That, given the Parliamentary Budget Officer posted on March 15, 2018, that “Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the government’s $186.7 billion infrastructure spending plan” and that the “PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist”, the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to immediately conduct an audit of the government’s “Investing in Canada Plan”, including, but not be limited to, verifying whether the plan lives up to its stated goals and promises; and that the Auditor General of Canada report his findings to the House no later than one year following the adoption of this motion.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to extend my regards to my esteemed colleagues and to Canadians. I am very pleased to rise today to give my first speech in the House in 2020.
Before I get into the meat of today's motion, I am sure that my colleagues really want to know why I am so proud to rise to speak today. What has changed in 2020? What has changed since 2019? We have entered into a new decade. The Conservative leadership race is under way. We have a new Speaker in the House. The Quebec regional media have been saved, and I am now the critic for infrastructure and communities.
That, however, is not what I am most proud of. What then is so special about 2020? Although members may not be able to tell from looking at me, I have changed. It has nothing to do with new year's resolutions. I do not exercise enough, I do not always eat the way I should, and I did not make any resolutions to be kinder to the government in the House. Sorry about that. What has changed is my title.
For a week now, my wife, Caro, and I have been able to proudly call ourselves grandma and grandpa. My son, David, and his wife, Audrey, welcomed a baby boy named Clovis into the world.
I wanted to dedicate this first speech to my very first grandson and to his parents, who have made me so proud today. Welcome, Clovis. It is for you and all other children like you, for their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, that we all gather here to make Canada a place where families can succeed and thrive.
As parliamentarians, we must never forget that, despite our differences of opinion and different visions of how to go about it, we have a duty and a responsibility to safeguard the well-being of our children and all children, as well as their future.
As I said, I did not make a resolution to stop holding this government to account, so it is also for Clovis that I moved a motion today. On behalf of the official opposition, my motion holds the government to account with respect to infrastructure.
The motion is very clear. The 2018 budget provides an incomplete account of the changes to the government's $186.7-billion infrastructure spending plan. The Parliamentary Budget Officer requested a new plan because some of the funds had not been spent, but, unfortunately, he was told such a plan did not exist. That means the Parliamentary Budget Officer is no longer in a position to give parliamentarians the facts. That is why we are now calling on all parliamentarians to ask the Auditor General of Canada to audit the results of the Liberal government's investing in Canada plan and look into how it is being run.
Despite all the Liberals' claims and lofty promises, their infrastructure plan has not achieved the stated goals. They went on and on about how their $186-billion plan would put Canadians back to work, but the numbers make it clear that a significant amount of that money was never actually released, that the impact on employment was not as promised and that promises to grow the GDP were never fulfilled.
I will start with a bit of background. Let us look back to the 2015 election campaign. The 2015 campaign will probably go down in the books as the one when the Government of Canada spent more than at any other time in Canadian history, largely because of a promise that was broken. I must admit that this promise made Canadians happy at the time, but they got duped by a party that was prepared to promise heaven and earth in order to get back in power.
After pulling the wool over their eyes, the leader of that party, the current , soon went back on his word and drove the federal books into his party's trademark colour. Since 2015, Canada has been in the red because of the red party, and the situation keeps getting worse with every passing day.
What was that promise? No, it was not electoral reform, although that pledge did not come true either. The Prime Minister and his then candidates travelled all over the country repeating that they would run modest deficits of $10 billion the first year, $10 billion the second year, and $6 billion the following year, before returning to a balanced budget at the end of their term. They wanted to reassure everyone, because people had a sneaking suspicion that the red party might like red budgets.
The government not only failed to keep its promise, but it even decided that balancing the budget was not important. Indeed, there is no plan to balance the budget in the foreseeable future. There is spending, spending and more spending. What was the justification for this promise?
The government said it wanted to run small deficits to invest in our infrastructure in order to create jobs and wealth. That is what it said. The previous Conservative government managed to bring in an ambitious infrastructure plan that did not burden our grandchildren. The logic was sound. We could take advantage of the low interest rates to take on tangible infrastructure projects. We might have seen something tangible. We might have seen some results. We might have seen Canadians at work. This could have had an impact on our economy. At the very least, if the money from these loans went toward our infrastructure, we might have seen results. The problem is that reality caught up with the government rather quickly. The most positive of Conservative pessimists understood. Spending did increase, the deficit ballooned, but the investments in infrastructure did not materialize.
The Liberal's investing in Canada plan, the government's $186-billion cornerstone of infrastructure spending, made several promises to Canadians:
1. Rate of economic growth is increased in an inclusive and sustainable way.
2. Environmental quality is improved, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are reduced and the resilience of communities is increased.
3. Urban mobility in Canadian communities is improved .
4. Housing is affordable and in good condition and homelessness is reduced year over year.
5. Early learning and child care is of high quality, affordable, flexible and inclusive.
6. Canadian communities are more inclusive and accessible.
7. Infrastructure is managed in a more sustainable way.
That is straight out of the investing in Canada plan. That is what the Liberals promised to do with those billions of dollars.
Have Canadians seen a single one of these objectives materialize? Unfortunately, it is obvious that the government failed to meet its objectives during its first mandate; if we look at the numbers and everything before us, it will not meet them in this mandate.
The government failed miserably. Unfortunately, it also failed to report to parliamentarians on its management of the $186-billion investing in Canada plan. I am sure I am not the only member of Parliament who has been waiting since the announcements, since the last election campaign, to see shovels in the ground across the country over the past four years. We were expecting to see roads, bridges, schools and community centres being built. We thought they would be all over the place. We thought that every single riding we represent would see something. We thought that this multi-billion-dollar investment plan would create jobs.
I now have a question for my colleagues. Have there been many projects in their ridings? Have they seen trucks or shovels in the ground?
Some hon. members: No.
Mr. Luc Berthold: Absolutely not. It did not happen. MPs are not the only ones wondering, which brings me to today's motion. On a number of occasions, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and his office have taken a look at expenditures and results of the investing in Canada plan.
We have a role to play as parliamentarians. The role of Parliament, the House of Commons and MPs is to grant the government the money it needs to operate. For instance, in a majority situation, the government has no problem spending as much money as it wants, since it holds a majority when the time comes to vote on supply. In a minority situation, if it loses a single supply vote, the government falls and is dissolved. Why? Because the House refused to grant the money it has asked for.
Since parliamentarians are responsible for granting supply, it just makes sense that parliamentarians should have access to all the information on government spending in order to make informed decisions on public finances. Unfortunately, the government has obviously not provided parliamentarians with all the information on the actual status and results of the investing in Canada plan.
We cannot make any assumptions about the government's good or bad faith, and that is why we are calling for an investigation today.
The information may have been buried in the mountain of data coming from the machinery of government, making it impossible to find. There are approximately 5,000 public servants responsible for collecting information in order to report to Canadians. We are all aware of just how much information one person can produce in a day. If all that information was given to parliamentarians before it was sorted or without any explanation or cross-referencing of figures, parliamentarians would obviously have no idea what they were looking at. Despite all the means at our disposal, we would not be able to make any decisions because there is simply too much information.
That is why Parliament created the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I would like to quote the first two paragraphs of the website, which gives the history of that position. It states:
The position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer was created in December 2006 as part of the Federal Accountability Act. It was a response to criticisms surrounding the accuracy and credibility of the federal government’s fiscal projections and forecasting process.
At the time, some economists and parliamentarians were concerned that successive governments in the mid-to-late 1990s through the mid-2000s had shaped fiscal projections, overstating deficits and understating surpluses for political gain.
The role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is important, which is why we need to take his reports on Canada's public finances very seriously.
He has taken a look at the investing in Canada plan and its actual results. He has mentioned them several times in his reports and in testimony before various parliamentary committees. What he tells us is troubling. It is time for another organization, like the Auditor General of Canada, to take a closer look at how the Liberal government is managing the $186 billion it received from parliamentarians for this infrastructure plan.
I just want to summarize the revelations and observations made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I want to thank his team for their collaboration and for answering our questions.
The first report is dated March 29, 2018, and is entitled “Status Report on Phase 1 of the New Infrastructure Plan”. PBO officials essentially state that they noted several information gaps that were primarily due to the inability of departments and agencies to provide enough details to reconcile the overall spending that had been announced with the sum of the individual projects. Despite their experience, the PBO analysts were unable to match the exorbitant amounts that had been announced with the projects on the ground. That is unacceptable.
The report also revealed this:
Of the total $14.4 billion budget for NIP Phase 1, federal organizations have been able to identify $7.2 billion worth of approved projects that were initiated in either 2016-17 or 2017-18. Thus, $7.2 billion of Phase 1 funding is yet to be attributed to projects.
Only half of the total budget was attributed to projects.
We all remember the basic premise: run small deficits to invest in infrastructure and create middle-class jobs. Those small deficits now add up to $26 billion, but only $7.2 billion was actually invested in projects during the government's first term. That is unacceptable.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, “such unexpected delays can also provide insight regarding whether federal infrastructure spending is a useful policy instrument for short-term fiscal stimulus”. Obviously, if we do not invest, there will be no fiscal stimulus. Without money, trucks and workers on the ground, there will be no job creation.
In other words, the Liberals' big promises turned out to be empty ones. Their airy promises of fiscal stimulus amounted to nothing.
According to the same report:
Budget 2016 committed $11.3 billion...in infrastructure spending over 2016-17 and 2017-18, resulting in an expected increase in the level of real GDP of 0.2% and 0.4% in 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectively.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that GDP only increased by 0.1% over those two fiscal years. We call that missing the mark outright, not just a little.
Here is another quote:
We estimate that Budget 2016 infrastructure investments will provide a modest boost to...GDP and employment over the remainder of the planning horizon.
Not only were results poor in the past, they will be poor in the future.
That is not all. In analysis of budget 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's comments about the Liberal infrastructure plan are scathing.
Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the Government’s $186.7 billion infrastructure spending plan. PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist. Roughly one-quarter of the funding allocated for infrastructure from 2016-17 to 2018-19 will lapse. Both legacy and new infrastructure programs are prone to large lapses.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer then rightly goes on to suggest that parliamentarians may wish to ask questions about that, which is what we are doing today.
After failing to carry out phase 1, the Liberals have no plan for how to invest the tens of billions of dollars allocated to more than 50 programs falling under some thirty agencies and departments. They are incapable of doing the legwork, they are incapable of reporting to Parliament and incapable of providing a comprehensive investment plan.
We have all day to talk about it. I know that my Liberal colleagues will spend the day telling us about the wonderful projects that have been completed and other projects that have been announced without really knowing when those will get off the ground. Some projects have been announced once, twice, three times. The cost is not calculated. If that is how the Liberals balance their budget, it does not work.
The fact is that there is no plan and management is piecemeal, and so there is no impact on the economy. Instead of celebrating, my colleagues opposite should be as concerned as we are about the government's inability to plan for its infrastructure investments.
I would like to talk about another a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I explained earlier that the government failed to live up to expectations. I will now explain how this Liberal government, which wanted to impose its infrastructure plan on all the provinces, ended up back at square one.
In a report tabled in Parliament in March 2019 entitled “Infrastructure Update: Investments in Provinces and Municipalities”, staff at the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that they were not able to independently verify that the federal funds had indeed increased infrastructure spending overall, since part of the federal increase appears to have been offset by planned decreases in provincial spending.
Am I to understand that the Liberal government forgot that it is not authorized to invest in provinces on its own and that it did not get assurances that the money it was loaning to build roads, bridges and social housing would be used for new investments? All of that lip service and those projections were cancelled out because the Liberals were unable to make sure that the provinces would keep up with their own investments.
Here are some figures from the Parliamentary Budget Officer:
...according to their 2016-17 and 2017-18 budgets, provinces were planning to spend $100.6 billion in capital. Instead, they invested $85.1 billion, which is $15.5 billion lower than their initial plans.
That is what the Liberals are trying to hide. The investing in Canada plan has failed to create wealth for the middle class, failed to achieve anything tangible, and failed to be transparent and accountable.
The final straw came during the last election campaign, when we asked the PBO to analyze one of our proposals. Here is the reply I received:
...you asked if we could provide you with a copy of all the data sets provided to us by Infrastructure Canada with regard to a complete list of the projects and their funding allocations.... Unfortunately, Infrastructure Canada considered these data to be confidential, so they were not disclosed.
That response is unacceptable. Given the government's lack of transparency and accountability, the Conservatives believe that the Auditor General must immediately conduct an audit of the investing in Canada plan. Naturally, we are counting on the collaboration of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to shed as much light as possible on how the Liberals are managing the $186 billion. Canadians and parliamentarians of all stripes have the right to know what the Liberals are doing with their money.
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to speak today about the Government of Canada's investments in Canadian communities and in our country's infrastructure.
I have spoken in the House before about my career before politics as a city planner and I have shared the story of how that experience led me to enter public life. As an urban planner, I became all too familiar with the sorry state of our nation's infrastructure and the serious threat that it posed to the sustainability, security, prosperity and even the livability of our communities. I was also keenly aware of the opportunity before us, the potential of infrastructure to set our cities and towns up for success, if only we could find the confidence to invest in our cities, our towns and our own future.
I answered the call that I heard to enter federal politics because I wanted to be part of a team that would make historic investments in infrastructure to help literally reshape communities for the better.
As city and town planners, we have a vision for Canada where our communities empower citizens, where our communities lead Canada toward its best days. As planners, we push for a connected Canada with world-class local and regional public transit systems that get us not just to work on time but across the province dependably; an inclusive Canada with secure and affordable housing options for middle- and low-income Canadians, with quick and direct access to the places where we live, work and play, the supermarket, the doctor's office, the school, the neighbourhood day care and the ice rink. We push for a resilient Canada that is well prepared for the challenges that come with a changing climate and rising sea levels, cities and towns that are cleaner and less reliant on sources of energy that pollute our skies and harm our health, communities that are less resource intensive and do more with less; and a vibrant Canada strengthened by cities and towns that feel like home with community centres, libraries, YMCAs, museums, theatres and parks.
Here is the good news. The Canada we seek is closer now than it has ever been. We are on the threshold of sweeping transformation and the renewal of the Canadian community experience.
In 2015, our government was elected on a mandate to make those historic investments in infrastructure. Right out of the gate, we got to work. In close consultation with indigenous partners; provincial, territorial and municipal leaders; and stakeholder groups like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, we designed the investing in Canada plan, a visionary, long-term plan that is investing billions in infrastructure projects in every corner of this great land, a plan the magnitude of which has not been seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal of more than 80 years ago.
Our government believes in the importance of investing in infrastructure, and the plan is tangible proof of what the government promised Canadians, specifically, to create good jobs, grow the economy and invest in clean air and water, modern and reliable public transit, strong infrastructure and sustainable communities.
Our progress has been tremendous. Since the plan was launched, over 52,000 projects have been announced government-wide, with federal contributions of nearly $60 billion. Almost all of these projects are either started or completed.
As we said they would, these investments are translating into greater economic growth. Since 2015, Canadians have created one million new jobs, and 77,000 of these are strong, middle-class jobs in the infrastructure sector. Investments delivered by Infrastructure Canada are a core contributor to this outcome.
Through our new and legacy infrastructure funding programs, our work on building major bridges, our support for partnerships through the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the smart cities challenge, we are directly growing the economy and creating communities that work.
In 2016, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimated that fully one-third of our infrastructure was only in fair, poor or very poor condition. That is why in our very first budget, budget 2016, we committed $14.4 billion for projects that could be delivered quickly, projects that would see new public transit, green and social infrastructure built, and existing assets rehabilitated, repaired and modernized. It also provided funding for post-secondary education and broadband access for remote communities, because these are essential to helping all Canadians prepare for the future.
Nearly all of these projects are under way or completed, meaning communities across the country have already benefited from the projects delivered during that phase.
For example, in Plessisville, Quebec, we invested nearly $24 million in the renewal of water pipes and the replacement of aeration pipes throughout the municipality so that families can have peace of mind and continue to have access to clean drinking water.
In Bonnyville, Alberta, we invested over $32 million to extend the regional water supply system to bring more safe, clean water to homes.
At home in Halifax, we invested $24 million to purchase two new ferries and 39 new buses, cutting congestion on our city streets and improving the daily commute for many residents. In Toronto, Ontario, we invested close to $310 million to purchase new, clean diesel and hybrid buses to help reduce greenhouse emissions, traffic gridlock and travel time in one of Canada's busiest cities. In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, we invested $12 million to help renew and upgrade its existing fleet of buses to help more people get to and from work and to essential services more quickly.
Those were all projects Canadians told us they needed in order to prosper.
Through budget 2017, we committed an additional $81.2 billion in funding for large-scale projects that would transform the landscape of Canadian communities in five key priorities: public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation infrastructure, and funding for rural and northern communities infrastructure. Public transit projects, like Vancouver's Broadway Subway, will create new links between communities and change the way that residents get around their cities.
One year later in our second budget, budget 2017, we introduced two new initiatives: the smart cities challenge and the Canada Infrastructure Bank. The smart cities challenge is a pan-Canadian competition designed to spark innovation and empower communities to adopt a smart cities approach to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technologies. I can tell members that those of us in the city planning community were overjoyed with the announcement of the smart cities challenge. Finally, there was opportunity for citizens to be part of building the innovative, sustainable, modern cities that truly belong in the 21st century and a chance to get people excited about what was possible in our communities if we put our best minds together to develop forward-thinking policies.
The benefits for the winners of the first challenge are clear. Bridgewater, a challenge-winning community in Nova Scotia, is working to help lift residents out of energy poverty. Communities in Nunavut are benefiting from measures to reduce the risk of suicide. Guelph and Wellington County in Ontario are implementing their first technology-enabled circular food economy. Montreal, Quebec is innovating to enhance mobility and access to food for its residents.
All of the participating communities repeatedly talked about the major benefits, such as the opportunity to explore new ideas, access means and funding at the municipal level, and integrate even more digital technology and information into community planning.
The Canada Infrastructure Bank, CIB, is a Crown corporation that leverages federal support to attract private sector institutional investment to new revenue-generating infrastructure projects that are in the public interest. The CIB is focused on trade and transportation; public transit; broadband; and green projects, including clean power. It is advancing a new model through expert advice and evidence-based decision-making. By drawing on the capital, experience and expertise of the private sector, the bank is helping to encourage beneficial partnerships between the public sector and the private sector, which in turn make more infrastructure projects for Canadians possible while helping public dollars go further.
We have continued to build on successes and deliver results for communities across Canada. For example, through budget 2019, we provided a one-time top-up to the federal gas tax fund, which provided an additional $2.2 billion to municipalities for their priorities. In Halifax, that meant an additional $26.5 million last year.
The mandate letter for the makes additional commitments to Canadians, such as permanent federal public transit funds that will rise with the cost of construction, a national infrastructure fund that will support major nation-building projects, and the promise that any funds from our existing programs for provinces and territories that have not committed to approve projects by the end of 2021 would be reinvested directly into communities through another top-up of the federal gas tax fund.
We are continuing to invest in infrastructure in new and innovative ways, because our government knows that investing in infrastructure is not a one-size-fits-all approach, which is why it is not the work of one department alone.
The invest in Canada plan is the result of 14 federal departments working together to invest in Canadian cities. This approach gives us the flexibility and adaptability to meet Canadians' needs while ensuring that all levels of government make informed, strategic, evidence-based decisions.
To be clear, the provinces, territories and municipalities are the ones that will benefit from this approach because they own 98% of all core public infrastructure. That is why Infrastructure Canada worked with Statistics Canada to conduct the first national survey to provide a snapshot of the stock, condition and performance of core public infrastructure.
This inventory would not only help municipal, provincial, territorial and federal leaders determine how best to invest federal funding based on what they need and currently have, but it would also help provide baseline evidence to help monitor and assess the impact of federal investments under the plan over time. By including different funding streams with specific outcomes in our plan and different funding mechanisms and by working closely with our partners to be responsive to their needs, we are delivering results to Canadians.
In support of the Government of Canada's policy on openness and transparency and to provide the best information to Canadians, Infrastructure Canada, along with the other delivery partners, communicates progress and results on its investments to Canadians through a variety of reporting methods.
A detailed outline of the framework and the objectives of our investing in Canada plan can be found online on the Infrastructure Canada website. Canadians will also find detailed information on the implementation of the plan, the progress that has been made and the latest funds invested, as well as an online map showing the location of infrastructure projects in their communities.
Detailed information on the projects funded through the investing in Canada plan is also a posted on the federal open data portal, shared through various traditional and social media channels and made available in departments' respective annual departmental results reports.
Finally, Infrastructure Canada also issued its first annual progress report in May 2019, which provided an update on the implementation of the plan across all departments. This report is available on the department's website, and we will continue to report transparently to Canadians on an annual basis on the progress and results of the plan.
The Government of Canada is proud of its accomplishments through the investing in Canada plan and how infrastructure investments are helping improve communities across the country.
I have risen in the House today in response to a motion put forward by my colleague, the member for . In his motion, he made several statements that I would like to address.
My colleague began by referring to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's March 15, 2018 post, which stated, “Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the Government's $186.7 billion infrastructure spending plan.”
In his March 2018 report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer looked at investments in infrastructure across a number of departments and compared the investments these departments reported to the Government of Canada's planned spending for that period. The PBO asked for information from a number of departments and agencies about their spending on infrastructure.
In light of this, Infrastructure Canada and the other federal departments worked closely with PBO staff to provide updated data and results, and an updated report from the PBO was issued in August 2018.
According to the most recent version of the report, the Government of Canada is fulfilling its promise to make a historic investment of over $180 billion in public infrastructure over 12 years, to grow the economy and to create jobs for Canadians.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer's independent economic analysis concluded that the federal investments made under budget 2016 helped stimulate both economic activity and job creation in its first two years. These benefits have continued to accrue over the remaining life of these programs.
Furthermore, in July 2018, the Governor of the Bank of Canada also reported that the country's economy was operating close to capacity and the labour market was strong. In fact, since the start of our government's mandate, Canada's unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in four decades.
To return to the motion from the member for , he further states that the “PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist”. On the contrary, the plan exists and information on the plan is available to all. As I stated earlier, in April 2018 the then minister of infrastructure and communities released a publication to the media and the public, and posted on the Infrastructure Canada website, that lays out all of the new funding programs being delivered under the plan by department.
As I mentioned earlier, the annual progress report released in May 2019 is also available on the website. Those viewing the list of programs may note that some are delivered through bilateral agreements between the federal government and the provinces and territories, which I will speak to briefly.
As members know, Infrastructure Canada is a federal funding partner for Canada's core public infrastructure, and most of its funding programs are delivered in partnership with the provinces and territories. The funding programs under the investing in Canada plan are no different in that regard. Under budget 2016, Infrastructure Canada delivered two funding programs: the clean water and wastewater fund and the public transit infrastructure fund. To deliver these programs, Infrastructure Canada signed its first bilateral agreements in 2016 with each of the provinces and territories, which spelled out the terms, obligations and commitments of each party. Under these agreements, the terms and conditions of this funding were clearly defined, as the funding was intended for the repair and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure projects.
As well, funding recipients were asked to report back to the government on a semi-annual basis. To deliver budget 2017 funding, Infrastructure Canada signed new bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories in 2018, which provided updated criteria for the funding streams included in the agreements as well as the new reporting requirements.
The funding criteria under the new bilateral agreements focus on outcomes. Project applications have to show how a project will meet these outcomes. Outcomes can include increased access to potable water or increased energy efficiency of buildings, or in rural and northern communities, improved food security.
The 2018 bilateral agreements also included revised reporting requirements, which include a detailed biannual progress report. These reports are used by the Government of Canada to provide important updates to Canadians on the progress and benefits of the projects in their communities. The full details of the bilateral agreements, including their outcomes and reporting requirements, are all publicly available on Infrastructure Canada's website. I encourage my fellow members to examine these for themselves.
By working in close partnership with the provinces, territories, municipalities and indigenous partners, we are ensuring that our smart, strategic investments in infrastructure will continue to help create good jobs and deliver real results for Canadian communities. I am proud of the work our government is doing to ensure that our communities will grow and succeed now and into the future. In respectful and productive collaboration with members on all sides of the House, we look forward to continuing on that path because we know there is still a world of opportunity that awaits us out there.
Every day citizens are developing new ideas and technologies to build better communities for all of us, whether it is at CarbonCure, a company in my home province of Nova Scotia that is helping us reduce the carbon footprint of our built environment by developing greener concrete, or at LakeCity Plastics, also in Nova Scotia, a company that transforms thousands upon thousands of plastic bags into picnic tables like those we recently revealed on the Halifax waterfront.
The future is bright for our cities and towns because when Canada builds, Canada grows.
Therefore, I would like to move an amendment to the motion. I move that the motion be amended by deleting the words “given the Parliamentary Budget Officer posted on March 15, 2018, that ‘Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the government's $186.7 billion infrastructure plan’” and the phrase “PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist”, and substituting them with the following: “given the House recognizes the importance of making smart infrastructure investments that improve the lives of Canadians.”
I am thankful for the opportunity to rise and speak in the House today.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for . We will each have 10 minutes, and I am looking forward to hearing his speech.
First off, I want to go back to the content of the motion moved by my colleague, the member for , so that we can see what it is about. The motion essentially says the following:
That, given the Parliamentary Budget Officer posted on March 15, 2018, that “Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the government's $186.7 billion infrastructure spending plan” and that the “PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist”, the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to immediately conduct an audit of the government's “Investing in Canada Plan”, including, but not be limited to, verifying whether the plan lives up to its stated goals and promises; and that the Auditor General of Canada report his findings to the House no later than one year following the adoption of this motion.
There is something there, and I expect this to be an interesting discussion. Before I begin analyzing our response to the motion, I would like to first indicate that the Bloc Québécois intends to vote in favour of this motion for several reasons. Here are the main three.
The first reason is the delay in spending, which members have already mentioned. Since 2016, the government has delivered on only a small part of the announced infrastructure spending. When money is announced for a project, that money is needed for the project to begin. That is even more important when it comes to infrastructure because infrastructure is something that our constituents, our communities, our towns and our cities need to operate, to grow and to have a healthy economy.
It always fuels cynicism when the government announces $300 million for this or $1 billion for that, but the money never comes. We are obviously concerned about these delays in spending. We would therefore like the Auditor General to tell us what is really going on.
The second reason is the importance of transparency when it comes to economic data. Without numbers, we cannot really get an accurate picture of the situation. The government's numbers are never very clear. It appears to be recycling amounts from previous announcements whose time is running out. Is that money being reclaimed or not? Is it being reallocated elsewhere? Nobody knows what is going on with that money.
Obviously, we think that when the government makes spending announcements, the money should actually be spent on what they said they would spend it on, especially when it comes to infrastructure. Our communities have infrastructure needs, especially Quebec communities, and we will look at why a bit later. Transparency is important because we need predictability. People need a clear sense of the situation not only so they can really trust the information they get from the government but also so they can make good decisions and adjust plans as needed. Without that information, people are flying blind.
The third reason why we plan to vote in favour of the motion is that we believe it is important for Quebec to obtain its fair share. When there is a delay in spending and a lack of transparency in the data, it is difficult to know if Quebec is getting what it is entitled to.
According to one of the PBO's reports on phase 1 of the infrastructure plan covering the period from 2016 to 2018 and tabled in March 2018, Quebec received only 12% of total investment under the program while Quebec accounts for 23% of Canada's population. I think it goes without saying that we find that offensive and, above all, inadequate. Like anyone else, we Quebeckers pay taxes to Ottawa, and we expect to receive our fair share of the taxes that we send to Ottawa until we become independent. Let us hope that happens as quickly as possible.
I will do a brief comparison of amounts received by Quebec compared to those received by the other provinces, according to the table on page 9 of the PBO's report. If we look at the figures for Ontario, for example, we see that it received 32% of total infrastructure investment for 2,884 infrastructure projects, which represents $161 per capita. We see that Ontario's share of the investments was not so shabby.
Other provinces were spoiled even more. On a per capita basis, Yukon received $1,797, Nunavut received $2,146, the Northwest Territories received $1,618, and Newfoundland and Labrador received $1,752. If we look at what each of the provinces received, we can see that Quebec was overlooked and received the least money. Ontario was next, but it still managed to receive nearly its full share. By way of comparison, Ontario is getting 32%, or $161 per capita, and Quebec is getting 12%, or $97 per capita. Some provinces are getting thousands of dollars per capita, yet Quebec cannot even get $100. It is easy to understand why we are not too happy with these figures and why we would like some answers from the Auditor General.
Other things are brought up in that Auditor General report. The had planned to spend $14.4 billion in 2016-17 and 2017-18, as stated in his infrastructure plan. According to the Auditor General's report, however, it appears that only 50% of planned expenditures were actually spent.
There is no excuse. Sometimes, they tell us that it takes a while to come to an agreement, that there are administrative delays and that projects are not being submitted. A little later in the same report, we see that 17% of projects received no funding even though they had been approved. One in five approved projects did not receive any money.
This is inconceivable and inexplicable to us, and we very much look forward to hearing the real explanations that the government will give us. We have not heard any yet, but perhaps the Auditor General will be able to tell us more.
We also know that it is always harder for Quebec to secure funding. We have some demands. We want 100% of the funds earmarked for Quebec to stay in Quebec, we want Ottawa to send the money directly to the Quebec government, and we want it to stop imposing all kinds of conditions. Apparently, that does not suit Ottawa, and it always slows things down.
It is important to know that only 2% of public infrastructure in Canada falls under federal jurisdiction, and the remaining 98% comes under either municipal or provincial jurisdiction. The federal government owns only 2% of infrastructure, yet it controls a large portion of the budget and imposes all kinds of conditions on everyone.
It is not familiar with the reality in the municipalities and the provinces. A central government does not have the credibility to say that it understands the reality in every municipality in the country. Canada has 5,000 municipalities, but the Bloc is concerned first and foremost with the 1,400 municipalities in Quebec. It would be impossible for Ottawa to be familiar with the reality facing each and every one of them. Federal regulations make it difficult for the municipalities to qualify for and secure the funds that are rightfully theirs. This is especially true for small municipalities, which do not have an army of staff to research how to qualify for the various federal government programs, how to submit an application and how to navigate all the bureaucracy.
Clearly, it would be far more efficient if the money were transferred to Quebec so that it could be distributed based on people's needs. The money would trickle down much faster to where it is needed on the ground.
The Bloc Québécois is permanently stuck in this tug-of-war, because we want Quebec to get the money to which it is entitled.
I know that I am running out of time, but I want to close on another topic, namely the Canada Infrastructure Bank, for which the is responsible. After all, we are talking about infrastructure. It is very hard to get service in French when dealing with that bank. Since the bank was founded, there has not been a single executive, press secretary or CEO who speaks French. No one can respond to the municipalities in French. It is a major problem. We are talking about $35 billion that the federal government is investing in this bank. The private sector might be investing in it as well.
It was even reported a few days ago that no one at the office of the speaks French. It is clear that we are more than misunderstood in this country. Quebeckers would be much better off if we could manage our own money.
Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is dedicated to strengthening development in the regions of Quebec, particularly by activating Canadian federal government resources and adhering to recognized development principles to create a vigorous economic ecosystem with the Quebec national government, sector stakeholders, and the people of all regions of Quebec.
Like Quebec nationalists throughout history, the Bloc Québécois still has to fight tooth and nail to defend the development interests of Quebec's regions from the Canadian federal government, which constantly interferes in areas under Quebec's jurisdiction.
However, the Bloc Québécois can assure the House that co-operation with the Canadian federal government is possible provided that the government pledges to make investments in a specific program or file that meets the expectations of the Quebec government. Here are some examples relating to a rural riding like your own, Madam Speaker.
First of all, let us take the example of sports infrastructure. People who live in regional capitals like Rouyn-Noranda and Thetford Mines do not have access to high-quality sports facilities. Back home in Rouyn-Noranda, there was a multi-sports complex project that never came to fruition. The complex included a soccer field, a pool and other infrastructure. The federal government was not part of this project, and it fizzled out. There is also a pool project in Témiscamingue.
As one member mentioned earlier, in rural areas where the population is less concentrated, people do not have the same means and so it is not as easy for them to carry out such projects. The federal government therefore needs to establish eligibility criteria that correspond with the realities of each region. Once the objectives are established with the federal government, it is up to Quebec and the municipalities to carry out the projects.
I would now like to talk about municipal infrastructure and waste water treatment in particular. Some municipalities along the St. Lawrence River do not have the necessary infrastructure to deal with their waste water, which means that raw sewage is sometimes being dumped into the St. Lawrence River, as others have mentioned. Many Quebec municipalities dump their waste water into lakes and rivers. That is unacceptable. Municipalities must be given the means to improve their existing infrastructure.
Speaking of water, I also want to give the example of the municipality of Angliers in Témiscamingue, which does not have any drinking water abstraction infrastructure. Its residents have to drink bottled water, which is distributed by truck. That is unacceptable. That is also the reality in far too many indigenous communities, which lack the modern infrastructure required to provide clean water.
While we are on the subject of indigenous communities' infrastructure needs, let's talk about housing, a very important issue at the root of many social problems. Sadly, indigenous individuals live in some of the worst conditions in Quebec and Canada. Their homes are too small and in terrible condition. That affects their development.
That makes social housing infrastructure transfers top priority for us and for other parts of the country. The federal government must transfer funds to build social housing units and repair existing units, and it must put Quebec and municipalities in charge, no strings attached. Vacancy rates are very low right now in Quebec and pretty much everywhere else. In Rouyn-Noranda, the vacancy rate is 1%. The need for social housing in Abitibi-Témiscamingue is great. Here again, the criteria do not reflect regional realities, and we have to wait for money to get these projects going.
In addition, the shortage of affordable housing is exacerbating the problems of housing and homelessness. Housing is sometimes more expensive than in large urban centres. Inflation is an issue across Quebec. The lack of affordable housing is also exacerbating the labour shortage, since it seriously hinders our ability to attract newcomers, be they from Quebec or elsewhere, and help our businesses remain competitive and address the labour shortage. This again raises the issue of appeal.
Still on the topic of infrastructure, another issue that affects the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region as well as the Laurentides—Labelle riding is the infamous highway 117, also affectionately known as “bloody 117”. It is one of Quebec's deadliest highways because of the often dangerous conditions and the amount of heavy truck traffic. There is little room to pass other vehicles, and this sometimes leads to dangerous behaviours. This piece of infrastructure comes under the Quebec department of transport, but it is also part of the Trans-Canada Highway. In the past, the federal government has invested $11 million in repairs to various parts of that highway, including a bridge.
Could the government give that some thought?
As far as road infrastructure is concerned, the village of Moffet wants to bring the Grassy-Narrow bridge back into service. This will be a collaborative effort with the Anishinabe community of Long Point First Nation. The goal is to open up this part of eastern Témiscamingue, improve forestry development conditions for the companies and provide access to tourists or those who use the land recreationally.
Infrastructure for our farmers is another issue that is important to me, especially when it comes to slaughterhouses. There are many farmers in Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Can the federal government contribute to ensuring that we can consume locally produced meat? A federal government contribution can make a difference by funding local initiatives. The reality is that our cattle and other livestock have to travel 800 kilometres to be slaughtered. It is a matter of freshness, quality of life of the animals and our ability to consume local products.
A solution may exist my colleague's riding, , specifically in the municipality of Belle Vallée. Is it possible to have an agreement providing that our farmers can have their animals slaughtered three kilometres from the Témiscamingue border instead of having to travel over 600 kilometres? Can Quebec, Ontario and Canada sit down and come up with a solution if an initiative cannot be funded in the region? We have to find a solution to open up the region, including by lowering the cost of transporting livestock for slaughter.
We are also wondering why federal buildings that are no longer in use are not turned over to the community. They could be used for innovative projects such as early childhood centres, housing or community hubs. Government of Canada buildings in the region are not just white elephants, they are also the elephant in the room. These buildings are no longer occupied and the region needs the type of quality services that could be provided there.
The digital desert is another issue. Programs must be adapted for all regions, in particular rural regions. We do not have as large a population as Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal and therefore investments are not as profitable for companies. We must move forward with this plan. There is a cost to ensuring land use just as there is to not doing so. Modernizing the digital network is also important for local agriculture and to help attract young families, among other things.
There is a regional initiative, called GIRAT, that is very exciting. The Mobile A-T project, valued at more than $13 million, is being carried out without any federal funding, even though the federal government is responsible for telecommunications.
Let us go to public transportation. Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto are not the only cities that need public transportation. It would be useful to have programs create infrastructure to help these regions develop. Drummondville, for example, is one of many regions looking to improve service with a train. Cost is obviously an issue, as is the frequency of trips.
Business opportunities become an issue. Access to quality air service is required. A lot of investments are made in airports, but infrastructure is in serious need. The frequency of flights and the impact on costs are also at play. This is all interconnected.
There are other examples. We can look at NAV CANADA, which provides on-site infrastructure to help maintain the quality of service and safety. All of the incubator projects are also useful to economic development stakeholders.
If the federal government cannot take care of its infrastructure in the regions, in Abitibi-Témiscamingue and across Quebec, it should transfer that money to Quebec. This infrastructure is crucial to our development.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the excellent new member for .
This is not a debate that is abstract at all. When we talk about infrastructure and infrastructure funding in this country, the lack of coordination and the shortchanging we have seen over the last few decades from Ottawa are causing real hardship right across the country. In this regard, I would criticize as openly the Harper Conservatives as I do the current government for their refusal to adequately fund what is becoming a chronic problem in this country. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and many other groups have identified the shortfall. We are talking about an infrastructure deficit of over $170 billion in this country and that does not include first nations communities.
What does that mean? That means the infrastructure that was put in place largely after the Second World War, in the 1950s and 1960s when there was adequate government funding for this, to ensure that we have water treatment and sewage facilities, roads and bridges has not been renewed.
The Liberal government will say that it has funded some of the infrastructure that is needed. Today as we go through the discussion and debate in the House of Commons, we will find that the Liberals will mention particular projects that have been funded. Certainly, those projects are welcome. The reality is we are talking about a massive infrastructure deficit of over $170 billion in this country. That some infrastructure funding is being forwarded does mean that it is doing some good and making some progress, but what that means is that while the house may still have a leaky roof, while the toilets do not work, while there is no heat, yes, we have windows being replaced and a new front door.
What I am saying is that we are far from the degree of investment that is required in this country to bring the quality of life right across the country up to speed. This is a profound problem. That is why we welcome and support the motion that was brought forward today.
The difference between the rhetoric and the reality is that the government has said that it is financing all of these infrastructure projects, and yet tens of billions of dollars remain unallocated to this day. That is something only the Auditor General can look into with the expertise that he has to offer, to make sure that parliamentarians of course, but more importantly Canadians as a whole can get a real handle on the massive debt between the rhetoric and the reality.
The reality is that we are in an infrastructure crisis in this country. The rhetoric is that somehow the government is addressing this. However, the few projects the government is financing are far from what is needed across the country.
I am proud to represent the cities of New Westminster and Burnaby, both led by very progressive city councils that are endeavouring to do things with the small amount of taxpayers' dollars that the municipalities actually get, around 10% of the taxpayer pie. The tax dollars that are actually allocated across the country come from municipalities. We have good infrastructure that has been put into place because the cities and the recent new B.C. government have been providing supports for some of the infrastructure that is needed. We are still a far way from having in place an infrastructure program that addresses the $170 billion and growing deficit that we have in this country.
That has to change. It is obvious when one looks at the state of our highways, bridges and waste water treatment centres. There is a difference between rhetoric and reality. La Presse even reported a few months ago that the state of our roads is deteriorating, not just in Quebec but across Canada. This is because the funding that should be going to infrastructure is not being allocated. That is why we are experiencing a crisis.
The government will say it has allocated money in each budget. The Auditor General will be able to tell us to what extent that is the reality. The Auditor General will be able to tell us that the funding announced by the government has actually led to infrastructure projects being started and to what extent municipalities in rural and urban regions across the country have been able to access that money. In New Westminster we are looking for a renewal of the Canada Games Pool, which was built over 40 years ago and needs to be renewed. New Westminster would like to see some of that funding coming from the federal government. At the moment, that has not happened.
Burnaby has identified a number of sites for housing. Both Mayor Jonathan Coté in New Westminster and Mayor Mike Hurley in Burnaby are endeavouring to ensure that all aspects of quality of life are increased in those two cities by getting the needed infrastructure funding.
What has been the government's approach? First off, when we talk about the overall allocation of funding, the Auditor General will be able to determine in a way that only his department can determine the extent to which the funding has actually been allocated. More importantly, when we talk about the funding itself, the question is how that money is being allocated.
Under the previous government we had public-private partnerships. In public-private partnerships it costs the taxpayer significantly more to ensure private profit for what is essentially public funding. I can point to the debacle of the Ottawa LRT, a public-private partnership where billions of dollars from the public were allocated to put in place a transit system that has become notoriously unreliable. I travel each day to work. I have tried to travel on the LRT. However, in recent days, as with so many other people in the national capital region, I have been unable to take the train because the number of trains and their frequency has been reduced through this public-private partnership. As a result of that, the ability of citizens to access this service has been circumscribed. This is just one example of many.
Similar concerns have been raised about the government's approach with the Canada Infrastructure Bank. A previous member of Parliament, Guy Caron, who was finance critic for the NDP, repeatedly raised concerns, as have other NDP members, around the idea that public money would go to further private profit. In the executive suite of the Canada Infrastructure Bank we have seen what can only be described as chaos, a turnover of those people that had been appointed to head up the bank. Very little progress has been made. Arguably, the most significant projects that have come through the Canada Infrastructure Bank were already online for public investment. The federal government played a shell game around that to try to give some credit to the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
It is so essential that these aspects of the use of the public dollar be examined by the Auditor General. The Auditor General has the confidence of Canadians. The Auditor General can look at these projects and within one year can bring forward recommendations about how infrastructure funding should be treated in this country. It should not serve for friends of the government to make a profit out of this. It should not simply be a piggy bank for election campaigns.
What we need is a sustained ongoing source of public funding that municipalities across the length and breadth of this country can depend on. That is why the NDP is supporting the motion.
Madam Speaker, as this is my first speech in the House, I hope you will indulge me as I take a moment to thank the people of Skeena—Bulkley Valley for placing their trust in me as their representative. I would also like to thank my wife Michelle and my daughters, Ella and Maddie, for their unwavering love and support.
The riding I have the honour to represent is not only the largest in British Columbia; it is arguably one of the country's most spectacular, from the snow-capped peaks of Atlin to the lush forests and fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest. This riding includes three of British Columbia's great wild salmon watersheds: the Nass, the Stikine and the Skeena, for which it is named.
Skeena—Bulkley Valley is also home to tight-knit, resilient, hard-working communities, and to indigenous cultures that have called this place home for thousands of years. It is truly a privilege to speak on behalf of such a special place in the conversation about our country's future.
The Wet'suwet'en people, on whose unceded territory my family has made its home, taught me the word wiggus. It means respect for ourselves, for each other and for the land. I hope that over my time in this place, I will live up to the spirit of wiggus in my words and actions.
Prior to this role, I had the opportunity to serve for eight years as the mayor of the Town of Smithers, which was an honour and a joy. The motion we are now debating concerns infrastructure and my time as mayor helped me appreciate how important infrastructure is to the quality of life Canadians enjoy.
That is why, in general, I support the government's focus on infrastructure investment. When it is done properly, investing in public infrastructure creates jobs, makes life in our communities more enjoyable and helps combat climate change.
However, the motion is calling for an audit of the government's $186-billion infrastructure plan, and it is difficult to argue with a motion that seeks to help Canadians gain greater clarity on what infrastructure funds are being spent on and whether the investments are achieving the government's stated goals.
I must admit, it was alarming to read that budget 2018 only accounted for $21 billion of a total $91 billion in infrastructure funding, and that the Parliamentary Budget Officer found it difficult to fully account for the delivery of promised infrastructure funding.
I and many Canadians are left wondering where the $70 billion is that was unaccounted for. This is a government that promised transparency, yet we read that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has had difficulty accessing the documents needed to evaluate spending plans. I am hopeful the work described in the motion will help Canadians understand if their government is indeed living up to the stated goals of its infrastructure spending program.
One of those goals is supporting a low-carbon green economy, an imperative my colleagues and I certainly support. However, the term “green” has become a bit of a catch-all that can refer to such a wide range of initiatives as to make it nearly meaningless. When it comes to the climate crisis, Canadians deserve more than window dressing. They deserve measurable actions that add up to deep reductions in climate pollution.
Does the government's infrastructure spending add up to these deep reductions? Is the government investing in, on one hand, projects that reduce pollution, and on the other, projects that increase it? Is the government maximizing pollution reductions by requiring carbon-sequestering materials like wood in projects, or materials such as lower-carbon concrete? We heard my hon. colleague speak to that earlier today. Is the government's spending on transit delivering projects that will most effectively reduce emissions and help Canadians access jobs and services?
We need assurance that our investments put us on track to meet our international obligations, and I am hopeful that the audit called for in the motion we are debating today will provide such information.
After all, the government has yet to show how it will meet even the Harper government's weak climate targets, which themselves fall far short of what is required to meet our obligations under the Paris accord. This is to say nothing of the government's new ambitions for 2050. Infrastructure projects are long-term investments and Canadians deserve to know we are getting it right the first time. In many ways, we only get one shot at this.
The investing in Canada program includes a funding stream focused on investing in northern and rural communities. As the representative of a riding where the largest municipality has a population of only 13,000 people, I would like to see this audit include an analysis of whether there is an equitable balance between rural and urban infrastructure investments.
Rural places are integral to the fabric of our nation, yet often get overlooked. At the very least, we must ensure rural residents are receiving their fair share of the overall infrastructure spending so they can realize the benefits that larger centres too often take for granted.
I recently met with Carol Leclerc, the mayor of Terrace, who told me about her city's pressing need to upgrade transportation infrastructure and accommodate growth from unprecedented industrial activity.
I know that the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako is desperate to see improvements in high-speed Internet service for rural residents. Prince Rupert, a city of only 12,000 residents, has estimated its infrastructure deficit at over $350 million. Highway 16, the Highway of Tears, runs through our riding and still lacks adequate cellphone coverage along long stretches. On Haida Gwaii, residents want to end their dependence on diesel power and instead move rapidly to renewable energy.
Nearly every community in northwest British Columbia has projects on the books to renew water and sewer lines, water treatment facilities and other core infrastructure.
In my home community of Smithers, a recent asset-management planning exercise found that $30 million in water sewer and storm sewer upgrades will be required in the next decade.
Finally, the Resource Benefits Alliance, a group of 21 local governments in my region, recently commissioned a study on the infrastructure needs of northwest B.C. communities and found that approximately $1.3 billion is needed to replace and renew critical infrastructure in our region alone. This story is the same across Canada. Northern and rural communities deserve an equitable share of infrastructure dollars and the audit we are debating today could shed light on whether they are getting just that.
We in the NDP strongly believe in public infrastructure and that it should remain truly public. Canadians need the federal government to invest in infrastructure that will make a real difference in their communities, not add money to the bank accounts of investment companies. The priority of corporations is not to simply provide infrastructure but to profit from it, yet for some reason the government keeps looking to put private investors and multinationals in control.
It is troubling to read, in the Canada Infrastructure Bank's five-year plan, that the bank aims to:
Develop mechanisms to engage private sector partners earlier in the project planning and design process to facilitate more commercially focused infrastructure decisions which can better support user-pay funding models....
The CIB's touting of its $20-million pilot project in Mapleton, Ontario, where the bank is investing in the private delivery of public drinking water, shows its desire to expand privatization of basic public infrastructure. The fact is municipalities and the rest of the public sector are well equipped to deliver high-quality, cost-effective and safe public services. Federal investments should empower this role, not hand the keys over to private companies that will, undoubtedly, hike user fees and cut services.
In closing, I will be voting in favour of the motion and, should it pass, I look forward to learning the answers to the questions I have posed here today.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to this very important motion. I will be sharing my time with my friend, the hon. member for .
Never before has a prime minister boasted so loudly and spent so much to achieve so little with respect to infrastructure. Today is an incredible opportunity for this Parliament to really show, in a minority situation, just what it is capable of. Thank goodness for the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General, because it sounds like this Parliament is going to call for some accountability. After all, our job, not only as the opposition but also as parliamentarians, is to make sure we hold the government to account for its spending.
The debate on the motion started at 10 o'clock this morning. I will remind members of Parliament and those who are watching of what the motion states:
That, given the Parliamentary Budget Officer posted on March 15, 2018, that “Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the government’s $186.7 billion infrastructure spending plan” and that the “PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist”, the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to immediately conduct an audit of the government’s Investing in Canada Plan, including, but not be limited to, verifying whether the plan lives up to its stated goals and promises; and that the Auditor General of Canada report his findings to the House no later than one year following the adoption of this motion.
Transparency and accountability are precisely what the opposition is asking for today. I checked the mandate letter from the to the and there are several references to what transparency and accountability will look like.
I will quote from the mandate letter, which states:
We will continue to deliver real results and effective government to Canadians. This includes: tracking and publicly reporting on the progress of our commitments; assessing the effectiveness of our work; aligning our resources with priorities; and adapting to events as they unfold, in order to get the results Canadians rightly demand of us.
I also expect us to continue to raise the bar on openness, effectiveness and transparency in government. This means a government that is open by default.
It also states:
Ensure that Canadians have access to accurate and timely information about infrastructure investments in their communities, and work with your Cabinet colleagues to improve financial reporting to Canadians and the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
It further states:
We have committed to an open, honest government that is accountable to Canadians, lives up to the highest ethical standards and applies the utmost care and prudence in the handling of public funds. I expect you to embody these values in your work and observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do. I want Canadians to look on their own government with pride and trust.
When we look back at the infrastructure plan that was put into place by the government, it was an aggressive infrastructure plan. I will remind members and Canadians that back in 2015 the spoke about modest deficits to invest and grow our economy. Of course, we found out that plan was a $186-billion plan over 12 years.
However, the reality is that much of that money has not been put into the types of projects the government was planning on doing. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said that for every dollar that was proposed, 60 cents has not gone out. Therefore, on a scale of $186 billion, we can imagine the magnitude of what has not gone on with respect to that infrastructure plan. That is precisely what we are hoping to find out through the Auditor General.
I will mention some facts on the infrastructure plan.
On failed spending, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has shown that the Liberals have failed to get their own infrastructure money out the door and that infrastructure money lapses at 60% per year for the first two years. One cannot force-feed infrastructure projects with unlimited amounts of money. Municipalities and provinces have to be ready for it and this just does not appear to be the case. There are so many potential infrastructure projects that could be funded that are not being funded.
He also found out that there have been no results. When the in the last Parliament was asked in the House of Commons how he was spending $187 billion in infrastructure, he gave a very flippant answer. I do not even think the minister of infrastructure knew where that money was going.
There has been no new economic growth. In fact, the economy has slowed down. The Liberals claimed that their infrastructure spending would increase GDP by an average of 0.3% per year. In fact, at best, the PBO estimates that it fell short by 67%. This is a failed plan.
The truth is that nobody knows how much the government is spending on infrastructure. The does not know. The Parliamentary Budget Officer does not know. The Department of Finance does not know. Even the Department of Infrastructure does not know how much the government is spending on infrastructure. The opposition asked the PBO to reach out to the Department of Infrastructure to ask how much the government spends on infrastructure and it could not even answer the question.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that the government's infrastructure plan does not exist. He said that the investing in Canada plan is hopelessly mismanaged and improvised. The 's greatest failure is when he promised, as the centrepiece of the 2015 campaign, to run temporary small deficits in order to invest in infrastructure that would grow the economy. The PBO analysis showed that despite all of the 's spending, there was no incremental increase in infrastructure in Canada.
We are here today because there are lots of questions that need answers. We have seen over the course of the last four years many big cheque announcements across this country. David Akin of Global News had a program on social media that would follow government spending. There were billions and billions of dollars in announcements, but very little to back them up. That is precisely why the Auditor General is required to step up and provide to Parliament, on behalf of Canadians, an answer to where that money is going.
The other thing the Parliamentary Budget Officer spoke about was that deficits keep increasing and that infrastructure spending is accounted for within that deficit structure. If the government is not spending the money, where is that money going and why are those deficits continuing to increase? These are all very valid questions.
I will remind members that it is important to understand this is a critical issue. We need to understand this because wasteful spending, sky-high taxes and reckless borrowing are a result of incompetence in getting this infrastructure money out the door.
Last, in 2017 the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that the Liberals had spent only half of the promised infrastructure money. In 2018, when the Parliamentary Budget Officer requested the Liberals' infrastructure plan be produced, he found it was a plan that did not exist. In 2019, when the Parliamentary Budget Officer requested a list of specific project commitments under the investing in Canada plan, the government was unable to provide the data.
Conservatives are calling on the Auditor General, who is an independent officer of Parliament, to ask the government for the data on where that money is going and what it is being spent on. If it is not being invested on things designed to grow the economy, as the said was the intent back in 2015, then all of us as Canadians and parliamentarians have a right to know what is happening with that money.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to participate in this very important debate.
This issue, which was raised by my colleague from , goes to the very heart of why we are here in the House, and that is to manage public funds and ensure that Canadians get the transparency they deserve when it comes to the tax dollars that the government collects and manages based on certain decisions and criteria. Our job is about management of public funds, transparency and accountability. That is at the heart of the debate we are having today.
Let us review the facts. The current government brags that it has invested more money in infrastructure than any other government in Canadian history, with a program worth $186 billion over the next 12 years. That is technically true. No government in the history of Canada has invested as much. However, I will come back to the interesting and compelling history a little later.
In reality, this government lacks transparency and accountability when it comes to saying what it is doing with that money, who it is giving the money to and how the money is being managed, and that is unacceptable.
Let's not forget, this program is not small potatoes. It is a $186-billion program. It involves 50 different programs, administered by 30 different departments, agencies and Crown corporations. In short, it is huge. However, the bigger something is, the more the devil is in the details. In this case, I can say that there are plenty of devils, but no details. With 50 programs and 30 departments, agencies and so on, it is enough to make anyone's head spin. Unfortunately, the government is dragging its heels on accountability.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer examined this program several times over the past four years. Those people over there got themselves elected in 2015 by saying that everything would be terrific, but it cannot be said that the past four years have yielded significant results, much less transparent results. In 2017, the Parliamentary Budget Officer stated that half the funding that had been announced was unaccounted for. In 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Officer asked what the Liberal government's plan for infrastructure was, but there was no plan. In 2019, the Parliamentary Budget Officer requested a list of investing in Canada programs and projects, but there was no list.
During this program's first three years, the Parliamentary Budget Officer asked for basic information three times, and the government was not able to provide a proper response. That is why today's motion from my colleague from calls on the Auditor General to review this program. In the unfortunate event that the government refuses to answer opposition members' questions during question period, and refuses to give relevant information for the Parliamentary Budget Officer's investigations, we want the Auditor General to be able to come in and conduct a full audit of how this massive $186-billion program is being managed over 12 years. Canadians must know what kind of impact the program is having and should at least feel that they are getting their money's worth.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not the first time that a government has invested in infrastructure. Sure, this is a massive and unprecedented amount of money, but this is not completely new. When we were in government, when we were facing the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Conservative government dealt with this crisis by making some major investments and injecting $47 billion into the Canadian economy over the first two or three years of the crisis.
That is why, under the Conservative government, Canada was the first G7 country to emerge from the economic crisis with the best debt-to-GDP ratio, the best growth and the lowest unemployment rate in the G7. That is the Conservative government's legacy. That is why we made good choices.
Let me remind the House that when we finished our mandate in 2015, we tabled a balanced budget. There was zero deficit in 2015. We were the first country in the G7 to have that, and thanks to the Hon. Denis Lebel, who was the minister of infrastructure at that time, we had a very ambitious program for infrastructure.
The Hon. Denis Lebel sat in this House for many years. His last office was not far from here. Under his watch, Canada had the most ambitious plan, which included investments of $120 billion over 10 years and no deficits, unlike what the Liberal government has done. That was good management of public funds and the Conservative government's legacy. That is certainly not the Liberal government's legacy.
Spending money that we do not have and accumulating deficits is the worst thing you can do when the economy is growing, as is currently the case. Let us remember that in 2015 the Liberals came to power by claiming that they would spend a lot of money on infrastructure and only run up small deficits of $10 billion the first year, $10 billion the second year, $6 billion the third year and none in 2019.
The reality is quite different, as they ran up huge deficits for the first three years and an even larger deficit in the last year. That is what happened in the first four years of the Liberal government's tenure. Even though it promised that there would not be a deficit in 2019, it announced a deficit of $19 billion. I will come back to that a little later.
The Liberals did not make the promised investments since less than 60% of every $100 has been invested. They also hid information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer. What is more, they ran colossal deficits and broke their promise of zero deficit.
I want to come back to something more recent. Roughly five weeks ago, the House was sitting and we asked the when he was planning to table his economic update. He said it was coming. Coincidently, the Minister of Finance tabled that economic update on December 16, a day when the House was not sitting and for good reason. If I were in the Liberals' place, I too would have been embarrassed.
The $19.8-billion deficit that was announced became an actual deficit of $26.6 billion, missing the target by 37%. For the following year, a small deficit of $19.7 billion was projected. However, it is more like $28 billion, missing the target by 43%. The following year, the third year, a $9.8-billion deficit was projected, but it is actually $16.3 billion.
The first time, the target was missed by 37%, the second time by 43%, and the third time by 66%. I understand why the finance minister did not table the update in the House. I understand why he waited for the House to rise. It is shameful, embarrassing and unacceptable to mismanage public finances. Such is the hallmark of the Liberal government and the legacy that will be left by the Minister of Finance. It is such a shame.
Need I remind the Minister of Finance that, when he was a Bay Street baron, he made the family business a jewel of the Canadian economy? There is no shame in that, quite the contrary. While he managed the family business for 20 years, he never ran a deficit. However, he has been managing public finances for four years and he has run four deficits in a row. That is unacceptable, especially since he has no control over what is coming in the next few years.
Let us not forget, a deficit is a bill we send to our children and our grandchildren. Because the economy is going well at the moment, now is the time we should be making the important choices. As the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal's president, Michel Leblanc, said on LCN a month ago:
What businesses are telling us is that they're worried. If the reckoning weighs too heavily on our businesses, taxes will go up, and consumers will stop showing up....
That is what happens when we spend money we do not have and send the bill to our grandchildren. There was even an editorial in Le Devoir that stated the following:
The Canadian economy is doing well.... But that is precisely why it would've been wise to take advantage of the situation and save up for a rainy day.... There's this lingering deficit that doesn't bother anyone when things are going well, but could turn into a huge obstacle in the event of a sharp downturn.
That is why the motion of the member for , which we hope will be adopted by the House, will make it possible to shed some light on the current government's irresponsible management of Canadian public funds. The motion will also make it possible to determine whether Canadians are getting good value for their money. Above all, it will remind Canadians and the House that the current government was elected on the promise to run small deficits but is running large ones and that it was re-elected by promising to run deficits but it has completely lost control of the public purse. That is unacceptable for the future of the Canadian economy and especially for the future of our children and the new grandchild of the member for Mégantic—L'Érable who just came into this world.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the wonderful member for .
I thank the member for for his motion. It is timely and important; timely, because we are beginning a pivotal decade in which Canadians are looking to governments to lead on climate action and foster clean growth; and important, because it allows me to talk about our government's vision for making Canada a global leader by transforming our economy and accelerating climate action all while creating well-paying, good jobs and keeping life affordable for Canadians. This is what our investing in Canada infrastructure plan seeks to do.
The results from our investments are there, with over one million new jobs created since we formed government in 2015 and historically low unemployment rates. As the Parliamentary Budget Officer confirmed in his 2018 report, the first phase of our plan helped to stimulate economic activity and job creation over its first two years.
Canada's resource economy is central to all of this as a way to enhance our environmental performance, create new wealth and generate the revenues we need to invest in our low-carbon future. This includes working with the provinces, territories, municipalities and indigenous communities to create a clean energy future, drive new economic opportunities in rural and northern communities, develop a cleaner transportation sector through zero-emission vehicles and the deployment of charging infrastructure across the country, and build modern trade and transportation routes to ensure we can get our resources to markets at home and abroad.
I would like to use the rest of my time today to talk about these four specific areas and how the investing in Canada infrastructure plan is playing a critical role to advance each of them.
The first is a clean energy future. We will not need meet our climate change targets unless we are using more clean electricity throughout our national economy, especially in energy-intensive sectors such as transportation and heating, as well as our traditional resource sectors. On this front, Canada is well positioned for continued success. Almost 82% of our electricity already comes from clean, non-emitting sources. In fact, we are the second-largest producer of hydro power on the planet. Wind and solar are now the fastest-growing sources of electricity generation in Canada.
We are supporting clean energy projects across the country through our emerging renewable power, smart grid and energy-efficient programs, which are investments that are creating jobs and new opportunities in the clean economy. In Saskatchewan, we are providing over $25 million for the first of its kind geothermal facility, which will produce enough energy to power approximately 5,000 homes. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we are supporting a project to incorporate renewable energy into the electricity grid in Shediac, New Brunswick and Amherst, Nova Scotia, creating jobs and lowering energy costs. Over the coming years, we will drive emissions down even further through new, zero-carbon electricity generation and transmission systems as well as modern smart grids and by connecting those provinces that have abundant clean energy to those that want and need it.
The investing in Canada infrastructure plan is helping us to do all of that as we seek to make Canada home to the cleanest mills, mines and factories in the world. In addition, by investing in innovative approaches to electricity distribution, including strategic entities, smart grids and storage, we can keep rates affordable for consumers and reduce carbon emissions. This is a win-win for the economy and the environment.
Second, we are using our historic infrastructure funding to help create new economic opportunities in rural, remote and indigenous communities. This includes connecting communities to existing power grids or constructing entirely new sources of cleaner energy so they can start turning off their diesel generators and start planning for a stronger, more sustainable future. For example, many indigenous communities are increasingly relying on biomass from forests as a source of both power and jobs. Others are building solar farms, and some are operating small hydro power facilities that they now want to expand. Through our investing in Canada infrastructure plan, we are helping to fund these clean energy futures while advancing indigenous reconciliation and creating sustainable jobs and growth.
A third key area is zero-emission vehicles.
Canadians want more options and cleaner choices for their transportation needs. They told us so through Generation Energy, the largest national discussion on energy in our country's history, and we are supporting them.
The transportation sector accounts for almost 25% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions and three-quarters of those emissions come from just two sources: passenger cars and trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles. That is why we are helping to establish a coast-to-coast network of fast chargers for electric vehicles as well as chargers in the communities where Canadians work, live and play.
We are also supporting new natural gas stations along key freight corridors to reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles and hydrogen stations in our metropolitan centres.
All of these actions are aimed at providing Canadians with more options and cleaner choices for their transportation needs, and all with the goal of ensuring that every vehicle sold in Canada in 2040 will produce zero emissions.
To reach this target, we are also making zero-emission vehicles more affordable. We have introduced incentives, including rebates of up to $5,000 for Canadians buying eligible electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles, as well as an immediate 100% writedown for businesses purchasing zero-emission vehicles to green their fleets.
As our government begins its second mandate, we are raising the bar again and taking more action with a plan to help build up to 5,000 charging stations along the Trans-Canada Highway and other major road networks in urban centres and rural communities.
That brings me to the fourth key area: modernizing our trade and transportation routes.
It is a core responsibility of the federal government to help get our natural resources to market and to ensure that our resource sectors remain a source of jobs, prosperity and opportunity in a world that is increasingly demanding that raw materials and finished goods are not just competitively priced but sustainably and inclusively produced. Our investing in Canada plan is helping us do just that.
We have been accelerating infrastructure investments in marine ports as well as rail and highway corridors to remove bottlenecks and provide new opportunities for Canadian businesses to get their products to international markets.
We have also been improving access to transportation data in order to help shippers optimize their routes and to help governments better target their investments to make supply chains more efficient.
All of our investments in infrastructure are helping Canada build a modern, resilient and green economy, as well as a cleaner environment for a brighter, more prosperous future for generations to come.
I am proud to support our government's efforts and I urge all members of the House to join us. Together, we can create the prosperity we all want while protecting the planet that we all cherish.
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for for splitting his time with me.
I am very happy to speak to the motion proposed by the official opposition. I am happy because it is asking for something that has already been done, so it makes my job easier.
The government welcomes any scrutiny of its infrastructure investments, be it from the Auditor General or anyone else. The opposition likes to trash talk Canada. Just yesterday, a leadership candidate for the opposition party said that Canada was not working.
Those members seem not to have noticed that our Liberal government has helped Canadians create over one million jobs in the last four years and unemployment is lower than it has been in a generation. Canada has the fastest-growing economy of all G7 nations. The opposition members dismiss the hard work of Canadians who have built a country and an economy that is among the best in the world, and with this motion, they are casting aspersions on a program that, with our provincial partners, is helping Canadians build a better Canada.
Building a better Canada is something with which the Conservatives may be unfamiliar, given the previous government's cuts to important investments in infrastructure, health care and social programs.
Building a better Canada is something with which our government is very familiar. We have lifted 300,000 children out of poverty. Billions of dollars have been invested in affordable housing and infrastructure investments throughout Canada.
In Surrey alone, since 2015, we have invested over $7 million in classroom space at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and $125 million to build a new sustainable energy and environmental engineering building at SFU, Surrey.
We have invested over $1 billion to expand our Skytrain in Surrey. We have delivered over 106 new clean-energy buses and we are replacing the aging Skytrain cars. Residents in Surrey are also going to benefit from the widening of Highway 1, in which we invested $100 million in federal infrastructure funding.
We have invested in our families, with $600,000 for the Newton Recreation Centre and Surrey Art Gallery.
Most important, our social infrastructure is being strengthened by the Canada child benefit. It is helping nearly 14,000 families in my constituency of Surrey—Newton, with an average monthly benefit of $630 a month; that is $8.7 million helping parents and children lead strong healthy lives.
Those are just a few examples of how our government's $180 billion infrastructure plan is up and running. Funding has been approved for thousands of projects across the country, from small-scale jobs worth as little as a few thousand dollars to large-scale billion-dollar projects. By 2028, the investing in Canada plan will have invested more than $180 billion split between the investments in new programs and funding for existing initiatives.
Though some concerns remain about the flow of funding, and I understand the Conservatives have brought them forward, we have made significant progress. It appears one of the programs is almost complete. Over 90% of the projects are either under way or have been completed.
The building Canada fund is delivered with the provinces, territories and municipalities that must be ready to put shovels in the ground.
The complaints by the opposition members portray a wilful and deliberate lack of understanding of how infrastructure funding works. They do it to score cheap political points, not to help make life better for Canadians. As they well know, construction can begin as soon as a project is approved for federal funding. Communities are reimbursed for reasonable expenses and federal dollars flow at the rate construction occurs, after invoices are submitted for reimbursement not before.
The opposition members know this, but politically driven forgetfulness seems to have taken hold on that side of the House. The long-term plan we put in place with our provincial, territorial and municipal partners will meet their infrastructure investment needs. The money is there, and we encourage all provinces and territories to work with their municipalities to define their priorities and bring projects forward for federal approval so no one misses the upcoming construction season.
We are ready to start building.
We would welcome the Auditor General's examination of our investments, because, unlike the Conservatives, we are not building fake lakes, gazebos or roads to nowhere. We are building the infrastructure our country needs to keep Canada moving forward. Unlike the Conservatives, who campaigned on cutting billions of dollars from much-needed infrastructure projects across the country, our Liberal government knows that good infrastructure improves the lives of Canadians, creates jobs and grows our economy.
We know that investing in the infrastructure needs of coming decades will help our country adapt to the changing climate and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
In the recent election campaign, the Conservatives promised billions of dollars in cuts to much-needed infrastructure projects. These cuts would have had a deep impact in every corner of our country, which is why Canadians rejected them.
Our government knows and Canadians know that good infrastructure improves lives, creates jobs and grows our economy. It will also help mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We are building the infrastructure our country needs to keep Canada moving forward.
Partnerships are essential to build communities and to improve the quality of life of all Canadians. We have worked closely with provinces, territories, municipalities and indigenous peoples to develop our ambitious infrastructure plan, which has helped many communities. It is sad that the opposition is content to stay on the sidelines, throwing stones.
Madam Speaker, I would like to note that I am splitting my time with the member for .
Before I get into my speech, I want to correct the record. The just indicated that FCM is absolutely thrilled with the party on the other side. I would say there is a lot of hesitation from the mayors, counsellors and reeves I have spoken to across the country. They are quite disappointed in the way that money has flowed from the government and think that the government's communication back and forth on when exactly they will get that money has been a problem. I am sure he would be happy to accept my correction to the record.
Infrastructure impacts all Canadians on a daily basis. It is the roads we drive on, the public buildings we use and the parks we bring our children to. It is a large component of any government's budget, yet the current government seems unsure of how much funding has gone out the door to support infrastructure development.
In 2015, the Liberals promised that they would run modest deficits of less than $10 billion over the two years that followed and make historic investments in infrastructure. They have already failed on the modest deficits front. The deficit this year alone is estimated to be more than $26 billion. The government does not seem to have a plan to get the budget back to balance, but that is a different debate for a different day.
The government introduced the investing in Canada plan, a $188-billion plan to update infrastructure based on the priorities the government had. The government failed to work with the provinces to ensure they were shared priorities. Almost right away there were problems with the plan.
A March 2018 report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that only half of the spending promised to be invested in infrastructure had been tied to projects. After this finding was published, the government shuffled its cabinet and the next minister of infrastructure was urged in his mandate letter to stop the current lag with regard to infrastructure projects and get more money out the door. The government knew it was failing to meet expectations.
Reports from the Parliamentary Budget Officer kept coming. Another report found provinces were not investing as much in infrastructure as the federal government had estimated. This is a result of the federal government's not consulting with provinces when developing its investing in Canada plan.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer also ran into roadblocks when conducting research for its reports. After a request, Infrastructure Canada was unable to provide the data requested regarding a list of all the specific project commitments under the investing in Canada plan.
That is why we need the Auditor General of Canada to immediately conduct an audit of the government's plan. The department that should have a thorough list of all the projects in its own plan cannot provide it. Canadians deserve to know how their money is being spent.
I have seen first-hand how the incompetence of the government's infrastructure plan has been impacting Canadians. For the past year and a half, I have had the opportunity to travel across Canada and visit mayors and counsellors in rural and urban municipalities. I have spoken to municipal leaders from all provinces and territories to get their feedback on the current infrastructure plan.
One of the biggest things I heard during these discussions was that money needed for crucial infrastructure was stuck in Ottawa and that the federal government is not listening to local concerns. This Ottawa-knows-best approach is not working for municipalities. We need to streamline infrastructure and need a government that acts in the best interest of local communities on matters of infrastructure.
Many of these municipal representatives told me that they have yet to see any promised infrastructure funding flow into the areas. They have put in the requests and sometimes do not even hear back from the federal government. Mayors and counsellors want more control over their projects. They want to decide what gets done instead of having bureaucrats, sometimes thousands of kilometres away, choose what to prioritize.
Many of the municipalities I consulted have said online application forms to receive infrastructure spending are so complicated that some have even given up entirely. Imagine having the sole beneficiaries of funding not even bother to apply for funding because it has been made too difficult. Instead, these municipalities are looking for other sources of funding to get their projects built.
The government also founded the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a $35-billion agency designed to attract private investors to create public infrastructure projects. Despite costing so much money, we have seen very little in the way of announcements from the bank. In fact, the first announcement from this bank came more than two years after its establishment and it was just a reannouncement of funding that the government had already pledged.
Despite not accomplishing much, the infrastructure bank has had no problem asking for more money from the federal government to cover salaries, legal services, travel and other expenses. Announcements from the bank are sparse and the government has not yet been transparent about what the bank is actually achieving for Canadians.
Not all Canadians will even benefit from the Canada Infrastructure Bank. The confirmed that small municipalities will not benefit because investors will look to invest only, in his words, in “large transformational projects” that Maclean's notes will “produce a revenue stream, from which they can earn a high rate of return on their investment.” As well, the bank will only provide funding to projects worth $100 million or more, virtually guaranteeing that rural communities across Canada will not qualify, while small and medium-sized municipalities are losing $15 billion of infrastructure money to pay for the bank.
It is clear that the government is not listening to Canadians and is being unresponsive to concerns about the investing in Canada plan. Instead, it is continuing to forge ahead with a plan that has very obvious shortcomings.
The government knows its plan is failing too. In budget 2019, Liberals allocated a $2.2-billion top-up in municipal transfers to fund short-term infrastructure projects for the year, which, as we all know, happened to be an election year. This was despite having the previous four years in government to address delays in delivering this much-needed infrastructure.
I am anticipating that some of my colleagues across the aisle will accuse our party of wanting to cut infrastructure funding, but that is simply not true. Our previous government's record speaks for itself. Our economic action plan approved and announced $12 billion in infrastructure projects in three years of government during the worst economic crisis in a generation. We understand how important infrastructure is to Canadians. We understand the need to get dollars out the door as quickly as possible so projects can be completed in more reasonable time lines. Cutting infrastructure funding is not in our country's best interest.
The government also promised that the investing in Canada plan would stimulate the economy. The Liberals promised they would raise the level of real GDP by up to 1% in the 2017-18 fiscal year. However, the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that there was no increase in the level of real GDP from infrastructure in Canada.
Their record on infrastructure is one of failure. They failed to match infrastructure funding with projects preferred by the municipalities. They failed to keep the deficits modest. They failed to grow the economy in the way that they promised to Canadians. They failed to be accountable and transparent.
When asked for details about the program, they cannot provide them. The department itself has an idea of how many infrastructure investments have been made. The Parliamentary Budget Officer could not get the facts. We have no idea how billions of dollars in taxpayer money is being spent.
The Auditor General must audit the investing in Canada plan to verify whether the plan lives up to its stated goals and promises. My guess is that it is not.
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for for sharing his time with me this afternoon in the chamber.
I want to thank the House of Commons staff for their warm and helpful welcome over the course of the last three months. I have had many constituents and colleagues ask me how my experience has been as a newly elected member, and the line I keep using is that it is like a baptism by blowtorch. However, it has been a wonderful experience and I have enjoyed it all very much. The House leadership team, colleagues and staff have made a big change into a new role very manageable, and I appreciate that very much.
Being my maiden speech today, I would like to divert a little and put a few thanks into the record. First, I want to thank the wonderful constituents of the riding of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry for the wonderful honour they have given me to serve in the House. This was literally a childhood dream of mine. The first time I sat here in the chamber was with my aunt. She worked for the House of Commons and I was able to sit in the Prime Minister's chair about 20-some years ago. I think I got the political bug, if not before then, certainly that night being in the chamber for the first time.
I want to thank my family, who has been so supportive, not only in this new journey but my entire 32 years here: my mom Bea, my father Ed, my sister Jill, and for those who wonder how I get a thick skin in politics, my five stepsisters. They have been a wonderful family of support and a family network for me, and I am grateful for them and all that they do and continue to do for me.
I also want to acknowledge my predecessor, who served in this House as a Conservative member of Parliament for 15 years, Guy Lauzon. Many would know Guy over the years. He served as national Conservative caucus chair and in government served as parliamentary secretary in a couple of roles. He was known in our riding for setting the bar quite high, for being approachable, for being out in the community and for the customer service he offered in the office. He certainly set the bar for me, as well as for other people in our community, for being in public life, being accessible and offering that customer service.
It is very fitting that I have the opportunity to speak today to our opposition day motion about infrastructure, because one of my predecessor's great legacies was the amount of money he was able to secure and bring home to Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry under a Conservative government.
Many ask how he and Frances are doing today. Frances is in good health, and I appreciate all the members who are asking how she is doing. Both of them are loving their time down in Florida this winter. When people ask what Guy is doing these days, I say that he is enjoying his role as the hon. member of Parliament for Fort Myers, Florida, this winter and doing well there.
I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to represent the people of Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry.
Today, I will say a few words in French for my francophone friends living in my riding. French is my second language and I am working on improving it. I understand the importance of Canada's two languages. Many people in my riding speak French. Next week I will be starting a French course.
There is no shortage of files in our riding that are going to need attention over the course of this upcoming Parliament. We have seen news reports, have heard questions asked in the House and there have been meetings within the Conservative caucus and outreach from some members of government, which I appreciate, about the water levels in Lake St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River. That goes all the way across Ontario and Quebec. I know it is a challenge not only during the spring but throughout the year.
In my riding, between Iroquois and Cornwall, we generally have the opposite problem that many communities have. When there are high water levels present in the Great Lakes or in Montreal, we often have low water levels, which creates environmental, economic and property damage concerns. I want to thank the many people who have reached out to me so far and have been briefing me and giving me their perspectives locally, across the province and across the region on that file.
Being from a rural riding, I understand that agriculture is very important. I do not think a day went by during my campaign, and even now as a newly elected member, when I was not talking about the importance of supply management in our agricultural sector. I support that day in and day out, whether in the House as we work with other countries on trade deals or whatever it may be. Agriculture is the backbone of my riding. If it is not supply management, it is our grains and oilseeds farmers, and the global markets are a challenge I look forward to working on.
I want to acknowledge, and look forward to working with, the and Transport Canada, as the city of Cornwall, Akwesasne and neighbouring communities are going to be dealing with some surplus land on the waterfront of Cornwall.
That presents such an opportunity for the city of Cornwall, to have those lands for public use and for myriad different uses. It can unlock a lot of potential in terms of public spaces and in terms of economic development for the city, and for the people of Akwesasne across the river in our region to benefit. I look forward to it. Regardless of what side of the House members are on, it is really an issue on which we could find co-operation and deliver a positive outcome for my riding.
We talk about the opposition day motion here today. Getting action on any of those files I just talked about, and on infrastructure projects, takes co-operation. I am not naive. I understand that I am on this side of the House and not the government side of the House, and that is going to take co-operation. However, I also think, as an early observer here in the House, there have been some great working relationships.
I want to acknowledge a neighbouring colleague of mine, the Liberal member of Parliament for . Shortly after the election, a mutual friend of ours connected us by text message. I went into his riding and we had a wonderful lunch in Alexandria at the Quirky Carrot. I was very pleased at the end of the lunch when the member offered to buy lunch that day. I said he did not have to, and he said, “You're in my riding, I'll buy you lunch today. When you come to my riding, I will buy you lunch.” I told the member I have been saving up my McDonald's coupons since then for a visit to Cornwall.
However, it has been the start of a good, productive bipartisan working relationship. I appreciate his advice as we talk about infrastructure, agricultural issues and a big issue in eastern Ontario, which I know several colleagues in our party are very interested in, the Eastern Ontario Regional Network. We have been improving broadband and have made some investments as a Conservative government supported by the current government, but there is a lot more to do. I have been very proud of the advocacy that we have been doing, and many members of the House on both sides have been doing, to improve cell capacity all across rural eastern Ontario.
In my time left, speaking specifically about the opposition day motion, I strongly support the motion being brought forward. My background before I became a member of Parliament was serving as a mayor in the Township of North Dundas and serving on county council and as warden of the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.
Frankly, over the course of the last couple of years when I have spoken to my successors on county council, local councils in my riding and all parts of the province of Ontario and beyond, people were not seeing those dollars get to the front lines of where they need to go. It is a challenge that, when money is announced, municipalities try to get their projects ready and they just do not happen. It is a bigger and bigger challenge the more I see the government not react to this.
A perfect example is the Ontario-Canada infrastructure fund. I will use a project in my riding as an example. I had the honour of standing in the House in December and asking the minister a question about this. A project in my riding that has applied for funding is the Morrisburg streetscape project. That is a project with the Municipality of South Dundas and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.
They applied for that program nearly a year ago. We were very pleased to see the Ontario government go through and approve that project back in July and have been waiting ever since for an answer and an okay from the federal government on that project. It creates a big challenge because, if the federal funding could have come through in July, the communities might have been able to get shovels in the ground and get the RFPs going out for that project to happen this year. The challenge is now that it is going to be February next week, municipal budgets are being done and completed, and they are not sure if that one-third is there.
Municipalities are a mature level of government. They do asset management plans. They know what their priorities are. My colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador across the aisle, who spoke a few minutes ago, had experience at the municipal level and was talking about those one-third, one-third, one-third partnerships, which I agree are great. They have been supported by all parties over the past several parliaments. However, if the dollars are not flowing and there is not a good process when the announcements are made, those billions of dollars are not getting to the municipalities. It is not being effective.
I support the motion for the Auditor General to take a look. I would encourage my colleagues on the government side. It is either going to confirm that there is a problem, or it will debunk a myth. There is a problem there, from what I see and hear in my riding, and I respect the work of the Auditor General, as all members of the House do. I look forward to supporting this motion, seeing that report and seeing what we can do better to support municipalities, and get the dollars to municipalities and shovels in the ground.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
As we all know, we are in a minority Parliament, and in a minority Parliament, Canadians are looking for us to co-operate across party lines. We all say that. That involves efforts on all sides and it involves efforts on opposition day motions. I have been listening to the debate this morning, and it seems that in a lot of ways we are talking past each other. The substance of the motion is that:
...the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to immediately conduct an audit of the government’s Investing in Canada Plan, including, but not be limited to, verifying whether the plan lives up to its stated goals and promises; and that the Auditor General of Canada report his findings to the House no later than one year following the adoption of this motion.
I have no issue with the substance of this motion. I have not heard any speaker this morning have any issue with the actual substance of the motion, which is for the independent Auditor General to look into infrastructure spending and issue a report to the House. That should be the goal of the motion.
However, there is a preamble that is not part of the motion but is included with it. The preamble is:
That, given the Parliamentary Budget Officer posted on March 15, 2018, that “Budget 2018 provides an incomplete account of the changes to the government’s $186.7 billion infrastructure spending plan” and that the “PBO requested the new plan but it does not exist”, the House call on the Auditor General of Canada to....
That is not part of the substance of the motion, and in fact those selective quotes from the March report are belied by what happened afterward. In light of those comments, Infrastructure Canada and other federal departments worked with the PBO staff to provide updated data and results, and an updated report was issued in August of 2018.
The revised report found that the Government of Canada was delivering on its commitments to make historic investments of more than $180 billion in public infrastructure over 12 years to grow the economy and create jobs for Canadians. It also said that the government identified the vast majority, 95% of its infrastructure investments, and found that the infrastructure spending “raised the level of real GDP” in Canada.
We agree with the substance of the motion. Government members are simply saying that the preamble, which is not actually part of the substance of the motion, is misleading, and we have asked that the preamble be removed.
It would seem to me that in a minority Parliament where we are all trying to co-operate, in the same way that the government should make efforts to co-operate with the opposition, the opposition should say, when we all agree with the substance of the motion, “Okay, the preamble is no big deal. We believe this; you believe that. Let us get to the substance of the motion.”
I again call on my Conservative colleagues and my other colleagues in the House to revisit the amendment that our proposed earlier today so that we can unanimously agree on the substance of the motion, which I think we all agree to. I hope my colleagues will consider that. I know they are all reasonable people. I hope they will think about it, talk among themselves and come back.
I am pleased, though, to talk a little bit about the infrastructure investments that we are making as Canadians and as a government. We understand the need to take action to protect our environment and build sustainable communities that provide all Canadians with a good quality of life, good jobs and, most important of all, a bright future for our kids. Infrastructure is key to this, because it can help us plan for the future. That is why we introduced the historic long-term Investing in Canada plan.
Our plan is based on three key objectives: creating long-term economic growth, supporting a low-carbon, green economy, and building inclusive communities. To do this, we committed to invest in five main infrastructure priorities: public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation infrastructure, and rural and northern communities infrastructure.
Today I would like to focus on how the government's investments in public transit infrastructure and green infrastructure are benefiting Canadians in their communities from coast to coast to coast.
As I mentioned, our government has made supporting a low-carbon green economy, building inclusive communities and protecting the environment top priorities. Investing in clean, resilient infrastructure that helps reduce emissions, helps move to a net-zero carbon economy and protects people from the impacts of climate change is the right thing to do. It also happens to make financial sense. It is a win-win-win.
That is why we are working together with provinces, territories and municipalities to encourage innovation transportation projects that will create low-carbon communities and position Canada as a leader in clean technology. It is clear that switching to zero-emission public transit options helps reduce greenhouse gases and emissions. That is why Infrastructure Canada is providing $25.3 billion in federal funding to provinces and territories for their public transit projects through the Investing in Canada infrastructure program. That is also why we have committed to invest in 5,000 zero-emission buses. Beginning in 2023, we will be directing all new federal public transit funding to zero-emission options.
While we work with our partners towards that goal, we are continuing to deliver results under our funding programs. To date we have helped purchase more than 3,800 new buses and refurbish approximately 4,900 others. We have funded improvements or construction of nearly 15,000 bus stops and shelters, which are better protecting commuters from the elements. We have helped make over 580 transit stations more accessible so that people can make their connections in good time and we have rolled out more energy-efficient buses and invested in light rail projects to reduce carbon emissions. That includes the City of Guelph's green public transit projects that my colleague talked about earlier. These projects will replace 35 diesel buses with long-range electric battery buses as well as install on-route charging stations. The funding will also help to purchase an additional 30 electric buses and build a new bus storage facility fitted with electric charging stations.
It includes $12.6 million for Victoria, B.C.'s, new handyDART operations and maintenance facility. The handyDART bus service provides accessible, door-to-door shared transit for riders with reduced mobility, handling more than 390,000 trips annually through greater Victoria. Not only will this facility accommodate double the current fleet size, but it is also the first LEED gold standard B.C. transit facility in B.C., meeting a standard that recognizes best management practices to reduce waste of all kinds.
Investments through the Canada Infrastructure Bank in new projects in Montreal, such as the Réseau express métropolitain, or REM, and the Contrecoeur port, will increase productivity, reduce pollution, transportation and commute times, and, ultimately, get people and goods to where they need to go faster.
These investments in sustainable transportation are all making positive changes that will strengthen our communities, support economic growth and build a greener future.
We also know that investing in resilient infrastructure that can protect against or withstand climate impacts is critical to helping communities get back on their feet and back to business faster after an extreme weather or disaster event. It is also basic yet effective asset management. The costs of climate change impacts are significant and increasing. Property and casualty insurance losses in Canada averaged $405 million per year between 1983 and 2008, but jumped to $1.8 billion between 2009 and 2017.
That is why, through the disaster mitigation and adaptation fund, we are investing in projects like the flood protection project in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Once complete, this project will help protect over 27,500 residents within a 12 square kilometre area. The city says it will reduce the number of people directly affected by future flooding by 83%. It is also expected to provide long-term savings in recovery and replacement costs.
As we have seen here at home and around the world, we need to tackle these climate change events more efficiently and more effectively. We know that building resilient infrastructure is less costly than repairing it after a disaster.
We know that infrastructure is important to all of us, to all of our communities, to all of our ridings across the country, and we know that we can do it in a way that respects taxpayers' dollars and protects and enhances our natural environment for generations to come.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to this motion, but before I do that, I would ask for your indulgence to mention the passing of an individual in my riding, Jack Armstrong, who passed away last week. Jack was an extremely dedicated individual who cared so much about politics, but was rarely ever partisan. He spent a lot of time volunteering on campaigns, but would just as likely volunteer on a Conservative campaign as he did for my Liberal campaigns on a number of occasions. Jack will truly be missed as will everything he offered to my community. Indeed, I miss him a lot having had the opportunity to work so closely with him.
As we talk about this motion today, I will take the opportunity to pick up from where the left off. I appreciate his sharing his time with me. What we are seeing today with this opposition motion is a new approach from the opposition, and I really do respect and appreciate it.
We used to see motions that were drafted in such a way that we never even thought would pass. They usually started off with statements about the government being so horrible and the did this and that. That is the way opposition motions used to be presented over the last four years, but now we are seeing a new approach. Perhaps it is the minority government that is creating this sense of desire to be so diligent in how the Conservatives bring forward motions. Now we are seeing motions that actually contain substance because there is an opportunity that motions might actually pass. It is great that the opposition is now taking this new approach. Now we have the opportunity to debate substantive opposition motions. That is great.
To that end, I believe the objectives of this motion are perfectly in line with what is necessary for accountability and transparency. We need to have the kinds of reviews that the Auditor General is being asked to do in this particular motion because this is what gives Canadians the information they need to reflect on how the government is doing.
The problem that comes up, which the who spoke before me laid out very well, is when there is information put into the preamble that is, in my opinion, purposely inserted in the motion to create a scenario where the government or the governing party, in this case the Liberal Party, will not support it. The opposition is cherry-picking quotes from a report in March, which was subsequently updated and new information was provided. The report was updated to suggest that the requirements of the government were being met. Why would Conservatives even bother including a quote when they had an opportunity to quote a new report that came out later? I can only come to the conclusion that it was done intentionally to prevent a scenario where the government could vote in favour of the motion.
As a matter of fact, the Conservative member who asked the last question, and I apologize for forgetting his riding, specifically asked why the government is getting caught up in the preamble and who cares about the preamble. I could not agree more with him. As a former mayor, and I know the member for was as well, I can say that nobody cares about the preamble. The city clerk usually just takes everything after “Therefore, be it resolved” because that is the action item in it. That is what actually matters.
The Conservative member asked why the government is getting caught up in the preamble. That is an excellent question. Maybe he missed it earlier when we put forward an amendment to remove that part. If it had been removed, which would have been so easy to do, we would end up with a motion that everybody could support. It is not the direction, in particular everything that follows the word “That” in this motion, that we have a problem with; it is the fact that the preamble sets up a misleading scenario to suggest that after the Auditor General or the Parliamentary Budget Officer made the report in March, that was the end of it, that it ended there. However, that is not the case. More followed.
In August, an additional report was tabled that said something quite different. At that time, the Parliamentary Budget Officer conducted an independent economic analysis and concluded that the federal investments made under phase one helped grow the economy and create jobs over the first two years.
Cherry-picking this information is to the benefit of nobody really because it does not matter. What is important is that we make sure we can look beyond this unnecessary information and unnecessary cherry-picking. The opposition cherry-picked at the beginning of that motion and I am clearly doing it now with another part of that. It does not matter, so why are we getting all caught up in this?
As we talk about infrastructure projects, I am thrilled to talk about the amount that is actually being invested throughout Canada. This fund sets aside $180 billion over a 12-year period. As we know right now, there are at least 52,000 projects that have started or are under way.
Madam Speaker, I know you will be cutting me off here. I look forward to continuing after question period.