Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-10, the government's so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act.
Indeed, of the many ways in which the Conservative government is moving Canada backward, few initiatives do more to achieve this than Bill C-10.
In my riding of Davenport over the last two years, this is one of the issues that has come up most often. There is concern over the government's obsession with spending billions of dollars, and by the way, compelling the provinces to do the same, on a crime bill that will largely not make our streets any safer and will not contribute to building stronger communities.
I live in a riding where in the last two years we have seen schools close, recreation centres close, daycare centres close. Programs to help settle new immigrants have been gutted. Bus routes, used primarily by folks doing shift work, have been cut. Senior services are in dire need of new investments. I live in a city where 70,000 people are on a waiting list for affordable housing.
While the essential services that are needed to create strong, vibrant, safe streets and communities are being choked, the government can find billions upon billions of dollars for an experiment on crime prevention which has failed in every jurisdiction where it has been attempted. It utterly failed, as we know, in the United States.
Members should not get me wrong. It is not that people in my riding are not concerned about crime. They are concerned about crime. Indeed they are, but I am reminded of a conversation I had with some residents who were concerned about drug dealers taking over the local park. I am concerned about that too. It was not that they were just concerned about the dealers. To a person, these residents complained not so much that there are not enough prisons to lock the dealers up, but that there are not enough programs for young people to get involved in. With nothing to do and few local job prospects, young people are vulnerable to falling into gang culture and criminal elements. Bill C-10 does not address this fundamental foundational issue around crime prevention.
While I listed all the closures in my riding, and I could list more, there are things that are being built and opened in my riding. In the riding of Davenport there are two brand new police stations being built as we speak. Many are hopeful, as am I, that these new police stations in our neighbourhoods will help with some of the crime issues that people are dealing with, but the problem underlined in my riding is writ large in Bill C-10: there is no balance.
In communities across the country investment in social infrastructure is desperately needed, yet we are told that we are heading into a period of austerity and that there is no money. Well, there is money for some things, but when ideology trumps common sense, we get nasty pieces of legislation like Bill C-10.
Instead of a national affordable housing strategy that would provide a framework to provide stable affordable housing, a key determinant to health and a primary building block for safe communities, the government will spend over $500 million this year alone on new prison construction. That is the housing strategy for Canada.
While the government squeezes middle and working class families and small businesses, it is happy to spend over $162,000 on average annually for each new prison cell in this country, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Instead of investing in getting at the roots of poverty, mental illness and addiction, instead of focusing on a comprehensive pan-Canadian job strategy--and rolling over for the oil and gas industry is not a cross-Canada jobs program--the government wants to spend close to $3 billion a year locking up more people, providing fewer programs to rehabilitate them, all the while draining our public coffers, our precious resources, that could truly create safer streets. Indeed, prison costs are up 86% since the Conservatives took power while the crime rate continues to fall to its lowest level since the 1970s.
The government has racked up the biggest fiscal deficit in the history of Canada. Instead of being smart with taxpayer money, it plays politics and lets its dated right-wing ideology continue to craft bad public policy.
For example, a single new low security cell is going to cost $260,000 to build. A medium security cell is going to cost $400,000. A maximum security cell is going to cost $600,000. For goodness sake, even the annual cost of an inmate in a community correctional centre is now over $85,000 a year. Does this make fiscal sense?
As the income gap gets wider and wider in our country, the government hectors Canadians about belt-tightening, while its spends and spends on a prison expansion scheme about which both the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, among many others, have serious concerns.
The government does not actually want to hear what Canadians think about this omnibus bill. If it did, it would not have limited debate on the bill. Bill C-10 packages up nine government bills from the previous Parliament and presents them to the House and to Canadians as one whopping bill. Then it says that it wants us to accept it all without any conversation or debate.
With the motion that passed yesterday morning, Canadians in the House will only be able to debate for a period of less than two hours for each of the nine bills. For a government that was elected to bring more transparency and more accountability to this place, it is in fact bringing less. The action of limiting debate on this huge and outrageously expensive bill is one more example of its lack of transparency.
It is too bad. Canadians deserve to have Bill C-10 aired to its fullest. Experts say that mandatory minimum sentences do not work for reducing drug use, tackling organized crime or making our communities safer. The measures contained in the bill, for example, will not make it easier for law enforcement agencies to get to the organized crime bosses who run the drug trade, who we need to bring in and incarcerate.
One of the most effective ways to promote public safety is the successful rehabilitation and reintegration back into society of offenders. Our federal prison system lacks the programs to deal with this effectively. This legislation does not deal with this issue in any kind of real way.
We do not oppose everything in the bill. As we saw yesterday in the House, my hon. colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh tabled a motion that would have expedited the passing of elements of the bill that were in the last Parliament, known as Bill C-54. This section seeks to protect children from exploitation and sexual abuse. In fact, the government has adopted measures in this section of Bill C-10 put forward by the NDP in private member's bills.
It is too bad that the government would rather play politics than move quickly on parts of the bill that could get unanimous support in this House, like those measures to protect our children. In fact, immediately after voting down the motion that would have sent that part of the bill to the Senate within 48 hours, government members proceeded with statements on the importance of the very measure they had just voted against putting on the fast track.
As I said, there are things in the bill which we do agree with and which we could find common ground with the government on, but it is not really interested in doing that. The government's decision to limit debate heaps a measure of ideological cynicism on to what should be a very thorough, serious examination.
The bill is too costly and it will not make our streets and communities safer. We on the NDP side of the House have come prepared to work with the government to quickly pass the measures that will protect children and to fix measures that will not work. It is too bad the government wants to play politics and games with the safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society.