. The mandate letter also indicates that the government plans to move ahead with its platform commitment to invest in 5,000 new zero-emission buses for transit and school boards.

Minister McKenna’s mandate letter likewise outlines a policy that will affect many CUTA members. Beginning in 2023, all new bus and rail rolling-stock procurement that is federally financed must be zero emission. While this is undoubtedly a big change in the future of urban transportation in Canada, the government has also pledged to work with municipalities on potential exemptions due to exceptional circumstances.

The mandate letters also put into motion a policy initiative designed to encourage the provinces and territories to identify infrastructure projects for each federal funding stream under the Investing in Canada Plan. All provinces and territories will need to identify and approve their long-term infrastructure priorities within the next two years. Otherwise, undesignated funds will be channeled to municipalities by way of a top-up to the federal Gas Tax Fund in 2021.

The mandate letters also give the clear indication that Transport Canada is mandated to move forward with VIA Rail’s high-frequency rail project in the Toronto-Quebec City corridor. On June 25, federal funding was announced to ‘explore’ high-frequency rail and was used to establish a joint project team with the Canada Infrastructure Bank. The high-frequency rail project involves separating passenger and freight rail operations by creating dedicated tracks for VIA Rail’s passenger service. By running on dedicated tracks, VIA Rail could increase frequency of service, reduce trip times by 25% and improve on-time performance by over 95%.

Shortly after receiving his mandate letter, Minister of Finance Bill Morneau unveiled the federal government’s Fall Economic Statement. The statement is sometimes used as a ‘mini-budget’ to announce policy changes along with updated economic and budgetary forecasts. This time, however, there was no change in policy with the Minister reiterating his mandate letter’s commitment to achieving a falling debt-to-GDP ratio and the maintenance of a AAA credit rating. Minister Morneau’s mandate letter also included a commitment to cut tax rates in half for companies that develop and manufacture zero-emissions technology. Eligible sectors include, among others, zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), batteries for use in ZEVs, and grid storage and electric vehicle charging systems.

CUTA’s public affairs team will continue to engage with decision makers in the federal government and their departments to discuss the policies set out in the mandate letters, and ensure that CUTA’s pre-budget recommendations are considered in the federal budget consultation process that will now run well into Q1 2020.  

For further information on the mandate letters, please contact Chad Jeudy-Hugo at

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