House of Commons Hansard #24 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, municipalities across our great land are paying in terms of employment insurance. As a result of that and the huge overpayments this government is amassing, municipal governments across the country are transferring municipal tax dollars to the federal government.

One level of government is taxing another with municipal taxes going into the federal coffers. What does the hon. member have to say about that?

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have all sorts of government politicians and bureaucrats playing around in the big mixing bowl with taxpayer money. It is going here. It is going there. It is going everywhere. Nobody really knows how much is going where, and the level of accountability is altogether entirely too low.

We have a principle in Canada that one level of government cannot tax another. With all deference to my colleague, we have a voluntary plan on the part of the federal government to carry at least some part of the fair share of municipal taxation in those municipalities which have facilities.

I do not think that is unfair. The money comes from the taxpayer. Some municipalities have a preponderance of federal government agencies, buildings or facilities, and it is not totally unfair that should be done. However, the principle that he has referred to must of course be maintained.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, as always, I will start my comments on the bill by telling the folks back home what it is all about.

Bill C-10 is an act to amend the Municipal Grants Act. It talks about administration. It talks about payments. It talks about taxes. It talks about common tax due dates. It talks about government leasing its properties to non-departmental third parties. It mentions the Canada Post Corporation and goes into the discretionary power of the federal government.

Let me make a few points about those subjects. We have a situation where we have three levels of government, federal, provincial and municipal, and this government is trying to establish a fourth level of government. This is despite the fact that the country is already overgoverned, despite the fact that we have a $600 billion national debt, and despite the fact that we have unfunded liabilities with the Canada pension plan that will max out in 2017.

Despite the fact that we have all these concerns—and the government certainly has a full plate if it were willing to deal with it—it is creating a fourth level of government by what it is doing with Nisga'a. That impinges because we have three levels of government and we are already having difficulties. It is troublesome at times to deal with those issues, especially for the taxpayer, because there is one taxpayer and there are three levels of government, and now we are to have four.

On top of that is the whole issue of taxation without representation. That is exactly what will happen with the fourth level of government that I mentioned. Not only will that happen in the new level of government, but it will learn from the previous ones. It will be picked up as precedent.

We have a situation where we have taxation without representation going on right now with municipal governments. I asked a question of one of my colleagues about the whole issue of municipalities across the country that are paying more employment insurance than they get back in return.

I am a taxpayer in Calgary. By contributing my money to municipal taxes in Calgary I am paying for municipal workers in the city of Calgary, and the overpayments this government is collecting in employment insurance, in the EI fund, is therefore going into federal coffers. The situation is the same for all those who pay municipal taxes

It is absolutely unfair that the federal taxman is robbing money out of municipal coffers across the country, especially when we consider the federal government has cut back its transfers to the provinces and therefore also cut back transfers to the municipalities dependent upon provincial funds. That is a shame.

This government continually says that it believes in some of the programs that it holds high as sacred cows in the country, but time after time it makes cuts to them. On top of that it raises taxes. I could talk about the CPP tax hike and the EI taxes.

On top of that as well municipal governments are forced to go ahead and overpay employment insurance for their employees. In the city of Vancouver alone the people of Vancouver are overcontributing over $2 million to the federal government. It is not as though the people of British Columbia and the people of Vancouver are not overtaxed as it is. On top of that $2 million of their money are being transferred to the federal government. That is an absolute shame.

The bill also includes appointments. I happen to be the Senate and patronage critic of the official opposition. Patronage all too often takes place in all aspects of government legislation. There are thousands of positions, and this bill is no different, that include patronage positions. People meet with the Prime Minister on a regular basis to go ahead and dole out the precious positions Liberals love to give to their friends. Part of what the bill is about is appointments and patronage.

In 1990 this government said it would change things. When the Prime Minister ran for election as leader of the Liberal Party he said that things would be different under his rule. We do not have that. The Liberals promised in the red book in 1993 and again in 1997 that patronage would change.

As a matter of fact, the government House leader helped to author the McGrath report in which he said that some of those positions would be vetted by parliamentary committees which have the ability to go into these matters and would love to be able to scrutinize people based on the merits they have to hold their positions. Instead, we continue to have this government push forward its agenda of patronage.

It gets worse. It goes into the whole idea of tax sharing and tax agreements. I have been in this place two years. The longer I am here, the more I believe the provinces should divest themselves of the tax sharing and tax agreements with the federal government because they are done wrong by them. I applaud the Government of Alberta for moving ahead. Within the next few years it will go ahead and separate the tax collection situation from Ottawa.

The federal government is collecting taxes and collecting taxes for the federal government. That is a result of the first and second world wars and the Great Depression when no other government had the ability to meet the needs of the country in those dire times.

Since that time the federal government has abused that privilege. It has gone ahead and is using the money for buying votes like it always does. It is cutting back on programs. It entered into arrangements with the provincial governments on things like health care, and I could name others, where it said it would fund 50% of the programs. Instead it has cut, hacked and slashed.

Every time it came to an election government members said “Trust us, we will increase the money”. When push came to shove, they cut and cut deeply, to the point where the provincial Government of Alberta now receives only 15% for every dollar, even though the federal government promised Ernest Manning and that province when they entered into the agreement on health care that they would receive 50%.

Government members have the gall to stand in this place to tell us that they will somehow shove their way down the throat of the Government of Alberta. The tail is wagging the dog. They are only funding 15% of the show and they said they were committed to 50%. They preach high morals about how they want to defend this and that, but they do not ante up with the cash. They continues to cut. Shame on them.

I also want to talk about the whole idea of government leases, third party leases, mentioned in the bill. That is when the government leases some of its properties to non-departmental third parties. I will pose a general question, and I hope the folks back home are listening.

If the federal government has more property than it needs to do its job, why should it be going ahead and renting out the property in competition with private sector renters? Taxpayers have been calling for money for certain programs. Why does the government not sell off the property, that taxpayer asset, and give the money back to taxpayer programs or give taxpayers a long awaited tax break?

If the federal government has assets or property it is not using and is renting out right now, it should get rid of it. It should be sold off and given back to the free market or given back to the people. There is no reason the federal government needs to continue to hang on to it.

Another aspect of the bill is that of the Canada Post Corporation. It touches on that. It is another example of a government institution that does not believe in competition and will not allow anybody else to give it a fair shake for the money.

T2P Overnight, a company in Calgary was willing to deliver anywhere within the T2P postal code in Calgary for significantly less money than what it costs for a first class stamp. The company delivered overnight, in one day. Can we imagine Canada Post Corporation promising the delivery of mail in one day and doing it for less money?

They did not allow that. They shut the company down and said it was competition for Canada Post. They could not handle it. As a result they closed it. A private sector entrepreneur who wanted to start up something offered a better level of service. It could have provided an incentive and an example for the government and for the Canada Post Corporation, but they would not even allow competition. They would not even think about it. As a result, an entrepreneur in the city of Calgary suffered for it, jobs were lost and the government won.

The bill talks about arm's length relationships. Those arms continue to grow and grow, not only in terms of the multiplicity and the number of arms on this government beast but the length of the government's arms. Everywhere we look the government wants to establish longer arm's length relationships, because ministers in the House do not want to have to stand and answer for their own departments.

They would rather be able to stand and say “I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but that is not my department. It is not my department that is responsible for that. It is that arm's length body, that arm's length organization. I do not have anything to do with that. It is not directly involving me. It is now independent”. That is a joke. It is going on right now with Revenue Canada.

They wanted to go ahead and establish an arm's length relationship. More and more they want to distance themselves from the actual business of governing because they realizes they are not doing it well. They realize they are squandering taxpayer dollars, that they are not accountable, that they are overtaxing people and that they are doing it poorly. As a result they want to distance themselves from their poor record, from their shoddy record.

Setting themselves up in some sort of arm's length relationship is a code word for saying that ministers do not want to be accountable for abrogating the whole idea of parliamentary responsibility, the whole idea of the cabinet being accountable to the country, and the whole idea of the minister being responsible for the actions of all those employed beneath him. Those are just some of the problems with the bill.

I will talk about priorities for a second. There is a real lack of priorities around this place when we talk about bills like this one with all their inherent flaws, and I went through them.

This type of thing occupies our time when instead they could be talking about cutting taxes and coming forward with tax cuts. They could be talking about employment insurance reform. They could be talking about putting money back into health care. That does not happen. Instead they talk about arm's length relationships and cutting back on their accountability. Shame on them.

Municipal Grants ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member will have approximately seven minutes when next the bill comes to the House.

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.


Lee Morrison Reform Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK


That, in the opinion of this House, a minimum of 20 per cent of federal excise tax revenues on gasoline should be directed to joint federal and provincial programs to upgrade or renew many sub-standard sections of the national highway system.

Mr. Speaker, my motion proposes that two cents from the ten cents per litre federal excise tax on gasoline be directed to joint federal and provincial programs to upgrade and renew our crumbling national highway system.

I have addressed this issue many times both in and out of the House. I was eagerly anticipating presentation of this motion and I very deeply regret that today we will be going through this silly charade of a debate with no opportunity for a vote on a matter of great public interest.

Canada is the only developed country with no national highway program or even a coherent national highways policy.

In 1992, a federal-provincial study identified 25,400 kilometres, including the Trans-Canada Highway and a few major cross-border arteries, as the national highway system. However, having been identified, the system has been almost totally forgotten. There is no administrative framework and no federal funding for maintaining or upgrading it.

Every year the federal government collects about $5 billion in fuel excise taxes, including $4.3 billion specifically from highway fuels. A miserable 4% of that lovely pot of money is going to be reinvested in highways this year.

On November 4, 1998, in the Standing Committee on Transport, the Minister of Transport readily admitted that there is a lack of balance between federal fuel tax collected and federal expenditures on roads. He said that the government needed the money for other purposes. He stated, “I accept the general thrust of your argument and it is something we have to work toward as we progressively get the books in order”. The government has been crowing about its huge projected revenue surpluses, surpluses from usurious taxation, so the time has come to invest in something of permanent national benefit. Show us the money, Mr. Minister.

On February 7, 1997, in a transport committee report called, A National Highway Renewal Strategy, it is mentioned that the Minister of Finance had conceded that the dedicated tax concept might be examined at such time as the government is generating substantial surpluses. Show us the money, Mr. Minister.

That same finance minister has from time to time expressed his distaste for the dedication of tax revenues and has indicated that dedicated taxes are not the Canadian way. Apparently only excessive taxes can be classified as truly Canadian. Actually there are precedents for dedicated federal taxes. For example, old age security and the air navigation system were both in the past funded by dedicated taxes. Now, in spite of usurious federal fuel taxes, there is no dedicated federal road improvement fund in place.

Contrast this with the United States where federal fuel taxes go into a highway trust fund, where the money is protected by a budgetary firewall mandating that transportation infrastructure spending cannot be reduced in order to finance other programs. The U.S. transportation equity act provides each state with a minimum guaranteed level of federal highway funding proportional to each state's highway mileage.

The budget for six years is $217 billion U.S. An equivalent expenditure proportional to Canada's population would be $5.3 billion Canadian annually, not much more than we have been paying every year into the fuel tax fund, or as fuel taxes with nothing substantive to show for it.

Our neighbours have not only identified a national highway system, they fund it, as part of the program that I have just described, to the tune of $29,000 per mile per year.

If we financed our much smaller so-called national highway system at that rate, the annual cost in Canadian dollars would be less than $700 million. With the $800 million that my motion would yield, we could actually play catch-up on the worst parts of the system before it deteriorates beyond the point of no return. If we do nothing and total replacement becomes necessary, tens of billions of dollars will have to be found somewhere or we will have to revert to red river carts.

It is a national disgrace that the Trans-Canada Highway traffic is routinely diverted south of the border to where the highways are. Tens of millions of dollars in fuel taxes that could be used to upgrade our system stay in the United States, together with the costs of lodging, meals, repairs and incidentals.

Traffic does not just move south for comfort, convenience and speed, but also for safety. Hundreds of people die every year in Canada because of substandard highways. Almost every province has at least one stretch of two-lane Trans-Canada Highway referred to locally as the “death strip” or “death alley”. In Saskatchewan, the death strip happens to be in my riding where a 113 kilometre segment has claimed 40 lives in the last 20 years. The provincial government has just completed twinning a 27 kilometre piece of it, with no federal assistance, and plans to complete this project in small segments over a period of several years. To do that, it will have to take funds away from secondary roads now being destroyed, thanks to federally-blessed railway abandonments.

Ninety-five per cent of Canadian passenger miles and 24% per cent of freight tonne miles move on the public road system which is rapidly disintegrating under that heavy burden. Transferring a mere two cents per litre from the ten cent federal excise tax for the national highway system would not only solve some of our arterial highway problems, but it would free up provincial funds for other roads.

Yesterday I received an unsolicited and kind letter of support from Mr. Brian Hunt, the president of the 3.2 million member Canadian Automobile Association. I would like to quote a few segments of his letter. He said:

—structurally sound highways improve safety, productivity and trade. The National Highway System must be upgraded to ensure continued economic growth and productivity across the country. It's time the federal government paid serious attention to our nation's transportation infrastructure...and commit to multi-year funding for Canada's national transportation infrastructure.

That is from a member of the public who represents a very large number of Canadians.

The government has always had a bottomless purse to pursue pork barrel projects in the Prime Minister's riding, development aid to despotic countries like China and useless initiatives such as universal firearms registration. But, it has nothing for vital communication links of any kind, much less highways.

One cannot see the condition of a highway from a Challenger jet at 30,000 feet. I would recommend that a few cabinet ministers jump into their limousines and try driving from here to Vancouver. Perhaps then they would gain a little understanding of the situation.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands.

The motion proposes that the government dedicate a minimum of 20% of federal gasoline excise tax revenues to joint federal and provincial programs to update or renew substandard sections of the national highway system.

The government appreciates the hon. member's concern for the national highway system and commends him for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I had the opportunity to work closely with the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands as co-vice chairs of the Standing Committee on Transport for the House of Commons. I know he has a keen interest in this topic as do many of us on this side as well.

Before discussing the motion, however, I want to take a moment to set the issue in context. Since the beginning of its first mandate back in 1993, two of the government's ongoing priority areas continue to be sound financial management and fairness in the tax system. Balancing these two equally demanding commitments has been a challenge for the government.

With order now restored to the nation's finances and targeted tax relief provided in each budget since 1994, together with broad based tax relief starting in 1998, the government will continue to meet these commitments as resources become available.

Faced with these challenges, the government unfortunately cannot agree to direct part of the revenues from the federal excise tax on gasoline to upgrade or renew highways. Let me explain.

The earmarking of tax revenues, which is the focus of the motion before us today, is a concern shared by many hon. members. The government has several reasons not to direct tax revenues to specific programs.

Earmarking tax revenues for a specific item would limit the government's capacity to redirect federal expenditures according to its changing priorities.

When the hon. member says that the Minister of Finance has sanctioned dedicated taxes, he knows full well that this finance minister has never been in favour of dedicated taxes. In fact, it was our finance minister who appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport and encouraged the committee to look at public-private partnerships.

Revenues from federal taxes, including the excise tax on fuel products, go into the consolidated revenue fund which is used to support a broad range of federal programs that are enjoyed and valued by all Canadians, programs such as health care, post secondary education, seniors' benefits and national defence.

Another reason the government has avoided dedicating tax revenues to specific programs is because earmarking can result in some programs being overfunded while others suffer from shortfalls. Making budgetary and long term investment decisions under a program funded by earmarked taxes is difficult as revenues from taxes fluctuate from year to year.

A third reason for avoiding earmarking revenues for certain activities is that the government believes that potential spending initiatives, including highways, should be evaluated independently of tax sources and examined as competing priorities.

As hon. members know, there are many demands today on the government's scarce resources. Because of this, it is important that the government remains firmly committed to sound financial management. What the government intends to do is to continue to follow a balanced approach to managing the wide range of priorities.

I would like to remind the hon. members of something else because it is important. Highways fall under provincial jurisdiction. I know that provincial governments are pressuring the federal government to invest in highways.

However, hon. members will recall that the federal government has assisted provinces in the past with provincial highway construction projects through a series of federal-provincial cost shared agreements. In addition, about one-third of the $2.425 billion federal contribution under the Canada infrastructure works program went toward municipal roads and bridges.

Although many of these agreements are winding down, the federal government intends to continue working with the provinces and municipalities. In the October 12, 1999 Speech from the Throne, the government announced its intention to implement a new physical infrastructure program to invest in and improve our nation's physical infrastructure.

The federal government stated in the throne speech that it will work with other levels of government and the private sector to reach agreement on a five year plan for improving physical infrastructure in urban and rural regions across the country by the end of the year 2000. This agreement will set out shared principles, objectives and fiscal parameters for all partners to increase their resources directed toward infrastructure. It will focus on such areas as transportation, as well as tourism, telecommunications, culture, health and safety, and the environment.

The answer for highways does not reside solely in seeking more federal funding. In searching for solutions we need to be creative.

As noted in the Speech from the Throne, one of the partners in addressing the infrastructure challenges is the private sector. While not a panacea, public-private partnerships warrant more encouragement. When properly structured, they may provide roads at a lower cost and more quickly than traditional procurement methods.

In conclusion, I cannot support this motion for the reasons I have stated. However, I want to thank the hon. member for raising this important issue in the House. I also hope that the hon. member will find some positive elements in some of the ideas set out in the throne speech.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to rise to speak to the Reform motion before us today, asking that a minimum of 20% of federal excise tax revenues on gasoline be directed to joint federal and provincial programs.

My Liberal colleague opposite said that the government had no money to intervene immediately, but he seemed to have forgotten that it already has a surplus of several billions of dollars.

However, my speech will not deal with the Reform motion per se, but rather with the high gas prices people have to pay these days. If I were to move a motion, it would be to reduce this tax to deal with a glaring problem people have today, namely that if the price of gas keeps on rising as it has, soon they will no longer be able to drive their own cars.

In a riding like mine, Lotbinière, and in several other ridings throughout Quebec, a car has become a necessity since, over the past few years, inter-city bus networks have been dismantled one by one, with the result that there is no longer any link between smaller municipalities or with the major centres around the riding of Lotbinière. If we lower taxes, therefore, it should be with the consumers in mind.

As far as the issue of roads is concerned, it should be dealt with through the infrastructure program soon, not only in December 2000. In the throne speech, the government made several commitments, but they are all for the long term. The strategy of the Liberals across the way reeks of electioneering. Everything is being delayed until the end of the year 2000, so there will be goodies left for the budget in 2001, because we know there will then be an election campaign.

People have a good memory, and I hope they will keep it until the next federal election. This government's approach to everything is to keep people waiting, waiting for the programs announced with regard to mothers and parental leave, waiting for the infrastructure program.

As for everything announced in the Speech from the Throne, nothing has yet taken concrete form. The budget for the year 2000 will be more or less a rehash of the one for 1999.

We will have to wait for the 2001 budget to really find out what the intentions of this government are. The unemployed will also have to wait. The young people will have to wait. Everyone will have to wait, with this government. I am going to come back to the matter of reducing taxes, however.

In the present surplus situation we are in, it is high time the federal government started thinking about the consumer. It is high time the Liberal Party started thinking about the middle class.

According to Canadian statistics, middle class incomes are between $30,000 and $70,000. That is not the case in my region. That is not the case in my riding.

Some members of our middle class earn only $18,000, $20,000 or $25,000. Hardworking factory workers nearly faint when they see what they have to pay at the gas pump. Nothing has been done by this government to try to get this back to normal either.

Over the summer, gas prices were like a yo-yo. They could be 61 cents in the morning and 68 cents in the afternoon. They were as low as 59 cents and as high as 70 cents. And nobody really understood why the oil companies were doing this.

If the Liberal government wants at all cost to take humanitarian action that will help consumers, it should reduce its excise tax. It should indeed reduce its gasoline taxes so that consumers can continue to use their own vehicle.

It is distressing to have people come to your office saying “Listen, if this keeps on, I might be able to use my car for two or three weeks or a month, but if the price of gas continues to climb, I won't be able to”.

What will people do? They will feel isolated. They will feel deprived of a vital tool, one they use every day.

The situation I am referring to must exist pretty well everywhere in Canada as well, in regions similar to my own, in ridings that are half rural and half urban.

Why is the government not acting? It has the surpluses to respond to the Reform Party's motion. It should announce its infrastructure program right away and not do as the President of the Treasury Board did yesterday, put things off again to December 2000.

In the meantime, vehicles are breaking down, and we are having a hugely difficult time keeping a decent road system in Quebec and in Canada. When I hear the government say that roads come under provincial jurisdiction, I am glad that it is beginning to understand the constitution a little better.

But although it can see the difference when it comes time to invest money in roads, I would like it to be as discerning with respect to health, education and social programs. The hon. member should talk to his caucus and persuade it to get out of exclusively provincial jurisdictions and, while he is at it, ask the caucus, the Prime Minister and cabinet to immediately restore the transfer payments they have cut since 1993.

Here too I am almost certain that, if provincial governments had available to them all the money cut from their budgets, if they had all the money they needed, they too would come up with the necessary funds to invest in a decent road system.

What we are seeing with this government is that, when it comes to consumers, the middle class, and the unemployed, their memories fail them and we are left hanging. So, yes to tax cuts but for the benefit of consumers. As far as roads are concerned, with the present surpluses, let the infrastructure program announced by the President of the Treasury Board be implemented now.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, as the New Democratic Party transportation critic, it is an honour to speak in support of this motion.

I begin by thanking the hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands for bringing this motion before the House. I put in a very similar motion about a year ago. I know the hon. member submitted this motion when he was still his party's transportation critic and I am glad to see he decided to follow through in this area even though he is no longer the transportation critic.

As any Canadian driver will tell us, the highways in our country are in terrible shape. The Liberal government has abandoned its duty to maintain safe and adequate roads. It has abandoned our highways just as it has abandoned health care, education, homeless children, first nations, farmers, the RCMP and so many other vital areas.

We all know the finance minister said that he would balance the budget come hell or high water. In my home province of Manitoba we have seen high water in two disastrous floods and thanks to the Liberal government, driving on our roads is hell.

Canada is the only country in the developed world that does not have a national highway program. It is truly pathetic. When it comes to highways, Canada is dead last. Not only are we last, but we are not even close to most other countries we need to compete with for investment.

The United States spends six times as much per kilometre as Canada on maintaining and expanding its national highway system. Britain spends four times as much per kilometre. Our G-7 competitors like Germany, France and Italy all spend five to ten times as much as Canada does on their national highways systems.

It is important to point out exactly what we mean by the national highway system. We are not talking about every road in the country. The national highway system makes up 3% of Canada's roads. This 3% of our highways carries over 25% of all highway traffic in the country.

The national highway system has been a federal responsibility ever since the Canadian Highways Act was passed in 1919. The provinces are responsible for the other 97% of our roads. Is it too much to ask that this Liberal government do its job and maintain that measly 3% it is responsible for?

Because of the Liberal government's abandonment of highways, the provinces have had to pick up the slack as best they can. Unfortunately the provinces have also had to pick up the slack for all the other Liberal government cuts, cuts to health care, cuts to education, cuts to housing, cuts to policing. The Liberal government has cut so much, the provinces have not been able to keep up.

It should not be a shock but the regions that are getting ripped off the most by the Liberal government are, as usual, the west and the north. Between now and 2001 the four western provinces and the three territories combined will only see $13 million in Transport Canada money for highways, with $6 million going to B.C., $5 million to the territories, and $2 million to Saskatchewan. Manitoba and Alberta are not getting one red cent. If we drive down the road in Manitoba and we have to stop on a dime, we know for sure that it is a provincial dime because the federal transport department invests not one red cent.

Why do we need good highways? Why is the national system something the government needs to make a priority? There are three main reasons: safety, the environment and the economy.

First I will talk about safety because it is the most important reason. At a bare minimum Canadians should be able to drive safely but many of our roads simply are not safe enough. Thirty-eight per cent of the national highway system is substandard. Right now over 1,100 bridges on the national highway system need repair.

I am reminded of two summers ago during our summer recess. There was an article in which a beaver was being blamed for the breakdown of part of the Trans-Canada Highway. A beaver had made a dam which had damaged the road. I thought, one would think someone was out there maintaining that road, but no, the beaver was blamed for the breakdown of the highway. It is like blaming the cow for the spilled milk.

It is true that overall the number of deaths on Canadian roads has been decreasing since the seventies, and that is a good thing. The Liberal government points to this statistic and says, “See, the roads are getting safer”. We know that is simply not true. The government is misrepresenting the numbers.

The reason the number of deaths on the roads has been dropping since the seventies is because the rate of seatbelt use has gone up and the rate of drunk driving has dropped.

If the Liberal government would bring the national highway system up to a minimum standard, the number of accidents this would prevent would save an average of 247 lives and 16,000 injuries every year. Even one preventable death or injury is too many.

It is appalling that the Liberal government is continuing to neglect our highways when Canadians are dying on our substandard roads.

The second reason to improve highways is to help the environment. Transportation fuel is responsible for over half of our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. We have to bring this down to meet our commitments under the Kyoto agreement and stop global warming.

Bringing the national highway system up to minimum standards would save over 230 million litres of fuel each year. This alone would not be enough to meet our commitments to stop global warming, but it would be an important start.

We also need to switch to greener forms of transportation, such as rail and mass transit, particularly in big cities. But many Canadians, particularly in rural and northern areas like my riding of Churchill, absolutely need to drive, so the Liberal government has a responsibility to invest in highways.

The third reason to fix the national highway system is that of economics. I do not expect the Liberal government to listen to my arguments about the need to save Canadians' lives. If the government really cared about saving Canadians' lives it would not have cut health care by $25 billion since 1995. I also do not expect it to listen to my arguments about saving the environment because the Liberal government's record on the environment is terrible. But I do know that the Liberal government listens to the bottom-line economic arguments, so here they are.

First, highways are good for business. Most of Canada's manufactured goods are transported by road. Companies setting up plants look for access to good roads. That is one of the reasons the economy is now booming in the U.S., while many hundreds of thousands of Canadians are still out of work.

The U.S. knows the benefits of investing in highways. Bad roads also discourage tourism, which is an important industry in many parts of our country. Many truckers and other travellers going across Canada prefer to go south, cut across the U.S. and then come back up to Canada. This means that on their trip they buy U.S. gas, stay in U.S. motels, eat in U.S. restaurants and pay taxes to the U.S. government instead of to the Canadian government.

It would cost about $13 billion to bring the national highway system to minimum standards. That is a lot of money, but if we spread it out over a number of years it is something the government could well afford within the budget surplus. Not only that, in the long run improving our highways would save money, not cost money. Preventable accidents cost more than $25 billion each year in emergency health care for victims, long term health care and other costs, such as property damage and lost productivity.

The health care savings alone would pay for the cost of fixing the national highway system, not to mention the benefits of the increased economic activity that better roads would lead to, particularly job creation, something Canadians badly need.

I conclude my remarks by repeating my support for the motion. The Liberal government has abandoned its responsibility for national highways. By doing so it has put the lives and health of Canadians at risk. It has also squandered the many economic benefits that come from having good highways.

The motion calls for dedicating a modest 20% of income from fuel taxes to highway improvements. Normally I would not support dedicated taxation. However, as we have seen with the way the Liberal government has misused Canadians' employment insurance money, we cannot trust the Liberal government to use Canadians' money for what it is intended. Twenty per cent of fuel taxes is a reasonable base line and the Liberal government has no excuse not to invest at least that much in our highways.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak today to the motion put forward by the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands which calls for a minimum of 20% of federal excise tax revenues on gasoline to be directed to federal and provincial programs to upgrade and renew many substandard sections of the national highway system.

Our party supports the motion because highway renewal is extremely important and must be a priority. An increased portion of gasoline excise tax is one way of finding more of the necessary resources.

A recent report commissioned by the council of ministers responsible for transportation and highway safety shows that the cost to bring the national highway system up to standard has increased from approximately $12 billion in 1988 to $17.2 billion in 1997.

Our national highway system consists of approximately 25,000 kilometres of highways, including the Trans-Canada Highway, which connects all of our capital cities, commercial and population centres, and access points to our largest trading partner, the United States. For decades the Government of Canada provided funding through federal-provincial funding agreements for highways. Over the last five years all of those agreements have expired.

Federal government policy has allowed the railways over the last 15 years to decline and heavy truck traffic has taken the place of the railways as the major product and commodity movers. This federal policy has resulted in increased damage to our highways as goods and services transfer from rail to highway trucks. Pressure is increasing on the Government of Canada in conjunction with the provinces and territories to reinvest in our deteriorating highway system.

While there may be increasing consensus toward the need for reinvestment, all options must be considered in order to achieve the goal of improving our highways. Therefore, we are supportive of the idea of directing more of the revenue generated from gasoline excise tax toward upgrading the nation's highways.

This idea, however, is not new for us. My colleague, the PC transport critic, the member for Cumberland—Colchester, has already recommended this plan to all provincial and territorial ministers of transportation in their continuing discussions with the federal Minister of Transport. The PC transport critic has contacted all provincial and territorial ministers in calling on the federal government to increase the portion of the tax collected on gasoline and diesel fuel sales that is invested into highways from the current 4% level to a 15% level.

This proposal would yield 15% of $6 billion collected each year, for a total of $900 million. Considering that the estimated cost for upgrading our present highway system is over $17 billion, this funding alone, with matching provincial funding, would go a long way toward correcting a problem that has been overlooked for too long.

We have argued that asking for 15% of the total gas and diesel tax to be returned to the highways is eminently fair and more than reasonable. It would still enable 85% to be dedicated toward general revenues. It is our belief that public opinion would also be supportive of this measure and the federal government would have a difficult time not going along with this plan.

In my riding of Madawaska—Restigouche, there are two items at the head of the agenda, including the Van Horne bridge, which has been unsafe for years.

Construction and upgrade work on this bridge should have been done several years ago. Now, the people of my riding of Madawaska—Restigouche and especially of Campbellton who use the bridge linking New Brunswick to Quebec are in danger, because the bridge's structure has been neglected.

The public works department has been aware of the problem for several years now, but again, the government has not responded. The department had to reduce the number of heavy duty trucks on this bridge used every day by Canadian consumers and citizens.

The other item that has me very concerned and that comes under the motion put forward by my Reform colleague deals with the major highway in the riding of Madawaska—Restigouche, to be more precise in the Upper Madawaska Valley. The previous parliament had voted moneys for the construction of a highway between the economic sector of the Upper Madawaska Valley and the Trans-Canada Highway.

We all know what happened in this case with the government and the then transport minister Doug Young. The government transferred the money, and believe me, it was strictly for partisan purposes. All the local stakeholders were unanimous: the mayors, the people, the provincial government and even the federal government had achieved a consensus on the need to build this highway. Again, we saw money being transferred strictly for partisan reasons.

I would like to tell the House again that a greater portion of revenues from gasoline taxes should be used directly for highway improvement in Canada, as members of the Progressive Conservative Party have been requesting for a long time.

Another colleague of mine, the member for Brandon—Souris, also brought forward in the House a motion asking that the federal government apply a portion of tax dollars raised on fuel sales to the maintenance of the rural road system in Canada. Even though this is not a new idea for our party, it does not mean it should not be considered by the present government.

There is a consensus among Canada's premiers. I hope the Government of Canada will respect that consensus.

Since 1994 the premiers have called on their federal partners to ensure that money is reinvested. Many organizations across the country are increasing their call on the government to act. The mayors, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Automobile Association are just a few of the groups that are speaking out.

In addition, Canadians are recognizing more and more that the federal government is spending too little on our roads. In a national poll conducted in October, 81% of Canadians who were asked thought that the government should be spending more money toward improving our highways. As well, almost 90% said that we have real safety concerns with the state of our highways.

There are many positive impacts of reinvesting, namely, increasing the safety of our roads and the safety of our citizens, which is something the government does not seem to be able to see. This is extremely important when one considers the high number of injuries and fatalities each year on our roadways. Road accidents are the most serious transportation safety problems that we face. They account for nearly 95% of all transport related deaths. An improved highway system would also provide the important economic spinoff of increased commercial activity for business and increased tourism.

We support this motion and hope that the government will seriously look at this type of proposal.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to support my colleague from Cypress Hills—Grasslands in dedicating fuel tax revenues to highways.

I would like to start by describing a section of road: non-existent shoulders and blind curves, a narrow road jammed with tourists and commercial traffic made even more dangerous by wildlife, steep grades and falling debris, some roadsides with abrupt 500 metre drop-offs and no guardrails. Where would this piece of highway be? Is it in the Cape Breton Highlands? Is it in Newfoundland? Is it in a rural area of Ontario or Quebec?

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

An hon. member

It is not in Etobicoke.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

It is the Trans-Canada Highway between Golden and Field, B.C. One would expect that this piece of road would have been fixed. I have been driving it for probably four decades and there has not been any great improvement in the road. Imagine a two-lane road, the Trans-Canada Highway, that is that dangerous and yet it has not been fixed. The question is, why? Clearly it is a function of money.

Every province has its killer chunk of highway, as my hon. colleague mentioned earlier. We all know that there is one where each of us comes from. Whether it is down around Windsor, in the maritimes or across the prairies, there are chunks of the main highways of this country which are clearly dangerous. They are killing people. How are we going to address that? How are we going to fix that up?

There are a couple of ways. One is dedicated revenues, which I agree with. I am not a big fan of dedicated revenues but I think in this case it is correct. Another way would be toll roads. The Americans do some of that. We tried it for example with the Coquihalla highway which was built for Expo '86 basically to feed the lower mainland during Expo. My understanding is that it has been paid for seven times over. The provincial government is now looking at it as a cash cow.

Toll roads have opportunities but they tend to get abused. Again it brings up the question of double taxation because we are taxed already on our fuel taxes. Why should we be then taxed to use the road?

I would like to use the American model because I believe the Americans have excellent roads. They have dedicated revenues. They have found the prescription that is fair. My NDP colleague was commenting earlier about areas like Manitoba that get no revenues, that are getting no money this year in the budget. The Americans solved that by doing it on the number of miles of roads. Some poor areas such as Mississippi and Arkansas because of their tax bases and their situations cannot afford to put the money into roads, but the national system does it on a per mile basis.

If we transferred that formula to Canada, where Saskatchewan and Manitoba are having trouble in getting finances, this formula would solve it. There would be dedicated revenues and the national highway system would be fixed up. That is a good formula we can look toward.

My colleague from the Liberal Party commented earlier that it was in the budget and he is not supporting it but to my mind it is too little too late. We have to address the system. Certainly the budget is dedicating some revenue and I do not quarrel with that, but it is not dedicating nearly enough revenue toward highways. We are putting back about 5% of what we take in taxation revenue just from fuel. That is wrong. Fuels are not a cash cow. They simply need to be put back into the system.

There are areas like Windsor where 10,000 trucks a day are coming across the bridge and are being dumped into downtown Windsor. This is not a freeway system; basically they are municipal roads. In situations like that, there is a bottleneck. NAFTA is clearly going to expand and there will be more trucks. We should fix the situation. We can deal with it with dedicated revenues.

In many ways the government is missing the point. The point is where do we direct our tax revenues from gasoline, from diesel? Do they go into general revenues, into the main pot? Do they go, as most of us in the House would agree with, back into the highway system? We do not need a Cadillac system, the same as that of the Americans. But we certainly do not need roads that are going to be like those of a banana republic if we keep going the way we have been for the next 10 years.

I support my colleague. It is a good idea. In fact, I would ask unanimous consent of the House that this motion be votable.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni has asked the unanimous consent of the House that this motion be made votable. Is there unanimous consent?

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

As members know, the last five minutes are reserved for the sponsor of the bill, but we have another five minutes available for debate.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thought I would not have a chance to talk about this motion today, but I am a very fortunate man.

Despite the fact the government will not allow a vote, would not allow the will of the taxpayers to be done on this, I would like to touch on a number of points.

Mr. Speaker, suppose I took a significant chunk of your money and in return I gave you 6% back. This is a special year and I will give you a special deal, Mr. Speaker, because I like you. I will give you only 4% of that money back. I will keep 96% of the money. You would probably say that was not such a good deal. Mr. Speaker, you are a pretty fiscally responsible fellow and you would probably say it was a pretty bad deal. And that is exactly what has been happening in our country with fuel taxes.

Folks at home please pay attention because this is your tax money at work. The federal government takes in excess of $4 billion of taxpayer funds. For every tank of gas that we buy, 10 cents on every litre goes to the federal government but we are given a pittance back in terms of what is returned in our highways.

We shake our heads sometimes and ask why did the government do that? Why did the federal government put a 10 cent tax on gasoline? We already pay many taxes.

Back in 1975 Petro-Canada was created, the nationalization of Petrofina. And thank you Pierre Trudeau. Albertans loved the prime minister for that, as you well know, Mr. Speaker. The government taxed people 2.2 cents a litre. The funny thing about government is that over time, it just continues to grow. It went from 2.2 cents in order to fund Petro-Canada, Pierre Trudeau's pet project, to become the 10 cent per litre tax that it is today.

There are things known as dedicated taxes in this country. The government will tell us that it does not believe in dedicated taxes, but it sure believed in dedicated taxes when it came to old age security. It believed in dedicated taxes when it came to the air navigation system. But now the government is beyond dedicated taxes and is into something noble called slush funds. That is what the Liberal Party of Canada is into now. That party does not like dedicated taxes.

Slush funds are way better for the Liberals. They can then take the 96 cents out of every dollar we pay in fuel taxes and buy votes from other folks. Why give the money back to the taxpayer? Instead, they can give the money to special interest groups or someone who is really going to appreciate it and give them electoral support or work for them on election day. That is what they do with the money.

That is my opinion, but what do the premiers have to say about this? In 1994 at the annual premiers conference they said that they did not like the system either. Provinces across the country said that they were getting shafted and they wanted something different.

I took part in a debate at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Our mayor was there. The provincial government, myself representing the official opposition, and our mayor all said that not only 20% but it would be really sweet if they could get 50% of the money that goes into the federal coffers to be spent on the national transportation system. But this year it is only going to be 4%, a far cry from 20%.

I would like to point out to the people of Calgary that our mayor Al Duerr would love to introduce a municipal fuel tax. As a result of that debate, the provincial government coughed up the money to give to the city of Calgary. As a result the mayor did not get his way on a municipal fuel tax. Remember that the mayor of Calgary is in favour of a municipal fuel tax. Do not forget it next election day.

The federal government tries to say that this is a provincial responsibility, that it is not its bailiwick any more. If it is not the federal government's bailiwick, why is the federal government taxing people 10 cents per litre and taking $4 billion of their money? Leave it alone. It is the taxpayers' money. If the federal government is not going to give money back to the taxpayers in better roads, then it should not collect it in the first place. If it is going to collect $4 billion and spend only $200 million, leave the money in the taxpayers pockets. Otherwise, direct that money toward the roads. I could go on about why that would be a good thing to do, but my time is up.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Lee Morrison Reform Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, it has been a long, lonely ride. It has been a ride over bad roads too, but that is another issue.

I have been at this now since 1995. Occasionally, I get whispers from the ministerial side that makes me think that I am making headway. However, it always seems to be not one step forward and two steps back, but one step forward and about five steps back. We get a lot of rhetoric and a lot of talk about infrastructure programs, but in the meantime the roads are crumbling, people are dying and nothing is happening.

What the country needs is some action. What the country needs is a Liberal like C.D. Howe to come back from the grave and show these guys how to run a country. Instead, we have these effete folks who like to have money to spend for their little projects: their millennium projects, their patronage deals, the Prime Minister's riding and the $800 million to subsidize the CBC television network and so on. But, something of substance, something we could look upon with pride and say “we built that, that is the Canadian national highway system” has not happened.

I am afraid that as long as these folks continue to occupy those chairs, it will not happen. We will still keep driving down to the United States. If we want to go from Mississauga to Vancouver, we start off through Michigan. This is the way it is. This is Canada. This is what we have to show for the tens of billions of dollars that have been sucked out of Canadian truckers and private motorists over the last few decades. To do what? To go into that great black hole known as general revenue, but not to do anything useful for the country. We cannot drive our cars safely on the national highway system.

I drove from Saskatchewan to Ottawa three years ago. While driving across northern Ontario on the Trans-Canada Highway, I lost a windshield and a shock absorber. Now that is beyond disgraceful. We are almost into the 21st century and still we cannot build a decent highway.

I have worked in a lot of third world countries. I can assure members that in many of them the main trunk artery is a damn sight better than the main trunk artery in Canada.

The hon. member for Etobicoke did contradict something I had said in my presentation. I quoted from a report of the Standing Committee on Transport, which in turn quoted the Minister of Finance as saying “yes, maybe we could look at dedicated revenue”. If the member does not believe me he can check that himself in the government document. I know that it is baloney because do I know this minister. If there is one thing he has it is a hard head and his hard head does not allow for any input from private members, from his caucus or from anybody else. He does not like dedicated taxes. To use the American terminology, when there is a fire wall around that money he cannot get his greedy hands on it. That is the whole idea of a fire wall.

I hope that, some day before I die, I will live to see a highway that one can safely and reasonably drive on, right from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But, I get discouraged. We have our surges in the country of activity. All of a sudden, back in the late 1870s and early 1880s, we build a railroad. It was a marvellous thing and we are still talking about it. From 1958 to 1962, we build a Trans-Canada Highway. It was a lot better then than it is now because it had not had 30 years to fall apart.

It is time we got out act together and started acting like a modern industrialized state, did something useful and permanent, and gave taxpayers something to show for all the money that is being scooped up by the government.

National Highway SystemPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the order paper.

It being after 2.30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2.31 p.m.)