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View Xavier Barsalou-Duval Profile
BQ (QC)
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. 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 Mégantic—L'Érable, 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 Prime Minister 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 Minister of Infrastructure and Communities 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 Minister of Infrastructure and Communities 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.
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