House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

7:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

7:10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, the government says it has been following the progress of the F-35 closely, yet there have been many problems: runways that are too short, communication systems that do not work in the far north, range capability that is lower and speeds that are slower than the aircraft it is replacing, our CF-18.

The F-35s are slower and cannot go as far, and they are not compatible with our air refuelers. Also, replacing the CF-18s is far too important. As a responsible country, we cannot afford to be without fighter jets or to improvise. A plan B is therefore essential. If we do not need one because everything is fine, that is great. However, if we need one, we should have one. It is crucial that the government come up with a plan B, but it has none.

7:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, 24 F-35s are already successfully flying through the air. True, they are in the United States, but we can see them and observe them. They have a new level of technology and that is what counts in the world of aviation. Stealth is important in the 21st century. Communication with our allies, with our 10 partners in the program and eventually with all our NATO allies is important. The ability to carry out operations with other partners and allies is also key. The F-35 will give us the opportunity—

7:15 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges.

7:15 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, tonight I am going to speak about infrastructure and, especially, the gas tax. I have trouble understanding the government's position. My original question dealt with the indexation of the gas tax. I do not think the government understood my question, so I want to explain the context in which I asked it.

Each time Canadians put gas in their cars, they pay the federal government 10¢ per litre. It is a tax levied by this government and previous governments. The government gives 5¢ of the 10¢ to the municipalities. Is that clear? When the government supported making the gas tax permanent, the 5¢ arrangement was made permanent. All that the NDP is asking for is that 1¢ more be given to the municipalities, so that they can carry out their infrastructure projects. That equates to $500 million per year for our communities. Moreover, it is taxpayers’ money.

Since January, I have travelled throughout my riding and spoken with the mayors. When I asked them what their needs were, they often emphasized the lack of sustainable funding for infrastructure projects. In Rivière-Beaudette and Sainte-Justine-de-Newton, the level crossings are a problem. In Vaudreuil-Dorion, a new section of Highway 20 needs building and exits added in order to promote commercial transport at several locations along Highway 20 and Highway 40.

The government had promised $350 million to carry out projects associated with the continental gateway, sums that were never allocated. What worries me is that the government treats infrastructure projects like election campaign tools. How else can this government’s failure to return the gas tax to taxpayers be explained? The Conservatives have spent years condemning a carbon tax. They carry on like hypocrites and keep the gas tax to carry out their projects: megaprisons, the Queen's Jubilee, the commemoration of the War of 1812, the name change for the Canadian Navy. When elections are near, it is all about infrastructure.

All the marketing exercises—signs, costly press conferences—are not only money wasted, they also set a dangerous precedent. Are we to believe that each new government is going to engage in a publicity stunt every time it achieves something? Here is my advice to the government: it should do its job, be transparent, and it will not need to engage in this kind of marketing.

I would like a precise answer to my last question and not the kind of off-the-cuff answer that is usually given. Why did the government vote against our motion to give one additional cent to the municipalities?

7:20 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, the hon. member calls on us to increase the gas tax in order to pass more money to municipal politicians. That is a matter of disagreement. We on this side of the House believe in leaving more money in the pockets of the hard-working taxpayers who earned it, rather than taxing them more and more at every stop.

Now he is trying to deny what he was saying earlier. He said he wants us to transfer more gas tax revenue to the municipalities. The reality is that money has to come from somewhere. If we are going to increase the transfer of gas tax money, and there are no extra dollars hiding under anyone's pillow, the only way to pay for it is through an increase in the gas tax. That is precisely what the NDP is proposing.

The NDP is doing this in an environment where municipalities have enjoyed an explosion in federal transfers over the last decade and a half. It was not very long ago that the federal government did not fund any municipal or provincial infrastructure. That changed starting about a decade and a half ago and the increases have been spectacular. The annual transfer of federal funding for provincial and municipal infrastructure reached $9 billion, an all-time high last year. This is an incredible amount of money for taxpayers to be spending on municipal and provincial infrastructure at the federal level. The good news is that we have achieved results in exchange for the dollars spent.

I am looking at a graph demonstrating the average age of a core piece of infrastructure in Canada. The average age was 17 years a decade ago. Today, it is 14.5 years. We have now reached the stage that our infrastructure is the most youthful it has been since the 1980s. This fact is the result of a massive build-up of new infrastructure and a renewal by communities of their infrastructure assets. This is an objective way of measuring the quality and the renewal of the infrastructure that the Canadian people use. I am pleased to report to the House that this objective measurement points to improvements in the degree of renewal of infrastructure across the country. Therefore, we are getting results for the Canadian people.

The NDP members will always want us to spend more money. I would remind them it is true that government can give people everything they want, but it will have to take everything they have in order to pay for it.

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I am sure Montrealers would not notice the new infrastructure the member across the way talked about. Furthermore, he twisted my words and took them out of context again in implying that we desire an increase in the gas tax. I will say it again, this time in the other official language. For every litre of gas that is bought at the pump, the federal government takes 10¢ out of the pockets of taxpayers and only gives back 5¢.

The member says repeatedly that we want to take money out of taxpayers' pockets. Actually, we want to give it back. The Conservatives play both sides of the coin. They denounce taxes and then secretly like the revenue that those taxes bring in. Because of this cynical political play, they lose an opportunity to be smart leaders on the economy.

I like many of the members across the way personally as people, but as policy-makers I find them to be incredibly lazy and complacent. If the government explained to Canadians honestly how the gas tax works, how it contributes to healthy infrastructure repair, maintenance and creation, they would have an opportunity to renew our infrastructure.

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, what the hon. member does not state in his question is that it is true only a portion of the gas tax that people pay at the pumps is remitted to the municipalities for infrastructure, but the additional portion is also used as part of general revenues to fund direct projects that the federal government engages in.

The reality is those dollars are accounted for. Every penny that people pay in gas tax is already dedicated to projects across the country. If the hon. member wants to increase the amount of gas tax credit transfer to the municipalities, he will have to raise the gas tax itself. Money does not grow on trees. The government cannot give something without first taking it away. The hon. member and his party are proposing a tax increase, and we just disagree.

7:25 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, on November 4, I asked the Minister of the Environment why the government seemed to be shutting off funding for the Lake Superior binational program and I received a dismissive answer.

The minister's answer called into question the information I had received from Lake Superior Binational Forum members, while leaving some faint hope that the funding would appear at the 11th hour.

We have since learned that funding has indeed dried up for Binational Forum, which is an important component of the binational program, a program designed to restore the graded areas and protect Lake Superior as a unique headwater from pollution and urbanization.

For those who are not familiar with this body, the Binational Forum is as grassroots as it gets. It brings the stakeholder communities from Lake Superior together to ensure the work done by the binational program, and ultimately the International Joint Commission, reflects the experiences, needs, abilities and opinions of basin communities.

It has been served by volunteers, many of whom have served for the full 20 years the forum has been in existence. Indeed, my colleague, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, who is with me today, was the co-founder and first Canadian co-chair of the forum.

The work of the forum has been lauded by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the International Joint Commission and even in Environment Canada's 2011 report on the lakewide management plan.

The decision to cut funding has destroyed the ability of the forum to function. If Canadian participants want to continue attending the meetings, they will have to pay out of their own pockets. With no Canadian participation, the vehicle designed to support the binational program cannot perform its function.

What dismays many members, who were part of the original proposal, is that they, along with many others, have contributed thousands of hours of personal time and the government has not seen fit, or even find it necessary, to consult, notify or even thank them. There was no communication at all, just silence and ultimately a letter confirming the disappearance of the Canadian funding, which was in response to Mr. Glen Dale's email.

Why has the government unilaterally walked away from long-standing funding for the coordination of the Canadian component of the Lake Superior Binational Forum? Has the government informed other parties, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency of this decision? Where is the government's sense of decency and consideration and commitment to protecting Lake Superior? Why have we reached the point that long-time volunteers are lauded one year and cut loose the next, without even being made aware of the decision until well after the fact?

It is interesting, because we certainly have to look at what the project was actually meant for, why the forum was put in place. It is a demonstration project for zero discharge of persistent toxic substances and sustainable ecosystem management and has played a crucial role.

Mr. Dale received a letter from the minister, which says:

Having completed this review process, I regret to inform you that my department is unable to provide funding for the coordination of the Canadian component of the Lake Superior Binational Forum this year.

What impact will that have on the Canadian component? That is what I want to know. I hope the parliamentary secretary will be able to answer the questions I have just asked.

7:30 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Speaker, our government is firmly committed to the environmental stewardship of the Great Lakes, like Lake Huron in my riding of Simcoe--Grey. Our government continues to work with our U.S. partners in order to achieve shared objectives toward the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes.

Each year, Environment Canada receives a tremendous number of excellent proposals seeking support for a range of activities which contribute to the protection of environmental quality. As stewards of taxpayers' money, we institute a rigorous process to evaluate these proposals and to ensure that our funds were allocated to the highest quality proposals supporting our top priorities.

The Lake Superior binational forum did not receive funding this fiscal year in that review process. However, work on Lake Superior continues through a number of initiatives, including the binational lakewide management plan, which is co-operatively restoring and protecting the ecosystem of the Great Lakes.

As well, on January 23 of this year the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment joined the member for York—Simcoe to announce an additional $215,000 to restore the shoreline at Elmhurst Beach, part of the government's initiative under the Lake Simcoe clean up fund.

The Government of Canada continues to invest resources in addressing high priority issues in the Great Lakes. Budget 2011 provided new funding to address the recurrence of toxic and nuisance algae in the Great Lakes. Budget 2010 provided $8 million per year for remediation of areas of concern in the Great Lakes.

The governments of Canada and the United States are currently engaged in the negotiation of amendments to the Great Lakes water quality agreement to ensure that it remains relevant and effective in addressing current and future challenges. This is the keystone agreement that ensures that Canada and the United States work together to address environmental problems and protect the waters of the Great Lakes.

The amended Great Lakes water quality agreement will continue the work on each of the Great Lakes, areas of concern in the Great Lakes and issues of concern. Through the amended Great Lakes water quality agreement, the Great Lakes community will be provided with meaningful opportunities to participate in activities that support the restoration and protection of the Great Lakes.

February 16th, 2012 / 7:30 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the intervention. The member seemed to be focused on Lake Simcoe. We are talking about Lake Superior here.

We see that the Government of Canada has made a decision which essentially destroys the ability of the forum to function as a key part of the Lake Superior binational program. It signals an end to the dialogue that has occurred at the local level. Smaller communities in particular will be further distanced from participating in decision-making and activities that will affect them.

Ultimately, we have learned that the government has more money for fake lakes than it does for our biggest Great Lake, the biggest one in the world. It has more money for self-promotion than it does for the communities of Lake Superior to work with their basin neighbours on a common plan that protects this world-famous and entirely unique body of water.

I would like to bring the House's attention to the fact that here are the transfer payments that the government has said are no longer required under its 2011 estimates for environment. They include the contributions to support environmental and sustainable development initiatives to the tune of $22 million.

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Madam Speaker, I will point out to the member opposite, as I mentioned, before that work on Lake Superior continues through a number of initiatives, including the binational lakewide management plan, which is co-operatively restoring and protecting the ecosystem of this Great Lake.

Negotiations on a new Great Lakes water quality agreement are progressing. They will ensure meaningful opportunities for public participation in restoration and protection of the Great Lakes.

As we look to the future and the implementation of the Great Lakes water quality agreement, the Government of Canada will explore mechanisms to enhance engagement and support the restoration and protection of all the Great Lakes.

7:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:34 p.m.)