Madam Chair, thank you very much for inviting me this morning. If it's okay with you and the members of the committee, I will start with a brief statement, and then, obviously, I'd be delighted to take your questions.
Good morning to all of the committee members and thank you for inviting me to speak with you today about infrastructure and our plan for Canada.
I am joined today by deputy minister Kelly Gillis, who I want to thank on the record for her extraordinary work under accelerated circumstances. We have a lot to deliver, and I think she and every civil servant in the department have been doing an outstanding job serving Canadians, to make sure that we can deliver the infrastructure they deserve.
I'm here today to speak with you about Infrastructure Canada's interim estimates and supplementary estimates (B).
More specifically, to support the Government of Canada's priorities in investing in public infrastructure, Infrastructure Canada is seeking $1.8 billion through interim estimates and $150,000 through supplementary estimates (B).
This funding will ensure that communities across Canada have the money they need when they need it.
I would also like to provide you with an update on the progress we are making in delivering the investing in Canada plan. Since I was last before you, I have been continuing my travels across Canada to make critical investments in our communities and, obviously, to see the results. I have heard from Canadians about how their lives have improved through public infrastructure being built in their communities, thanks to federal support.
For example, I visited the town of Drumheller in Alberta, where new dikes are being built on the banks of the Red Deer River, and a flood mitigation system is being put in place to alert the 8,000 residents when the water levels in the dam are rising.
Together, these investments are helping to protect the community against the impacts of flooding for years to come, and I would say, Madam Chair, they're protecting families, businesses and communities from extreme weather events. I spent a bit of time in Drumheller, and one of the reasons I'm here today is to share with you these very real examples of what happens on the ground when we work together to make these investments.
I will give you another example.
In Rivière Rouge, a fibre optic network is being installed that will bring high-speed Internet to over 16,000 households and businesses in 17 Antoine-Labelle municipalities. For people like myself and my colleague the member for Trois-Rivières, Mr. Aubin, access to high-speed Internet in the regions makes distance work, distance medicine and distance education possible. It allows everyone to take part in today's life and tomorrow's economy.
And in Sainte-Eulalie, Quebec, a new wastewater treatment system and pumping station are being built, protecting the health of residents and preserving the waterways of the Centre-du-Québec Region.
I have seen first-hand how our investments are benefiting Canadians across the country, in every region and every community. I have had the privilege of meeting thousands of workers on sites across the country. I can tell you, dear committee members, colleagues and friends, they are the true heroes of our plans. Meeting them continues to be the highlight of my time as minister. They are dedicated, professional and passionate about what they're doing to build a future for Canadians.
Having a diverse workforce on our construction sites is also critically important, which is why I'm pleased that we have included the community employment benefits initiative in our bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories.
It is vital to the success of our country and our workforce to incorporate those groups that are underrepresented in the construction and related industries.
I would now like to talk about the progress we have made to date in delivering our Investing in Canada plan. This plan, as you all know, is investing over $180 billion through five major funding streams: $28.7 billion in public transit infrastructure; $26.9 billion in green infrastructure; $25.3 billion in social infrastructure; $10.1 billion in trade and transportation infrastructure to allow us to get goods to market; and $2 billion for rural and northern communities infrastructure. It's very important, because as Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, people talk to me about mobility when I am in cities, and about connectivity when I am in rural areas.
Thanks to the investment plan, we've been able to see progress in green infrastructure, public transit, social and recreational infrastructure, and, of course, address the needs of our rural and northern communities. The plan includes over 70 new programs and initiatives, all of which have launched. More than 33,500 infrastructure projects under those programs and initiatives have been approved to date. Nearly all are underway.
Since my last appearance at this committee in December, I am pleased to note some milestones we have achieved.
First, we have announced the first projects funded through the $2-billion disaster mitigation and adaptation fund, and planning is under way in communities across Canada. I am particularly proud of this program, because this is about making sure we invest in disaster adaptation so that we don't have to invest that much in disaster mitigation, We are making sure that communities like Drumheller and Springbank in Alberta, for example, can see a better future, and will be more resilient. We're protecting families, businesses and, obviously, a way of life. For example, we recently announced $150 million to protect more than 170,000 residents in a number of communities in the greater Toronto area who have been negatively impacted by flash floods and storms.
The Samuel De Champlain Bridge is nearly complete and will open permanently to traffic no later than June 2019. I would like to extend my thanks to the more than 1,600 workers who have worked so hard on this landmark project and to acknowledge their contribution to building our country. We issued a certificate to each and every worker who has worked on the bridge to express the thanks of this nation for their work. I can tell you, Madam Chair, thanks to the deputy minister and colleagues at the department, that we were able to deliver that just in time for Christmas. It was just a token to say, on behalf of all parliamentarians, thank you for what they are doing for the country.
We have announced the BMO Centre expansion project in Calgary, Alberta. The project is expected to create more than 1,800 jobs during construction and 500 new full-time positions once it is completed. This will allow the BMO Centre to be a tier one facility to attract worldwide conventions to Calgary. This will be in addition to Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. I think this will certainly change the nature of tourism in the city. Being able to have a tier one facility is really transformative for a city like Calgary.
We are also continuing to work with Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority on the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Significant work is underway on the design, foundation, and other construction which will create up to 2,500 jobs over the course of the project, which is one of the largest, not only in Ontario and Canada, but also in North America. Thanks to the hard work of Canadians, Canada's economy is strong and growing. Our historic investments in infrastructure are playing a key role by creating lasting economic and social benefits for Canadians in communities of all sizes.
Since we took office, 900,000 jobs have been created across Canada. The unemployment rate has been at its lowest since Statistics Canada began tracking unemployment rates more than 40 years ago.
Budget 2019 demonstrates our continued commitment to investing in infrastructure and our communities. It includes, notably, a one-time municipal top-up of $2.2 billion through the federal Gas Tax Fund to address priorities in municipalities and first nation communities.
There's $60 million in 2018-19 to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to help small communities get the training they need to better manage their infrastructure assets.
There's also $300 million for a new housing supply challenge that will invite municipalities and other stakeholder groups across Canada to propose new ways to break down barriers that limit the creation of new housing.
Just to be clear, we paused the time, correct?
The Chair: Yes, we did.
Mr. Matt Jeneroux: Okay, wonderful.
Minister, in 2015, the now campaigned on running modest short-term deficits of less than $10 billion in each of the first three years, and then a balanced budget by 2019—this year, which I think we can all agree isn't happening, as we've just seen the budget. However, beyond the Prime Minister breaking his promise to balance the budget by 2019, these modest deficits were indeed, according to the Liberal Party, to double spending on infrastructure to stimulate economic growth.
The PBO reported that your government is well behind what you had promised to spend in the investing in Canada plan. It hasn't grown the economy as predicted or created the jobs it was set out to do. This is concerning, because according to public accounts, as of January 2019, only 13% of that $188 billion had been spent, while your government's deficits have in fact been almost double what was promised every year since you've formed government.
If the government has only spent 13% in three years on infrastructure, yet the deficit is well over double the $10 billion campaigned on, what is the money being spent on if not on infrastructure?
I'll address the member's question now, but if ever you want to come back to the previous question, I have some numbers for you on the gas tax and other things.
Investing in infrastructure is investing in the future of Canadians. As I was saying in my testimony, I am pretty proud to see that we've done a lot.
One of the first things to do when I became minister was to discuss with federal, provincial and territorial colleagues. Two things came to mind, which I've tried to work with the deputy minister to put in place. First, we would adapt our processes to the construction season; and second, we would introduce progress billing.
I appreciate greatly the work of the PBO. It's helpful for us in government to make sure we can do things better. However, what the PBO is focusing on is project accounting. What I'm focusing on is impact.
I'll just give an example to the member to illustrate this concept.
Recently I went with the to the Côte-Vertu construction site in Montreal, a huge construction site where actually the tram cars will be hosted in tunnels very close to the location they're needed in for the morning rush hour.
I am not an engineer, but if you go to the site—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here with us. It's always a pleasure to have you, all the more so since we often don't share the same ideas. However, the conversation is always interesting, and as is often said, truth emerges when ideas collide. Let's hope that this is what happens.
First, I'd like to have your opinion or your comments on the Infrastructure Bank and its many studies. Between you and your colleague from , I am now used to buckling under the weight of studies that don't often lead to big decisions.
I keep track of all the studies ordered by Infrastructure Bank of Canada or that concern it. $2,960,000 was spent for 10 consultants whose names remain confidential; $1,750,000 for 6 consultants to verify leasehold improvements and construction costs; $876,000 for 3 consultants for external legal advice; $425,000 for consultants on public relations and media who also provide translation.
It seems to me that we have translation services on Parliament Hill. You could use them, they are very efficient.
That adds up to almost $8 million in studies, and the least we can say is that there is no transparency—we don't know who is taking part in these studies, nor anything about their topic—in this Infrastructure Bank that has existed for three years and which to date does not seem to have demonstrated the benefits you expected.
Could you explain why you are investing so much money that could be allocated to infrastructure?
As I said, we cannot afford as a country to waste one construction season. I've been talking to unions that are saying they obviously are concerned about making sure their workers will be on site during the coming construction season.
You may have seen a bit of frustration on my part. We signed an integrated bilateral agreement with provinces and territories. In the case of Ontario, we've had about $12 billion on the table for almost a year. The stream that has been opened recently is the rural and northern stream, which is extremely important. I come from rural Canada. That's only $250 million out of $12 billion, so you would understand that there are some concerns as to the speed for the deployment of that money to ensure that communities can build the roads they need, fill the potholes, and to make sure that we invest in recreational centres, make sure we invest in green infrastructure to prevent the severe impact of changing weather.
Clearly, what we saw yesterday is the Ford government opening up a bit on public transit, which obviously seems ambitious. It's interesting, and there are a lot of questions to be asked with respect to the funding of all that. To your point, it's true. I think our colleague Matt Jeneroux said that when it comes to infrastructure, you have to have the long-term vision. This is about building Canada for 10, 20, 30, 50 years ahead, so you will find a bit of an impatient minister. I want to make sure that everyone is playing their role, because under the integrated bilateral agreement, for those who are listening to us, it is the province that has to open the intake, prioritize the project; and then federally we would fund them.
The gas tax top-up, which I call the gas tax rebate, which I said was the one-time top-up of $2.2 billion added into the system, is a way to make sure that we don't waste a construction season, that we put our workers to work this summer.
For example, I was in Sudbury. I think Marc Serré would know that I even went to fill some potholes myself because they said, “Minister, it's good that you bring the money. Why don't we do some work together?” I called the mayor and we did it together, with Marc and who also were there.
My point is that cities have plans to do a lot of infrastructure for years to come, and we want to give them the means, because we know that they are the first responders to make sure that people get drinking water, that roads function, that waste-water treatment plants would be there. This was our way to partner. We did that with the FCM, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and AMO in Ontario who very pleased because that shows again that we want to be a trusted partner for the municipalities. In addition to the $12 billion over 10 years, we said, “Why don't we make sure people get to work this summer as we need to get the job done?”
Madam Chair, I'd like to thank my colleague Mr. Iacono for his question. The Smart Cities Challenge is one of the most interesting projects in my opinion. It really allows us to see that we're using technology and innovation to solve problems we find in various large cities throughout Canada.
We launched a national competition. I'm happy to say, as Mr. Jeneroux mentioned earlier, that six first nations were chosen to submit projects with cities. This will, of course, mean that projects will be implemented. The one that comes to mind, to answer more specifically, is the one in Saskatoon.
Saskatoon is one of the cities in Canada where young people from indigenous communities are often homeless, and look for a place to stay at night. We thought about the reasons for that situation in a city like Saskatoon.
First, we found out that the information was provided between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. We realized that few people look for shelter between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. So, we understood that the information had to be provided when people need it.
The second consideration is that today, the information must be conveyed using a mobile app so that people can receive the information. We also realized that the city had to have Wi-Fi, because not everyone has access to a phone or a tablet.
Finally, human nature being what it is, if a person turns up at a shelter at 2 a.m. and is told that it is full, he or she won't go back. So, we made sure that the information was available in real time, that is to say that someone who needs shelter at 2 a.m., for instance, will know which shelter to go to that evening.
In my opinion, this really allows people to benefit from the ingenuity of Canadian men and women and work together to mobilize indigenous communities; these communities are involved in several projects to provide better services to Canadians using innovation and technology.
I am very pleased to answer the question, Madam Chair.
You know, Churence, I also come from rural Canada. My riding is 37,000 square kilometres. You and I share a passion, in terms of making sure our smaller, rural communities will have services.
We've done a couple of things. First of all, we've made sure that as we look at infrastructure, we have a dedicated stream for northern and rural communities. There's a good reason for that. We understood that we needed to be more flexible. I'll give you an example. In northern Saskatchewan, they were saying, “Minister, if you allow us to use those funds to extend the runway by a few hundred metres, we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, facilitate transportation and reduce the cost of food in northern communities.” That, for example, would be admissible. That's why we left the program very flexible. .
The other thing we said, in recognition of the fiscal capacity of smaller communities—those below 500,000 residents—was that the federal government would go up to 60% in the funding, which would leave the province with 33%, and smaller communities with 7%. For me, this is really transformational. You would know that, historically, we have this rule of one-third, one-third and one-third. We heard from small communities across Canada that this is not sustainable. When you are a small community of a few hundred people, sometimes there's no way you can finance a $12-million project, for example, to replace the pipes necessary to provide drinking water.
Not only did we listen, but we decided to act, provide more flexibility and increase the funding in smaller communities to allow these projects to go through.
It's long term. I used to say, and I always say to the Minister of Finance, that I don't spend, I invest, and that's the difference. When you're talking about infrastructure, by definition you're looking at more than one financial cycle. You're looking at five, 10, 20, 30, or 50 years. When you're looking at bridges, you're talking 125 years of useful asset. When you look at the life cycle of assets, you realize that, when you invest in infrastructure, you invest in both current prosperity and in future prosperity. I always say that the best way to attract talent and investment in Canada is to have modern, resilient and green infrastructure.
We have all travelled around the world, and we know cities and communities that function well attract talent. That's what we really need to do. I would say I'm pretty proud.
Take the $2-billion disaster mitigation adaption fund. If you're not going to invest in disaster adaption, you're just going to invest in disaster remediation more often. I think not only about the economic costs but the social costs.
I was in Calgary, for example, at Springbank for the announcement. People have been flooded there for generations, and people have lost their lives. We invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make sure that we would prevent, not a one in a hundred years event, but a one in two hundred years event. This is where we are now.
There's a real cost of inaction to climate change. I keep repeating that. If there are people who doubt that, go speak to the people in Drumheller. Go speak to the people whose family members were victims in Springbank. They'll tell you that this is real and that this is today. Extreme weather events are more frequent and more severe.
I think it is a smart thing to do to make sure that we invest in adaptation. Whether we're building things like the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is about 25% of all merchandise trade between Canada and the U.S. to secure a second link so that our goods are going to market, whether it's about securing the tourism industry in Drumheller, whether it's about securing Springbank in Calgary, or whether it's about doing the Samuel de Champlain Bridge, which has $20 billion of trade every year that goes to the United States, for me, this is investing in Canadians. This is investing in our future.
The agreements were concluded with all provinces in 2018, the 10 provinces and three territories. We all know there have been provincial elections, different things happening, re-profiling, reassessment of priorities, and this had the impact that there's still a lot of money on the table.
Why I am pressing some provincial governments more than others is that I say this money is there for work this summer, for example. We can do projects, whether it's the rec centre, whether it's to make sure the roads are being built or whether it's about the drinking water.
If you look at our record, we have approved more than 4,800 projects and $20 billion. There's still a lot of capacity in the system. My point is that, if you talk to the unions, they say, “Let's get it done”. We need to do that. I'm saying the same message in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I will continue to do so, because I think it's in the best interests of Canadians.
The money is there on the table, but because of the way our agreement works, the provinces—which are co-investors, because the way we structured the agreement was to do more investment in infrastructure—have to open the intake and prioritize. Certainly, they send the project to us, and when it fits the program, we are glad to invest and we want to make sure we will do that together.
Obviously, I can sense the frustration, because when there's money on the table, it needs to be put to use. I have been restating that. As I said, one of my first comments when I hosted the federal, provincial and territorial meeting was to really stress the fact that we, all orders of government, need to work towards construction season. For me that's just common sense. Workers are expecting, unions are expecting, Canadians are expecting that we would get along to make sure that we are providing timely feedback, timely intake, timely review, timely prioritization and timely approval. We and the deputy and the whole team at Infrastructure Canada have been working extremely hard to deliver within these timelines.
Now, in some cases and some provinces—you mentioned the case of Ontario—I have been stressing to my colleagues, in the most respectful manner, let's open up, let's make sure people get to work, let's make sure that we use that money. We have had close to $12 billion on the table for almost a year, and the only stream that has been fully open so far is the rural and northern one, which is $250 million out of $12 billion. Obviously there's a lot we can do.
I appreciate that yesterday there was an announcement made with some transit, and there are a lot of questions around that. But my main point is that—and I think colleagues have said it—we need to leave politics aside on infrastructure. Infrastructure's too important for Canadians to bring any political considerations. Like I said, I have a lot of ambitions to make sure we deliver for our cities and our regions.
For Canadians who are watching us, what they need to understand is that when we negotiate the bilateral agreements with the provinces, because we respect the provinces, because we want them to have the ability to identify the projects and prioritize them, we want them to get going, because clearly there's no use to Canadians for money to be on the table. Certainly, we'll be working with all provincial and territorial governments to make sure that this is happening quickly. We're working with the unions. We're working with the entrepreneurs and businesses who want to get going, because they see the construction season is at our doorstep, and we really want to make sure we deliver for people. When you have a deinvestment in infrastructure, like we've seen in the previous 10 years, we know that the costs become exponential after. Anyone who has a house knows that if you start maintaining after 10 years, you have a lot of catch-up to do. That's what we're doing now. We're catching up. That's why we just need to put in the money, the resources, and the effort to get things done.