Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this House to give thanks to the people of Etobicoke North and discuss infrastructure, an important component of the stimulus package and a real need in our riding.
Municipalities provide much of the infrastructure and services that matter most to Canadians: bridges, public transit, roads, sewage systems, et cetera. However, cities are the level of government least able to fund these projects. Municipalities, unlike federal and provincial governments, are uniquely constrained. Their main source of revenue is property tax which is likely to be reduced for at least the near future as the housing market trends downward.
Canadian municipalities must stay on top of infrastructure needs as complacency and further deterioration may ultimately prove deadly. We cannot afford to ignore warning signs or to repeat the mistakes of the past. For example, a Portuguese mayor repeatedly told the government that a bridge crossed by 1,600 vehicles a day was unsafe before it plunged into a river, submerging two cars and a coach. In 1990 and 2005, the U.S. government gave the Mississippi bridge a rating of “structurally deficient” before it collapsed, sending more than 50 cars plunging 20 metres into the river below. Here in Canada drivers reported chunks of falling concrete about an hour before the collapse of an overpass in Quebec.
These tragedies all have one thing in common: the behaviour of organizations and people who fail to assume their responsibilities during the building or service life of the bridge. I point out that I could have chosen examples regarding other forms of infrastructure.
Recent disasters show the importance of protecting Canada's infrastructure from all types of hazards, for example, the 1996 Saguenay flood, the 1997 Red River flood, the 1998 ice storm, and the 2003 power blackout.
Canadian municipalities build, own and maintain most of the infrastructure that supports our economy and quality of life. Unfortunately, our Canadian communities are increasingly at risk of human made and natural disasters, largely because after decades of neglect, our once efficient and reliable infrastructure is now crumbling. Municipalities facing growing responsibilities and reduced revenues deferred needed investment and infrastructure deteriorated.
Canadian public investment in infrastructure has declined significantly since the 1960s. Public investment measured as a proportion of gross domestic product peaked at almost 5% in 1966 and fell to 2.6% by 2002. Deferred investment has significant consequences including the closing down and failure of some facilities such as bridges, roads, sewage and water supply.
The 2004 report, “Assessing Canada's Infrastructure Needs”, showed that Vancouver had bridge and traffic congestion that cost the region an estimated $1.5 billion in air pollution, lost work hours and shipping delays as the city's bridges were too narrow and therefore had to operate over capacity.
For Calgary, a transportation infrastructure improvement list included 880 million dollars' worth of major roadway projects. For Saskatoon, the needs included two more bridges and a list of road projects worth over $750 million. The estimated costs of reducing the backlog of repairs to highways, streets and viaducts in Toronto was $300 million and continues to grow today. Just to bring home the challenge, there are over 10,000 streets in Toronto with 5,300 kilometres of roads and 530 bridges.
Canada's infrastructure was mostly built between the 1950s and the 1970s. The decay is accelerating faster than previously thought, with infrastructure showing 79% of its service life already used.
Estimated cost to fix infrastructure increased fivefold, from $12 billion in 1985 to $60 billion in 2003. Today the cost is a staggering $123 billion.
Although I have largely focused on bridges and roads, infrastructure is needed for community, cultural and recreational infrastructure, solid waste management, transportation, and water and waste water systems.
The government proudly announces that the gas tax fund allows all municipalities to better plan and finance their long-term infrastructure. This is because municipalities know in advance how much money they are getting, know they will receive funding on a regular basis and know that in turn they must account for how they spend the money. Planned, steady spending allows shovel-ready work to begin quickly.
Unfortunately, Canada's cash-strapped communities are being asked to pick up a third of the cost of stimulus infrastructure projects. This means that Canadians will see fewer shovels breaking ground, fewer jobs created and too little stimulus to the economy when they need it most.
Government cannot afford to wait while municipalities find the money and infrastructure continues to deteriorate. We have all seen far too often what happens when organizations and people fail to assume their responsibilities with respect to building and maintaining infrastructure.
In some cases we will have to go further and make life-protecting investments, such as the much-celebrated Red River floodway expansion project, which provides a once in 300 years level of flood protection, equivalent to the largest flood in Manitoba history.
It is also important to recognize that the risks to infrastructure are becoming increasingly complex and frequent. For example, climate change is affecting our capacity to manage the risks associated with natural disasters, and Canada has seen a rise in severe weather related natural disasters such as droughts, floods and severe storms.
The 1998 ice storm in eastern Canada left three-quarters of a million homes without electricity, and the weight of ice and snow toppled 1,000 transmission towers and 30,000 utility poles.
The impacts of climate change on infrastructure are already evident in Canada's north. Permafrost is the foundation for airstrips, buildings, and community water. Thawing permafrost will have serious socio-economic implications for maintaining these structures.
A more efficient, faster and more stimulative method must be found to transfer federal funding to municipal infrastructure projects. The need is particularly great among first nations communities, where $1.4 billion is targeted for infrastructure, housing and skills; although encouraging, this investment does not reflect the need created after decades of economic marginalization and unfairness. Canada, which normally ranks in the top ten of the United Nations development index, would fall to 48th place out of 174 countries if judged solely on the economic and social well-being of first nations people.
In closing, I leave the House with a plea made by U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings following hurricane Katrina: “We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and died was nothing more than poverty...”
The 2001 census data showed that one first nations community was in the top 100 Canadian communities, while 92 were in the bottom 100. Let Canada not make the same mistake with communities that can pay versus those that cannot.