Mr. Speaker, as I begin my first speech in this session of Parliament, I would like to thank the voters in my riding of North Vancouver for giving me the honour of serving as their federal representative in Ottawa for a second term. It is an honour to serve in this place and the increased mandate given to me by the voters of my riding has only strengthened my desire to serve them to the best of my abilities and to ensure that their voice is heard in this Parliament.
I will be focussing my remarks today on the budget through the lens of my riding of North Vancouver, of my home province of British Columbia and, more specifically, to my role as opposition critic for Pacific Gateway.
During its brief existence, the previous government, the first to run on a made in B.C. agenda, made more significant progress on B.C. issues than any other in history. In addition to B.C. being the first province to sign on the new deal for cities and communities, we made progress on the foghorn issue, the pine beetle problem and moving the Canadian Tourism Commission to Vancouver.
The development of the Pacific Gateway strategy and support for the new Fairview container port in Prince Rupert were all aimed at helping Canada through its western gateway of British Columbia maximize future trade opportunities from the Pacific Rim, particularly the growing economies of India and China.
My point is very clear. The previous Liberal government “got” B.C. issues and voters in my province elected more Liberals in the last election than we have had since 1968. Clearly, we made significant progress.
The current government's budget was the first opportunity we as elected MPs and the Canadian public have had to view the government's detailed plans for its mandate to compare its election rhetoric to actual intentions and plans and to see numbers specifically, as an MP from B.C., to measure the government's commitment to our province's issues and concerns.
As critic for the Pacific Gateway, I was naturally eager to learn that the new government would honour its election promise to deliver at least the Liberal government's commitment of $590 million over five years for the Pacific Gateway strategy. I was also eager to see some sign that the Conservative government understood the importance and urgency of moving ahead with the previous government's committed support to help West Coast Ports meet its potential by providing a diverse program of support measures, of port and port related infrastructure.
In short, the new government and, more specifically, the Prime Minister, has blatantly broken his promise to British Columbians, western Canadians and, in fact, all Canadians who benefit from economic trade with the Asia Pacific region, and has severely deluded and delayed funding for the Pacific Gateway. The budget committed a mere $239 million over four years, less than half of what the Liberal government had earmarked for gateway initiatives over the same four year period.
Before going any further, let me give some background on the Pacific Gateway strategy as it was developed by the previous government in the last Parliament. Bill C-68, an act to support development of Canada's Pacific Gateway, would have launched immediate action and long term processes to enhance Canada's competitive position, boost B.C.'s economy, generate benefits across the west and forge deeper links with the emerging Asia Pacific region.
The Liberal Pacific Gateway strategy would have put an immediate $190 million on the table, dollars that would have begun flowing immediately this year to the following areas: $20 million over two years allocated to the Canada Service Border Agency for secure efficient border services to increase border management capacity at key entry points for the Pacific Gateway; and $10 million over five years for deeper links with the Asia Pacific region, specifically through standards harmonization. This initiative would have been led by the Standards Council of Canada and fostered mutually acceptable international standards, certification processes and procedures and accreditation guidelines to increase product interoperability, encourage innovation, reduce trade barriers, increase product safety and encourage environmentally sustainable activities.
The Liberal strategy would have put $125 million in four immediate transportation and infrastructure investments, specifically up to $90 million for the construction of the Pitt River bridge and Mary Hill interchange to replace a pair of swing bridges which are already unable to handle commercial and commuter traffic during peak periods. This investment would have improved the efficient flow of trade by reducing travel times and increasing reliability across the Pitt River.
Also, the Liberal strategy would have put up to $30 million into a number of new road-rail, grade separations within the rail corridor extending from Mission to Matsqui to Deltaport and would have enhanced the efficiency of rail operations, improved the flow of community traffic, eliminated delays for emergency response vehicles and reduced idling of vehicles at level crossings.
There would have been up to $3 million for road-rail grade separations in North Portal, Saskatchewan, a key location for the movement of goods destined for U.S. markets that originate from western Canada and the port of Vancouver and where CP's main rail line to Chicago crosses the Canada-U.S. border.
There would have been up to $2 million for intelligent transportation systems deployment, specifically the creation of a traffic management system for the British Columbia lower mainland to monitor and share traffic conditions on the major highway networks and the transit system. This would have improved the international and interprovincial flow of goods.
In addition, the Liberal gateway strategy would have invested $35 million over five years to establish the Pacific gateway council. Based in Vancouver, the council, consisting of a body of experts and stakeholders, would have immediately begun to make recommendations on how to invest the final portion of the $590 million over the five year plan.
Bill C-68 was a comprehensive and effective strategy to take concrete action to prepare British Columbia for the increased trade and traffic from China, India and the Pacific Rim, not in four years, not in eight years, but now, with a comprehensive strategy in place, dollars on the table and necessary infrastructure on the ground. Might I add the previous government considered the $590 million over five year Pacific gateway investments in Bill C-68 to be a down payment, a first step. We were committed to the gateway strategy and Bill C-68 was just the beginning.
Let us return to the budget and compare the current government's plans for the gateway, beginning first with the Prime Minister's comments during the election campaign in Prince Rupert, B.C. on December 28, in which he stated, “We will deliver at least the five year federal funding commitment of $591 million for the Pacific gateway initiative”. I will quote directly from the budget plan:
--this budget announces the Government's intention to invest a total of $591 million over the next eight years in Canada's Pacific gateway.
So much for keeping promises. The Prime Minister said one thing to British Columbians on the campaign trail and did another once elected. Is that what they call hypocrisy, or should I say “Harper-ocrisy”?
Not only was the gateway money delayed, it was also seriously diluted, with only $239 million flowing over four years, less than half of what the Liberal government had earmarked for gateway initiatives over the same period. In fact, where the Liberal plan would have put $73 million on the table for 2006-07 as part of our immediate $190 million package, the Conservative government has allocated only $19 million for the same period. So much for standing up for B.C. and the west.
May I remind the government of the comments made by the member for Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam who, during debate in the House on Bill C-68 last October, said the following:
The Conservative Party of Canada will be supporting this Liberal half-step. We are doing so because while much more could be done for B.C., should be done for B.C., and will be done for B.C. under a new Conservative government, half a loaf of bread is better than nothing to a starving man.
Under the Conservative gateway plan contained in this budget, the starving man will now have to settle for bread crumbs.
Also, during the election the member for Vancouver Kingsway, the then Liberal minister for the Pacific gateway, issued a dire warning regarding the Conservatives:
We've seen no evidence that they have the ability to comprehend the full, comprehensive nature of the gateway system and the affiliated policies and projects. The money itself is clearly at risk if a government were to come in whose priorities were different than ours.
The member could not have been more correct in his prediction about the Conservative government's apparent lack of understanding of western portal trade issues and their lack of commitment to the Pacific gateway. When I questioned the minister last week in the House about his government's plans to dilute and delay gateway funding, he told the House that the Conservative plan is much stronger than the Liberal gateway strategy.
I do not know what is being put in the water coolers in the government lobby, but I have to question the logic there. It is a simple question of math and the figures provided in the government's own budgets do not lie.
The new minister for the Pacific gateway, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, made reference last week to other infrastructure money, which I guess is some smoke and mirrors to make up for diluting, delaying and effectively watering down the needed funding to see the Pacific gateway strategy move ahead in a timely manner.
If the Prime Minister and his government believe in supporting the gateway initiative, why will they not commit the funds they feel will be needed to do the job in a clear and transparent way by identifying them now in the gateway funding timetable, not claim they can be covered by taking funds away from other spoken-for infrastructure budgets? If the Prime Minister thinks more money will be needed for the gateway, even if it is over a protracted eight year plan rather than a five year plan, why not put this money where their rhetoric and previous criticism is, be transparent and not resort to a shell game with the funding?
In conclusion, let me again express my profound disappointment with this budget as it relates to support for Pacific gateway funding. The Conservatives can dodge and spin, but my constituents and the voters of British Columbia will not forget the promises made during the election and the manner in which once in Ottawa the Conservative government has moved to dilute and delay funding for initiatives of crucial importance to British Columbia, to the west and to my riding of North Vancouver.