House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was registry.

Topics

Infrastructure
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to congratulate you on reading the motion entirely in French. Bravo. If the position of Auditor General is still available, I am sure you would meet the bilingualism criterion. Congratulations, Mr. Speaker.

I listened to my NDP and Conservative friends speak. I have been here for 15 years and everyone naturally tries to take some credit: because of me, it was me, my government is better than yours, the mean provincial governments led by opposing parties, it is terrible. In reality, Canadians, Quebeckers and people in Montreal, in my riding, need infrastructure renewal. That is the reality.

I could have said that in 1993, when the Liberals came to power and inherited a $42 billion deficit from the Conservatives, we decided to invest heavily and create what is now known as the infrastructure program. I could have spoken about that, but I want to look to the future. I do not want to look to the past.

We have clearly always wanted investment in infrastructure. I think that in 2007, there was a minority government. Yes, that is right. A majority was needed, and the Conservative Party did not have enough elected members. So I imagine that all parliamentarians—at any rate, those in the Liberal Party—voted with the government because it was important to invest in infrastructure for the people.

However, this is 2011. We are now faced with a certain reality. Every time we have gone through a recession, infrastructure has been the basic economic building block, not only to improve people's quality of life, but also to create jobs. It is a vital partnership program. While respecting all jurisdictions, we must ensure that the Canadian government acts as a facilitator, taking the needs of municipalities and provincial control into account, and that it invests the money needed to meet the needs of Canadians.

We are in favour of this motion. Of course, we have been talking about the Champlain Bridge for quite some time. I have been talking about it for quite some time. We talked about it during the last election campaign. The announcement has finally come. I do not know who will cut the ribbon, but we need a new Champlain Bridge. In the meantime, along with the original announcement, we also definitely need to know what will happen to the existing bridge. The government has always refused to hand over the inspection reports. If you talk to engineers, read the studies and follow the news, you know that the bridge is in bad shape. When engineers tell me not to drive at the edge when crossing the Champlain Bridge, but rather to stay in the middle, that is serious. I would really like to believe that a bridge will be built within the next 10 years, but that means we have to continue using the existing bridge for nearly 10 years. We therefore need to have the straight goods on the condition of the bridge.

Clearly, we need to find a new way of doing things. As a Montrealer, I think the municipalities are the key to the future of this country. So we need to have a new partnership.

We need a new deal with municipalities, a deal that will have a balanced approach with the rural and the urban, a deal where we will be able to ensure that we have a true diversity for those who have a car, or for those who have a bicycle, or for public transit. Public transit does not just mean buses; it also means trains. We need a rail policy between the cities.

We can talk about HSR in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. We can talk about basic infrastructure, whether interprovincial or between Canada and the United States. But very definitely, infrastructure is the future. The basic policy of a government, both for the economy and for quality of life, depends on its infrastructure. We have to protect the existing infrastructure while ensuring that we are able to build more. And this motion meets that need well. What we like about this motion is that it is all about diversity. It does not talk only about rural and urban, it also talks about aboriginal communities, the first nations, the Inuit and the Métis.

I am a former minister of sport. I remember that when we created the infrastructure program, there were three components. Component 3 was particularly important, to my mind, because it was a way of being able to invest in sports or recreation and tourism infrastructure. Infrastructure also serves as a prevention and development tool. An arena was built in Iqaluit, where there were young people with problems. The sports infrastructure improved the young people’s self-esteem, with the result that people like Joé Juneau in Kuujjuaq are creating programs for youth. This infrastructure means that we can restore young people’s dignity.

That is good both for the environment and for the quality of life in municipalities. It is an important development tool for our own people. We have a motion and we have a Conservative government. The member for LaSalle—Émard is going to be a bit disappointed, because she got a little handshake from the Conservative member opposite who said the blues were going to vote against it. But it is important that we keep talking about it. Yesterday, we talked with the member for Trinity—Spadina about her private member’s bill on public transit.

Today, we are talking about infrastructure. At the transport committee, we are doing a study of a national public transit strategy. Except now, we can no longer separate a national public transit strategy from infrastructure. We have to have a strategy that includes both these aspects. In terms of governance and funding, it is essential that any public policy take both these aspects into account; one will not work without the other.

We agree with the funding measures. Mr. Martin, who was the prime minister at the time, is the one who first put forward, in cooperation with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the idea of putting a tax on gasoline that would be given to the municipalities for funding. The current government made this gas funding permanent. We must look at new funding methods. If the municipalities are telling us that this tax is no longer sufficient, we must find more money. If this money currently serves only to maintain existing infrastructure and we want to build more infrastructure, we will have to find money somewhere else.

We must look at indexing and see if we can find additional funds in the current gasoline excise tax. An additional tax does not mean an additional tax for the Canadian public. It means that we will take an additional amount and send it to the municipalities. We will no longer have any choice, and we all agree that such is the case.

First, a public-private partnership is imperative if we have smart regulations and the right type of support. It is not additional bureaucracy. Our role is to ensure that people have a decent quality of life and, as a result, it is up to us to provide the framework. Second, the Liberal Party has always advocated for a fund devoted to infrastructure. We therefore need an amount of money that is stable in the long term. Given the fragile state of the world economy and our fairly high level of debt, we must immediately start investing more in infrastructure. It is basic economics. Thus, we must set up a fund devoted to infrastructure.

And so, we will support this motion. This is an important debate. We do not agree with what the government has said. We recognize that investments have been made thanks to the efforts of all parliamentarians, but now we must move forward. We support the motion of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

Infrastructure
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have a problem with municipal infrastructure. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, there is massive traffic gridlock, there are drinking water warnings, and thousands of people are on waiting lists for affordable housing.

Traffic gridlock costs Canadians billions of dollars. They spend almost 32 working days a year, that is more than a month, commuting to and from work because the public transit system is inadequate. The daily commute time in the largest urban centres of Montreal and the greater Toronto area is 75 minutes. That is the worst ranking among 23 global cities. That is a bad sign.

Then there is policing, and I would like members to consider this. Municipalities pay more than 60% of total policing costs, including $600 million worth of downloaded federal policing duties, such as border security and international drug trafficking. In terms of municipal budgets, policing makes up more than 20% of local spending. In some communities, policing costs are rising faster than the costs of health care.

Then there is housing infrastructure. Across Canada, 175,000 families are on social housing waiting lists and more than 40,000 Canadians, including young children, are sleeping in emergency shelters every night, including tonight.

There is a problem in terms of municipal infrastructure. The deficit is in the billions of dollars and there is a shortfall. Why? It is because municipal budgets are really not set up to deal with all of these challenges. Eight cents of each dollar of tax goes to municipalities while the rest of it goes to provincial governments and the federal government. As far as municipalities are concerned, lots of money is being taken out of urban cities and small towns but very little is being put back in. The shortfall is severe. What is happening?

Without a share of the income and the sales tax generated by new growth, communities are being forced to raise property taxes and cut core services. Most often infrastructure repairs are put off. The resulting infrastructure deficit is bad for families, businesses and our economy.

There is a unique opportunity in front of us because the building Canada fund of $1.2 billion per year expires in 2014. The affordable housing and homeless program of $380 million per year expires in 2014. The police officer recruitment fund of $80 million per year expires in 2014. The public transit capital trust of $300 million per year that was set up through the Martin-Layton partnership expired in 2009. With about 40% of all of the infrastructure programs due to expire, there is a unique opportunity in front of the House to renew these commitments to municipalities.

There is also one more area that I did not talk about and that is rural, remote and northern communities. These communities account for more than 50% of Canada's exports, including energy, agriculture and natural resources. On average, however, the rural household income is $10,000 less than other parts of the country.

The costs of adapting the roads, bridges and public buildings, because of the Arctic temperature rising, would more than double the north's estimated $400 million infrastructure deficit. Northern communities too are in a desperate situation.

That is why we must look at the infrastructure funds and it is extremely important to have a legislative framework. Canada needs a national vision. We need to ask ourselves, what will our cities look like in five years time or 25 years time? We must look ahead to a vision of our cities because we know that 80% of Canadians are living in cities. We must set a national vision. That is why we must have a legislative framework.

We also need to include cities at the table when the federal government is talking to provincial and territorial governments, not just passing the buck, “Municipalities are not federal responsibilities”. I heard that yesterday and I heard it a few minutes ago from my Conservative colleagues. I may hear it again in a few minutes when my Conservative colleague stands up, “Let us pass the buck. Municipalities are really not a federal responsibility”.

If the Conservatives say they are not a federal responsibility, they should include them in the discussions with the provincial and territorial governments and ensure they have a seat at the table, but that is not what is happening.

That is why we need to have a legislative framework. We need to set clear targets. We need to ensure there is sustainable, predictable and long-term funding.

It has to be green. Canada has a building code. We cannot just say that it is up to the municipalities to decide on the building code or it is up to the cities to decide how they build. Actually, there is a Canada building code and we must ensure that the infrastructure that is being built meets state of the art building standards.

I was just in some northern communities and I saw a house being put up with very thin boards. This was a northern community. Firefighters are saying that if we build it in a way that is very thin, it is dangerous to firefighters. Other people are saying that if we build it in a way that is not energy sustainable, then we are losing all that heat during the winter and we are burning more and wasting money.

That is why we need to be innovative, have the best technologies, and ensure that any infrastructure that is being built would be built in the greenest way.

We need to ensure that it creates a lot of jobs because every billion dollars being spent on infrastructure creates 11,000 jobs. That is much better in my books than giving corporate tax cuts because corporate tax cuts certainly do not create thousands of jobs.

After all of these positive reasons and all the municipalities saying that they need to have a sustainable long-term plan, why would the Conservatives refuse to do so? Part of it is probably because they are out of touch with reality. They do not want to support a legislative framework because they do not want to be accountable.

Right now there is no clear funding formula on how money is allocated. It is a closed door decision. There is no paper trail in some instances. We saw that $50 million gone to Muskoka. There is no accountability and no criteria.

It is, in fact, a lot easier to just dole out money to friends behind closed doors than saying that there is a legislative framework and there is a funding formula.

Where is the grading system? What percentage of the funding goes to state of good repair? We do not know what percentage goes to new projects. That is not clear at all. It is all about short-term funding arrangements and that is not acceptable.

That is why we need to index the gas tax. We need to increase the gas tax transfer by at least one cent so that we can create jobs now.

Infrastructure
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Resuming debate. I wish to inform the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities that I will have to interrupt his remarks at the top of the hour as this is the end of the time period.

Infrastructure
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise today to discuss the NDP motion, Motion No. 270.

Let me begin by saying that of the six points enunciated here, five are either statements of the obvious and which there is great consensus and no reason to debate, or statements of existing government policy and action.

One section, however, stands out as a glaring exception to the others. That is section (e). It says:

(e) index the Gas Tax Fund to economic and population growth and increase the existing gas tax transfer by one cent per litre, and consider other alternative funding mechanisms to ensure municipalities, large and small, have the long-term capacity to build and maintain public infrastructure;

The motion calls for an increase in the gas tax fund transfer to municipalities by one cent today and then, going forward, anywhere between 2% and 5%, depending on what the nominal GDP growth is. This is a massive, year after year increase in expenditures by the federal government.

The problem with that proposal is that nowhere in the motion does the New Democratic Party explain from where that money will come. We do not know its origins. So, we are left with only two options to explain how the NDP would finance such an increase.

One is through a real time increase in taxes, starting now; that is to say, the federal government would have to go out and find a tax to increase on Canadians so that it could pay for this massive and growing new expenditure that the motion would impose upon the Crown.

The most obvious tax that the NDP would have us raise is the gas tax itself. After all, the proposed spending increase is in the area of the gas tax fund and it logically follows that such an increase would, therefore, be paid for, by NDP logic, through an increase in the gas tax itself.

Now, that increase would not only raise the price of consumers fuelling their vehicles, it would also increase the cost of every transported good we can imagine: food, clothing, or any other retail item that is brought to us in a truck. This would leave Canada in a position of accelerating inflation at a time when the world could potentially face inflation problems as it is.

Let us keep in mind, and I remind the members of the NDP again, no government has money of its own. Only taxpayers have money. Every time politicians propose a spending increase, they are necessarily proposing to take more money from taxpayers in order to finance it. In other words, the government cannot give us anything without first taking it away. One way to do that would be an increase in the gas tax, but I am sure that our colleagues across the aisle would have numerous other suggestions on how they could take money from taxpayers to fund a proposal of this kind.

The second way that we could finance the proposal contained in Motion No. 270 is by borrowing more money. Members across the aisle might notice that there is a global recession that came to Canada from abroad but, due to its impacts, has left this nation, like almost every other nation in the developed world, in a deficit position. That means there are no surplus dollars sitting around or hidden beneath the cushion on the government couch from where we can take the money to pay for the proposal of increased spending that the NDP brings today. So, either the NDP is going to raise taxes or it is going to increase the deficit, which is a way of raising taxes, tomorrow.

Deficits are nothing more than deferred taxation. Of course they have to be repaid one day, when taxpayers are presented with the bill by the lender. Worse than that, not only would this bill force an increased deficit that we would be repaying in the future, but taxpayers at that point in time would also be stuck with a permanent and growing obligation, year after year, in program spending that they would have to meet above and beyond the repayment of the deficits incurred at the outset from this proposal.

As I said earlier, governments do not have money of their own. Winston Churchill once said that the idea that a nation can tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing inside a bucket and trying to lift himself off the ground by pulling on the handle. For obvious reasons, it does not work. Put differently, one economist once said that for people on the economic left, government is the grand fiction whereby everybody lives off of everybody else. Again, it is a mathematical impossibility.

When we look around the world at the devastating consequences of these types of socialist policies, constantly increasing spending, we see that nations are on the verge of default. They are writing down debt. There are people in the streets protesting the massive social services cutbacks that have been necessitated by the terrible financial positions of their governments and the devastating tax increases that are putting people out of work and families out of their homes. Those are the kinds of consequences that we, in this country, are successfully avoiding and will continue to work to avoid by enacting fiscally responsible policies that can be funded under the existing tax base without putting our next generation deep in debt. That is why I oppose this motion.

Infrastructure
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. parliamentary secretary will have three minutes remaining in his speech, if he so chooses, when the House next resumes debate on this motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business is now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Pursuant to order made on Monday, October 24, 2011, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Motion No. 7 under Government Business.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 7, Mr. Bruce Stanton in the Chair)

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Bruce Stanton

Before we begin this evening's debate, I would like to remind hon. members of how the proceedings will unfold. Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments.

The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak.

Pursuant to the order adopted Monday, October 24, 2011, the Chair will receive no dilatory motions, no quorum calls and no requests for unanimous consent.

We will now begin tonight's take note debate, accordingly.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of the ongoing violence and vicious attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt and their institutions.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs could not participate in this debate because they are out of the country. However, this is a very important debate happening tonight.

It is my great pleasure to rise and speak on this issue. Over this year we saw tremendous excitement and hope as we saw the revolution unfold in Egypt, following the revolution in Tunisia, and subsequently moving to Libya and elsewhere, what is popularly known as the Arab Spring.

Watching the Arab Spring, there was a tremendous amount of hope and expectations. In fact the world was awed by what was taking place in the streets of Egypt. Most importantly, the world was impressed by the thousands of Egyptians who came looking for their own rights. They wanted democracy, freedom and their rights.

The world watched in great awe as this event was taking place. Subsequently, as we saw, the president of Egypt had to resign. Those who were rulers accepted the fact that the changes were taking place and that they had better address the wishes of the Egyptians.

What is even more impressive, more important, was that in the streets of Egypt, in Tahrir Square, there were Muslims, Coptic Christians, and all Egyptians standing in solidarity, working for their rights, and calling, “We are all Egyptians”. That statement was made on the streets and brought a tremendous amount of hope and expectation to the international community that the new Egypt that was coming out would take care of its minority rights, as well, not only the rights of the majority of Egyptians, but all Egyptians, from whichever region.

This in itself was extremely impressive, and most Canadians held their breath and said there is a new dawn era coming down in Egypt. Of course there was a concern over a period of time that some violence had taken place against the minority in Egypt, which is the Coptic Christians, the burning of their churches and violence. We have also seen in other parts of the world, where minority rights have been trampled by the majority.

Egypt, by itself, has been a leader over the years in providing strong moral leadership in the African world, as well in the Arab world. Egypt's standing has been recognized around the world and respected.

But when a nation's rulers and law do not respect the rights of its minority, then the shine comes off. Of recent, we were horrified to see that shine come off, most specifically when the security forces fought with the Coptic Christians who were asking for their rights and over 27 people died.

We would like to express our deep condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in this unnecessary violence.

For a long time Canada has stood for human rights. The cornerstone of this government's policy is upholding human rights. We have taken our stand very strongly at the United Nations against Iran and against any other regime that we find is abusing the human rights of its own citizens.

This is one of the reasons the government had no problem joining the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, because it was there to protect the people of Libya.

The government's cornerstone policy being human rights, we have spoken and will continue to speak on the international stage about the human rights of citizens, most importantly of minority religious rights.

Recognizing this as being a very important cornerstone policy, the government said in the throne speech that it would open an office at the Department of Foreign Affairs to keep track of religious freedom. We have what we would call the office of religious freedom around the world to let our voice be known on the international stage whenever there is a violation of the human rights of minorities. In today's world, this is extremely important.

Today in Perth at the Commonwealth summit, the Prime Minister made a very strong statement to the Commonwealth that it should recognize human rights as one of the cornerstone policies of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Once human rights start to be taken away, it is very difficult to stop it and, without stopping it, the world would not be a better place to live.

It is up to Canada, it is our responsibility to stand up and speak to this in the international forum, as we do at the United Nations. Therefore, I am delighted that we are having this debate here in the House tonight to express our deep concern for the events that have taken place in Egypt following the violence against the Coptic Christians.

As members know, Coptic Christians have been living in Egypt since the 5th century. They are not new immigrants. They are part and parcel of the country, culturally, religiously, and in all aspects. They are Egyptians, pure and simple. Therefore, it is with great sadness that we see even the security forces take action against the people of Egypt, those whom they are supposed to defend no matter what religion.

The Government of Canada, in today's motion, has stated very clearly that it is extremely concerned. We call upon the Egyptian government to bring justice and for those who have attacked and broken the law, that they bear the full weight of the law.

There is no point in having laws to protect religious minorities when a blind eye is turned to extremists breaking the law. There is no point in having the laws because they do not give the confidence that is required. The Government of Egypt must take very strong action against these individuals who have committed these horrendous crimes against the minority. This is one of the key elements in what the Government of Canada is calling upon the Egyptian government to do, and hopefully it will.

Egypt is now on a new path to a new constitution and parliamentary elections. This is the time for Egypt to put its stamp on the world and to say that it is a democracy that respects human rights and the religious freedom of everyone.

We will also look to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to conduct an open and transparent investigation into the plight of the Egyptian Copts and to make its report public. This would show the world community the sincerity of the Egyptian leaders in addressing human rights issues in their country.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, I heard the comments of my colleague with great interest. He talked about what is going to be done, or what maybe has been done. I am going to ask and answer some questions for him.

There is a question that was put at the external affairs committee on Tuesday. The question, which was with respect to the persecution of the Coptic community, was around what has Canada done at the United Nations. The member said, “It seems to me that the United Nations is essential in providing some investigation and some sanction, not the terms of traditional sanctions, but some ability to draw the international community and our allies in the region together to express in a concerted way the concern of the international community”.

The answer came from a department official, who said, “Thank you for that question. I'll ask Marie if she's in a position to respond with respect to the UN. I don't know”.

Mrs. Marie Gervais-Vidricaire replied, “I am not aware...”.

We passed the motion last Monday. There was unanimous consent. The minister stood there and made the motion stronger, and to this date nothing has been done at the United Nations.

My colleague spoke about the UNHCR. It was the same question again about the UNHCR, in the same place.

Mrs. Barbara Martin answered, “This issue, in terms of the UN context, would normally come up in the environment of the UN Human Rights Council, which normally meets in the spring. Jeff, do you know if it came up in the last session of the Human Rights Council?”

Jeffrey McLaren, director of Gulf and Maghreb relations for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said, “I do not believe that it did in the last session. Every few years each country comes up for an intense review of its human rights. I do not believe Egypt has been on the schedule this year”.

There were human tragedies in Egypt in 2000, 2008, 2009 and 2011, the last three of them under the—

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Bruce Stanton

Order, please. As a reminder to the member, we are in questions and comments. There will be other questions, so when there are many members who want to put questions and comments, I would ask members to keep it to about a minute or a minute and a half. The person who last spoke will respond for about the same time.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Chair, I want my colleague to know that I am giving him the full context and the full history.

The government, for the last four or five years, has done absolutely nothing. It has not brought up the request from the community to go in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The motion could be not explicit.

My question, through you, Mr. Chair, is to the parliamentary secretary. What is the government waiting for? You had your marching orders. Why are you not marching? As a matter of fact, you gave the marching orders to yourself. Why are you not marching?

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Bruce Stanton

I remind members to direct their comments and questions through the Chair.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Chair, I would like to remind the member that there is a process of how these things happen. Of course, he has not been involved in foreign affairs, so he would not understand the process. The Minister of Foreign Affairs at the United Nations, during his speech at the UN General Assembly—

Coptic Christians in Egypt
Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Bruce Stanton

Order, please.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Agincourt.