That, in the opinion of this House, and as experience has demonstrated, the most efficient, expeditious and stimulative method of transferring federal funding for municipal infrastructure projects is by means of mechanisms similar to those put in place, beginning in 2005, to share with municipalities on a per capita basis a significant and growing portion of the federal excise tax on gasoline; and the House calls upon the government to transfer at least half of its proposed new infrastructure funding in this manner over the next two years, with no requirement that these additional federal funds be matched by the municipalities with which they are shared.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter that I think reflects the new responsibilities of the House and the new conditions that Canadians face in their communities, and particularly because of the economic impacts.
This is the opportunity for all members of this Parliament to defend the best interests of their municipalities and their fellow citizens in a period of economic distress. It is essential to settle the fundamental issues for Canada's economic needs.
The plan of the government is to bring forward an economic stimulus package that rides significantly on the building of infrastructure. Each member of the House is being called upon to recognize that the responsibility is new in many significant respects.
The House has supported infrastructure before, but the scope of what is both required and the way in which it is meant to be done raises a significant challenge.
This motion raises a fundamental question, the same one asked by the president of the Quebec Order of Engineers: Are we, all members of society, prepared to spend all these billions in the best interests of society in such a short period of time?
It has not been done by any government, to be fair, but these are fundamental interests where people have been asked to support this. People and their communities know that the support is not fundamentally there on everyone's part. Can the government spend billions of dollars? The government has said it will somehow come up with the means of spending $7 billion to $8 billion on infrastructure when the most it has been spent, up to now, is $2 billion.
Are members of Parliament to simply cross their fingers, sit back and hope things will get done? We suggest today that there is a means to move forward. Parliamentarians need to stand in their place and give direction to the government to have an effective means of putting infrastructure dollars into our communities, putting people back to work as effectively as possible.
Every member of the House has a duty, a responsibility to answer this question. How will people be put back to work with these borrowed moneys? The House has been asked to take on a special trust in the budget bill, or any other infrastructure moneys that come before us, but how should they be put out to communities? We have the fundamentals identified by the engineers of Quebec. They speak of both the problems we have had in the past, sad problems like the viaduct of Concorde and so on, and our general need to get infrastructure in a responsible fashion.
In addition to that, we have difficulty working with a government that has a record when it comes to putting dollars to work. That record draws the immediate attention of the House. We need to act now.
This measure is of vital importance to overcome the Conservatives' well-known shortcomings. Unless Parliament acts, it is clear from the Conservatives' record that redistribution of any new moneys will be held up by red tape in an inconsistent strategy skewed in favour of their partisan interests.
I would rather stand here and talk about the benefits of simply the best method, but we also have to take into account that, after two and a half plus years, the government has a record. Because of that record, we have brought forward this motion today. We need to take it fully into account. It requires us to step forward in a sense of obligation to move things forward.
When the government put forward its budget, it had an opportunity to choose the best method. To give the scenario that faced the government ahead of its choices for the budget, the government proposed to put infrastructure money out through traditional means, new programs identified following those same methods. Last week we tabled a performance report from Infrastructure Canada. It is full of language about accountability. The report notes that of the $1.9 billion promised by the government, only 4% of $1.9 billion has been delivered. That is a 96% failure rate on what the government proposed in budget 2007 to address some of the significant infrastructure problems.
That kind of lack of effect is what the government knew ahead of time. It also had independent evaluations of a program that it continued, to give it some credit, for the municipalities, and that was the gas tax fund. The implementation of that program will tell quite a different story. In fact, some 95% of the funds on the tax transfer have made it to municipalities. It had available to it the preference of our municipal partners.
The two programs differ greatly in design, however, and this has an impact on the abilities of each to provide a prompt and responsible stimulus. The gas tax fund is the most effective and efficient federal funding program, because it enables the municipalities to quickly address clearly targeted and totally accountable infrastructure priorities.
This is essential. Today each member is being asked to be accountable for some thousands of dollars that the government has proposed to spend. The method being pursued is one that would not put people to work over the next couple of years.
The conclusion is inescapable on the record of the government of the day. Over $2 billion in the last two years has had to be given back to the treasury because the government has failed to provide the mechanisms to get it out there.
In addition, it is not simply a matter of whether it can find the means to suddenly deliver four times as much infrastructure funds. We have to ask ourselves why it did not choose the model that was available and agreed upon. It has access to not only the assessment from last year, but the government has one in its hands right now that reinforces the viability of the gas tax, which we have proposed today. Why did it not do that?
Sadly, the other record of the government is something a little less savoury and acceptable. People are watching us much more closely. How we respond to this economic crisis will not only define political careers, it will define how people regard the House and the relevance members have in their lives.
The old games that have been played have had their day and it is time to change. Each member of Parliament has to examine this. For example, while a very small amount of money has been released to communities and created jobs in past infrastructure programs, the promises made by the government have been quite troubling because they have shown a pattern of bias.
Of the first approximately $2.5 billion promised, and again not delivered, which is part of the root of why we are here today, 70% have been designated for Conservative-held ridings, the ridings of the party that holds the reins of government. That is 55% more than a fair distribution would allow. What it reflects is that Canadians who live elsewhere, who live in ridings that did not happen to elect a Conservative member are being shortchanged by 50% to make up for the shortfall. This is not acceptable.
We have in front of us the ability to turn a page today and to take responsibility in the way that every Canadian will hold us accountable. If these new $7 billion of funds do not find their way into the jobs in communities the way people expect, each one of us will be quite properly called to account.
In December 44,000 people in the construction industry lost their jobs. We have a government that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to recognize that economic stimulus was required. It is incumbent on the House to engage itself, involve itself, insert itself and give direction about implementation for effective stimulus spending.
The members of the government side have an opportunity to do this in a manner that does not slow down or get in the way of the programs that could come once budgetary allocations are approved. This is the chance to see the meddle of the members opposite in these new conditions.
Will they vote for the interests of their local citizens, a per capita distribution fairly across the country? Will they show respect for the local municipalities? Will they recognize that the municipalities have geared up for an increase in municipal receipts of gas tax funds and that they can responsibly put those to work? Will they accept the reports that say this is a good way to get money out to communities and that they trust the fact that the municipalities will find the money to spend?
The government, the members opposite, need to let go of the partisan small-minded politics of placing money in pet projects and things that it thinks are important. This is nothing more fundamental than a decision as to whether the old politics will rule in the conditions that Canada faces today or something new and different.
We have introduced this motion in the interests of a fair discussion and debate. We have information already available about choosing the instruments. We have not had in the opportunities, limited as they have been, whether before the Senate, or in the finance and infrastructure committees, or in brief instances of talking to the minister, any indication that there is a plan to turn around a 400% increase in distribution of infrastructure moneys without multiplying the problems that have been faced.
Again, a 96% failure rating in getting money out on time and a 50% distortion towards Conservative ridings and away from the fairness of the rest of the majority of Canadians is unacceptable. There have been enormous problems in working with our partners, provincially and federally.
There is nothing on the books. In fact, the government has asked the transport department, which distributed $1 billion and which has the same number of staff and level of expertise, perhaps slightly enhanced but not to any great extent, to now distribute $8 billion.
There is a root question for all Canadians. Can the government, which has been given probation, give us a push forward because of the economic exigencies of the day? Can it work when Canadians need it the most? Those are the fundamental questions.
In the handling of the infrastructure file, we see great significant cause for concern. Why did the government not choose the endorsed means of the municipalities? The big city mayors and the small town communities have told us what works and they can make it work right away.
If the members opposite do not agree with the motion today, then they will reinforce patterns of inequality in our country. Poor communities that cannot put up their share of the money will not get any economic stimulus. Is that fair?
No, it is not acceptable. Today is the time to change the way our communities and major cities are dealt with.
It is extremely important that we seize this opportunity. There will be no better chance. We do not want the House to fall into the typical blame and shame that happens when things do not work.
I look forward to hearing the debate from the other side of the House. We need a fulsome explanation from the government on how it will do this. The onus is on the government. We are stepping forward in a means that we think is in keeping with spirit of what the country requires, which is constructive proposals about how to move forward. Even though the record of the government is pretty sad and it has nothing to be proud of, it can make itself look better in the eyes of Canadians.
This is an essential test as well. Are the members of the governing party open to a different way of governing and taking forward suggestions from other parties? Are they finally going to get the message of the last election, that Canadians wanted them to come here with their ears and their hearts open to a means of moving the country forward? Canadians knew what Conservatives denied, and that is underneath their feet were the rumblings of an economy in trouble, of people losing jobs.
Forty percent of what is going to happen under the stimulus package is going to depend on the effectiveness of these infrastructure funds. Day by day the government is missing the chance to instill confidence in Canadians, confidence that the economy is going to get better, confidence that members of the House can find ways to supersede partisan differences.
If the party in power insists on not improving its infrastructure program with the motion we have today, it stands exposed as unable to meet the requirements of government.
We are working in a proactive fashion. We are working with this situation. We appeal to all the parties. We recognize and acknowledge the roles that other parties have played in identifying, for example, this mechanism of the gas transfer tax. We recognize that all people in their local communities are probably very versed on how effective that has been.
We have this need to step forward now and to amplify the impacts that can exist in terms of putting forward the best possible means.
I can predict very clearly what will happen if we do not act today. We will have a continuation of the partisan bias that sees certain Canadians denied on the basis of their vote, not on their need.
The money will likely be wasted. In a desperate move to transfer this money, the Conservatives might spend money without the appropriate accountability, resulting in costly errors with borrowed funds.
This is borrowed money. This is a trust not just for our voters and not just for our fellow citizens, but for the children of tomorrow, from whom we are borrowing this money. It is essential that we put forward the capacity on how those funds are going to live up to that.
The gas tax transfer fund is dedicated to the environmental change that this country has to put forward in order to meet the needs of the economy of tomorrow. It is dedicated to recognizing that municipalities cannot be beggared by the present circumstances of the economy. They have falling property tax revenues and, as many voices have already said, they have to look after the maintenance and the rebuilding of infrastructure. They will not be able to do that if we insist on a cost-shared mechanism.
This is a reasonable proposal before the House. It asks for half the money to be set aside to be used in the gas tax transfer fashion. It means that those communities and those provinces that want to add money will be free to do so. They recognize, and we need to respect their recognition, the desperation that many communities face, and they will do that. They do not need to be told by this level of government. They do not need to have their hands held and they do not need artificial due diligences, which will take months and months of procedure and not get dollars moving in the form of the so-called shovels in the ground and, more important, not get people back into jobs of dignity.
This is the hour. This is the time in which we get to decide how we will move forward. Is this House capable of seizing its new responsibilities, not just for devising what could happen, but for taking responsibility to ensure that it does happen for the implementation of building the next Canada? That is what the present economic circumstances open for us to do.