I would like to provide a little context for the proposal before you. The best way to do so is to distance ourselves from the wording. I will come back to it later on to explain the technical reason for the amendment. I am now speaking more generally.
Yesterday, the appeared before this committee. He tried to put a really big one over on us. He claimed that there was an increase in government expenditures of over 3.4 %, that is to say that we are in the process of spending 3.4 % of our gross domestic product in order to stimulate the Canadian economy. He said this was in order to align ourselves with the G-7 and the G-20. If that were true, it would indeed be the case and we would be in the process of aligning ourselves with the groups in question. There is a French expression to describe this. In English, it is something else. In French, we would call this freeloading.
The is trying to benefit from the work that is being done in other jurisdictions around the world at this time. In fact, when he tables these figures in order to explain the percentage of GDP that is currently being spent to stimulate the Canadian economy, he includes things over which he has absolutely no control, and which are in the end artificial.
Let's look at the facts. Here, we are beginning with clauses that refer to Treasury Board rules, and the minister has already announced that this will mean that the provinces and municipalities will be obliged to make investments equal to those of the federal government in order to benefit from these initiatives. We see the gimmick. He takes a very significant sum of money as a baseline—tens of billions of dollars—and then he says that this money will be spent to stimulate the Canadian economy. However, it is conditional. It is contingent upon the provinces, who often do not have the money to do so, or the municipalities, who in certain cases do not even have the right do deal with the federal government, contributing matching funds.
We will therefore move, over the course of the morning, a series of amendments to ensure that the municipalities in particular, and the provinces will be able to benefit from real a economic stimulus without being forced to contribute matching funds by the federal government.
That is why you were obliged to state that this amendment was in order: we are not asking for more to be spent than was provided for in the budget. We are staying within the set amounts, but we say that we must stop claiming that an equal amount will be added to this sum at the provincial or municipal level. That is a fiction; stop it. Take this money that is in your budgets and ensure that it will flow and be spent quickly.
I come back to what my colleague Mr. Menzies was saying earlier when he stated that this must happen quickly.
If my colleague Mr. Menzies is sincere in his wish to see this spending take place, he's going to vote in favour of this amendment, Mr. Chairman.
From Mr. Flaherty's speech yesterday, it's clear what the government is doing. This fiction of over 3% GDP spending to stimulate the economy is just that; it's an intellectual fraud perpetrated on the population, because the sums they put up, the $10 billion or so in infrastructure and other spending they refer to, is conditional upon the municipalities or provinces ponying up a similar amount. That's why the amendment here is being declared receivable. We're not asking the federal government to spend a dime more than what's been provided for in the budget. What we are saying is that the money can flow.
Everybody has used the new buzzword “shovel-ready”. None of these guys has ever held a shovel, but that doesn't matter; it has to be shovel ready. You can see them out there with their bulldozers.
Those projects can indeed start being built, and the construction can begin, if this money doesn't have strings attached. Right now it's pure fiction. They're assuming that provinces or municipalities are going to spend money they don't have. What is provided for in the budget is money the federal government does have, and we want that money to flow. We want it to go to infrastructure and other programs where it can count.
The amendment being proposed by the New Democratic Party to section 300 is to replace the line in section 300 that provides that the Treasury Board will set conditions. We're going to add this: “except those requiring contributions from other levels of government”.
We keep with the same amount, in this case $2 billion, to provide funding for infrastructure projects primarily related to infrastructure rehabilitation. This is one of the first amounts, a specific $2 billion for infrastructure rehabilitation, and the NDP is proposing we take away the strings the government has attached so the money will actually be spent.
The Liberal Party has pointed out and has done the research to prove that in the past year money that was targeted for infrastructure spending in Canada was not spent. In fact, only 4% of targeted infrastructure money actually made it out the door. That, of course, is a problem of competence in public administration, but it's beyond that. It's an indication of the fact that these are just numbers on a piece of paper if we keep strings attached to them.
What we're trying to do, Mr. Chairman, is to make sure that what everybody seems to agree on, that the economy needs to be maintained, that stimulus spending is part of the solution, actually occurs.
The Conservatives are playing sleight of hand here. This is a shell game. They're saying they're putting $2 billion on the table, but the provinces and municipalities are going to have to pony up and that's going to be a condition of getting access to the money. It's never going to make it out the door. The provinces and municipalities don't have that money, but they have the projects, the so-called shovel-ready projects.
As for the projects ready to be built yesterday, we had the Canadian Urban Transit Association here in committee. They provided us with a very long list of projects ready to go in cities across Canada. It's an important area in which to be spending. Here we're talking about infrastructure rehabilitation. A lot of things can be done with that as well, Mr. Chairman, but the money will not flow, the projects will not be built, and more importantly, Canada will simply be slipstreaming. It will simply be following in the wake of the current being produced by the other economies that are actually spending the 2% to 3% of GDP to stimulate their economies. This is what the Conservatives are actually up to. There's no real intention on the part of the Conservatives to spend this money because this type of condition they're putting in ensures that it will be like a lot of their other promises in the past; it's not going to happen.
I'm thrilled to know that for once the Liberals are actually going to vote for something, because of course having done the excellent work they did last week--and I find it's important in politics to be able to recognize when something is done well by another party--the Liberals actually did something well. They did their homework, they crunched the numbers, and they were able to prove that 96% of the money that was promised last year was never spent. I'm sure, Mr. Chairman, this time the Liberals, having done that homework, having proved that the Conservatives can't be trusted when they put up numbers on infrastructure spending, are actually going to, for once, find their spinal column and vote for something. In this case, it's not for a single penny more of expenditure so they can be relieved. It can't be considered a confidence motion because we're not requiring the government to spend another penny.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I suspect that if they don't vote for this, Mr. Chairman, the Liberals will be proving that they actually fear fear itself, because there is no logical fear here. I know how afraid they are of being wiped out by the NDP in the next general election. That's why they won't be calling it any time soon or they won't be joining with us in defeating the government any time soon. Whether or not that election ever comes before becomes eligible for his pension...no, he'll never become eligible for his pension. He's never worked in Canada, but that's an aside. Let's just say that, sticking with the subject of clause 300, the Liberals finally have a golden opportunity to show that they have principles, that they didn't do all this for their own self-interest, that their voting 53 times in the House with the Conservatives is now over. On an issue where they've done their homework, where they've proven that the Conservatives can't be trusted and that we're doing something to make sure the money actually flows to the provinces and to the municipalities on infrastructure, we're convinced, Mr. Chairman, that the Liberals are finally going to find their hands, the ones they have been sitting on for three and a half years throughout the Dion-Ignatieff reign. They're finally going to follow leadership and they're going to vote to make sure the money flows.
Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
My colleague Mr. Crête raises an excellent question. I can tell him about an experience I had when I was a minister in the Quebec provincial government. I found myself facing an immovable obstacle in the person of the former Liberal leader, Mr. Dion, on the issue of the $326 million which represented Quebec's share in the area of climate change, if you recall. Ontario had received $550 million and Mr. McGuinty was very proud to explain the way in which he had obtained this amount. When Quebec asked for its share, you should have seen the conditions that the federal government suddenly wanted to impose on the province. Furthermore, it absolutely wanted to deal directly with municipalities. These being creatures of the Quebec parliament, however, it was out of the question that the federal government deal directly with them or choose the programs.
Of course, this would depend on the attitude of the province concerned. In fact, some of them would have no problem with it. All I can say is that Quebec legislation would continue to apply. The absolute ban on municipalities dealing with the federal government remains in place, and the Province of Quebec will take care of what happens within its borders. Could the federal government repair one of its own bridges? Yes, but within the limits of what they can do today.
In summary, we wish to amend clause 300 by replacing line 35. It currently reads as follows:
300. There may be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund, on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, a sum not exceeding $2 billion to provide funding for infrastructure projects primarily related to infrastructure rehabilitation.
The change would amend line 35 which would then read as follows:
300. On the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, except those requiring contributions from other levels of government, a sum not exceeding $2 billion [...]
In summary, and in answer to my friend and colleague Mr. Crête, the intention of this amendment is quite simply to make it impossible for the federal government to make this expenditure conditional on matching contributions from the provinces or municipalities.
I would be so bold as to conclude by saying that the problem is, at the moment, that the federal government presumes to be able to spend the municipalities' and provinces' money. They are so certain of it that these funds are included in the figures that the minister provided us with yesterday, when he appeared before the committee. He boasted of the fact that the stimulus package represented more than 3% of GDP. It is this assumption that is arrogant and that goes against the federal compact. He is telling us that the provinces and the municipalities will spend these sums.
That is why we are removing those strings. The money should be divided among the provinces on a proportional basis for projects that will be determined.
Our second amendment seeks to amend clause 301 which is currently found under the title “Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Funding Program.”
Clause 301 reads as follows:
There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, a sum not exceeding $495 million to provide payments to provinces and territories under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Funding Program for infrastructure projects.
We propose amending lines 2 and 4 as follows:
There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board—except those requiring a contribution from another level of government— a sum not exceeding $495 million to provide payments to provinces and territories under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Funding Program for infrastructure projects.
You will understand, Mr. Chair, that this topic is different from the preceding one. This is why they must be dealt with separately. Once again, the people who advised you on these matters have told you that these amendments are fully authorized. The people listening to us may wish to understand why some of the amendments proposed were never debated. It is because by proposing an amendment that incurs additional expenditures for the government, we are violating one of our own rules. A committee is not entitled to order a new expenditure.
However, our committee is entitled to amend the conditions set out to make this money available. This program provides for $495 million for the provinces and territories. That is a substantial amount. As has already been said, if we look at their past record, we cannot rely on the Conservatives to deliver the funds that they promise under these programs. Statistics have shown that only 4 per cent of past funding has been paid out of the public purse. It is possible to improve the provinces' financial situation with federal monies and that's what we're trying to do here today, except that the Conservatives insist on setting yet another condition, namely, that the municipal and provincial governments match federal funding. But that's completely unrealistic, because most municipalities simply cannot afford to do so.
I'm going to give you a very specific example, that of my home town: Montréal. Mayor Tremblay stated categorically that he simply does not have that money. We're not talking about a direct transfer of funds for this purpose: the condition is that he come up with money that he does not have. Once again today, we witness obstacles being put in the way of a project for which funding will not be able to flow.
Mayor Miller of Toronto said the same thing. It is crystal clear from his reaction to the budget that these amounts will never see the light of day. Once again, we can see how the Conservatives try to burnish their image. With the figures they spout, they're trying to make us believe that they will meet G7 and G20 requirements and spend over 3 per cent of our GDP to stimulate the economy, but that's not the case.
With the proposed amendment to clause 301, the NDP is seeking to eliminate the requirement that the provinces and municipalities match federal funding. We feel that this is the best way to ensure that the funds allocated — and we're not changing the amounts — are actually spent.
I said it delicately and a little bit indirectly when we talked about clause 300. However, since the term jurisdiction has been used, I want to be as clear. The amendment we are proposing, if adopted, would ensure that the money would really be spent. If our proposal is rejected and nothing else is added with regard to jurisdiction, then nothing will be done to ensure that the money is truly spent. I think that the Bloc is making a mistake with this here today.
It is always important to ensure that the rights of the provinces, pursuant to the federal compact, be respected at all times, in all respects the same way that Quebec has prohibited municipalities from dealing directly with the federal government. We believe these things go together.
I ask my Bloc colleagues to think about the meaning of the amendment on the table. Our proposal changes nothing, except the fact that, if passed, we will have taken out the obligation of municipalities or provinces to contribute matching funds. As I said earlier, nothing changes with regard to jurisdiction. Under existing agreements, jurisdiction would remain with Quebec, which will always prohibit direct dealings with the municipalities. I think this is a good idea, which is somewhat paradoxical, given the extensive research done by the Liberal Party and made public by Gerard Kennedy last week. It proves, with statistics and analysis to back it up, that 4% of the billions promised last year in the budget have never seen the light of day.
It's an excellent reason to vote in favour of this amendment in order to ensure that the money will really be spent. It would be unfortunate not to do so because you cannot make another clarification for technical reasons. You are presuming there will be a problem, but there might not be. That said, this clarification would not create one either way. However, it is clear that if this amendment is not adopted, the condition that the City of Montreal provide matching funds will remain. The money will therefore never be spent and the City of Montreal will not be able to complete its projects. Whatever the case may be, the City of Montreal will always be subject to Quebec legislation, legislation passed by the Quebec National Assembly, which prohibits the municipalities of Quebec, including the City of Montreal, from dealing directly with the federal government.
I am appealing to the good sense that I know my Bloc colleagues have and I'm asking them to vote in favour of this amendment. We would be abandoning municipalities in Quebec if we do not vote in favour of the amendment.
It might have been useful to add that if we could have, but we can't. You have ruled the amendment out of order. Let's deal with things as they are. We would have liked to do that in line with provincial priorities and the maintenance of project control, but we can't.
What we can do, however, is not impose an obligation on the City of Montreal to find amounts that it does not have in order to access federal funding. Let's at least take away what we can take away. It's like saying that, because you cannot repair both the doors and windows of a house in which both need to be repaired, you won't at least repair the windows. We could repair one defective element in this bill. If I understand correctly, the Bloc's argument is that, since we cannot repair two things, we will not even repair the one thing we can repair. I don't think that argument holds water.
What we should do, rather, is help the City of Montreal. I know that is not the Bloc's first concern. I would also like to help the City of Toronto. Mayor Miller has been very clear on this—he needs to have the money flow as well.
So, Mr. Chairman, I think we have to do everything we can to make sure the money actually flows. Mayor Miller of Toronto has been very clear on this matter, that he won't be able to come up with the funds to match the federal funds. A lot of the provinces are in the same boat. So once again we're faced with the following situation, where the federal government is putting up a large number, saying that it represents Canada's stimulus spending to meet the G7 and G20 requirements, but they're making it conditional; there are strings attached, and we think that's a mistake. What we're trying to do with clause 301 is to remove some of those strings to make it possible for cities like Montreal and Toronto to have access to that money.
And I'll say in ending that it's very clear from the fact that a lot of this money goes to the current Minister of Transport, , and—I hope this doesn't come as a shock to you—he is just slightly partisan. I know this might come as a bit of a surprise, but he's ever so mildly partisan, and he has made it clear before certain groups, including groups that work in areas such as urban transit, that they'd better come from an area that has some Conservative MPs if they want to see any of the money. So with this slush pot they're putting together, we could, at the very least, make sure some of it flows to the cities, like Montreal and Toronto, that won't be able to match the funds if we don't make this change.
That's why we maintain our suggestion, Mr. Chairman, that clause 301 be amended as we suggested, that is to say, that clause 301 be amended to take away the requirement for cities or the provinces to match the funds, and that the money spelled out in clause 301 actually flows to infrastructure projects in conformity with the provincial-territorial infrastructure base funding program.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The third amendment moved by the New Democratic Party amends clause 302 of Bill , which covers the communities component of the Building Canada Fund. It would amend line 15 on page 287. Clause 302 reads as follows:
302. There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, a sum not exceeding $250 million to provide funding for infrastructure projects in communities that have a population of less than 100,000.
After replacing line 15 on page 287, the amended clause would read as follows:
302. There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, except those requiring contributions from other levels of government, a sum not exceeding $250 million [...].
Mr. Chairman, I am convinced that my Bloc Québécois colleagues will support this amendment, because this covers communities that have fewer than 100,000 people. Under current National Assembly legislation, those communities are officially prohibited from dealing directly with the federal government. Quebec will thus find its prerogatives intact.
I hope that my colleagues from Ontario, who represent regions with communities comprising less than 100,000 people, will agree and see the wisdom of this amendment. Once again, we are assuming that municipalities, towns and communities comprising fewer than 100,000 people can provide significant amounts to match the amounts provided by the federal government. Two hundred and fifty million dollars is quite a sum. That money will have to flow. However, as we have already said, if the funding is provided on condition that those small communities match it, we can safely bet that the money will never flow, and will never leave government coffers. That would once again support our belief that the Conservatives are simply claiming that they will spend enough money to come up with a figure that stands at over 3% of GDP, but do not really mean to spend any of it.
Here, an assumption is being made about the money that communities, cities and provinces will spend. The government has also claimed that it has saved some $8 billion by cutting spending in departments—that is a joke, Mr. Chairman, because Conservatives are the worst public administrators in Canada's history. In just three years, before tabling this budget, they had already increased government spending by $40 billion a year, over 23%, without any concrete results for Canadians. It goes without saying that even more spending is provided for here, Mr. Chairman. Once again, there is no vision and there are no real results.
In addition, the government is now talking about $250 million that will go to communities. Yet, we already know that those communities are in no position to provide their own share of the funding, a share they must put up before the money can actually flow.
In defence of those communities with a population of less than 100,000, the New Democratic Party begs its colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party to understand that the money will never be spent if they do not support our amendment. Our amendment is in order because it does not incur additional government spending. What we do want, however, is for the federal government to actually spend the money, and to stop making that spending conditional on municipalities' or provinces' matching the funds.
Mr. Chairman, to sum things up in English, right now we're looking at the communities component of the Building Canada Fund, $250 million for communities with a population of fewer than 100,000 people. I think that in a municipality with less than 100,000 people it's quite obvious we're going to be dealing with the type of situation we've already described. The federal government is putting up a big number, $250 million, but it's not going to get spent.
Most of those municipalities can't pony up the cash to meet their part of the obligation. Provinces have already said that money won't be there. And to assuage my colleagues from the Bloc, I would remind them that existing provincial legislation in Quebec, duly enacted by the National Assembly of Quebec, provides that those municipalities are not allowed to deal directly with the federal government, so any concern that they might have regarding jurisdiction is obviated.
I think the City of Montreal, as much as the City of Toronto in the previous example, deserves their money; the smaller towns and cities of Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and all the other areas of Canada that so sorely need this money--there are a lot of municipalities that fall into this category of under 100,000--deserve the support. They don't have the money to meet this new requirement that they match funds with the federal government. That's why we're proposing it be removed. The amount, of course, is being maintained; there just won't be any strings attached anymore, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Yesterday, our friend Mr. McCallum, on behalf the Liberals, tried to get the minister to say that everything, every comma in the bill, should be seen as a question of confidence. That would mean that the government would feel free to go to see the Governor General to call an election—I suppose that is what he is hoping for. With a leader as weak as Mr. Ignatieff, I would not blame him for doing so.
However, the Liberals are inventing fears. There are some matters in a budget that are not questions of confidence. Removing such a condition is acceptable in your opinion, Mr. Chair, because this does not involve any expenditures. So the Liberals can vote for that.
However, yesterday, the Liberals managed to invent some fears when they questioned Mr. Flaherty on this. They are afraid to be afraid. If they're not afraid enough, they will invent a fear so that everyone continues to be afraid and to provoke the Conservatives. I dare say that my friends in the Bloc are inventing a fear this time, because all we are trying to do here is to remove the requirement placed on municipalities with a population of less than 100,000 to spend an amount equal to the amounts to be spent by the federal government.
If we make this change, the municipalities in question—and there are many of them in the various regions—will be able to get these funds without having to contribute the same amount of money. We can almost understand for the other levels of government. In the case of the provinces, or more generally the federal government, we could follow their argument that this was not clear. However, they cannot argue that in the case of clause 302. It is legally impossible to claim that in clause 302 there is a concern about a lack of respect for provincial prerogatives and jurisdiction. It is impossible to seriously claim that there is such a concern with clause 302, because Quebec has legislation which absolutely prevents municipalities from dealing with the federal government. It is written quite clearly, in black and white. That cannot be changed. They cannot change that. So there is no reason to be afraid.
So this is a case where the Liberals are inventing fears in order to support the Conservatives. They are afraid of defeating the government; that is quite a feat! This is unique in Canadian political history. We have an official opposition that has become the official abstention here today. We have seen them do it. They are afraid of being afraid, of failing to live up to their own record of voting with the Conservatives. I think their record of abstaining today will be equal to their record of voting with the Conservatives in the past. It is sad and pathetic to see people elected to stand up for their communities just lying down and playing dead. We knew they were sell-outs, but we didn't know that their price was zero.
However, I'm looking again at clause 302; that is what we are talking about here. I will call on my colleagues in the Bloc Québécois to realize that municipalities with fewer than 100,000 people will not get any money at all for their projects if we do not pass this amendment. I do not think we have to get into far-fetched constitutional arguments to vote against an amendment that would simply make things easier for these municipalities. We are trying to make things easier for them. That is the objective. This would remove the condition that the government could impose through Treasury Board regarding matching funding. I have the right to present this motion because it does not involve any additional expenditure of money. I would suggest that my friends in the Bloc think about clause 302, which is different from clauses 300 and 301, and vote for the amendment.
Who knows? There may be some hope. Life is all about hope. The Liberals may find their backbone and vote with us to remove from municipalities the requirement to match federal funding in order to have access to these funds which, as the minister constantly reminds us, are being spent.
He says that this is real money. He cries it from the rooftops. He says he has complied with the demands of the G7 and G20, but he has not, and this has been proven here today.
Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This amendment has to do with the Green Infrastructure Fund. Clause 303 reads as follows:
303. There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, a sum not exceeding $200 million to support infrastructure projects that promote a clean environment.
This time we would replace line 24 with the following:
303. There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, except those requiring contributions from other levels of government, a sum not exceeding $200 million to support infrastructure projects that promote a clean environment.
In light of the chainsaw massacre that the Conservatives are about to inflict on the century-old Navigable Waters Act, I think that at the very least we must ensure that these sums, however small, provided for in clause 303 not come with any strings attached. We therefore suggest that this money be made freely available, with no restriction.
Unfortunately, if we do not pass this amendment, the money will never be spent, except in the form of patronage from Minister Baird.
We are therefore suggesting that the requirement for matching funding from the municipality or another level of government be removed. We are asking that the money for green infrastructure start flowing. We would have liked the budget to do more along these lines.
In Brundtland's view, sustainable development may be defined as one generation's obligation not to pass on an environmental, social or economic debt to a future generation. However, unfortunately, this budget is passing on a heavy financial debt to future generations. At the very least, there should have been provision for green infrastructure, which would have benefited future generations. However, this was not done. The sums mentioned in clause 303 are tiny.
So we are moving an amendment that would prevent the federal government from making this funding for green infrastructure conditional on matching funding. Our objective is to get the money flowing. As with the amendments to preceding clauses, we want to ensure that the money will actually start flowing.
Mr. Chairman, in summary, the amendment is proposed to clause 303, which right now reads:
There may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, on the requisition of the Minister of Transport, in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board, a sum not exceeding two hundred million dollars to support infrastructure projects that promote a clean environment.
We find that unfortunately we're already bequeathing to future generations a heavy financial burden, because we're going into debt with this budget, so they have to pay it off. The very least would have been for us to come up with some real spending on the environment through green renewable energy, clean renewables. Something that future generations would at least be able to take advantage of if we're going to be leaving them with this debt. What we have in fact is a rather paltry sum of $200 million in section 303, and this is why we've been proposing the conditionality be taken out in these various sections.
The problem is that when you say in clause 303 “in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board”, of course the government has already announced that those terms and conditions will include the obligation to have matching funds. So what we in the NDP are saying is that we'll take out that condition, so we're saying “Treasury Board, except those requiring contributions from other levels of government”, whether they be municipal or provincial. We want the money to actually flow. We don't find the money sufficient, but we do think that at the very least, if the government is going to be putting up this number of $200 million for spending on green infrastructure, it should not be conditional on similar spending by the municipalities or the provinces.
That's why the NDP's amendment 4 seeks to remove from clause 303 this condition, which the Treasury Board could impose, that there be similar contributions from other levels of government.
Now, you've already ruled that these amendments are acceptable under the provisions governing the workings of these committees as we look at a budgetary statute, because we are not asking that new money be spent. If my amendment had sought to change $200 million to $250 million you would have ruled it out of order. I'm not asking the government to spend more money, although I would like them to, but that's not the purpose of this amendment. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the paltry $200 million that is there on the environment...I say it's paltry not because $200 million is an unimportant sum but because in relation to the overall needs of the environment and our obligations toward future generations it is very minor. We want to make sure that, despite the fact that it is minor, it actually gets spent.
In closing, since in this case there can be no link of any sort with relations between the federal government and Quebec, I hope my colleagues in the Bloc will support this amendment to remove the conditionality of green funding. If we start talking about jurisdiction or trying to deal with constitutional disputes, the same objection can be made to everything. If the objective is to help Quebec generally, then ultimately, we must be practical.
We just saw the Bloc vote against an amendment that would have allowed funding to go to municipalities with populations of less than 100,000. I hope that in the case of the environment, the Bloc will not vote against this amendment, which seeks to ensure that the money will actually be spent. In the case of the Liberals, we can always hope for a miracle. For once in their lives, I hope they will not give in and simply play dead as they do every day. I hope they will summon up a little courage and behave not like the official abstention, but rather the official opposition.
I'd love to speak to this amendment.
You have heard from my colleague the finance critic for the NDP the general reasoning for this amendment throughout Bill . You will understand that our concern is with the requirement on the part of the federal government to engage in cost-sharing arrangements with municipalities and provincial governments. You've heard that this places an unanticipated and most likely intolerable burden on our municipalities and provincial governments at a time when investment in infrastructure, and in this case particularly investment in housing, is so critical.
If there is ever an item or a matter pertaining to infrastructure and investment that will stimulate the economy and help people through the worst times of an economic recession, it is housing. I don't need to tell you, Mr. Chairperson, how much we've missed having a national housing policy in this country. Your government has made an attempt to start to put some money back after the Liberals basically destroyed any kind of national housing policy.
Let me take you back to 1993, when we dealt with the cuts. The 1995 budget, in particular, dealt with the cuts of the then Liberal government under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the finance minister, Paul Martin. So many programs were gutted in order to deal with an economic downturn. In particular--I won't go into this too much--we noticed the biggest cut in the history of this country in terms of health and social policies. By the way, that was to a tune of about $6 billion, and we are just now beginning to catch up, just now beginning to be back where we would have been back in 1995, without even considering the increase in the cost of living. Less noticed than the areas of health and education was the move by the federal Liberals to actually exit the field of housing completely, leaving Canada one of the only countries in the advanced industrial world that does not have a national housing policy. That's an embarrassment.
What we have said in this budget is that there must be a return to a national housing policy. While we acknowledge the small steps taken by the Conservatives, by this government, we are very worried that the amounts themselves are so small that they will not create the critical mass needed to turn around a deteriorating housing situation in this country, and that the moneys available once more require matching contributions by the municipalities and provincial governments at a time when either they are already stretched to the limit or when some provinces have started to make investments--such as my own. The Manitoba NDP government has started.... I shouldn't say they've started; it's been over a long period of time that it's been making significant investments in housing, and it desperately needs the federal government at the table--not negating or minimizing the work that's already been started, but supplementing and complementing that work.
So it's really critical, in our view, that the moneys that are available for housing, however small they may be, are there without necessarily requiring matching contributions by provinces and municipalities. You should know, especially when it comes to the area of social housing, that many have commended the federal government for beginning, for taking a small step towards covering social housing. But if you look at the amounts, you'll know they will address hardly the tip of the iceberg in terms of social housing needs in this country. And I hope you've heard from social housing coalitions about the importance of this area and just how minimal this is. So it's more important in that context to ensure that the money flows freely to support and complement provinces and municipalities and does not impose further restrictions on them.
In the case of the Manitoba NDP government, we are working actively to try to advance housing when it comes to people living with mental illness. And there are some projects under way, but there are so many more needs. So it would be absolutely counterproductive for the government to come forward with a proposal that says that the money set aside for a project dealing with housing for people with mental health problems has to be included in the overall amounts. It doesn't make sense when there is such a huge need.
This recommendation is actually a way to speed up the investment of money in housing so it's not hampered and tied up by municipal requirements and provincial government planning but, in fact, can flow quickly without all that bureaucracy and paperwork. It will ensure not only that are housing needs met but that we can actually stimulate the economy because we have moved quickly and expediently to address what is considered to be one of the most fundamental issues in terms of the present recession, or what some would call an economic depression.
Mr. Chair, I don't know how much you've heard from my colleague who spoke before me, ; I hope I'm not repeating any of the arguments. I hope the Liberals understand the importance of this amendment, because they bear some responsibility for the cutbacks to housing in the first place. Secondly, they have expressed a desire to see the money flow quickly and to not repeat the pattern of the past in which, as they acknowledge, 95% or 96% of federal investment dollars did not flow or were not spent.
Here is another way to make sure we meet a very serious need as quickly as possible. And I can tell you, coming from an older neighbourhood in the north end of Winnipeg, that in the twelve years that I've been around--and I've witnessed the cutbacks of the federal Liberals, and now the very slow movement of the Conservatives--housing has been deteriorating rapidly. We're talking about old housing stock that needs a rapid injection of funds to help homeowners repair homes, to help non-profit housing corporations build new homes, and to help organizations involved in the aboriginal community, the disabled community, people dealing with mental illness, and seniors in particular. All of those groups need to have access to these funds.
In many cases, the provincial governments are ready to work with those organizations. There is goodwill in terms of the federal, provincial, and non-profit communities, and I would hope that we can advance this money and these issues as quickly as possible. And I hope that the federal Liberals, especially, will recant their past sins and agree with us that it's time to work together to develop a national housing policy. The way we do it is by spending this money, which some would consider a paltry amount of money, and getting housing stock revitalized and our economy stimulated.
Thank you. I hope that's been a fulsome explanation of my amendment.
Did you miss me?
Mr. Chairperson, nowhere is the matter of inadequate housing so clear as when it comes to seniors. I'm sure all of my colleagues around this table have heard from our valued senior citizen members who feel that housing is not there when they need it. Nowhere is there more of a requirement to invest in housing than when it comes to seniors.
So this amendment deals specifically with the housing issues that I've raised before, but it specifically deals with the matter of senior citizens. So I would like you to look at page 133 of the Conservative budget, Canada's Economic Action Plan, where it refers to housing for low-income seniors, where it says that in fact investments are needed and should be, have to be, cost-shared with the provinces and the territories.
Again, Mr. Chairperson, we're going to put in place an unnecessary roadblock. We're going to slow down the flow of this money at a time when it's critically needed, when senior citizens are living in poverty. I am not saying all senior citizens live in poverty. I'm saying some of the greatest poverty we face as a nation is among our senior citizens, who have given so much to this country. In fact, some of the greatest poverty rests with our veterans, who have made sacrifices for this country. So it seems to me that if we honour those people, our seniors who built this country and our veterans who fought for it, then we ought to at least ensure that this money is available when they need it for quality housing. Why do we allow for any kind of bureaucratic process to slow down the flow of this money?
I would hope that my colleagues in the Bloc and the Liberals would agree with this at least. They may not have agreed with other amendments, but here is something that hits so close to home in terms of people who deserve to be treated with respect and who deserve prompt government action, who have waited a long time for the federal government to say yes, let's get involved in housing to some extent.
In fact, I remind my colleagues around the table that after the Liberals abdicated this field of housing, period, the only housing money that flowed among the federal, provincial, and municipal governments came as a result of Bill which, as you will all know, was the legislation pioneered by the NDP that diverted money-- billions of dollars from corporate tax breaks--to areas like housing, urban transit, aboriginal communities, and the environment. So the only money that has flowed from the federal government over the last...I don't know how many years of any substance and significance has been that money.
Provinces have tried to invest that money, have tried to put it in trust, have tried to spread it out, and they have said very clearly to the federal government that they need the support of their federal partners on housing, especially when it comes to seniors' housing. We have huge line-ups and waiting lists, whether we're talking about independent living arrangements or supported arrangements. That kind of situation has to be met on an urgent basis, and so by specifying that we do this in accordance with Treasury Board rules and in accordance with the plan laid out by the federal government whereby it has to be cost-shared with provinces and territories, we're cutting off our nose to spite our face. We're denying the very people we set out to help.
This budget was supposedly there to help people in times of need. Who is hurt more than anyone else in times of economic recession? The elderly, people with disabilities, the poor, those who don't have huge savings with which to withstand the economic blows of the present times, those who have been hurt by some of these fraudsters out in the marketplace ripping off people and seniors. We're talking in the House right now, as we speak, about whether or not we need a national securities commission.
So here we have an opportunity to act. Here we have an opportunity to make the money flow quickly. I hope that my Liberal friends at least will support us on this one. I know they're propping up the Conservatives. I know that they've ceded 50 votes in favour of the Conservatives. They don't seem to blink when you sing happy anniversary to them for their fifty-third vote in favour of the Conservatives. I know it's hard for them, and they're holding their noses, and they're doing it out of political expediency, not for the good of this country. We know all that. But surely on this one issue they could at least support something as rational and progressive as this measure, which would be to allow money to flow quickly to senior citizens and to meet the housing needs, which in turn will help stimulate the economy.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I hope I made my case effectively.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to move that clause 314 of Bill be amended by replacing line 17 on page 290 with the following:
except those requiring contributions from other levels of government, a sum not exceeding twenty-five million
You will note on page 290 of Bill that this is the clause that deals with housing for persons with disabilities, a matter very close to my heart and on which I could wax eloquent for hours, but I won't. I will keep this down to a few minutes, but I do want to emphasize it, because it is a very serious matter.
My colleague from the Bloc just reminded me that I should help explain what the amendment actually does.
What it in fact does is take out the sentence that comes in the way of the rapid flow of money to the group in question, in this case people with disabilities. It takes away the words “in accordance with terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board”, because those are the words that allow the government to continue down this path of demanding that the money be cost-shared, or that the money available be met equally by provinces or municipalities.
We have argued from day one that that is inappropriate on all counts. We have referred to the past experience of the federal government on this matter of allocating money for investment in serious infrastructure and other programs, only to see the money not flow because of all of these requirements of matching funds and bureaucratic red tape and federal government interference.
The Liberals have said this is a major issue. They're the ones who in this committee and in Parliament have waxed eloquent about the failure of federal dollars to flow for infrastructure projects. In fact, they've said themselves that in the past 96% of federal dollars have not flowed.
My colleague Mike Wallace asks me whether I believe them. Yes, I do believe them. In fact, time and again we've seen good projects sitting on the shelf, gathering dust while the need keeps growing, because of all of these requirements.
What we're simply saying is, let's allow the money to flow. Yes, set broad conditions; obviously set conditions when it comes to the targeted group that the policy is directed to, in this case people living with disabilities, for whom the need is huge and who feel totally left out of the government's plan to deal with the economic recession. They acknowledge that a few steps have been taken and that there have been some important programs, but nothing that meets the need at all of people living with disabilities.
I don't know about my colleagues, but I've had all kinds of letters—maybe it's because I am the critic for persons living with disabilities in my party—from individuals asking how it is that, under this budget, a middle-class or a wealthy person can get money to build a deck on their cottage, but that they can't get their home retrofitted to make it accessible for people with disabilities. Or they wonder, “How is it that I'm basically living hand to mouth in totally deplorable housing conditions—in a rooming house, with no standard of care, with no proper, decent living conditions—and there are no programs for me to access?” The issues are real. People living with disabilities—as is the case with seniors—are more vulnerable than most people at times of economic recession. They don't have the savings; they don't have the backing; many of them don't have relatives around looking after them. They're on their own. They fall between the cracks.
The small steps that are taken in this budget are not to be dissed; they are important. I don't think they're nearly enough. If you look at the amounts on page 136 of the government plans, housing for persons with disabilities—$25 million in the first year, $50 million in the next, and $75 million in the next—it's pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things, but it's better than nothing.
But then to have that tied up in red tape without certainty that it will flow and to require that it be matched doesn't make sense. Where will the flexibility happen? How will it happen? If a provincial government such as Manitoba is engaged in a particular project dealing with housing for people with disabilities because they've had the vision or the fortitude to move in that direction and have made it a priority, and along comes the federal government and says, “We've got some money, but you've already started that project, so you're not going to get any help,” why doesn't the federal government say, “Okay, province, you look after 100% of the cost of that project and we will look after 100% of the next project”? Why not? Why not, to ensure that the money flows and we can get somewhere in terms of this big need?
I hope I've answered the question of the Bloc in terms of what the amendment does. I hope I've made the case about how important this issue is. I hope there will be support at least on this particular matter. It is critical and it is important to remove these obstacles to the quick flow of money for housing needs of people with disabilities.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
I move that Bill C-10 in clause 315 be amended by replacing line 28 on page 290 with the following:
except those requiring contributions from other levels of government, a sum not exceeding one hundred million
I have to explain this one because it's very critical. My colleagues need to understand just how serious this issue is and why we're making the amendment. This is not frivolous or vexatious. We are simply trying to get the money flowing as quickly as possible. However small or paltry it may seem in terms of overall housing needs in the north, the little bit of money that is here for the north has to flow quickly. I would hope that you will all talk to some of your colleagues from the north to know how important that is.
I had the privilege this past summer--and I can't speak from experience on the Yukon or the Northwest Territories--of travelling throughout Nunavut: Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, Pangnirtung, and Resolute. If there is one observation my colleagues and I made from that absolutely incredible voyage, it was of the need for an immediate injection of funds in housing. I wish I could give you a slide show of the housing conditions and just show you how difficult the circumstances are for folks.
You've probably heard, and I am sure my colleagues on the Conservative side have heard, from the Minister of Health, the member for . They appreciate the money. I know there was a big fanfare and a big announcement made this past week. The money that is part of this budget has already been announced, obviously. Fine, go ahead and announce it, but after all the hoopla and after all the press coverage, maybe it would be a good idea just to flow some of that money without obstacles, without matching funds, without requirements that the hard-strapped governments of the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut have to match the funds.
I just received a letter from the folks we had met with in Iqaluit about housing, saying, if you can do anything, get this money going. Our territorial government does not have the wherewithal. It's stretched. They put that money into housing. You can't expect them to simply take the money that's available and require it be spent on a project already committed as opposed to something new that the province or territory wants to see happen.
How in the world, when it comes to the north, can we be this blind to the need and this caught up in red tape and bureaucracy? I do not know how to impress upon my colleagues the need in the north. I assume you've all seen it, heard from colleagues, or understand it. Then surely you understand that in the north, where the climate is difficult, where housing is so critical, when the temperatures can drop so low, when the climate is so volatile, we must at least provide an immediate flow of money for housing.
I don't know how else to make this point. I don't know how the Liberals can sit here and not support this. I don't understand how this isn't driving people to action. We are only looking at the Yukon and Northwest Territories receiving $50 million each, and $100 million for Nunavut, for housing that is in a crisis, for a housing situation that is reaching crisis proportions and where there is no greater apparent need for social housing.
For goodness' sake, if you talk about the distinctive needs of the territories, as this document does, then treat it with distinction, treat it as distinctive, flow the money, flow it quickly. Don't put in place roadblocks, don't put in place these requirements. Do what's right. I implore my Liberal colleagues to do that. I hope the Bloc will support it this time. And maybe my Conservative friends, who probably have talked to their colleague the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq and realize the significance of this, will support this motion, because it's that important.
NDP-9 is at clause 321, Mr. Chairman. It provides that lines 11 to 24 on page 294 are to be deleted. Those lines, as you can see from consulting them, are as follows:
5.1. (1) Despite section 5, a work may be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water without meeting the requirements of that section if the work falls within a class of works, or the navigable water falls within a class of navigable waters, established by regulation or under section 13.
(2) The work shall be built, placed, maintained, operated, used and removed in accordance with the regulations or with the terms and conditions imposed under section 13.
(3) Sections 6 to 11.1 do not apply to works referred to in subsection (1) unless there is a contravention of subsection (2).
It goes on:
322. (1) The portion of subsection 6(1) of the Act before paragraph (a) is replaced by the following:
And then that's the end of the English amendment.
Essentially, Mr. Chair, this is the heart of the Conservative attempt to gut the essence of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This is a statute that we've had the benefit of in Canada for over 100 years. Essentially, what we're doing here is opening up completely to ministerial discretion the possibility of excluding classes. Now, what's particularly pernicious is that there's no explanation of what the details of that would be.
Now, this is interesting, because historically the Conservatives have always pleaded that parliamentarians should know, when they're coming before a parliamentary committee, what the actual shape of the regulatory changes would be so that they know what they're voting on. Now, of course, that's obviously a principle that applied to the Conservatives when they were in opposition but no longer applies to them when they're in power. We see here that the possibility is going to be enacted, if this goes through, to remove all protection for navigable waters, because we have no control over what the shape, scope, size, and relative importance of those exceptions would be. So they're asking for a blank cheque. Of course, they're confident that because it's their guy who's getting the blank cheque, no foul.
We don't view it that way. We think that the Navigable Waters Protection Act has been there for a reason, that Canada has done relatively well compared to a lot of other countries in terms of protecting its waterways. We've been anything but perfect; we've had serious problems, especially in the southern part of this country, but all things considered.... I can talk for the state of things in Quebec. There are over 5,000 rivers in Quebec. As incredible as it might seem, there are over one million lakes in Quebec. Canada possesses an extraordinary richness in terms of the world's freshwater reserves. We have close to one-fifth of the world's fresh renewable water, although some people contest the definition of “renewable” in the sentence I've just spoken.
On the world stage we're very lucky with regard to fresh water, and a lot of analyses lead people to believe that because of global warming, because of demographic changes and increased desertification, we might be heading for a time when water will become increasingly important to be protected. That's why it's so galling to see the Conservatives, backed by the spineless Liberals, removing this protection for Canada's watercourses.
It was interesting to be here last night. I'm sure there was no untoward intention on the part of the Conservatives, but it was a shame that it was between 8:30 and 10 o'clock last night that all of the environmental groups were in here to speak against this atrocious attempt to remove protection of Canada's navigable waters. What was interesting is that there were about 200 people in the hall, representing everything from canoeing and kayak associations to people who work as water keepers and people working on rivers from across Canada, but most of them were from Ottawa, from Toronto, a lot of them from this province we're in right now, Ontario. People across Canada share the concern of what the Conservatives are up to here.
Essentially, we would delete the lines in question, the lines that would provide this new rule-making power that would essentially give a minister, especially the one who's there now, the ability to simply gut the protection that's provided for navigable waters in Canada.
Mr. Chairman, we move that Bill C-10, in clause 321, be amended by deleting lines 11 to 24 on page 294.
This amendment has to do with section 5.1, which would be added to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Every time we talk about this act, we tend to forget that its name is not the Navigable Waters Act, but rather, the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Here is what the Conservatives would like to add and what we would like to remove:
5.1 (1) Despite section 5, a work may be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water without meeting the requirements of that section if the work falls within a class of works, or the navigable water falls within a class of navigable waters, established by regulation or under section 13.
(2) The work shall be built, placed, maintained, operated, used and removed in accordance with the regulations or with the terms and conditions imposed under section 13.
(3) Subsections 6 to 11.1 do not apply to works referred to in subsection (1) unless there is a contravention of subsection (2).
Since the amendment mentions an exemption to section 5, it is worthwhile to read that section to see what it is all about. This provision is the heart of the act, it's a general provision that reads as follows:
5. (1) No work shall be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water unless
(a) the work and the site and plans thereof have been approved by the Minister...
At the present time, Canada has a general system for protecting navigable waters. By adding subsection 5.1, we would be completely destroying this protection by giving the minister the power to allow exemptions or exceptions. In other words, the government could make this protection of Canadian navigable waters, which has existed for more than 100 years, completely meaningless. We think that this is a scandal.
We have to look at this against the backdrop of other information that came out in recent weeks about the government's clear intentions. The Minister of Transport, Mr. Baird, who appeared before this committee, did not try to deny it. Some information did leak out, and Louis-Gilles Francoeur, of the Devoir, was the first to put this information on the front page of the newspaper. The federal government intends to also tinker with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Apparently their goal is to change the threshold. In the future, any infrastructure project worth less than $10 million would not have to have an environmental assessment. From an environmental point of view, this is absurd. Obviously, in such a case, the important thing is not the value of the infrastructure project, but rather, the environmental value of the ecosystem. Even if you add fill to a precious wetland in order to build infrastructure worth $9.9 million, that doesn't change in any way the fact that you have back-filled the wetland. This is a totally absurd way of seeing the issue, but that's how the Conservatives see it.
Let's take a look at what they are getting ready to do with the assistance of the unprincipled Liberals. They are serving up this dish, which they call the economic crisis. The crisis is real. They are presenting this dish, and they are making a stew with all the old fashioned extreme-right ideas that had been kicking around for decades. First they are going to tinker with the provisions of the act and take away the right of women to have equal pay for work of equal value. Then, they are going to attack the rights of unionized workers and social rights. They are stripping their employees of the right to bargain collectively. They serve it all up on a plate, and they say that if we don't do something about the economic crisis, the world will come to an end, and the sky will fall. They are saying that dealing with the economic crisis is the absolute top priority. They are using this concoction to bring in their far-right programs with the support and the guilty complicity of the Liberals.
And now they are attacking the environment. This is what we are dealing with. They are using an economic crisis as an excuse, saying that the funds for the projects have to go out. Last night, a senior official came to give a political speech. He said:
we're going to have a tiering.
What is interesting is the fact that it is not included in the budget. He might know the content of the regulations, but it certainly is not included in the amendments that are before us.
Senior officials are implicitly telling us that they are aware of upcoming changes in that area, whereas the elected representatives, who are supposed to be independent and make the laws governing this country, are shunted aside.
When they were in opposition, the Conservatives tore the shirts off their backs every time a bill included too many regulatory powers. All of the shirts in the Conservative caucus have been torn to bits. The Conservatives always asked why they should vote on provisions without knowing what would be in the regulations. It was one of their hobby horses, one of the great principles for which they fought without respite. But curiously, now that they are in power, that principle has been tossed away. However, the Liberals do not have that problem because they never had any principles in the first place. When they were in power, they did the same thing. Today, they are the opposition, and they still support the Conservatives.
But the NDP, Mr. Chairman, will stand up for its principles and oppose the outrageous actions of the Conservatives. They are trying to take advantage of a real economic crisis to insidiously pass their extreme right agenda, which stands against equality, in particular the equality of women, which stands against the environment and future generations, which stands against social and union rights, the unemployed, the most disadvantaged and poorest members of our society. In short, they stand against everything which has been built over entire decades in Canada. They are trying to do this even though they are a minority government, and they are succeeding because the Liberals are too weak to stand up to them.
The first amendment we are proposing to the Navigable Waters Protection Act would reinstate the protection which has always existed under section 5, that is, in the general provisions. We cannot let unelected officials do the work of the government, that is, the executive, as far as this matter is concerned.
As members of Parliament, we are also here as legislators. We therefore have the right to know what those provisions contain. Since we do not know what the government's real intentions are, no parliamentarian worthy of that title can support the Conservative amendment. Since last night, we know that senior public servants know more about the government's real intentions than do the lawmakers themselves. I find that unacceptable. Therefore, I am in complete disagreement with what is happening. I hope that other members of Parliament will support us and defeat the amendment to weaken the protection of navigable waters.
Amendment NDP-10 is similar to the earlier amendment—it seeks to avoid giving the minister discretionary authority so large that he or she would be able to completely gut an act whose purpose is to protect navigable waters. Clause 327 refers to an enabling provision—one that allows the regulatory authority to make regulations regarding the implementation of the act. Subclause 12(1) reads as follows:
12.(1) The Governor in Council may make any orders or regulations that the Governor in Council deems expedient for navigation purposes respecting any work to which this Part applies or that is approved or the plans inside of which are approved under any Act of Parliament or order of the Governor in Council and may make regulations:
a) prescribing the fees [...]
b) respecting the grant [...]
c) prescribing the period [...]
d) respecting notification requirements [...]
And finally, the following will added:
e) establishing classes of works or navigable waters for the purpose of subsection 5.1(1);
We can see what is going to happen. This new enabling provision will make it possible to put into the garbage can the protection that has existed until today under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Actually, this will throw the garbage can into the navigable waters, and there will be nothing we can do about it.
Section 12.1 is the enabling provision of the statute, Mr. Chairman. At the present time, it provides that:
The Governor in Council may make any orders or regulations that the Governor in Council deems expedient for navigation purposes respecting any work to which this part applies or that is approved or the plans and site of which are approved under any Act of Parliament or order of the Governor in Council, and may make regulations
Then it prescribes a number of subjects with regard to fees, grants, or suspension of approvals, and prescribing the periods respecting notification requirements.
But here is what's new, and this is preoccupying for us:
establishing classes of works or navigable waters for the purposes of subsection 5.1(1)
As we saw before, proposed section 5.1 is the move the Conservatives are putting on the Navigable Waters Protection Act to gut it, to remove all meaning of navigable waters protection in Canada. It's going to set up these categories. Here we're saying it's the Governor in Council. So , the Minister of Transport, will arrive with a list of sizes of projects and all sorts of things that will no longer be subject to the protection of this act. He'll have that rubber-stamped by his colleagues around the cabinet table and that will become the law.
People sometimes don't realize that we evoke the notion of laws and regulations as if they were the same thing. Today we're looking at the overall framework of the law, but the detailed application of the law has to come in the form of regulations. It's interesting that when the Conservatives were in opposition they used to rail against the fact that all too often, as legislators, we were being asked to pass bills where the substance was going to come in the form of regulations. Well, the difference is that the law sets out the large picture and the regulations give the detailed application.
Here they're adding a new power for regulation-making. But in this case, exceptionally, the regulation-making is actually going to amend the substance of the act.
If you look at what I mentioned before, the other headings in proposed section 12 are the normal type of thing you do by regulation. You prescribe fees: how much it costs to make this demand or this request. You say how long it's going to be enforced and things like that. That's the type of detailed application you don't normally trouble Parliament with; you give a regulatory power to somebody to take care of that.
But here the regulatory power isn't to prescribe fees or look at a time limit; the regulatory power will eviscerate the law. It will take out any real meaning in the statute for the protection of navigable waters. That's what's being granted here as a power.
Last night we had an officer from the department before us who explained that as far as he was concerned we were building in a new “tiered approval process”. Those were his exact words. Well, if you look through this, you won't find a tiered approval process. Obviously the senior bureaucrats have already decided what we're going to do. They're taking it for granted. I find that a bit offensive in terms of respect for our institutions. I think that parliamentarians are actually the ones who get to decide what goes into our statutes and what happens.
I've always believed--and I've been both in government and in opposition--that parliamentarians have a right to know the substance of what they are being asked to vote on. Here we're being deprived of that right. We don't know the substance of what we're being asked to vote on. We don't know what's going to be in an eventual regulation adopted under proposed section 12, under this new paragraph (e). We simply don't know what the “classes of works or navigable waters” for the purposes of the new section 5.1 will be. That's this new exception section. We don't know what it is. Apparently the bureaucracy knows. We don't. I find that offensive.
Usually, the act sets out the most important rules governing the issue at hand, in this case the protection of navigable waters. Until quite recently, section 12 provided for a number of matters that could be determined by regulations: the fees payable, rules regarding the granting of permits, the period during which an approval was valid. That is the type of detail that we normally do not bother Parliament with. These implementation details are properly handled through the regulations. We often talk about both acts and regulations. But there is actually a big difference between the two. Parliament deals with legislation, but it delegates the authority to set out the details for the implementation of the legislation. That is why we refer to this as an enabling provision.
This provision sets out the various subjects for which new rules can be established. However, what is extremely disturbing is that this will create a full new authority to establish, without restriction, the classes of works and navigable waters to which subclause 5.1(1) applies. That provision reads as follows:
Despite section 5, a work may be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water without meeting the requirements [...]
This is the new system that the Conservatives are putting forward. The successive sincerity of the Conservatives on this matter is constantly amazing. I have never seen people who can say one thing when they are in opposition—namely that it is unacceptable for Parliamentarians to be required to vote on legislation when they do not know the details of it—and who can close their eyes to the whole situation when they are in power and become puppets and accept absolutely anything their government puts forward. I find that very disturbing.
Fortunately we heard from the lawyer, Mr. Amos, from the University of Ottawa yesterday evening, and another from Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, in Toronto. Had we not heard from those two well-respected legal experts, I think the government would have gotten away with this. It sent in someone from the department to say that he really did not see what the problem was. A Conservative member of Parliament, a woman, asked whether this would change anything about canoeing on the Ottawa River for people. Questions of that type cannot be invented. The answer was not very surprising—it was “no”.
As far as the Conservatives are concerned, there is no problem. It is wild, but it is true. You had to be there. It is too bad, they had scheduled the meeting from 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. So people could not really get a true sense of it. A very colourful, likeable farmer from a rural region in Ontario came in to talk about the Drainage Act in Ontario, Fisheries and Oceans, and so on. That law comes under provincial jurisdiction; Fisheries and Oceans had nothing to do with what was being said. What should have been talked about was the anecdote he heard from the owner of a small tractor. We never saw any document that stated that the Navigable Waters Protection Act contained a real problem. This is called defending your arguments by means of anecdotes. There is nothing we can use as a basis to move forward.
Fortunately, there were some groups that were concerned about navigable waters in Canada. They saw what the Conservatives were up to, probably because of the fine work done by Louis-Gilles Francoeur of Le Devoir. He was the first one to sound the alarm about the real intentions of the Conservatives regarding environmental assessment. Let us just say that these assessments and the issue we are discussing at the moment go together.
This will have a serious impact on construction capacity. There are no doubt some developers and mayors behind this. I am not taking anything away from them—most of them are extremely dedicated people. Let us be honest here: mayors tend to see wetland as a missed opportunity to broaden their tax base. Until now, there was a federal statute that prevented abuse.
Mr. Chair, I want to take a couple of minutes to talk about this issue, to dispute the Conservatives' assertions that all of this is because these things take too long. Apparently this is supposed to have something to do with speeding up the process, with making it more flexible. We are told that the problem is that there are too many approval processes and environmental assessments.
When I was the Quebec Minister of the Environment, I was often fed exactly the same argument. I remember being with my former colleague in natural resources, and we heard this same assertion from the executives of Hydro-Quebec. They told me that environmental considerations were preventing them from carrying out their projects. I therefore told them to give me concrete cases, not anecdotes. With a great deal of difficulty, they managed to come up with one or two such cases. Do you know what we did? We got out the books. We looked at the steps of the project from start to finish. The project had taken six years, and the environmental assessment, three months. There is no doubt that the social approval component, the analysis of the impact on ecosystems, the engineering work, and so on took up the most time.
Let us take a look at the situation in which we find ourselves. We are imposing a tremendous debt on future generations. The proposed budget will result in a huge financial debt that future generations will have to pay down. Rather than being even more prudent in environmental matters and doing everything we can to build things that will at least be beneficial to future generations, we are leaving them this debt and we are scrapping the environment at the same time. This is the very opposite of sustainable development. It is about our generation's obligation to respect the right of future generations to have what we ourselves had. We enjoyed the benefits of a Navigable Waters Protection Act. But the Conservatives, with the Liberal as accomplices, are going to scrap this protection. That is what is scandalous about the matter we are considering here today.
Mr. Chair, we are getting right to the heart of the matter. This clause is absolutely crucial. It will enable the Conservatives to eviscerate the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Not only are we leaving a massive debt on the shoulders of future generations—because the budget that we have before us, of course, as you know, is providing for a huge deficit, the biggest deficit since the last time the Conservatives were in power—but it's also taking away from future generations their right to have a clean environment like ours. That's the essence of sustainable development as expounded by Gro Harlem Brundtland, that we have an obligation towards future generations to make sure their standard of living, the place where they're living, their environment, how they're living, is no less favourable than the one that we enjoy.
Here we have to be doubly careful, because we are shovelling onto their shoulders a heavy financial burden for the future. They're going to have to pay off this debt. I don't know about you, but I'm going to be long retired before this thing ever gets paid back. At the same time, we're taking away the clean environment and the protection of navigable waters that our generation and generations before us have enjoyed. So what's on the table here today is doubly scandalous.
I hope that if they don't believe in anything else—we know they don't believe in union rights, we know they don't believe in women's rights—perhaps there's a faint beating heart in one of the Liberals who's going to be called upon to vote on this. We know the Conservatives don't give a hoot about the environment, but there was a time when there were at least a few people in the Liberal Party, even if they never did anything about it, who were able to talk a good game on the environment. So let's hope that on this article, this enabling provision for the Conservatives to gut navigable waters protection in Canada, there will be one Liberal with a conscience who will actually stop, for one vote, being a member of Her Majesty's official abstention and remember that they're supposed to be Her Majesty's official opposition, and actually screw up the courage to do the right thing to protect future generations' right to have the same environment we've been able to enjoy, and to vote against this nefarious amendment.
That Bill C-10, in clause 328, be amended by replacing line 17 on page 298 to line 4 on page 299 with the following:
328. Section 13 of the Act is repealed.
Let's look at proposed clause 13 in the bill:
The Minister may, by order, [...]
(a) establish classes of works or navigable waters; and
(b) impose any terms and conditions with respect to the placement, construction, maintenance, operation, safety, use and removal of those classes of works or works that are built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across those classes of navigable waters.
(2) An order under subsection (1)(a) is not a statutory instrument within the meaning of the Statutory Instruments Act; and (b) shall be published in the Canada Gazette within 23 days after the day on which it is made.
We are talking about a ministerial order. Without getting into too much detail there is a difference between a regulation from cabinet, which at least requires colleagues to give it their rubber stamp, and allowing a minister to act through an order.
Mr. Chair, this clause contains something of significance. Even if they have no principles, the Conservatives at this table should at least listen.
In the second paragraph, it says that the order is not a statutory instrument. A statutory instrument must be published and the public must be given some time in which to be consulted and to react to it. Here, it says that it will be "published in the Canada Gazette within 23 days of the day on which it is made." I don't know why they are using the terminology "in the Canada Gazette". It is obviously published in the official journals. It's strange that legislative drafters have returned to a mistake that Alexander Kovacs corrected in Ottawa 25 years ago.
Let's look at what they are doing. Not only, underhandedly, will they be giving the minister, through a simple order, the power to continue to undermine the protection of navigable waters, but they will decree that the minister's order does not have the same status as a statutory instrument within the meaning of the Statutory Instruments Act. So, the public won't know what the minister is doing for 23 days after the minister determines the regulation in question. It's quite scandalous.
Mr. Chairman, we're into the details of this series of dirty tricks that the Conservatives are trying to foist upon Parliament. Not only have they taken it upon themselves to provide order in council powers--so regulatory instruments that will actually have to go through cabinet and are subject to the Statutory Instruments Act--here they have gone a step further, and it's reprehensible. The minister will have the power under proposed section 13 to establish, by order, classes of works or navigable waters. He could exclude vast categories of rivers that are right now covered and protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
What's even more shocking--it's unbelievable what they're up to here--it says in proposed section 13:
(2) An order under subsection (1)
(a) is not a statutory instrument within the meaning of the Statutory Instruments Act;
That means, in clear language—so the people following us can understand, Mr. Chairman—that the public will not even be allowed to know what's in the order.
I heard the brilliant and talented Mr. McKay say that nobody is listening to us. He's mistaken. Nobody is listening when they're speaking, Mr. Chairman.
Actually, it was quite interesting last night. There were several hundred people here. What I learned is this. A lot of these people in Ontario are left-leaning. They have an ecological vision of the world. They're socially open. What a lot of them told me last night is that until last night they used to vote Liberal. They used to see the Liberal Party as being slightly left-leaning, even though they have a right-wing guy now who they've gone and hired away from this. He spent, what, twenty years in the States pretending he was British and twenty years in Britain pretending he was American, right? So for the Liberals that makes him a great Canadian Prime Minister. That's quite something.
Now that people are starting to see that the masks are falling, that the Liberal Party doesn't even carry the word “liberty” in its name anymore, because on things like women's rights, on things like union and social rights, they're just not there.
Here, Mr. Chairman, we're looking at the ability of the government to take out everything that is essential in the Navigable Waters Protection Act and allow the minister, by order, an order that will not even be published.... Under the Statutory Instruments Act there used to be a rule that you had to publish and allow public consultation. People could react to the rule that you were thinking of putting in place. Here the public won't even get to see that rule until 23 days after the date on which it is made. Can you imagine? This is the pure stuff of banana republics. The Liberals, once again, are going to vote with the Conservatives to remove the right of future generations to know the same level of environmental protection that we've known over the years.
That's the scandal of proposed section 13, and that's why the NDP is proposing its removal from the statute, Mr. Chairman.