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Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says her government’s recently tabled budget will be remembered as a key moment in Canada’s transformation toward a “green” economy.
“We should all be climate activists,” Freeland told the House of Commons finance committee on May 16.
“When people look back on the budget that we are all ultimately going to pass, I think what history is going to show is that this was the budget that really kicked Canada’s green industrial transformation into high gear with a worker-led agenda.”
Freeland made an appearance at the committee after they received her budget Bill C-47 for study. The bill completed first reading in the House on May 2.
Conservative MPs filibustered previous committee meetings to protest the length of the omnibus bill and Freeland’s lack of appearance to testify. The bill seeks to amend or introduce dozens of acts, including some unrelated to budgetary matters.
Freeland told the committee that her government has earmarked $120 billion for its “green industrial policy,” which she says will reduce emissions and create “a lot of jobs.”
The budget has a number of measures to promote electrification, including investment tax credits to support “clean” electricity projects. It also signals an intent to build up the battery manufacturing sector, highlighting the March announcement of Volkswagen’s future plant in St. Thomas, Ont.
Conservative MP Marty Morantz asked Freeland about billions in unannounced spending and raised the issue of subsidies offered to Volkswagen.
“We continue to work on attracting other investments of that kind because Canada needs it,” replied Freeland.
The federal government offered up to $13 billion in subsidies to the German carmaker. Now its competitor, Stellantis, who is currently building a plant in Windsor, Ont., has stopped construction while seeking a similar deal.
Servicing the Debt
Freeland averted questions from the committee about the cost of servicing the debt this year, even though the figure is publicly available in the budget. Conservative MP Adam Chambers repeatedly pressed the matter.
“Will you tell Canadians how much we’re gonna spend on servicing the debt next year?” he asked.
Freeland replied, “I think that it’s really important to put numbers in context. Without context, numbers are meaningless. Our debt service charges are low in Canada, in historical context, and they are low compared to what our peers in the G7 are paying.”
Chambers responded, “Thank you for the context,” repeating, “What’s the gross dollar value we’re going to spend on interest on the debt next year?”
“I really am opposed to fiscal fear-mongering by the Conservatives,” said Freeland.
The cost to service the debt for fiscal year 2021-2022 was $24.5 billion, for 2022-2023 it was $34.5 billion and will reach $43.9 billion for 2023-2024.
Chambers also asked how much the federal government would be sending to provinces and territories in health transfers.
“We’re spending almost as much on servicing the debt as we are spending on health care in this country. It bothers me that we’re not willing to admit this,” he said. New Canada Health Transfer measures are in the order of $46.2 billion.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.