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.