Senate QP: Rapid-fire Sohi

Fresh from a vote in the House of Commons, Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi headed over the the Senate for their own Question Period. Senator Smith led off for the Conservatives, asking him how the government is determining priorities for their infrastructure programme. Sohi acknowledged that when they formed government, there was a lack of data on the infrastructure needs around the country, which is why they put their initial focus on repairing existing infrastructure while they got the longer-term plan underway. Smith asked when they anticipated getting their data out to Canadians, and Sohi said that once the budget implementation act was approved, he would sit down with provinces to work with their reporting to match federal standards, given that it was all a series of bilateral agreements.

Senator Marshall asked about the Infrastructure Bank, and the status of it. Sohi explained its funding model and that they have launched the search for its chair and board, and that they hoped to have it up and running by the end of the year.

Senator Downe asked about the cost recovery of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, to which Sohi said that while they don’t have a final cost yet, all costs will be recovered via tolls over time so that it would be cost neutral to the government.

Senator Bernard asked about a family centre opened in Nova Scotia, and the promised infrastructure investments, especially how much was going toward Afro-Nova Scotian communities. Sohi acknowledged the marginalisation of that community, and touted their promised “social Infrastructure” spending which involved sitting down with provinces to help find projects that fit their needs.

Senator Gálvez asked about Infrastructure investment as it regards climate change. Sohi noted that they were committed to helping communities adapt, citing the need to replace underground pipes in Iqaluit, and noted that mitigation and adaptation were parts of their focus in investments.

Senator Patterson asked about barriers to improving solid waste and sewage projects in Nunavut, in part because of regulations requiring that sewage lagoons cannot be within four kilometres of an airport runway — a real problem in many small Northern communities. Sohi noted what he saw during his recent visit to the Territory, and he was planning to work with Minister Garneau to find a workaround to those regulations.

Senator Martin asked about the planned closure of the immigration processing centre in Vegreville — presumably under Sohi’s auspices as an Alberta minister. Sohi said that he met with the mayor of Vegreville a number of times and that he didn’t deny it would hurt the community but they have a strong business case for the move, especially as the work was transitioning to analysis and not clerical work.

Senator Eggleton asked about the backlog in repairs needed for public housing in Toronto, which needs critical funding. Sohi agreed that the need was fundamental, and touted the $11 billion as part of the National Housing Strategy, which included a long-term plan to build new housing on top of making needed repairs.

Senator Forest asked about the decision to locate the headquarters of the Infrastructure Bank in Toronto. Sohi noted that the needed expertise was found in Toronto, but that would not impact on where the funds would be available.

Senator Woo followed up, asking about the role of public-private partnerships that would be structured by the Bank. Sohi noted that Bank would complement the P3 Sector to achieve results, rather than compete with it.

Senator McIntyre wanted the PBO to have access to the information of the Bank, and Sohi promised to get back to him on the specifics, but assured him that they would have public accountability including through the Auditor General.

Overall, this was a bit of a different pace from most other Senate Question Periods, as Sohi was much snappier in his replies than many other minsters are – which isn’t to say that he stuck to the usual Commons-QP limits of 35 seconds, but he was fairly succinct in most answers, while elaborating in others. It meant that they exhausted their entire list of questions before the allotted time was up, which is unusual these days but there you have it.

Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Claudette Tardif for a gold patterned skirt with black patterning, with a black top and jacket with three-quarter sleeves, and to Senator Leo Housakos for a tailored black suit with a crisp white shirt and a light blue tie. Style citations go out to Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais for a black suit with a brown waistcoat, yellow shirt and black patterned tie, and to Senator Pierrette Ringuette for a white, black and red diagonal panelled dress.