Mr. Speaker, I am delighted, both as the member of Parliament for Richmond Hill and as a former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to participate in the debate.
If ever there were a more fundamental difference between this side of the House and the government, it would be on this issue. The Liberal Party is the party of cities and communities. It is the party that understood the problems that cities were facing with a shrinking revenue base over the years.
In 1994, when the Liberal government came to power, it implemented the national infrastructure program, which was a program proposed by the FCM in 1983. However, when the Conservatives came to power in 1984, the Mulroney government ignored our cities.
Therefore, it is not surprising that today we see that same lack of understanding and vision when it comes to a very important order of government, the municipal government in Canada.
The Liberal Party is not resting on its laurels for all the work it did with cities for the last 12 years. We got the job done by working with cities. Now we have a seven point program to deal with the crying need to address municipal issues in Canada.
Although, under the Constitution, municipalities, and I hate this phrase, are creatures of the provinces, the reality is that we cannot ignore the fact that 80% of our citizens live in big cities across this country. We need to help as partners. What the FCM and provincial and territorial associations have been asking for, for years, is that they be treated with respect and fairness. They do not expect to come to Ottawa, which happened a couple of weeks ago, to be told to basically keep quiet, to get to work and that the government was not in the pothole business.
We are in the business of working effectively with our provinces.
I am very proud of the Liberal seven point program. I would note that we on this side of the House are addressing the kinds of issues that affect municipal governments. One of these issues is the transfer of the gas tax. This is not something new. It is only new in terms of how we will shape it.
The prime minister in the last government announced a new deal. We understand these issues. In our proposal, we would immediately commit $2 billion in transfers over five years and then we would extend that indefinitely beyond that. We believe it is important for municipal governments to have a source of revenue they can count on. Most municipal governments in Canada depend on property tax, which is antiquated at best. We think it is important to give certainty to municipal leaders across the country.
We are also proposing a transit infrastructure fund. My colleague referenced the fact that many colleagues on this side of the House have municipal experience, which is probably why we understand this issue better than others in the House. The fact is that we would have a transit infrastructure fund of $7 billion, not only to deal with the issue of expansion, but also to deal with the replacement of existing infrastructure, transit in particular. This is very important.
We talk about the environment. We talk about getting people out of their cars and into transit systems but we need capital funding, which is where we are going with this particular recommendation. The motion today addresses this issue. The lack of understanding and lack of vision by members on the other side with respect to this issue is not surprising because they never embraced the infrastructure program that the FCM put forward back in 1983.
The Conservatives have a johnny-come-lately approach. They say that they are doing all of this but all they have done is basically repackaged money in this Canada fund and then they have municipal governments competing for a smaller pot. The $17 billion is recycled money. Probably the only thing on the environment that the government understands is recycling, in particular, Liberal money from the past.
I am very proud of the physical infrastructure fund initiative that the Liberal Party undertook. Again we are talking about $1 billion. We are talking about dealing with waste treatment plants and repairing bridges and roads. We are laying out very clearly not only what we are prepared to do as the government in waiting but also funding it. This is extremely important.
On the social infrastructure fund, our cities are home to 80% of the population. We understand the importance of having vibrant cities, cities that can compete not only on the North American continent but around the world. To do that, we want to support municipal governments across the country and allow them to have access to funding.
The areas of culture, sport and recreation are very important. They are simply not a place where people work, but where the activities of communities take place and people are able to participate in the arts. We want to showcase our arts not just at home but abroad. This is another piece of our platform that we are enunciating very clearly.
With regard to the border infrastructure fund and rural infrastructure, my colleague from Thunder Bay made it very clear that we are not only addressing the large cities and communities, we are addressing rural Canada. We understand better than any party in the House the needs in rural Canada and we want to address those issues.
Regarding infrastructure at the border, we understand the importance of commerce and being able to get across the border. Providing that kind of assistance is absolutely critical if we want to move ahead. Committing $500 million and then $200 million after that is part of the program.
We are also looking at the hub strategy. The Liberals came up with the gateway proposal in British Columbia. We know how important Asia is. We understand the need to move goods across the Pacific. We can look at that kind of hub strategy for other cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Winnipeg.
We also understand partnerships to deal with policy issues. I remember in 1989 when the Conservative government of the day, the Mulroney government, decided to bring in a significant hit for municipal governments without any consultation. Then it decided to give cities a 10% tax cut. That meant the CBC paid 10% less as a federal institution than CTV. Although the same fire services, et cetera, were provided to the CBC building, it paid 10% less than CTV. That is a lack of understanding and vision by the other side.
We point out that we will do active consultation on policies. If the Government of Canada is going to make policy that is going to impact cities and communities, a we are going to have the cities at the table. They are an order of government in our country. We cannot put our heads in the sand and say, “It is somebody else's responsibility. Let the provinces deal with it”.
The other side likes to write cheques to the provinces and let them to take care of the cities across Canada. That is a paternalistic approach which this side of the House does not agree with and will not support. We believe they need to be part of the process. Therefore, policy is extremely important. If a policy issue is going to affect our cities, we are going to have them participate actively. At the end of the day they are consulted and they provide input. That is extremely important.
In 1996, as president of the FCM, I was able to address, for the first time, a joint federal-provincial-territorial meeting on environment and natural resources policy, which affected cities across Canada. Fortunately, the Liberal government of the day understood that and was able to work with the provinces and have the FCM do a presentation. We were not at the table for the whole meeting, but we had the ability to respond to these issues. That is extremely important because we need to consult our partners.
This blueprint, as I said at the beginning, shows stark contrast to the understanding of the Conservative government. Making the gas transfer permanent will give assurances and stability to our cities and communities across the country. The Liberal Party has the cities and communities caucus. We understand their needs and are sensitive to those particular issues. Maybe that is why so many municipal politicians wind up running for federal politics on this side of the House and not elsewhere.
Many of my colleagues from across the country have been part of that discussion over the years. I am sure we will hear some nonsense from the other side, but the reality is the Liberal record is a solid record. Liberals are very proud of the record and the platform that we are presenting Canadians.