House of Commons Hansard #214 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was infrastructure.

Topics

Transparency of Payments Made by Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations to Foreign Governments Act
Routine Proceedings

February 26th, 2013 / 10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-474, An Act respecting the promotion of financial transparency, improved accountability and long-term economic sustainability through the public reporting of payments made by mining, oil and gas corporations to foreign governments.

Mr. Speaker, thank you for reading out the very extended name of that bill. We are calling it, for want of a better term, the sunshine bill, because it is intended to shine a light on the whole business of murky payments that go on in some transactions with respect to the obtaining and retaining of mining licences.

The bill needs to be situated in a worldwide effort to deal with some of these more odious practices that mining companies find themselves in. In particular, the U.S. has passed legislation called the Cardin-Lugar amendment, which is based upon the Dodd-Frank bill. It essentially says that these payments need to be disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and if they are not disclosed, then that company would be delisted from U.S. stock exchanges.

The U.K., the EU, Australia and others are trying to engage in this international effort, so the bill is to be situated in that entire international effort to close these loopholes and to deal with these kinds of practices.

I look forward to the debate and I look forward to support from my colleagues.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-475, An Act to amend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (order-making power).

Mr. Speaker, over the past several years Canadians have witnessed what the Conservative privacy agenda has to offer: online snooping bills and inaction on data breaches.

Today I am presenting the NDP's vision of personal information protection. This bill will encourage compliance with Canadian laws and ensure that individuals are notified when their information has been compromised.

In our increasingly digital world, Canadians can no longer wait for the government to modernize our outdated privacy laws. Inaction means greater risk to the security of the personal information of millions of children, seniors and all other Canadians online.

Canadians and Quebeckers should feel perfectly safe using new digital technology. We can encourage Internet users to be fully involved in the digital economy by giving them the confidence to put personal information online.

My bill proposes positive and balanced privacy protections that are needed in the digital age.

I hope that all of the members in the House will vote in favour of this much-needed legislation so that the privacy of their constituents, their children and their families will be well protected.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

moved:

That this House call on the government to commit in Budget 2013 to a long-term, predictable and accountable federal infrastructure plan in partnership with other levels of government, as recommended by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in order to: (a) improve Canada's lagging productivity; (b) shorten commute times; and (c) fix Canada's crumbling infrastructure.

Mr. Speaker, across the country, getting to work on time is becoming a luxury. Congestion and overcrowded public transit make it harder and harder to get to work on time. From coast to coast, frustrated commuters tell the same stories.

In Toronto, angry office workers stand in the cold while jam-packed street cars rush by. Even if they get on, they are packed in like sardines. In Vancouver suburbs, impatient mothers who have to drop off their kids at school wait forever for a bus to arrive. In Montreal, frustrated college students are late for their classes and jobs because of delays and breakdowns in the aging Metro system.

The average commute time in the Toronto area has reached 82 minutes per day, which is far worse than New York City and Los Angeles, and Vancouver and Montreal are not doing much better. Eighty-two minutes is more than most parents get to spend with their kids playing and reading. Eighty-two minutes means a missed dinner with a partner for hard-working couples. Eighty-two minutes means less time to study and prepare for class for college students.

Traffic gridlock is costing our economy $10 billion a year, with $6 billion in the greater Toronto area alone. At $10 billion, it is more than the GDP of all three territories and P.E.I. combined. In fact, it is bigger than the budget for six provinces. It is huge. This is $10 billion that we lose every year because of gridlock and traffic jams.

For companies, it means less productivity and less competitiveness against their American counterparts. Ultimately, it means fewer jobs; 26,000 fewer jobs in the GTA alone. For parents, it means less time to see their kids grow up. For all levels of government, it means less tax revenue. Therefore, gridlock is a problem we can no longer afford.

Canada's infrastructure problems go beyond the lack of public transit and rising commute times. One out of five roads is in poor or very poor condition. That means potholes and car-sized sinkholes in Ottawa. It means damaged car suspensions. Overpasses and bridges in Montreal and Toronto are becoming unsafe. The Gardiner Expressway has rained concrete six or seven times this year alone on the traffic and pedestrians below.

There are also 200 communities struggling with backwater. The water looks cloudy or tastes and smells funny. In half of these communities, one cannot drink the water without boiling it first or one will get sick. How sad is this, given that clean water is a human right in a country that has the world's largest freshwater supply?

We have unsafe water systems and problems with the roads and bridges that we can no longer afford, and these are not isolated cases. Communities from coast to coast to coast are struggling with lack of transit, potholed roads and unsafe drinking water. They are calling for federal help. They want a long-term federal plan for infrastructure, and they are not alone. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, representing over 2,000 municipal leaders, is calling for a long-term infrastructure plan to be included in the 2013 federal budget, and so is the Canada West Foundation, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Engineers Canada, and the Canadian Construction Association.

From coast to coast to coast, union groups, organizations and municipal leaders are all calling for the same thing, which is a long-term, predictable and accountable infrastructure plan.

Why is it that the Minister of Transport does not want to listen to mayors and city councillors? Why are commuters and working families ignored by the Conservatives? Why does the minister not want to ride the Toronto subway with me at rush hour so that he can experience the crowded trains, see the commuters left behind on the platform and experience their frustration and anger over lost time?

It is curious that even before today's debate, the minister said last night that he would vote against my motion. He said that before he even listened to the motion. He said no without any debate. He said no without listening to Canadians. He said no without listening to parliamentarians. Frankly, that is contempt for the House of Commons.

Maybe I can guess the reason. Perhaps it is because Conservatives prefer to provide on-and-off funding, which frustrates cities that need predictable funding. Perhaps it is because the Conservatives want a photo op every few days, rather than a 20-year plan that would allow cities to make long-term plans. Maybe it is because they want to hand out gigantic cheques to their insider friends as a reward. Maybe it is because the Conservatives are afraid that if we have a fair distribution that uses objective criteria for funding and for measuring success, they will not be able to make decisions based on partisan considerations. That could be the reason.

The building Canada fund has been too unpredictable and too beholden to partisan interests to really help municipalities. Municipalities now have an infrastructure deficit of $171 billion. That is a huge amount of money on the shoulders of people who pay property taxes. Someone has to pay; the question is who. The people who are paying are those who pay property taxes, those on fixed income, seniors, those who really cannot afford much more. These are the ones who are shouldering this huge deficit of $171 billion. That is why municipalities want an accountable and predictable long-term funding plan. They are tired of a grant system that is used like a lottery. They want a merit-based, predictable transfer.

All the federal government has to do is listen to cities and communities across Canada that have been calling for the same thing for years. They want a federal plan with secure supports for at least 20 years, not a two-year funding cycle. That is how long it takes to develop and build and maintain a long-term infrastructure program, whether it is transit, roads or drinking water.

Our cities need funding that is predictable. Our cities need funding that is allocated in a non-partisan way, like the existing gas tax, on a per capita basis. Our cities need a plan whereby funding grows with non-political measures, such as the economy, population and ridership growth forecasts. Our cities need a plan that has clear criteria and clear targets, targets like cutting specific commute times. We know that what gets measured gets managed, gets results and gets built. Our cities need a plan based on partnership among jurisdictions so that funding can reach provincial and municipal levels of government and the private sector. Our cities and companies need a plan that encourages innovation, efficiency and sustainability so that we can make our transit system greener and unleash Canada's creative potential.

We hope that members of Parliament across the way will stand up for a better quality of life, stand up for a stronger economy and support a long-term federal infrastructure plan so that we can get Canada moving again.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to thank the member for Trinity—Spadina for her incredible leadership in this area.

Over the past few months, we have met with dozens of municipal representatives across Canada, and not a single one was opposed to the motion moved by my colleague this morning. It is unanimous. There is something much larger than a consensus on this issue. It would appear that there are anywhere from 150 to 200 people who are prepared to vote against this motion, namely the Conservatives on the other side.

Am I right? Did my colleague find even one organization that has reservations about this motion, or have I understood correctly and people are unanimous in their support? Is there really a consensus about what needs to happen with Canada's infrastructure?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. No, there is not one organization or municipality, from coast to coast to coast, and no level of government, that has said that it prefers a grant lottery system. They want long-term, predictable funding. They want a transfer that would help cut commute times. They need to know that three, five, or even ten years down the road, when they have started building one subway, that other subway stations will also be built.

I will give Toronto as an example of what has happened. It dug a hole on Eglinton Avenue to build a subway station. It ran out of money, so it filled up the hole, wasting millions of dollars. Now it thinks that maybe it will have some money, and it is digging the hole again. I am not kidding. It is true. Come and watch it happening on Eglinton Avenue in Toronto. Millions of dollars are being wasted. At least 15 years have been wasted. In the meantime, the commuters are waiting and waiting and are being packed in like sardines.

That is not happening just in big cities. It is also happening in small and rural municipalities. For example, Ontario rural municipalities are meeting today and tomorrow, and they met yesterday. They are talking about infrastructure, roads and drinking water. Every organization, whether a business organization, chamber of commerce, board of trade, foundation, construction company or Engineers Canada has said the same thing. They want a long-term, predictable and accountable infrastructure plan from the federal government.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we recognize that there is a huge infrastructure deficit from coast to coast to coast. Municipalities have a huge demand. Whether it is repairing roads or rapid transit, it is absolutely critical that these municipalities throughout the country have the resources to get some of the work done. The federal government has a great deal more access to a larger pool of revenue that ultimately could assist in facilitating this infrastructure.

My question is in regard to how important it is for the Government of Canada to recognize that whether it likes it or not, it has a role to play in building our country through our infrastructure, especially nowadays, when there is a lot of concern about the infrastructure deficit and how the economy itself is performing.

The government could do two things. One would be to improve the economic climate. The other would be to build needed infrastructure.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is really only one taxpayer. For every dollar this person pays in taxes, 8¢ goes to the municipality. Yet the municipality has to take care of 60%, or six out of 10, infrastructure projects across Canada. They just cannot do it.

For the same taxpayer, from the same dollar, 45¢, almost half of his money, goes to the federal government. We cannot have the federal government walking away and saying that it is not its responsibility. The federal government collects the taxes. The least it could do is transfer a portion of it back to the municipalities so that they can take care of the 60% of the infrastructure that is crumbling right now. It needs $171 billion. That is the deficit in infrastructure managed by municipalities.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel privileged to rise here this morning to speak to this motion, since it directly affects everyone in my riding, all Quebeckers and all Canadians. Indeed, infrastructure has a direct impact on our daily lives, for better or for worse—and for the past few years, it has been for worse.

More and more studies and reports have been done across Canada over the years, and their findings are consistent. Analysts have reached the same conclusions: it is time to increase our investment in infrastructure and establish programs that allow municipalities to plan their investment programs over the long term.

That is precisely what today's NDP motion is calling for, and as my colleague, the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, explained so well, this motion contains three key requests: to improve Canada's lagging productivity, shorten commute times and fix Canada's infrastructure, whose condition ranges from good to mediocre.

The beautiful thing about these three requests is that working on our infrastructure will allow improvements in all three areas at once.

As we can see, these requests are very specific. They raise economic concerns, and at the same time, highlight issues that affect the daily lives of millions of Canadians, such as commute times.

Finally, the funding of our municipal infrastructure affects each and every one us. It affects the quality of the water that we drink and our access to and use of airports and energy facilities.

Canadians expect the Conservative government to take major positive action in terms of their infrastructure. I say “their infrastructure” because the condition of roads, water systems and bridges and the smooth flow of public transit are issues that affect and concern all Canadians. It is the government's responsibility to quickly meet their expectations. Canadians know that it is time to make major, long-term investments in things that make this country run smoothly.

What can the federal government do, or rather, what is the Conservative government not doing that it should be doing?

A recent Le Devoir headline aptly stated that Canada's infrastructure deficit continues to grow. What does that mean in practical terms?

There is no question that the federal government's contribution to infrastructure is becoming increasingly meagre. Insufficient funding in this area is nothing new, but nothing is currently being done to catch up to other countries. If nothing is done, the bill will just continue to grow as our bridges, roads and water systems age and crumble. Unfortunately, that is what is happening.

In 1980, the value of public infrastructure was 30% of GDP. It is now down to 22% of GDP. This means that our infrastructure is aging, that it is not withstanding the test of time and that its value is dropping while the country's population and needs are increasing. A modern, competitive country cannot let its infrastructure crumble.

To maintain an acceptable level, close to 3% of GDP must be invested annually. The government must take action immediately.

The federal government has reduced its share of investment contributions, which now falls below 15%. It is not because infrastructure costs less than it used to—quite the contrary. That is clear.

The federal government is sticking municipalities with the bill. Municipalities are responsible for 52% of infrastructure, while the provinces are responsible for about 35%. The issue is not just the federal government's transfer of responsibility or debt to the municipal level; the problem is much more complex than that. The municipalities simply do not have the means or tax leverage to take on this enormous responsibility alone. Without the federal government's commitment, our infrastructure will not be modernized and very few municipalities will have the means to invest in the Canada of tomorrow.

The federal government has spent many, many months consulting over 200 municipal, provincial and territorial representatives. For several months now, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has been talking about a sustainable plan. In his speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in November 2012, the minister said:

We can all agree that Canada needs a sustainable public infrastructure investment plan to replace the Building Canada Plan in 2014…A plan that will work well into the future.

For lack of a cabinet shuffle the same minister will be voting against the motion that my colleague moved this morning. I was pleased when I heard the minister's statement, but now I would like to see him take action. A long-term plan is exactly what municipalities and the NDP have been asking for, but the minister has never wanted to specify what he means by “long-term”. It seems that three, four or five years could be considered the long term. Or it could be 10 or 15 years. No one knows.

The NDP's position is clear: we believe that a 20-year plan would provide municipalities with the means to truly plan out their investments and would ensure that Canadians and future generations get the basic services needed by communities. If to govern is to plan—to the best of my knowledge, Clemenceau said that—then we should start planning today, assuming the government really does want to govern on behalf of all Canadians.

It is always easy to cut infrastructure spending in order to balance the budget more quickly. However, economic studies prove that such cuts and temporary underfunding have a dramatic impact on subsequent generations. Our children will have to pay for the Conservatives' short-term vision. We are hanging an environmental millstone around the necks of future generations, which will have a hard time overcoming the problems they inherit from us. The Conservatives are about to do the same thing with the economy.

Studies clearly show that government programs for municipal infrastructure have helped significantly slow deficit growth since 2008. These programs are effective. We must keep them going over a longer period. The federal government must commit to bringing in predictable, sustainable long-term funding.

When the government provides only ad hoc funding, long-term projects—such as public transportation—are not eligible for funding. Periodic reviews are needed to ensure that targets are met and to adjust funding. In Quebec, the municipalities already assume the vast majority of the financial responsibility for municipal infrastructure spending without any financial return. The federal government recovers nearly 30% of its investments in financial returns, which shows what a big, impressive economic driver this government can be. It is clear that the federal government must play an active role and commit to making the existing programs permanent.

For five years the NDP has been calling for a permanent infrastructure program to take care of this problem instead of dumping it on local governments.

Since I am quickly running out of time, I will conclude by saying that the federal government must act immediately. Since the building Canada fund expires in 2014 and the money has all been spent already, Canadian municipalities need to know now what to expect so that they can plan carefully and efficiently. Since every $1 billion invested in infrastructure helps create 11,000 jobs, job growth and economic productivity are partially tied to funding from the federal government. Canada cannot afford to ignore this opportunity for growth.

The NDP has heard from representatives of the UMQ, the FQM, the FCM, chambers of commerce, the Toronto Board of Trade, the Canadian Urban Transit Association and Engineers Canada, to name a few, and they all agree that now is the time to play catch-up with upgrading our infrastructure maintenance.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, again, I would like to emphasize the importance of the infrastructure dollars. For municipalities to make long-term plans, they need to have a sense of how much money they can anticipate.

Let us take a look at a municipality, and I will use Winnipeg as an example, that will often have five-year capital type projects. When making plans for those projects, it has to take into consideration what it can anticipate coming from different levels of government.

That is one of the reasons we believe it is important that there be a tangible dollar figure that would allow municipal governments to plan their infrastructures and the type of programs they would like to, ultimately, develop or put into place—this whole concept of multi-year budgeting, if we can put it that way.

I wonder if the member would comment as to the benefits of that multi-year planning or budgets that would allow municipalities from across Canada to know they can count on this kind of money going forward, so that they would be able to plan in the long run for these larger, more expensive capital infrastructure programs.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question. My response is simple: it allows them to make smart choices.

Once a stable, long-term, ongoing infrastructure spending program is put in place, then decisions can be made in light of the budget envelope. If I have a specific funding envelope to spread over the next 20 years, I could implement more costly projects, for example.

On the other hand, managing infrastructure improvements on a short-term basis implies that I must choose projects based on the budget envelope allocated for one, two or three years.

I may not commit and I may not lock my community in to more costly projects, even though they are just as necessary. However, if I had the means to look ahead, I could make that commitment.

The government needs to change one key element in its approach. It needs to think of infrastructure improvements as an investment, not as an expenditure. Once the issue is seen in that light, everything changes, I swear.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the members for Trois-Rivières and Trinity—Spadina.

This is a critical motion for Canada. I am extremely surprised to hear the members opposite, the government, say that they will vote against it, even though this issue plagues all of our municipalities.

Over the past three weeks, two major streets—La Vérendrye Boulevard and Gatineau Avenue—in my riding of Gatineau, were completely closed to traffic. There were major problems and potholes as big as craters. The needs are obvious, and Gatineau is no different from other Canadian municipalities. For more than 10 years, I have heard the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies and other groups repeat the same thing over and over. They are telling us to take action because major infrastructure problems will create bigger issues and will cost Canadians.

I want to ask the member for Trois-Rivières why the Conservatives are closing the door on Canadian municipalities. I do not understand.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, at this point, we know that the minister will vote against the motion. Perhaps the rest of his party will not, and that would be amusing.

They will vote against the motion out of pure partisanship. Having talked with the minister many times, I would say that, when it comes right down to it, he has no choice but to agree with the motion.

For once, could we forget about the political games and work together to serve Canadians?