Justin Trudeau weighs in on Paul Martin's decision to slash provincial transfers

Martin's decisions 'were the right decisions for the time' but Trudeau insisted he has no plans for transfer cuts

TROIS-RIVIERES, Que. — Justin Trudeau says former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin made the right decision when he moved to slash transfers to the provinces to balance the books, but says he will not be following the same path.

“In the 90s, the Liberal government at the time inherited the situation where our debt to GDP ratio was among the highest in developed countries,” the Liberal leader said Wednesday in Trois-Rivieres, Que.

“We were seeing our economy and our growth affected massively and negatively by the situation left to us by a Conservative government . . . we needed to restore our capacity to grow as an economy, by addressing our out of control deficit.”

Trudeau said Martin’s decisions “were the right decisions for the time” but he insisted that is not in the cards for a government under his watch.

“Right now, we have a very different situation where for 10 years, even though we have a very good debt to GDP ratio, we can’t seem to create growth,” Trudeau said, referring to his infrastructure spending plan, which he calls the largest in Canada’s history.

    Trudeau, who campaigned with Martin twice last week, said former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien will also join him on the campaign trail at a future date.

    Trudeau said he speaks with former Liberal prime ministers on a regular basis to ensure the party gets Canada back on the right track.

    The Liberal leader used a morning event to detail how his infrastructure investment will be divided in the years to come if the Liberals form government this fall.

    Trudeau said the party would invest in green infrastructure in a bid to stimulate the Canadian economy if it becomes government this fall.

    The price tag of this commitment is nearly $6 billion over four years and $20 billion over the next decade. That money is part of the almost $125-billion promised for infrastructure last week.

    “We will invest in things that will make your life better, like waste-water treatment plants and improved storm drain systems, and ensure resilient infrastructure that can withstand the more frequent extreme weather events coming our way,” Trudeau said.

    “Whatever the project, we will make sure we’re working with provinces and cities to make sure investments are made in the projects they really need.”

    The Liberals also say they will move to incorporate climate impact analysis into federal government contracting and act in “full partnership” with the provinces and territories that are already working to develop a pan-Canadian energy strategy.

    Trudeau’s Grits made a bold political play when the party announced it would run deficits of up to $10-billion a year for the next three years to funnel money into infrastructure projects.

    Trudeau is spending much of the week in Quebec, where the party is hoping to make inroads and fend off support for the New Democrats who picked up 59 of 75 seats in the province.

    Public opinion polls suggest the Liberals are still trailing far behind the NDP in Quebec, but Trudeau said he remains confident about growing the party’s support.

    Part of his strategy involves taking aim directly at NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

    “I look forward to Quebecers realizing that Mr. Mulcair is promising the same approach as Mr. Harper on the economy,” Trudeau said.

    Liberal support in the province is saturated in the Montreal area, including in Trudeau’s own riding of Papineau.

    The Liberals claimed seven seats in Quebec in the last election, a sliver of support the party once had under Martin and Chretien.

    Looking for more?

    Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.