Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to this important motion brought forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly.
For decades, Canada's vital public infrastructure has been suffering from serious neglect from the lack of political will of government after government to adequately invest in it. To make matters worse, not only have federal governments continued to fail to adequately invest in public infrastructure, but there has also been a significant downloading of the responsibility to provincial and municipal governments. In turn, many provincial governments over the years have followed suit and downloaded their responsibilities to local governments, as well.
The result is that local governments have been left holding the bag. Local governments have been even further handcuffed by successive cuts to transfers made to them by both the federal and provincial governments. Between the 1990s and 2000s alone, transfers from other levels of government were reduced from 26% to 16% of total annual municipal revenue.
While estimates of the infrastructure deficit can vary, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in its annual alternative federal budget, pegs that figure at $171.8 billion. There is absolutely no doubt that investment is needed.
Canada's public infrastructure is desperate for upgrade and expansion, and these are not just some make-work projects. Public infrastructure, such as improving roads and highways and expanding public transit services would not only significantly improve the lives of Canadians as they go about their day, but would help Canada build a more environmentally sustainable society, allowing us to do our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example.
As Canadian cities continue to grow, the failure to provide the essential funding to increase public transit options impacts Canadians at a personal level and the broader economy as well.
The 2014 traffic index found my city of Vancouver was home to the third largest amount of gridlock in North America, just behind Los Angeles and Mexico City, with Toronto not far behind. Gridlock was believed to cost the average commuter nearly 79 hours in 2014. That means for over three days per year, people are stuck in traffic.
In 2009, the OECD estimated that the greater Toronto area alone lost $3.3 billion in productivity as a result of urban sprawl, congestion, and underinvestment in public transit. Fast, frequent, reliable, accessible, affordable, high-capacity transit is essential.
In my riding, we often see buses drive past stops because they are full. There is no question that more buses are needed. The B-Line on Broadway often has long lineups. People in my community would love to see a rapid transit that takes them all the way to UBC. Enhanced HandyDART services are also much needed for seniors and those with mobility challenges.
Significant and stable long-term funding is required to provide the services needed to meet existing and future transit demands. Investments in public infrastructure are investments in our country's future.
Aside from a deficit in transit infrastructure, we also need soft infrastructure support. Things like libraries, community centres, neighbourhood houses, art and cultural spaces, theatres across Canada in both cities and rural communities are vitally important community institutions.
In Vancouver East, Vancouver's Chinatown is one of Canada's major tourist and historical sites. It is a recognized national historic site yet today, it is number three on Heritage Vancouver's top 10 watch list of endangered sites in Vancouver and on the top 19 endangered places list on the National Trust for Canada.
Today, historic Chinatown is faced with enormous redevelopment pressures and the neighbourhood is fast gentrifying. Currently, the community is very concerned about the future of 105 Keefer Street. It is located next to the Chinese memorial which commemorates the Chinese railway workers and soldiers. This memorial depicts the history of Chinese Canadians in Canada and is profound in its meaning to our community. The Vancouver Chinese memorial is one of a kind in North America and is also a major tourist attraction.
In recognition of the above factors, the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society, Chinese Canadian youth and seniors living in Chinatown held a joint press conference earlier requesting all levels of government to work in collaboration to acquire 105 Keefer Street and develop it for the community with special emphasis for low-income seniors housing.
The community would like to see all levels of government contribute to this much needed affordable housing in our community and to include the purchase of 105 Keefer as part of that initiative. This would be an excellent infrastructure project for the federal government to support.
Also, there is a historically significant role for Chinese society and clan associations in serving the social, political, and financial needs of Chinese Canadians. To bridge the history to the current realities of today, the community would like to see our government help rejuvenate these historic Chinese society and clan buildings. These buildings could be renovated in order to better serve the needs of today's community by creating usable community cultural spaces, space for food programs, and affordable housing.
The critical shortage of affordable, social, and co-op housing in this country is acute. Despite big talk about affordable housing strategies and big announcements about making investments, the government is simply continuing to kick the can down the road. In fact, it is investing in this year's budget exactly zero dollars to address the crisis.
My constituent Emily wrote:
Today I had the opportunity with my daughters school, Fresh Air Elementary, to tour Lookout's shelter in North Vancouver.
We learned that the shelter is full every night and that BC Housing waitlists are impossibly long. I know that the people who are homeless often face multiple barriers that will make it almost impossible to find housing in the regular rental market.
We need a national housing plan that includes mixed income housing such as Co-ops, accessible housing, housing for seniors and housing for people that are really hard to house. There has to be affordable options for families too.
The city of Vancouver has 20 sites ready to go, and we can see affordable housing developed there now. One of them is at 58 West Hastings, a city-owned site. The mayor signed a pledge and committed that the project would be 100% welfare, pension rate community-controlled social housing. One partner of the project is the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation. The city is now seeking additional financial support from senior levels of government, and it is vital that the federal government become a partner in this important project.
Aside from housing, soft infrastructure is also critical in our community. Take for example the Chinese Cultural Centre's newly re-elected board chair, Fred Kwok, would like to see a theatre built for community use at the Chinese Cultural Centre. The land is available. The plan was drawn up by the late Joe Wai, an architect that left a huge legacy in our community. A partnership with the federal government would be essential to see this project succeed.
I wholeheartedly agree that Canada needs significant, immediate, and sustained investments to upgrade, improve, and expand our public infrastructure. However, like my New Democratic colleagues, I have very serious concerns about the government's proposed Canada infrastructure bank. The government can pick any name it wants, but it cannot change what it really is: the growing privatization of Canada's public infrastructure. We know the government has given large multinational corporations significant control in the creation of this program. It had even decided where it should go before the matter was examined by committee.
What we know is that this is just another term for private-public partnerships, what we call P3s. Why the fancy name? Years of evidence have shown P3s for what they really are: costly, private profit-generating projects that are prone to cost and time overruns, high user fees, and when something goes wrong, it is the public that is on the hook.
A 2016 paper from the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy concluded that P3s cost as much as, or even more than, conventional fixed-price procurement arrangements. As I alluded to, it also found “risks that are supposedly transferred to private partners are never truly transferred.”
This is going to be done on the backs of Canadians. The government is rushing this through because it wants to hide it so that people cannot have accountability and cannot have transparency, which is exactly what the government said it would not do.
It is time to support this motion. Canadians deserve no less.