O'Toole promises to scrap Liberal infrastructure bank, high-speed internet for all

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is promising to scrap the Liberal government's infrastructure bank and ensure every Canadian has high-speed internet by 2025.

Getting more shovels in the ground on massive public projects is one way he's pledged to recover Canada's economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.

O'Toole criticized the Liberal government for sitting on billions of dollars in what he called the "failed" Canada Infrastructure Bank, which was established after Justin Trudeau's win in 2015 to attract private dollars for public projects.

"Unlike the Liberals, we won't condition funding so narrowly, to whether the project can be described as 'green infrastructure,"' he told reporters on Wednesday from his party's downtown Ottawa broadcast studio.

The Conservative leader vowed to immediately dedicate the existing money to infrastructure that is ready to build and give cities and First Nations better access to federal infrastructure funding by cutting down on red tape.

O'Toole also promised that a Tory government would build the digital infrastructure needed to give all of Canada high-speed internet within four years.

The promises are the latest to be touted in the Conservative election platform that O'Toole rolled out on the first full day of the campaign, and which the Liberals attacked for not yet being costed.

"We've submitted our platform to the parliamentary budget officer as soon as we could," O'Toole said. "We will update Canada's Recovery Plan when the PBO gives us the confirmation back."

O'Toole repeated his promise to balance the budget within a decade -- without making cuts -- by reining in federal spending and achieving his party's goal of growing the economy by three per cent each year. Annual gross domestic product has leaped by that percentage only once since 2011.

Wednesday marked the first time during the campaign that the Conservative leader, who has had to answer about the conduct of his candidates, v was compelled to explain some of his own past behaviour.

Recently, a nearly two-minute video that was shared on Twitter showed O'Toole speaking to others on a Zoom video conference before he was elected leader last August.

In the clip, he says defeating Peterborough, Ont., MP and Liberal candidate Maryam Monsef would be a "personal project."

O'Toole goes on to call Monsef a "disgrace" and a "fraud," adding that she's not respected by her Liberal colleagues.

Monsef, who was born to Afghan parents who fled the country, said she was born in Afghanistan when she was first elected as an MP. When the Globe and Mail contacted her for comment on a story it was writing about Iran being her real birthplace, she said she asked her mother, who told her that was the case.

Monsef said she had been under the impression she was born in Afghanistan because her mother didn't discuss the issue after her father was killed, and that under Iranian law she wouldn't have been considered an Iranian citizen.

Asked about his past comments, O'Toole said he let his "frustrations boil over" with the Liberal government.

"As I've said, I'm trying to run a very positive campaign based on the future of our country. I think our best years are ahead of us, but we need leadership. We need a plan to get there, and even I have to step up my game at some points."

The Liberal party and Monsef's office did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The Conservatives have repeatedly criticized the government over the Canada Infrastructure Bank not having completed a single project. The Crown corporation was launched in June 2017.

In March, a stinging auditor general's report found the federal government can't show that the Liberals' $188-billion infrastructure plan is meeting its lofty goals.

The 12-year plan was a cornerstone of the Liberals' successful 2015 election campaign, betting that spending big on infrastructure would speed up economic growth, create jobs and improve Canadians' lives through new transit, green renovations and social projects.

But the audit of the plan showed the promise has been plagued by setbacks, with billions left unspent or delayed until later this decade and the lead department failing to provide "meaningful public reporting" on the plan's overall progress, auditor general Karen Hogan wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021.