Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate. I must indicate that it is actually a rather sad commentary that we need to have this debate.
The debate obviously is centring on supporting and investing in the province of Ontario, the economic engine of Canada, on the need to have good federal-provincial-territorial cooperation, and on the fact that almost a year ago, on March 19, the finance minister said that we really needed to end this unproductive bickering between the provinces and the federal government. Certainly at that time I would have agreed with him.
I am rather disappointed that over the last seven weeks we seem to have gotten into very unproductive verbal warfare with the province of Ontario. It clearly is not helpful for the province. It is not helpful for the country. It certainly sends out the wrong message when it comes to investing in this country, particularly in Ontario, which has been hard hit in a number of sectors. I will certainly go over that.
Clearly if we are going to respect not only jurisdictions but the fact that we need to work together, particularly when we are seeing bumps in the road with regard to the economy, this kind of strategy, if we can call it that, certainly does not augur well in terms of dealing with plants that are shut down and with workers who are now thrown out and need retraining. To invest in this province is critical. The messaging we have heard from the federal government has not been at all helpful.
For example, before we even get into the economy, I note that the government produced Bill C-22 on the issue of representation for a future Parliament. Again, based on the numbers and the increase in population, one would have assumed that Ontario would receive 20 additional seats. Under the legislation, we in Ontario receive 10 seats. We of course support more seats for British Columbia and Alberta, but not at the expense of the province of Ontario.
Where were the Ontario members on that side of the House when this issue came up? They were silent. That silence has been deafening. It is this side of the House and the Liberal Party that have stood up, along with the premier of Ontario, to say that this cannot go forward, that this is obviously not in the interests of the people of Ontario. Again, the members on that side, particularly the members from Ontario, have been very quiet when it comes to this particular piece of legislation. That is not in the interests of Ontario. That is not in the interests of the country at all.
The question becomes why. There seems to be a pattern developing here. Again, when we look at the issue of the economy, we look at the area of infrastructure. We know that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a report late last year which said that there was a $123 billion infrastructure deficit in Canada and that this infrastructure deficit needed to be addressed.
We know that the Conservative Party has always been silent on infrastructure. It certainly was when former prime minister Mulroney was in power. In 1983 when the FCM proposed the original infrastructure program, it lay dormant under that government. It was not until the government of Jean Chrétien came in that we in fact embraced a national infrastructure program whereby all three orders of government were able to contribute.
Unfortunately, however, infrastructure is not simply about roads, bridges and sewer plants. It deals with issues of productivity and issues of innovation. In order to make our cities and our communities more competitive, we need to address the infrastructure deficit. Unfortunately, the finance minister said that the government was “not in the pothole business”. In fact, as a former president of the FCM, I had not heard that language in over 10 years. I thought it was Back to the Future.
When it comes to infrastructure issues, we need to be investing, not recycling. The government proudly announced its $33 billion program, of which $17 billion was recycled money. Mayors and councillors know when somebody is trying to hoodwink them. The reality is that we cannot simply recycle. We need to make genuine investments in these areas in order assist our cities and communities so that we can be competitive, not only at home but obviously on the international stage. We cannot do that if governments only think that the role of the federal government is certainly not to be in “the pothole business”.
I can tell members that there are many mayors and councillors across this country who took issue with that and very clearly believe that at the end of the day, if we do not invest, it is going to get worse. A deficit of $123 billion is obviously one that we need to address and to address very carefully.
For the province of Ontario to move goods and services, whether it be at the border or between communities, we need that kind of support and leadership from the federal government. It is the leadership that the Liberal Party has shown over the years. We did it in 1994 with the national infrastructure program, which was renewed by successive Liberal governments, again demonstrating that we understand the issues.
We also have a national Liberal caucus that deals with cities and communities. It understands these issues. Again, there is silence on the other side when it comes to those kinds of investments for our cities. In fact, if everything were as rosy as some of the members on the other side suggest, then one wonders why the big city mayors caucus of the FCM, and others, continually say that those members do not get it. The government does not get it. Until it does, we are going to have this continual problem.
In terms of an investment issue, on infrastructure alone we know the government does not get it. We know the Conservatives do not get it on the environment. Clearly they do not get it when it comes to transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They do not get it in terms of investing in subways and buses and understanding that there is a crying need out there.
Again, we should be partners. It is all about partnership. Confederation is about partnership. It is not about “my way or the highway”. It is about working together collaboratively with our partners, whether they be the provinces and territories or the cities and communities across Canada. Again, it is disappointing that we are not seeing that kind of leadership from the other side of the aisle. This is something that we on this side have articulated. We repeatedly have demonstrated partnership when it comes to dealing with the $123 billion deficit on infrastructure.
Another thing, of course, is that we have heard the House leader refer to our premier as “the small man of Confederation”. If a government is trying to build collaborative relationships between the federal government and the provinces, then why on earth would those kinds of cheap comments be made about the premier of any province? Certainly in the province of Ontario that was not viewed very positively. In fact, it certainly demonstrated the small-mindedness on that side of the House, and again it shows that the Conservatives do not get it.
It all comes down to the fact that the Conservatives do not understand how this country works and what it means to be collaborative. Of course provinces and territories are not always going to agree with the federal government, and vice versa, but it is not done by finger pointing and name-calling. The two governments need to work together.
I understand I am going to have to wrap up until after question period because of what is going to happen next, but I thank members for their attention.