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View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
BQ (QC)
View Gabriel Ste-Marie Profile
2020-01-28 16:50 [p.604]
Mr. Speaker, please note that I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou.
The Bloc Québécois agrees with this motion for three reasons. The first is the delays in spending. Since 2016, only a small portion of the announced infrastructure spending has actually materialized.
The second reason is the transparency of economic data. The lack of specific figures distorts the calculations of the impact on GDP and employment.
Finally, the third reason is Quebec's share. Quebec wants its share, and the municipalities are waiting for their share in order to begin their projects.
In phase 1 of the Liberals' plan, from 2016 to 2018, Quebec got a raw deal, having received only 12% of the total investment, although its population represents 23%. By comparison, Ontario received more than 30%. That is outrageous.
As we know, federal participation in provincial or municipal infrastructure takes place through various programs and transfers. It is very complicated. The projects do not appear in the federal budget because they are not federal projects; all we see is the transfer program, with its criteria and allocated amounts. The projects themselves are instead under the capital initiatives of the Government of Quebec or of the municipalities. We do not have a clear picture of the projects being supported.
With respect to the proliferation of infrastructure transfers, there are rules and conditions attached to each of them. This ties Quebec's hands because it loses its ability to allocate funds according to its own priorities.
For that reason, the Bloc has been asking for years that the specific transfers be replaced by a lump-sum transfer: a single transfer with no federal conditions that Quebec can use according to its own priorities. The money must be freed up at some point.
Following the tabling of Minister Girard's budget on March 21, 2019, several mayors, including the mayor of Quebec City, Régis Labaume, and the mayor of Gatineau, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, roundly condemned the fact that Quebec's commitments will not let them move forward with their public transit projects—the Quebec City tramway project and the Gatineau light rail project—even though the government said it supported them.
In reality, both have been taken hostage by the discussions between Quebec City and Ottawa, between two governments with different priorities.
As Ottawa increases the number of specific programs, each with strict eligibility criteria, federal requirements trigger a tug-of-war, which paralyses the process no matter the government in power. In the end, this prevents Quebec priorities from being aligned with the priorities of municipalities.
What we want is a lump sum transfer. Simply put, projects will happen if Quebec wants them to and will not happen if Quebec does not. Why should that be up to Quebec rather than Ottawa?
I have a question: What proportion of Canada's public infrastructure is under federal jurisdiction? People might be surprised to learn that it is barely 2%. The provinces and municipalities are responsible for 98% of public infrastructure. The share of the funding amounts to just 5%. Ottawa is no expert on the subject, but it uses that tiny percentage to block everything and cause ridiculous delays.
In 2016, the Liberal government launched phase 1 of its infrastructure program. The Prime Minister planned to spend $14.4 billion over two years but ended up spending just half that. The other half was never spent.
In 2018, the Liberal government decided to update its new infrastructure plan because the money was not flowing. The Parliamentary Budget Officer said it was incomplete and did not address the questions and concerns he had raised. There is no clear indication of where the money is going now or in the future.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reminds us that the government is talking about $21 billion out of a total of $91 billion over the years. That is not very much, and it means that three-quarters of the spending announced has not been explained or justified. Some may think I am joking, but that is the truth. It says so in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report. Just because people are laughing does not mean this is funny.
Also according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, nearly one-quarter of the funding allocated for infrastructure since 2016 will lapse. That is no joke. That is money that we voted on that will never be spent.
How can Ottawa claim to understand and be able to prioritize the specific needs of Quebec's 1,400 municipalities and the 5,000 municipalities across Canada? That would be a lot to expect.
We must not forget the government's criterion for a rural community, namely that there must be 100,000 people in a municipality. In my riding, there are 23 municipalities, including an indigenous community, and not one has a population of 100,000. This shows just how out of touch Ottawa is. I have said it before and will say it again, the only way to address this is to have an automatic single payment. That is what the Bloc is asking for. It would let Quebec and the municipalities decide for themselves which project best meets their needs. They are accountable to the people closest to them. Otherwise, the paralysis will continue.
I will illustrate my point with the example of access to high-speed Internet in the regions. We know that it is extremely important. There was a program to that effect. However, the targets were poor and the program did not meet its objectives. The first phase of the connect to innovate program had several setbacks, including the slow pace of the federal analyses that had to be completed before the funding to actually connect people could be released. The announcements made in 2017 for some regions have yet to get people an Internet connection. This is not a joke. What is the federal government doing? It developed a program that does not meet Quebec's needs and takes forever to release funding for the projects, with no guarantee that the projects will actually reduce the cost of Internet services in the regions. The federal government should encourage development, not be an obstacle to it. That is not what is happening, as we can see here in the House this afternoon.
I will use my riding to give a concrete example. In the north of my riding is the RCM of Matawinie, which is also represented in part by my esteemed colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé. This RCM decided to take matters into its own hands and launched a $55-million project. The federal government was so slow that Quebec had to release the money. There is still hope that the federal government will cover part of the funding. After all, half of the taxes we pay go to the federal government. To date, the feds have not paid a single cent for Internet in Matawinie. That is unacceptable. This must change, and a block transfer is what we need.
Ottawa needs to stop holding taxpayers' money hostage. Sometimes it seems that all the government wants is the biggest flag and top billing on the infrastructure billboard, instead of true development. Ottawa needs to respect the expertise of local decision-makers and forward the funding, without conditions, to those who will know how to use it. This is why the Bloc Québécois supports this motion.
In closing, I would like to point out one very important thing that Ottawa must respect: municipal bylaws. Constitutionally, Quebec's territory belongs to Quebeckers. The way in which it is occupied, used, developed and protected is essentially governed by Quebec laws and municipal bylaws. There are, however, a number of activities that are not covered by our laws. These involve wharves, ports, airports, telecommunications infrastructure, and all federal property and interprovincial pipelines. Essentially, when a project is considered to be under federal jurisdiction, it is above the laws that we pass in our municipalities and in Quebec City. Harmonious land use can only be achieved at the local level, by the people who live there. That is why we are going to introduce a bill to fix this aberration, in the same spirit as the bill proposed by my colleague from Repentigny in the previous Parliament.
Let me give an example that will perfectly illustrate this. Most municipalities have had problems with cell towers being put up just about anywhere. I am thinking of Rogers' current plans to put up a tower in Saint-Charles-Borromée, near Joliette. In this area, telecommunications companies are above our laws, above the will of the people. Some cities have tried to pass by-laws to straighten things out, but the courts have struck them down one after the other. Orders are coming down from the top, from the feds, although the opposite would be much more effective. It has to change, and as I said, we will come back to that.
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