Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to municipal issues again. It is always a good debate. I believe the subject has come up a number of times and we have had a good chance to review some of the things that have happened. We also have had a chance to talk about the future of Canada, and we know there are so many different problems related to municipalities.
Municipalities have been at the top of the agenda for many years, the past few in particular, and there has been little or not enough action taken to bring products out so people see their cities being cleaned up. People need to feel confident that major infrastructure problems are taken seriously and that solutions to the problems are found and accomplished.
The New Democratic Party has concerns with the text of the motion.The member for LaSalle—Émard espoused it recently. It does not lead to the empowerment of municipalities. We think it is important to ensure that they will get the proper supports and funding.
The concern in particular is the way it relates to the provinces and the fact that we have no guarantee that the money will even hit the ground. We have seen that with the infrastructure program for Ontario and other provinces where the actual programs, dollars and partnerships have taken a long time to unroll. As well it leaves out the municipalities from part of the debate in the sense that they will not have a voice at the table, which is really important. They need to have the opportunity to participate in an empowered way. If they do not, they will be subjected to the means and tools of the provinces.
One example that comes to mind is the problem related to the disbursement of funds in Ontario. It is important to note that we support greater funds and access to those funds to municipalities, including revenues from the gasoline tax. However we have a problem with the motion. There are a couple of issues of which we have taken note.
The national child benefit plan that the federal government introduced was paltry but at least it was it got off the ground to help children and ensure that poverty would be addressed. Tragically the province of Ontario clawed it back from many citizens. There are no guarantees that we will not see that happen again. There is some discussion about that in terms of the way the motion is worded, but it does not guarantee that will not happen.
The other issue I experienced as a councillor in Windsor, Ontario, was municipalities wanted long term stable funding to ensure that revenues would be there. That is important, because municipalities have to decide about roads, bridges, water treatment facilities and a number of projects which are large ticket items.
We heard a discussion about the Confederation Bridge and how that required the coming together of the province and the federal government. A large project like that is something very specific and significant. However when we consider other municipalities, whether they be small urban or rural municipalities or larger cities where they have long term projects which require multi-year funding, the motion does not guarantee that there will be long term funds.
We could have fluctuating gas prices, for example, that would change the revenue streams. They also could affect what products and what types of projects municipalities would want to unroll, such as a major piece of infrastructure. If we look at some of the development required, like sewer capacity expansion as well as road development, water and waste treatment facilities, we get into large significant amounts of money. All those things become very complicated if we do not have the actual stable base. Once again, when we get into fluctuation, it creates some problems for the municipalities. It also affects their credit rating and that lack of stability will be played out.
Our municipal government had a good bond rating because the revenue sources we were drawing upon provided some degree of confidence for that stability. Without that stability, the bond rating is affected, which means the municipality pays more interest on a debt which in turn incurs more costs.
These are some of the problems we have with the motion. To be quite frank, the reason the member for LaSalle—Émard can support this, at least in his statements in public, and why we disagree with the Alliance on this is it does not guarantee that municipalities will get money. That is a strategy and one of the reasons why the member for LaSalle—Émard spoke about it at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
All we would have to see was some type of wrangling with provincial governments and the dollars would not reach their intended projects. That delay is a revenue stream for the government. We have seen what it has done with some of those funds. I believe some have not been allocated properly, and that has been a problem.
There is another issue and that is the issue of municipalities having to negotiate with the provinces. If we have a system where regional governments or individual municipalities do not have a voice, some will opt into this and others will opt out, which could create the problem of different prices at the pump.
For example, in Windsor, Ontario gasoline prices sometimes dictate whether people come and go across the border. I would hate to see one province sign on to something like this and another decide not to because it wanted to use it as a marketing resource to attract customers or whatever. We have seen the lobbying on these issues. Even if there is an intent by two provinces to sign, this may create an economic imbalance. If the system is removed, companies on either side of the border will have different prices. This will also create some competition issues.
The NDP are calling for no more micromanagement of these funds. We trust municipalities to choose their own priorities. We are talking about sending clearer goals and setting clearer targets for federal infrastructure transfers. Emphasis must be placed on accountability. These are things that come through consultation with municipalities, and our party has been doing that.
It is important to note that this empowerment will create good governance in local municipalities. People will feel confident because they will have a say in this. Municipal planning includes official plans. Official plans means that municipalities reach out to their businesses, to citizens, groups, organizations, and visit improvement areas. They are part of a group that creates an official plan and sets priorities. We believe the government should be encouraging participation in that format. That will empower municipalities and make them feel good about participating in a meaningful way.
I should note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill, Mr. Speaker, who will be adding some good comments and will be addressing some of the important rural issues as well.
Many of our cities and downtowns need some revitalization. That is important for both small and large municipalities. Affordable housing should be available. We know for a fact that in the province of Ontario we have not seen that because of the downloading on municipalities. They do not want the government program because it does not provide enough support and that is unfortunate because affordable housing affects many Canadians. It is also a factor in creating some of the poverty because of the lack of sustainability.
My party also emphasizes transit. In signing on to Kyoto, we believe transit is a way to create stronger cities and a way to achieve other national goals, and Kyoto has a national goal. The government should be given credit for signing on to Kyoto even though it is late with the plan, as we heard in committee this week. At least it is signed and there will be some sources of revenue dedicated toward that plan. We are looking forward to seeing more details unravel over the summer.
In summary, I believe we need to get more finances to municipalities. However we do not agree with the way it would be done under this motion. It would create complications. Cities and municipalities would not receive the sources they need. It would also be done in an imbalanced way because of the proposed regionalism.