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Last in Parliament September 2008, as Liberal MP for Saint John (New Brunswick)

Lost his last election, in 2008, with 38.13% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Infrastructure February 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, the government's $33 billion plan really should be named the failing Canada plan.

Members should check out this deception: over $18 billion from previous Liberal programs, over $6 billion that cities cannot even apply for.

Cities feel like our children after two years of Conservative child care, or our aboriginals after the betrayal on Kelowna, or New Brunswickers after the deception on equalization, all abandoned by the Conservative government. When will the government provide real funding for our cities?

Infrastructure February 8th, 2008

Mr. Speaker, Canada's big city mayors are meeting in Ottawa today to discuss how they can avert the looming crisis in municipal infrastructure.

The government has done nothing to help Canada's communities with the $123 billion infrastructure deficit that they face.

In December, this House passed a motion calling for action by the government to make the gas tax permanent.

The government should stop insulting our mayors. When will it act and give cities the funding they previously received from Liberal governments?

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

No, there is not Mr. Speaker.

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I think that the hon. member shares the Liberal Party's interest in investing in cities and communities in the country. It is really important for all members to acknowledge that there is not just a $123 billion infrastructure deficit in the country but there is also a growing gap in poverty. This party's commitment to improving the lives of Canadians who are living below the poverty level has been made very clear by the leader of our party, the Leader of the Opposition. He--

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I am very aware of the hon. member's commitment and interest in municipal infrastructure. He has been a strong advocate for the national, provincial and municipal governments working together.

In the 1993 election platform of the Liberal Party, Canada's infrastructure investments, the Canada strategic infrastructure fund and the municipal rural infrastructure fund, all of those programs were in the face of the huge deficit inherited from the previous Conservative government. There is no question it was a challenge. I want to assure the hon. member that Quebec was the very first province in Canada to recognize and sign on to the Chrétien Liberal government's Canada infrastructure program.

While I accept that there are challenges with balancing all of the moneys that we have as a Parliament of Canada to allocate to various projects, infrastructure is in a crisis. I agree with the hon. member that the gas tax and GST rebates are part of a larger problem. I would encourage the hon. member to continue to oppose the Conservative government's neo-con approach that looks at municipalities but does not have money for them. It does not have money for the mayors, councillors and communities. The Minister of Finance said they should stop their whining and do their jobs. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development said we should be cutting infrastructure programs. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities said it was a large amount of money when in fact if we go through the numbers and look at the 2005 commitment made by the previous government, we find that there was in fact an investment of $11.5 billion for municipal infrastructure which got cut by $7.5 billion by the current government.

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, I think it is a little bit rich, coming from the Conservative Party members, to use the number $33 billion. The hon. member, as a former municipal councillor, will well understand the various previous Liberal infrastructure programs that were all re-gifted and repackaged into a program called “building Canada”, when in fact “building Canada” has very little left in the funds to build.

I would ask the member a rhetorical question. Perhaps he would want to go back to his caucus and to his leader and ask whether they are absolutely committed to funding cities and communities.

It is clear to me, when we dissect the numbers, that in the 2005 budget of the member for Wascana there was an $11.5 billion allocation to cities and communities. In the government's 2007 budget that amount was cut by $7.5 billion.

How does the hon. member want to explain a $7.5 billion cut to the cities and communities of this country? Surely the voters of Burlington will ask him that question if and when he ever goes back to the polls.

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Prime Minister went on to say that the federal “government will not seek to create 'boutique' programs or intrude into new areas like municipal policy and education”. If this view was not clear enough from the 2004 Conservative Party platform, it also said:

The reality is that the federal government does not focus enough attention on its core responsibilities. It is spending too much time on issues better left to the provinces and the municipalities. Infrastructure is an excellent example.

I guess we should not be surprised when the Prime Minister flatly refuses to be involved in any discussion with municipal issues with Premier McGuinty of Ontario.

The reaction by the Minister of Finance to the concerns of cities is even worse. In response to the FCM report, the minister told municipalities that they should quit their whining, that the federal government is not in the pothole business. That is pretty rich coming from the former Ontario finance minister who is largely responsible for the financial difficulties that Ontario cities find themselves in today.

I could not say it better than Carol Goar of the Toronto Star who wrote of the finance minister and said:

A decade ago, he was a senior minister in the Ontario government that imposed a massive restructuring plan on the province's cities. It forced municipalities to assume half the cost of welfare, disability payments and an array of social services. It downloaded the province's aging stock of public housing on local governments, with a one-time repair grant. And it cut off funding for child care and public transit....

Not only is [the Minister of Finance] refusing to take responsibility for a mess he helped create; he is insulting the victims. Not only is he behaving like a bully with cash spilling out of his pockets, he is expecting voters to thank him for his fiscal rectitude.

Canadian municipalities are struggling. When I hear the Minister of Transport talk about $33 billion in Canadian municipality funding and referring to it as unprecedented, we need to quickly look at those numbers.

First, the $33 billion includes $5.8 billion to fund the GST rebate to municipalities. That was a Liberal initiative. We are now down to $27.2 billion. The funding also includes $11.8 billion for the new deal for cities. Not only is that a Liberal program, but the Prime Minister repeatedly said that he would surely not provide that funding and opposed the money for municipalities. Surely the transport minister would not suggest that he gave that money to the cities. The fund also includes funding for a Pacific Gateway.

The commitment of the government actually dries down to less than $7 billion over seven years. The bottom line is that the $33 billion program that the minister speaks so highly of is, in fact, almost back to zero.

If we were to make the gas transfer permanent, it would do one thing. It would demonstrate that even though the government refuses to make a serious commitment to our cities and even though the government has shown nothing but contempt for these issues that Canada's mayors raise on a regular basis, the Liberal Party of Canada understands the very real problems that Canada's municipalities face and will work with our provinces, our municipal partners and our communities to address this very serious issue.

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

Mr. Speaker, our motion today is as follows:

That, consistent with the spirit of the Liberal New Deal for Cities and Communities, this House believes it is in the best interests of Canadians that the government should take steps to make permanent the sharing of the Federal Excise Tax on gasoline with all Canadian municipalities for the purposes of enhancing local community infrastructure.

Canada's cities are the engines that drive our economy. The continued growth and economic stability of Canadian cities are essential to provide opportunities for all Canadians. With 50% of both Canada's population and its GDP output coming from our largest 10 cities, their needs must be taken care of. To ensure the future sustainability of our economy, that is imperative.

It is also true that the development of Canadian cities will play a major role in determining how well we succeed in the global economy. As pointed out by the former Liberal prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, “In a world in which talent, capital and ideas are globally mobile, it's Toronto and Montreal vs. Shanghai and Bangalore; Ottawa vs. Helsinki; Vancouver vs. San Francisco”.

At the other end of the spectrum, it cannot be overlooked that cities are where most Canadians live, work and play. They are our homes and our neighbourhoods. Our standard of living is directly related to the recreational, cultural and educational opportunities that are available in our cities.

It is a standard of living which relies on a strong, viable and sustainable infrastructure that allows us to take advantage of these opportunities. By and large, that responsibility is left to the municipal level of government. It is simple: municipal governments must have proper support to carry out that mandate.

I am very proud to be a member of a party that for over a decade engaged Canada's municipal leaders in an attempt to improve the quality of life in Canada's cities. Right from the very first budget brought in by the Chrétien government in 1994, Liberal governments made progressive investments in infrastructure across the country. The infrastructure Canada program, the Canada strategic infrastructure fund, the municipal rural infrastructure fund and other Liberal programs invested $12 billion in Canada's municipalities.

Even while the member for LaSalle—Émard was working to tackle the deficit monster that Canadians inherited from the previous Conservative government under former prime minister Mulroney, he and the rest of the Liberal cabinet ensured that Canadian cities did not go without and that key infrastructure investments were made throughout the 1990s.

However, investing in infrastructure projects was only the first step in a long term policy and funding framework that Canadian municipalities badly needed. Municipalities need this even more so today. The fact is that Canadian cities are attempting to address 21st century policy needs under a model designed in the 19th century.

Unlike the vast majority of municipalities throughout the United States and western Europe, the majority of revenue for cities and communities in Canada comes from property taxes. Despite the fact that cities are expected to provide social services, immigration counselling, housing, public transit, roads, policing and a whole host of other measures, there has not been any change in the funding model for cities in Canada for over 150 years.

We cannot expect Canadian municipalities to fund welfare programs, immigration services and numerous other aspects of Canada's social safety net on the back of property taxes. Property taxes are ill-suited to funding these kinds of services.

If a widow owns a home in downtown Fort McMurray, Alberta, it is entirely possible that the value of her home has gone up fivefold or tenfold, but she is still living on a fixed income. Should we really be demanding that she pay 10 times the property taxes she paid a decade ago despite the fact that she is living on the same income? I certainly think not.

The biggest single reason for the increased scope of responsibilities of the cities is the steps taken by governments in the 1990s to tackle the ballooning deficit problem. Responsibilities for a wide array of policy fields were downloaded to lower levels of government without providing them adequate resources with which to manage the burden.

Cities, with no one to download responsibilities to, have been left with the duty to deal with all of the issues that have been heaped upon them. Legally, cities are not allowed to run operating deficits, although some can fund capital projects through deficit financing. The City of Edmonton, for example, has had a balanced operating budget for some time, but in 2005 its long term debt increased from $417 million to $470 million due to capital expenditures. Interest payments alone are more than $20 million annually.

As a result, although it appears from an operating perspective that municipalities have been able to manage things without getting into financial trouble, municipal debt levels are increasing right across Canada.

City after city and community after community across the country have to choose between long term investments in infrastructure versus meeting the day to day demand to balance the operating budgets. Most cities cannot even keep up with the day to day demands of their new responsibilities. They are desperately looking for new funds.

In an attempt to address this fundamental imbalance, the Liberal government worked extensively with its municipal and provincial partners to begin the process of building the long term fiscal capacity of Canada's municipalities and communities.

In budget 2004, the Chrétien government announced that the federal government would fully refund municipalities all of the GST that they were required to pay out. Alone, this simple step provides municipalities with more than $700 million per year in revenue.

In 2005 the Liberal government went one step further, announcing its new deal for cities, which would begin sharing the federal excise tax on gasoline with municipal governments. In the 2008-09 fiscal year the program comes fully of age and provides municipalities, I am proud to say, $2 billion in funding annually.

However, the program will eventually come to an end. It is legislated to stop providing money to municipalities in 2014. The motion that we are debating today would call upon the federal government to make permanent the gas tax transfer to municipalities.

Why is this so important? The answer is very simple: proper municipal planning. In order for cities to be able to adequately plan their investments in infrastructure and ensure they can replace key components in a timely and orderly fashion, they need to be assured of their income streams.

This is especially key for municipalities, because most of them are not allowed to take on deficit financing for large scale capital projects, so unless they can be fully assured of long term income streams, they simply cannot manage their local infrastructure. Making the gas tax transfer a permanent feature of federal government budgets would go part of the way toward providing Canadian municipalities with the long term funding they need to address their community and infrastructure needs.

Some members of the House may be wondering why municipal infrastructure is so important. They may be asking why we should care. In fact, I am guessing that the Minister of Finance is asking why he should be filling potholes.

On November 20 of this year, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released an extremely important report, which showed that as a whole Canadian municipalities face a $123 billion infrastructure deficit. The FCM press release states, “The physical foundations of Canada's cities and communities are 'near collapse'”.

It went on to say:

Canada's economy and quality of life and the health and safety of Canadians depend on the infrastructure our municipalities build and own, yet we don't have the resources to maintain it. If we don't act soon as a nation to tackle this deficit, we see more catastrophic failures in our roads, bridges, water supply and other vital infrastructure. Continued delay is unthinkable....

The $123-billion figure, when compared with earlier estimates, clearly shows the municipal infrastructure deficit is growing faster than previously thought. Most municipal infrastructure was built between the 1950s and 1970s, and much of it is due for replacement. As assets reach the end of their service life, repair and replacement costs skyrocket. Across Canada, municipal infrastructure has reached the breaking point.

I do not think that any member of the House should be surprised by any of the statements from the FCM. Just to take recreational infrastructure as an example, each and every one of us has either a memorial rink or a centennial pool in our ridings. Let us think about those facilities. Many of them are in serious disrepair and are in need of a facelift, if not an outright replacement.

Liberal infrastructure programs started helping to address those needs, as they did in Sault Ste. Marie, where the Sault Memorial Gardens were replaced by a new arena, or in Grand Bay, New Brunswick, where partnership with the province and the municipality constructed new recreational facilities.

Let me give members another example. Montreal is one of the largest cities in our country and is home to millions of people. It is also a city where there are very high property values. This might suggest that the city would be able to take on significant projects, yet even in Montreal, the FCM found, there are serious problems with the city's water and waste water systems. According to the report, 33% of its sewage pipe stock reached the end of its life in 2002, yet there is no plan to provide comprehensive support to Montreal's water system.

Should the government sit on the sidelines while the water system of one of Canada's largest cities continues to deteriorate? Montreal is an example of a city that has a pretty good water and waste water system right now. However, there are many communities across the country where raw sewage is dumped into our lakes and rivers.

Team Saint John lobbied long and hard to have all levels of government agree on harbour cleanup as a priority. We are now beginning the even greater task of renewing and replacing water pipes and systems at a cost in excess of $150 million, and that is just one of dozens of infrastructure projects in Saint John, New Brunswick, my community. The sister communities of Rothesay and Quispamsis are typical of hundreds of communities across the country that need new roads, new water treatment facilities and new recreational facilities to address their growing populations.

There is no doubt that urgent action is needed now. All we need to do is look to the position of the Conservative Party toward cities before it actually had the responsibility of governing.

In June 2003, the Prime Minister said that he was opposed to the new deal for cities. It is true. He opposed transferring the gas tax to municipalities. He said, “That the federal government should have its own new deal with municipalities is not a view I would subscribe to”. That is not all he said.

In 2004, when he was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, the Prime Minister said, A Stephen Harper government will not seek to create “boutique” programs--

Business of Supply December 6th, 2007

moved:

That, consistent with the spirit of the Liberal New Deal for Cities and Communities, this House believes it is in the best interest of Canadians, that the government should take steps to make permanent the sharing of the Federal Excise Tax on Gasoline with all Canadian municipalities for the purpose of enhancing local community infrastructure.

Infrastructure December 3rd, 2007

Mr. Speaker, in the 2005 Liberal budget, we announced $11.5 billion for infrastructure. Yet the government's 2007 budget only included $4 billion. That is a $7.5 billion cut.

City councillors were protesting outside Parliament today. All of Canada's mayors want to know one thing: When can they get their money back from the government?