House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the hon. member. He talked about infrastructure programs, and I just want to make sure I was clear on what he said. I think we are in agreement that the program the government brought in in 1993 works extremely well, and continues to work well. Except for the naysayers in the Canadian Alliance who never supported it in any event, the fact is it is municipally driven. We both know, because of that member's experience in the city of Windsor, that it has to be a municipally driven project.

I will give a simple example. The York region proposed an overall transit plan, a quick start program. The chairman of the region of York asked for my support. It put $50 million down and I worked hard to ensure that we put $50 million down. However it was the province again, always late, that did not deliver.

The member raises a good point. We cannot depend on the provinces necessarily in terms of us just turning over the money, as our friends across the way would say.

I want to point out that they keep mentioning in the House the former minister of finance. The former minister of finance has nothing to do with the motion by the Alliance. The former minister said that if we were to vacate any portion of the federal tax, it would have to be matched by the provinces. That is not what the motion says.

Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

An hon. member

You're splitting hairs.

Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Splitting hairs, he says, Mr. Speaker. The reality is facts are facts.

Is the hon. member in agreement that it must be municipally driven because the municipalities know best what the projects are in conjunction with federal, provincial and private sector partners?

Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree that it needs to be municipally driven. In fact it is imperative. That is part of the process to unravel the programs.

I disagree with the parliamentary secretary though. I think the member for LaSalle—Émard, the former finance minister, is very much married to the motion.

The motion by the Alliance is really about johnny-come-lately, but really it is Johnny never comes. The money will never get there because of the issues we have with the provincial governments in the way that it is set out.

That is one of the difficulties we have about accepting it. It comes in a way that really will not see projects happen. It keeps municipalities away from the table. It keeps them as a junior level of government, and that is wrong.

Right now 80% of Canadians live in large urban settings and 50% live in five major urban areas. That is very important to recognize. The country has a challenge to ensure that those large areas have the proper support for municipalities on national issues. As well the smaller rural municipalities deal with special circumstances and we must ensure their viability and long term significance.

I was recently on the northern Ontario trade mission. The rural municipalities face very special and distinct challenges. They may not even benefit from this because of the situations they are in, and that will be a major problem.

Supply
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to add to the excellent comments of my colleague from Windsor West. He does bring to us a perspective from the urban areas of the country.

This motion has been brought forth by the Alliance. I know the comment has been made that we welcome the Alliance into the infrastructure debate, into ensuring that there is more funding in infrastructure. Where we disagree with the Alliance is on its approach to doing it. We have seen what has happened with a number of suggestions from the Alliance about cutting taxes. Over the years what we have seen is that Alliance wants the cut in taxes but it also wants the cut in service. It wants to see a privatization model put in place for everything, so that if a buck cannot be made off something it is not worth doing. That is the impression it has given over the last number of years. We heard it in the health care debate and I get the same impression here.

In my own mind and from what I hear from people in my riding and throughout the country, I think Canadians want a vision for Canada. They do not want a vision for Toronto. They do not want a vision for Ottawa. They do not want a vision for a small community in Manitoba or Saskatchewan, or a vision just for Campbell River, B.C., or for Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. They want a vision for Canada. They want a country that is unified, with support for each other and with programs where all Canadians benefit from us working together as a nation.

Quite frankly, to suggest that a small municipality, by being able to tax what few citizens it has, is going to be able to support the infrastructure it might need just is not going to work. It is not going to work, to say nothing of the fact that we all benefit from infrastructure as we travel and work throughout the country.

This motion is not going to improve the situation in Canada. There is no question, absolutely no question, that this Liberal government needs to be taken to task for the fact that it has had so many cuts and so little input of tax dollars given back to the provinces and municipalities, such that we are in a serious situation as far as infrastructure in the country is concerned. There is no question that this is an issue, but that is what we should be dealing with.

When we reach the point where the infrastructure is to the level it should be, maybe we should look at cutting taxes altogether at that point, but right now I believe Canadians want to see those tax dollars going back into infrastructure. We will get no disagreement there. Of the gas taxes that the federal government is collecting, very little is going back to the provinces and municipalities, very little, and that is unconscionable.

The former finance minister now presents himself as the saviour of the nation. It is kind of like saving us from him, because quite frankly he put in place the situation we have. He set it in motion, to literally strip the country in a slash and burn kind of approach: “Let us destroy it and then I will go out there and save the nation”. The bottom line is that he was the architect of what we see. Quite frankly, I do not put great faith in that former finance minister, should he become leader of the governing party, to do anything different. He increased the gas taxes. Did we see any additional dollars go back into infrastructure?

And let us not look at just the last year or so, because now I think the government sees that an election is coming up and it has to put a little more money back in. Let us look at what was there before and consider that period of time when there should have been increases to address the problem. We have not even caught up. What we need to see as a nation, and what I believe the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has said is needed, is very assured, stable funding within the infrastructure program, working with the provinces and municipalities to ensure that the infrastructure is being dealt with on a regular basis. I believe the figure suggested at this point in time is an amount of about $2.5 billion over the course of 10 years so that we can see absolutely major infrastructure improvements throughout the nation.

What I have heard from communities, from people within the provinces, is that the infrastructure programs, when in place, have worked. There seems to be a working relationship between the municipalities and the provinces and the federal government to improve the infrastructure, but the funding has to be there. As well, there have to be some resources for the municipalities that do not have their share up front. They do not mind paying, but they do not have their share up front. There needs to be some kind of system or loan process in place with low to no interest so the municipalities can cover it. They do not want something for nothing. I have not heard anyone say that they want it for nothing, that they do not want to pay. I have never heard that from the municipalities I have met with.

However, they do want an opportunity to access some dollars at low to no interest because they do not have huge tax bases. I am talking about a number of smaller municipalities and towns throughout the country. They want that opportunity so they can improve their infrastructure. They do not want to be in a situation where their water and sewage systems are creating health problems. We saw the situation in Walkerton where there were problems with the water systems and the water supply. Those types of situations are happening throughout the country, although maybe not to that degree. They are happening in the first nations communities, which also need to be able to access infrastructure dollars so they can improve infrastructure in first nations communities as well.

I know the Alliance members would want to give the impression that their motion is trying to improve things for people throughout the country, but when I looked at it this morning--and I am sure we all get together as caucuses, discuss the motions and whether we can support them or not--I thought that the first sentence was not so bad, but then one realizes that it is going to reduce it and leave it up to the provinces to put in place a tax system. Excuse me, but as someone from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, I have seen the last couple of governments really make some strides to improve their provinces after they had Tory governments in place that literally stripped the provinces of everything, much like the finance minister did previously here in Ottawa.

We have governments that now are trying to improve that situation and are putting their tax dollars back, but I can tell members that is not what I am hearing from people in B.C. right now and that is not what we hear from people in Ontario. There are serious issues around the concern that the dollars will not go to where they should be going.

Recently I read about the concerns of people in B.C. who are being pressured into privatizing their roads. It is a major infrastructure development where B.C. want to have a toll road so that, much like a situation in New Brunswick, it can give some company so much money to continually maintain and fix the roads. They will make literally millions over the course of time just because there is a need to have some dollars put in there right now to fix the road. The suggestion was that as individuals people do not mind paying a bit of a toll to pave the road right then and there. That is what someone said, but under no circumstances should someone be profiting from infrastructure that should be there for the entire population to use.

That goes back to my comment that provinces and municipalities need to be able to access some dollars at low to no interest and then pay for those things. That is where the federal government comes in: to give back to the provinces and the municipalities the tax dollars they are paying in. Quite frankly, throughout the nation the one that has not held up its end of the bargain for the most part has been the Liberal government. For a decade now, it has not put the dollars back into infrastructure that it knows needs to be there, yet we have seen continuous wastage of taxpayers' dollars. Now we have people starting to feel that maybe they just should not pay taxes if the government is not doing anything with them anyway, or if it is not doing what it said it was going to do.

That plays into the hands of the Alliance members. Quite frankly, in a good many instances I get the impression that they do not think any services should be there as public services, that if some private company or an individual cannot make a buck from it, it should not be there for the service of the nation. New Democrats do not feel that way and quite frankly I am comfortable and confident that most Canadians do not feel that way. They are not going to accept that kind of an attitude throughout the nation.

I am from western Canada. I am from Manitoba but I grew up in Saskatchewan and there we know that the smaller provinces have to work together. We know that we put back into the tax base of the nation, but we also know that we need the support of the nation. Maybe we see it a little differently from those who come from major centres and figure they have all these tax dollars around them. They forget that they are getting the resource tax dollars from the smaller areas of the country, from those smaller communities.

I am out of time and there is so much more to say. I hope I have another opportunity.

Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from my transportation colleague, the member for Churchill, who is again in good faith expressing her opinions effectively but also again proving that the NDP members are the masters of dramatically oversimplifying complicated public policy.

I have a question for the member, given the fact that over 98% of every single road that Canadians drive on is engineered, built and maintained by municipal governments and provincial governments, and given also the second fact that in her presentation the member said the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where she is from, are doing such a marvellous job of reconstructing those provinces coming out of the depths of Conservative governments. They are being reconstructed under the socialist panacea of her provincial parties. If their provincial parties are doing so great and the reality is that 98% of our roads are engineered, built and maintained by provinces, why is she opposed to a motion that would entrench in law stable funding to those levels of governments that she so trusts to continue rebuilding her province?

Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, it might appear so simple that it is hard to grasp, but let me say to my colleague from the Alliance that what I am willing to accept is that we are going to do things provincially. We have provincial taxes on gasoline, but quite frankly I know that in Manitoba almost 100% of the gasoline tax dollars go back into roads. I know that does not happen in the other provinces of the country and that is why we have a national government as well: to ensure that those dollars will go into infrastructure.

I am willing to accept that Canadians respect that provincial governments have rights and respect that we have national government to give representation as well. But what we need to see is this national government putting the dollars back into the provinces and the municipalities. Quite frankly, the approach that has been taken has been instrumental in building this regionalized approach and this regionalized rejection of national government. That is not acceptable. I think there is a need for both. I think Canadians respect that. What we have to do is give them reason to respect that the dollars will go back to where they should be going.

I can trust the governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but I know darn well that they are cleaning up a heck of a mess that was put there by another government whose idea was to privatize and push things into a different type of system. I am not willing to go with that.

I know that in Manitoba when the New Democratic Party went in provincially it made a commitment that 25% of its road budget would go to northern roads, recognizing that the northern part of the province was giving huge dollars in taxes through resource taxes as well as income taxes. The NDP recognized that. That does not happen with other governments. Not everyone looks at the picture as a whole. Some parties and some governments look at a specific region and say the heck with the rest of the country. We do not belive in that. We believe in working together as a nation and supporting each other.

Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Oak Ridges
Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat disappointed in the hon. member's comments. She talks about Manitoba. As an example, Manitoba's NDP government has refused the City of Gimli a 5¢ tax on liquor sales to be used for its police forces; talk about dedicated taxes, which the member suggests that she supports.

I think the member and I agree on the issue of the mechanism. Again, talking about the former minister of finance, the former minister of finance does not agree with the motion across the way. What he suggested was that provinces create a way for municipal governments to reap the resulting revenue.

I think the hon. member would agree, and I would like her comment on this, that nothing in the motion says the provinces agree that the funds will be truly incremental to the cities. I do not see that in the motion.

So in other words, we have to go back to faith. Of course anybody who believes anything the party across the way says has obviously been out in the sun too long, because this is the party that for 10 years made a heyday of saying it opposed infrastructure and it opposed the national infrastructure program. I sat in committees with these people. At least the NDP is a little more honest. It is at least a little more honest in saying that there are elements in the national infrastructure program that it supports. The member knows that I know some members of councils, certainly in her riding, who have been very vocal and very supportive of our program.

Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have to admit to my colleague that I missed the first comment about Gimli so I cannot respond to that.

Had the member been listening, what I said was they do support the infrastructure program. The failing has been that the government has not put in stable funding. There has not been stable funding in place so that municipalities can plan ahead and they know for sure the money will be there.

The municipalities do support the infrastructure program with portions from the federal and provincial governments. The municipalities want to pay their share. I indicated that none of them said that they wanted something for nothing. The municipalities are willing to pay, but they need some assistance because they do not have the tax base.

What is needed is a government that is willing to put the dollars back into the infrastructure program. The federal government has not done that. We also need stable funding. The municipalities do not need to know that they will receive this much this year and the next budget there will be a decision made. They need stable funding. How can any nation operate and plan infrastructure improvements over a few years? Stable, long term funding is needed.

I just thought about that wonderful plan members of Parliament were given for the renovations of the buildings in the parliamentary precinct. We were given this long drawn-out booklet. I think it was over the course of 20 years plus.

Is it not only reasonable that the provinces and municipalities should demand the same thing from the federal government? The provinces and municipalities need to know that they will have that long term stabilized funding. Let us get our heads out of the parliamentary precinct and look at the entire nation for a change.

Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Oak Ridges, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's prayers have been answered. We have a 10 year national infrastructure program. Talk about long term planning, she has already got the answer.

Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, if we can get 20 years on the renovations of the parliamentary precinct, we can do a whole lot better for the nation.

The member's plan is probably around $50,000 per municipality. It just does not cut it. That is the issue here. The issue is the lack of commitment and stable funding.

Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, what would $50,000 buy for the member's municipality or any other municipality? That is what it works out to in terms of the government's plan.

The comments of the member for Churchill were about the fact that the plan actually provides less funding over the 10 years as they ramp down other programs.

Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that when we are dealing with the situation of infrastructure or even roads, it takes almost $1 million to do a kilometre of road in some cases, let alone putting in a bridge or a water system that would be $1 million to $2 million depending on the size.

There was a situation in one of my municipalities where what was needed was just support for the loan. The municipality was willing to pay it back. The municipality needed under $500,000 but that amount was not even built into it.

Certainly if the government can put in place loan structures for particular corporations or foreign investment, can it not do that for the municipalities? Can the municipalities not be given either a low or no interest loan so that they can fix the infrastructure within their own communities?

Supply
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the outset please note that I am splitting my time with my colleague from Surrey Central.

I want to remark about the exchange I just sat through. I remind the hon. member for Oak Ridges that volume does not outweigh intelligence in a debate. He probably should recognize that we do have microphones in this place and he does not have to shout quite as loudly to be heard.

I want to begin my remarks today by thanking my colleague the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam. Since first becoming elected in 2000, he has been an invaluable member of the official opposition by working tirelessly as the Canadian Alliance transportation critic. Today we are debating a motion sponsored by the Canadian Alliance put forward by my colleague which advocates the reduction of federal excise taxes on gasoline in order to provide provinces and Canadian cities with stable funding for infrastructure projects such as highways and roads.

Canadian taxpayers are an incredibly resilient group. Everywhere we turn it seems we have to pay a tax, user fee or surcharge which is quickly deposited in the coffers of our beloved federal Liberal government. Yet the more we pay, the more this money hungry government wants to collect from Canadians. Every time the government hits taxpayers up for more money, it is careful to cite reasons for the increase, such as eliminating the deficit or preventing corporate influence of political parties.

There is a saying with which I am sure everyone is familiar, that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Under the Liberal regime there is a preoccupation with taxing Canadians to death. Federal excise taxes on gasoline are only one example of the cash grab from Canadians. In the last fiscal year motorists paid a whopping $4.7 billion in gas taxes with another $2 billion added on top with the GST. It seems only in Canada do we have taxes charged on taxes.

Over the past couple of years Canadian motorists have had to pay astronomical increases in gas prices to fill up their tanks at the pumps. These price increases have been especially hard to take as many people depend upon affordable fuel in order to drive to work or transport their products to market. Although fuel prices have increased primarily due to a higher demand for oil on the international markets, on average 42% of the retail price of gasoline in Canada is attributed to some form of taxation.

The federal government imposes a 10¢ a litre charge plus GST, while the provinces collect the remainder. The primary difference between the two levels of government is that the provinces reinvest the revenue generated from gas taxes into roads and infrastructure projects while the federal government is nowhere to be seen. Every year the federal government offers $118 million to share among all 10 provinces and the territories to pay for roads, which works out to about 1.7% of the federal revenues collected. Less than 2% of the money it collects actually goes into infrastructure.

If we look at the amount the federal government gives to the provinces for infrastructure projects through the new Canada infrastructure works program, we would discover that the federal government only tosses back a dime for every dollar of federal revenues collected at the pumps. Most recently the Liberal government seems content with having gas taxes as a cash cow while using a small portion of the revenues for its own political purposes. On the rare occasion the Liberal cabinet decides to dole out some cash for a highway project, there always seems to be a federal minister on hand to cut the ribbon and usually just by coincidence, it happens to be in a Liberal riding.

It was only a short five months ago that the current fisheries minister kiboshed a highway project in Nova Scotia because the proposal did not include a highway in his riding. This blatant political interference has resulted in an incredible 99% of all federal transfers for highway projects directed east of Ontario. This kind of political mangling of government services is deplorable.

Cities across Canada have been buckling under the financial burden of maintaining roads, providing clean water and transportation. Our municipalities are on the front lines providing the services that most directly affect Canadian lives. They need new means of generating revenue to provide these services. The sensible solution would be to allow municipalities to collect the federal government's portion of the gas tax, as they are the ones ultimately responsible for most of the nation's infrastructure.

However, as the Liberal Party is in the middle of a leadership change, with the member for LaSalle—Émard widely expected to take over the reins of power, Canadians are hearing some mighty big promises from the former finance minister.

Last month the person in question was in Winnipeg addressing a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. In his speech he reassured Canadian municipalities that under his leadership everything was going to change. His proposal to municipal leaders was to vacate the gas tax room by reducing the federal excise tax in order for the revenues to be collected by the provinces for use by Canadian municipalities.

Naturally, his plan has various stipulations, but on the whole, it is not unlike the motion we are debating here today. The only difference between our motion and his proposal is that his track record for delivering on promises is dismal, to say the least. By now most Canadians are familiar with the 1993 red book campaign promise to scrap the GST, which the member for LaSalle—Émard never seemed to get around to doing as our nation's finance minister for nine years.

That person's track record in regard to gas taxes is somewhat contradictory to his speech delivered in Winnipeg last month. In his 1995 budget, the former finance minister increased the federal excise tax on gasoline by 1.5¢. His explanation for the tax hike at that time was to eliminate the deficit. However, long after the deficit was a problem, he refused to reduce the tax. Why? Because his increase was contributing an extra $705 million annually to general revenues.

During the best of times and the worst of times, members of the Liberal Party are pretty good at showing caucus solidarity regardless of whether they are right or they are wrong. However the member LaSalle—Émard's comments in regard to the federal gas tax seem to have struck a soft spot with the new finance minister. Just last week the finance minister was quoted in the National Post publicly criticizing his predecessor. His comments were:

I think [he] is being politically opportunistic.... Provinces aren't going to agree to this. And if they do, it's going to be very difficult for municipalities to actually implement it, plus he's also put in the qualifiers on over what period of time and how long. He knows it's bad public policy. I don't think he has any expectation that he will ever be called on to do it.

This is from the current Liberal finance minister, “I don't think he will ever be called upon to do it”. That is rich and quite indicative of how the Liberal government operates. It makes big promises to Canadians and never delivers on them.

We know the future leader of the Liberal Party has a credibility problem when even his successor does not believe him. By the way, I agree with the current finance minister. I do not believe the member for LaSalle—Émard either on this or most of the other promises he is running around the country making.

Canadian municipalities are at the breaking point right now. They cannot handle the costs of maintaining their roadways and their infrastructure. Montreal needs $6 billion to $10 billion over the next 20 years. Calgary needs $1.1 billion right away. Toronto and Vancouver are looking for untold billions. In Canada, cities are responsible for approximately 73% of our 900,000 kilometres of road system, yet they do not collect any of the gas taxes paid by motorists.

Our proposal that we are debating today would reduce the federal gas tax contingent upon an agreement with the provinces, using that tax room created to introduce a special tax that would give funding to infrastructure projects in our cities and provinces.

The funding problem has been around for quite some time. Yet there has never been a concerted effort to resolve the situation.

When I was the Canadian Alliance transport critic, right after the last election, I highlighted, in my reply to the Speech from the Throne, the need to increase funding for highways and infrastructure. However, two years later I am rising in the House again on this very same subject. It seems that when it comes to adequately funding Canada's crumbling infrastructure, as usual, the government cares more about photo ops than it does about actually getting the job done.

Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to see the Canadian Alliance join the debate about urban infrastructure in municipalities. It is very good and helpful to discuss this more and more in the House.

My questions deal with some of the problems that I think we have. Even though there could be agreements with all the provinces, there is a timing issue. What would the Alliance do about that? There is also the issue of some provinces signing agreements and others that do not. What do we do about those circumstances?

We see for the Province of Ontario new infrastructure dollars that might be opened up under a new window that is proposed in the motion. However the motion does not deal with the actual revenue stream that is then clawed back. We have seen that in the national child care benefit plan, for example. As well, I would like to know what the Alliance would do about the difficulty of the fluctuating funds, given that prices of gasoline would differ year to year in terms of the revenue available?

Those are things I would like to hear addressed, as well as some of the concerns about the motion. I would like the hon. member to touch upon those, if he could.