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View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thanks, everyone, for being here. Welcome to Ottawa.
To begin, I want to get one quick question off the table for the benefit of all my colleagues.
We are studying infrastructure. One of the things we heard in testimony was that Infrastructure Canada is incapable of telling us what kind of conditionality is attached to receiving federal dollars, in the sense of, for example, job creation or in the sense of sustainability, whether it's for materials efficiency or energy efficiency. These conditions are not attached.
One of the conditions that is attached—and some of you may know where I'm going with this—is that the cities and the provinces that receive federal infrastructure money are forced to put up billboards advertising economic action plan slogans.
I'm just wondering, very quickly, Ms. Ballem and Mayor Vrbanovic, if it would be possible for you to deliver to this committee at your earliest convenience the number of economic action plan billboards you've been compelled to erect in your municipal jurisdictions, what they cost, and whether we can get a copy of the agreement that governs the relationship among, in the case of B.C., Vancouver, British Columbia, and the federal government, and in the case of Kitchener, the feds, Ontario, and Kitchener, so that we can get a better idea of why this is happening.
We can't get a definitive answer from the government, but access to information requests have revealed that it's just over $30 million now and that 9,860-odd signs have been erected across the country.
We don't understand why. Some members say they want to defend them at the door; I'm anxious to see that. I'm wondering if we can begin by just getting commitment on the part of both of you, both from Vancouver and from Kitchener, to get an answer to this as soon as possible.
Perhaps we could begin with Ms. Ballem.
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Would that include a sign count?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Great.
Mayor Vrbanovic.
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mayor Vrbanovic, let me ask you this, then. For example, in the city of Ottawa, they have 98 signs that have cost the city just over $50,000. The only thing on the billboard are the words “economic action plan”.
Can you help us understand how that helps your constituents in Kitchener understand the merits of this project?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
I agree.
That's why, for example, $30 million on these billboards would pay for one million bus passes for seniors on pensions. I would think that would really raise the profile of the need for infrastructure and the fact that governments are working together. The $30 million would pay for the salaries of 500 registered nurses for one year. I think that would help identify the need for us to cooperate on health care. There are a lot of alternative uses for these very scarce taxpayer dollars.
My second question is for you, Ms. Ballem, and it is on deploying private capital.
I know your administration is giving some thought on how to best dislodge a lot of private sector money, whether it's sovereign wealth funds, or whether it's the $600 billion sloshing around in Canadian corporate bank accounts right now—largely from corporate tax cuts—that has not been deployed. The disappointing fact in corporate Canada is that we're not seeing the deployment of that the way we thought we might.
I wonder if you can help us to understand your view. You are a major Canadian leader in sustainability in Vancouver. You know the infrastructure needs. I had the privilege of writing the original first cities deal, with Mike Harcourt, when I drafted it and produced it for Paul Martin, then the minister of finance. Vancouver has always been at the forefront.
What's your thinking in terms of how we can best use federal mechanisms, fiscal or otherwise, to get a hold of some of this private capital and deploy it properly for infrastructure needs?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to turn to our witnesses from the department, Madame Charette and Monsieur Dagenais.
Madame Charette, in your remarks you listed for Canadians a number of different programs and gave an update on things. You talk about partnerships on page 6 of your written brief. I want to read a quote. The bullet point says, “Partnerships are a key element of the Connecting Canadians program in order to build on past and previous investments”.
I want to talk about a past and previous investment, and I want to ask why, in your brief, you don't refer at all to the community access program? Why is it not listed here?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
It was a program that started in 1995, and it was a program that Mr. Moore eliminated in April of 2012, correct?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay. That would be good.
Now, it was cancelled on a Thursday night before a long weekend. It affected thousands and thousands of libraries and community centres that were partners with Industry Canada, the kinds of partnerships that you're referring to and that the government likes to point to. Its purpose was to provide a free or low-cost Internet access to the public, with technical support as well. Is that correct?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Before Stats Canada's long-form census was eliminated by the government—something they pursued here after George W. Bush tried to do it in Washington and then had to withdraw it because of the outcry—in 2010 they did an Internet use survey and here's what it told us.
It said that 79% of Canadian households had Internet connections. It said that 97% of the top income households had them but only 54% of low-income households had them, that is $30,000 or less.
Your school program has no bearing at all on the millions of Canadians who live in households with $30,000 or less. The program was eliminated with the stroke of a pen. It was all about trying to help folks who couldn't afford computers or high-speed connections deal with, for example, CRA tax forms. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Canadians were going to those municipal centres and those libraries to get help filing their taxes, which creates revenue for the government and helps with the efficiency of CRA.
Can you help us understand why a $10 million or $12 million a year program—which is one-third of the cost of the billboards put up by the government across the country—was eliminated? Do we have any rationale for this other than the fact that you say the Internet connections are now in schools?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
If they can afford it....
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'll go to question number two if I could, and that is about how in September of 2013 Mr. Moore, from the industry department, spent millions and millions of dollars of taxpayers' money attacking BCE, TELUS, and Rogers. It was unprecedented in Canadian history. No federal government had ever taken out ads on television, radio, and print to attack one of its leading industrial sectors. In fact, it led the former Conservative premier of New Brunswick, Mr. Chair—
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
It's up to you, Mr. Chair, whether you want me to answer the question for Mr. Braid so I can explain to him how this is connected. Or would you like me to continue with my questions?
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
Absolutely, as long as the clock has stopped.
The government can't waltz in here and claim that it's working with partners in the private sector and expect to have increased broadband access, if only two years ago it ran millions of dollars of attack ads, attacking the very companies it says it's now partnering with. That has a bearing on—
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
I didn't bring these witnesses in, Mr. Chair. These are not my witnesses.
View David McGuinty Profile
Lib. (ON)
These witnesses were brought in with respect to broadband Internet access, that's infrastructure.
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