Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the motion introduced by the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park.
I would like to thank the member for London—Fanshawe for agreeing to share her time with me.
The motion is essentially a way to address the failings of the budget implementation bill. It is really trying to send a message to the government.
Bill C-10, which is currently before the finance committee, simply does not go far enough to address our current economic crisis. Further, in the budget implementation bill the Conservatives have attached a series of ideological riders. They are trying to sneak through the back door a series of ideologically driven measures that have nothing to do with the stimulus package.
Hidden in this document of more than 500 pages are the Conservatives' proposals to take a woman's right to pay equity out of the human rights act. The bill would open up Canadian industry to more foreign ownership and would make it easier to go after students punitively. The budget fails to protect the vulnerable, fails to safeguard the jobs of today, and fails to create the jobs of tomorrow.
Today we have a Liberal motion to transfer money to municipalities via the gas tax and to transfer at least half of the proposed new infrastructure funding with no requirement that these funds be matched by the municipalities.
At the finance committee this week, New Democrats proposed amendments to Bill C-10. We proposed to strike the clause that proposes changes to the human rights act to prevent women from taking pay equity complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. We proposed to strike the provision that relaxes rules around environmental assessments under the Navigable Waters Act. We proposed to strike the provision that unilaterally tears up collective agreements signed by the government. We proposed to strike the provision that introduces punitive changes to student loans. We also proposed to strike the provision that weakens control on foreign companies taking over Canadian ones, and we tried to strike the clause that required other levels of government to match funds before they flow.
The motion does try to fix one problem with Bill C-10, and that is a laudable premise, despite the fact that the Liberals abstained from a vote in committee earlier this week that could have done essentially the same thing. They abstained when a vote of “yes” would have meant a majority and would have meant that there would not have been strings attached to infrastructure funding.
Our proposed amendments were practical proposals for change. Our amendment to address environmental assessments in particular under the Navigable Waters Act was a proposal that was demanded by the people of my riding.
Constituents have written to me in shock that the Conservative government would see environmental regulations as red tape to be cut through. One constituent, Joel Richard from Halifax, wrote to me and said:
When we protect public access to waterways in Canada, we are also protecting the natural environment of those waterways. We understand that it is important to initiate infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy. But we should not use that as an opportunity to dismantle safeguards put in place to protect Canada's environment.
It has been made abundantly clear in the House that the budget and its implementation bill use the economic upheaval we are facing to push through a tax on women, workers and students. New Democrats would like to see less of that brutal agenda and more of the funds that are needed to get Canadians back to work.
The budget is another very good example of the government's inability to develop strategies, strategies to address issues such as the economic crisis, climate change, or gang violence.
Today the Minister of Public Safety introduced another bill that lacks a real strategy. In their attempt to address gang violence, the Conservatives have introduced a bill that really does not do much.
New Democrats will support the bill. In fact, we call on the Conservative government to fast-track it. When it comes to tackling violent gang crime, New Democrats are calling on the Conservatives to move farther and faster.
We need a comprehensive federal anti-gang strategy, but the bill is not a strategy, much like the budget implementation bill. A comprehensive strategy must include not only tougher sentences but also more police officers on the street, improved witness protection, tougher laws to tackle proceeds of crime, modernization of the laws that cover surveillance and evidence-gathering, and a comprehensive plan for prevention to ensure our kids are diverted from gangs in the first place.
The people of my riding are used to New Democrats getting results for people, and we have continually done just that.
Back in 2005, New Democrats in this House were able to get Bill C-48 passed. That was the NDP budget bill. The leader of the NDP and the member for Winnipeg negotiated hard to get billions of dollars for infrastructure and housing investments. This meant real investments for Halifax transit and infrastructure.
The NDP's 2005 budget amendment meant around $85 million in new investments for Nova Scotia, including $26 million for transit, $29 million for university and college infrastructure, over $20 million for much-needed affordable housing, and almost $8 million for off-reserve aboriginal housing.
Very much as a result of the member for Toronto—Danforth's work when he was president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and then later the leader of the New Democratic Party, we saw a new funding model that allowed money to flow in a quicker and more equitable way. This gas tax formula was superior to the previous system of always requiring matched funds.
It is clear that New Democrats know how to work collaboratively and represent Canadians in Parliament for results.
Housing is an area of provincial and municipal jurisdiction that the federal government can assist via infrastructure funding.
Until the mid-1990s, Canada had been a world leader in developing cooperative and not-for-profit housing, but it has done very little since. The Liberal government of the day allowed affordable housing investments in this country to stall for a decade because of the requirement for provincial matching funds at a time when provincial coffers were bare, so it is welcome now to see that the Liberals have adopted the NDP approach as their own.
New Democrats enthusiastically support this motion. I would have preferred that the members over there would have agreed to try to amend the budget bill instead. That would have actually changed the funding models in reality. As I stated earlier, these same members blocked our amendments that would have done exactly what this motion calls for.
Unfortunately, even if it is passed, this motion will have no real effect on these funds flowing out now. We will continue to see a requirement for matching funds from municipalities and provinces already stretched to the limit, and we will continue to see a lack of private funding slowing down projects. This will lead to unacceptable delays.
Just last month, I held a press conference with builders and housing advocates to illustrate how investment in affordable housing can address a serious housing crisis in a city while at the same time acting as a powerful fiscal stimulant. This conference was held at a site purchased and ready for affordable housing units, but waiting for adequate funding.
We have seen record job losses across the country, and the sad irony is that many of those jobs were in the construction industry at a time when thousands are waiting for sustainable and affordable housing to be built.
At this press conference, I was joined by Carol Charlebois of the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, who spoke eloquently about the poverty-alleviating effects of affordable housing, and by Peter Greer, from the carpenters' union, who addressed the creation of jobs that would come from this type of investment. Jennifer Corson was there from Solterre Design, and she spoke about the carbon-reducing benefits associated with building environmentally sustainable units. It is win-win-win.
We had hoped that the budget would at least have a plan for creating jobs and helping those in need through affordable housing investments, but instead we saw small investments with these onerous strings attached.
I was also honoured last week to second the member for Vancouver East's bill to establish a national housing strategy. If passed by this House, this bill will bring all levels of government together to work to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians. What we need is strong legislation to guarantee that money is turned into housing, so I hope all my colleagues here will support the member for Vancouver East's bill when it comes soon before the House.
In closing, I support this motion, but again wish that the members opposite had decided to do something about this just a little earlier.