Mr. Speaker, it is like being in Back to the Future , if anyone has seen that movie. We had this discussion back in June. It is the same sequel and the same cast of characters, but at least the Alliance, for a change, is being somewhat consistent. The fact is, as everyone knows, I have said many times that when it comes to municipal government issues that party's sincerity is somewhat interesting since it historically has never supported municipal governments in the past. I will go through an array of issues with them.
It is very good to talk about a little history. For those who obviously are not aware, first of all, my friend and colleague from Dauphin—Swan River and I worked together over the years through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities when I was president of that organization. I remember the very dry days back then, when the government of the day did not even entertain the issue of national infrastructure.
In fact, for those who may not remember, in 1983 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and at that time there was a $17 billion national infrastructure deficit, went to the government of the day and said, “We need to get into a tripartite arrangement on traditional infrastructure, roads, sewers, bridges, et cetera”. The government said it would entertain that. Unfortunately, the government was defeated in the 1984 election. Then along came the Progressive Conservatives, with clearly a heavy emphasis on the conservative and not on the progressive because they did not support the national infrastructure program during their entire time in office.
Therefore, it was this government and this Prime Minister that in 1993 pledged to in fact bring in the first national infrastructure program, a tripartite arrangement. True to the Prime Minister's word, in 1994 that came in and I had the pleasure of working with the government at that time as part of the FCM in terms of making sure that this program came into effect.
Since 1993 this government has invested over $12 billion, and when one leverages that, over $20 billion, in terms of national infrastructure. The fact is that the party over there opposed it in 1993 and it opposed it in 1997. It is good at that, but now that party knows it is popular and it knows that after three programs this has become extremely important.
This motion is a little weaker than it was before, but basically it is inviting the government to have discussions with the provinces on the issue of sharing a portion of the gas tax. I can tell members that this government would be more than happy to talk to the provinces and territories anytime. My concern, and I have raised this many times, is the mechanism by which, if we vacate the tax route, in fact we will be assured by the provinces and territories that municipal governments, whether they are urban or rural, will in fact get the money.
In terms of the motion before the House today, I certainly can support it, because it simply is asking that we enter into discussions. I can tell everyone that this government can do that and will do that and will hear what the provinces and territories have to say.
But the reality is that this is only a portion of the issue. The real issue is, how do we ensure that? We believe on this side of the House that if we have a tripartite arrangement all three orders of government in this country participate fully as partners. If one is going to fund a third of the money, one should have a third of the say. I have always commended the government of Alberta for the fact that the government of Alberta has always had at the table municipal, federal and provincial representatives in terms of the approvals.
The fact is that this government needs to take no lessons from the party across the way because, simply put, it is this government that not only brought in the national infrastructure program but renewed that program in 1997, in fact, if the hon. members across the way would look at the record. The problem is that when we sign agreements with the provinces, each agreement is different.
Therefore, to my good friend from British Columbia, at one time a previous government of British Columbia was suddenly ordering all sorts of buses that were showing up in municipalities and not necessarily what they wanted.
From the beginning we have said that the program must be municipally driven. As a former municipal politician, we at the municipal level know what the needs are in terms of the communities, whether it is roads, sewers, bridges, whatever. Therefore, when we look at a five and 10 year capital forecast, we want to ensure that we can put forth projects and hopefully get the support of the province and, obviously, the Government of Canada.
I have always said that if they are proposing it, then I, as a member of Parliament, support it because they obviously know what their needs are in the community. It is not up to me as a member of Parliament or up to the Government of Canada to tell a city X what its needs are. The fact is this was such an important program.
I know we are not allowed to use props so I will not show it, but in the January and February Forum of the FCM of 1997 I read an article that was devoted to infrastructure. At that time we were talking about getting the first national infrastructure program extended, and the Prime Minister was prepared to listen.
On the team Canada mission in 1997, I had the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and the premiers, except the premier of British Columbia. The Prime Minister and the premiers were prepared to entertain an extension of that program. In the end we got that extension. Some were a little later than others. Ontario was very slow. In fact it only agreed at the eleventh hour before the federal election was called in April of 1997. However we got it and it was extended. If it were not a good program, we would not have municipal governments supporting it continually.
We have a deficit in Canada when it comes to infrastructure. Had we acted in 1983, we would be in a lot better shape.
Respecting the constitutionality, municipal governments, which are creatures of the province, and I hate that term myself, they get their powers or not from the provinces, and we accept that. We also accept that there was a vital role for the government to play in a number of areas, in partnership with our municipal cousins and obviously with the provinces and territories. That over the years has been very successful.
Members also will know that we introduced the strategic infrastructure fund, another very important program, for larger projects in the urban scheme as well.
In my own area, the greater Toronto area, we were able to benefit by an announcement at the end of April of $435 million, matched by municipalities, by GO, TTC and others and by the province, finally. We were able to commit over $1 billion to improve the transportation infrastructure in the greater Toronto area. Why? Because these were proposals that they made. Not the Government of Canada, not the Ontario government, but the municipal authorities, which is very important.
I point out that when we talk about allocation of dollars, our friends across the way often talk about the fact that we are not giving enough.
I remember the days, and it is sometimes very useful to have some history behind one, when we argued at the FCM for a 10 year program. Remember that under the Conservatives we never had a program. Then when the Liberal government came in, we got a program, then we got another renewal and then we got another program. Under the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister we have committed to a 10 year infrastructure program in this budge.
I said earlier that it is important for municipal governments to plan ahead. He said that we would put a down payment on it. Of course the word that some members in this House do not use, and it is shameful they do not, is the word leveraging. It is the role of other governments and the private sector to contribute to federal funding to ensure we can advance these programs. When we talk about leveraging, it is not simply the federal government.
The provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and across the country have benefited significantly from these programs.
The hon. member in his speech this morning talked about the fact that we had to vacate this money. I am not sure how much he would like us to vacate. I assume he is also suggesting where we will find extra dollars because he will then be complaining about other federal programs that the government needs to be funding. At the same time, the government is prepared to come to the table, as we always have.
A few years ago we had Bill C-10 which was a very important issue regarding payments in lieu of taxes. In 1949 the then Liberal government had an informal agreement in which it agreed that in lieu of taxes it would pay a certain amount of money to municipal governments for services for federal properties.
I believe in 1992 under the Conservatives there was an arbitrary 10% cut. What happened was there could be a CTV building and a CBC building in a riding and one received a 10% discount. It was unfair and unreasonable and the municipality was still providing services to both.
This was something that the government had been pushing for years. Bill C-10 came to the House a few years ago. The government passed legislation which said that the Government of Canada would be treated like any other taxpayer. The government had to pay on time, otherwise it would pay interest. There would be guaranteed payments. The government would know what the assessment would be. If the government did not like the assessment on a federal property, then it would go through the procedures that every other taxpayer had to go through.
That party over there voted against it. If it really were interested in supporting municipal governments, I would have assumed it would have supported something like Bill C-10 as an example.
I would also point out that the issue here is simply accountability. I certainly believe that with municipal governments there is a new partnership. The Prime Minister launched the Prime Minister's task force on urban issues. The government made a number of recommendations. The government talked about a national transportation study, a national housing strategy and other recommendations.
Of course the naysayers over there really do not understand what it is all about. One day they will the fact that when we enter into partnerships, we are talking about true partnerships. We are talking about financial partnerships and policy issues. It is obviously hitting the right accord because even the Alliance gets it, which is good to see. I really welcome that because for years I had to deal with those on the other side who were not as positive.
The fact is we are talking about investments in cities. We also are talking about other investments. The government has done that in health care. It has done it with universities. It has done it in an array of areas such as housing which is very important. It makes these cities more liveable. Canadians cannot have liveable cities if they do not have the right infrastructure.
Provinces have the ability and the tax room that the government has. They have the same fiscal capacity as the Government of Canada. Municipal governments clearly are restrained. In some provinces they have more levers than others in terms of being able to raise taxes.
The most antiquated form of taxation I still believe is property taxes. Unfortunately they are dealing with that.
We want to see an arrangement where we can play a constructive role respecting provincial jurisdiction and at the same time work cooperatively with them. However I do not think it would be wise to simply write a cheque to province X and not have a clear direction of where that money is to go.
My colleagues on the other side talk about strings. I find that a rather odd statement because to me there has to be accountability, whether it is a national health council to track where the money goes. The transfers are for Canadians, not for the federal government. If money is transferred to the provinces, Canadians should know where it goes. I believe that accountability, whatever order of government it is, is extremely important.
The government has taken action in many ways. If it were not for the Liberal government, the Autoroute 30 around Montreal would not have been dealt with. The Red River floodway is very important. We know the Government of Canada stepped in and worked with the province of Manitoba, again cooperatively. These are cooperative efforts. The Government of Canada is not saying that the provinces have to do X. That is probably why this side of the House has so many former municipal colleagues. They know the work that the government has done since 1993.
We are not ashamed of the fact that we have had three national programs and we have worked in areas of housing and others. The national homeless strategy involved working cooperatively with other orders of government and with grassroots communities across the country. The Minister of Labour took the lead in that area. The results were very positive, and $753 million came from that. This is about partnership and about working together.
The hon. member would like us to talk to the provinces and territories about the issue of gas taxes and that is very much a reality. That can be done. However it will not work unless we ensure that moneys that go to the provinces wind up directly with the proper formula for rural and urban municipal governments.
I will not say that we have all the answers because we do not. However we know the other side has no answers at times. We on this side of the House have not just talked about these issues but have delivered on these issues. There is a big difference between talking about them and doing something about them.
The member across the way is too young to remember the 1993 infrastructure program, but if he had been around he would have known about the tremendous work that the government did. Other examples of the government working collaboratively with municipalities are the municipal enabling fund and the green municipal investment fund. It was this government that empowered the FCM with $200 million originally to work on issues dealing with the environment such as improving air quality et cetera. The 10% club was formed to reduce CO
emissions by 20% over 10 years. This is true cooperation. It is not talking about it. It is delivering.
The government even delivered to the riding of my friend across the way, and I know he is very appreciative. He should talk to his former mayor because he might actually learn a few things about municipal government. He was a good mayor and a very popular mayor.
We also have to look at the fact that the government has set an agenda. We believe that investing in municipal governments and in infrastructure is extremely important. Therefore we continue to look at all reasonable options. At the same time, the government will not go back into a deficit. We continue to ensure that we balance the books. We will ensure that issues such as paying down the national debt and investing in the social fabric of Canada continue. We can only do that if the dollars come and we account for those dollars.
Unfortunately, we had to deal with a $42.5 billion deficit. I am amazed that we did not get credit for the fact that at the same time as we had the $42.5 billion debt, we still invested in the national infrastructure program. Why? Because it returned tax money and created jobs. It was a very important initiative even when we did not have the money. Look at the highlights. We have a 10 year program, people are investing and it is good for the economy.