This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #214 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was municipalities.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order. I would ask members wishing to have private conversations to please step outside. I cannot hear the minister's speech.

The hon. Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, our Conservative government also implemented Canada's economic action plan in 2009 to stimulate the economy when the country needed it the most. We have supported 28,500 projects. Every time, the NDP opposed our government's work.

These achievements speak for themselves as testimony of our government's commitment to public infrastructure.

As the member for Trinity—Spadina specifically cited commute times, I would like to underline our government's continued support to public transit. We have been working in collaboration with all orders of government to support public transit across the country. Keeping in mind that public transit systems are managed and operated by municipalities and provinces, the Government of Canada has acted as a funding partner, respecting the roles and responsibilities of all.

Public transit systems support the prosperity of Canadian communities, and we are a supportive partner for helping to fund capital costs associated with the renewal and the expansion of transit infrastructure.

I would like to remind the NDP that our government has made record investments in public transit since 2006. If public transit is so important to them, they should have supported our government's work. I would like to refresh the memories of many of my colleagues who were not with us before the last election since the list of measures we have implemented is rather impressive.

Under the $8.8 billion building Canada fund, a key component of the building Canada plan, public transit was identified as one of the five national priorities. Infrastructure Canada has committed over 40% of that program spending to public transit projects. This includes $622 million for the Toronto-York Spadina subway extension in addition to $75 million given under the public transit capital trust, a $108 million package of transit investment in Vancouver, including upgrades to the SkyTrain system, and a $100 million investment in public transit in Edmonton.

Under Canada's economic action plan, the government has invested over $240 million in public transit projects through the infrastructure stimulus, including $39 million for various projects in Calgary and $101 million for projects in the greater Toronto area.

Furthermore, under the Canada strategic infrastructure fund, since 2006 more than $260 million has been committed to public transit projects. Additional funding was also provided for public transit initiatives through various envelopes, such as a $400 million public transit fund and a total of $1.4 billion under two public transit capital trusts.

Our government has invested $5 billion in public transit infrastructure across the country since 2006 through various programs. It is disappointing to see the NDP be so inconsistent. Although the NDP always professes to be the champion of public transit, it always votes against our government's reasonable initiatives to support the development of public transit. We will continue in this vein because our government's work on public transit does not stop there.

Indeed, in addition to these investments, the $2 billion federal gas tax fund also provides a substantial source of funding for transit projects on a yearly basis.

Some of Canada's largest cities—Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton—have directed either all or most of their federal transfers under this fund to public transit projects.

All in all, municipalities across Canada have used close to $1.7 billion of their federal gas tax fund allocations for transit investments since 2006.

We do more than provide infrastructure funding. Thanks to our public transit tax credit, Canadians can also claim costs of monthly public transit passes or passes of longer duration, such as an annual pass for travel within Canada on public transit. These public transit investments have been bettering the lives of Canadians residing in large urban centres and smaller communities alike.

Important transit projects have been funded in all parts of the country, thanks to federal support. For instance, in eastern Canada over $3 million was committed to a bus service in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Government of Canada also worked with the Province of New Brunswick to realize the Codiac transit facility in Moncton, providing $12.5 million in funding.

Our government also supported commuter train improvement projects in Quebec, including those in Dorion-Rigaud, Delson-Candiac and Blainville-Saint-Jérôme.

Close to $2.1 billion was committed to public transit initiatives in Ontario in the last five years.

In western Canada, federal commitments of close to $220 million in Alberta and $500 million in British Columbia have been made for public transit infrastructure initiatives like the south light rail transit platform extension in Edmonton, the new park and ride facility and new transit exchange in Langley, and the 7th Avenue rehabilitation of stations and track work in Calgary.

The NDP always voted against all of the funding to support these projects.

All these projects were made possible through our strong and successful partnerships. We have been working together to leverage investment from all levels of government and the private sector to ensure value for taxpayer money and to address the specific needs of each community.

In a country as big as ours, public transit needs differ from one region to another. Unlike the opposition, we believe that the provinces, territories and municipalities are in the best position to know what they need in terms of public transit and to develop plans to meet those needs.

That is why our government is giving its provincial, territorial and municipal partners the flexibility they need to determine their needs within these programs.

We will continue to respect provincial and municipal jurisdictions in our support for public transit. That is the way we do things.

We will continue to promote a collaborative approach to work with provinces, territories and municipalities to ensure that Canadian communities remain among the best in the world to live in.

Our record speaks for itself. Our government recognizes the importance of public infrastructure. It has made unprecedented and ongoing investments through its existing programs.

The opposition's record also speaks for itself. Every time it had to vote on a budget item to support the transit system, the NDP always voted against it.

We will continue to build on the success of the economic action plan and the building of Canada plan while we remain focused on creating the right conditions for long-term economic prosperity.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, we will always vote against budgets that cut Canadian jobs.

That said, the estimate that was tabled in front of the House yesterday cut over a billion dollars in infrastructure funds. It also cut over $270 million to Via Rail, which is more than half of its current funding.

This will lead to increased commute times and more crumbling infrastructure. It will mean that the water system will continue to age and that there will be even more boil water advisories.

Can the minister explain this deep cut in infrastructure and whether he plans to have a long-term infrastructure program in the upcoming budget?

He should answer those questions directly rather than resorting to the blame game and old talking points, because Canadians deserve a clear answer.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, this MP knows that assertion is wrong. That is cash management, and we repay bills to many provinces when they send us the bills. We cannot pay bills before we receive them. She already knows that. That is completely wrong.

We have invested more than any government in the past. Some were not there before 2011. They asked for a long-term plan. Now the gas tax is permanent. I think something that is permanent is there for the long term, and the NDP voted against that. We have delivered more than ever for this country and we will continue to do that.

With respect to jurisdictions, that is very important. They want to decide on behalf of municipalities. I am a former mayor; maybe someone wants to become a mayor too, but we will respect the jurisdictions of municipalities and provinces.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is not about what the government has done. We voted for that measure and even proposed it before the infrastructure programs. Now we need to talk about what is next. In 2014, the infrastructure plan will be renewed. The $131 billion infrastructure deficit is a fact.

The Canadian government will tell us that the municipalities fall under provincial jurisdiction. When he was mayor, I was minister at the time and I made announcements in his riding for the Roberval airport. I know that the federal government has a role to play in this.

Is the hon. member prepared to move forward with a long-term plan? The gas tax is one thing, but it is not enough. Will he ensure that we can make plans for sustainable infrastructure?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the reference to my time as mayor. Perhaps others aspire to that role. But that is another question, and only time will tell.

We have doubled the gasoline excise tax from $1 billion to $2 billion a year. Mayors in cities across the country want predictability; they want to know what is coming down the line. We travelled the country last summer. We held thirteen round tables to look at and gather comments from the provinces and municipalities. No decisions have been made yet.

The global economy is fragile and any decisions we make will take into account the ability of Canadian taxpayers to cover the costs in addition to the global economic situation.

We welcome the member's comments. We know how important infrastructure is for the country, as much for the municipalities as the provinces.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to sincerely thank the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities for his work; it benefits his region, Quebec and Canada as a whole.

Could the minister tell me whether this motion is actual useful?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Conservative Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I just said, never before in Canadian history have the municipalities and provinces had a partner as involved in infrastructure as our government. We have said that we will continue to be involved at a level that Canadian taxpayers can afford. As we have said many times, we will balance the budget.

While we want to balance our country's budget, the official opposition wants to create a $21 billion carbon tax and then hand out a few goodies to show that they are good managers. We would rather leave as much money as possible in the pockets of Canadian taxpayers. We have lowered taxes 140 times since we came into power. We want to keep going in that direction.

In response to my colleague's question, I will say that this motion is completely useless. Our government is hard at work and the NDP has voted against every single one of our measures for seven years. It is time for them to walk the talk and start voting in favour of measures on topics they say are important.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec

Conservative

Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the opposition motion gives me an opportunity to tell the House about the many initiatives and achievements of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec when it comes to infrastructure.

Since 2006, the Conservative government has made infrastructure one of its top priorities. An excellent example of this was our economic plan, advantage Canada, which included plans to develop modern infrastructure.

We kept our word and we delivered, as evidenced by the infrastructure programs and initiatives brought forward to help communities and to stimulate our economy.

The most recent initiative currently under way is producing meaningful results. I am referring to the community infrastructure improvement fund, or CIIF, which was launched as part of the most recent budget. The NDP opposed that initiative.

With an envelope of $31.2 million for Quebec, the CIIF, in place until March 2014, is meant to fund projects for rehabilitating, improving and expanding existing community infrastructure. Improving communities' quality of life is a priority for our government, and residents in communities across Canada are already enjoying the benefits of the CIIF.

The first call for proposals ended in the fall of 2012, and 542 projects were submitted from across Quebec, 542 projects that would not have happened if it were up to the NDP. The success of the first phase of the CIIF across the country confirmed the program's merits.

Priority was given to existing infrastructure, which is often administered by non-profits or municipalities. This includes marinas, sports fields, playground and park buildings and community centres.

In fact, I was in Drummondville just last week to announce our government's contribution to Le Centre communautaire Pierre-Lemaire for its project to upgrade its facilities.

This centre is an important part of community life in Drummondville. It offers a wide range of services and activities. Our government's contribution will help renovate and refurbish reception rooms and some common rooms. The CIIF improves quality of life in communities through partnership projects while contributing to growth, prosperity and job creation.

Just recently, my colleague, the Hon. Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec was in Quebec City to announce funding for Patro Roc-Amadour. The Patro is an important recreation centre that serves thousands of children, teens, adults and seniors from all backgrounds every year. Such organizations are the heart of community life for our constituents.

By opposing the creation of the program, the NDP opposes our government's support for these organizations. If we go back a few years, other major infrastructure projects have been started since 2006, including the building Canada fund—Quebec in partnership with the Government of Quebec, municipal governments or, in some cases, non-profits or the private sector.

This fund is part of the building Canada fund, which has a national budget of $8.8 billion and was created under the building Canada plan to fund projects from 2007 to 2014. The fund addresses national, regional and local priorities.

Canada Economic Development implements two components of the building Canada fund—Quebec: the communities component and the large urban centres component. The latter finances projects in communities of 100,000 or more. Our government's contribution to 18 major projects in Quebec totals $157 million, with total investments of almost half a billion dollars.

These projects include construction of the future Complexe sportif de Saint-Laurent, the Centre multiservice de Shipshaw in Saguenay and the Centres de foires in Sherbrooke and Quebec City, to name only a few.

The communities component of the building Canada fund-Quebec, in which we originally invested nearly $200 million, has made it possible to carry out 125 projects. Those projects have generated total investments of nearly $565 million. The NDP opposed every one of those projects.

In 2009, our government adopted Canada's economic action plan to counter the impact of the global economic slowdown on Canadians. For infrastructure alone, the plan provided $11.8 billion for projects to be implemented across the country, but that was $11 billion too much in the NDP's view.

Consequently, the communities component of the building Canada fund-Quebec was enhanced. With supplementary assistance of $105 million, we contributed to the implementation of an additional 104 projects. We are talking about modernizing public infrastructure in communities of fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, projects ranging from the modernization of water supply systems and water treatment stations to cultural and sports centres. Among many examples, I am thinking here of the construction of the Pat Burns Arena in Stanstead, replacing the old, obsolete arena. Opened in 2001, the new arena benefits Stanstead residents and Stanstead College students as well as the populations of surrounding municipalities.

Our government has invested a total of more than $461 million in the implementation of 247 infrastructure projects out of the building Canada fund-Quebec. Those 247 projects have received total investments of more than $1.4 billion. The NDP did not want those 247 projects to see the light of day.

We also established the recreational infrastructure Canada program in 2009 under the economic action plan. As part of that program, the purpose of which was to increase construction activities for recreational infrastructure and to create jobs, the Government of Canada invested more than $68 million in Quebec alone.

As a result, 208 recreational infrastructure projects received federal assistance. The NDP did not want those 208 projects to see the light of day. Here we are talking about projects to renovate and improve recreational facilities such as arenas, gymnasiums, pools, sports fields, parks and fitness trails.

Whether it be renovations to the Centre civique de Matagami pool, the development of a bicycle path in Lévis or the installation of a synthetic surface on the soccer field of Collège Montmorency in Laval, these are, once again, exciting structural projects that are good for the economic health of communities and the physical health of our constituents.

In addition to all these infrastructure projects, there is the municipal rural infrastructure fund, the MRIF, to which our government has contributed since 2006, investing more than $213 million, making it possible to carry out 227 projects.

Whether it be the construction of a youth centre in Cap-Chat or the restoration and redevelopment of the Masson-Angers train station here in the region, the MRIF also helps enhance quality of life in the communities and supports economic growth by improving community infrastructure.

Our infrastructure record since 2006 speaks for itself. Across Quebec, our government alone has contributed to the implementation of 682 projects through the programs and initiatives I have just mentioned. Our financial involvement in those projects amounts to nearly $743 million, and total investments generated have reached approximately $2.5 billion. We will continue to promote infrastructure projects for the benefit of our constituents and our communities, and for the good of our economy, despite the NDP opposition's eternal objections.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, while I listened with interest to my hon. colleague's speech, I was also present in the House when the government produced an economic update in November 2008 that projected a surplus for 2009 and completely failed to see coming what it now refers to as the “great recession” and had to be pressed into making investments to help save the Canadian economy by the New Democrats and this side of the House. It is interesting to hear this retelling of history.

I want to ask the member about the RInC program he is boasting about. The Conservative government created a program that would give money to municipalities of less than 100,000 in population to refurbish arenas and curling rinks. I tried to access those funds for my riding in Vancouver but was told we had to have a population of less than 100,000, which of course excluded all the major cities in this country. We also saw the Conservatives giving out big cheques with the Conservative logo on them, proving that they regarded this program as a way to shovel pork off the back of trucks. They could not understand the difference between the Conservative Party's and taxpayers' money.

What was the reason for having a 100,000 population limit on those funds? Why did the Conservatives not make those funds available to all communities in this country that needed help with their community centres, rinks and curling facilities and not just the ones in rural Canada? Why was that?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, if my colleague opposite had actually read the program, he would have known that there were funds for municipalities with a population of under 100,000.

How does my colleague opposite explain his inability to recognize that our government has made unprecedented investments in infrastructure improvement nationwide over the last seven years? How could the NDP vote against all of these investments in our country's infrastructure over the last seven years?

I would like him to have the opportunity someday to answer that kind of question. Quite frankly, this motion is completely pointless. It serves no purpose now, because our government has done excellent work on infrastructure in communities across Canada, in co-operation with the provinces, municipalities and non-profit organizations.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been sitting in this House with my colleague for years, and I hope that one day he will lose the recorded message and answer for himself. I will quietly ask him a very simple question, so that he can understand it clearly. What is more, a simple yes or no will suffice.

Is the parliamentary secretary in favour of dedicated infrastructure funding? I do not want to hear that the Liberals voted against infrastructure. Liberals are in favour of infrastructure.

Is he for or against dedicated funding?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind my colleague from Bourassa that our government set up the Canada-Quebec building Canada fund, which boosted infrastructure initiatives, in co-operation with the municipalities and the Government of Quebec.

I urge my colleague from Bourassa to cheer up. If his dreams come true, one day we will be able to work together in the interests of the Montreal region.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, one of the things this government did was make the gas tax funding permanent in our budget. Municipalities across Canada can now count on that money and know exactly how they can plan for their capital expenditures. I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could speak to how this is creating jobs and long-term planning opportunities for our municipalities.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for this interesting question.

The municipalities are very happy that the Government of Canada is taking steps to make the gas tax transfer permanent. This is a very significant $2 billion initiative that enables them to obtain recurrent funding and plan for their long-term infrastructure requirements.

We will have appropriate funding for these infrastructure requirements, and it is going to create long-term employment for Canada as a whole.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Western Arctic.

I am incredibly pleased and proud to speak to what I think is one of the most excellent motions ever presented in the House this session, and that is the opposition day motion drafted by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina.

For all Canadians watching right now, I will read the motion and I would like them to consider whether they think this is something they would like their federal government to agree with and vote for. The motion reads:

That this House call on the government to commit in Budget 2013 to a long-term, predictable and accountable federal infrastructure plan in partnership with other levels of government, as recommended by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in order to: (a) improve Canada's lagging productivity; (b) shorten commute times; and (c) fix Canada's crumbling infrastructure.

I would venture to guess that when Canadians from coast to coast to coast hear the motion they would be hard-pressed to see how anybody could disagree with a single word in there. Yet the federal government has indicated that it will vote against the motion, and we have heard a variety of reasons for that, none of which make sense. I will leave it up to the Canadian public to pass judgment on whether they think the motion is worthy of support or not.

Canada is facing an unprecedented infrastructure deficit. This is an assessment that has been confirmed by numerous studies and various sources from a variety of perspectives: business leaders, academics, experts, media reports and municipal leaders of all types across the country. They point to the realities of traffic gridlock, failing water systems and potholed roads. It makes it clear that a concerted effort by all three levels of government is needed to tackle the growing infrastructure crisis in earnest.

I have mentioned a couple of the real life services that Canadians get and expect when we use the term infrastructure. Let me itemize what we are talking about. We are talking about roads that Canadians drive on and that businesses use to transport their products, bridges, public transit of all types, buses, skytrains, metros, rail service, water and sewer systems. We are talking about the very guts of the Canadian economy, the very fabric of our cities, municipalities, towns and highways across the country that make life, business, employment and growth possible.

Population growth and increasing urbanization are outpacing investment in infrastructure. The persistent funding shortfalls prevent municipalities from performing crucial maintenance tasks needed to fix this crumbling infrastructure.

The ad hoc budget to budget funding model favoured by the government is better suited to photo ops and pork barrel politics than it is to building strong, dynamic communities, which is what the New Democratic official opposition is committed to. We are committed to building strong, dynamic communities in partnership with provincial, municipal and rural governments across the country so we can make life better for our citizens and we can make commerce easier for our businesses.

The reality is that much of post-war infrastructure in Canada is reaching the end of its lifespan. Canada's infrastructure deficit calculated as the total amount of investments needed to maintain and replace existing decaying municipal infrastructure is estimated at an astounding $171 billion. The Conservative government, prodded by New Democrats in previous Parliaments, finally has made permanent a certain portion of the gas tax that amounts to funding of $2 billion a year. We have a deficit just to fix existing decaying infrastructure of $171 billion. Therefore, I think Canadians watching get an idea of the magnitude of the problem and the insignificance of the Conservatives' solution. We need more.

For five years the New Democrats, as responsible legislators, as responsible parliamentarians, have been calling for a permanent infrastructure program to deal with this current deficit, rather than downloading responsibility to local governments, as the previous Liberal government did in the nineties.

I will pause and just say that the Liberals repeatedly stand in the House and tell us not to talk about the past, let us look at the future. If I had the record that the Liberals have of downloading infrastructure costs onto the provinces, of slashing budgets and dumping the problems of federal financing onto the backs of provincial and municipal governments, I would not want to look at that record either. However, it is a reality and it should be noted by Canadians. Because if we do not know where we have come from, we will not know where we are to go.

A long-term, predictable and accountable federal infrastructure plan, in partnership with other levels of government, will help our cities adapt to the 21st century economy, sustain economic growth, reduce commuting times and improve Canadian standard of living.

Again, business leaders, and I have already referred to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, municipal leaders, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is the pre-eminent body in our country that represents cities and towns across Canada, academics and economists are joining the NDP in calling for long-term sustained and predictable investments in public infrastructure to improve economic productivity, quality of life and the competitiveness of our towns and cities.

Anybody who is opposed to this motion would have to be opposed to a wide variety of Canadian sources calling for what is obviously an intelligent and thoughtful economic plan.

However, I want to talk about a few of my constituents because, frankly, I think the Canadian population is ahead of politicians quite often. Here is what some of them have said to me.

In a letter from November 2012, Joshun Dulai says:

Canada needs a cohesive plan and comprehensive investment in our public transit infrastructure. The federal government has an important role to play in making this happen....A national strategy would help make public transit more accessible and affordable. Our current public transit systems are chronically underfunded patchwork and would greatly benefit from a more co-ordinated approach.

As a member of Parliament, you have the ability to make important changes that would increase the quality of life for millions of Canadians, reduce traffic congestion in major urban centres, and upgrade public transit in both urban and rural areas. These steps would improve air quality and cut greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

That sounds pretty intelligent to me.

Here is a letter from Debbie Longley from March 2009, in which she states:

Another thing that I think would have a huge impact on the amount of carbon emissions in Vancouver is to make the buses [more affordable] to ride. I believe [investments] should be covered by tax dollars to encourage people to take public transit. I think it would even encourage many people to choose not to have a car. Others would use their cars less. I am a single mother, and it can be expensive to take the bus with children. This could also help unemployed people to be mobile to find work.

Again, I think that is pretty devastating logic.

Chardon Labrie states in a letter:

i am fed up with the transit system since the snow started. the amount of money i have had to fork over for cabs to get me home at 11:30 p.m. from work is obscene....the...buses just can't do the job. there is an endless stream of...buses for other areas but [none for my area]. i have paid for a yearly transit pass and feel as if i am not getting my money's worth....we should be able to expect the buses [in Canada] to run in all weather. someone should step up to the plate and fix this problem.

Again, I think that is a pretty accurate assessment.

These people are calling on the federal Conservative government to step up to that plate.

I want to talk for a moment about the mayor of Vancouver and city council, which is doing an excellent job in Vancouver. Mayor Gregor Robertson, joined by city councillors, Tim Stevenson, Raymond Louie, Geoff Meggs, Andrea Reimer and Heather Deal, all came to this Hill at various times in the past several years to beg the government to devote more money from the gas tax to give them a bit more money to invest the capital funding that they knew was needed.

We know that cities and towns have the bulk of responsibility for delivering public services in Canada. We also know that they receive only 8¢ out of every dollar of taxes collected. Therefore, it only stands to reason, onerous responsibility light revenues, we have to change this mismatch.

What is being called for by my hon. colleague is nothing more than common sense: long-term, predictable, stable funding. That is something we need to do to fix our roads and highways, improve our sewer systems and water supply, get our waste water and drinking water treatment facilities up to snuff, fix our bridges.

I am the critic for international trade. I cannot tell members how many witnesses have come to our committee and said that Canada needs a 21st century infrastructure if we are truly to take advantage of greater trade opportunities. We need to have ports, rail and roads that can move our imports and exports across the country. We need to have facilities that attract businesses here. If the government is really serious about attracting investment to Canada, then we better have the facilities that will make that investment profitable for those companies.

I call on the Conservative government to put ideology aside, do the right thing, listen to Canadian taxpayers, listen to the bodies across the country, listen to common sense and support a motion that is intelligent, needed and well drafted.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, last September, in northern Ontario, the provincial Liberal government decided to kill passenger train service on the Ontario Northlander, a passenger train service that was essential for the communities of our region.

The provincial Liberal government's idea of infrastructure is to sell it off, to have fire sales, to walk away from it and leave people without the basic methods of communication and travel that is essential to have a growing economy.

Now the federal Conservative government is refusing to work with the New Democrats on a national infrastructure plan to ensure that we have proper public transit, proper trains, proper municipal infrastructure because it would prefer to keep downloading it to our communities.

What does my hon. colleague think of this short-sighted view of what infrastructure is, where the government seems to think it is something that can be downloaded to the municipalities and to the taxpayers at the municipal level, rather than have a national strategy to ensure transit and proper housing?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's intelligent and thoughtful question gives me an opportunity to point out the other forms of infrastructure that are important to Canadians such as broadband Internet, hospitals, schools, airports, power lines, dams, wind farms and energy plants. Those also make up a wide array of the public infrastructure of Canada.

Canadians want to invest in their country. My hon. colleague hits the nail on the head when he talks about the Conservatives who ideologically believe in small government. They do not believe in building up public enterprise and public facilities in the country. They believe in reducing, shrinking and selling them off.

Right in my home town of Vancouver, we see the decision of the government to close the Kits Coast Guard station. We are starting to find paperwork that suggests the federal government is really interested in selling off the land on which the Kits Coast Guard station sits.

We know the government has sold foreign embassies and residences. It is selling the farm to pay the mortgage. That is why Conservatives are among the worst financial managers in the history of our country, with the largest deficits in the history of Canada. The one by the Minister of Finance last year is only eclipsed by the one by Michael Wilson in the Mulroney government. That is a fact.

I hear snickering on the side. Those members should check the numbers. Largest deficits and adding $100 billion of debt to Canada's debt is the legacy of the last five years. The Conservatives do not know how to run the economy.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thought it was interesting. In the previous question, the member made reference to the Liberal government in the province of Ontario. The first thought that came to my mind was the NDP government in Manitoba and its many failings.

In terms of looking at infrastructure, we need to see provincial governments working with the federal government in co-operation with our cities, our municipalities, which have their feet on the ground in terms of much of that infrastructure that has to get done. Many would argue that they could potentially play the lead role in terms of ensuring that the tendering, contracting and so forth are done. We are talking about streets, sewers and infrastructure such as back lanes, those sorts of things.

As the cities do not have the financial capability to do the work that is necessary, they rely not only on the provincial governments but the federal government. This is where Ottawa needs to step up and provide the leadership to bring the three stakeholders together to ensure we have proper infrastructure dollars going to these needs.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the New Democrats believe that a long-term effective infrastructure plan should be included in the 2013 budget, which is developed through continuous consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities and aboriginal communities and which would span a period of 20 years to allow for better long-term planning and support of long-term projects, sets clear funding criteria and program targets, uses transparent accountable and non-political allocation mechanisms to facilitate this process, something from which the Conservative government can learn.

It encourages the use of innovative technologies to get better efficiency, to provide dedicated funds for replacing and expanding rural, remote and northern infrastructure, to provide dedicated transit funds, to reduce commute times and to provide regular, frequent and transparent progress reports to Parliament.

Those are the priorities of the NDP. Those are the priorities of the cities, business groups and Canadians across the country. That is exactly what they are going to see in 2015.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this tremendous resolution that has been brought forward by our member for Trinity—Spadina.

When we talk about infrastructure, most Canadians, depending on where they live, think of the needs of big cities. However, Canada's rural and remote municipalities have infrastructure needs just as great as, or greater than, those faced by cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but are quite clearly without the same political leverage or resources needed to accomplish those things.

As a member from one of the most remote parts of Canada, a former long-term mayor and the president of the NWT Association of Communities, I know just how great the infrastructure challenge is to northern communities. It is composed of a number of different things.

Appearing before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs in 2009, David Austin, representing the Association of Yukon Communities, stated:

...we need to recognize that it is not possible to construct infrastructure in Yukon at costs approximating those of southern centres. The shortness of the season and the lack of skilled trades people in some specific trades are factors. The distance from major markets...transportation costs for materials, and economies of scale are difficult to achieve in the Yukon's relatively small economy.

His comments can be applied to the rest of the north: to the northern territories, to the northern aboriginal communities across the country and to northern parts of all the provinces. Probably 300 communities across Canada could be called rural and remote.

Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, currently has a well-documented infrastructure deficit of approximately $67 million, meaning that there is this much infrastructure that is in dire need of replacement. We live in a very difficult environment where the costs are high and where replacement becomes necessary because of climate change and the nature of where we are living.

Yellowknife mayor Mark Heyck recently stated:

...I believe we need to invest more in maintaining our municipal infrastructure than we have in the past, and we need to carefully prioritize our capital projects to put more emphasis on critical infrastructure....

We are not talking about things that are just for the sake of esthetics or simple things like that, but things that are absolutely required to run a small city.

He went on to say:

We also need to be active in territorial and national lobbying efforts through the NWT Association of Communities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to ensure the territorial and federal governments are adequately assisting municipalities with the cost of addressing our infrastructure deficit.

Just as Yellowknife probably helps out the rest of the country with its great mining industry located there, with the value per capita of the gross domestic product so high, right across northern Canada we are expected to be shouldering the burden of the GDP in this country to a greater extent than any other part of the country. We need to have proper infrastructure to accomplish that.

The 2008-2012 business plan of the Northwest Territories Department of Public Works and Services is even more direct about the infrastructure needs in the territories. It stated:

The fiscal reality is that the GNWT's infrastructure needs exceed, by a wide margin, its financial ability to address them. Therefore, the GNWT is challenged to explore broad and innovative approaches to infrastructure planning, acquisition, usage and maintenance.

The only trouble is innovation can only go so far, meaning that we simply need to invest.

To meet the NWT's infrastructure need, the territorial government has had to borrow. Because of the borrowing limitations imposed by Ottawa, it ran into serious difficulties.

The NWT Minister of Finance stated in this year's territorial budget address a week or so ago:

...every dollar spent on infrastructure is borrowed money, bringing us closer to our borrowing limit and leaving no flexibility to respond to a potential economic downturn or make strategic investments to support economic development and grow our economy.

Therefore, the NWT is in a robbing Peter to pay Paul situation, and the future is not well taken care of.

In Nunavut, the infrastructure deficit is just as great. The Nunavut government estimates that it will require $6 billion over the next 20 years to meet its existing infrastructure needs.

It has a need for 3,600 more housing units. It needs a deepwater port at Iqaluit and other communities. We had a tremendous presentation this morning at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on the incredible lack of transportation infrastructure in Nunavut.

Nunavut needs to find alternate sources of energy. It is currently using 33.4 million litres of diesel for electrical generation. That is unaffordable to that area and will continue to be unaffordable for the future.

Iqaluit, a city of 7,000 people, has a $160 million infrastructure deficit. They may be able to scrape together, as the mayor said, the $20 million for badly needed upgrades, but they cannot even come close to addressing the issues that are in front of them.

Earlier this month, the Premier of Nunavut was here in Ottawa lobbying for $500 million over five years for only two projects. That did not go very far.

Those are the kinds of situations our communities and our governments across northern Canada are in. We are expected to be the economic generators of the future, but the investment has to be made now.

It is unfortunate that politics comes into infrastructure investment. We need a clear strategy to move Canadian infrastructure into the 21st century. I served for five years on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' green municipal fund investment, and there was an opportunity across the country to identify good investments that made sense for the environment and made sense for the long-term costs to communities. That information is still available through this great organization, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. We can make a difference with our infrastructure, but we have to take the proper steps.

Improving infrastructure is more than just roads, more than ditches and dumps, more than those things. It is setting our communities up so that they can move to a green future. That is really important. When we invest in something that is not sustainable, that investment hangs around for 40 years making trouble, so we do need to be smart and clever and invest in the proper things.

Our municipalities across this country have taken the effort to understand how those investments are made and are likely to be the best ones to lead us forward in the future in making investments. It is incredibly important for the federal government to recognize the partnership that should be in place with the municipalities when it comes to investment in infrastructure.

I want to quote the former mayor of the City of Yellowknife, Gord Van Tighem, who spent many years in the position. He said, “In towns that have good water, affordable housing, power, and jobs, people can live healthy lifestyles.” Healthy lifestyles should be the goal for all Canadians.

The government could take real action on meeting Canada's infrastructure deficit if it would only take a strategic approach instead of funding projects politically to gain the most political advantage. We really have to move away from that. We have to move to a system that allows municipalities to make logical, rational choices about the future according to the best possible practices that have been identified for accomplishing our goals.

Sustainability is so important. We cannot leave our grandchildren with this infrastructure deficit. We cannot accept that our grandchildren will still be trying to go to work in situations that are not cleverly thought out by this generation. This generation has a responsibility to leave something better than we have to date. That should be our goal.

I hope the Conservatives will support this resolution and that we can work unanimously to build a better Canada.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Western Arctic for his presentation and I agree with every word. I am looking forward to voting for this motion.

Sometimes I think art imitates life. Many of us have enjoyed Terry Fallis' book The Best Laid Plans and its sequel The High Road, which was premised on the collapse of a bridge and with a good policy background suggested quite a number of successive governments had transferred a fiscal deficit to an infrastructure deficit.

I raise that point because in the debate today there is a really big elephant in the room, which is that we have ignored our infrastructure in ways that have left it crippled and crumbling.

Generations in the past used to invest in the future and think in the long term. If we do not pass this resolution and put new funds in place for infrastructure and take it seriously, we are condemning future generations to a crumbling third world status for Canadian municipalities.

I wonder if my friend has any further comments on that theme.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, the infrastructure of the country is like the clothes we wear. It is like the shoes on our feet. If we wear cheap shoes, they wear out quickly and we end up with foot problems later in life. If we do not dress properly and conserve energy, we might find ourselves getting sick more often.

Everything we do in our lives is important. We are facing challenges now that go beyond the borders of Canada and apply to the whole world. Therefore, we have a responsibility not only to Canada to fix our infrastructure and to do a good job, but we also need to set examples and join the rest of the world in working very hard come to grips with what the proper infrastructure is and how we can live our lives in a better fashion so we will leave something for our grandchildren to work with.

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member to recognize the degree to which we have this huge infrastructure deficit, no matter in what region of the country. In the Atlantic region, the northern region, the Pacific region, the Prairies, in Ontario or Quebec, all municipalities, big and small, need to invest more in things such as roads, sewer lines, and so forth.

I would ultimately conclude that unless the federal government is prepared to get serious, and unless the provinces to a certain degree also play a role in this, there is no possible way that our municipalities and cities will have the resources to address the real need. Would he not agree with that assessment?

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure PlanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, we are in the House of Commons. We are not shopkeepers. We are not counting our pennies and handing them out to people one by one. We are here to think for Canadians. We are here to provide an integrated plan for this country.

We are not here to simply be concerned about whether we took $2 from here and put it over there. We have to think about the future. If Parliament cannot live up to that, we should go home. We should not be here unless we care deeply about what the future means to this country.

It is not a question of making sure we get jobs this year. That is important, there is no doubt about it, but we have to have an idea of where this country needs to go in the future so that it works for Canadians. Without that, we are lost.