Madam Speaker, the Deputy Speaker allowed me to start my time after question period and I do appreciate that. I also appreciate you being in the Chair, Madam Speaker, to listen to this debate. Where else would you rather be on a Friday afternoon than sitting right here in the House debating and talking about and to a budget that was put forward by the government which seems to put as many spins as possible on it.
However, after having spent time in our ridings and time visiting the country we now recognize full well that there is very little support for this budget and very little that Canadians would like to say in a positive vein about the budget.
I will touch on a couple of points but I first would like to say that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance is deluding himself and living in a bit of a dream world when he tries to put the spin of having this budget accepted, not only the majority of priorities within the budget but the one with respect to infrastructure.
The individual himself, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, at one point in time being the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, certainly would have been singing a different tune. He would have been suggesting that the government has let down the municipalities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities with the absolute sorry contribution that it has made to the infrastructure program.
As a matter of fact, yesterday I had the opportunity of dropping into an executive meeting of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities. These are people I know and the member for Oak Ridges knows. The very first thing these local politicians, people who have the real finger on the pulse of what is going on, not only in their communities but certainly within the province of Manitoba, asked me was, “Is it not a travesty that we were perceived to have been promised so much from this federal government with respect to infrastructure and we received so little?”
They went on to say that there was such a desperate need for infrastructure dollars that they were actually embarrassed with the inability or the lack of funding that came forward in this budget with respect to infrastructure.
I can also say that my leader had a meeting with the mayor of Winnipeg who sits on the big city mayors' caucus. He also echoed the comments of the AMM, where he said that they were led to believe that there would be sufficient help in putting the infrastructure dollars into municipalities but that again they were very disappointed. Some $15 billion is needed to put infrastructure back into place. Right now there is $3 billion that was identified over 10 years, but of that $3 billion is a special infrastructure fund, one that is called strategic, which normally, if one were to look in a Liberal dictionary, we would see that the special or strategic infrastructure fund usually means political pork-barrelling infrastructure funds so that they can pick and choose perhaps the ridings, perhaps the contractors or perhaps the consultants they want to use for these projects. Unfortunately, there really is a lack of control and accountability on those dollars in the strategic fund.
Not only that, let us analyze this: $15 billion just from the cities themselves for infrastructure, but next year for budget year 2003-04, there is $100 million. I understand the Liberals are thinking of bumping that up. I do not know to what levels just yet but I know there has been some talk of bumping that up. However let us assume that it will be twice as much, and that would be about enough to do one major project of water and sewer.
Budgets are important and are necessary to identify priorities. I have a soft spot in my heart for the infrastructure priorities, not only for municipalities in sewer and water, but we see it now in the issue of what is going on in Iraq. The three major issues facing the people of Iraq right now are water, sanitation and transportation. That is what is necessary in our own communities, safe water, sanitation and sewage, and transportation; the roads, the bridges and the ability to move goods and services and people, not only within our communities but across the border, because that is what our economic lifeblood depends on.
The government certainly does not see that as being a necessity. What it sees as a necessity for the expenditure of these dollars are wonderful policy programs such as the gun registry which has wasted $1 billion. The government says it has not wasted it, that it is an investment of $1 billion in a registry that certainly will not be able to provide any return on that investment.
Certainly this is one policy direction all Canadians would like to see them stop spending the money on, yet it continues to throw the taxpayers' good, hard cash into that black hole. It is not prepared to put it into what I consider to be a priority, which is infrastructure, sewers, water, bridges and the like. The government's priorities seem to be different from our priorities.
In talking of infrastructure there is another area that has a soft spot in my heart. I have put forward a private member's bill to the House with respect to a national highways program.
It is very important to understand that the federal government has abdicated its responsibility. It takes no responsibility, no jurisdiction whatsoever of a national highways program.
There are many interprovincial and interconnecting highways, one in particular being the Trans-Canada Highway. In my province there are no dollars, zero dollars that go from the federal government into the capital costs for rebuilding or reconstructing that highway into a twinned highway, or for that matter the operating or maintenance costs for that highway. Those are totally provincial dollars that go into maintaining a national infrastructure, the national highway system.
I do not know if members are aware of this but there is a wonderful in today's newspaper. Canada is the only country in the G-8 that does not have a national highways policy. We are the only country in the G-8 that does not put any money back into a national highways program so that goods and services can move from point to point.
There is an organization in this country called the Canadian Trucking Alliance. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance wants to stick his head in the sand, I am sure he will not be happy to hear this, but the Canadian Trucking Alliance has been extremely disappointed with the lack of government direction on the national highways policy.
The United States has done a wonderful job. That federal government has decided unilaterally to put dollars into that infrastructure because it is absolutely mandatory that the lifeline and the lifeblood of the federal government in the United States remain open. As a matter of fact, our truckers now are using that highway system in the United States because it is certainly far superior than what ours is here in Canada.
I put forward a private member's bill and suggested that two cents per litre, which is half of the excise tax, be allocated to the funding of that national highways program. It was defeated on the floor of the House because the federal government obviously does not want to see that as a priority.
The federal government collects in excess of $4 billion in excise taxes on gasoline. It is probably more now because the price of gasoline has increased quite dramatically. It also collects the GST. However, of the excise tax of $4 billion being collected, none of it goes back into the infrastructure that it comes from. None of it goes into the highway system.
If we did not have the highways, as we are seeing now in pictures from Iraq, believe me, goods and services would not be moved to the necessary points. That is what we are facing right now in Canada. It is absolutely despicable that the government's budget does not speak to that infrastructure.
There is so much more I would like to talk about. One point would obviously be the mismanagement by the government. I have already mentioned in passing the $1 billion that was spent on the gun registry which could have gone into infrastructure, health or something else.
There is also the $1 billion that has been wasted on the EH-101s which the government did not purchase. It has invested $1 billion into helicopters, but it does not have any helicopters. The government wasted a $1 billion of taxpayers' money. That money could have gone into the highway system, the health care system or the education system.
There is so much that we could say is wrong with the budget. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to put all of what is wrong on the table.
Agriculture probably will be a mere shadow of itself after the government gets through with it. The starting point is April 1. The government has failed to deal with that issue. I feel very sorry for people who are involved in that industry because there is absolutely no assistance from the government.