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TRAN Committee Report

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Supplementary Opinion of the New Democratic Party (NDP)

The report submitted to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is the result of a four-session study of an update of infrastructure projects and the Investing in Canada Plan.

The NDP asked the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to convene this study urgently after the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s Status Report on Phase 1 of the New Infrastructure Plan last March, reporting that nearly half of the money set aside for Phase I of the Investing in Canada Plan had still not been committed.

Thanks to the witnesses we heard and the submissions made by municipalities as well as by national, regional, and local organizations and by individuals, we can present a supplementary opinion in this report in order to guide the government when funding infrastructure.

The NDP believes that our country needs public investment so that our roads, airports and public transit meet the needs of Canadians. In this report, we put forward recommendations to better equip the government to ensure our public infrastructure is sustainable, to treat the internet as a public infrastructure, across the country, and to take the challenges and specificities of small municipalities into account.

Our next actions must contribute to the development and design of effective and efficient programs for municipalities and their deployment in communities of all sizes. Our public infrastructure is the cornerstone of our country. We must therefore ensure that the $186.7 billion that will be deployed over the next ten years benefits all municipalities.

Small municipalities: a particular reality that must be taken into account

We believe that small municipalities have different realities and needs than large municipalities, and we must factor in these specific realities and needs.

Small municipalities have told Committee members how shortages in staff and expertise affect their organizational capacity and sometimes lead to costly errors. Some small municipalities have told members about the complexity and red tape they must deal with when they wish to submit a project for their community. We cannot ignore that this red tape, combined with a lack of resources, is definitely a major challenge for small municipalities.

Small municipalities have made it clear that their lack of financial resources is a barrier that sometimes prevents them from submitting projects that are necessary for their municipalities. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities tells us that the traditional procedure is cumbersome for small communities. Some municipalities have told us that due to a lack of staff, some very small municipalities do not have up-to-date inventories of their infrastructure funding needs. We in the NDP believe that it is therefore imperative for the federal government to have the means and mechanisms to better support small municipalities so that they may estimate their infrastructure funding needs. Some witnesses recommended that the government designate a central agency to conduct the infrastructure inventory. Such a mechanism, like that in the United States or Germany, would effectively reduce the administrative burden on small municipalities and determine infrastructure needs countrywide.

The NDP believes that smaller municipalities need more flexibility and less red tape. The Gas Tax Fund, for example, is an appropriate, targeted and predictable mechanism for small municipalities. Many witnesses said that improvement to existing infrastructure can be properly funded through this mechanism.

We recommend:

1.  That the government develop ways to counter the drop in federal funding set aside for projects in small communities, especially through:

-  Funds earmarked for programs and bilateral agreements that take into account their financial resources and problems linked to shortages of staff and expertise

-  Enhancing and increasing the Gas Tax Fund to fund improvements to their existing infrastructure

-  Renewing programs to clean water and treat wastewater in our fight against climate change as recommended by the Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités.

-  Greater flexibility in funding programs, terms and conditions of programs and the ranges of eligible expenses

Ensuring our public infrastructure is sustainable for future generations

We in the NDP believe that infrastructure funding must provide Canadians with viable and sustainable infrastructure that meets the challenge of climate change. We believe that we must equip municipalities to take the risks from extreme climate events and climate change into account when designing, operating and maintaining infrastructure. Engineering protocols already exist to enable municipalities to build more sustainable infrastructure. We believe the government must do more to measure the impact and potential effects of climate change investment in order to preserve our public infrastructure and support municipalities. Our public infrastructure must adapt to climate change. We must also make sure they adapt to tomorrow’s realities and to the impacts of climate change. The NDP believes the government must study the possibility of developing a protocol, like the one used by Canadian engineers, to evaluate the risks and the vulnerabilities of our infrastructure to the impacts of climate change and recommend adaptation measures to the impacts of extreme weather events and future climactic conditions. The government must also provide small municipalities with the tools to access this protocol in their efforts to preserve our existing infrastructure.

We recommend:

To study the possibility of developing a protocol to evaluate the risks and vulnerabilities of infrastructures to the impacts of climate change, and to recommend measures to adapt to extreme weather events and future climactic conditions. 

-  Require that risk assessments be conducted on the vulnerability to climate change, as well as other related risks, as a condition to approve financing infrastructure projects. This principle should be enlarged to include the approval of environmental impacts assessments and the design of infrastructure projects meant to restore or reallocate existing structures, as well as to new infrastructure projects.

Our public infrastructure must remain in public hands.

The government recently announced that it will create an Infrastructure Bank in which a sum of 35 billion dollars of public funds will be invested. The NDP has expressed serious concerns about this bank. First, we in the NDP believe that public money invested should have an impact on all sectors of the economy and create good jobs. We also believe that the government, by funding infrastructure projects itself, would bring down costs for future generations due to interest rates that would be much lower than those of the Bank, and would reduce risks. In fact, such a bank was established in Australia in the last twenty years, with disastrous consequences. We also believe that such a model of infrastructure privatization will cost Canadians dearly, and will benefit the private sector more than it will Canadian taxpayers. This report must be the foundation for a master plan in building a just and inclusive country.

Broadband high speed internet: a public infrastructure for every community

The UN has declared that internet access is a fundamental right. At the NDP, we believe that investments in telecommunications infrastructure are critical and they be regarded as a public infrastructure.  Access to broadband high speed internet must be available in all Canadian municipalities to ensure their long term development, productivity and sustainable economic growth. Democratizing the use of the internet and ensuring it is accessible to all Canadians would also help in the fight against poverty, by providing internet access to those who are less able to afford it so they can continue their education or find a job, etc.  Because this is 2018, it is crucial this service be accessible to all Canadians across the country.  The federal government needs to be a major player and invest heavily in this infrastructure, and ensure it is expanded and improved in every community in the country.

We recommend:

That the government declared that internet access is a fundamental right. That access to broadband high speed internet must be available in all Canadian municipalities to ensure their long term development, productivity and sustainable economic growth. That broadband high speed internet is considered a public infrastructure for every community.

Conclusion

Municipalities are responsible for 90 per cent of Canada’s infrastructure. Many of these municipalities responsible for infrastructure in our country are in fact small municipalities. This is why it is time for the federal government to recognize the specificities of these small municipalities that have a major role in the assessment process of infrastructure needs. Funding from the federal government to small municipalities would, among other things allow them to best contribute their expertise of our country’s needs in terms of infrastructure.

We hope the government will take the NDP’s recommendations into account and provide all Canadians with access to sustainable, feasible and accessible infrastructure and recognize the impacts of climate change. We hope the government will understand the importance of providing internet access to all Canadian municipalities.

In this report, we put forward recommendations to better equip the government to ensure our public infrastructure is sustainable, to treat the internet as a public infrastructure, across the country, and to take the challenges and specificities of small municipalities into account.

The NDP hopes that this supplementary report will allow the government to put small municipalities at the heart of the decision-making process when making future investments in our infrastructure. The strategy of the Investing in Canada Plan must take into account the reality and challenges that small municipalities are facing.

RECOMMANDATIONS

While we agree with the contents of the report, the NDP believes that further recommendations are necessary.

The NDP believes that the Committee’s recommendations could have gone further. We would have liked to see the following recommendations:

1.  That the government develop ways to counter the drop in federal funding set aside for projects in small communities, especially through:

-  Funds earmarked for programs and bilateral agreements that take into account their financial resources and problems linked to shortages of staff and expertise

-  Enhancing and increasing the Gas Tax Fund to fund improvements to their existing infrastructure

-  Renewing programs to clean water and treat wastewater in our fight against climate change as recommended by the Fédération Québécoise des Municipalités.

-  Greater flexibility in funding programs, terms and conditions of programs and the ranges of eligible expenses

2.  That the government declared that internet access is a fundamental right. That access to broadband high speed internet must be available in all Canadian municipalities to ensure their long term development, productivity and sustainable economic growth. That broadband high speed internet is considered a public infrastructure for every community

3.  To study the possibility of developing a protocol to evaluate the risks and vulnerabilities of infrastructures to the impacts of climate change, and to recommend measures to adapt to extreme weather events and future climactic conditions. 

-  Require that risk assessments be conducted on the vulnerability to climate change, as well as other related risks, as a condition to approve financing infrastructure projects. This principle should be enlarged to include the approval of environmental impacts assessments and the design of infrastructure projects meant to restore or reallocate existing structures, as well as to new infrastructure projects.