|| 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
No, it is not acceptable. Today is the time to change the way our communities and major cities are dealt with.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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 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.
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, 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 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.
I want to read a couple of articles. We have talked at different times in the House about the leadership the 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 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.
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.
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 , 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.
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.
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 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to the speak to the motion. The NDP will be supporting the motion of the member for .
I will be splitting my time today with the member for . 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 and his cohorts in the way that they think about issues. The coalition that has been established between the new Liberal leader and the 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.
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 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 and his , which will not solve the problem.
I look forward to questions and comments.
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.
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 , being debated currently in Parliament, and inserted as an amendment.
I hope the House will consider this amendment.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be standing here today speaking in support of the motion put forward by my hon. colleague from 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 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 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.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for . 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.
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 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.
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 , 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 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.
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 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 , 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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.