Liberals Localize Spending Promises

McLeod says he’s not playing a “numbers game,” and favours projects like the Tlicho road, dredging the harbor at Hay River, and, long-term, the Mackenzie Valley Highway

In the hope of squeezing juice from Justin Trudeau’s “historic investment plan in the middle class,” as the Liberal spin machine bills its pledge to spend $125 billion on infrastructure over the next decade, candidate Michael McLeod put out a press release of his own on Monday.

“We know that investing in public infrastructure not only grows the economy and creates jobs, but makes our communities stronger,” said McLeod, who identified “the lack of federal funding as a roadblock to the development of the NWT. Investment in infrastructure is crucial.”

Confirmation that the economy is in a technical recession – two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the gross domestic product – could play to Trudeau’s campaign-trail assertion that infrastructure spending, and running deficits, are needed to get the economy moving.

Beyond technicalities, recent polls show that 58 percent of Canadians think the economy is performing poorly. That perception is reinforced by the falling dollar, the drop in oil prices that has stalled Alberta, former engine of the national economy, and recurring chatter about a real estate bubble that is about to burst.

News of uncertain economic prospects mark a sharp turn in the election campaign – away from a month of revelations at the Mike Duffy trial that put the Harper government on the ropes – to a focus on the bread-and-butter questions that keep voters awake at night.

Playing to the territory

The Liberal spending plan is driven by southern urban priorities, but it could also play to the territory’s need to cover a social housing deficit that McLeod estimates at around 3,500 dwellings, and ongoing programs to reduce dependence on diesel for heating and electricity.

The plan marks $49.1 billion – $19.7 billion each – for social housing and daycare, green energy projects and public transit over the next decade. That leaves almost $76 billion in wiggle room for northern projects like the Mackenzie Valley Highway, and an all-weather road to isolated Tlicho communities and stranded resources in the Great Slave Geologic Province.

Slow progress on the highway and filling the gap in social housing left by the withdrawal of federal funding can be traced to the moribund Mackenzie Gas Project, long the centerpiece in the territorial government’s economic development plan (which doesn’t imagine any alternative to resource extraction).

Like other territorial politicians, McLeod supports Imperial Oil’s application for a seven-year extension of its license to build the pipeline, largely because of the money already invested in the project.

If the Liberals form the next government, Trudeau’s spending plan calls for them to hit the ground running in their first term. McLeod told EDGE in an interview that he favours projects such as the Tlicho road, and dredging the harbor at Hay River, and regards the Mackenzie Valley Highway as “long-term, over 30 years.”

The Conservatives have promised to spend $50 million on the territory’s road over the next four years, but McLeod declined to commit to a specific spending plan for the Northwest Territories.

“I’m not going to get into a numbers game,” McLeod said. Echoing his Conservative rival Floyd Roland, he stressed the need for the territory to be represented on the winning side. “We need to be at the table, or we’ll be left out, like we have been with an NDP MP.”

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