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40th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 019

CONTENTS

Thursday, February 26, 2009





CANADA

House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 144 
l
NUMBER 019 
l
2nd SESSION 
l
40th PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Speaker: The Honourable Peter Milliken

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayers



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1000)  

[English]

Information Commissioner

    I have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 39(1) of the Access to Information Act, a special report of the Information Commissioner entitled, “Systemic Issues and Report Cards 2007–2008”.

[Translation]

     Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

[English]

Main Estimates, 2009-10

    A message from Her Excellency the Governor General transmitting the main estimates for the financial year ending March 31, 2010 was presented by the President of the Treasury Board and read by the Speaker to the House.

Criminal Code

[Translation]

Interparliamentary Delegations

     Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian Delegation of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association respecting its bilateral visit to Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda, from June 22 to 28, 2008 inclusive.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian delegation of the Canada-China Legislative Association respecting its participation in the annual co-chair's visit held in Bejing in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Nanning, Guilin and in Hong Kong, China, March 17 to 21, 2008.

  (1005)  

[Translation]

Committees of the House

Status of Women 

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 10th report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women concerning gender responsive budgeting.

[English]

    This report concerns the importance of gender budgeting as a tool toward achieving gender equality. Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee requests that the government table a response to the report.

Foreign Affairs and International Development  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled, “Canada in Afghanistan”. Pursuant to Standing Order 109 the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to the report.
    It is a pleasure for me, again, to present, in both official language,s the third report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled, “Omar Khadr”.
     I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development entitled, “Corporate Social Responsibility”.

Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act

    She said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce the rights of indigenous peoples act.
    The bill seeks to ensure that federal laws in Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This was signed by 144 member countries in September 2007.
    The UN declaration was the culmination of two decades of negotiations with indigenous peoples globally and it established a universal framework of standards for human rights, collective rights, self-determination and mechanisms for the resolution of disputes.
    In summary, the bill seeks to ensure that Canada's aboriginal peoples, some of the poorest and most marginalized, will enjoy respect, protection and the same access of opportunity as all other Canadians.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

[Translation]

Committees of the House

Status of Women  

     Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, presented to the House on Wednesday, February 11, be concurred in.
    I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak about the issue of violence to women. Ever since I have been in this House, the women members of my party, those who have sat on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, and myself, have been the staunch defenders of the campaign against violence toward women. I will take a few moments at the start of my speech to quote an excerpt from an information pamphlet prepared by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. It was first written at the time of the Women's March in 2000, and was updated in 2002.
    What is violence against women?
    Violence can be physical (such as punching, kicking, choking, stabbing, mutilation, disabling, murder), sexual (such as rape, any unwanted touching or act of a sexual nature, forced prostitution), verbal/psychological (such as threats to harm the children, destruction of favourite clothes or photographs, repeated insults meant to demean and erode self-esteem, forced isolation from friends and relatives, threats of further violence or deportation if the woman attempts to leave), stalking (such as persistent and unwanted attention, following and spying, monitoring of mail or conversations), financial (such as taking away a woman's wages or other income, limiting or forbidding access to the family income), and other forms of control and abuse of power). Violence against women is about the control and coercion of women. It is a significant problem in Canada and around the world, also including female genital mutilation, child marriage, dowry-related murder, honour killings, female infanticide, and trafficking in women. Mass rapes and enslavement of women are also used as an instrument of war and genocide.
    My colleague from Laurentides—Labelle has often spoken about this, particularly concerning women in the Congo, who are currently facing a terrible situation.
    We have seen, in the excerpt I just read, different forms of violence against women. There are threats of deportation, for example, but we can also talk about violence against women who have chosen to live elsewhere with a spouse because he promised eternal love, and then cannot go back to their home country. That is the case with Nathalie Morin, who is being held by her husband in Saudi Arabia like some sort of hostage. Her husband is not allowing her to return to Quebec with her children.
    We also saw that other types of violence against women include taking away a woman’s rights and her wages. I will focus on this type of violence because it is a direct consequence of the guidelines, laws and rules that we are developing here in Parliament, and which are being demanded by the current government.
    Transforming pay equity into a game of negotiation is a form of violence against women. Taking away a woman's right to defend herself, to protect her rights, by cutting funding to groups that defend her is a form of violence against women. Cutting the court challenges program and therefore keeping women who have been victims of violence and have had a difficult time appealing their case is a form of violence, violence against women. Preventing women from lobbying to put the spotlight on certain challenges, their needs and their current reality is a form of violence against women. Cutting subsidies to these lobby groups as this government has done is yet another form of violence against women.

  (1010)  

    Another form of violence against women is preventing women's groups that do research from doing feminist research. That kind of violence against women is almost pathological. Since coming to power, this government has been attacking women, its apparent goal, as the text I just read put it, “to demean and erode self-esteem”. When the government claimed that equality had already been achieved to justify depriving women of the tools they have had at their disposal for years, tools that have helped them move forward and make progress, it made a big mistake. That is violence against women on a grand scale, institutionalized violence.
    Everyone knows that this government has had it in for women since coming to power. We did not hesitate to fight to make the government see reason, to try to make it understand that a step forward for women does not mean a step back for men. On the contrary, as long as women can assert their rights, there will be greater equality in the world and more opportunities to move forward together, to go farther and to ensure that every person's rights are respected.
    We are talking about violence against women, and this government has taken a more or less institutional approach to perpetrating violence. Every one of this government's bills affects women directly. That includes employment insurance bills because we know that women have limited access to employment insurance. The same applies to social housing bills. Tax cuts benefit only the highest income earners, when we all know that 37% of women earn less than $20,000 per year. If that is not violence against women, then I do not know what is.
    Violence against women means preventing women from reaching their full potential, preventing them from being all they can be, preventing them from moving forward and giving their children what they need to one day become enlightened members of a free society.
    The government's repeated attacks reflect a near obsession. And every time we have the misfortune to get up in this House and ask the government why it is obsessed, we are told that 52 million people are wrong and that the government is right. Every day we get thousands of emails, notes and letters from women, telling us about what they are going through and imploring us to help their cause. They ask us to defend their cause, because they say they do not understand why this government has it in for them. All these women need an answer today, and they are entitled to one. All these women have the right to know why this government is choosing to set women back 30, 40 or 50 years in some cases.
    Mr. Speaker, I know that if it were up to you, you would likely tell me that I am right. As the father of several children, you know how important it is for your wife to be able to make the best life she can for your children. I, too, want to make the best life possible for my children. I want my colleagues to be able to do the same for their children. But as long as we condone the violence that is being perpetrated here in Parliament, we will never be able to discuss and address the violence being done elsewhere. We need to start with what is going on in our own backyard.

  (1015)  

    What I am saying is that we need to start coming together and making this government understand the risks it is taking as it continues undermining women, day after day.
    Yesterday, this government unveiled a poster about strong women, a strong world, equality and women's leadership. But where is the leadership by the Conservative women? Where are these strong Conservative women, where is this strong world?
    Conservative women cannot even defend the women of Quebec and Canada. They cannot even get up in this House and in their caucus to talk to their cabinet colleagues and make them understand that their position on pay equity makes no sense. What can we expect from them but doubletalk?
     Today too, I suppose, we will not get much of an answer. It is the same week after week. We have been asking questions about pay equity for weeks now and all that the President of Treasury Board can say is that it is the best thing in the world for women. I think he should go and do some work on this because if there is a critical kind of violence against women, it is preventing them from earning a decent living and having the same considerations as their male colleagues. That is a huge violence against women because they struggle and work every day just as hard as their male colleagues.
     Why do the Conservatives refuse them the same advantages, the same benefits and the same salary on the pretext that they should have to negotiate equity and are not simply entitled to equal pay?
     In 1929, five women fought to have women recognized as persons. Their statues can be seen on Parliament Hill. These women would be furious today to see how the government makes a farce of everything to do with women’s rights. All the women in this chamber should try to emulate the courage of those women in 1929 who went all the way to the English courts to insist that women should be recognized as persons. Now the government is trying to do the opposite. They slowly nibble away at the rights of women and eliminate the advances that were at least giving them the impression they were making progress.
     Nellie McClung would be very disappointed today at the extent to which the government has failed to keep its word. In January 2006, the Prime Minister said he would give women equality. He has broken his promise and goes on breaking it every day. If this sort of violence is endorsed by Parliament, why would people in civil society bother getting caught up in all these niceties?
     If the government itself does not recognize the violence it does to women, how in the world can our criminal lawyers, police officers and groups that work with women who have been abused hope to make them understand that they are right, we are listening to them and we will do something for them? It does not make sense.
     When our own government does the opposite of what it should to protect women from violence, it does not make sense. Nor does it make sense to think that civil society will do any better.

  (1020)  

     And yet, many groups continue to defend women daily.
     The government has just cut funds for Africa. These funds were essential in helping women with AIDS, the grandmothers looking after children with AIDS and women in refugee camps, who are assaulted and raped daily and used as weapons of war. It is cutting funds for these countries. That is abominable.
     It is more evidence of the lack of respect of this government, evidence that this government does not want to see an end to violence against women. It is further evidence that this government is in fact exacerbating violence against women. Everything it does points in this direction. Everything this government does is currently to the detriment of women and causes them distress.
     I received an email this morning from a woman in Nova Scotia. She would not vote for me, but she asked me to do something. She does not know who to ask anymore. She cannot ask the Conservatives to help women or the Liberals, who have chosen to support the Conservatives on the matter of pay equity. She asked me to do something and told me that she and thousands of women were suffering.
     Suffering is violence against women. Being unable to feed the children or pay the rent and having to choose to send a child to school without a meal so as to have milk for a younger child is what violence against women is about.
     I hope that my Conservative colleagues will be open-minded enough today to listen instead of closing up as they usually do. Perhaps a crack will appear through which they will understand that, if they wanted it, it would be so easy. The employment insurance fund contains some $54 billion. It would be easy to eliminate the two week waiting period. Women would thus have much better access to employment insurance. It is all very well to take courses or training, but when you have no job waiting for you, it does not mean much. Denying women access to employment insurance amounts to violence against women.
     Mr. Speaker, I would ask for your solicitude. I would also ask you to please understand and have all our colleagues in this House understand just how much we must do to end violence against women. Violence occurs against women in other situations and circumstances as well.
     Violence is done to women with firearms. The government wants to abolish the firearms registry, as we know. We also know, though, that this government does not consider long barrelled firearms dangerous. However, the firearms that destroy the most lives and kill the most women are long barrelled firearms--not little revolvers. They are used, of course. There are sidearms as well. However, these firearms are almost legal for the government, although they spread the greatest violence in their path.
     I have only a minute left to close—a very short time. I had prepared texts, but am not managing to keep to them. I have a hard time doing so. I am an emotional and passionate woman. The women contacting us each day to ask us to support them can count on all of the members of the Bloc to defend their cause and continue to work hard to end all violence against women, especially the violence initiated by this government.

  (1025)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for bringing this very important topic before the House and for her strong words to us in her speech this morning.
    I want to ask her specifically about two groups of women. Lesbians often face an extra burden of violence and abuse in our society because they are women and also because of their sexual orientation. They have been ignored by our society and by further attempts to ensure that they have full equality in our society. Also, transsexual and transgender women do not have explicit protection under Canadian human rights laws. Gender identity and expression is not a specific ground in the act, although there are other provisions, sort of backdoor provisions, to allow complaints to be laid. Transsexual and transgender women face incredible violence. Many transsexual and transgender women are murdered every year around the world. They face very severe discrimination in jobs, in housing and in the provision of identity documents, for instance.
    Would the member support adding gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the Criminal Code provisions around sentencing and hate crimes?

  (1030)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
    It is quite true that I care deeply about all groups that struggle to be recognized and to have their rights recognized. My colleague said that lesbians, transsexual and transgendered women have even greater difficulty than people who have decided to come out of the closet or people who have decided to live their lives without worrying about what other people will say. It is true that we have seen many hate crimes committed against homosexuals, lesbians and transgendered people. We have seen this and we still see it every day, which, to me, is an absolute disgrace.
    I think a study is needed so that such groups can be included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think we need to examine this issue very seriously to determine whether certain groups should be added to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I think it is our responsibility to take a very close look at this situation. I cannot presume to know what my hon. colleagues will decide, but I think it is our duty to look closely at this situation in order to ensure that all the groups represented in our society have the same rights and the assurance that they will not suffer such senseless violence.
    Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to congratulate my colleague from Laval for her excellent presentation on violence against women. We will see shortly that this House will use any means to prevent my colleague from continuing the debate. That is the way of the Conservatives and the Liberals.
    I will give her the opportunity, in the few minutes she has remaining, to explain to us what will happen to pay equity for women because of the provisions adopted by the Liberals and the Conservatives in the last budget. How is it that women will again be subject to the violence of not obtaining full pay equity?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who always has very clear and thought-provoking questions.
    I was a union president for a long time. One of the duties of a union president is to ensure that its members are properly represented and that, no matter the offence, members are defended. I believe that this is the first time that I have seen a union receive a fine of $50,000 for wanting to defend its members and to do its job. That is unheard of.
    I do not know what the Human Rights Commission will do, but I would rail against such an action. Imagine the situation. I am a member of a union and of the public service. I realize that I do not have pay equity. I ask for my right to negotiate, because that is the only option now, but my union can do nothing to assist me. And since I can no longer resort to the court challenges program I cannot even defend myself. The government knows very well that there are millions and billions at stake in these cases but that poor employees do not even have a cent.
    That is definitely a form of violence against women.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from the Bloc Québécois for moving this motion and for her passion today on a very important matter.
     I want to continue with the theme of the attack on pay equity as very much an expression of symbolic violence against women. Whether or not it is physical or psychological, the damage is felt. I am wondering how she would deal with the words uttered by a Conservative hack, Tom Flanagan, who said:
    Equal value was one of those really bad ideas of the 1970s, like big hair, polyester leisure suits, wage and price controls, Petro-Canada. Most of these are in the evolutionary graveyard of bad ideas, but equal value is still around, so the [present] government deserves credit for moving against it.
    How in the world can we tolerate that kind of hateful language? How is it that the government has yet to denounce publicly these hateful words?

  (1035)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I do not think that my colleague is surprised that the government has failed to condemn Mr. Flanagan's statement. Few of the people advising the government and its leader have a mind quite as warped as his. I also know that my colleague is not surprised that the government has not asked Mr. Flanagan to apologize because it actually agrees with his ideas. Consequently, every idea Mr. Flanagan proposes to the government and its leader is received joyfully and with open arms. That is clear from its implementation of various directives and regulations.
    I am still wondering why the women on the government side have not stood up and objected to this, why they let these things happen. Have they no backbone? Have they no strength? Is there no such thing as a strong world when it comes to Conservative women?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like the member for Laval to tell us about the Conservatives' position on the status of women. What is their true position, the one on paper as well as the one in practice?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert for her excellent question. As I pointed out in my speech, I have never seen a government attack women's rights the way this one has. I have never seen a government attack women to this degree. I have never seen a government purposely do as much as this one has to eliminate appeal rights and try to pass private bills of which it is the silent architect.
    Last year, we had Bill C-484, and I have no doubt that another Conservative Party member will introduce a similar bill. If so, I hope the government will know what to do.There is nothing so pernicious as a government that would have everyone believe that it believes in women's equality. There is nothing so pernicious and violent as a government that would have women believe that they have everything they need, then does everything it can to override and chip away at their rights, and, for all intents and purposes, extinguish them. That is terrible.
    The hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes for a brief question.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Laval mentioned earlier that the Canadian International Development Agency has decided to make massive cuts in its aid to Africa. We are well aware that African women use micro credit to support their families by creating small businesses and thus they put food on the table.
    How can she explain that the Minister for La Francophonie,a woman, and the Minister of International Cooperation, another woman, have both let this happen?
    Mr. Speaker, I am really ecstatic to here such questions from my colleagues in this House. We can see there is a real interest in all these problems, whether they are universal, national, or regional. The women in the government are doing nothing to defend women, regardless of where those women live. Whether in Quebec, in Canada, in the Congo, women everywhere will have to just give up the fight, because—
    Order. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Vancouver Centre.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to acknowledge the extremely importance of this issue that has been brought forward by the hon. member. It is something that permeates and lies in the very inequality of women. The fact is there is a huge amount of gender discrimination. It is still alive in Canada and around the world.
    What highlights what the member is speaking about is the fact that in 2005 Canada stood at number four on the United Nations gender development index. That index speaks to a country's efforts to improve the social and economic status of women in that country. Today, Canada stands at 83. In three short years, Canada has slid to the depths at which it now stands. This has to be laid at the feet of the current government.
    The issue of violence against women in its many forms is an important one. It was a Liberal government in 1994 which brought forward a survey that showed how violence affected women and girl children in this country from the age of 14 moving forward and the depth of violence. We mapped this out and brought forward a strategy to deal with violence against women in this country.
    One of the things we noted was that the issue of violence against women was not just limited to gender but that the diversity of women's gender and of women's experience, immigrant women, women from minority groups that condoned violence within the home, domestic violence, and the inability to get justice on those issues. Those were things the Liberal government of the day dealt with in the 1990s. On an international front our Liberal government brought forward concerns of violence at the Beijing conference, the concept that women's rights were human rights. It was an absolutely horrible thing to suddenly realize that it had been forgotten that women's rights were human rights. Finally, in 1995 we saw language for the first time that told us about the depth of violence in all its forms against women in this country.
    We looked internationally at violence against the girl tribe, girl children who are forced into marriage at the age of 10 in many countries, girl children who are bought and sold. It was the Liberal government as well that looked into the fact that young women still were being trafficked across the country. Young girls were being moved from province to province. There was massive trafficking. It looked at girls being trafficked in and out, and at commercial sexual exploitation of children under tourism.
    It was the Liberal government that brought in legislation to deal with sexual tourism, to deal with trafficking. In fact, a massive bill dealing with trafficking of women and girls was brought in by a Liberal government. Of course I need not tell the House that that government was brought down before the bill was passed. The NDP members who stand in the House and make such wondrous statements about violence against women colluded to bring down the government before that bill could be passed.
    Also, on the issue of violence, the hon. member referred to domestic violence, most of it including guns. It was a Liberal government that brought about gun control legislation in 1995 but it was absolutely voted down, not only by the Conservatives of the day but by the NDP that did not support gun control legislation.
    This is an extremely important broad ranging topic. The lack of action by the Conservative government and the ability of the NDP to support the Conservatives in that lack of action needs to be discussed in greater detail.
    This is such a serious topic that it deserves to be debated today in another forum in a very fulsome manner, but the motion was presented to the House without any notice. In the next 20 minutes the Standing Committee on the Status of Women will be meeting. There are witnesses who are waiting to present to the committee today. They have come from outside Ottawa to present to the committee. We cannot afford to deal with this issue right now and give it the appropriate attention it deserves.
    We must return to this topic on another day when we can discuss it in all of its detail and fulsomeness and bring to the attention of the people of Canada the problem with respect to women's equality in this country.
    Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I move:
    That the debate be now adjourned.

  (1040)  

     The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Deputy Speaker: All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
    Some hon. members: Yea.
    The Deputy Speaker: All those opposed will please say nay.
    Some hon. members: Nay.
    The Deputy Speaker: In my opinion the nays have it.
    And five or more members having risen:
    The Deputy Speaker: Call in the members.
    And the bells having rung:

  (1050)  

    (The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
 

(Division No. 13)

YEAS

Members

Aglukkaq
Allen (Tobique—Mactaquac)
Anderson
Ashfield
Benoit
Block
Boucher
Boughen
Brown (Newmarket—Aurora)
Cannon (Pontiac)
Carrie
Casson
Chong
Coady
Cuzner
Davidson
Dechert
Dhaliwal
Dhalla
Dreeshen
Easter
Eyking
Fast
Finley
Folco
Gallant
Garneau
Glover
Goldring
Goodale
Gourde
Guarnieri
Hawn
Hoeppner
Jean
Kennedy
Kent
Komarnicki
Lake
Lauzon
Lobb
Lukiwski
MacAulay
MacKay (Central Nova)
Mayes
McLeod
Merrifield
Miller
Moore (Fundy Royal)
Neville
O'Connor
Obhrai
Oda
Pearson
Petit
Poilievre
Preston
Rajotte
Regan
Saxton
Schellenberger
Shea
Simson
Smith
Sorenson
Storseth
Sweet
Tonks
Tweed
Uppal
Valeriote
Van Kesteren
Wallace
Warkentin
Weston (West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country)
Weston (Saint John)
Wilfert
Yelich

Total: -- 78

NAYS

Members

Angus
Bachand
Beaudin
Bellavance
Bonsant
Bouchard
Bourgeois
Carrier
Comartin
Crête
Davies (Vancouver East)
DeBellefeuille
Demers
Desnoyers
Duceppe
Dufour
Faille
Freeman
Gagnon
Gaudet
Guay
Laforest
Laframboise
Lavallée
Lessard
Malo
Marston
Martin (Winnipeg Centre)
Ménard (Hochelaga)
Paillé
Paquette
Plamondon
Pomerleau
Roy
Siksay
Thi Lac
Wasylycia-Leis

Total: -- 37

PAIRED

Nil

    I declare the motion carried.

  (1055)  

    Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place with all parties and I believe you will find unanimous agreement for the following motion: That the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology create a subcommittee whose membership will be composed of five members consisting of two Conservative members, one Liberal member, one Bloc Québécois member, and one NDP member, named after the usual consultation with the whips, with all the powers and authority of the standing committee, to undertake a study of the crisis faced by the automotive industry of Canada, and the understanding that any legislation referred to the full committee take precedence over the work of the subcommittee; that, the subcommittee not meet at the same time as the full committee; and that the subcommittee report its findings and recommendations to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology by March 21, 2009.
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.

Petitions

Public Transit  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition signed by many residents of the greater Vancouver area, including some from Burnaby, who are concerned about the safety of bus operators and transit workers.
    The petitioners point out that 36% of bus operators and transit workers in 2005 experienced acts of physical violence, and they note that in the Criminal Code there are stiffer criminal penalties for individuals who assault police officers while they are performing their duties. The petitioners are suggesting that people who provide the essential community function of a transit operator or bus driver be similarly protected.
    The petitioners call on the House to support the legislative initiative of the member for Burnaby—New Westminster which extends to bus operators and transit workers the same protections under the Criminal Code afforded to police officers assaulted while performing their duties by establishing stiffer penalties for assailants.

Animal Cruelty  

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to present a petition signed by residents in the metro Vancouver area, including east Vancouver, who are expressing their concern about animal welfare. They want to draw to our attention that there is a scientific consensus and acknowledgement that animals can feel pain and can suffer, and that all efforts should be made to prevent animal cruelty and reduce animal suffering.
    They are calling on the Government of Canada to support a universal declaration on animal welfare. As this is being worked on at the United Nations, I call on all members and the Government of Canada to support this initiative.

Employment Insurance  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition I am honoured to present from the constituents of beautiful Langley. The petitioners say that there are a number of life threatening conditions that do not qualify for disability programs. The current medical insurance benefit of 15 weeks does not adequately address the problem. They are calling on the House of Commons to enact legislation to provide additional medical EI benefits to at least equal maternity EI benefits.

Asbestos  

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by thousands of Canadians that calls upon the House of Commons to recognize that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known, that more Canadians now die from asbestos-related disease than all other occupational causes combined. Yet, Canada remains one of the second or third largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world.
    These petitioners call upon Parliament to ban asbestos in all its forms and institute a just transition program for the displaced asbestos workers; end all government subsidies of asbestos, both in Canada and abroad; request that the Government of Canada stop blocking international health and safety efforts designed to curb its use; and protect workers from asbestos-related disease, such as the Rotterdam convention.

  (1100)  

Questions on the Order Paper

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
    Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, there have been a number of discussions among all the parties of the House, and I believe that you would find consent for the following motion. I move:
    That at the conclusion of today's debate on the opposition motion in the name of the member for Parkdale—High Park, all questions necessary to dispose of this motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, 2009.
    Does the hon. opposition House leader have unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Deputy Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)


GOVERNMENT ORDERS

[Business of Supply]

[English]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion--Municipal Infrastructure  

    That, in the opinion of this House, and as experience has demonstrated, the most efficient, expeditious and stimulative method of transferring federal funding for municipal infrastructure projects is by means of mechanisms similar to those put in place, beginning in 2005, to share with municipalities on a per capita basis a significant and growing portion of the federal excise tax on gasoline; and the House calls upon the government to transfer at least half of its proposed new infrastructure funding in this manner over the next two years, with no requirement that these additional federal funds be matched by the municipalities with which they are shared.
    He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter that I think reflects the new responsibilities of the House and the new conditions that Canadians face in their communities, and particularly because of the economic impacts.

[Translation]

    This is the opportunity for all members of this Parliament to defend the best interests of their municipalities and their fellow citizens in a period of economic distress. It is essential to settle the fundamental issues for Canada's economic needs.

[English]

    The plan of the government is to bring forward an economic stimulus package that rides significantly on the building of infrastructure. Each member of the House is being called upon to recognize that the responsibility is new in many significant respects.
    The House has supported infrastructure before, but the scope of what is both required and the way in which it is meant to be done raises a significant challenge.

[Translation]

    This motion raises a fundamental question, the same one asked by the president of the Quebec Order of Engineers: Are we, all members of society, prepared to spend all these billions in the best interests of society in such a short period of time?

[English]

    It has not been done by any government, to be fair, but these are fundamental interests where people have been asked to support this. People and their communities know that the support is not fundamentally there on everyone's part. Can the government spend billions of dollars? The government has said it will somehow come up with the means of spending $7 billion to $8 billion on infrastructure when the most it has been spent, up to now, is $2 billion.
    Are members of Parliament to simply cross their fingers, sit back and hope things will get done? We suggest today that there is a means to move forward. Parliamentarians need to stand in their place and give direction to the government to have an effective means of putting infrastructure dollars into our communities, putting people back to work as effectively as possible.
    Every member of the House has a duty, a responsibility to answer this question. How will people be put back to work with these borrowed moneys? The House has been asked to take on a special trust in the budget bill, or any other infrastructure moneys that come before us, but how should they be put out to communities? We have the fundamentals identified by the engineers of Quebec. They speak of both the problems we have had in the past, sad problems like the viaduct of Concorde and so on, and our general need to get infrastructure in a responsible fashion.
    In addition to that, we have difficulty working with a government that has a record when it comes to putting dollars to work. That record draws the immediate attention of the House. We need to act now.

  (1105)  

[Translation]

    This measure is of vital importance to overcome the Conservatives' well-known shortcomings. Unless Parliament acts, it is clear from the Conservatives' record that redistribution of any new moneys will be held up by red tape in an inconsistent strategy skewed in favour of their partisan interests.

[English]

    I would rather stand here and talk about the benefits of simply the best method, but we also have to take into account that, after two and a half plus years, the government has a record. Because of that record, we have brought forward this motion today. We need to take it fully into account. It requires us to step forward in a sense of obligation to move things forward.
    When the government put forward its budget, it had an opportunity to choose the best method. To give the scenario that faced the government ahead of its choices for the budget, the government proposed to put infrastructure money out through traditional means, new programs identified following those same methods. Last week we tabled a performance report from Infrastructure Canada. It is full of language about accountability. The report notes that of the $1.9 billion promised by the government, only 4% of $1.9 billion has been delivered. That is a 96% failure rate on what the government proposed in budget 2007 to address some of the significant infrastructure problems.
    That kind of lack of effect is what the government knew ahead of time. It also had independent evaluations of a program that it continued, to give it some credit, for the municipalities, and that was the gas tax fund. The implementation of that program will tell quite a different story. In fact, some 95% of the funds on the tax transfer have made it to municipalities. It had available to it the preference of our municipal partners.

[Translation]

    The two programs differ greatly in design, however, and this has an impact on the abilities of each to provide a prompt and responsible stimulus. The gas tax fund is the most effective and efficient federal funding program, because it enables the municipalities to quickly address clearly targeted and totally accountable infrastructure priorities.

[English]

    This is essential. Today each member is being asked to be accountable for some thousands of dollars that the government has proposed to spend. The method being pursued is one that would not put people to work over the next couple of years.
    The conclusion is inescapable on the record of the government of the day. Over $2 billion in the last two years has had to be given back to the treasury because the government has failed to provide the mechanisms to get it out there.
    In addition, it is not simply a matter of whether it can find the means to suddenly deliver four times as much infrastructure funds. We have to ask ourselves why it did not choose the model that was available and agreed upon. It has access to not only the assessment from last year, but the government has one in its hands right now that reinforces the viability of the gas tax, which we have proposed today. Why did it not do that?
    Sadly, the other record of the government is something a little less savoury and acceptable. People are watching us much more closely. How we respond to this economic crisis will not only define political careers, it will define how people regard the House and the relevance members have in their lives.
    The old games that have been played have had their day and it is time to change. Each member of Parliament has to examine this. For example, while a very small amount of money has been released to communities and created jobs in past infrastructure programs, the promises made by the government have been quite troubling because they have shown a pattern of bias.
    Of the first approximately $2.5 billion promised, and again not delivered, which is part of the root of why we are here today, 70% have been designated for Conservative-held ridings, the ridings of the party that holds the reins of government. That is 55% more than a fair distribution would allow. What it reflects is that Canadians who live elsewhere, who live in ridings that did not happen to elect a Conservative member are being shortchanged by 50% to make up for the shortfall. This is not acceptable.
    We have in front of us the ability to turn a page today and to take responsibility in the way that every Canadian will hold us accountable. If these new $7 billion of funds do not find their way into the jobs in communities the way people expect, each one of us will be quite properly called to account.
    In December 44,000 people in the construction industry lost their jobs. We have a government that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to recognize that economic stimulus was required. It is incumbent on the House to engage itself, involve itself, insert itself and give direction about implementation for effective stimulus spending.
    The members of the government side have an opportunity to do this in a manner that does not slow down or get in the way of the programs that could come once budgetary allocations are approved. This is the chance to see the meddle of the members opposite in these new conditions.
     Will they vote for the interests of their local citizens, a per capita distribution fairly across the country? Will they show respect for the local municipalities? Will they recognize that the municipalities have geared up for an increase in municipal receipts of gas tax funds and that they can responsibly put those to work? Will they accept the reports that say this is a good way to get money out to communities and that they trust the fact that the municipalities will find the money to spend?
    The government, the members opposite, need to let go of the partisan small-minded politics of placing money in pet projects and things that it thinks are important. This is nothing more fundamental than a decision as to whether the old politics will rule in the conditions that Canada faces today or something new and different.
    We have introduced this motion in the interests of a fair discussion and debate. We have information already available about choosing the instruments. We have not had in the opportunities, limited as they have been, whether before the Senate, or in the finance and infrastructure committees, or in brief instances of talking to the minister, any indication that there is a plan to turn around a 400% increase in distribution of infrastructure moneys without multiplying the problems that have been faced.

  (1110)  

    Again, a 96% failure rating in getting money out on time and a 50% distortion towards Conservative ridings and away from the fairness of the rest of the majority of Canadians is unacceptable. There have been enormous problems in working with our partners, provincially and federally.
     There is nothing on the books. In fact, the government has asked the transport department, which distributed $1 billion and which has the same number of staff and level of expertise, perhaps slightly enhanced but not to any great extent, to now distribute $8 billion.
    There is a root question for all Canadians. Can the government, which has been given probation, give us a push forward because of the economic exigencies of the day? Can it work when Canadians need it the most? Those are the fundamental questions.
    In the handling of the infrastructure file, we see great significant cause for concern. Why did the government not choose the endorsed means of the municipalities? The big city mayors and the small town communities have told us what works and they can make it work right away.
    If the members opposite do not agree with the motion today, then they will reinforce patterns of inequality in our country. Poor communities that cannot put up their share of the money will not get any economic stimulus. Is that fair?

  (1115)  

[Translation]

    No, it is not acceptable. Today is the time to change the way our communities and major cities are dealt with.

[English]

    It is extremely important that we seize this opportunity. There will be no better chance. We do not want the House to fall into the typical blame and shame that happens when things do not work.
    I look forward to hearing the debate from the other side of the House. We need a fulsome explanation from the government on how it will do this. The onus is on the government. We are stepping forward in a means that we think is in keeping with spirit of what the country requires, which is constructive proposals about how to move forward. Even though the record of the government is pretty sad and it has nothing to be proud of, it can make itself look better in the eyes of Canadians.
    This is an essential test as well. Are the members of the governing party open to a different way of governing and taking forward suggestions from other parties? Are they finally going to get the message of the last election, that Canadians wanted them to come here with their ears and their hearts open to a means of moving the country forward? Canadians knew what Conservatives denied, and that is underneath their feet were the rumblings of an economy in trouble, of people losing jobs.
     Forty percent of what is going to happen under the stimulus package is going to depend on the effectiveness of these infrastructure funds. Day by day the government is missing the chance to instill confidence in Canadians, confidence that the economy is going to get better, confidence that members of the House can find ways to supersede partisan differences.
    If the party in power insists on not improving its infrastructure program with the motion we have today, it stands exposed as unable to meet the requirements of government.
    We are working in a proactive fashion. We are working with this situation. We appeal to all the parties. We recognize and acknowledge the roles that other parties have played in identifying, for example, this mechanism of the gas transfer tax. We recognize that all people in their local communities are probably very versed on how effective that has been.
    We have this need to step forward now and to amplify the impacts that can exist in terms of putting forward the best possible means.
    I can predict very clearly what will happen if we do not act today. We will have a continuation of the partisan bias that sees certain Canadians denied on the basis of their vote, not on their need.

[Translation]

    The money will likely be wasted. In a desperate move to transfer this money, the Conservatives might spend money without the appropriate accountability, resulting in costly errors with borrowed funds.

[English]

    This is borrowed money. This is a trust not just for our voters and not just for our fellow citizens, but for the children of tomorrow, from whom we are borrowing this money. It is essential that we put forward the capacity on how those funds are going to live up to that.
    The gas tax transfer fund is dedicated to the environmental change that this country has to put forward in order to meet the needs of the economy of tomorrow. It is dedicated to recognizing that municipalities cannot be beggared by the present circumstances of the economy. They have falling property tax revenues and, as many voices have already said, they have to look after the maintenance and the rebuilding of infrastructure. They will not be able to do that if we insist on a cost-shared mechanism.
    This is a reasonable proposal before the House. It asks for half the money to be set aside to be used in the gas tax transfer fashion. It means that those communities and those provinces that want to add money will be free to do so. They recognize, and we need to respect their recognition, the desperation that many communities face, and they will do that. They do not need to be told by this level of government. They do not need to have their hands held and they do not need artificial due diligences, which will take months and months of procedure and not get dollars moving in the form of the so-called shovels in the ground and, more important, not get people back into jobs of dignity.
    This is the hour. This is the time in which we get to decide how we will move forward. Is this House capable of seizing its new responsibilities, not just for devising what could happen, but for taking responsibility to ensure that it does happen for the implementation of building the next Canada? That is what the present economic circumstances open for us to do.

  (1120)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member asked that we take notice of the message from the last election. It is pretty clear from the last election that this government was given an even stronger mandate to govern this country. Clearly, Canadians trusted us to serve them well. A lesson he should have learned from this last election was that the Liberal Party suffered its worst defeat ever. He may want to reconsider that question and that challenge.
    The member made a suggestion or allegation that the distribution of infrastructure funding was unfair. In fact, he has actually issued a list of ridings that he claims are Conservative ridings that received funding to the exclusion of some Liberal ridings. I looked at the list and I noticed that he referred to Kenora as being Conservative, yet when infrastructure funding was delivered, that riding was a Liberal riding. The same holds trust for Saint John, New Brunswick, and Fredericton.
    Is the hon. member not getting off on the wrong foot as a rookie MP by making suggestions that misrepresent the facts, and would he correct the record for the House?
    Mr. Speaker, I have to say that I am slightly disappointed in the tone coming from the member opposite, but I understand. The temptation is to stick their heads in the ground and believe there is no problem.
    There was $2.8 billion. We have the list that the ministry does not even want to release, that it has not had the temerity to put forward to its own members to show where the money has gone. The money was not delivered to any of those ridings, unfortunately, but the promises have been made disproportionately, and the government has been hiding ever since.
    For every riding that is proposed that may be a little off on the day it was promised, there is another one that actually is in the Conservative column. These numbers are only a part of the point. The real point is the first one made by the member opposite: the message of the election. Was it for the party in power to do things its own way for its own benefit? Was that what Canadians really sent a minority Parliament back to do? Have no lessons been learned?
    We will find out today if lessons can be learned by a government while it is still in power. We have a stimulus package that has many flaws. This is about fixing one of them. I say to the members opposite that if the government wishes to make those partisan points, we have only made part of our presentation, and it will miss that opportunity and it will disappoint Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my Liberal colleague's speech. He recently joined us on the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
    My question is simple. And the member will soon know our party's position regarding the Liberal motion. However, in terms of how things work on the ground, I would like our colleague to remember that municipalities, according to the Constitution, are creatures of the provinces.
    In Quebec, the Act respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif prohibits all spending or direct negotiations between the federal government and municipalities or school boards without written permission from the Quebec government.
    Is my colleague aware of this?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I know that there are legislative agreements with the Quebec government, but there is also an agreement between the Government of Canada and the Quebec government concerning the gas tax transfer—I have a copy here—that requires that the provincial government's jurisdiction be respected. The method of distribution differs across the country. The agreement differs depending on the level of government. In Ontario, the agreement is made directly with certain municipalities, but it is a different agreement in Quebec.
    The goal is to find the most efficient method, based on the methods that have already shown themselves to be efficient. That is the goal of this motion.

  (1125)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to engage in this discussion. As a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, I can tell the House of those dark days when the Conservatives ignored infrastructure, and it was nice to see the Chrétien government bring in the infrastructure program in 1994.
    My colleague raises a very important issue, which is that if in fact we are going to have an economic stimulus package from the government and if the government is really serious about getting people to work and getting infrastructure programs going, one would wonder why it would have such a complicated approach. The gas tax is the most efficient and most effective way, and we know that many municipal budgets have already been set, so municipalities cannot necessarily find money out of thin air to match.
    I ask my colleague that if in fact in this particular case the idea is economic stimulus, why would we ignore a program that even the government had supported in the past, which is the gas tax? How does the member see this as a more effective instrument in delivering the kinds of projects municipal governments require and would like to fund today? Could the member elaborate on that for us?
    Mr. Speaker, I trust that all members of the House are aware that the method being proposed by the government requires municipalities to wait for funds. They cannot start or they lose access to funds. They must wait for approvals, sign specific agreements, and detail due diligence. The big hand of big government is reaching over them and holding back those projects, whereas the gas tax fund can actually be borrowed against immediately and be used immediately to get shovels in the ground.
    That is what the mayor of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and Mr. Carl Zehr, the mayor of Kitchener, Ontario, speaking for the big city mayors caucus, said very clearly:
    To counter a recession this year we need a program that gets money to projects in time for the spring construction season. A program based on the gas tax funding model is the best tool for the job.
    We know that. Will the government give up its patronage? Will it give up the other temptations and serve the interests of Canadians fairly and effectively? This is how municipalities can put Canadians to work and build the infrastructure that will put us in a position of advantage for tomorrow.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's intervention.
    I want to carry on in a slightly different vein from where the member for Abbotsford left off.
    We talked about where money goes in a particular riding that may have been held by an MP from a particular party. The simple fact is that when money goes into a particular riding for a project, it is not just people in that riding who get the jobs. It is not just people in that riding who enjoy the facility. I will give two examples.
    In Edmonton, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona is a member of the New Democratic Party. The Northlands exhibition facility is in my riding. I can guarantee that the people of Edmonton--Strathcona use that facility and that people from Edmonton--Strathcona will be employed in the expansion of that facility.
    Another example is Ipsco Place in Regina. The member for Wascana was complaining the other day that the money was spent outside his riding. It is 3.93 miles from his riding. I guarantee that people from Wascana will use that facility and I guarantee that people from Wascana will be employed in that construction.
    With respect to the municipalities and their ability to raise funds, we have a $2 billion credit capacity. They can borrow on that. When they present the bill, it is paid.
    Toronto underspent its municipal budget by $190 million last year--
    The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the point raised by the member opposite about multiple benefit and so on, but the fact is that 70% of the $2.5 billion pledged is mainly for Conservative ridings.
    However, it is much simpler. All that members need to agree on is that a per capita distribution is fair and that the extra speed and accountability that come with the gas tax transfer make this approach superior. Why get tangled up in selections? Why does the federal government want to do that, when it says its goal is economic stimulus and when its record is to not get money out the door effectively, even today? The record last year was 4%.
    The point is raised because it is the temptation of government to keep a hand on the rudder to serve those smaller purposes. I say to the member opposite and to all members of the House that we must resist that temptation--
    Order. We are going to try to get one more brief question in here. The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

  (1130)  

    Mr. Speaker, I think Canadians watching this will be mystified at what is actually happening, having heard that the Liberals were supporting the Conservative budget without conditions with respect to flow of money for infrastructure projects although, as the Liberals themselves pointed out, 96% of infrastructure money in the past has not flowed even though it was promised by the Conservatives.
    How is it possible that the Liberals proceeded with support for this bill without any conditions attached and without questions about how the numbers would flow? How can they justify their support for a budget that may not provide any kind of stimulus, the likes of which Canadians need and deserve?
    The hon. member for Parkdale—High Park only has about 20 seconds.
    Mr. Speaker, I say very quickly to the member for Winnipeg North that we need to get the money out to Canadians and also take responsibility for choosing the best method. We have decided to support the budget, but this is improving on that support and making sure the money can get where it is going.
    I enjoin her to support it on that basis. Let us do the best job possible for Canadians in making infrastructure happen quickly.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to contribute to the debate on this motion from the hon. colleague. I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.
    I think we should start the debate by talking about why we are in the situation we are and by understanding what is happening globally, because if we do not understand that and deal with this motion in that context, we are going to miss exactly what we are trying to do. We will get into the gutter and start playing politics, as petty as they can become in the House.
    Let me try this out for a bit. We have to understand how the banking system in the Unites States has failed and how the asset-backed commercial paper and mortgages in the United States have collapsed and brought us into this situation. It is not only in the United States; it has rippled into the banking systems in Europe and Asia. We are not immune to it, because America is our largest trading partner.
    This is a global slowdown. It is not something that has happened just to us. It is not something we caused or asked for or had any part in promoting in any way. However, we nonetheless have to deal with it. We have to deal with it collectively, because any stimulus money that is put into the American, European or Asian economies will not spin us out of the global slowdown if it is not done collectively. It is only if we put our collective efforts together as the G20 and do it respectively in each of our countries that we will see Canadians, Americans, Europeans, Asians and so on go back to work. Then we will spin our way out of this situation.
    Failing to do this, we will see a repeat of what happened in the 1930s. Hopefully we have learned from history and we will work collectively to get out of this slowdown. We have to look at the stimulus package in that light.
    It is not that this is our first stimulation package. This is the second one. As the world economy was slowing down, the first package we saw started in the fall of 2007 with a $200 billion stimulation package. This package included lowering the GST from 7% to 5%, implementing child tax credits and putting $100 per child into the hands of ordinary Canadians for child care, lowering corporate taxes to 15% and lowering small business taxes to 11%. These agendas were started long before we got into what was recognized by the world as an international economic slowdown.
    We have to understand that what we are trying to do with the infrastructure and stimulus funding is actually twofold. First of all, we have to put Canadians back to work with their own money. We have to do it now, because they are losing jobs at the present time. However, we have to do more than that. We have to build an infrastructure that will prepare us to compete and be productive long into the 21st century and long after the current economic slowdown has passed.

  (1135)  

    That is why we are putting money into transit which is green. It not only improves the quality of the systems that get individuals to and fro in our major urban settings, but it is also environmentally friendly and it allows us to breathe cleaner air. We are also putting money into waste water, making sure that we have cleaner water. We are also making sure that we have green projects, that we have the very best of municipal waste disposal systems in the world, the best coal-burning and biofuel facilities in the world and the ability to create energy from those cellulosic and forest sectors and other opportunities that we have.
    If we can do that with our infrastructure money, we will not be playing that petty game of who gets the most, which municipalities win and which municipalities lose. This will sustain us well into the 21st century. Everyone in Canada will win and we can be very proud of the technologies we design and the progress that we make.
    We started this stimulus package three years ago. We came into power with the understanding that the infrastructure across the country was deteriorating and we had to do something about it. We put forward a $33 billion infrastructure program. That program is being built on with our action plan, which is another $12 billion. That $12 billion is split up a number of different ways. We have $4 billion in infrastructure stimulus funding.
    One of the magic parts of this economic action plan, which I appreciate the opposition supporting, is the concept of use it or lose it. If we are going to stimulate the economy, we have to do it now and create the jobs when jobs are being lost. If we do not include the concept of use it or lose it, the money will go out beyond the time when it would be of appropriate use, not on the infrastructure side but on the stimulus side. It has to be done now and it has to be in new projects.
     We are not prepared to put money into the hands of the municipalities or give them blank cheques and tell them they can spend whatever they want, because they would just balance their books on the backs of the federal government. They would not use the money as a stimulus for creating new projects. This money has to be used to stimulate the economy, to put Canadians back to work and to create jobs that would not normally be there.
    Also, there is $2 billion to accelerate the construction of colleges and universities across the country. Canada has nothing to hide or to be ashamed of when it comes to post-secondary education. We are number one in the world when it comes to post-secondary graduates, but we can do better. We can keep on top of this agenda. When our young people are educated properly and have the best facilities to obtain that education, we will win in the 21st century. We have to put money into the high tech part of it and make sure our universities are creating the very brightest and best. Our future is based on the strength of our educational system and our youth. We are very pleased to be able to put $2 billion into that.
    There is another $1 billion for the green infrastructure projects. This goes right to the visit of the President of the United States, who was here last week. He told Canada that he is very interested in the carbon capture and sequestration programs. We have to make sure that we are not only using fossil fuels in the cleanest way possible, and developing technologies that we can sell internationally, but that we are also working together to make sure that technology works.
    As well, dealing with coal, which is another source of energy, we realize that if we are going to keep our GDP growing and our economic growth the same in the next 30 years as we have in the last 30, we have to double the amount of energy in that time period. Doubling the amount of energy in a clean, environmentally effective way is no small task. It is something that all of us have to look at intelligently. We have to do it in a way that understands the politics of the world. A lot of the fossil fuels come from unstable political regimes such as in the Middle East, Venezuela and so on. These are the challenges of North America and we can meet those challenges.
    There is another $500 million in support for construction of new community recreational facilities. We were very proud, as were all Canadians, when a lot of these rinks were built for our centennial anniversary in 1967, but they are getting old. They need refurbishing. This infrastructure funding is there to help build centres for cultural and other activities in the small communities across the country, from one coast to the other. We are very proud of that and it is something that is needed to sustain the infrastructure in the local communities.
    We are going to do it, which goes to the essence of question in the motion before us that we are debating. How are we going to get the money out? How are we going to do it effectively? We are going to be working with the provinces to be make sure that we fast-track key infrastructure projects.
    For example, part of the infrastructure project is a base fund of $25 million over a five year period. Every province gets the same: $25 million. That is $175 million over seven years per province. We are not going to wait for seven years before we spend it. We are going to accelerate that so the provinces can spend that $175 million right now. They can do it on good projects that are based on criteria set by municipal and provincial governments. It is leveraged three to one, so we are going to see not only federal money but also municipal and provincial money going into those accelerated funds to build capacity for more employment and more infrastructure.
    It is timely, very important and smart to do this kind of spending at this time because there is better competition in the bidding process for the jobs that are out there right now. I was talking to a number of the premiers. I was talking to one premier's office last week and I will be talking to another one this afternoon. What I am hearing right across the country is that the competitive bidding process is better today than it was a year ago. In fact some are telling me it is 25% to 30% better. Our dollar is going to go much further and we are going to be able to build more infrastructure because of the way we are doing it and the time in which we are doing it.
    Let us do it smartly. Let us clean out some of the hindrances that we have seen. That is why in Bill C-10 there is a portion dealing with the Navigable Waters Protection Act to make sure that we get a lot of the bureaucracy out of the way, deal with the appropriate places where the environment is compromised, and not be so phobic about some of the things that are ridiculous under the act. We are going to change the definition of navigable waters. We do not want to duplicate environmental studies. We want to make sure that we do the appropriate study on that.

  (1140)  

    This government is building a tremendous amount of infrastructure projects at the present time and we are going to continue to do a lot more. I ask all members to please stay tuned.
    Mr. Speaker, the government fails to understand that the FCM put forward a notion that the gas tax is the best approach to take because it is the most efficient, and the money should go toward new projects, not into general revenue.
    I heard the minister talk about the building Canada fund. The government is great on announcements but very short on delivery. It announced $8.8 billion in 2007 but how much was actually spent in that first year? Zero. The government spent nothing on infrastructure projects in that first year. Last January the FCM announced that less than $300 million of the $1.5 billion announced for the last two years had actually flowed from the building Canada fund.
    If the minister is serious about having projects go forward in a short construction season, then he should not play politics and leave the infrastructure issue to the provinces. The government should be dealing directly with the municipalities. The way to do that is by way of the gas tax. They are going to advance their five or ten year capital forecast and move forward.
    I would ask the minister to comment on that.
    Mr. Speaker, the member's question gives me an opportunity to explain about what we are doing with the gas tax.
    The concept to some degree is right, and we agree with it. The amount of gas tax for the province of Alberta, for example, in 2008-09 is $95 million and in 2009-10 it will double, to $195 million. It is not a matter of the municipalities not having the money.
    There is a principle and a concept that my hon. colleague needs to understand. If someone is not prepared to invest his or her own money in something, then he or she does not value that item very much.
    We are asking municipalities to use the money the federal government is prepared to offer and leverage it with the money from the province and the municipality's own money. If municipalities do not have the money, we have put aside a fund so they can make the political decision as to whether or not to borrow against that at a very low rate. Municipalities have no excuse for saying they do not have the money. They have the money, but do they have the political will? That must be there if they are going to invest in the right projects.
    There will be all kinds of fancy projects that may not meet the ultimate goal of building the best infrastructure for the country in the 21st century. We need to make sure that we get that concept across.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the minister when he talked about some of the programs the government was putting in place on the energy front.
    He said that the Conservative government invested $2.2 billion in the biofuels program. This is a pork-barrel program. This program in this climate and with what is happening in the world is going to deliver zero dollars toward renewable energy. It is going to put a lot of money into corn-based ethanol, which is not the way to go. Those dollars are being badly invested.
    In the latest budget most of the money that should be going into energy will go into carbon sequestration. This process has been totally unproven on a commercial scale. It is going to take many years to develop the technology. The companies that want to invest in this have not decided how they are going to invest. This is not a stimulation idea.
    The U.S. is putting $150 billion into proven renewable energy technologies, such as wind power and solar power. These things are really what President Obama was talking about in his address--

  (1145)  

    I will have to stop the hon. member there to give the hon. Minister of State a chance to respond.
    Mr. Speaker, I can hardly believe that I am hearing that kind of nonsense from an NDP member. I thought he was concerned about cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner land. Not only biofuels but cellulosic ethanol biofuels and biodiesel will create more than that.
    The forestry sector is looking at state of the art projects, things that perhaps my colleague needs to become informed about. It is looking at using forest products to create energy and electricity.
    One of the projects that President Obama was talking about was zero CO2 emissions for coal and we all know that coal will be a tremendous energy source in the future.
    I am appalled at the short-sightedness and lack of understanding that an NDP member would have on environmental issues. I encourage that member to come and talk to me and I will educate him on some of the exciting projects that Canada will have in the future.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this motion.
     As many of my hon. colleagues may recall, in November 2007 this Conservative government made the largest single commitment to Canadian public infrastructure in over half a century when we launched the building Canada plan. This is the largest investment in infrastructure since the second world war. Since then we have moved quickly to implement this plan, working together with our counterparts in the provinces, territories and municipalities.
    We have signed framework agreements with all provinces and territories. We have taken action to develop our gateways, borders and trade corridors. We have made the gas tax transfer, which provides municipalities with stable and predictable funding, permanent. We have delivered significant public transit initiatives. We have flowed money to provinces and territories so project work can begin quickly. We have committed more money to infrastructure projects across the country than any other government in Canadian history.
    All of these actions will help provide a solid foundation for our country to weather the economic storm we are facing. Building Canada money is already at work in communities across the country. It is being used for more than 4,700 projects with many more on the way. These projects are not only creating jobs and stimulating local economies in the short term, but they will also have many lasting benefits. For example, we are investing millions of dollars in the expansion of the Manitoba Red River floodway and flood protection measures in British Columbia. This investment will help protect hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars in property from the possible ravages of flood waters.
    We are helping fund the expansion of the Spadina subway and GO Transit in the greater Toronto area, new buses in Montreal, and the SkyTrain in B.C. These initiatives will encourage more people to use public transit, which is good for the economy and the environment. It will help create a better quality of life for our families and our communities.
    Our government is also investing in projects that will result in cleaner water for Canadians to drink, use and enjoy. We are helping to pay for the cleanup of the Saint John harbour in New Brunswick, upgrading storm sewers in Nova Scotia, and developing better water treatment plants in Nunavut.
    Every day millions of Canadians and Canadian goods take to the roads, highways and airports, all activities which support our economy. Our government is investing heavily in making those roads, highways and airports safer and better. By facilitating the movement of people and goods, we are encouraging tourism, trade and commerce, all of which have enormous benefits for our country.
    Our building Canada plan will help important projects, such as the Trans-Labrador Highway, the Montague Street bridge in P.E.I., the Kicking Horse Canyon highway in B.C., and many more.
    We are also investing in infrastructure that makes Canadians proud to live, work and play in their communities. Sports, tourism and cultural infrastructure across this country are getting a much needed boost from our government.
    Calgary will see a redeveloped Stampede Park. The Quartier des spectacles in Montreal and Evraz Place in Regina are being revitalized. Right in our backyard, Ottawa will soon be home to a magnificent world-class convention centre that will attract business and other groups from around the globe, opening the doors to enormous economic opportunity.
    In 2011, Halifax will welcome the world for the Canada Winter Games. Our government is proud to support this event by helping fund the Halifax Mainland Common Centre, which will be a primary venue for this event and a world-class facility for training high performance and competitive athletes.
    By investing in community recreational infrastructure, our government is committed to building healthy communities so that families, friends and neighbours can come together.
    All of these infrastructure projects are only possible through the co-operation of all levels of government. As Canada's Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has said repeatedly, together all three levels of government can go three times further and three times faster. Ontario's Minister of Finance has said, “Today, the federal government has come to the table and has made the much-needed infrastructure investments Ontario has been calling for”.
    No one level of government alone can accomplish what we need to get done. Our government has stepped up to the plate with $33 billion in infrastructure funding under building Canada, plus another $12 billion in new funding announced in the most recent budget.
    We will speed up the flow of these funds to the provinces, territories and municipalities. We will cut the red tape, so provinces and territories can put shovels in the ground quickly to create jobs. Together we will build the infrastructure that will allow Canadians and the economy to thrive now and in the future.
    We will continue to work with the provinces, territories and municipalities to invest wisely, quickly and efficiently to address the needs of Canadians today, tomorrow and into the future. This is our plan.

  (1150)  

    I want to read a couple of articles. We have talked at different times in the House about the leadership the Prime Minister has shown on the international stage and comments from different organizations that have commended us for our world leadership. Around the globe we are the envy of other countries when it comes to the way that we not only acted prior to the slowdown but how we have worked during this time to ensure that Canada will come out sooner and stronger from this economic slowdown than other countries.
    It is interesting to note, for example, an article from the Daily Telegraph in the U.K., that came out during the G8 meetings this past summer. The article significantly lamented the lack of leadership among the other G8 countries as we headed into the economic slowdown, but it singled out one world leader for specific recognition and excepted him from the comments it made regarding the leadership, saying that our Prime Minister had shown specific positive leadership. Here is a direct quote:
    Of all the leaders, only [our Prime Minister]...is able to point to a popular and successful record in office. Some will regard it as alarming that, in current times, world leadership should rest with Canada. But the Canadian Tories are a model of how to behave during a downturn.
    At the end of the article it says:
    If the rest of the world had comported itself with similar modesty and prudence, we might not be in this mess.
    I am not going to quote from the article, but there was a recent article in The Guardian in the U.K. that viewers can check that commented a little bit on the Liberal leader and there is a stark contrast between the two comments.
    I am now going to turn to an article that appeared in Newsweek recently on February 16, talking about Canada under the headline “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative”. This is a direct quote:
    Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it's Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system the healthiest in the world. America's ranked 40th, Britain's 44th.
    The article went on to say:
    Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize.
    In closing, the article went on to say:
    If President Obama is looking for smart government, there is much he, and all of us, could learn from our...neighbor to the north.
    Wise words there from Newsweek.. On the international stage, Canada is regarded as a world leader because of the steps we have taken, not just during this global slowdown but as the hon. member who spoke just before me mentioned, well in advance. Right from the time that we formed the government in 2006, we have been taking steps to make Canada stronger. In the long-term those steps have served us very well up to this point and helped us to enter the slowdown later, have ensured that the slowdown here will be felt less than in other countries, and will ensure that moving forward we will come out of this slowdown sooner and stronger than other countries.
    With that I will end my comments and I look forward to questions from opposition members.

  (1155)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, my question will be simple.
    The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry heard the speech given earlier by the Minister of State (Transport) who said, among other things, that these infrastructure programs could help solve the forestry crisis. I was a little shocked by this, given that he has some knowledge of the industry.
    For the forestry crisis, the Conservative government announced only $170 million over two years. My concern is simple, and this is my question for the minister. What can we do to help a municipality such as Lebel-sur-Quévillon, for example, which has lost 40% of all its jobs in the forestry sector? That is, 40% of all the jobs in the municipality have been lost, and all as a result of the forestry crisis. What will with infrastructure program do to stimulate job creation in that municipality?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would point out that the slowdown affects sectors and industries across the country. It is a big issue. Obviously it is a global situation that affects countries around the globe and within Canada, there will be effects across the country.
    Many of the steps we have taken are specific to industries. There is the community adjustment fund. There are modifications we have made to EI, for example, that makes it easier for people to get the support they need. We have the targeted initiative for older workers that the members from the Bloc have been talking about.
    In terms of infrastructure, we have a $4 billion stimulus fund to help the provinces, territories and municipalities all across the country get projects started as soon as possible to put out of work Canadians to work as soon as we can.
    There is $2 billion to accelerate construction of colleges and universities, which will have a short-term benefit in terms of the jobs that will create, but a long-term benefit in terms of the ability to train Canadians to be global leaders for the future.
    There is $1 billion to create the new green infrastructure fund. There is $500 million to support the construction of new community recreation facilities and upgrade existing facilities, again, putting Canadians to work.
     It is such a long list, it might take a little bit longer to go through it.
    Mr. Speaker, I do have a question for the hon. member.
    Over the last number of days I have spoken to a number of municipal leaders in my communities. The mayor of Mount Pearl, who calls the gas tax fund one of the most innovative new programs we have delivered in the last 100 years, thought this kind of program gets legitimate revenues moving forward in communities very quickly. He has a number of projects waiting to be done that he wants done. Mayor Simms would be very encouraged if we could move this motion through.
    I spoke as well to Councillor Tom Hann in the city of St. John's who said he had over $92 million in projects waiting for funding today. If we were to actually move forward on this motion, he could have shovels in the ground, people at work and good economic development in the city of St. John's and the city of Mount Pearl immediately.
    My question is to the member, and I appreciate his comments. Why would the government not consider this motion? Why would it not consider this move toward putting some of the infrastructure dollars in the hands of communities immediately so that we can move forward on economic development, on good infrastructure development, and on getting people to work immediately?
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to serve on the industry committee with the hon. member. As a new member, it is always a challenging thing to come into the House.
    I would especially note that she is in a unique circumstance in that for the first time in history, an opposition leader allowed a free vote on the budget, and she took the opportunity to vote against the budget, as did her Newfoundland colleagues. With that free vote, 90% of her Liberal colleagues took the opportunity to support the government in the important steps.
    In terms of the steps we are taking, our budget contains a long list of initiatives to stimulate the economy and make sure Canadians are working. We have doubled the amount of money in the gas tax and made it permanent. For this year it will be doubled. It is now permanent, something municipalities find very important.
    My encouragement right now would be to ensure that we get the budget implementation bill back to the House, that we vote on it and that we all support it. Hopefully this time around the hon. member will rethink her position with the free vote and actually support the budget in an attempt to get the money flowing to the communities she talked about.

  (1200)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to this Liberal motion. The purpose of the motion is to recommend to the government that investments in infrastructure programs be made in the same manner as in 2005, namely, through a formula for the distribution of the gas tax, which was a per capita distribution for each municipality. This investment represents half of all the funds available in budget 2009.
    First of all, our party will support the Liberal Party position. We are setting partisan politics aside, because the situation is critical. We are on the brink of an economic crisis and one good way to stimulate the economy is to invest in infrastructure.
    When I say we are setting partisan politics aside, I am choosing my words carefully. That is not what the Liberals did when it came to the most recent budget. They have a political agenda and that is how they practice politics. They chose to support a budget that offered no real solutions for the forestry and manufacturing crisis that mainly affects the province of Quebec, but the Bloc Québécois has made a different choice.
    Setting aside political partisanship, we can see that the needs are great. Every city in Quebec has infrastructure needs. That is why the Province of Quebec created the coalition on infrastructure, a huge coalition that includes more than just the cities and is headed by the mayor of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt.
    This coalition also includes contractors and engineers, all the infrastructure stakeholders in Quebec, who, when the coalition was formed in the early 2000s, said that Quebec already had an infrastructure shortfall of more than $12 billion, just for upgrading existing infrastructure. I am talking about equipment and buildings, and also underground pipes such as water and sewer systems.
    Quebec already had a $12 billion shortfall. In the early 1990s, the federal Liberal government inherited the Conservatives' deficit and decided to achieve a zero deficit by reducing transfers to the provinces. The provinces could not pay their infrastructure costs on their own, because of rising health and education costs, so they downloaded part of the cost to the municipalities. That is what happened. I was a member of the Union des municipalités du Québec at the time, and I even served as president of the organization from 1997 to 2000.
    All across Canada, or at least in Quebec, the provincial shortfall was downloaded onto the municipalities and school boards. Obviously, the municipalities absorbed the costs, but that does not necessarily mean they invested in infrastructure.
    Those who took part in discussions in 1992 about the municipalities in Quebec or who were following what was going on at the municipal level know that in the wake of the Ryan reform in Quebec in 1992, the Government of Quebec decided, with the stroke of a pen, to again transfer all local roads and some regional roads that came under the provincial government to the municipalities.
    It transferred these roads directly to the cities and municipalities. The same thing happened with all types of works: bridges, culverts and all public construction. These public works and engineering works— municipal bridges and culverts—were transferred all at once and without a cent attached. The cities had to absorb the cost of repairs and maintenance. There was a reason why, last year, following the collapse of an overpass in Laval—a public engineering work belonging to the Government of Quebec—the government undertook a study.

  (1205)  

    Because the works ceded in 1992 were not being maintained, last fall the Government of Quebec decided to take back all the bridges and engineering works it downloaded in 1992. You can imagine the condition of the infrastructure it turned over in 1992—fairly important works such as bridges, overpasses and sewer and water systems—given that the municipalities had not invested any money in their maintenance.
    Money was not invested because of the burden transferred in 1992 under the Ryan reform and in 1998 under the Trudel reform. I am not being partisan. This happened under both Liberal and Parti Québécois governments. The Quebec government had no choice because provincial transfer payments were cut. That is the reality. We have started to reinvest and to give.
    There is a reason why the Bloc Québécois has been working hard to have the fiscal imbalance recognized. It has led to an imbalance in tax revenues that has had a domino effect on cities, and I will not even mention the school boards that were affected by this new transfer of the fiscal burden. This led to the creation of the Coalition pour le renouvellement des infrastructures du Québec chaired by the mayor of Laval, Mr. Vaillancourt, as I mentioned earlier.
    The idea was to try to address this infrastructure deficit and to restore and upgrade the equipment that already belonged to the cities. And I am not talking about developing new infrastructure. A great deal of pressure was brought to bear on the federal government, which bore the brunt of the responsibility. That is a fact. When it began slashing provincial transfers to try to achieve fiscal balance and a zero deficit, it created an imbalance at the municipal level. The governments, especially the federal government, realized this. Consequently, when it started generating surpluses, it began wanting to give some money back to the cities directly.
    As I said earlier to the member for Parkdale—High Park, the Liberal critic who gave a speech on behalf of his party, the problem is that Quebec has a law that prohibits any direct federal transfers to municipalities. I am going to take the time to read section 3.11 of the Act respecting the Ministère du Conseil exécutif:
    Except to the extent expressly provided for by law, no municipal body or school body may, without the prior authorization of the Government, enter into any agreement with another government in Canada or one of its departments or government agencies, or with a federal public agency.
    Municipalities and school boards in Quebec are therefore prohibited from negotiating directly with the federal government. This is in keeping with the Canadian Constitution, because the cities come directly under the provinces. Some provinces do not have such requirements. That is why I want to tell all the members to be careful when taking action and making statements or even election promises.
    I see that the Liberals analyzed the money invested in infrastructure programs. They found that 70% of the money spent to date has been spent in Conservative ridings, but not in Quebec. That stands to reason, because in Quebec, it is not the federal government that decides how the money will be invested, but the Province of Quebec. You have not seen us rise to say that there has been patronage in Quebec. There has been no patronage simply because the province decides how the money will be divided up. The Government of Quebec uses a formula involving representatives of the two municipal unions.
    There are two main municipal unions in Quebec: the Union des municipalités du Québec, which includes most large and medium-sized cities, and the Fédération québécoise des municipalités, which represents small and medium-sized cities as well as regional municipalities. Both unions are represented on the selection committee.
    Quebec already has a framework for distributing the funds, provided that the funds are part of a negotiated agreement. That was the case for the first agreement that the Liberal government at the time had negotiated. As our Liberal colleague showed earlier, agreements were signed concerning the gas tax, the municipal rural infrastructure fund and other funds. Each time there was federal money involved, an agreement was negotiated between the Quebec government and the federal government.

  (1210)  

    Until now, this has operated by means of agreements. One of those was the gas tax agreement: part of the envelope is distributed per capita, per municipality, with a minimum amount. It was very well received. I personally helped with the planning. At that time, it was Liberal minister John Godfrey who undertook this work on the gas tax. He invited me, as the former president of the Union des municipalités du Québec, into his office and I had the opportunity to discuss it with him and his officials on two occasions. He wanted to know my opinion on how the money should be distributed. I felt, obviously, that the best way would be to ensure that each municipality benefited, since every municipality has needs.
    Do not try to tell me that municipalities can receive money through this program even when they do not need it. On the contrary, every municipality has needs and requests. Since 1992, when the federal government decided to cut transfers, municipalities have had to take on extra burdens, for the equipment and infrastructure that was downloaded. Yet they had neither the time nor the money for upgrades.
    Clearly, at this time, it would be best to take part of the money and continue to redistribute it equitably among municipalities, on a per capita basis. This will enable them to bring forward some plans. Indeed, each municipality in Quebec must produce a three-year infrastructure plan in its budget and submit it directly to the Government of Quebec. Each municipality therefore has its three-year plan. Under the agreement with the municipal union, the minister can ask the Government of Quebec to produce the three-year plan and he will very quickly learn the infrastructure needs of each municipality. Everything is already very well planned and structured
    All municipalities have infrastructure needs. Why not use this opportunity to take 50% of the funds available? That is why we will support the Liberal motion here today, for the sake of fairness, and simply because if we can set party politics aside, it is once again the best way to ensure that work can begin and that the economy can be stimulated everywhere, in all the regions. Of course I will come back to this.
    With this motion, the Liberals seem to be trying to address a patronage problem. I want to be honest here, since I said I would not play party politics. At present, since budget 2005, the Conservative government has spent very little, if any money in Quebec. They made a few investments, but they were not made in the context of any agreements.
    For instance, the building Canada fund was proposed by the Conservative government in 2007 and the Bloc Québécois supported it. However there has yet to be any agreement reached with the Government of Quebec. We need to know why, and that is the problem. Is it because the Conservatives wanted to engage in patronage? Did they have a new way of presenting that? Time will tell, but so far, I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, because the Quebec government has not shown any openness either, and will not tell us why it has not signed the agreement.
    However, one thing is clear: the Conservative government has not spent one penny on any programs in Quebec, so there has not yet been any patronage. We can forget that. I want everyone to be very comfortable on that score.
    Obviously, if this motion were adopted, it just might resolve the apparent impasse between the federal government and Quebec, with no agreement yet signed. Is it because they are completely at odds with one another? One way of resolving the impasse would be to send 50% of all infrastructure monies directly to each municipality, which is the current practice. SOFIL, a non-profit corporation, was established. Every municipality has its own amount of money. It negotiates with Quebec the work it has to do and Quebec outlines the main requirements. At present, in the first phase of the gas tax transfer, water and sewers are the priority. After that, investments will be made in roads. However, I know that municipal unions are asking that the process be more open and that additional new work be funded through these envelopes. That would surely allow recreational, cultural and other types of facilities to be built and that would create jobs.

  (1215)  

    I agree with the Conservative government that one way to create jobs is to invest in infrastructure. Our main point of contention about the last budget was not about infrastructure; we were asking for a different cost-sharing formula. That is why, today, with the sharing of the 50%, municipalities would not have to invest directly. We are asking for a new formula: 50% from the federal government, 35% from the provincial government and 15% from the cities.
    As we all know, cities have reached their maximum debt loads. This is a little complicated because municipal debt loads are not the same throughout Canada. We have to be honest with all of the members and try to better understand the situation. In Quebec, the province's credit rating is excellent right now, and one of the main reasons for that is our cities' debt load. Historically, the province has always kept municipal spending in check to ensure a better credit rating. That is the reality. In Quebec, municipal debt loads are a lot lower, which helps the province maintain a better credit rating. That is how we have always done things. Other provinces allowed their cities to go deeper into debt. In Quebec, there is more oversight, and in some cases, to avoid accumulating debt, cities are not allowed to go ahead with certain projects. That is why we need more and more direct funding and less municipal participation because they have reached the maximum debt load allowed by the province.
    That is the reality we have to deal with. The Liberals have suggested that, with this new program, if 50% of the money were to be allocated per capita with no obligation on the municipalities to invest, the government would be helping the vast majority of municipalities who have already reached the limit because every other program forces them to invest one-third. When the Liberals were in power, they had infrastructure programs and there was a gas tax, but even with the gas tax program, municipalities were required to participate. Now they understand and they are more open to municipalities, so they would not demand a contribution. We would be happy with that.
    On the other hand, we also need to question the Liberals' will to solve this problem when they could have done it in their agreements with the Conservatives in the latest budget. It is a bit surprising that this comes along a few days after the budget was adopted. The Liberals have decided to find themselves a new vocation—saving the cities—when they could very well, when negotiating their support of the budget, have asked the government to include these standards in it. I still do not understand why they did not. Once again, they woke up too late. That is the Liberals' problem. They got kicked in the—pardon the expression, I will leave out the rest—in the last election and they are having trouble getting over it. That is the reality. They are always a month, a month and a half, or two months behind everybody else. One of these days they may catch up; that day will come. But it is still surprising that they did not take advantage of their negotiations with the Conservatives around the latest budget to get this included. The municipalities would, of course, have greatly appreciated that.
    As I said at the start, this is serious. One good way to jump start the economy and create new jobs is to rebuild the infrastructures. We are very much aware of that. That is one reason we have always fought here in the House to get a fair shake for the forestry and the manufacturing sectors. The investments that can be made serve to protect existing jobs. We are well aware that, in the forestry sector, modernizing businesses in order to enhance their competitiveness will not increase the number of workers. One good approach is to stop the loss of workers in these industries—and the same thing goes for the auto industry. Investment is needed to stabilize the situation. An approach is needed that will create new jobs to offset the ones lost all over the country. The situation is not as the Minister of State (Transport) has described it. The forestry problem will not be solved with the infrastructure program. A program is needed to help the forest industry. One good way of doing so is what the Liberals are proposing, and we will be supporting this motion.

  (1220)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to the speak to the motion. The NDP will be supporting the motion of the member for Parkdale—High Park.
     I will be splitting my time today with the member for Trinity—Spadina. Her expertise as a city councillor for many years has given her a great understanding of municipal financing and the difficulty in bringing forward projects that can really benefit a municipality in a very short period of time.
    As a former mayor for many years in a smaller community, I have the same understanding of this issue. I was involved in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' green fund for five years. This role gave me the understanding of how long it took to put forward projects that could turn the direction of a community toward more greener and environmental purposes.
    The reason we will support the motion because in the finance committee our party has called for similar action from the Conservative government. We put forward amendments in committee. Unfortunately the Liberals sided with the government and those amendments were not brought forward. They were very similar to what we are dealing with today.
    Why do the Liberals think it is important today to take up an opposition day when they would not consider the time in committee, when proper amendments could have been brought forward that would have changed the nature of the budget bill?
    The real reason is the Liberals need some cover on this issue. Therefore, today is spent to provide that cover for the Liberals to show they really do care about these issues. Their support of the Conservatives' attack on women, on collective bargaining and on the environment is really not their heartfelt desire. Rather they have moved forward with a motion today to show that they do have some differences from the Conservatives.
    We cannot have it both ways. Either we support the Conservatives, like the Liberals, or we work, like the New Democratic Party, in opposition and speak up about the things that are not appropriate in the budget bill. The municipal infrastructure program, as a stimulus package, is simply not appropriate.
    There is little difference right now between the new leader of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister and his cohorts in the way that they think about issues. The coalition that has been established between the new Liberal leader and the Prime Minister is one based on similar thought.
    In a 2007 study commissioned by the FCM, the municipal infrastructure deficit was found to be $123 billion. Under the Conservative plan, this deficit will grow because municipalities will be unable to access the funding because they will be unable to come up with the kind of matching funds required under the building Canada plan.
    In the last election we committed to increasing the gas tax fund and to creating new funding for municipalities. Fixing the infrastructure deficit must be a priority. However, I do not think it will solve all our economic woes.
    The world's economy is in need of change. The current economic situation was created by governments' deregulation that was driven by one thing, and that was greed. Deregulation was carried out mostly by the Liberals and cheered on by the Conservatives. Look at the mess we have today.
    The great recession of the 21st century is growing worse day by day. We cannot afford to sleepwalk any more and think that because somehow our banks have done okay, the rest of the country is okay. It is not.
    We have had massive job losses in Canada and around the world. Businesses are failing and banks are going under all over the world. For example, just today one of the biggest banks in Britain, the Royal Bank of Scotland, reported the biggest loss in British history. Because of this, Britain has announced a bank bailout plan of over $700 billion.
    What we need right now is a vision of the long term to restructure our economy. The President of the United States is correct when he says that our current economic situation should be seen as a chance to rebuild and restructure, a chance to build a better economy, one that is sustainable. This is our vision for the economy.

  (1225)  

    What would this new economy look like? It would be greener, that is for sure. We should create a green collar jobs fund of approximately $750 million a year to train new workers and retrain displaced workers. Moving people in the direction of the new economy is so important. It is not simply good enough to house them on EI or on make work programs. We need to see their skills move in the direction that will lead to energy efficient renewable energy technology.
    We will fall behind the United States if we do not move in this direction. President Obama has committed $150 billion over three years for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. That is so much more than what we are putting in. We need to take hold of the new economy developing in the United States. The North American continent has an integrated economy. We need to invest in our country in the same types of projects and the same types of direction.
    We also need to invest in Canadian production of low emission cars to ensure our auto industry remains viable. Aggressive incentives for manufacturers that develop and manufacture in Canada cars with low or zero greenhouse gas emissions should be a priority of the government. That is what is going to bring our car industry forward in a good and acceptable fashion.
    All over the world industries, governments and workers are collaborating to build new opportunities for jobs in innovation. Canada has taken the opposite approach. Experts agree we need a proactive plan to keep our country, our industries and our workplace in leading global position. That should be our job here. This should be the direction that is provided by the budget, rather than the scatter gun approach to investing a little here and a little there, maintaining the status quote with some increased expenditures.
    We need pan-Canadian sector based strategies. These sector based strategies will come through a systematic review of sector specific tax measures. We need to eliminate those that are economically or environmentally counterproductive. We need to add new measures to stimulate investment in the broader public interest. We need to commit to a better building retrofit and energy efficiency strategy, perhaps modelled on the city of Toronto. We need to undertake an immediate top to bottom review of how banks, insurance companies and other financial service providers are regulated in our country.
    On a more local basis, in my own constituency in the Northwest Territories the federal Minister of the Environment has been pushing the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline as though that is all the Northwest Territories and Canada needs. This is an example of muddy thinking.
    Yes, we need the pipeline. However, it needs to be thought out as a larger plan for the creation of a gas industry that will stretch up and down the Mackenzie Valley, a plan that should include the construction of a highway along the Mackenzie Valley as an equal or greater priority for the government than a pipeline. The highway will set the stage for proper development of a pipeline.
    We need forward thinking, not cynical political damage control as we have with the motion today, which really will not accomplish much and will not move us forward in the direction in which we need to go. We do not need the blind attachment to the past that we see from the Conservative Party, exhibited with its approach to energy where most of the expenditures it will make are simply not appropriate.
    We have discussed those at great length in the House of Commons, but we have not brought that discussion out to the country yet. We need to have a discussion in the country about how our energy systems will develop and what direction we will take, and not enclosed in a special interest group around the Prime Minister and his Minister of the Environment, which will not solve the problem.
    I look forward to questions and comments.

  (1230)  

    Mr. Speaker, based on what I heard, I am under the impression that the NDP is opposed to the motion presented by the Liberal Party. I am not sure if that is the case, but that was the indication. Based on all the comments the member made, the discussion was that this was the wrong approach and the motion was not accurate.
    I hear the New Democratic Party asking how the Liberals can criticize the economic action plan and then support it. The NDP cannot criticize the motion, then support it and then complain about somebody else criticizing and supporting something else. It has to get it straight.
    The member was a former municipal politician, a mayor of a community. I have great faith in the municipalities in Burlington and across the country, and so does FCM. In a statement about the budget of January 27, Jean Perrault, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the mayor of Sherbrooke, said, “Today the federal government took concrete action to create new jobs—
    The hon. member for Western Arctic.
    Mr. Speaker, if he is confused about my speech, I am a little confused about his question.
    Quite clearly I said in my speech that the NDP supports the motion. We put similar motions forward in committee where the Liberals would not support them. I outlined in greater detail the reason why we were not very happy with the budget, because that is the larger issue.
    I hope the hon. member now has a clearer understanding of what I said. I will have to get back to him later to get a clear understanding about the nature of his question.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member from the Northwest Territories for his very cogent comments on the motion, which the NDP supports. What is regrettable, as the member has mentioned, is it was not in the original budget or brought forward by the Liberals as an amendment.
    Would the member from the Northwest Territories talk a bit more about any problems the municipalities in Canada have faced in receiving the funds under the building Canada fund and how having it through the gas tax might enable municipalities to access money?
    Would he also speak to the issue of it being fine to provide the money to municipalities to repair roads and crumbling sidewalks, but what about money for energy conservation?
    Mr. Speaker, the gas tax idea for municipalities came out of a lot of work that the leader of the New Democratic Party did when he was president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. We support the concept of consistent per capita funding to municipalities for the work they require on new projects. That is exactly what the gas tax does.
    The Conservatives have chosen a different approach, which not only requires the municipality to identify the project, but to get the money together, complete the project and then apply to have the dollars reimbursed. This has caused municipalities a good deal of grief in getting the money out of the building Canada fund for the past number of years. We have seen evidence of this in terms of the 4% of dollars that have been released out of billions of dollars that were promised over the last few years.
    The NDP agrees that the gas tax methodology is the one to follow to get money to communities.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear. The NDP is not speaking out of both sides of its mouth, that it is in favour of this motion even though it does not like what the Liberals did when they supported the budget and that the Liberals should have moved this as an amendment to the budget.

  (1235)  

    Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party put amendments forward at the committee level, which followed the same general direction the motion today follows, and the Liberals did not support them. Now they have come forward with this motion as cover.
    Mr. Speaker, the transit system across Canada carries 1.76 billion passengers per year. Any investment in public transit dramatically affects the quality of life for millions of Canadians. Any investment impacts on their cost of living and it greatly impacts on the environment.
    According to many sources, including CUTA, there are 167 transit infrastructure projects across Canada that would stimulate the local economy of various Canadian communities while improving local transit networks. They are shovel ready. They are ready to go. For many years, different transit commissions and different mayors have been saying that we need the investment now.
    What is cruel about this budget and cruel about this motion in front of the House today is that the municipalities or the commissions have no money to match the federal dollars that are being dangled in front of them. Why? Well, let us look at some facts. Of all the G8 countries or even G20 countries, Canada is the only country that contributes nothing to the operation of public transit.
    Last year the total operating costs of public transit was $44.5 billion of which 60% was generated from fare revenue, 29% from municipal governments, and only 6% came from provincial contributions. What kind of money does the federal government contribute? Nothing. Zero. Not one penny.
    When we look at transit capital costs, in 2006 it was $1.68 billion, and 37% came from the federal and provincial governments. Actually, to be precise, most of it, the majority of it comes from provincial contributions. In the city of Toronto, for example, what was the total federal grants to municipalities? It was 2% of Toronto's $8.7 billion budget. So there is nothing there to be applauded. Twenty-three percent came from municipal governments.
    Municipal governments are trapped in high property taxes and high debt because they, alone mostly, are carrying the operation of the transit system. In Toronto, for example, a budget that I am very familiar with, it already has a $1.6 billion capital budget. This year the property tax increase is 4%, and 2% of that 4% is actually a direct result of the Conservative government not being able to change the employment insurance program so that not one extra unemployed worker is going to get employment insurance. They are going to go on the welfare system, therefore increasing the welfare roll in Toronto by 20,000 people. That will cost $38 million, and guess where that money comes from? Property taxes. There is not a chance that many of the municipalities have the funds to cost share this budget proposal, the money that is in front of us.
    What is happening across Canada is that there is real ridership growth. Canadians want to take public transit. They want to help Canada decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. They want to reduce their carbon footprint. If we look at transit systems across Canada, there has been a 15% increase in a five year period.
    Interestingly enough, the biggest growth in ridership comes from Canada's smallest municipalities, such as Middleton, Charlottetown, Welland and Yellowknife. The greater Vancouver transit link saw an increase of 7 million new trips in the last year or two. Canadians want to take public transit. They want to do something for the environment. For municipalities, more riders means more costs. When a transit system has no funding and not a penny of operating costs from the federal government, municipalities have no choices.

  (1240)  

    If there are more riders, they either increase property taxes or transit fares. Neither of those are good things to do to stimulate the economy. Municipalities are stuck. In the meantime, there have been reports, including a groundbreaking economic study conducted by HDR Decision Economics, that said that Canada needs a 74% increase in more transit services to unclog roads, save on commuter time and increase productivity. In total, CUTA identified $40 billion of investment needed for the period of 2008-12. This includes the expansion of subways, streetcars and buses, and the maintenance and upkeep of the current system to accommodate more riders.
    Unfortunately, the motion in front of the House of Commons is meaningless. The Liberals have the opportunity to amend the budget that is being debated in Parliament right now, whether it is in committee or at report stage tomorrow, by inserting two small clauses. We should allow the funding to flow without cost sharing and have it come through using the gas tax formula so that it is not tied up with red tape, so it is block funding, and so that municipalities and provinces will know in a very assured way that the funding will flow. This instead of the building Canada formula of project-by-project approach, which ties it all up with different legal agreements and various project negotiations that are totally unnecessary.
    It reminds me of a short story. A young man, let us call him Mike, walked by and saw a boat sinking. There were 77 people drowning. He could have thrown some rope or helped out, but because he was wearing new shoes he refused to do anything. He refused to help the people who were drowning out there. He went on his laptop and wrote out a perfect plan of how to rescue the 77 drowning people, but he would not do anything. That is what we are facing today. There will be a budget debate tomorrow. The House is debating this right now and we have this motion in front of us. Why should it not be inserted into the budget debate tomorrow?
    I move the following motion: That the Liberal opposition motion be inserted into the report stage of the budget implementation bill, Bill C-10, being debated currently in Parliament, and inserted as an amendment.
    I hope the House will consider this amendment.

  (1245)  

    It is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion.
    Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park if he consents to this amendment being moved.
    Mr. Speaker, I am not in favour of the amendment.
    There is no consent. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85, the amendment cannot be moved at this time.
    I will move to questions and comments and recognize the hon. member for Burlington.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the NDP member for her intervention on this motion. It is interesting that the member called the motion meaningless, yet the NDP still intends to vote for it. That tells me something about the credibility of that party on this issue.
    Just last week on February 17, the Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario announced a $6 billion investment, shared between the province and the federal government, for improvements to the GO Transit system in the GTA, where the member who was speaking is from. Does she think that if the Liberal premier was not happy with the investment in transit that has happened currently, not considering what has happened in the past number of years, would he have shown up and supported a transit announcement worth $6 billion?
    Mr. Speaker, the member will know that GO Transit is, by and large, funded by the province. The province can get into debt or into deficit. Municipalities across Canada cannot run a deficit budget. They have to balance their budgets.
    The province of Ontario can go into a deficit situation, fund GO Transit, and cost share with the federal government, but that is not available to most municipalities. As I said earlier, a lot of the funding for operating public transit is done by the local municipalities. They can run a debt but not a deficit.
    It is really cruel to dangle money in front of mayors all across Canada and say to them that this is our offer, even though they are drowning in property tax increases. They cannot take any of the money, but we dangle it in front of them. That is a really cruel way to go.
    Mr. Speaker, I was interested to read the Liberal motion today. Any criminal in this country would dream to have a parole officer like the Liberal Party. When it comes to holding the government to account, Liberal members once more brought their plastic bats in to do battle and then they will all go home. Meanwhile, the crisis in our communities across Canada continues. I am getting letters from communities in my riding asking how they can meet the requirements of the new funding model because they do not have the tax base in their communities.
    The ability of many of these small and rural communities to raise taxes to meet their share is simply not possible. In the city of Sudbury, tax increases had to be turned down because of the downturn in the economy. The city could not meet its share. It is having to find other means.
    However, much smaller communities are being heavily impacted and they are turning to us, believing that Parliament has to have a mechanism to allow small communities to meet the bar of this so-called stimulus package. Yet, it is clear it is not there. The government is really not all that fundamentally intent on getting the money out in any significant manner and it is setting the bar too high that it knows many municipalities cannot meet.
    I would like to hear my hon. colleague's comments on that.

  (1250)  

    Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely true. The sad part is that it is precisely the smaller communities that are demonstrating the fastest growth of transit riders. If we read the reports and the studies, people in small municipalities want to have public transit because it is a viable option for them.
    Canada faces an aging population. More and more seniors feel it is not in their interest to continue to drive. They prefer to take the bus. Yet, they have to wait for a long time, the bus is just not available or not going to the places they want to go. Small municipalities do not have the property tax base. They cannot run a big debt. That is why they will not be able to access the federal dollars that are being offered to them.
    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing here today speaking in support of the motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Parkdale—High Park regarding municipal infrastructure.
    The general theme I would like to present to the House today deals with the situation of rural Canada and I would like to focus on that for an important reason.
    The vulnerability of rural Canada right now is one that I would put in the category of high stakes. Some statistics show that over 80% of the people live primarily in urban settings and that rural areas are diminishing. As a result, many of the measures put forward in the economic stimulus package disfavour many of the over 200 rural communities that I represent. Members can well imagine how far apart we live and how spaced out we are as far as geographical regions are concerned.
    An hon. member: Oh, oh.
    Mr. Scott Simms: I notice my hon. colleague finds this particularly funny but I am dealing with my own riding and not his.
    I am honoured to be splitting my time with the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming who will be following me today.
    To put this in historical context, I would like to talk about the Canada infrastructure works program that was introduced by the federal government in 1994. As a $6 billion temporary cost-shared initiative, it was a program that went particularly well for us in our region back in the early part of the 1990s because a lot of the infrastructure that was done in the 1960s had upgrades.
    One of the biggest issues in my riding is drinking water. Many of the communities, far above the average, I might add, are currently on a boil water order. This is a major issue for reasons that are obvious. It is a universal right for everyone to have clean drinking water. My hon. colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis spoke eloquently about that and I commend him for that.
    One of the things we need to talk about here is that we need the infrastructure in place, even in smaller communities, and this is not cheap. It is not inexpensive to bring the facilities up to par to allow people to have clean drinking water. I am talking about small towns with populations of 200, 400 or 500 people. The majority of the communities in my riding have 2,000 or 3,000 people. Of the over 200 towns in my riding, the largest town, Grand Falls-Windsor, has 13,000 people. To say that the delivery of infrastructure in my riding is a challenge might be considered by some as an understatement.
    The municipalities of Newfoundland and Labrador have many smaller communities that are struggling to provide the services they need because of the structure we have today. In 1997, the government announced an extension of what it called phase 2, which provided an additional $425 million and a further $850 million. I add these numbers simply because what we are talking about here is an incredible amount of money. This, in turn, creates work beyond that. The local economy is stimulated by the construction jobs that are created. We also provide services for businesses when we want to attract business.
     I talked about the water supply. If a particular fish plant closes down in my riding and another company wants to take over that fish plant, which probably employs somewhere in the vicinity of 200 to 300 workers, in order for it to do that it needs to have a good, clean, reliable water supply. Otherwise, 300 jobs or more are gone all because of the lack of infrastructure.
    Plants that rely on natural resources usually require a huge workforce. These plants are usually the only game in town, the only employer and, therefore, municipal infrastructure is incredibly important
    It was expected that infrastructure funding at the time would be matched fully at the municipal level because of difficulty in raising their one-third share as a prerequisite. This is the quintessential point for me to raise today and the challenges that we have with rural infrastructure. We are talking about one-third, one-third and one-third. I will focus on the last one-third, which is the municipality's responsibility to raise that money. When we are talking about a multi-million dollar upgrade on infrastructure, that is a tremendous burden and responsibility for the municipality.

  (1255)  

    I would like to go back to the point I made earlier about fish plants and saw mills needing reliable municipal infrastructure in order to survive. If that game leaves town, what kind of business tax or revenue can a small municipality maintain? It needs to seek out financing from the bank but that becomes very difficult to do when its credit rating and tax base are not there.
     I understand and acknowledge that there is some talk in the budget about financing but where is it and how does this work? If this is to be shovel ready, then the financing option needs to be really quick or the situation will crumble.
    I would also like to talk about recreation in the sense of community centres that mostly consist of stadiums. In Newfoundland we call hockey arenas stadiums and everywhere else they are called arenas, but I will preface that and call them stadiums.
    Back in 1967, we had a centennial fund that went toward building many of the stadiums in smaller communities. It was not so much an economic boom, obviously, because the revenues were somewhat limited, but these stadiums became a social centrepiece of every small community. In 1967, in the last campaign, the Liberal Party put forward a proposal that allowed the stadiums or the arenas, to be refurbished and brought up to a standard whereby the community could survive.
    The plan here today is to provide money for recreation in smaller communities. It is a great idea but the nub of the issue is that it wants it cost shared fifty-fifty.
    Some of my hon. colleagues over there have said that we cannot just give the municipalities a blank cheque. They are not getting a cheque at all, nothing, blank or any other kind. What we are doing is telling them that they will have a certain amount of stimulus money so their community or recreation facility can provide services, but not quite so. We need their cheque.
    How will I be able to go to a place like Bishop's Falls, Botwood or Buchans and tell the people that the $1 million they need for their stadium, that we need their $500,000? These are towns of about 600 or 700 people. Is this financing? Will this provide them with the money they need? I really have my doubts, which is why we are debating here today. This is the issue that is repeated. People from many of the towns in my riding are calling and asking me how this will work and why they need to put up money.
    My hon. colleague talked about the process by which the gas tax funding flows. The gas tax and the incremental funding is what we are looking at because it provides that money and hooks the municipalities up to an immediate investment. That is shovel ready, if that is the term we would like to throw out. I would not want to think that the only way we are applying shovel ready is when anybody in the ministry actually speaks. That would be very sad.
     I spoke earlier about basic facilities like drinking water. Many towns in my riding, such as Bonavista and New West Valley, drinking water has been a problem on and off. Broadband Internet is also an issue that has not been included enough in the infrastructure spending. I acknowledge the fact that there is money in the budget, so I would like to see more detail on that as well.
    I want to talk about towns like Bonavista. I have heard from New West Valley, Trinity Bay North, Little Catalina, Elliston, Botwood, and Buchans. These are the towns that are the lifeblood of what we know as rural Canada but the challenges and the bar that the government has set is so high that this will prove to be insurmountable for most of the small communities. They are the lifeblood and that is the point I wanted to make today.

  (1300)  

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member's comments and I, like him, have a lot of small communities in my constituency.
    One of the things we talked about when we were discussing the plan and how it would work was the very fact that smaller communities have a smaller tax base. Nonetheless, since the announcement of the building Canada fund, my communities, I suspect like his, have stepped up to the plate and have made decisions, but they were not easy decisions. I have sat on a small municipal council and I know how tough it is for those councillors to make a decision to invest a small tax base in a specific project, be it a recreation complex or a water or sewer project.
    Nonetheless, there are ways to do things. I think of my own experience growing up in a small community of 100 people. We were able to put sewers and water into that community by being a little creative. We had a little help from the government, but also the will of the people dictated to us that it needed to be done and therefore it was.
    In the member's comments, he talked about the gas tax. It is important for him to know, and perhaps he does not, but this year the province that he represents will see their gas tax go from $16 million last year to $32.9 million, more than double. I suspect that his communities will tap into this and take great advantage of it. I would ask the member to comment on that.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his suggestion and I do empathize with the situation when it comes to smaller communities.
    The question of the dollar values that he mentions is not in question here. The question is the method by which the money is delivered. I am hearing that apparently there will be a lot more money than that going to my province if it is being matched at that one-third, one-third, one-third level. That is the problem with the building Canada fund.
    What the member needs to understand is that the building Canada mechanism is one that will set them back. Only 4% of it will go out the door. I am talking about the insurmountable ways in which these people need to come up with the money. The fifty-fifty on recreation is a situation as well. That is what we are trying to come up with here. If the total pot of money is one that can be directly accessed, then great, but we are not talking about that.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate where the hon. member is coming from. My grandfather emigrated from his province at the turn of the century to Canada.
    I support the opinions the member has put forward but I would put forward that it is equally important that the larger municipalities gain the benefit of this gas tax mechanism as well as the smaller communities.
    In my province, both small and large communities have borne the brunt of the boom from the tar sands, which both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party are apparently supporting to be expedited even further than it has been in the past. As a result of that, we have burgeoning populations in both the larger municipalities and in the smaller municipalities stretching between my city and the town of Fort McMurray.
     I am wondering if the member will speak to whether or not, when we have a booming economy, we should be putting pressure on the municipalities to come up with half the money.

  (1305)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from the NDP who represents the Edmonton area. Her point is very valid. We received correspondence from the largest city in our province, St. John's. Councillor Tom Hann said that the availability of and access to that transit money needed to be done in a quick fashion.
    I do sympathize with her in the sense of the economic boom situation. A lot of people from my province are actually contributing greatly to the particular boom situation that she is talking about. In the last little while, it has taken a few hits, obviously, with the price of oil, but, nonetheless, I do empathize with her. I see the need regarding that particular situation because I also see that need in our situation, where we do have a burgeoning economy on the east coast of my province.
    For that very reason, the growth that is involved in this particular situation is one that will dictate that the facilities and the channels by which these local governments receive that money, such as the gas tax transfer, will be that much more essential and things like the building Canada fund need to subscribe to that way of thinking.
    Before we resume debate, I would like to remind members that in terms of the question and answer period, most of the speeches today are 10 minutes. That means there is a five minute question and answer period. The Chair is trying to get two questions and answers in. I am reluctant to cut people off, but if members do not look at me for a cue, or are not mindful of the time, I will begin to cut both questioners and respondents off in order to have a fair allocation of time.
    I ask the indulgence and cooperation of all hon. members as I try to give everyone a fair chance to ask questions and the members to have an opportunity to respond to them.
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Nipissing—Timiskaming.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor. I come from northeastern Ontario. I have often said that rural northern Ontario and Newfoundland have a lot in common. Funding is one of the big issues, especially in the rural areas when we want to build infrastructure.
    Today I stand in the House not only as a member of Parliament but also as a former municipal councillor, one who understands what happens with infrastructure and what exists right now in the aging infrastructure that Canadian municipalities are faced with.
    It is aging in that the road surface looks okay. We have a lot of frost driving in potholes and making it difficult, and that is something that is apparent, but the average Canadian who drives over those roads does not realize what is underneath, especially in older communities where the average age of the infrastructure underground is between 80 and 100 years. That is old material that has been buried there for a long time. We never know where it is going to break and when it is going to happen.
    Mr. Speaker, you are from a rural setting as well, so you can understand what kind of infrastructure work the smaller communities actually look forward to and have to put in place just to keep the same standard that exists at this time.
    The motion today states that at least half of the proposed infrastructure funding be distributed on a per capita basis over the next two years. That is using the gas tax model. That is probably one of the most important things out there.
    This will allow municipalities of all sizes to participate in this program in a quick and effective manner. This will allow funding to be injected directly into the economy. It will invest in infrastructure and allow for infrastructure to take place. More important, it will create jobs evenly in all the communities across Canada.
    We only have one chance at this stimulus. We are in for tough times and we want to make sure that it is done right and that it is done effectively. More important, one thing we really have to look at is that it is timely. It is how we get it out there.
    One of the complaints I hear from many municipalities in my riding is that there is just too much red tape that exists within the program. There are long bureaucratic delays. Municipalities are also trying to work the program into their budgets. They are already three-quarters of the way into their budgets and they are having to reshift things in order to take advantage of the existing program. That is reshifting things for the possibility of getting in on that program. That causes a lot of problems and a lot of delays. They put the money there and then find out they did not qualify. We want to see a constant flow of money that is going to help the communities plan for their infrastructure and be able to come up with it.
    Many members of the House have mentioned the concept of one-third, one-third, one-third. A large municipality can put a certain amount aside or reshift things and that is fine, but when it is a community with a population of 300 or 1,000, one-third of a project is a lot. It really bites into the infrastructure and causes a lot of problems with the infrastructure that exists in smaller communities.
    When we make it a flat amount, such as the gas tax, on a per capita basis, the model not only gets rid of delays, but it is not influenced by politics. It promotes fairness. This is not about allowing the government or the party in power, regardless of which party it is, to go to the trough and help themselves to it. Other parties have done it in the past, regardless of colour, but what I am saying is that this makes it fair for everyone. All communities are treated equally.
    The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has cited the gas tax model as the best way to flow money into projects quickly and it affects, as I said earlier, new infrastructure and it stimulates the economy.
    The Conservative government has a reputation of offering money through announcement and it looks good, but once the press release expires, unfortunately so does the money. It has been mentioned earlier and I will mention it again, that in 2007 the Conservatives launched the $8.8 billion building Canada fund. The first year zero dollars flowed. We do not want to see history repeat itself.

  (1310)  

    The gas tax model would get the money where it is needed right away, and that is in the hands of Canadian municipalities. Mayors are saying that the Conservative model does not allow access to funds in a timely manner. As I mentioned earlier, it is the bureaucratic red tape that really slows things down. The gas tax model not only gets the money out there, it allows municipalities to plan on it.
    I had the chance to speak to a number of mayors in my riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming in northeastern Ontario. If we made the changes, this would allow them to take on projects that they would otherwise be unable to undertake. It is not the huge projects they were looking at; it is the day-to-day projects, the capital projects that have been put off because they need that amount of money up front. By allowing them to have all the money, they can budget and they can put money in. Otherwise they would be shut out completely. That is one of the problems with the one-third, one-third, one-third model.
    It allows smaller communities to go forward with urgent upgrades.This plan guarantees funding to municipalities. One thing that is very important is it removes the use it or lose it approach which is strongly used by the Conservative government. It allows smaller communities to put the money aside for multi-year projects. Yes, we will hear the argument that if we give them the money they are going to bank it and wait until next year and the stimulus is needed now. That is a possibility, but it allows them to plan ahead and put other money aside so they can get started with some spending on the planning and then have the major project, or even the smaller project, go ahead in a timely and effective manner.
    Communities make up the foundation of this great country. What happens so often is that foundations start to crumble and we just stand back and watch them fall because different levels of government say it is not theirs to take care of and they do not want to be bothered with it and it is not their responsibility. We have heard it from the finance minister in the past about municipalities and we will probably hear it in the future, but what we have to do is look at the bigger picture.
    The municipalities are the foundation of this country. If we do not have a strong foundation, it crumbles and the house above it falls as well, it is just a matter of time. In order to keep this country strong, we have to keep that strong foundation and keep our municipalities operating in a strong and effective way.

  (1315)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Nipissing—Timiskaming for his remarks. One of the things we have heard a lot from across the floor is the per capita sum of the gas tax. If we did per capita by municipality, and I do not know how many thousands of municipalities there are in Canada, it does get diluted. As I pointed out earlier, just because a project goes to one municipality, it does not mean the jobs all go to the people in that municipality. It does not mean the benefit goes just to the people in that municipality; it goes to everyone in that region.
    It is a bit fallacious. If we are going to follow that per capita idea, we might as well divide up the money and send everyone a cheque and nothing would get done. We need to put common sense in this.
    What the member says has some reasonable aspects to it, but it is not the most practical way to go. I would remind him there is a $2 billion credit facility to borrow from. For municipalities that do not have the money to get the project done, they submit the bill, get the money, and pay it back. It is a great process. As soon as the budget bill is passed, we can get on with it. I would like the member's comments on some of those aspects.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question about per capita. I will be honest that it was a concern I had as well for smaller communities and smaller municipalities, but the motion states that half of the money would be spread out that way and the other half would continue on the larger projects. That is the best of both worlds.
    It allows for smaller communities to get money injected right away. What happens all too often, especially with some of the applications, is that some communities are left out. They do not have the money to put up to fund the projects. By allowing the money to flow directly into those municipalities, there is no delay or wait. The money is directly injected at the municipal level to get projects up and going. The people of Canada benefit right away. The municipalities do not have to wait. They do not have to apply. More important, they do not have to get bogged down by red tape.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague and I both share vast sections in northern Ontario and I think we understand the problems that many of our smaller communities are facing. In the past, when we have had these one-third, one-third, one-third programs, there were a few winners in every round and there were many losers. The backlog of infrastructure projects continued to grow, and especially the small communities tended to be left out.
    What we are seeing with this announcement is that it is not an economic stimulus because it will be at least a year before the money flows. We saw that with the building Canada fund. Meanwhile, there are communities that are unable to access the money because they do not have the tax base to participate. It is a process that will create winners and losers, and that will happen right across Canada.
    I think my hon. colleague would agree that in northern Ontario, especially with the aging populations and rural regions that we represent, our communities are going to suffer in some ways much more than larger areas that have the infrastructure dollars already and have the kind of tax base that can support this.
     I would like to hear my hon. colleague's opinion on this.
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Timmins--James Bay has made a very good point. As I said in my discourse, smaller communities do need that funding. It would be great to have the full amount go out to them, but by having the money go out now, it allows them to act, it allows them at least to get going with existing projects. So many small communities across northern Ontario are left out when it comes to the building Canada program. It is just not done in a timely manner and, more important, it costs money. It cuts into the money they have to run their organization. To put the capital into infrastructure, they have to take it out of operations or plan for it.
    The hon. member for Edmonton Centre talked about borrowing money. It is nice to say that the communities can borrow money, but if they do not have the tax base or the credit rating and they are small communities, it really does not help. It does not take into account small municipalities in northern Ontario and much of rural Canada.
    What is nice about this program is that on a per capita basis, the money is put into the community. It can upgrade, and if it wants, and if it is fortunate enough to have a certain amount of money put aside, it can still go the next step and apply for the other half and get the larger projects done. However, it is the day-to-day infrastructure that needs to be done. Especially nowadays, as we drive through a lot of the smaller communities in northern Ontario, as the frost comes out of the ground, we start seeing more and more potholes, bumps that we know were not there when the frost was in, and that creates some permanent damage. If they are not taken care of right away, they end up causing a problem. The important thing is that we get that money right out into the community and get that infrastructure in place so that Canadians can benefit from it.

  (1320)  

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to speak to some of the recent first nations infrastructure investments our government has taken through budget 2009, Canada's economic action plan.
    Of course the action plan includes spending for other aboriginal groups in the north and elsewhere, but I only have ten minutes. I will be splitting my time with the member for Portage—Lisgar, so I will restrict my comments to first nations.
    It is no secret that improved infrastructure lies at the core of healthy and productive first nation communities. Ultimately, improvements to infrastructure help stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life on-reserve. The government is committed to doing just that, as it has shown over the last three years.
    With Canada's economic action plan, the government provides $1.4 billion over two years for specific initiatives aimed at improving the well-being and prosperity of aboriginal people in Canada. These new investments include $515 million to accelerate ready-to-go first nations infrastructure projects, focusing on schools, water, and critical community services such as health clinics, nurses' residences and policing infrastructure, to name just a few.
    These investments include $200 million over the next two years for building ten new schools on reserves and three major school renovations. I might add that the minister announced the new school in Burnt Church, New Brunswick, just today. Our government recognizes that first nations children need the best possible learning facilities to help them succeed in their studies and to start building a solid foundation for realizing their dreams.
    Another $165 million will be invested in initiatives to accelerate water and waste water infrastructure projects. We all know that access to clean, safe and reliable drinking water is an essential requirement for the health and well-being of first nations communities and is vital to improving the quality of life for first nations on-reserve.
    Our government recognizes it has specific responsibilities in regard to aboriginal issues such as housing, and we are determined to fulfill them. The hard truth is that too many residents of first nations communities live in substandard housing.
    The causes are complex and varied. Many communities and individuals cannot access enough capital to build and renovate homes, while other communities lack the capacity to manage housing stock effectively. That is why we also announced $400 million over the next two years to support on-reserve housing. It is dedicated to new housing projects, remediation of existing housing stock and complementary housing activities.
    Last week in British Columbia, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced that up to $50 million will be invested in on-reserve housing within that province.
    These investments are in addition to the $1 billion annually invested in first nations community infrastructure, which includes housing, water and waste water systems, education facilities, and other infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
    More specifically, planned expenditures for 2008-09 include $236 million to support a wide range of school infrastructure projects, including operation and maintenance, study and design, renovations, minor repairs and new construction; $368 million to address water issues in first nations communities, including upgrading water and waste water facilities, on-reserve maintenance in the operation of the facilities, training, and moving forward with initiatives under a first nations water and waste water action plan; and $276 million for on-reserve housing needs. A portion of this annual investment provides an average of 2,300 new housing units and 3,300 renovations in first nations communities across the country. Finally, there is $442 million to support ongoing projects such as roads and bridges, electrification, and infrastructure in first nations communities across the country.

  (1325)  

    All these investments to support infrastructure in first nations communities focus on mitigating health and safety risks, maximizing the lifespan of a physical asset, ensuring infrastructure meets applicable codes and standards, and ensuring community infrastructure is managed in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
    Our government is taking action to create change through strong partnerships and constructive leadership. We are helping to improve learning environments for first nations students, increasing access to safe drinking water and improving the quality of life on reserve with new housing projects. We are investing in projects that will provide lasting, sustainable benefits for first nations communities and we are doing all of this in partnership with first nations, other levels of government and ultimately all Canadians.
    We believe that for real change, there is no other way to operate. We must do things and act together. No person, group, government or single level of government has all the answers. The answer to our shared challenges does not rest on having one level of government take action. That only sustains the status quo. Instead, we reach our goals through genuine partnership, and the potential life-altering results of this approach are evident all around us. Our partnerships are working.
    Mr. Speaker, I welcome the comments from the hon. member across the way. It is good to hear that there might be new funding coming to the first nations of Canada, particularly in the area of safe drinking water.
    However, I would ask the member if he could perhaps clarify. It is one thing to keep promising more money to resolve a problem attested to by hundreds of boil-water advisories; it is another thing to come forward with the actual legislation that was promised last year. In addition, it is my understanding that when these moneys are passed over for safe drinking water and waste water facilities, by a contribution agreement the liability passes to the first nations.
    I understand that is a concern for the first nations. Could the member please address those matters?
    Mr. Speaker, I know that when we formed the government three years ago, we inherited a priority list of water systems that needed to be fixed. That list was something like 180 communities long. We have reduced the list to under 60 communities. We have an action plan to further reduce it over the next fiscal year. That is major progress. We are getting it done. Governments before us did not get it done.
    In terms of putting those systems in place, there is also a training component, and the community is involved. We are creating a sustainable situation so that these systems do not fall into disrepair.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like clarifications from my colleague on certain points. He speaks of hundreds of millions of dollars invested by his government in various projects. On the other hand, there are some specific projects in my riding. The people of the Eel River Bar First Nation have been waiting for two major things for years, ever since this Conservative government has been in place. There has been absolutely no movement on them. They are waiting for the water supply for their aboriginal heritage garden. There have been no announcements, no work has started. They are waiting for the rest of the funding to be able to go ahead.
    It is all very well to talk of money here and money there, but where is that money? When will the work start? Or rather, when will they have permission to start on it, and when will the federal government give them the necessary money to finish the project?
    The truth is that the Conservatives are giving absolutely nothing concrete. There are lots of fine promises, lots of fancy words, but when it comes right down to it, nothing is being done.
    When will all this materialize into concrete actual projects?

  (1330)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am unaware of the specifics of the question from the member opposite, but I will say that we have been delivering. We have been auditing. We have announced some real results and reductions in unsafe water systems. We have been delivering on other infrastructure needs in first nations communities.
    Perhaps the member opposite does not want to hear it. He can talk quite loudly. However, I will say that we will take his question under advisement. If I can let him know anything specific, I will, but I can tell him that we are making announcements routinely. There will be a lot of school announcements upcoming. There will be water system announcements upcoming. As recently as today, the minister is in New Brunswick announcing a new school.
    Mr. Speaker, the member dealt to a great extent with aboriginal questions in his speech. That is not the angle I am going to take with respect to my question to him.
    We are discussing infrastructure because it is part of a stimulus package. A lot of people believe that it is government's role, and government's role only, to stimulate a comeback in this global recession. That member is a good Conservative who believes the market has a role to play.
    Certainly governments in some places also have a role to play, but there are some things the government has not done. Our government has not stepped forward to nationalize corporations. We have not stepped forward with protectionist legislation. We are trying to stay away from nationalization and protectionism. We are also trying to stay away from overregulation, but we have gone into deficit.
    Does the member believe that the infrastructure spending we are bringing forward is the approach to take, rather than taking the approach of putting forward long, ongoing programs?
    Mr. Speaker, I absolutely do believe in these kinds of stimulus packages that deal with shovel-ready infrastructure.
    For example, in order for the money in budget 2009 to go to the 10 new schools, the qualification is that they must be ready-to-go schools. This will help clear up some of the backlog and achieve the stimulus goal, while at the same time addressing a real need. That is obviously complementary to the question.
    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the motion before us. The government has delivered unprecedented investments to Canada's economy through infrastructure programs. This fact is undeniable.
    Back in November 2007, we announced the historic building Canada plan. This plan invests $33 billion in long-term predictable funding to help provinces, territories and communities of all sizes. It was a necessary boost to our cities, towns and municipalities, and will help modernize our roads, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure developments.
    After 13 long years of inaction from the previous Liberal governments, we made critical choices to help benefit the quality of life for all Canadians. This is infrastructure money put towards the foundation of our country to create key investments to benefit future generations.
    Earlier this year Canada's finance minister delivered Canada's economic action plan in this very chamber. It addressed the current economic uncertainty affecting Canadians, as well as people around the globe. This plan will stimulate economic growth, create jobs and support Canadian families.
    By accelerating key infrastructure investments, this government will provide almost $12 billion additional stimulus for our economy, above and beyond our $33 billion building Canada plan.
    Our economic action plan clearly lays out the framework that our government is taking to invest in our economy, create jobs and support Canadian families through sound investment in infrastructure.
    This $12 billion boost to our economy is an accelerated infrastructure investment and it includes a $4 billion infrastructure stimulus fund, $2 billion to accelerate construction at colleges and universities, $1 billion to create a new green infrastructure fund, $500 million to support construction of new community recreation facilities and upgrades to existing facilities, and accelerating existing provincial, territorial-based funding, $25 million to all provinces.
    We are committed to providing funding to the priority projects Canadian families can use most. We have shown this through these programs. Our prudent investments and responsible decisions made before this global crisis hit Canada seem even more critical with the benefit of hindsight.
     While some in the benches opposite still refuse to vote to support our action plan and to help Canadian families now, we are proposing immediate action to better our economy, to improve the quality of life for Canadians, and to seek ways to build a better country for our children and our grandchildren.
    Although we have taken many great strides, we cannot act alone. No single level of government can address this country's infrastructure needs. Our ability to fund projects is dependent on our partners and we will work closely with these partners, with provinces, territories and municipalities to ensure the greatest results.
    My colleague, the transport and infrastructure minister, showed this commitment through the consultations he held with the leaders in provinces, territories and municipalities across Canada. This minister consulted community leaders, stakeholders and other respective groups.
    My hon. colleague worked hand in hand to find ways that all levels of government can work together to highlight priority projects and discover areas where the acceleration of funding was possible, as well as determining additional steps necessary to ensure that this progress was possible. We will continue to work with all levels of government in order to get projects moving and provide a much-needed shot in the arm to our economy.
     As a further result of these consultations, the minister was able to develop our government's five point action plan as touched on by my colleague earlier to further guide our efforts towards accelerating infrastructure investments.
    The first point in this action plan is working with provinces and territories to put key major infrastructure projects on the fast track through the building Canada fund major infrastructure component. We are also accelerating funding for projects in smaller communities through the building Canada fund communities component.
     This acceleration requires the collaborative input of all levels of government to see success. Partnerships are necessary from all levels of government for this process to succeed. Our government is committed to ensuring this is possible.
     For Canada's future we are working together with our counterparts from across the country to improve the lives of all Canadians.

  (1335)  

    We are putting people to work. We are creating new jobs, putting shovels in the ground, helping construction sectors across the country, and spending money in key development projects which will help future generations.
    While different funds under our overarching infrastructure plan operate differently, each one of them is based on partnership. These partnerships are the key elements in the successful delivery of our government's economic action plan.
    We have worked and we are continuing to work with our partners to cut red tape, streamline approvals, and get shovels in the ground faster. We want to see Canadians at work in their communities and benefiting from our investments. We are looking forward to new cultural and sports facilities opening across the country, and being able to drive on safer and improved roads and bridges.
    We have consulted with our provincial and territorial partners through this entire process. We have listened to municipal leaders and municipal associations, and we have responded. We established programs that will lead to targeted infrastructure investments and will lay the foundation for a stronger economy and a better Canada.
    While others choose to sit back and do nothing, we are standing up for Canadians. We are forming partnerships to work in collaboration with our colleagues across this country to identify projects which will get shovels in the ground tomorrow, put people to work, and boost our economy to benefit the quality of life for all Canadians.

  (1340)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for her speech. However, I feel that I must clarify certain things.
    She says that her government wants to speed things up, that it wants shovels in the ground so that projects can go ahead. That certainly sounds good. If that is all there is to it, then why has the City of Edmundston's sewer division project not yet been approved? Why can the city not get an answer, and why is it being told that it might be included in the next round of funding? The money is available right now. The member says that her government wants shovels in the ground, so why is the City of Edmunston being told, “We will see”?
    The truth is that it is not yet in a position to deliver the goods to the various communities, towns and cities. If it were, then the City of Edmunston would certainly not be hearing that it will have to wait until later. Instead, it would be told, “Yes, we are going ahead with it now”. Why have these projects not been approved, and why is the work not getting underway right now? Why?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is a priority for this government, and I believe for all members who support this economic plan, that we do get the funding to municipalities, to cities and to towns as soon as we can. We want to work together with our partners, but we cannot do it unless we listen to municipalities.
    I know that as I travelled across my riding, municipalities were saying to me that they were pleased with this government, the progress that we have made, and the increases that we have made in the gas tax transfers to the municipalities. They are recognizing the work that we are doing. That is why they are very excited about our plan and we are moving forward on that.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague. I guess there is a fundamental problem with credibility here because we know that the present finance minister is pretty much the Mr. Magoo of the economic meltdown. First there was no recession, then we missed the recession, and then there was a technical recession. Now we are in a synchronized recession. All the way along, everything was fine. Now we hear the member telling us that the government is going to get the money out immediately when it took the government a year--
    The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely inappropriate and intolerant language to be used in this House. We have respected individuals, and especially the minister should be respected. The least he could do is show a little bit of respect.
    I am not sure if that is a point of order. I would ask the hon. member for Timmins--James Bay to use respectful parliamentary language in his discourse in this House.
    Mr. Speaker, I certainly support that. I would think though, if you check the record, Mr. Speaker, that the question of Mr. Magoo has been raised and it has been deemed appropriate because it is actually a term of endearment. It is not an attack.
    Nonetheless I was interrupted, so I hope that does not take away from my time.
    The question I am asking my hon. colleague is whether she is asking this House to believe that this money is going to move immediately because we have seen that it took them over a year to get the building Canada fund out? She tells us that she has talked to municipalities. All the municipalities we have spoken to say that this will slow down projects. It will not help the smaller communities that cannot meet their one-third--
    The hon. member for Portage—Lisgar.
    Mr. Speaker, first of all, Canadians spoke in the last election on which Minister of Finance they respect, which Minister of Finance they want to lead this country in a time of economic crisis, and that is the current Minister of Finance. I am very proud and pleased to be able to work together with him.
    I would like to add, if I may, that if the member truly cares about Canadians and municipalities, he would support the budget and he would work together with us to get this money moving out. He would not be denigrating people in the House. He would be working in a positive manner.
    Mr. Speaker, I know members across the way keep asking: What about this project and what about that project? In my community there are many projects coming forward. Communities are excited about this kind of a plan and we have consulted with them. We have not gone out and said this is what they are going to do.
    Would the member for Portage—Lisgar please comment on some of her priorities?

  (1345)  

    Mr. Speaker, indeed, we are receiving calls and input every day from mayors, like Mayor Martin Harder from Winkler, Mayor Ken Brennan from Portage la Prairie. They are excited about what we are doing. They are asking questions and we are providing answers. We are working together with our partners to get this money moving out quickly and to see communities built.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to stand and debate the motion today. What concerns us most about the budget is that many small municipalities throughout the country are unable to get involved in the infrastructure program because they do not have the entry level dollars with which to play.
    As far as a stimulus package goes, we see infrastructure as a very important and worthwhile investment to help the economy get going, to help with our environment, to deal with water, sewage treatment problems and whatnot across the land. We know that construction jobs and projects that are shovel-ready will provide benefits to many communities and contractors within smaller communities. Therefore, we see it as a very worthwhile stimulus package.
    However, what we have trouble with and what we have heard from various communities over the last number of months is that some communities are so stretched currently they cannot come up with those 30¢ dollars to play in this market. If the federal government is there, that is great. If the provincial governments are there, that is great.
    I look at my own constituency. The regional municipality of Cape Breton, which has a population of about 116,000 people, is currently carrying a debt load of about $115 million, and that is of great concern. Unless we make this amendment and change the way the money is delivered, it is not certain it can seize those opportunities.
     That is probably one of the greatest concerns and is probably the greatest rationale for advancing the opposition motion today.
    I should also identify the fact, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Madawaska—Restigouche.
    Another municipal unit within my riding is the town of Canso. Many members in the House have heard a fair amount about Canso over the last number of years. The community has been very much challenged since the closure in the offshore fishery and the depletion of its cod stocks. We have not seen any kind of resurgence in the cod stocks. People have left the community and moved on and industries have left. When that happens, the tax base shrinks and with the shrinking tax base, we see fewer revenues. When we handcuff communities like that, each year it gets tougher, debt is accrued and it becomes more of a challenge for them to get by.
    As well, these communities are further burdened by constraints and by regulations that are put forward by provincial governments. We want to move to greener, more sustainable communities. However, when these regulations are placed on these communities, we know there is a greater degree of burden.

  (1350)  

    We know that towns, villages and municipal units are really the children of the provinces. They are created by the provinces and serve the functions delegated by each province. We all understand that. The provincial governments have various programs from province to province to help out. I believe, as do most people who are involved in the administration of municipal affairs, that the federal government has a role. Through the development of the infrastructure program, there are some benefits, and we support those benefits and the opportunities for the municipalities that can take part in this program. However, there still remains a group of municipalities, towns and cities that are unable to seize these opportunities.
    This is the essence and thrust of our motion today.
     I am willing to take some questions on this. I am sure the members of the government would like to know more about this.
    Mr. Speaker, I suppose I am kind of concerned about today's opposition day motion. While I think it might be anchored in good sentiment, it is very poorly founded.
    I had the pleasure of attending the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, DC this past weekend. Its whole theme was infrastructure. A number of the experts who came forward specifically praised the building Canada approach as it pertained to infrastructure. They talked about the importance of ensuring there was a state match and a municipal match to projects. This would ensure the projects were indeed in the best interests of the community as well as amplify the amount of investment that the federal government made.
    We are talking about $12 billion in total infrastructure funding that will lead to $36 billion worth of projects being completed. This is great news for Canadians. It will employ a lot of Canadians. The member should support it.
    Mr. Speaker, our amendment to the budget made perfect sense to most Canadians. We wanted to ensure that the moneys was being spent, that the stimulus package was getting out the door and having some kind of impact. Through the distribution of the gas tax, we have seen a template that has been effective, that has worked, that has brought benefit to many communities. It was one that was brought forward by the previous Liberal government.
    All we are saying is put more money into that template, into that program. That is where we will get the benefit, not just for those communities but for the economy. That is how to get this economy going again.
    Mr. Speaker, I always love to hear my colleague from Cape Breton speak. Even though he is not always prepared, being a Cape Bretoner, he is ready to speak.
    Being from Cape Breton, he has the smaller communities just like I have in northern Ontario. We know how these small communities have benefited from the gas tax. They are left out time and time again from the bigger infrastructure projects. They do not have a tax base to compete against bigger municipalities.
    If this is an economic stimulus package, do we need to have, as the Conservatives are insinuating, proof of buy-ins so that the projects are worthy? Does he not think any small town in Cape Breton has enough infrastructure projects that if they were given the money immediately, just like any small community in northern Ontario, they would put it to good and immediate use rather than drag out—
    Mr. Speaker, I totally concur with my colleague for Timmins—James Bay in his concern that size should not matter. Smaller communities should certainly qualify. That was the fairness in the gas tax plan. That is why we thought all communities would benefit from the initiative put forward by the previous government, and it has proven successful.
    This is why we would like to see the government move in that direction. It would be much to the benefit of all Canadians.

  (1355)  

    Mr. Speaker, those of us who have been in municipal government, and there are a considerable number of us in the House, have gone through the difficulty that municipalities have in raising money for capital programs and projects through debentures. At this time, the credit crunch affecting consumers is also affecting municipalities.
    Could the member apply himself to the concept of the federal government working with the provinces to front-end load a revolving account through CMHC that would allow, on the basis of those projects that contribute substantively to the reduction of carbon, work on retrofitting housing, building transit systems and so on?
    Would the member give some consideration, especially when we are getting quarterly reports, that—
    The hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso.
    Mr. Speaker, we are very fortunate on this side of the House to have members in our caucus who have vast experience with municipal administration, like my hon. colleague. He has made a huge contribution toward past legislation developed by this caucus.
    That is an idea that merits investigation. I would hope the government would seize on that potential suggestion.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this Liberal opposition motion. As you know, I served two terms, six years, as a municipal councillor in Edmundston, where I was born. It was an extraordinary experience. You should see all the infrastructure projects a municipality may have to carry out during the life of the municipal government in order to provide quality service and give people a better quality of life. The municipalities must provide these services. And we must never forget that the mayor and municipal councillors form the level of government that is closest to the people, and they know best what the people need.
    Today, the Liberal motion is relatively simple. It asks that the Conservative government agree to take a portion of the money that should be invested in the infrastructure program to stimulate the economy and transfer that portion to the wonderful gasoline tax rebate program that we, the Liberals, put in place.
    Today, municipalities, cities and towns of all sizes are realizing that they need to carry out their infrastructure projects now. If we want to help our communities and stimulate local economies, we must put people to work, and the infrastructure programs are certainly a good way to do that. But money is not flowing to communities at present. They have infrastructure projects and they are waiting. This government is telling cities and towns that their turn will come and that they will be able to go ahead with their projects at some point.
    In fact, according to the Conservative government, there is money in the budget for infrastructure. This means that there should be shovels in the ground right away, and people should be working now. But these cities and towns are being told that their projects will have to wait. We have to wonder why there is a pressing need, yet they are being told to wait.
    These municipalities need appropriate infrastructure so that they can serve residents appropriately. If we want to make sure that these services are available and these municipalities continue to develop, if we want to stimulate the economy by funding infrastructure, then we also have to make sure that the municipalities can have the money not in one year, two years, three years or 10 years, but right now—

  (1400)  

    I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, but as it is 2 o'clock, we must move on to statements by members. The member will have seven minutes to continue his remarks when debate resumes.

Statements by Members

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Robert Horner

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in memoriam of a superb parliamentarian, the late Dr. Bob Horner, who served as the member of Parliament for Mississauga North and Mississauga West from 1984 to 1993.
    Sadly for all who knew him, Dr. Bob passed away last June and the people of Mississauga bid their farewell to him, most fittingly, on Canada Day 2008.
    Dr. Bob was born in Shawville, Quebec and graduated from the University of Guelph. He served first as a member of the RCMP and subsequently as a veterinarian for 25 years in Mississauga. As a member of Parliament, he chaired the parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Solicitor General.
    During his professional and political career, Dr. Bob saw Mississauga grow from a largely rural community to the vibrant, diverse and prosperous city of over 700,000 people that it is today.
    Dr. Bob reached out to and connected with Canadians of all backgrounds, made them feel welcome and represented their views with passion in the House of Commons. He was always ready with a helping hand and a generous sense of humour. He is survived by his lovely wife Elayne, daughter Catherine, sons Christopher and Mark, and five grandchildren.
    I thank Dr. Bob. May my friend rest. He served his family, his community and his country well.

Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce the official opening of the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts which will occur on February 28. The centre will be a home for Richmond Hill's diverse arts community and will present an array of artists from across Canada and around the world.
    A strong economy must be strong in arts and culture, which is why I continuously supported this important endeavour.
    Opening night will feature Canadian superstar, Louise Pitre, the debut of the Richmond Hill Philharmonic Orchestra and the 130 voice choir from the Bayview Secondary School.
    Planning for the 2009-2010 season is already under way and will include touring Broadway productions, internationally renowned performers and the world premier of a new work from Modern Times Stage Company.
     The centre will be a great addition to Richmond Hill and will also be the largest and the most technologically sophisticated performance venue in York region.
    I would like to acknowledge the leadership of the mayor and council and Michael Grit, the theatre manager.
    As Canada's former prima ballerina, Karen Kain, put it well.“Where the arts flourish, life flourishes, where the arts are ignored, life is impoverished”.

[Translation]

L'Arrière Scène theatre

    Mr. Speaker, the economic strength of culture in Montérégie is undeniable. It represents thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic benefits.
    The L'Arrière Scène theatre in Beloeil is part of this economic force. It is a concrete example of the devastating impact of cuts to two programs, namely PromArt and Trade Routes. Since 1980, this dramatic arts centre for children and youth has gone on eight European tours, in Scandinavia to be exact. This year they cannot go.
    By voting for this budget, the Liberals and the Conservatives have voted against promoting Quebec and Canadian culture abroad.
    According to a study, 59% of tours scheduled for 2009-10 are threatened by the cuts to these programs. For the following seasons, 90% of tours are jeopardized. This is the result of a Conservative-Liberal coalition. Good work.

[English]

Shaughnessy Park School

    Mr. Speaker, remarkable is the only word that can describe the students at Shaughnessy Park School in my constituency of Winnipeg North who won the National Stop Racism Video Competition.
    It is remarkable especially since this marks the ninth time out of ten years the competition has been in existence that Shaughnessy Park School students under the direction of Mitchell Rygiel have won, this time with two commercials entitled “We're all Wieners!” and “Racism: Inappropriate for All Ages”.
    Fighting racism is important and this award highlights how it can be done in a positive way.
    In recent weeks we have seen flashes of racism and anti-Semitism in Canada, particularly on some campuses.
    Shaughnessy Park School students offer us a model for vigilance and persistence in speaking out against hatred, racism and anti-Semitism and raising important issues in the context of democratic debate, tolerance and respect.

  (1405)  

Tackling Violent Crime

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to talk about violent crime in Calgary.
    While crime is growing in our city, we are fortunate to have the leadership of police chief, Rick Hansen, Alberta justice minister, Allison Redford, and our federal government working together in a positive, coordinated way to combat this scourge.
    Last spring, Parliament passed Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act. Among other things, this legislation implemented new bail provisions that will keep those accused of serious gun crimes off the streets while awaiting trial.
    This government is continuing to move forward on its anti-crime agenda. Earlier today, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-14, the next step in our anti-crime agenda.
    The new law will target gang violence and organized crime, including gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police and peace officers.
    Calgarians want action on crime now and that is what we intend to deliver.

[Translation]

Hockey

    Mr. Speaker, February 21, 2009, will no doubt remain forever etched in the memories of the citizens of Campbellton and Restigouche for it was on that date that the 9th annual Hockey Day in Canada was broadcast live from Campbellton.
    Every year, two famous CBC personalities, Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, move their studio to a Canadian community located away from the major centres.
    The hosts used the day as an opportunity to talk about those who actively contribute to the region's vitality and economic prosperity through hockey. They paid tribute to the players, the parents, and the volunteers.
    Hockey clinics were held throughout the day, attended by former players of the National Hockey League, and local teams played against one another.
    Another popular attraction of this event was of course the presence of the Stanley Cup at the Civic Centre in Campbellton. For several hours, fans were able to have their picture taken with the famous NHL trophy.
    The event's organizing committee made the day a great success both regionally and nationally. We owe a vote of thanks to them for working so hard for the people of Restigouche.

[English]

Robert Thomas James Mitchell

    Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to remember Corporal Robert Thomas James Mitchell, a son, a soldier, a husband and a father of three. He was also a member of Canada's Forces in Afghanistan.
    Corporal Mitchell was killed on October 3, 2006 when Taliban insurgents attacked Canadian soldiers assisting in road construction near Kandahar.
    His mother, Carol, recently delivered a message to newly trained soldiers in Meaford while accepting a Canadian flag from Parliament Hill's Peace Tower. She stated that her son wanted everyone to know that he believed in the mission, was proud to serve in Afghanistan and that he had the best training and equipment possible.
    I want to thank the Mitchell family for their continued support for Canada's armed forces.
    Our thoughts and prayers go out to his parents, Bob and Carol, his wife, Leanne, and children, Cameron, Ryan and Jaylyn. His family and, indeed, all Canadians, can be very proud of his service and dedication.

[Translation]

Talking Books

    Mr. Speaker, allow me to present Magnétothèque, a unique organization dedicated to making the written word accessible in audio format to clients who are visually impaired. It is the only centre providing this service in Quebec. It records more than 600 books per year.
    From its founding, in 1976, until 1985, Magnétothèque helped visually impaired children by providing recordings of educational documents. In 1986, it changed its mission to include the recording of pleasure reading books. In 2001, it developed the Service québécois du livre adapté and, in 2005, it became a production centre for talking books. It recently added a sales arm for talking books and its radio station broadcasts a six-hour loop.
    My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I wish Magnétothèque a long life.

[English]

Israel

    Mr. Speaker, in another attack on Jewish people worldwide, anti-Israeli groups on university campuses today are marking the beginning of what they have dubbed infamously as “Israeli Apartheid Week”. They must not have a clear understanding of apartheid itself.
    Unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa, Arab citizens of Israel have full political rights. They vote and participate in the political process. Arab Knesset representatives cross the spectrum, from the Communist and Arab nationalist parties through to the Likud. Salim Jubran, an Israeli Arab, is a judge on Israel's supreme court.
    Acts of ignorance such as these protests should offend not only all Canadians, but Parliament as well. Why? Because an NDP student union is a co-sponsor. The very notion of a political party's connection to this brings shame to this chamber. These protests have become a haven for thugs who practice bully tactics and promote intolerance of the Jewish people.
    I implore both the NDP and misguided campus groups everywhere to stand down from this week's long attack and recognize Israel for the vibrant democratic society that it is.

  (1410)  

Black History Month

    Mr. Speaker, February is Black History Month, a time when we recognize the many achievements and contributions of black Canadians who have done so much to make Canada such a culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation.
    We celebrate their great contribution to Canada's cultural, social and political development.
    Black History Month is an excellent opportunity for all Canadians to get to know the richness of our past and to celebrate our diversity.
    I would like to acknowledge Rick Gosling, the former chair of the Race Relations Committee in Toronto, who is in Ottawa today with young guests from the Children's Breakfast Clubs.
    After question period today, all members are invited to a reception with the children in the Commonwealth Room where this year's Black History Month poster will be presented.
    All members are welcome and we look forward to seeing them there.

Racism

    Mr. Speaker, the editor of Le Québécois, a French language newspaper, has threatened violence against Quebecers. The editor has advocated that a Quebec radio station be burned down, and yet the Bloc continues to finance this racist newspaper.
    The same newspaper has also made unfounded allegations that Jean Charest wants to increase immigration in order to turn francophone Quebecers into a minority, thereby hurting the cause of separatism in Quebec. This newspaper even made racist remarks against President Obama. In its last edition, Pierre Falardeau wondered why everyone compares Barack Obama to JFK. He instead proposed that the president be compared to Lassie the dog, and yet the Bloc continues to finance this bigoted newspaper.
    The Bloc only cut its ties to this newspaper after it was exposed by the courageous work of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
    Racism and extremism of this kind have no place in our country. I ask the House to condemn these Bloc-funded extremists.

James Reaney

    Mr. Speaker, this past summer our nation lost a literary icon of remarkable stature.
    James Reaney, celebrated author, playwright, opera librettist, painter, poet, teacher and community activist, died at age 81. Professor Reaney was a great humanitarian and a great Canadian in the eyes of all who knew him. His contribution to Canadian art and culture was a gift to us all. He was the winner of the Chambers Award for best Canadian play, a three time winner of the Governor General's Award and in 1975 the recipient of the Order of Canada.
    Among his most famous works was the trilogy dramatizing the story of the legendary Donnelly family of Lucan, Ontario.
     Londoners are proud to claim James Reaney as one of our own. His was a life of great achievement and compassion. He was no less than an artistic giant. We will miss his generous spirit and dedication to telling the stories of Canada.

[Translation]

Bloc Québécois

    Mr. Speaker, Canada has been feeling the effects of the global economic crisis. While this government has been working to help the hardest-hit Canadians and to implement economic stimulus measures, what has the Bloc been doing?
    The Bloc has been trying to win political points by reviving a 250-year-old battle. It has been trying to divide Quebeckers. The Bloc is using artists as pawns in its “operation division” by systematically failing to acknowledge the economic action plan's significant investments in culture.
    This is in addition to the intolerance of the Bloc's allies, who condone the use of violence to achieve their agenda. All the Bloc's actions do is show just how out of touch the party is with the Quebec values it claims to be defending.
    Quebeckers want a government that will work tirelessly to get through the economic crisis, but the Bloc has only one goal: divide the people to promote its sovereignist agenda. I vow to defend the Quebec nation against the Bloc's antagonism.

Minister of Finance

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance set up an economic advisory committee to provide him with periodic advice on overall economic strategy during prebudget consultations. The minister chose to have only finance and business representatives sit on this committee.
    As for representatives of unions, women, the unemployed, seniors, aboriginals, artists, the poor, environmental groups, community groups, and consumer advocacy groups, none were to be found in the minister's committee.
    By choosing to have only the business point of view in his advisory committee, the Minister of Finance has proven once again that, in order to be heard by this Conservative government, what counts is not good ideas but money.

  (1415)  

[English]

Coast Guard

    Mr.Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the crew of the Coast Guard ship, Leonard J. Cowley. If there were ever any doubt of the need for the government to invest in the Coast Guard, the activities of this week, which saw the loss of a Spanish fishing vessel and the rescue of its crew, should put any such doubt to rest.
    Because of the actions of the Canadian Coast Guard, the lives of 22 fishermen were saved in a quick and dramatic rescue off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Once again the Canadian Coast Guard demonstrated their competence and professionalism in carrying out this rescue.
    The crew of the Leonard J. Cowley dispatched two boats to rescue the crew. Medical treatment was provided on board for several men who were suffering from hypothermia and smoke inhalation and later a man was airlifted by a search and rescue helicopter to a hospital in St. John's.
    The people of Newfoundland and Labrador who earn their living from the sea know only too well how important it is to have the services of the Coast Guard readily available in the event of a disaster at sea.
    I ask members of the House to join me in expressing our appreciation to the Canadian Coast Guard and, in this case, the captain and crew of the Leonard J. Cowley.

[Translation]

Bloc Québécois

    Mr. Speaker, the editor of Le Québécois made threats of violence against Quebeckers when he stated that he would applaud anyone who set fire to Quebec radio stations.
    The Bloc Québécois continued to fund this newspaper in spite of such remarks. This radical newspaper has accused Quebec immigrants of placing francophones in the minority in the province and of harming the sovereignist movement. This newspaper made racist remarks about President Barack Obama. Its columnist, Pierre Falardeau, compared the president to Lassie, a dog.
    Yet the Bloc continued to support this racist newspaper. Its funding was cut only after pressure was exerted by the courageous Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. We must all condemn the racism and the extremism funded by the Bloc Québécois.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[English]

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the finance minister said he would make many, many, many mistakes in getting his stimulus package out the door.
    Will the government commit to proactively disclose these future mistakes as they happen, or will we have to submit access to information requests and then wait forever for that deeply secretive government to come clean?
    Mr. Speaker, I do not think there were quite that many manys in the minister's statement, but it was a fact that the minister did state, and it was only in repetition to what the Auditor General has said, that under these extraordinary circumstances, we are asking our public servants to deliver money to Canadians as quickly as possible. We need to admit that there may be minimal mistakes, not the many, many, many mistakes that the hon. member mentioned.
    We need to make sure that we get this out the door, but we cannot get it out the door unless we can get that budget out the door.
    Mr. Speaker, one would think that lazy government would have gotten the work done on time.

[Translation]

     Will the minister admit his mistakes in the future, as when he gave an illegal contract to his friend, or will he hide them, as in the case of the broken promise on income trusts and the famous 22 pages of censored documents? As regards his future mistakes, how much transparency can we expect?

  (1420)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this government is all about transparency. In fact, if we recall, this government is the one that brought forward an incredible Federal Accountability Act. I do not think I need to remind the hon. Liberal member why we had to bring in an accountability act. That is still very fresh in our memories.
    Let me quote the Liberal leader:
    We're in a crisis. We're in a serious crisis and I would rather err by doing it fast and making the occasional mistake - which then...the voters...punish us for later.
    The Liberal leader made that statement.
    Mr. Speaker, with small businesses desperate for credit, business people have told us that the Business Development Bank of Canada will take its own sweet time, measured in many months, before getting credit out the door, and if one is not already a BDC client, one need not apply.
    Will the minister force the BDC and EDC to flow credit quickly, or will it be one of his many, many, many mistakes that he lets this money stay under a mattress in Ottawa?
    Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we have already infused credit to the BDC. It is already actively making loans to small and medium size enterprises. We have a new $12 billion credit facility that the finance minister and I announced.
    We are undergoing a few consultations to make sure we get it right, that we cross those t's and dot those i's. We are there for the small business person and we are there for medium size enterprises, because we care about the future of business in this country.

[Translation]

Broadcasting and Telecommunications

    Mr. speaker, our national broadcaster has a special role to play. The CBC and Radio-Canada are real showcases for Canadian content. They are a key instrument of support for diversity of sources of information and one of the pillars of our system of democracy. They also provide an income for thousands of artists, craftspeople, technicians and journalists across the country.
     What specific action will the minister take so Radio-Canada and the CBC may continue to provide Canadians with quality content?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as we all know, all broadcasters, private sector and the CBC, are currently facing some challenges, but this government has stepped up. We are providing over $1 billion in taxpayers' money in support. We fully expect that the CBC will continue to deliver the quality programming that Canadians have come to expect of it.
    Mr. Speaker, I hope that the $1 billion the parliamentary secretary has just mentioned is not just a promise in the wind but that CBC and Radio-Canada will actually see the money.
    The economic crisis has not spared the media. Advertisers face sharply lower revenue. They are reducing their advertising budgets and this translates into revenue shortfalls for networks. The CBC and Radio-Canada are also affected by this situation. The decrease of ad revenue increases the risk of service cuts.
    I want a promise from the parliamentary secretary that the money will effectively flow very quickly.
     I promise, Mr. Speaker. I have just indicated that the government is providing almost $1.1 billion to the CBC. To give some scope, that is almost one thousand one hundred million dollars of taxpayers' money to the CBC, because we believe in that valuable Canadian institution.

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, thanks to an article in the National Geographic, the whole world can now see, with pictures to prove it, that operations in the Alberta tar sands are a real disaster for the environment. Just yesterday, however, the Minister of the Environment and the Liberal leader were refusing to recognize the responsibility of the oil companies in this environmental catastrophe.
     Will the Prime Minister assume his responsibilities and force the oil companies to do their part and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, I encourage the Bloc to do its homework. In Canada, 73% of our electricity and energy is produced from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases. In the States, on the other hand, 73% of the country's energy is produced by sources that pollute. The Bloc does not want to admit it, but we have a good reputation in the area of green energies, and the member should be congratulating us.
    Mr. Speaker, I have seen better stand-up comics.
     That said, homework will reveal that Quebec has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 2.8%, while Alberta has raised its by 36.6% and Saskatchewan has raised its by 63%. That is what doing homework is about, rather than acting as a lobbyist for the oil companies. If he is serious, let him make 1990 the reference year and set absolute targets. Otherwise, we will conclude that he is not the environment minister, but a lobbyist for the oil companies—period.
    Mr. Speaker, we disagree. As I said, the Bloc needs to do its homework. Unfortunately, it is trying to fool the public with its questions and its partisan accusations.
    We are committed to reducing our emissions by 20% by 2020. Those targets are higher than the Americans'.
    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of the Environment is going off to the United States on a campaign to defend the oil sands, and what is more, with the support of the Liberal party. It is a disgrace. Now we have an environment minister working for polluters, with the backing of the Liberals. It is a good thing ridicule never killed anyone.
    Can the minister explain to me what his role is: defender of the environment, or defender of the oil companies?
    Mr. Speaker, it is not so. I disagree with the Bloc. It needs to acknowledge that Canada has put a great deal of effort into producing green energies such as hydroelectricity and cleaner gas. We have invested a great deal of money from the budget into the carbon capture and storage system in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
    Mr. Speaker, if the minister and the Liberal leader had not become lobbyists for the oil patch, they would understand that what needs defending is not the oil sands but 1990 as the reference year, absolute targets, a territorial approach, and a real carbon exchange. That is what defending the environment is all about.
    When are we going to be entitled to a real minister who will defend common sense and not the polluters?
    Mr. Speaker, criticism and more criticism, that is the good old Bloc recipe.

[English]

    The clean energy dialogue that we have commenced, which the Prime Minister and the President agreed to last week, will announce and lead to co-operation on many fronts between our two countries with respect to clean energy. We will expand clean energy research. We will develop clean energy technology. We will build a more efficient electricity grid across North America. We will harmonize the eco-centres. All of this will lead to a cleaner environment and reduce greenhouse gases.

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, now that the Conservatives and the Liberals are in bed together, they have been teaching each other their tricks. How does one create a slush fund like the sponsorship scandal? Just say that there is an emergency, that it is serving a higher purpose and therefore the normal rules will not apply.
     For the Liberals, the emergency was national unity. For the Conservatives, it will be the economic crisis. Millions were stolen by the Liberals, billions are in the trough for the Conservatives. Exactly what types of mistakes was the Minister of Finance predicting yesterday?
    Mr. Speaker, the only mistake we have seen in the House of Commons is that the Bloc and the NDP voted against Canadians.
     This party recognized that we needed to stimulate the economy. We put an economic action plan on the floor of the House. The Liberals recognized that we needed to put this forward. Unfortunately, the Bloc and the NDP voted against Canadians.

  (1430)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, let us imagine a scrum with Alfonso Gagliano before the sponsorship scandal broke, in which he announces: “There is an emergency, you know, and national unity is at stake. There will be mistakes made.” We know the rest of the story.
    The Minister of Finance announces his own mistakes, and his own scandals, in advance. Today, we learn of the creation of a hidden $3 billion fund at Treasury Board for Conservative cronies.
    Is the minister going to follow the American model of transparency for these funds, or the Liberal model of the sponsorship scandal?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, last month this government set out an ambitious multi-year action plan to stimulate the economy and support Canadians during these difficult global economic times. I am thankful the Liberals are supporting the budget in order to help Canadians.
    What disturbs Canadians is the fact that NDP members said no to helping Canadians even before they saw the budget. They have been fully briefed on what this stimulus package means. They are simply playing politics with the lives of Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General and the Gomery commission were extremely critical of this type of secret Treasury Board controlled fund. This time it is even worse. A whole year's carte blanche to spend and to reward people just as they please. We are talking of $3 billion.
    Are these Conservatives, with their tendency to moral outrage, prepared to produce the investment plan for this $3 billion? Will they make public the objectives and conditions? Or will they follow the Liberal model three years down the line?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this is another classic example of that member speaking out of both sides of his mouth. In fact, what all opposition members have said is that we need the stimulus package in place in a hurry. What did that member say? He said that the NDP favoured a significant spending program for shovel-ready infrastructure projects. Those members say that on the one hand. On the other hand, they are doing everything they can to stop the implementation of the plan.

Access to Information

    Mr. Speaker, today the information commissioner tabled a damning report that cites the lack of leadership at the highest levels as the root cause of the pathetic state of access to information in our country. Four out of ten departments are on red alert in a system that the Conservative government has driven to crisis, and Canadians access to information is being held hostage as a result.
    Why has Canada, once a beacon of information to the rest of this world, had its light snuffed out by this Prime Minister?
    Mr. Speaker, the member knows well that it is the public service that makes the decisions in respect of the release of the information.
    We know that under the prior government, it had the CAIRS program, which in fact was a mechanism to manipulate the release of information.
     This government got rid of the political interference in the release of information. Furthermore, this government opened up the crown corporations. The CBC, the Wheat Board and others are now directly accountable to the people who pay the bill, the taxpayers.
    Mr. Speaker, nice try, but under the government's watch, the increases in the number of access to information requests have been denied and prolonged. That is why the information commissioner has cited the government with contempt.
    The Prime Minister campaigned on a false promise to open the windows on government. Instead, he has closed the blinds, locked the doors and turned out the lights. His government now operates in darkness not seen since the days of Brian Mulroney.
    President Obama began making his government more accountable to Americans on day one.
    In Canada it is three years, and access to information continues to be stifled.
    When will the government end its practice of systematic cover-ups?
    Mr. Speaker, again, that member is misleading the public.
     In fact, in 2007-08 the government processed a record number of requests, an increase of 38% over the last five years. The reason is we have opened up the books. We have opened up the Wheat Board, despite the fact that members like the member for Wascana or the member for Malpeque opposed the opening up of the Wheat Board. They wanted that money spent in private. We want farmers and others to know how their money is being spent.

  (1435)  

[Translation]

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, last December, the Minister of National Defence decided to recommend to cabinet that Canada purchase 17 C-27J search and rescue aircraft from the Italian firm Alenia. He promised that the official announcement would be made early in the new year. However, it seems the minister does not have his colleagues' approval. Several reporters on the Hill and elsewhere already know that his colleagues are pressuring him to change his recommendation.
    Why is the minister stubbornly recommending an aircraft that the Minister of Industry rejects? Why are the criteria his department set being questioned?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as is sadly so often the case with the defence critic, that is patently false.
    This need, the mission-specific aircraft for search and rescue in the country, is not determined by myself as a minister. It is determined in a full, open and transparent process where companies, Canadian and otherwise, can offer on this contract. It is done in conjunction with the Department of Public Works as well as the Department of Industry. We want the best aircraft so we can supply that equipment to the best people to do the job to save the lives of Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, he needs to work on his French.

[English]

    We know there is a delay caused by the industry minister. We already know the former minister of defence worked for Hill & Knowlton, the lobby firm that promoted the EADS CASA C-295, a competitor of Alenia's C-27J.
    Interestingly enough, the current chief of staff of the minister, William King, has been senior vice-president for the very same firm.
    Would the Minister of Industry assure the House that his chief of staff was not involved in any meetings with the Departments of Public Works and National Defence for that bid and that he recused himself from that file?
    Mr. Speaker, I have only been in the House for just over three years. That is the lowest of the low. That is outrageous. I demand he retract it and apologize. He is skimming the bottom of the barrel.
    The member should say that outside the House and then we will talk about the lawsuit that will prevail, I am sure.

[Translation]

Finance

    Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has admitted that there will be mistakes in the way the money earmarked for tackling the economic crisis will be used.
    Does the minister not understand that he has already made serious mistakes in his budget by offering mere crumbs to the manufacturing and forestry sectors as well as to the unemployed and by not reinstating the funding cut from culture?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I think we had a discussion a few minutes ago about mistakes. Need I remind all hon. members of the two mistakes, one being the Bloc, the other one being the NDP. They do not care about Canadians?
    We have put a stimulus package in place, an economic action plan that over two years will stimulate 3.2% of GDP. The hon. member has the audacity to suggest that this will not help Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, it was the Minister of Finance himself who said that there would be mistakes.
    And while he was saying there will be mistakes, the President of the Treasury Board tabled the Main Estimates, which contain a special credit of $3 billion that he can distribute as he sees fit.
    How can the government have the gall to ask for a blank cheque from Parliament when it is admitting it is incapable of being truly accountable?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, first, let us put the statement of the Minister of Finance in context. He was referring to the comments of the Auditor General, who acknowledged that in these kinds of exceptional situations there may well be mistakes.
    However, I can reassure Canadians that we have a plan in place to ensure the money is followed closely and yet is in the hands of Canadians so there is a real stimulus to our economy, no thanks to the Bloc and NDP, who are voting against these initiatives.

  (1440)  

[Translation]

National Battlefields Commission

    Mr. Speaker, the controversy surrounding the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham is entirely due to the lack of judgment by André Juneau, chair of the National Battlefields Commission, and the complicity of Conservatives blinded by their ideology.
    Will the minister fire André Juneau or continue to sanction the Liberal sponsorship legacy?
    Mr. Speaker, the answer is obvious. The answer is no, especially not after the threats and calls to violence that we have witnessed in the Quebec City region since the Bloc and the Parti Québécois stirred up controversy about the situation.
    Everyone knows full well that threats and calls to violence are not part of Quebec's values. That is more like the Bloc's ideology.

Elections Canada

    Mr. Speaker, just one minute. The truth must be told. I want to set the record straight. The Bloc Québécois has always denounced all calls for violence of any kind. Is that clear?
    And in case the minister did not understand, I repeat: denounced and condemned. Is that clear?
    We know the Conservatives are very quick to condemn others, but they were less quick when it came to shedding some light on the in and out scandal denounced by the Chief Electoral Officer—
    The hon. Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.
    Mr. Speaker, clearly, we do not have the same notion of denunciation. Here is an advertisement from the hon. member for Québec and the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Hon. Josée Verner: I would ask the leader of the Bloc Québécois to be quiet, Mr. Speaker, so I can reply. We live in a democracy here.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order. The hon. member for Newton—North Delta.

[English]

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, for several years in British Columbia, we have been waiting desperately for federal action on gang violence and gun crime. The record for the government has so far been cuts to the community crime prevention programs and three years to put more RCMP officers on the ground.
    Is the government prepared to put more RCMP officers on the ground right now in metro Vancouver to deal with this emergency?
    Mr. Speaker, when we became government, we said that tackling crime was one of our major priorities, and we have delivered. We have delivered more police officers because that had been neglected too long by the previous government. We committed 1,000 new RCMP officers and we delivered over 1,500. We have provided money to the provinces for more municipal and provincial police officers.
    As a result, the solicitor general of British Columbia and his premier were able to announce last week more police on the street to fight crime. We are getting the job done where it was not done before.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister is obviously strong on spin, though weak on crime.
    At a time of escalating gang violence in B.C., unfortunately we do have a Conservative government that is weak on crime. On the Conservatives' watch, the situation has become worse. They have been three years in power and communities are experiencing the reeling from their failure.
    The Conservatives have weakened prevention programs, weakened the gun registry and killed a number of important crime bills that the Liberals were supporting.
    Why is the minister not giving my community of Vancouver and all Canadians the tools and the resources they--
    The hon. Minister of Public Safety.
    Mr. Speaker, on the contrary, today the Minister of Justice had to stand in the House and introduce a bill to combat gang crime with new penalties precisely because it had not been done by the previous government.
    In the previous House, he had to press for mandatory prison sentences for gun crimes, and as House leader, I had to make that a confidence matter three times before the Liberals would agree to allow it to pass.
    We have taken action to fight crime. We have been doing it on the prevention side with new programs. I did not see the hon. member there when I announced five of them in Vancouver in January. Where were the Liberals? They were in the same place they have been for 13 years in government: ignoring the problem. We are taking action.

  (1445)  

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

    Mr. Speaker, the natural resources minister said in a speech last night that we need more “transparent public communication” on the nuclear energy file. However, she prefers to keep Canadians in the dark about the government's plans to sell off AECL.
    Will the minister follow her own advice? Will she tell Canadians the government has put a “for sale” sign on AECL?
    Mr. Speaker, we are always looking at options to strengthen this great nuclear industry we have here in Canada.
    One of the options we took on last year was to start the process of looking at better ways to deliver this great Canadian nuclear industry to the rest of the world. We have commissioned a report from National Bank to look at options. We are in the process and we are looking forward to studying it and making good sound decisions for the Canadian public.
    Mr. Speaker, the minister's commitment to openness and transparency to Canadians had a half-life of 24 hours. There should be a full public debate on our future nuclear policy, not some backroom deal shrouded in a veil of secrecy.
    The minister's department has had the report on AECL's future since August 2008, over six months ago. Will the minister table that report now, or does “transparent public communication” only apply to others?
    Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, we commissioned a study from the National Bank as one piece of an entire process of looking at AECL and what the best options are to strengthen our nuclear industry.
    We have received the report. Our officials are studying it. I just want to make sure that we understand. It is just one part of the entire process in order to strengthen Canada's nuclear industry.

Public Safety

    Mr. Speaker, despite the Liberals' best efforts to convince Canadians otherwise, Canadians know it is our party that is the party of law and order.
    While British Columbians are demanding tougher legislation, including stronger firearms laws, it was the Liberals who tried to defeat our legislation that enacted in May of last year mandatory minimum prison sentences for serious firearms offences.
    Will the justice minister tell the House what the government is doing to advance our justice agenda to deal with the violence erupting in B.C. and across Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, as my hon. colleague knows, earlier today I tabled organized crime legislation. It sends a very clear message to those involved in illegal activities.
    People involved with gang-related murders, drive-by shootings and assaulting police officers will get the prison time they so richly deserve.
    This is what is necessary to interrupt and disrupt gang activity in this country, and this is why Canadians know they can count on the Conservative government to get the job done.

Access to Information

    Mr. Speaker, today's report from the Information Commissioner is a scathing indictment of the government's addiction to secrecy and contempt for accountability.
    He said there was a lack of leadership at the highest levels of government. He gave the Minister of Public Safety, the Minister of Public Works, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the RCMP failing grades of “F”. That is a red alert. He gave the Ministers of Health and National Defence “D” grades.
    Has the Prime Minister called these ministers on the carpet for their falling grades, or is he the highest-level barrier to open government and leadership on this issue?
    Mr. Speaker, we are the ones who fought for the rights of Canadians to know how their government operates, opening up the Canadian Wheat Board, the CBC, and dozens of other institutions to the Access to Information Act.
    Where was that individual? He was opposed to those openings.
    Mr. Speaker, three long years after the Conservatives promised to table a bill to implement the former Information Commissioner's recommendations to reform access to information, they have failed to act, but New Democrats are getting the job done.
    Yesterday, for the fourth time, the member for Winnipeg Centre tabled a bill drafted by the former commissioner.
    Will the Conservatives support our bill, or does the government want to move our bill as its own to ensure it finally fulfills its election promise to open up access to information?

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, our Federal Accountability Act contains the most extensive amendments to the Access to Information Act since its introduction in 1983.
    Sixty-nine new institutions are now accountable to Canadians through that act. For the first time, Canadians can see how these institutions spend tax dollars.
    As for that individual getting the job done, the only thing he has been is in the way of ensuring that Canadians get to see the economy working and get to see the stimulus package we have introduced in the House.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Information Commissioner has criticized the government in matters of access to information and spoken of a disappointing record. The time it takes to process a request continues to lengthen and can take up to 300 days in some cases. The commissioner himself acknowledges that the current legislation lacks teeth.
    In light of such a poor record, what is the government waiting for to strengthen the Access to Information Act, as it promised during the 2006 election?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, what about the lousy record of the Bloc standing in the way of the economic stimulus package that Canadians are expecting this Parliament to deliver? Bloc members have consistently stood in the way of ensuring that Canadians are assured of their economic future.
    With respect to the information act, this government has taken more steps than any government has in the past.

[Translation]

Pay Equity

    Mr. Speaker, contempt, slander and falsehoods are the hallmarks of the mediocre.
    The President of the Treasury Board tells us that pay equity is not just about women's rights but also about family rights. The minister is so blinded by his ideology that he cannot fathom that women can have lives outside their families.
    Can the President of the Treasury Board get it into his head that pay equity is not a family policy but a means of ensuring that women get equal pay for work of equal value?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is amazing having that member lecture me in respect of how we ensure that Canadians, whether they are women, men, families, or children, get to have a secure economic future when that individual stands up and votes against the economic stimulus package.
    We are very concerned about the rights of women, the rights of children, the rights of men, and the rights of families in order to ensure that their economic future is secure. One of those mechanisms is the pay equity legislation that we stand behind.

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday I asked the Minister of State for the Status of Women what files of importance to women she was the lead minister on. She responded with how much money her department had.
    Yesterday I asked the minister what gender-based analysis was done on the budget, and the reply was personal invective.
    Today I am trying again. Can the minister tell Canadian women what she and her department did to ensure a gender-based analysis was done on the budget? What did she and her department do, in concrete terms, to ensure gender equity in the budget?
    Mr. Speaker, the member will know, as I have already answered this question in committee not too long ago, that the Department of Finance has actually been conducting gender-based analysis on its tax measures since budget 2006.
    I note for the record that it is not a coincidence that it happened when a Conservative government came into office.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that has been happening since 2004.
    When the Minister of State (Status of Women) appeared before the committee, she spoke of the importance of women in the work force in non-traditional jobs.
    The Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail, or CIAFT, had received indications that one of its applications would be approved. Yet, when it published a press release criticizing the government's approach to pay equity, the project was turned down.
    Why are the Conservatives punishing CIAFT? Is it because it denounced their position on pay equity?

  (1455)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member will know that all organizations that applied for funding that have been approved or declined are in the process of being notified.
    The member will also know that I rely on my officials because I believe that they are highly professional and highly skilled. They understand what the terms and the criteria are in terms of who will receive funding from either the community fund or partnerships fund, and I respect the decisions that they brought to me for my approval.

Aboriginal Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, my question is for the President of the Treasury Board.
    The allegations against the Department of Indian Affairs are very serious, because the documents are showing that they are identifying school priorities not on the issues of health and safety but on whether or not they are in opposition ridings. This would constitute a serious breach of public trust.
    What steps will Treasury Board take to ensure that children who are at risk on isolated reserves are not penalized for the partisan political gain of the Conservative Party?
    Mr. Speaker, I am very surprised that the member opposite would ask that inflammatory question.
    We had a committee meeting this morning. We talked about this very subject. It is very clear in the response from the department that the priorities are set by the department. It does not consider political situations. Whether they are in opposition ridings or Conservative ridings makes no difference at all. However, the fact is that we do represent most of those areas.
    Mr. Speaker, the documents completely contradict him. This issue is not about me. It is about children at risk in Attawapiskat who were involved in a project that was in an advanced state of negotiations when the minister killed it.
    This House has seen a long litany of notorious pork-barrel ministers, but it has never seen a minister who would use his office to punish children in substandard schools for how their parents voted.
    What steps will the government take to rein in that rogue minister so that accountability is based on health and safety and the rights of children and not on the gain of the Conservative Party of Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, we understand that the member opposite has an interpretation that is far different from reality. We also understand the concerns of aboriginal children. We have expanded school construction and other spending because we do understand.
    Since 2000, the department has invested over $5 million in Attawapiskat for expansion of the high school and temporary classrooms, and approximately $1 million a year for operations and upkeep of the schools.
    We are working with the community. Health Canada inspections in June demonstrated there are no health and safety concerns.

Livestock Industry

    Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Palliser livestock producers are having a tough time. The government's economic action plan will help cut taxes for small business and build the infrastructure that is so vital to our rural communities, but mandatory country of origin labelling, high-priced inputs and low returns have hurt the bottom line for many of these farmers.
    What is our government doing to help these working producers?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Palliser is part of a dynamic team on this side of the House in government that is addressing these pressing needs for the livestock sector.
    We have delivered unprecedented amounts of money to keep them liquid through these trying times. We continue to work with the administration in the United States on country of origin labelling. We are making great progress there. Of course, we are re-opening markets and reinvigorating markets that went untended for a decade under the other government.
    We have restructured the market access secretariat, working with industry and our provincial colleagues. We will continue to move forward on that file.

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, from her previous responses, it is obvious that it is not the minister responsible for Status of Women who takes the lead role on the issues of concern to Canadian women. We want to know very simply, what has the Minister of State for Status of Women done to ensure gender equity in the budget? What role, if any, did she actually play? Will the minister of state please table in the House any gender-based analysis that was done for the budget, whether it was from her department or any other department? Was the--

  (1500)  

    The hon. minister of state.
    Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, I did in fact sit on the Status of Women committee for a couple of years. We did turn out a number of exceptional reports on gender-based analysis, so I am quite familiar with the process, as she is. She knows her question is not in line with how it works.
    However, the member is very well aware of the fact that we announced an action plan working toward women's equality in budget 2008. I invited the committee members and all women in the House to participate in the development of that plan which will have three pillars: economic security, leadership, and ending violence against women.

[Translation]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, in general, the time an inmate spends in jail while waiting for sentencing is deducted twofold from the sentence to be served.The difficult situation in his province, with street gangs and organized crime, has brought the British Columbia Minister of Justice here today to ask the federal government to put a stop to this practice that undermines the credibility of the justice system.
    Will the Minister of Justice respond to this request, as called for by the Bloc since 2006?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to welcome the Bloc Québécois to this issue. This is a very important issue for Canadians and I am glad finally that members of the Bloc have woken up to that fact. We introduced legislation today that will address gang-related murders, drive-by shootings, and assault on police officers. That is what I told our guests who came here to Ottawa. I said this is exactly what we need.
    I want to know where the Bloc Québécois stands. Are they for change, are Bloc members going to support us on this kind of legislation? Let us find out.

Citizenship and Immigration

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians are losing their jobs by the thousands but the minister wants to bring in tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers, workers with no rights. According to his own department, these workers are often exploited and drive down Canadian wages. It takes up to eight years to bring someone's mother from overseas, but temporary workers are fast-tracked in one month.
    Will the minister finally get his priorities straight, speed up family reunification and limit the intake of temporary foreign workers?
    Mr. Speaker, I think just about every sentence in that question was factually wrong. First of all, this government has sped up the processing of family reunification sponsorship applications. We are pleased that this is the first year in a generation, with thanks to the actions of my predecessor, we are seeing waiting times and the inventory for immigration go down rather than up, including for family reunification.
    The temporary foreign worker program is limited. It is limited according to the demand. We only approve those applications where Canadians are not filling the jobs. Every single job must be paid at the Canadian prevailing wage rate.

Natural Resources

    Mr. Speaker, this week my premier, Dalton McGuinty, announced a plan to boost investment in green energy and deliver green jobs. Ontario's green energy act will create growth in renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydro and biomass. It will promote energy efficiency and encourage businesses to build green.
    My question for the Minister of Natural Resources is, what is this Conservative government doing to work with the provinces, including Ontario, to make Canada the destination for green energy development?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Kitchener Centre for his question and all of his hard work on the file.
    I want to take this opportunity to congratulate my premier, Premier McGuinty, and Mr. Smitherman who are joining with our Conservative government in supporting clean renewable energy. As hon. members know, our Conservative government is taking early concrete action to clean up Canada's energy supply and realize our potential as an energy super power.
    We are investing in renewable energy, supporting development in biofuels, and strengthening Canada's nuclear advantage. I am pleased that Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Smitherman are following our government's lead and have come to the table--
    The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, the 2007 United Nations Panel on Global Warming identified the Bay of Fundy as one of only two regions in all of North America most vulnerable to rising sea levels from global warming. In late December, the area near Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia, suffered the worst erosion damage in living memory. This is just the beginning according to the United Nations Panel on Global Warming.
    Now that we know that this is a global situation and a global problem, will the federal government agree to partner with the provinces involved in building protective structures to prevent disastrous effects of the predicted rising sea levels from this global warming situation?

  (1505)  

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has previously raised this issue with myself and my department. He raises really two good policy questions: one is combatting climate change which we are committed to and the other is our cooperative working relationship with the province.
    I would point out for his benefit that Minister Morse of his province has developed a very good working relationship with us as has his New Brunswick colleague. In addition, although she does not share the same geography, Minister Heppner also shares that same desire to work together with the government.

Presence in Gallery

    Order, please. We have a number of recognitions today.
    I wish to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of a number of ministers. First, the Honourable John van Dongen, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and the Honourable Wally Oppal, Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism in British Columbia
    Also, the Honourable Lloyd Snelgrove, President of the Treasury Board for Alberta and the Honourable Nancy Heppner, Minister of the Environment of Saskatchewan.
    I would also like to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of Dr. Arnold Koller, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Forum of Federations.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Points of Order

Committees of the House  

[Points of Order]
    Mr. Speaker, yesterday you cautioned all members about the use of abusive language and personal attacks. As a new member, I want to thank you for that.
    I was astonished yesterday, however, by the conduct of the Bloc Québécois member for Drummond during the meetings of the heritage committee, who interrupted the proceedings with language that I am unable to repeat in the House or in my home, in fact. There were repeated references to bovine excrement and I will say no more.
    May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your good offices with committee members to urge them to apply the same restraint that you placed on the House yesterday?
    I am sure the hon. member will raise the matter in committee. Committee matters are not normally the preserve of the House unless there is a report from the committee. None has been received, so I suggest the hon. member deal with the matter there.

[Translation]

Oral Questions   

    Mr. Speaker, Standing Order 18 provides that no member may use offensive language in this House.
     In response to a question I put to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, she said that threats and calls for violence “are not part of Quebec's values. That is more like the Bloc's ideology.”
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Mr. Michel Guimond: I see the member for Nepean—Carleton applauding these remarks. I might also raise a point of order regarding the applause for these remarks.
     The matter is very—
    Ms. Christiane Gagnon:The member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, too.
    Mr. Michel Guimond: The matter is very serious. We consider these offensive remarks. To accuse the Bloc of supporting threats and acts of violence are remarks that cannot be made in this House. I would thus like a ruling on this from you on such remarks.
     Accordingly, I call on the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, if you consider this to be the case, Mr. Speaker, to withdraw her offensive remarks, which are in contravention of Standing Order 18.

  (1510)  

    Mr. Speaker, I have documents in my hand that the House should see, because it is, unfortunately, the Parliament of Canada that has, through a Bloc decision, paid for this really disgusting material unacceptable to Canadians.
     I have here a paper known as Le Québécois. The editor called for violence and threatened Quebeckers, as well as the Quebec media. In a single edition, I count some five advertisements by the Bloc. Supported by its friends in the PQ, the Bloc Québécois has provided some 80% of the advertising revenues of this paper. The latest edition contains remarks against immigrants and refers to a plot by immigrants to make Quebeckers a minority, which is not true. There is a comment here comparing President Obama to Lassie.
     This is the paper that threatened Quebeckers in recent months. It is funded totally by the Bloc Québécois and its elected members.
     I should add that our minister has criticized violence, while the Bloc has funded threats. That is the truth.
     I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House to table these documents here in the House so that the House and the Parliament of Canada can see the evidence.
    Is there unanimous consent in the House?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    Some hon. members: No.
    The Speaker: Clearly, there is not unanimous consent.
     Does the hon. chief government whip wish to speak to the same point of order?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the member for Timmins—James Bay made outrageous comments to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and today he topped it off. He referred—
    I hesitate to interrupt the chief government whip, but we finished with the first point of order and I would like to deal with it briefly. I will just say I will take the matter under advisement and come back to the House, and review the comments made by the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean.

[Translation]

     I assure the hon. whip of the Bloc Québécois that I will listen as well to the comments made by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs during oral question period.
     I can now hear another point of order, that of the chief government whip.

[English]

Comments of Member for Timmins--James Bay  

    Mr. Speaker, the member for Timmins—James Bay made outrageous comments with respect to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development yesterday and he carried on today. The allusions have to do with the utter disregard of children. I am not going to repeat the words.
    I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to refer to Hansard to check those words. I believe the member should be admonished. He cannot make these outrageous statements day after day.
    Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House when the member for Timmins—James Bay rose to ask his question of the minister, he in fact was quoting from documents from Indian and northern affairs, part of which was that there were no real issues in opposition party ridings. When he raised the point that perhaps decisions were being made along partisan lines, he was again quoting from Indian and northern affairs documents. I would be happy to table this particular information, if I have unanimous consent to do so.

  (1515)  

    Mr. Speaker, today the member for Timmins—James Bay quite clearly accused the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development of being a pork-barrel minister endangering the health and safety of children. That is exactly what he said. He accused the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development of doing just that.
     He was trying to undermine the integrity of a minister of the Crown. He is doing so, as we all know, for nothing more than grandstanding purposes. It is unconscionable. The level of discourse in this House should be far above the level of discourse exhibited by that member.
    I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask him to withdraw his remarks, unequivocally.
    Does the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan have the unanimous consent of the House to table the documents she referred to?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    An hon. member: No.
    The Speaker: There is no consent.

Private Member's Bill C-241  

    Mr. Speaker, on February 25, 2009, you made a statement with regard to the management of private members' business. In particular, you raised concerns about five bills which, in your view, appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown. One of the bills you mentioned was Bill C-241.
    I am therefore rising on a point of order regarding Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (removal of waiting period). Without commenting on the merits of the bill, I submit that Bill C-241 contains provisions that would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act, which would require new spending and would therefore require a royal recommendation. Bill C-241 proposes to repeal the two-week waiting period before the start of employment insurance benefits following an interruption of earnings.
    The removal of the waiting period would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by creating an additional payment of two weeks for claimants who do not use the full entitlement. The Department of Human Resources and Social Development estimates that the removal of the waiting period could cost as much as $1 billion per year. Precedents clearly establish that bills that change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act and require new or additional government spending for employment insurance benefits must be accompanied by a royal recommendation.
    On December 8, 2004, the Speaker ruled in the case of Bill C-278, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system) that:
    Inasmuch as section 54 of the Constitution, 1867, and Standing Order 79 prohibit the adoption of any bill appropriating public revenues without a royal recommendation, the same must apply to bills authorizing increased spending of public revenues. Bills mandating new or additional public spending must be seen as the equivalent of bills effecting an appropriation.
    The removal of the waiting period would require the expenditure of funds in a manner not authorized under the Employment Insurance Act. This is supported by the Speaker's ruling on November 6, 2006 on Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (improvement of the employment insurance system), which states:
—all of these elements would indeed require expenditures from the EI Account which are not currently authorized....
    Such increased spending is not covered by the terms of any existing appropriation....New purposes must be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.
    These precedents apply to Bill C-241 which would change the purposes of the Employment Insurance Act by requiring new spending. Therefore, Bill C-241 must, in our view, also be accompanied by a royal recommendation.
    I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his assistance in this matter. Of course, we will get back to the House. There may be other submissions on the point before I make a final ruling on it.
    The hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont is rising on a point of order.

Routine Proceedings

[Routine Proceedings]

[English]

Committees of the House

Industry, Science and Technology  

    Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among the parties and I believe you will find consent for the following motion. I move:
    That the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology create a subcommittee whose membership will be composed of five (5) members, with two (2) from the Conservative Party, one (1) from the Liberal Party, one (1) from the Bloc Québécois, and one (1) from the New Democratic Party, and that the Chair be from the Conservative Party; that the sub-committee have all the powers and authority of the Standing Committee, to undertake a study of the crisis faced by certain industrial sectors in Canada such as aerospace, energy, forestry, high-tech, and manufacturing, with the understanding that any legislation referred to the full committee take precedence over the work of the sub-committee, that the sub-committee not meet at the same time as the full committee, that the sub-committee report its findings and recommendations to the main committee, and that the main committee present the report to the House within ten sitting days.

  (1520)  

    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)

[Translation]

     The Speaker:The hon. member for Québec on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, in response to the point of order raised by the hon. member for—

[English]

    Sorry. There is a sequence. The hon. member for Guelph is rising on another motion.
    Mr. Speaker, discussions have been continuing among the parties. If you were to now seek it, I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion, which I would indicate to the Speaker is being seconded by the member for Willowdale. I move:
    That the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology create a subcommittee whose membership will be composed of five (5) members consisting of two Conservative members, one Liberal member, one Bloc Québécois member and one NDP member, named after the usual consultations with the Whips, with all the powers and authority of the Standing Committee, to undertake a study of the crisis faced by the automotive industry in Canada, with the understanding that any legislation referred to the full committee take precedence over the work of the sub-committee, that the sub-committee not meet at the same time as the full committee, and that the sub-committee report its findings and recommendations to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology by March 21st, 2009.
    Does the hon. member for Guelph have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)

[Translation]

    The hon. member for Québec on a point of order.
    Mr. Speaker, further to the point of order raised by the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, I would like to say that our House leader will respond shortly.
    I imagine that there will be many responses to this and I indicated that I would be waiting for them.
    The hon. member for Trinity—Spadina on a point of order.

[English]

Points of Order

Decorum in the Chamber  

[Points of Order]
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Today when the member for Timmins—James Bay got up to ask a question at around 2:58 p.m., there was a lot of heckling from members, including the member for Crowfoot, who said, “You're a low life”. Yesterday, February 25, at around 3:00 p.m., the same member heckled the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. Earlier on, he heckled the member for Toronto—Danforth. This has been a pattern. I can give you the whole long list, Mr. Speaker. On February 2, at around 2:30 p.m., the same member said, “Apologize to all Canadians” while he was heckling the member for Toronto—Danforth, et cetera.
    This area of the House is a bit further away from you, Mr. Speaker, and there is a tremendous amount of heckling in this area. I want to bring this to your attention because I hope that when language such as “low life” is being used, you would ask those members, who are repeat offenders, to stop the heckling.
    I thank the hon. member for Trinity--Spadina for her comments in this regard. I can assure her that there are things being said at this end that she cannot hear either that would cause her concern if she were sitting up here. There is a lot of heckling that goes on in the House. I always encourage hon. members to refrain from excessive noise and of course that means sometimes excessive language, too. We have had a number of points of order today arising out of question period because of allegations that the language used was improper or excessive, depending on one's point of view, which I will be reviewing.
    I am sure that all hon. members in the House would share the concerns expressed by the member for Trinity--Spadina and will raise the issue next week at caucus, and maybe next Wednesday the House will be much quieter as a result.
    Now, I believe we have a question that the opposition House leader would like to ask, it being Thursday, and I apologize for having delayed this somewhat.

  (1525)  

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, my goodness, it is almost Friday. I have the normal Thursday question for the government House leader about his plans for organizing the business of the House for the next week or two. I wonder if he could be as specific as possible about his designation of opposition days in that period of time. He will know, of course, that the end of the supply period is March 26 and it would be very helpful to know which day on or before March 26 will be the last supply day in this particular supply semester.
    As the government House leader knows, there is a reporting procedure now in place as a part of the amendment to the budget address that requires certain reporting to the House of Commons five days before the last supply day in this semester. Therefore, that day could be rapidly approaching; indeed, it could be as early as next week. It would be helpful if the minister could be as specific as possible about all opposition days, including the last one in this semester.
    I would also like to ask the minister about a matter that appears in the main estimates that were tabled today by the President of the Treasury Board. The minister was kind enough to provide opposition spokespersons with some advance notice of this item. I am referring to page 1-116 of the main estimates and vote item number 35, which provides for an extraordinary power in relation to expenditures to be made between April 1 and the end of June, this year, related to certain budget matters.
     Because that power is extraordinary, I would ask the minister if he would be prepared to entertain some discussion with respect to equally extraordinary reporting procedures with respect to any decisions that the government may take under that particular vote, bearing in mind that it is an unusual provision that I understand has never been included before in the estimates. Accountability is important, and I wonder if the minister would entertain some discussion about how to make sure that accountability is there.
    Mr. Speaker, perhaps I will address the usual Thursday question first.
     I look forward to the business of the House of Commons and the business of the government for this next week. Despite the unprecedented tactics of the Bloc Québécois earlier this morning, we will continue the debate on the Liberal opposition motion for the remainder of today.
    Yesterday the Standing Committee on Finance reported the budget implementation bill back to the House. This means tomorrow will be the earliest opportunity, according to our rules, to begin debate at report stage of the budget implementation bill. It is our hope to complete report stage tomorrow and then move quickly on to third reading.
    The budget implementation bill will remain the government's top priority for next week. Following the completion of that bill, we will schedule debate for Bill C-13, the Canada grains, and Bill C-7, marine liability. Both of these bills are at second reading.
    In reference to opposition days, or supply days as they are known, I will be designating Thursday, March 5 next week as an allotted day. However, I serve notice that if the budget bill is not adopted by then, I may have to return to the House to change that designation.
    As to my hon. colleague's request about the last supply day in this cycle, that is still open for discussion. He will know that we have had quite a lot of discussion among all House leaders at our weekly meeting and in meetings subsequent to that to look at the schedule moving forward to ensure there is ongoing consultation, communication and co-operation among all parties as we try to get the budget bill passed as quickly as possible and get this much needed stimulus to Canadians and Canadian families that need it.
    As to the extraordinary power that he looks to in the main estimates that were introduced today, referred to as special vote 35, I assure the hon. member, all members of the House of Commons and, indeed, all Canadians that accountability is paramount to this government, and we will be assuring accountability. As always, we are open to discussions with the opposition parties as to any way in which we can ensure greater accountability, not only for those moneys that will be spent under special vote 35 but for all taxpayer dollars.

  (1530)  

Appropriation Act No. 4, 2008-2009

    I have been informed that a clerical error has occurred during the drafting of Bill C-12, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2009. Accordingly I have instructed that the bill be reprinted.

[Translation]

    For the information of all members, I am tabling a copy of the letter addressed to the Speaker from the Law Clerk in which the necessary changes are described.

Government Orders

[Business of Supply]

[Translation]

Business of Supply

Opposition Motion — Municipal Infrastructure  

    The House resumed consideration of the motion.
    Before the oral question period, the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche had the floor. He has seven minutes left to complete his remarks.
    The hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche.
    Mr. Speaker, I was getting quite carried away in my speech previously, about the importance of insuring that the money gets to the communities. I will continue in the same vein because this is a topic of extreme importance.
    We have heard from several Conservative members that a lot of money has been distributed at this time, or rather announced. There is a huge difference between announcing a project and putting the first shovel in the ground.
    I mentioned two facets of the project in the Eel River Bar community in the Restigouche region. The first dealt with providing drinking water in order to create a tourist development. The second aspect is the tourist development project itself, an aboriginal garden.
    These two aspects need funding if they are to be finalized. They are not new projects, but existing projects, ready to be finished. Where the water supply is concerned, the province of New Brunswick has even made a commitment: if the federal government was in it, so was the province.
    So there are two parts to the project and the Conservative government says that money is available, that the sod has been turned, that projects have been announced. But in the meantime, in actuality, there has been no progress whatever on these two phases of the project. One of them cannot be finished because the federal government does not want to give the necessary funding, and as far as the other is concerned, the federal government does not want to contribute to improving the drinking water infrastructure.
    Hon. members will understand that I am more than skeptical when I hear from the Conservative members that money is on its way to the communities. The truth is that, at this time, no money has gone out to the communities. Promises have been made in the House. We hear plenty of great promises from the government MPs, but the reality is that our communities are not getting the results.
     It would be interesting to know what the situation is in small rural communities all across the country. Part of the riding I represent is entirely rural. There are a lot of important projects that need to be done. The communities, for their part, have to be accountable to the people who live there, provide them with services, and improve their quality of life. They must also be able to carry out these infrastructure projects. If they want to do them, as things stand now, the federal government asks them to provide so much money that they are unable to draw up plans and get the projects rolling because they do not have as much as the Conservative government wants them to provide.
     We want the government to speed up the funding to these municipalities, towns and villages. What we need first is speed. Then we need flexibility. Finally, we need to ensure that the program to return the gasoline tax will give these cities, towns and villages the funds they need to complete the most pressing infrastructure projects for the people of their communities.
     I also gave the example of the city of Edmundston. This is a real priority. The sewage system needs to be divided, separating the storm and sanitary sewers. This is a quality of life issue for the people. We need to ensure that people’s houses are not inundated when there are major floods. I am not talking about floods of drinking water but of stuff that is not very appealing on the environmental level. The City of Edmundston is ready to proceed with this project, but the government says that it probably does not fit the current funding situation.
     I want to hear the opposite. I want to hear the government members say that projects from Eel River Bar, the City of Edmundston and all the others that have been submitted by municipalities in my riding, or will be over the next few weeks and months, are going to get done. Even better, I want the funding to be there and the projects to start. I want a real infrastructure program to get the Canadian economy going again and put the businesses in our rural communities back to work. If they are back at work, there will be employees on construction sites erecting buildings and making roads. People will have water and sewage systems.

  (1535)  

    That is the way it is. What we want is very straightforward. We want to make sure that our municipalities have access to what they need to provide services to their residents. It is not that complicated, so I cannot understand why the government thinks that citizens will believe their little promises about spending money all over the place. Our constituents want results. They want to see shovels in the ground. They want water and sewer services. They want the infrastructure they need to get those services. That is what they want. They do not want promises. They do not want to hear that the government is working on it. They want to see people put shovels in the ground. They want to see the grader grade and the backhoe dig. That is what they need.
    The Conservative government must change its mind about our motion and admit that the Liberal idea is a good one because it would put money directly in the hands of communities.
    All we can do now is hope that the government will open its eyes. Someone once told me that we might have to think of the Conservatives as little babies or kittens that suddenly open their eyes and understand common sense. That is what we are trying to make the Conservatives understand. People in communities just want the Conservatives to accept common sense. They want access to the money now so that they can get started on their projects.
    I know that my time is up, Mr. Speaker. Thank you. I hope the Liberal motion will pass. This is an extremely important motion for the infrastructure in our communities.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, in the last week I visited two municipalities in my riding, Victoria County and Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
    When I met with those two councils to get a better sense of what requirements they have in infrastructure, they said that their municipalities were tapped out. They do not have the money to step up to the plate and they are worried it will pass them by. They simply do not have the funds to access the infrastructure programs.
    My hon. colleague, the member for Madawaska—Restigouche, has a similar riding to mine, with a low tax base and a high demand for infrastructure. Could he tell the House how the Conservative government's present infrastructure program will pass those rural, small and cash-strapped communities by?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Sydney—Victoria because his question is very relevant. These municipalities, towns and villages do not currently have, like most of the others, the means to carry out infrastructure projects. They have a project, but are unable to borrow the funds they require. No municipality today has a third of the money required in its bank account. The municipalities have to borrow. Who repays the loan? The taxpayers and the people of these towns and villages have to. They do not have the means to do so. The communities have to meet demands and provide basic services.
     At the moment, if we are to accept the Conservative government's approach, which means that if it continues not to listen to us, all small communities across the country, the cash strapped cities, towns, villages and rural communities, will be passed by. These communities will have to watch the train roll on by. Meanwhile, they need money. They need it so that, when this train will stop where they are waiting and the work can be done.

  (1540)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member who just spoke and the member who asked him the question talked about municipalities that possibly could not take advantage of the infrastructure program because they had no funding.
    First, the member obviously knows the tax rebate that goes out to all municipalities will go up quite a lot. Second, page 135 of the budget recognizes the fact that some municipalities will be unable. Therefore, $2 billion have been put in over two years in direct low cost loans to municipalities through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
    If these municipalities are strapped, there is an ability for them to get money at a very low interest rate and that money can be used to help access infrastructure funding. That, on top of the gas tax rebate and the other programs the government has in place, should allow municipalities an opportunity to take advantage of this.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to make two comments. First, I am pleased to see that the Conservative member opened his eyes, because the gasoline tax rebate was a Liberal program. As to the matter of the tax rebate to the municipalities when there are projects, it was a Liberal bill passed when we were in government. In fact, we did some very fine things.
     Think about the government's position now. They talk of lending money to municipalities. The municipalities need money in their operating budgets now in order to provide fire and police services and basic services to the public. The government is going to tell them it is not a problem if they have no money, because it will be able to lend them money and charge interest, too. So, in the end, the municipalities will no longer be able to provide the basic services to their residents, but, according to the Conservatives, this is not a problem; they will not be able to say that the government did not help them.
     In fact, the municipalities do not need that. They need direct aid, like the gasoline tax. The government must be able to give them money immediately and not compromise the future of the communities for the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. We are talking about our children's future here. So, if their future is to be assured, they cannot be burdened with debt forever. The fact of the matter is that the Liberal motion must be passed, and the public will benefit.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the member for Lethbridge talked about low interest rate loans being available but that does not recognize the reality in our small towns. For example, the pulp and paper mill in North Cowichan may not be able to pay its taxes this year. A low interest rate loan would not help that municipality which sees this company as a significant tax revenue source.
    I wonder if the member could comment on what he thinks needs to be done to help out those small rural communities that are in desperate straits because their single industries are looking at financial difficulties.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I have a similar situation in my riding. This is the reality for the city of Dalhousie, the third largest city in my riding. The Bowater pulp and paper mill closed down. That is exactly the same situation, and the municipality's revenues are dwindling as a result.
    So, first of all, revenues are dwindling and the federal government wants them to take on additional debt. This means that the municipality's debt level will go on forever. As they say, the sky is the limit. At some point, we need to slow things down, because the reality is that the municipalities cannot be mortgaged for life.
    We should help them out, so they can breathe a little easier and work on infrastructure projects without mortgaging the future of the communities or that of the citizens.

  (1545)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Halifax.
    I appreciate the opportunity to debate this motion put forward by the member for Parkdale—High Park.
     It was crystal clear to those of us who were paying attention that this country was going to face an enormous downturn of profound proportions in our economy. It was clear to our cities, labour community, NGOs and institutions like those involved in health care delivery and education. The only group that seemed to be oblivious to the impending economic downturn was the Conservative Party of Canada and the government that fronts for it.
    In August 2007, we watched as the American mortgage sector went into meltdown. People lost their homes, savings and hopes for the future. That meltdown sent shock waves through the American economy and real and obvious warnings to the global community, to us here in Canada and to those of us in the New Democratic Party.
    We have seen over and over again that what happens in the U.S. has a significant impact on Canadians and on our economy. That is the very reason that our leader and our caucus pressed the government to address the signals in our economy that al