Mr. Paul Zed:
Mr. Speaker, our motion today is as follows:
|| That, consistent with the spirit of the Liberal New Deal for Cities and Communities, this House believes it is in the best interests of Canadians that the government should take steps to make permanent the sharing of the Federal Excise Tax on gasoline with all Canadian municipalities for the purposes of enhancing local community infrastructure.
Canada's cities are the engines that drive our economy. The continued growth and economic stability of Canadian cities are essential to provide opportunities for all Canadians. With 50% of both Canada's population and its GDP output coming from our largest 10 cities, their needs must be taken care of. To ensure the future sustainability of our economy, that is imperative.
It is also true that the development of Canadian cities will play a major role in determining how well we succeed in the global economy. As pointed out by the former Liberal prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, “In a world in which talent, capital and ideas are globally mobile, it's Toronto and Montreal vs. Shanghai and Bangalore; Ottawa vs. Helsinki; Vancouver vs. San Francisco”.
At the other end of the spectrum, it cannot be overlooked that cities are where most Canadians live, work and play. They are our homes and our neighbourhoods. Our standard of living is directly related to the recreational, cultural and educational opportunities that are available in our cities.
It is a standard of living which relies on a strong, viable and sustainable infrastructure that allows us to take advantage of these opportunities. By and large, that responsibility is left to the municipal level of government. It is simple: municipal governments must have proper support to carry out that mandate.
I am very proud to be a member of a party that for over a decade engaged Canada's municipal leaders in an attempt to improve the quality of life in Canada's cities. Right from the very first budget brought in by the Chrétien government in 1994, Liberal governments made progressive investments in infrastructure across the country. The infrastructure Canada program, the Canada strategic infrastructure fund, the municipal rural infrastructure fund and other Liberal programs invested $12 billion in Canada's municipalities.
Even while the member for LaSalle—Émard was working to tackle the deficit monster that Canadians inherited from the previous Conservative government under former prime minister Mulroney, he and the rest of the Liberal cabinet ensured that Canadian cities did not go without and that key infrastructure investments were made throughout the 1990s.
However, investing in infrastructure projects was only the first step in a long term policy and funding framework that Canadian municipalities badly needed. Municipalities need this even more so today. The fact is that Canadian cities are attempting to address 21st century policy needs under a model designed in the 19th century.
Unlike the vast majority of municipalities throughout the United States and western Europe, the majority of revenue for cities and communities in Canada comes from property taxes. Despite the fact that cities are expected to provide social services, immigration counselling, housing, public transit, roads, policing and a whole host of other measures, there has not been any change in the funding model for cities in Canada for over 150 years.
We cannot expect Canadian municipalities to fund welfare programs, immigration services and numerous other aspects of Canada's social safety net on the back of property taxes. Property taxes are ill-suited to funding these kinds of services.
If a widow owns a home in downtown Fort McMurray, Alberta, it is entirely possible that the value of her home has gone up fivefold or tenfold, but she is still living on a fixed income. Should we really be demanding that she pay 10 times the property taxes she paid a decade ago despite the fact that she is living on the same income? I certainly think not.
The biggest single reason for the increased scope of responsibilities of the cities is the steps taken by governments in the 1990s to tackle the ballooning deficit problem. Responsibilities for a wide array of policy fields were downloaded to lower levels of government without providing them adequate resources with which to manage the burden.
Cities, with no one to download responsibilities to, have been left with the duty to deal with all of the issues that have been heaped upon them. Legally, cities are not allowed to run operating deficits, although some can fund capital projects through deficit financing. The City of Edmonton, for example, has had a balanced operating budget for some time, but in 2005 its long term debt increased from $417 million to $470 million due to capital expenditures. Interest payments alone are more than $20 million annually.
As a result, although it appears from an operating perspective that municipalities have been able to manage things without getting into financial trouble, municipal debt levels are increasing right across Canada.
City after city and community after community across the country have to choose between long term investments in infrastructure versus meeting the day to day demand to balance the operating budgets. Most cities cannot even keep up with the day to day demands of their new responsibilities. They are desperately looking for new funds.
In an attempt to address this fundamental imbalance, the Liberal government worked extensively with its municipal and provincial partners to begin the process of building the long term fiscal capacity of Canada's municipalities and communities.
In budget 2004, the Chrétien government announced that the federal government would fully refund municipalities all of the GST that they were required to pay out. Alone, this simple step provides municipalities with more than $700 million per year in revenue.
In 2005 the Liberal government went one step further, announcing its new deal for cities, which would begin sharing the federal excise tax on gasoline with municipal governments. In the 2008-09 fiscal year the program comes fully of age and provides municipalities, I am proud to say, $2 billion in funding annually.
However, the program will eventually come to an end. It is legislated to stop providing money to municipalities in 2014. The motion that we are debating today would call upon the federal government to make permanent the gas tax transfer to municipalities.
Why is this so important? The answer is very simple: proper municipal planning. In order for cities to be able to adequately plan their investments in infrastructure and ensure they can replace key components in a timely and orderly fashion, they need to be assured of their income streams.
This is especially key for municipalities, because most of them are not allowed to take on deficit financing for large scale capital projects, so unless they can be fully assured of long term income streams, they simply cannot manage their local infrastructure. Making the gas tax transfer a permanent feature of federal government budgets would go part of the way toward providing Canadian municipalities with the long term funding they need to address their community and infrastructure needs.
Some members of the House may be wondering why municipal infrastructure is so important. They may be asking why we should care. In fact, I am guessing that the Minister of Finance is asking why he should be filling potholes.
On November 20 of this year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released an extremely important report, which showed that as a whole Canadian municipalities face a $123 billion infrastructure deficit. The FCM press release states, “The physical foundations of Canada's cities and communities are 'near collapse'”.
It went on to say:
|| Canada's economy and quality of life and the health and safety of Canadians depend on the infrastructure our municipalities build and own, yet we don't have the resources to maintain it. If we don't act soon as a nation to tackle this deficit, we see more catastrophic failures in our roads, bridges, water supply and other vital infrastructure. Continued delay is unthinkable....
|| The $123-billion figure, when compared with earlier estimates, clearly shows the municipal infrastructure deficit is growing faster than previously thought. Most municipal infrastructure was built between the 1950s and 1970s, and much of it is due for replacement. As assets reach the end of their service life, repair and replacement costs skyrocket. Across Canada, municipal infrastructure has reached the breaking point.
I do not think that any member of the House should be surprised by any of the statements from the FCM. Just to take recreational infrastructure as an example, each and every one of us has either a memorial rink or a centennial pool in our ridings. Let us think about those facilities. Many of them are in serious disrepair and are in need of a facelift, if not an outright replacement.
Liberal infrastructure programs started helping to address those needs, as they did in Sault Ste. Marie, where the Sault Memorial Gardens were replaced by a new arena, or in Grand Bay, New Brunswick, where partnership with the province and the municipality constructed new recreational facilities.
Let me give members another example. Montreal is one of the largest cities in our country and is home to millions of people. It is also a city where there are very high property values. This might suggest that the city would be able to take on significant projects, yet even in Montreal, the FCM found, there are serious problems with the city's water and waste water systems. According to the report, 33% of its sewage pipe stock reached the end of its life in 2002, yet there is no plan to provide comprehensive support to Montreal's water system.
Should the government sit on the sidelines while the water system of one of Canada's largest cities continues to deteriorate? Montreal is an example of a city that has a pretty good water and waste water system right now. However, there are many communities across the country where raw sewage is dumped into our lakes and rivers.
Team Saint John lobbied long and hard to have all levels of government agree on harbour cleanup as a priority. We are now beginning the even greater task of renewing and replacing water pipes and systems at a cost in excess of $150 million, and that is just one of dozens of infrastructure projects in Saint John, New Brunswick, my community. The sister communities of Rothesay and Quispamsis are typical of hundreds of communities across the country that need new roads, new water treatment facilities and new recreational facilities to address their growing populations.
There is no doubt that urgent action is needed now. All we need to do is look to the position of the Conservative Party toward cities before it actually had the responsibility of governing.
In June 2003, the Prime Minister said that he was opposed to the new deal for cities. It is true. He opposed transferring the gas tax to municipalities. He said, “That the federal government should have its own new deal with municipalities is not a view I would subscribe to”. That is not all he said.
In 2004, when he was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister said, A Stephen Harper government will not seek to create “boutique” programs--
Mr. Ted Menzies (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, during the course of today's debate, Canadians will hear a lot of things from members of the Liberal Party regarding the state of Canada's infrastructure. In fact, I think we have heard some rather unsubstantiated claims, not the fact that the infrastructure is in need of repair, but that the Liberals even attempted to do anything about it is blatantly obvious in the fact that it is in need of repair.
Canadians are going to hear Liberal after Liberal get up and proclaim that Canada's cities are facing an enormous infrastructure deficit that only phantom and mythical Liberal initiatives could solve in that deficit. What we will not likely hear is an honest assessment of the facts. They are at a point where much of Canada's public infrastructure has deteriorated with age and requires upgrading and replacing. Additionally, a failure to do so will likely cause Canada to fall behind in the global economy.
Rather, the Liberals will simplistically blame our government, a government a little under two years old. We all recognize the false accusation in that claim. They will not talk about the 13 long years of Liberal rule where the infrastructure needs of Canada's cities were largely neglected. Those 13 years contributed to the critical and challenging infrastructure deficit our Conservative government has inherited.
Again, this is rather simplistic and disappointing, especially considering the fact that our Conservative government has already started to take swift and decisive action. We are building the world-class infrastructure Canadians need and deserve.
As one Ontario mayor, Brampton's Susan Fennell has so accurately pointed out, the Conservatives have done more for municipalities in the last two years than the federal Liberal government did. That is a pretty condemning remark. Indeed it is quite lamentable that the Liberals have made this into such a partisan political issue.
Rebuilding Canada's infrastructure is a vital issue. Infrastructure and ensuring it remains both reliable and efficient is something all Canadians can relate to in their everyday lives. After all, we all use the roads to get to and from work, to bring our children to school, hockey or ballet. We all rely on clean drinking water and safe waste management systems for our health and that of our families.
But Infrastructure is much more than that. Infrastructure drives productivity, supports trade and fuels economic growth to build strong competitive communities. Without a doubt, strong infrastructure makes a strong country. This government like no other before recognizes the significance of infrastructure in its broader economic sense, in terms of building a world-class economy that can meet the challenges of the 21st century, and more important, win.
The old Liberal government's approach was to advance stand-alone plans that failed to integrate infrastructure into overarching and coherent economic visions, unlike the way our long term economic plan, Advantage Canada, has done. I would like to elaborate on this important plan for the edification of the House.
Advantage Canada is based on the understanding that Canadians must have the tools necessary to compete and win in the global economy if they hope to realize their dreams. This simple basic understanding seems to have eluded the old Liberal government. Instead of building a coherent economic vision that would allow Canadians to take greater advantage of a booming global economy, the Liberals were asleep at the wheel. They responded to critical economic priorities like infrastructure on an ad hoc basis without vision, without purpose, and most important, without results.
This Conservative government understands Canadians deserve better, and more important, we are acting on that understanding.
With Advantage Canada, our government is giving Canadians what they need to succeed. We are doing so with a tax advantage that will reduce taxes for all Canadians and establish the lowest tax rate on new business investment in the G-7. We are doing so with a fiscal advantage eliminating Canada's total government net debt in less than a generation. In doing so, we are creating a strong foundation on which to build lasting prosperity. We are doing so with an entrepreneurial advantage that will reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape and lower taxes to leverage business investment. We are doing so with a knowledge advantage that will create the best educated, most skilled and most flexible workforce in the world.
Last and most relevant for the purposes of today's discussion, we are doing so with an infrastructure advantage. This will help create modern world-class infrastructure and ensure the seamless flow of people, goods and services across our roads and bridges, through our gateways and via our public transit systems. This is not just rhetoric. This is not a plan gathering dust in some government building in Ottawa. We are putting it into action.
Budget 2007 began delivering on our Advantage Canada commitment to implement a comprehensive plan for infrastructure. Under budget 2007's long term plan for infrastructure this Conservative government provided an outstanding $33 billion in support for provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure over the next seven years.
This new funding provides municipalities with certainty in planning long term infrastructure projects that make our communities better, healthier places to work, to live and to play. But that is not all we have done in budget 2007 that will benefit the municipalities and communities which are on the front lines of Canada's infrastructure efforts.
Municipal projects such as public transit, water and sewer infrastructure and local roads will also be eligible for funding under the budget's $8.8 billion building Canada fund. Also, municipalities pursuing innovative public private partnerships, or P3s as they are referred to, will be eligible under the $1.26 billion national fund for public private partnerships. This is an important tool in ensuring Canadians get value for money in their infrastructure investments.
Municipalities will also benefit from budget 2007 funding that provides each province and territory with an additional $25 million per year in equal per jurisdiction funding. This investment of $2.275 billion over seven years will help all provinces and territories participate in building a modern infrastructure network in Canada that reaches smaller jurisdictions with limited basic infrastructure and lower populations.
There should be no question our long term $33 billion plan for infrastructure will have major, major benefits for Canadian municipalities. It is not only us saying it; it is provincial governments like Nova Scotia, whose deputy premier said:
|| Nova Scotia and other provinces and territories have lobbied the government of Canada for long-term, stable and predictable infrastructure funding for many years. Up until the recent federal budget, these appeals fell on deaf ears. However, the new cost-sharing programs announced in the federal budget this year will go a long way toward enabling Nova Scotia to achieve its full potential as an international transportation gateway and to facilitate much needed road improvements.
Manitoba's NDP premier said, “The infrastructure funding I should say also is very positive for Manitoba. You know, I think that it is a very positive announcement”.
It is major Canadian newspapers like The Globe and Mail which recently wrote about “Ottawa's healthy record of funding those infrastructure needs....Ottawa's contribution is substantial, and it is provided even though municipalities are not a federal responsibility”.
Occasionally, it is Liberal MPs who are forced to admit reality and depart from their poorly thought out talking points, Liberals like the member for Charlottetown who praised budget 2007's infrastructure spending saying, “There is $25 million in there for infrastructure. That is good news. That is money that can go to federal priorities like transportation”.
However, it is also important to remember our major $33 billion long term plan is not just inward looking. It is also based on the understanding that our ability to connect and trade with the world will ultimately determine our quality of life at home.
Canada is well-positioned, in terms of its geography and its human and natural resources, to harness the tremendous economic opportunities presented by the rapidly expanding and dynamic economies of Asia. However, as the government understands, infrastructure is key to unlocking this potential.
For example, our east and west coast ports and our transcontinental rail system represent important but perhaps under-exploited links between Asia and North America's heartland. This infrastructure holds enormous potential in harnessing a greater share of the economic activity that is being generated between these regions while, at the same time, better connecting businesses across all of Canada with markets in Asia and beyond.
That is why we took action and made a huge, nearly $600 million, investment in Canada's Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative. This initiative is an integrated set of investment and policy measures focused on trade with the Asia-Pacific region and establishes the best transportation network facilitating global supply chains between North America.
This undertaking will pay tremendous dividends for Canadians, with a large increase of container traffic at British Columbia's major commercial ports by 2020, thus boosting Canada's share of west coast container traffic from 9% to 14%. Budget 2007 further increased total federal investment in the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative to $1 billion.
I would be remiss if I were to continue discussing the importance of international infrastructure links without addressing our most important gateway to the largest economy in the world, the Windsor-Detroit corridor. Fully 28% of our merchandise shipments between Canada and the U.S. pass through the Windsor-Detroit corridor. That being the case, delays at congestion at the Windsor-Detroit border crossings can, and do, have a significant impact on our economy, particularly, on the high value-added auto sector.
It has therefore been widely acknowledged that a new crossing is required to meet Canada's long terms needs in this regard. That is why budget 2007 confirmed our government's commitment to construct, with our partners, a new border crossing at Windsor-Detroit, including: exploring a public-private partnership to design, build, finance and operate the new bridge; covering 50% of the eligible capital cost of building the access road from the new crossing to Highway 401; and providing $10 million over three years to Transport Canada to support its efforts to implement this important project.
These targeted investments are directed to where they are needed most and where they will leverage the maximum economic effect. No wonder even Ontario's Liberal Minister of Finance, Dwight Duncan, called them, “good news....It's a good step forward and the kind of thing we wanted to see”.
Before concluding my response to today's motion, I will make one final point.
While base level funding, like the gas tax share for municipalities, is important and necessary, and, indeed, that is why we have increased this type of funding, sometimes we have to dedicate our resources where they are needed most and where they will yield the greatest economic benefit to the greatest number of Canadians. That is why we have a coherent and comprehensive plan in place, not just one-dimensional base level funding, as advocated by the Liberals.
We see this in the gateway initiatives that I have outlined before, but we also see it in investments that will make a real difference in communities facing specific regional challenges that the gas tax share cannot, on its own, address.
For example, we have set aside up to $962 million in funding for the FLOW project to help fund five transit projects in the greater Toronto area that include bus rapid transit systems in Mississauga, Brampton and York region, an extension of the Spadina subway line and a transit study in Durham region, projects that will help reduce traffic congestion in the GTA and improve air quality.
To be sure, one Vaughan councillor was ecstatic with the FLOW projects, especially the Spadina extension. She was happy to have a federal government that finally recognized, in her own words, “traffic gridlock is a problem, and we need the money to fund transit. This is the last piece of the puzzle”.
Another would be a recent federal commitment to $170.5 million to help Manitoba complete the expansion of the Red River Floodway to significantly improve the level of flood protection available to the residents of Winnipeg.
A final example is the $26.6 million we committed specifically to help complete the Saint John Harbour cleanup. Is it not interesting? We are finally addressing the Saint John Harbour cleanup that the member who proposed this motion did not get done. This will provide long term environmental benefits for the riding of Saint John. It will remove sewage discharges and improve water quality in the harbour and the neighbouring waterways.
Even the sponsor of today's motion liked the investment specifically because of the flexibility address unique in community needs. He stated in his own words:
|| Harbour Cleanup is not about partisan politics; it is about good health, a clean environment, and a balanced quality of life....I am glad to see that the views of the community have finally been addressed.
For that very reason alone, it would be hard not to concede our infrastructure plan is superior to a one dimensional plan promoted by the Liberals, if we can call it a plan.
We are promoting a vision that acknowledges communities from coast to coast to coast face differing regional challenges. Our immense $33 billion investment represents a comprehensive, coherent and multidimensional infrastructure plan, a plan that is, in turn, a key element of the government's comprehensive and coherent long term economic plan, a plan that will create, in a way that simple base level funding the Liberals suggest could never, a better life for Canadians in their communities.
Mr. Mario Laframboise (Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion by the Liberal Party. The purpose of the motion is essentially to make what has been called the gas tax rebate to municipalities permanent.
Ultimately, we all know that this is all about appearances. The gas tax is not going directly to the cities. Only part of it is. That is the essence of what the Liberals introduced as part of their effort to tackle the infrastructure deficit. That fight has become very important here in Parliament, because it is ultimately here that the problem being experienced in all cities in Canada, including in Quebec, in terms of that infrastructure deficit begins.
Why does it begin here? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance started out well when he was explaining to us just now that Trudeau and the Liberals, followed by the Conservatives, had left us a deficit of over $120 billion. The parliamentary secretary concluded by telling us that the debt had been reduced to $12 billion. It seems to me that the figure he was reading from his BlackBerry was not right, because the last year the Conservatives were in power, the debt grew by $12 billion.
Today, I can understand that the Conservatives are uncomfortable with the debt, a large part of which was left to us by them. In fact we have the Conservatives to thank for the bulk of the present debt. They would very much like to eliminate the debt with the surpluses they are producing, surpluses that the Bloc Québécois has estimated at $69 billion over the next five years.
The problem, in terms of the Conservatives’ terrible management methods, is that in the meantime there is a whole domino effect. Under the Chrétien government, with the member for Lasalle—Émard as Minister of Finance, the Liberals decided to cut transfers to the provinces in order to achieve a zero deficit, because in order to eliminate the debt they had to start by stopping spending. That is the reality and no one can deny it. They cut health and education transfers.
The result for all the provinces was terrible. Our Liberal colleague gave the example of Ontario earlier. The same thing was done in Quebec. To try to maintain the same health care and education services, the decision was made to have the other levels of government pay a share, even though they are not recognized as governments. Municipalities and school boards can tax, but they are not recognized as governments, even in Quebec. And there was pressure brought to bear on those levels to increase their contribution.
Those who are somewhat familiar with the political history of the 1990s in Quebec will recall that the first reform was called the Ryan reform, under a Liberal government. The decision was made to transfer responsibility for a majority of roadworks and roads that were not so-called “national” roads to the cities. Across Quebec, municipalities found themselves with 4,000 bridges, overpasses, real works of art, culverts, and other road infrastructures, but were given no money to maintain them.
It was simple: the government had no money, so the cities had to be capable of maintaining them. The result was that no maintenance was done. That situation has reached the point that two months ago the government of Quebec decided to take back responsibility for the 4,000 overpasses, saying that the cities had not been up to it. Quebec is therefore going to have to pay to rebuild those infrastructures itself.
If the cities were unable to maintain the infrastructures for which the Government of Quebec had given them responsibility, it was the same thing for their own infrastructures because the transfer of responsibility to the cities included not only roads but also services.
More and more, cities have been forced to take charge of other things besides services. In theory, property taxes are supposed to be reserved for services to buildings. It is probably the most regressive tax imposed on our fellow citizens by cities. It is a property tax; it is not a service to the public. It should not be used to underwrite a series of programs introduced by the cities or transferred directly to them. They have increased the burden of services to the public delivered by the cities. Probably, this has been done in all Canadian provinces. At any rate, it has been done in Quebec. All of that came about because the federal government decided to achieve a zero deficit. Since then, it has begun to accumulate surpluses.
The Liberals have explained that they tried to introduce support programs, probably because they felt embarrassed. Today, after 13 years of Liberal rule, the Conservatives are even more embarrassed because they are the ones who left behind the bulk of the debt and the problems associated with reducing or eliminating the debt. They are trying to create programs, but the malaise is real and very widespread.
Today's remarks by the Minister of Finance illustrate this; so do those of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communitiess. Last month, the Canadian Federation of Municipalities released a report which showed that the current infrastructure deficit is $123 billion.
The amount of money that cities would need in 2007 to bring their infrastructures up to standard is $123 billion. We are not talking about rebuilding but just about maintenance to bring everything up to a safe and secure level for the public.
The Conservative government is proposing to inject $33 billion over a period of seven years. That amount does not apply to this year. Often, they throw out the figure of $33 billion, so that, once again, the public is misled. People might feel that it is a good thing the government is putting up $33 billion to meet the deficit of $123 billion. But no, that amount is not being injected this year. It is spread over seven years. What is more, not all of the $33 billion will go to municipal infrastructure. The public should not be mislead either.
Unless I am mistaken, we are talking about $33 billion that will indeed be injected into infrastructure. However, the amount going to cities is less than $33 billion. In particular, the building Canada fund involves $8.8 billion. There are negotiations with the provinces; and they may add other projects, perhaps airports or many other kinds of infrastructures that will require lots of money but which are not directly related to the needs of the cities.
It is important to understand that. It is the position that the Bloc Québécois has traditionally taken: the infrastructure deficit must be resolved. The federal government must understand that the reason why the cities have a $123 billion infrastructure deficit is that it slashed its transfers to the provinces, which then downloaded on the cities, with the result that they can no longer afford to maintain their infrastructure properly. That is the reality.
Where does this amount come from? It is important to know exactly. The $123 billion comes from a scientific study—the only scientific study that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has done. That is why everyone was surprised. It was not expected because of how hard it is to do a study of this kind when there are more than 4,000 cities and towns all across Canada. So the study was done. It was the first time that someone had asked every city to fill out a form detailing its needs. Then expert analysts and engineers studied the whole situation and arrived at a total of $123 billion.
What does this mean? It means $31 billion for water supply systems and sewage, $21.7 billion for transportation, and $22.8 billion for public transit. People know what the problems are with public transit. In Quebec, there are problems with the metro in Montreal. Very large sums will have to be invested. Some metro lines simply stop because the infrastructure itself is crumbling in places. Cracks are appearing and pieces of cement fall off. That is the reality. There are also $40.2 billion for cultural and social infrastructure and $7.7 billion for waste management.
All this is ultimately due to the way in which the federal government decided to restore its own financial health by squeezing the provinces.
All parties in the House must acknowledge a certain reality: cities are the creatures of the provinces. Any attempt to deal directly with cities is therefore contrary to the Canadian constitution adopted by most of the parties here. Any direct negotiations or direct agreements between cities and the federal government would be contrary to the proper procedure.
The Bloc Québécois has always maintained that we must deal with this $123 billion deficit. In order to do so, there must be direct transfers from the Government of Canada to the government of each of the provinces. There needs to be a single transfer so that the provinces—Quebec, Ontario and the others—can establish infrastructure programs. What is attractive about this is that when the provinces set out to do it, they often make some investments of their own. As a result, the $123 billion can probably be divided into three parts: the federal government’s share, the share of each of the provinces, and the cities’ share so that the infrastructure deficit can finally be eliminated.
Whether it is the Liberal Party deciding to create one, two or three infrastructure programs or the Conservative Party adding programs, in the end, under the Canadian Constitution, that party has no choice about negotiating with each province.
The building Canada fund has been mentioned; it is the latest program announced in the 2007 budget. Quebec has not yet received one penny of this fund, because the agreement with the Province of Quebec has not yet been signed. In fact, to score political points, the government tried to please everyone by creating a framework within which offers are made to each city, whereas in fact, according to the Constitution, cities have to negotiate with the provinces.
The whole process therefore becomes bogged down in discussions and negotiations. The federal government is trying to have the right to interfere, especially the Conservatives; it was less flagrant when the Liberals were in power, because they had a good grasp of the Canadian Constitution. The Conservatives, likely because they want to have a majority at any cost, are using every means possible to try to direct policies and impose their conditions on the provinces. For that reason, Quebec still has not reached an agreement on the building Canada fund. The $8.8 billion agreement has not been signed.
It is all well and good to tell us today that the infrastructure budget is $33 billion. It is true that the program that uses the excise tax on gasoline is already established. The Conservatives cannot do anything about this, because the Liberals introduced this program. The funding amounts are known; cities know that until 2012, they will be receiving their share of that tax.
What I take exception to is that today the Liberals want to extend this established program by eliminating the 2012 end date and making the program permanent. In fact, this is not what cities need. The $123 billion infrastructure deficit must really be corrected, and this will take more than simply negotiating with each province. Moreover, they have to stop acting like the Conservatives who are trying to create new programs and, more importantly, give themselves the power to make choices on behalf of the cities and provinces, although cities are creatures of the provinces.
For the Bloc Québécois, it is simple: had the decision been made, Quebec would be a country today and we would have resolved the matter a long time ago by negotiating directly with our cities. However, there is the Canadian Constitution. I am always taken aback when the federalist parties do not respect it and that happens every time we talk about infrastructure. Why do they do that? It comes down to electioneering. Once again, with the building Canada fund, they are attempting to create various funds to be distributed to the cities by the office of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities or that of the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, giving them the impression that it is a gift.
If there were some awareness of the problems created by attempting to balance the budget by downloading responsibilities onto the provinces—which in turn balanced their health and education budgets at the expense of cities—the issue of the $123 billion would be resolved. There would finally be money for everyone. There would be only one program and all cities could rest assured that, by the end of the negotiations, they could deal with their infrastructure deficit. Thus, cities would not have to fight one another to see which one would be first or second. The program should be announced, specifying that it would extend over five years, for example, giving each city that time to work things out and solve their infrastructure problems by the end of that period. The cities could arrange their loans and negotiate accordingly. The necessary money is not always available for the cities' share of funding; loans must be arranged and the citizens convinced. In short, if there were only one program, things would be much simpler.
Unfortunately, the government in Ottawa is once again bypassing the Constitution for purely partisan reasons. It has decided to go over Quebec's head and is trying to negotiate directly with the cities. As a result, no agreement on the building Canada fund has been signed in Quebec. Only two provinces—British Columbia and Nova Scotia, if I am not mistaken—have signed agreements so far, even though this fund was announced in budget 2007.
Once again, it is easy to understand. The Bloc Québécois is all in favour of dealing with the cities' infrastructure deficit. We want this $123 billion deficit of the cities in Quebec and the rest of Canada to be paid off once and for all. We would like this to be, to be applied to solving infrastructure problems. That way, each province could negotiate with its cities as to when each city could receive their share.
That would be a very easy and realistic approach that is respectful of the fact that the cities, in large part, had to pay down the federal government's deficit. It was the Liberals and the Conservatives who added to the deficit. They flagrantly forget history. Perhaps some—because they are new—do not remember. Nonetheless, the cities are running deficits for their infrastructure today because in the 1990s, the Liberal government had to wipe out the deficit that had been shamelessly created by the Conservatives and the Trudeau government.
The Conservative member mentioned it earlier, and he was right. To try to pay off the annual deficit, to try to pay its grocery bill, the government had to cut transfers to the various provinces for health and education. It was easy to do. The federal government does not provide services in health and education. Why not cut transfers to the provinces and let them sort it out? The provinces cannot perform miracles to maintain the same level of health and education services.
Even Jean Chrétien had the nasty habit of saying that although he was cutting transfer payments, he was the one setting the national standards. Imagine how this nice, beautiful Canada was built. He was not even the one providing the service, but he set the national standard in order to get re-elected. And people bought that line and said that he was defending their interests.
But that is not at all what happened. He was cutting transfer payments to the provinces, who in turn had to cut services or try to find money elsewhere. What did they do in most cases? They transferred responsibility to the municipalities, who had no money themselves. The municipalities ended up fixing the interior of the house, but not the foundation or the structure. All municipal infrastructures suffered.
I am very proud of the study done by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which I have examined. It is the first serious study. The $123 billion infrastructure deficit is accurate. It is the first time a researcher has really examined this issue. The 4,000 municipalities were asked to describe their own problems with infrastructure deficits.
We must start addressing this now. We must not do what the Liberals did and keep saying we will fix this by extending the gas tax rebate. Besides, what government would dare eliminate the gas tax transfer in five years? It is already guaranteed until 2012. I do not see how the government could get rid of gas tax transfers to municipalities. It would pay the political price.
The question today is not about making the gas tax rebate permanent. There is a much more serious deficit. The gas tax rebate represents $11.5 billion over five years. And this year's needs, if we wanted to wipe out the infrastructure deficit for all municipalities, total $123 billion. Thus, it is clear that this $11.5 billion over five years is—yes, it is true—part of a solution. However, at present, we are not about to try to do what the Liberals did, by claiming that this is the one and only solution, that we came up with it, and that this is what municipalities need.
They need more than that. This is what the Conservative government should focus on. Furthermore, the Bloc Québécois is trying to exert pressure where pressure is needed, so that all the federalist parties in this House clearly understand that this country, Canada, has a Constitution, which specifies that cities and towns are under provincial jurisdiction. These federalist parties must understand that, if they want to negotiate, there must be a direct agreement. If they are going to tackle the $123 billion, they must negotiate. We must ensure that all levels of government participate and that the federal government will make a transfer payment to Quebec. The province, in cooperation with its cities and towns, can then distribute annually the amounts needed for infrastructures.
We hope this can all be spread over five years, so that each of the towns and cities can really resolve its infrastructure deficit problem by the end of that period. That would be excellent. However, once again, the Conservatives will not have the courage, because they will likely try to fix one mistake with another. They will try to pay off Canada's accumulated debt and forget that, in the meantime, cities and towns are going further into debt for their infrastructures. I am not saying that they will borrow the money, necessarily, because some of them do not even have the financial ability to do so. Instead, they will continue to allow infrastructures to deteriorate.
One day, citizens will pay the price. Once again, I hope it will not be the citizens of municipalities, when the problem lies here, in Ottawa.
Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.
I am very pleased to speak to this motion today. I believe that the issue of municipal infrastructure is a fundamentally important issue. When I speak with the members of the board of trade, the mayor of my city or business people around our town, they all agree that the number one concern is our crumbling infrastructure, in all places but certainly in the town that I come from, Toronto.
We have seen study after study and report after report detailing the enormous and growing infrastructure deficit in our country. The Conference Board, the board of trade, as I mentioned, the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the big city mayors--in short, everyone in this country--agree that we have a massive infrastructure deficit. It is a hindrance to business. It is a danger to our environment. It is creating huge personal problems in terms of inconvenience, by lengthening travel times for people and through disruption and costs related to water pipes breaking because they are old and ought to be replaced. There are huge problems.
Everyone agrees that we need to address this problem, yet there seems to have been a paralysis in the previous government and now there are problems with the current government in addressing this issue. Therefore, I want to not only address the issue but discuss how we should address it.
I want to reinforce what the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is saying, which is that the deficit in infrastructure has now reached $123 billion. It categorizes “sub-deficits”, that is, certain parts of our infrastructure that are particularly deficient. Water and waste water systems have a $31 billion deficit. Transportation has a $21.7 billion deficit. Transit has a $22.8 billion deficit. Solid waste management has a $7.7 billion deficit. Community, recreational, cultural and social infrastructure has a $40.2 billion deficit.
We know that this deficit will only grow exponentially and that all governments and parties need to work together in order to come to grips with it and deal with the ongoing challenge to our quality of life.
However, the expectation that municipalities alone can deal with infrastructure deficits by increasing property taxes is clearly ludicrous. It is simply not sustainable, nor it is possible for them to do so.
Let us take a look at the gas tax, which is specifically referenced in this motion. The federal gas tax is 10¢ a litre. It generates over $4 billion a year. Even half that tax, $2 billion, would be a substantial investment in our municipalities. That is certainly what we have been proposing: that this tax, on a permanent basis, be made available to municipalities to deal with their infrastructure deficit.
The previous government made some promises about municipalities getting up to 5¢ a litre in future years, which would be $2 billion, but of course that was never fully realized. What was realized, of course, were the massive corporate tax cuts, the largest we had seen. They were certainly escalated. We have seen that continue with the current government in the previous budget, and then the mini-budget the government brought in certainly fast tracked corporate tax cuts.
I would submit that what needs to be fast tracked is the funding for infrastructure. We have seen our communities stagnating. I hear complaints constantly about the amount of taxes people pay and the deterioration of their cities. This is an urgent issue that ought to be addressed.
The building Canada fund that was announced last year is a flawed program. All it does is repackage already designated federal dollars into a scheme that is designed to profit certain interests from the infrastructure crisis in municipal services and ultimately lead to their privatization.
Municipalities need support to repair and replace their aging infrastructure and what they are facing in fact are threats that if they do not agree to public-private partnerships, they will not get the funding that they need.
Therefore, we see the rising funds put into the building Canada infrastructure program which includes a mandatory P3 review for any project of more than $50 million of federal funds. These reviews can be skewed to make the public sector look inefficient and in fact the head of Partnerships BC, responsible for privatization, said himself that:
||--public sector comparators won’t do you much good because I can make the public sector comparator as bad as I want to in order to make the private sector look good.
I think that often these privatizations are a false economy. We certainly saw this with the upgrading of the London subway system and the failure of a public-private partnership there. There were cost overruns of over £2 billion, or over $4 billion.
While the proponents of privatization argue that P3s take away risk from government, clearly it is government and the public sector that is still on the hook for any cost overruns. The risk just reverts back to the public sector at a cost much higher than if they had just undertaken the work themselves.
I want to say a few words more about transit because we are talking about gas tax and I believe that transit infrastructure is fundamentally important for our communities. As I said earlier, it is important clearly for our environment and our businesses. It is important to the quality of life for people in large centres to be able to get to and from their homes, to work, and to other places where they have to travel to in a timely fashion.
If we look at what happens if we replace cars with a bus, a regular TTC vehicle, one bus during rush hour can replace 45 private vehicles, which is very significant. If we put in an additional six car subway train, that replaces 900 vehicles. We are talking about an incredible bonus, incredible assistance, to unclogging our streets, unclogging our air, and simplifying the lives of people in the community.
We ought to have the finest transit systems in the world. We are a vast country. We specialize in transportation. It is what we do to keep our communities connected, yet we have let our transit systems lag further and further behind.
I believe we ought to be making significant investments in all infrastructure, but transit is very near and dear to my heart. I know that when the NDP was able to take $5 billion earmarked for corporate tax cuts in the previous government's budget and invest some of that money in transit, it not only put new hybrid energy efficient buses on the streets of Toronto but what it did was order those buses from a plant in Mississauga and kept workers building those buses.
It was a big order for a Canadian plant. Not only was it good for the environment it kept people employed, and the people and the company paid taxes. It was good for the economy. It stimulated our economy. It was a win-win-win situation. This investment in infrastructure was done properly, not privatizing our infrastructure but investing our public dollars for the good of all Canadians That is what we ought to be doing
While I support the motion, I want to move that this motion be amended by adding the following: “And with the provision of an additional dedicated component for public transportation”.
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, this is an important debate for Canadians to follow. It is unfortunate that the NDP seems to have a majority in the House right now because we are very concerned about this issue.
We are talking about the $125 million infrastructure deficit that is now growing at $23 billion a year and is estimated to be a $400 billion deficit by 2020. That is important because when we talk about what this infrastructure deficit means, we are talking about the quality of life of people in cities and towns right across this country.
We are talking about the kind of transportation options that people have, whether or not they can actually take a SkyTrain or a subway train or a bus to work and have those kinds of options. We are talking about whether or not people actually have safe water to drink and whether or not people are going to be spending more time in hospitals because of water-related illness because our water infrastructure is not being kept up.
We are talking about waste water treatment. Whether it is in Victoria, British Columbia, or right across this country, it is to make sure that the waste that our society creates is actually dealt with in a way that is environmentally effective. We are talking about the actual quality of life in our cities when we talk about social or recreational facilities.
We know that the quality of life of most Canadian families has eroded over the past 20 years. In fact, for two-thirds of Canadian families, since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed, their real income has gone. For two-thirds of Canadian families, even though they are working longer and longer hours, they are getting less and less pay.
So, essentially, their personal quality of life is diminishing, they are working longer periods of time, and they are getting less money in their pockets, which is why the debt load for most Canadian families has doubled over the same period.
Yet, at the same time, we are seeing this deterioration of our public infrastructure, and that is fundamentally important. When we are talking about the public infrastructure deficit, we are also talking about the safety of people driving to work, whether or not we are going to see the kind of overpass collapses that tragically took place in Minnesota recently because there was not the upkeep on the transportation infrastructure.
So, when we are talking about transportation infrastructure, transit infrastructure, water treatment, waste treatment, and social and physical and recreational centres, we are talking about the very quality of life that is at stake. With a $400 billion deficit growing over the next 12 years, one has to ask what has actually happened.
Under the former Liberal government the cutbacks started. We used to, up until the 1980s, maintain an infrastructure investment of 5% growth per year. That was decimated under the Liberal government. Now the Conservatives have come to power. What have they done? In their own words, today, they said that they are going to invest $33 billion over seven years. That is their own words. I am not trying to change what they have said. The parliamentary secretary was very clear: $33 billion over seven years.
What does that mean? Simple math tells us that is less than $5 billion a year, when the infrastructure deficit is growing over $22 billion a year. What that simply means is that we are going deeper and deeper into a hole that affects the quality of life and safety of Canadian families from coast to coast to coast.
Every single year, the deficit grows by another $18 billion because the government is not taking it seriously. That is even assuming that it will invest the money that it is pretending it will invest over the next seven years.
We have seen, with the pine beetle funding, big announcements of around $200 million going to support pine beetle programs in British Columbia. And after that big announcement and after the media had packed up and gone home, we have seen the devil in the details: only $24 million, in other words only about 12¢ on the dollar, has actually been invested in pine beetle programs.
So, the Conservative government, like the Liberals before, is making this promise of $33 billion over seven years. Even if the Conservatives keep their promise, and we strongly doubt that, this government has very little credibility on financial matters. We have seen how they treat fiscal matters, and I will come back to that in a moment. Even if they invested this money, we are going into the hole almost $20 billion a year over the next 12 years. The deficit will get worse and that will have an even greater impact on Canadian families.
Let us go back to the fiscal prudence of the Conservative government. It is shoveling $17 billion off the back of a truck to the wealthy corporate sector. We have $1 billion a year going to one of the wealthiest industrial sectors in North America, the petroleum industry. The government is willing to hand out all this money to the wealthiest and most profitable Canadian corporations while it is underfunding Canadian cities.
What does that mean? It is like the Canadian people sent the Prime Minister to the store to buy bread, eggs and milk, and instead, the Prime Minister bought a whole bunch of candy. He did not buy the bread, the eggs and the milk for his brothers and sisters waiting at home. He then comes back and says that he has 25¢ left, that he has a surplus, so he will give that up to the corporate sector.
The Conservatives are not investing in what Canadian cities and Canadian families need but they are giving billions of dollars to the corporate sector that does not need it because it has record levels of profit. The net result is that our water safety is in peril. Our transportation safety is in peril because we know that the highway systems, built in the 1950s and 1960s, have now come to a useful end and serious renovation is required.
It means that our transit systems, such as the SkyTrain system in British Columbia, continue to function undercapacity, even though the need is staggeringly great, particularly in the South Fraser region of the lower mainland. It also means that waste water treatment is not put into place so our environment continues to deteriorate. The quality of life that Canadian kids have with regard to recreational and cultural facilities is virtually non-existent.
That is how Conservatives handle their fiscal management. They buy candy or they buy Ferraris and go gambling rather than taking care of the house itself, repairing the roof, making sure the kids have shoes on their feet and that the bread, eggs and milk are on the table and in the fridge. That is what is so deplorable.
Let us look at the impact in my riding. In Burnaby--New Westminster, there are crying needs. Mayor Derek Corrigan and the Burnaby Citizens' Association have done a phenomenal job with scant resources. They tried for years to get the former Liberal government and now the current Conservative government to fund lake rejuvenation projects for Burnaby Lake and to apply for funding for SkyTrain, not the P3 model that is excessive in the costs, because the financing costs are higher when they go through the private sector. As we know, they have to build in the profit component so obviously they will spend more. Any accountant can tell us that.
Instead of providing for SkyTrain funding, public transit funding so the people in Burnaby, New Westminster, south of the Fraser and other parts of the lower mainland actually have transportation options, they underfund. They provide scant pennies when dollars are needed.
We have seen the chronic underfunding in policing, in the RCMP. This is something that started under the Liberals and continues under the Conservatives, something that Burnaby City Council and Mayor Derek Corrigan have been speaking very clearly about. We are talking about underfunding in a whole variety of areas.
This past spring, we saw the underfunding in flood control. The federal government is not stepping up and providing that necessary funding. Instead, it is going off and buying candy when bread, eggs and milk are needed on the table. As a result of that, municipalities, like Burnaby and New Westminster, suffer the consequences.
In New Westminster, Mayor Wayne Wright and New Westminster City Council have been pressing for funding as well for a variety of infrastructure projects. There has been talk in New Westminster for some time of a museum and arts centre, that physical and recreational infrastructure that is so desperately needed. The federal government is not there because, instead of investing in that much needed infrastructure, those fundamentals of bread, eggs and milk for Canadian cities, it chooses to go off and shovel money at the corporate sector again.
That is just not acceptable. Under the current Conservative government and under the former Liberal government, we have seen time and time again that the needs of the main streets of the cities of our country are neglected, while both of these same old, same old political parties shovel money off the back of a truck to the corporate sector.
Canadian cities need the fundamentals taken care of. They need funding so they can take care of waste treatment plants and water treatment plants to ensure water is clean and healthy. They need funding to upgrade their transportation infrastructure so it is safe. They need much more funding for public transit because it is good for the environment. Funding is important to ensure Canadian cities thrive.
Hon. Dan McTeague (Pickering—Scarborough East, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to join in the debate today. I am very much supportive of the initiative by my colleague from Saint John in the motion, which reads:
|| That, consistent with the spirit of the Liberal New Deal for Cities and Communities, this House believes it is in the best interest of Canadians, that the government should take steps to make permanent the sharing of the Federal Excise Tax on Gasoline with all Canadian municipalities for the purpose of enhancing local community infrastructure.
I am pleased to speak to the motion. It is a topic for which I, along with many of my colleagues on this side, have worked. We remember very well when some of us were elected almost 15 years ago and the issue of supporting municipalities had long been neglected for a series of reasons, and it was clear to most Canadians. In 1992-93 the country was gripped by recession after eight years of Conservative government. We had deficits that were spiralling out of control.
The leader of our party at the time, along with the then finance minister, who later became the next leader of the party, made it abundantly clear that investment in people and in cities and partnering with cities was one of the best ways to achieve a better, stronger Canada. I represented many communities at the time, Pickering, Ajax and Uxbridge, and I also represented Whitby at the time, which is now the riding of the Minister of Finance.
I see the Minister of Transport is here with us today to participate in the debate. He will have the opportunity in a moment.
It seems to me that we have built a tremendous amount of goodwill in the country based on recognizing the need for affordable housing, public transit, restoring our sewer and our water facilities. These are not only goods in and of themselves. We want to ensure that we maintain a standard of living. All governments have an important role, regardless of the questions on the Constitution, to ensure that Canadians from coast to coast are able to at least access the kinds of resources that build stronger and safer communities and build the kind of communities that build a stronger Canada.
I had a bit to do with this at the outset. In 1998 I chaired a committee of Liberal members of Parliament. It looked at the idea of using gas taxes that were derived from municipal and federal coffers to assist municipalities. Members will recall that in August 2001 I wrote a letter to the then minister of transport, asking him to consider very strongly the idea of using a portion of gas tax, which I felt was the GST compounded on the other taxes, and that this amount could go to municipalities to leverage some effect in building and restoring some of the transit needs.
In my region of Durham at the time, which is now part of my riding in Toronto, the need for transit back in 2000 was over $300 million. Today, in 2007, we know our transit needs are certainly not being met.
The Conservative government, which walked into town back in March 2006, said that it would be put $800 million into Toronto. In fact, it put a pittance in eastern Toronto. Ridings anywhere east of Bayview or Yonge Street, all the way out to Oshawa, received $2.5 million for transit. This is an area of well over two million Canadians and it received $2.5 million for transit. No wonder our roads are blocked. No wonder there is a sense of cynicism that all the proposed money went into one basket.
I heard the parliamentary secretary quote some money that was given to the city of Mississauga, and that is great. However, I also am cognizant of the position taken by the mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion, who was extremely upset, along with other members of the FCM, at the new arrangement by the government to do a smoke and mirrors approach to funding.
Some of the money was taken from previous programs, which we introduced under the new deal, and some of it was taken from gas taxes. This how the government came up with the so-called $33 billion. Cities cannot even access a good portion of that $33 billion. The hon. member from British Columbia, who spoke before me, talked about the P3 project. Others talked about border crossings. These are not areas that the cities will be readily able to access to meet their needs.
Our party has taken the position, as it has in the past, of ensuring that there is an important link between cities and the federal government. While the Conservative government's approach is that cities do not necessarily rate and that it is more interested in working and making arrangements with the provinces, we believe respect for municipalities from all levels of government is paramount.
More important, there are realities in our country today. The presence of so many new Canadians coming to our communities and the need for settlement, the need for affordable housing, the need for recognizing the burdens that have been placed on many of the municipalities, compels us to looking more deeply, more intensely and more respectfully to the provinces.
Under the Liberal government, of which I was a proud part, we had a cities mandate. Issues of cities were very carefully treated. I would not say we had a secretariat, but it was an area within government, within cabinet, that was taken very seriously. It has now been rolled up.
I hope that the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is well aware that this is now his responsibility, as it comes under his mandate.
That is nice, but it demonstrates once again that the Conservatives are not serious about cities. They are not serious about treating them in a respectful way, the way in which they clearly deserve.
In 2005 the Liberal government renewed the municipal-rural infrastructure fund, the Canada strategic infrastructure fund, the border infrastructure fund and the public transit capital. That commitment was worth $1.65 billion annually through 2014 for a total of $11.5 billion from 2007 to 2014.
The Conservative budget, which the hon. member believes is such a great thing, only includes $4 billion of the funds that were renewed from these same programs, a cut of $7.5 billion to municipalities. The Conservatives have also included in their grandiose scheme $11.8 billion in gas tax funding and $5.8 billion in GST rebates for municipalities as part of that $33 billion what they call building Canada fund. Both the rebates and the gas tax transfer were Liberal government initiatives. I know the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities does not like that, but that is the reality. They are picking and choosing and trying to cobble something together.
Above all I think what is most vexing for any objective onlooker is the fact that the money will not be given in a predictable sense over the long term. That is exactly what our motion calls for today. We would like to see the government ensure that there will be ongoing predictability and funding for municipalities and in particular, I will speak to this more passionately in just a moment, ensure that gas tax revenues are dedicated permanently to municipalities, not just for the next year or two and then re-appropriate the money somewhere else.
With all due respect, many of our cities are on life-support. I believe only four municipalities, and the record will clearly show this, do not run something equivalent to a debt in Canada. All other municipalities are sinking. It is clear to me that Canadians readily identify with or understand the problems of crumbling infrastructure, bridges that fail, climatic concerns with respect to bridge and sewer infrastructures and to ensure the quality of our water.
Ontario had an inquiry two or three years ago with respect to how the water systems failed the people of Walkerton. Since the municipalities are on the front line of delivering services every advantage, every optimal opportunity that we have as a Parliament must be given to ensure municipalities can continue do the work that they do while recognizing ever increasing burdens.
There are issues that we will try to work with in time, but let us talk a bit about the gas tax for a moment.
Right now in my province of Ontario, the province takes 14.7¢ on every litre of gasoline. That price does not go up and down with the price of gasoline. It is a fixed price. In 1998 we recommended that the amount be dedicated strictly to roads and to the provision of transportation for which the tax was intended. I am not here to tell the provinces what to do, but it is clear to us that it would have been opportunity for consumers and would have given the provinces an opportunity to give back some of the downloading that took place, admittedly by the federal and provincial governments during that period of time.
The second component on the taxation is 10¢ a litre, which is the federal excise tax. The federal excise tax does not change with the price of gasoline or other fuels. On any non-commercial type of fuel like gasoline used by passengers day in and day out, there is also the provision of a 6%, soon to be 5%, tax that is added to it.
Here is the issue of contention. In 2000 the then leader of the opposition, now public safety minister, challenged the Liberal government to ensure that those taxes went back to consumers, using the report I had written in 1998. In fact, what he did was pick and choose. We said that amount of tax, the GST applied to the 10¢ in Ontario and to the 14.7¢, should find its way back to consumers. Since no provision could be made to do that, the next best step was to ensure that it went toward public transit.
A number of colleagues will be nodding their heads, recognizing that this would be a way of ensuring that public transit or roads or infrastructure to better finance our highway system and municipalities would be an extremely important and useful mechanism ensuring that Canadians could take advantage of the some of the best roads in the world, particularly in my community.
Highway 401, which goes through my riding, and I suspect the ridings of a good number of members of Parliament, is really the backbone of our economy. Without that infrastructure, it would be hard to imagine any type of success in economic vitality. Yet what the government has failed to understand is the need to ensure that tax power, through gasoline going to municipalities, is absolutely indispensable in providing long term viability, not only for our roads but for the health and well-being of our communities. Time and time again Canadians have accepted the primacy and importance of ensuring municipalities are properly funded.
I have had an opportunity to look at what it has done for communities in my riding over the years with respect to infrastructure. Communities that I formerly represented, Ajax, for instance, were able to take advantage of some of the initial infrastructure funding in 1993. That would be the same infrastructure the then Reform Party said would be like trying to use a penlight battery to start a 747. A 747 is up in the air and flying. That was one heck of a battery.
However, what we also understand and recognize is that governments will make proper investments not as a means for the private sector to take advantage of it, but to recognize that governments have a very important role in ensuring that all players in the lives of Canadians, all structures of government, all offices and agencies, have an opportunity. Clearly, I hope what will come out of this debate is a recognition by the government that it got it wrong with respect to cities.
We had a very good relationship with the municipalities. We received the support of a lot of municipalities across the country. Yes, there may be some partisan considerations that are given to this, but overall there was no doubt in anyone's mind that if they had to choose a time between 1993 and 2005 as one of the hallmarks of the government, which I was very proud to be part of, it would be the deal we had with cities to make cities a better place.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that the priority here has to continue to be looking after the well-being and interests of our cities. They are important players. While the Constitution of 1867 has them as kind of a consideration within the purview of the provincial governments, I think very few Canadians would dismiss or not readily recognize this. When we talk of communities like mine in Durham region or York region to the north of the city of Toronto, these institutions and communities have matured and have a very important stake to play in the lives of Canadians.
We cannot ignore the fact that our municipalities are going through a very difficult time in terms of financing. Perhaps there are creative ways coming down the road. Our party has certainly suggested some. My colleagues have talked about some of the priorities we would like to see. Some of those ideas come in demonstrating not only a difference between our party and the governing Conservative Party, but we would direct money to transit systems to allow them to increase service and purchase new equipment.
The Conservative plan gives a tax credit to users and does not give anything to municipalities to allow expansion or improvement of the current transit system. That is very serious, considering buses, trains and rapid transit ideas will not get the benefit of expansion. Buses that are some 35 years of age are being literally kept on the roads because there is only enough money to cover that amount of vehicles.
The federal government has said that it will give money to users. It is great to give a tax credit to users for buses that do not work. I cannot see a more nonsensical approach to not recognizing the problem as opposed to dealing with the symptom. Riders will not ride a bus that is will break down or cannot arrive on time or worse, that it will get stuck, or lose a wheel, or the engine will break down, or whatever the case may be and there is no opportunity to take advantage of those credits.
We have to recognize that with transit communities like Toronto, transit among communities in Durham, transit across this country, particularly green transit, which I think brings us into a whole different field, it is not just the benefit of building better transit and better municipalities but also the outcomes, such as more people riding transit, with newer technologies being introduced. Yes they are costly, but they will pay dividends for the country in ways that are numerous.
We have talked to the manufacturing sector. I am a vice-chair of the industry committee. We have talked about the need to ensure that green technologies are used and new technologies are brought forward in order to advance better employment opportunities for Canadians.
There is a very important trickle down effect in terms of the federal government recognizing its responsibilities with transit.
In terms of general infrastructure programs, it is clear that the government has only promised to maintain the current agreements we have in place with no mention of any future investments. What Canadian cities have long called for and what this motion addresses in very plain language is the promise of long term funding and support.
Plans and programs that are one or two years in length are of absolutely no help. The reality is that cities need to look ahead with 10 to 20 year programs. That is important. They need to have that kind of sustainability and predictability in their funding. The federal government could play a much better role in doing that, not rehashing old programs, or mixing up a few and saying that the provinces can decide, or that it is not a federal responsibility and therefore the federal government will not have anything to do with it, or worse, trying to make it look like a $33 billion commitment when in fact it is a cut of $7.5 billion in terms of real money going to cities.
We as a government created a separate department, as I mentioned earlier, to promote cities at the federal level. I had the opportunity to be with the minister of transport who had made some comments. It was not a full ministry but it was a separate seat at the table, something that had not existed since the days of Prime Minister Trudeau. It is clear that once the swearing in of the new government took place, the cities department was rolled into the Department of Transport. That is unfortunate. It sends the wrong message.
We need to know that cities are growing. They need our help. They deserve our attention but they also deserve respect. This is not some kind of political football between parties. We need to recognize once and for all, the Constitution notwithstanding, that cities are here to stay. The role of cities and the importance they have is not just in terms of the representation they carry, but they are the distant early warnings in many of our regions across the country. It does not really matter where we are, the government in the first instance for a good number of Canadians, in fact for all Canadians, is their municipal governments.
We must not fail to address their needs. We must recognize them, as we did as the Liberal government with respect to the GST rebates, as we did with respect to the federal government providing one-third of the financing to help municipalities meet their needs, in particular as it came to water, transit and infrastructure.
We must continue to recognize these things, not just in terms of piecemeal approaches here and there and several other priorities. It is incumbent on Parliament tonight when it deliberates on this particular important and very successful, I believe, resolution by my colleague from Saint John that we can never overemphasize the need to support our municipalities in tangible ways. The need is real. The growth is real. If we want to plan ahead and grow consistently, I suggest that Parliament adopt this motion. It is a very worthwhile motion. It is high time Canadians understood that this Parliament stands firmly behind our cities.
Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, after that outburst from my hon. colleague, I have a chance to set the record straight on exactly what we have done and what we are doing.
I must say I was a bit surprised by the motion by my hon. colleague from Saint John, who would like us to be guided by the action of the previous government in renewing our infrastructure.
It is true that the previous government introduced the gas tax. We recognized the merits of that initiative. Moreover, our government has extended it by four years, which the hon. member forgot to mention.
In this way, we are providing municipalities with an additional $8 billion that they can use to improve their water and sewage systems, public transit and, of course, local roads. However, for 13 long years, the Liberal government turned a deaf ear to municipalities' concerns and made massive cuts—I repeat, massive cuts—to transfers to the provinces, which had a serious impact on every municipality in the country.
Early in our mandate, in 2006, our government recognized that action and infrastructure investment were urgently required as a direct result of the inaction and negligence of the former Liberal government. I sincerely believe that instead of setting itself up as a model when it is actually the cause of the problem, the party opposite should take note of what we have done and what we are doing. We acted quickly to introduce a world-class infrastructure program in Canada.
On November 6, together with the Prime Minister, I had the honour of launching the new $33 billion building Canada plan, the most important infrastructure program of modern times in our country. It provides for fixed financial assistance over seven years. That is the longest commitment made by a government in the past 50 years.
I would like to remind the members opposite that, in 2006, we consulted the provinces and the territories. We also met with municipalities through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in order to deal with the infrastructure deficit unfortunately created by the previous government. During these consultations, we learned that cities would particularly like to have stable, long-term, flexible and predictable funding. That is exactly what we delivered.
The building Canada plan includes base funding of $17.6 billion—more than half of the plan for municipalities until 2014—including a 100% refund of GST and $11.8 billion from the gas tax fund.
I realize that the member has not said a word about the GST. It is very risky for a Liberal member to attempt to explain his party's position on this tax. During the career of the member for Saint John, he was forced, when in opposition, to defend the abolition of the GST and then, when in power, to defend keeping it. All members will remember that.
Base funding of $25 billion per year to provinces and territories has been allocated for a period of seven years. This totals $175 billion in allocations to each administration for basic infrastructure needs such as bridge safety. $8.8 billion will be available through the building Canada fund for strategic projects in major urban centres and for projects in small communities.
Indeed, special attention will be given to communities with populations under 100,000. The sum of $2.1 billion will go to the new gateways and border crossings fund to improve border and cross-border trade with the United States. An investment of $1.25 billion will create a new national fund for public-private partnerships and $1 billion will be allocated to the Asia-Pacific gateway and corridor initiative.
These investments are a historic contribution that meets the infrastructure needs of municipalities, provinces and territories. It is financial assistance dedicated to things that are important to Canadians. I am talking about clean water, more efficient public transit, safe roads and bridges, and of course green energy.
No federal government in the history of this country has ever made such a large investment over such a long period of time to modernize infrastructure. No level of government, however, can tackle the infrastructure problems our country is facing itself. All levels of government, federal, provincial, territorial and municipal, have to work together in partnership to meet these challenges. That is why this government has been careful to consult the provinces, the territories and the municipalities in developing this plan.
This stems also from our desire to establish open federalism in the spirit that led to the Confederation of Canada. The Government of Canada is doing its part. We have put $33 billion on the table. Now the provinces, territories and municipalities have to act. After all, at the end of the day, they are the ones who manage the infrastructure and who must ensure that the construction or rebuilding is done, with our financial support.
For the provinces and territories, the time has come for framework agreements to be signed so they can access the funds available under our new program. For municipalities in most provinces and territories, it is time to urge their provincial and territorial governments to sign the necessary agreements so they can submit projects and improve the public infrastructure of Canada, as British Columbia and Nova Scotia have done. I would also note that we are engaged in other initiatives in this regard and things are working well.
For example, on July 30 our government announced the Ontario-Quebec continental gateway and trade corridor initiative, which will provide central Canada with a strategic transportation system, one that will be integrated and competitive and will promote more efficient movement of international and domestic trade, inside and outside Canada.
Canada's federal government is doing its share. We have put $33 billion on the table. It is time for Canada's provinces, territories and municipalities to follow our lead. After all, they are the ones that directly manage our infrastructure and look after its construction and renovation, with our financial support.
For provinces and territories, it is time to sign the framework agreements within the context of the building Canada plan so that they may begin accessing available funds.
For municipalities, it is time to invite their respective provincial or territorial government to sign the necessary agreements so they can begin submitting their projects and begin improving public infrastructure, as is already the case in British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
However, I want to underline other important initiatives that we have undertaken.
For example, last July 30, our government announced the Ontario-Quebec continental gateway and trade corridor, which will give central Canada a strategic, integrated and competitive transportation system and promote the efficient movement of international trade and links from central Canada to global markets.
Moreover, last October 14, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador for the development of Canada's Atlantic gateway.
By signing this protocol, the five governments show their support for a shared vision. Establishing an Atlantic gateway that is part of an integrated and competitive strategic transportation network will clearly facilitate international trade on the North American east coast.
We are also looking at the potential of northern regions as possible gateways as well.
The government will continue to seek better cooperation and collaboration with provinces and territories to prioritize the financing of this infrastructure.
Expertise and private capital can fill gaps and make a larger contribution to the construction of infrastructure in our country. This is why we must now turn to the topic of public-private partnerships.
The government will incite public-private partnerships by providing $1.3 billion to the PPP fund, or the public-private partnership fund, within the building Canada fund.
We are also studying the potential of our northern regions as a possible gateway. In that regard, in addition to being a powerful instrument of economic development, the infrastructure will also contribute to asserting our sovereignty in an area of the world that is attracting ever increasing interest.
The Government of Canada will be continuing to work with the provinces and territories to make infrastructure funding a priority. We are aware, however, that governments cannot meet all infrastructure needs themselves. Private expertise and capital can fill many of the gaps and make a significant contribution to building the infrastructure.
That is why we will encourage opportunities for public-private partnerships, through building Canada’s public-private partnership fund. We will also be working, as we are now, in fact, to create a public-private partnerships office that will promote the use of such partnerships for infrastructure projects.
I would need a lot more time to give a complete description of the initiatives we have undertaken to improve infrastructure in Canada. However, it is important, above all, to remember that our government has made massive investments, in consultation with our provincial partners, to create a strong economy, a healthy environment and more prosperous communities.
Hon. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is always good to have the opportunity to address various issues in the House.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.
Today, we have the following motion before us. It reads:
|| That, consistent with the spirit of the Liberal New Deal for Cities and Communities, this House believes it is in the best interest of Canadians, that the government should take steps to make permanent the sharing of the Federal Excise Tax on Gasoline with all Canadian municipalities for the purpose of enhancing local community infrastructure.
It is an important motion and I am pleased that the opposition has put it on the table, so that we can have a true and honest debate on this very important issue.
In my opinion, the minority Conservative government has turned its back on Canada's communities and cities. It has cut infrastructure programs in spite of all of what it is saying and the cities are far worse off under the present government than they clearly were previously.
The Conservative government has cut $7.5 billion from infrastructure programs launched by the Liberal government designed to address the growing infrastructure deficit. Cities will now have to compete against each other and against large scale highway projects for funding under the government's new building Canada fund.
If large scale projects are approved under the Conservative funding plan, huge amounts of funding will be wiped out from Canada's smaller municipalities and no longer available to them. This misrepresentation, frankly, is a disaster for cities that need infrastructure.
To add insult to injury, the Conservative government claims that its $33 billion infrastructure investment is the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history. Let us dispel that myth this afternoon.
Of the $33 billion program that the minister speaks so proudly of, $18.2 billion of that comes directly from Liberal government programs that it had committed to. Then the government adds everything but the kitchen sink into this program to make it look like a huge fund. However, it is all really just more spin. In actual fact, it has cut $7.5 billion of funding that was critically needed in our cities and communities.
Liberals know that we need a vision to build a strong and prosperous Canada, which means that all three levels of government must plan and work together cooperatively if we expect to go forward.
The Liberal Party recognizes that urban communities play a vital role in Canadian society and it will keep fighting for cities through the newly established urban communities caucus. There is a very strong contingent of Liberal MPs and senators, and they are determined to make sure that Canada's urban communities get back on the national agenda.
I was very honoured last week to be appointed as co-chair of that particular caucus. I intend to work very closely with communities to ensure we have their support and that they know we are there for them.
The minority Conservative government has ignored urban communities from the day it took office and Liberals are going to change that. The quality of life in Canadian cities is clearly deteriorating.
The federal government needs to work with provinces, cities and communities, large and small, to improve living conditions and lay the foundation for a strong Canadian economy. Canada's competitiveness in the global economy is rooted in the strength of its cities, a fact that the government continues to ignore.
The new Liberal urban communities caucus will look at a variety of issues facing Canada's cities, including housing, poverty, transit, child care and infrastructure. It will build on the Liberals' excellent record of working together with urban regions.
In 2005 the Liberal government had renewed the municipal rural infrastructure fund, the Canada strategic infrastructure fund, the border infrastructure fund, and the public transit capital trust. This commitment was worth $1.65 billion annually through to 2014, for a total of $11.5 billion from 2007 to 2014. The 2007 Conservative budget only included $4 billion of the funds that were renewed for these same programs, a cut of $7.5 billion.
Furthermore, the Conservatives have included $11.8 billion in gas tax funding and $5.8 billion of GST rebates to municipalities as part of their $33 billion building Canada fund. Both the GST rebates and the gas tax transfer were Liberal government initiatives.
The $33 billion also includes a substantial amount of money that is not available for cities, including funding for gateway and border crossings and funding for P3 projects. Even the building Canada fund includes funding for the national highway system and other non-municipal projects. Let us be clear here. This is not a huge fund for only our cities and municipalities to be able to draw on.
The physical foundations of Canada's cities and communities are near collapse, according to a report on the state of municipal infrastructure released last month by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The report, “Danger Ahead: The Coming Collapse of Canada's Municipal Infrastructure”, says that Canada has used up “79 per cent of the service life of its public infrastructure”. It sets the price for eliminating the municipal infrastructure deficit at $123 billion.
What was the government's response to this important report? The finance minister said that the cities should stop “whining” and “do their job”. He showed total disrespect for our municipal leaders when he said that the Government of Canada is “not in the pothole business”.
This is nothing short of disgraceful. Municipal leaders are elected to represent constituents the exact same way that we are. They are looking for help. They are looking for partners as we continue to build Canada.
Canada's Minister of Finance is supposed to be the political minister for the GTA, which is stuck with him, I guess, because the Conservatives could not elect a single MP in Toronto. If they could not do it before, it does not look like they are going to do it now.
When it comes to investing in our cities, the government will not put its money where its mouth is. I remind this House and everyone watching at home that the previous Liberal government had committed $800 million to public transit alone.
Sadly, transit has fallen off the Conservative government's radar screen. The minister said in June that this “national transit strategy is not about new funding”. I asked him in the House “how many buses and rail cars he thinks cities can buy with his empty speeches”. I am still waiting for an answer to that question.
Another failure by the Conservatives is their transit credit, another selective tax measure designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by increasing public transit ridership in cities. However, a small price decrease in public transit has apparently done nothing to increase ridership. Those who use transit will continue to use it because it is convenient for them.
Those who do not use transit will not suddenly run out and buy a transit pass for a $12 a month tax break. I wrote the book on cities, so I know that this will do nothing to increase public transit. We would have been far better off investing this in the infrastructure that is part of our national transit objective.
The Conservatives can continue their charade of funding for our urban regions. They can continue to re-announce funding commitments that had already been made by the Liberals. Canadians are not going to be fooled by the Conservatives' repeated deceptions.
The government must apologize for abandoning our cities, bring them to the table and work with them to improve the quality of life in Canada's urban regions.
Mr. Ken Boshcoff (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I thank and recognize the hon. member for York West for her wisdom and her astute presentation and also for the fact that she deserves considerable commendation for the amount of work she has done as a municipal councillor.
When the Liberals decided that the federal government had a role to play in assisting cities, communities, municipalities, towns and villages, it was to include funding for all provinces and territories, and in Ontario, not only our municipalities but also the roads boards.
To completely correct the Conservative member for Abbotsford, as someone who was directly involved in the formation of those programs I was also there on many occasions not only as the past president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, but as the mayor of Thunder Bay. I know that the GST rebate, the gas tax and the infrastructure programs as Liberal programs were very much a reality. To say that they did not exist is quite comical. I am sure that municipalities that received funding assistance or transfers from the federal government, of whom there are many if not legion, will have a field day refuting that.
Our goal as municipal people was to ensure that funding was made permanent and dependable. This motion does exactly that. It was meant to give municipalities additional sources of revenue. That is why we no longer call other orders of governments “levels”. Liberals use the term “orders of government” to indicate respect for other elected representatives. The use of the word “level” by the government is another example of regressive, not progressive, thinking.
The Conservatives have rolled the $1.5 billion for 2007-08 and the $1.1 billion for 2008-09 in municipal infrastructure funding into a pseudo-fund or a rebranded building Canada fund. The government advises that municipal infrastructure will be a sunset program, so that next year will be the last year of this program.
So much for predictability and dependability. As municipal governments are wrapping up their current budgets for 2008, not one page of applications has been published, invited or even sent out. How do they plan for the coming construction season?
This government is by far the most incompetent possible, with no understanding whatsoever of municipal financing processes, needs or requirements. If municipalities only hear the announcement, which has been held maybe 20 times or so without one dollar flowing to them, we cannot blame them for feeling scammed by the government yet again.
Do we remember the Conservative promise to remove the 3¢ excise tax on gasoline? Or the removal of the GST once gas hit 85¢ a litre? That has been pulled on the public not once, but twice. As for small communities, and I will use Rainy River as an example, how are they expected to compete with a GTA city? This indicates that the government has totally missed the message from communities for fair funding. How can small communities pay for pre-design or pre-engineering studies if they cannot afford to replace the bridge in the first place?
All these environmental assessments and professional fees must be included in the total project costs, yet the Prime Minister has refused to listen to these very, very reasonable requests. The truth is that the Conservatives have cut infrastructure funding and communities are now worse off. The infrastructure program is $7.5 billion less than what was offered by the previous Liberal government.
To make things even worse for municipalities, they will now have to compete against each other. Last week, when the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was here presenting the data which confirmed that the cut had been $7.5 billion, each and every mayor and councillor here told us they were totally in shock that the government would do this.
Municipalities understand what has been packaged together here and, when it all came together, it was less. This flim-flam gets more deplorable.
By lumping this reduced fund into a catch-all basket, then, if there are large-scale projects, huge amounts of funding will not be forthcoming to communities. This will be disastrous and demonstrates a calculated lack of awareness of municipal requests.
The issue of infrastructure must be categorized by population. We cannot have a simple lumping of it all. The problems of congestion, gridlock and exhaust emissions in a metropolitan area should not have to share a program with smaller, rural towns that have problems with distance, underpopulation and financing. That is why infrastructure is perhaps the most serious problem facing rural Canada and, with these small populations and a reduced property base, rural Canada is having an even more difficult time.
To see $7.5 billion, which could have gone to them, lost altogether, rural Canada is starting to understand that it has been persecuted by the government. We have recommended, as a rural caucus, a policy that would renew and expand the rural infrastructure program, and make it permanent, dependable and achievable for communities of the smallest size. It would put emphasis on water, roads, sewers and bridges.
As someone who has been involved in the municipal field as a councillor, mayor and president of three major municipal organizations, and all of us in the House who have this municipal background, have some sort of camaraderie I believe, so that when organizations, such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities or the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, come to see us, we relate in a way that they know exactly that we are speaking the same language.
When $7.5 billion is taken from municipalities, they know that they have been shortchanged.
As the programs were built up, they were championed by people such as the hon. member for York West and actually a whole raft of my colleagues. I see a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to my left. We understand this issue intimately and it is something we believe in passionately. Therefore, to see this scam going down is a great affront to everyone who serves in municipal office.
It is astonishing to have all these people come to us asking where the funds are. The minister keeps on making announcements about it but where is the flow? Where are the applications?
Municipal councils across the country are in this perpetual state of uncertainty right now. They have been told that there is an increase, but it is $40 billion to $33 billion, and they are wondering, as they deliberate their capital budgets for the forthcoming year, where the federal promise is. They do not have any paper whatsoever, except for a media announcement. How can they plan for a construction season that will begin either in the spring or summer? How can they allocate their share? How can they approach the provincial government?
When municipalities are faced with this dilemma, it breeds the kind of understanding of just what kind of bumpkins are running the show for the feds. It is amazing that someone would actually get up on a challenge and say that the members here have not been at projects that were delivered by the previous government. It is absolutely astonishing.
When we talk about things like time, it is very important that each hon. member recognize that and recognize the Speaker for his fairness.
Hon. Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted, both as the member of Parliament for Richmond Hill and as a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to participate in the debate.
If ever there were a more fundamental difference between this side of the House and the government, it would be on this issue. The Liberal Party is the party of cities and communities. It is the party that understood the problems that cities were facing with a shrinking revenue base over the years.
In 1994, when the Liberal government came to power, it implemented the national infrastructure program, which was a program proposed by the FCM in 1983. However, when the Conservatives came to power in 1984, the Mulroney government ignored our cities.
Therefore, it is not surprising that today we see that same lack of understanding and vision when it comes to a very important order of government, the municipal government in Canada.
The Liberal Party is not resting on its laurels for all the work it did with cities for the last 12 years. We got the job done by working with cities. Now we have a seven point program to deal with the crying need to address municipal issues in Canada.
Although, under the Constitution, municipalities, and I hate this phrase, are creatures of the provinces, the reality is that we cannot ignore the fact that 80% of our citizens live in big cities across this country. We need to help as partners. What the FCM and provincial and territorial associations have been asking for, for years, is that they be treated with respect and fairness. They do not expect to come to Ottawa, which happened a couple of weeks ago, to be told to basically keep quiet, to get to work and that the government was not in the pothole business.
We are in the business of working effectively with our provinces.
I am very proud of the Liberal seven point program. I would note that we on this side of the House are addressing the kinds of issues that affect municipal governments. One of these issues is the transfer of the gas tax. This is not something new. It is only new in terms of how we will shape it.
The prime minister in the last government announced a new deal. We understand these issues. In our proposal, we would immediately commit $2 billion in transfers over five years and then we would extend that indefinitely beyond that. We believe it is important for municipal governments to have a source of revenue they can count on. Most municipal governments in Canada depend on property tax, which is antiquated at best. We think it is important to give certainty to municipal leaders across the country.
We are also proposing a transit infrastructure fund. My colleague referenced the fact that many colleagues on this side of the House have municipal experience, which is probably why we understand this issue better than others in the House. The fact is that we would have a transit infrastructure fund of $7 billion, not only to deal with the issue of expansion, but also to deal with the replacement of existing infrastructure, transit in particular. This is very important.
We talk about the environment. We talk about getting people out of their cars and into transit systems but we need capital funding, which is where we are going with this particular recommendation. The motion today addresses this issue. The lack of understanding and lack of vision by members on the other side with respect to this issue is not surprising because they never embraced the infrastructure program that the FCM put forward back in 1983.
The Conservatives have a johnny-come-lately approach. They say that they are doing all of this but all they have done is basically repackaged money in this Canada fund and then they have municipal governments competing for a smaller pot. The $17 billion is recycled money. Probably the only thing on the environment that the government understands is recycling, in particular, Liberal money from the past.
I am very proud of the physical infrastructure fund initiative that the Liberal Party undertook. Again we are talking about $1 billion. We are talking about dealing with waste treatment plants and repairing bridges and roads. We are laying out very clearly not only what we are prepared to do as the government in waiting but also funding it. This is extremely important.
On the social infrastructure fund, our cities are home to 80% of the population. We understand the importance of having vibrant cities, cities that can compete not only on the North American continent but around the world. To do that, we want to support municipal governments across the country and allow them to have access to funding.
The areas of culture, sport and recreation are very important. They are simply not a place where people work, but where the activities of communities take place and people are able to participate in the arts. We want to showcase our arts not just at home but abroad. This is another piece of our platform that we are enunciating very clearly.
With regard to the border infrastructure fund and rural infrastructure, my colleague from Thunder Bay made it very clear that we are not only addressing the large cities and communities, we are addressing rural Canada. We understand better than any party in the House the needs in rural Canada and we want to address those issues.
Regarding infrastructure at the border, we understand the importance of commerce and being able to get across the border. Providing that kind of assistance is absolutely critical if we want to move ahead. Committing $500 million and then $200 million after that is part of the program.
We are also looking at the hub strategy. The Liberals came up with the gateway proposal in British Columbia. We know how important Asia is. We understand the need to move goods across the Pacific. We can look at that kind of hub strategy for other cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Winnipeg.
We also understand partnerships to deal with policy issues. I remember in 1989 when the Conservative government of the day, the Mulroney government, decided to bring in a significant hit for municipal governments without any consultation. Then it decided to give cities a 10% tax cut. That meant the CBC paid 10% less as a federal institution than CTV. Although the same fire services, et cetera, were provided to the CBC building, it paid 10% less than CTV. That is a lack of understanding and vision by the other side.
We point out that we will do active consultation on policies. If the Government of Canada is going to make policy that is going to impact cities and communities, a we are going to have the cities at the table. They are an order of government in our country. We cannot put our heads in the sand and say, “It is somebody else's responsibility. Let the provinces deal with it”.
The other side likes to write cheques to the provinces and let them to take care of the cities across Canada. That is a paternalistic approach which this side of the House does not agree with and will not support. We believe they need to be part of the process. Therefore, policy is extremely important. If a policy issue is going to affect our cities, we are going to have them participate actively. At the end of the day they are consulted and they provide input. That is extremely important.
In 1996, as president of the FCM, I was able to address, for the first time, a joint federal-provincial-territorial meeting on environment and natural resources policy, which affected cities across Canada. Fortunately, the Liberal government of the day understood that and was able to work with the provinces and have the FCM do a presentation. We were not at the table for the whole meeting, but we had the ability to respond to these issues. That is extremely important because we need to consult our partners.
This blueprint, as I said at the beginning, shows stark contrast to the understanding of the Conservative government. Making the gas transfer permanent will give assurances and stability to our cities and communities across the country. The Liberal Party has the cities and communities caucus. We understand their needs and are sensitive to those particular issues. Maybe that is why so many municipal politicians wind up running for federal politics on this side of the House and not elsewhere.
Many of my colleagues from across the country have been part of that discussion over the years. I am sure we will hear some nonsense from the other side, but the reality is the Liberal record is a solid record. Liberals are very proud of the record and the platform that we are presenting Canadians.