Madam Speaker, I will go back to what my constituents were telling me with regard to this budget. When they look at the dollar values, the $354 billion or $509 billion that have been spent over the last two years, they think that is a lot of money. However, in the same breath, they look at it and say that if we have to support each other and this is what it takes to get them through the crisis, they are willing to do it.
Then they start talking about priorities and whether it has been done right. Did the funds got to the people who needed it? Were the people who needed it the most taken care of? Were the funds delivered in an efficient way? When they start hearing about scandals like the WE scandal and friends and family of Liberal members getting money, they get mad because they feel cheated. They feel they have been taken advantage of and COVID has been used as a reason to do that. That is unacceptable and they are very upset about it. When they hear those things, they distrust government on everything, and that is unfortunate.
I remember back in 2008-09 when we went through the financial crisis under the Harper government. Billions of dollars were put into the economy through municipalities and provincial governments with zero scandals. Therefore, it can be done. We can empower the public service to get the money out, we can prioritize with the provinces and municipalities to get the appropriate projects established and we can spend the money in a responsible manner so taxpayers get value. I think a lot of people will look back on this situation maybe four or five years from now and will really criticize the Liberal government in how it conducted itself, how it aligned itself with areas and made decisions with regard to the crisis that ended up costing the lives of Canadians and our economy.
As we approached an actual budget, in January, I talked to all the municipalities in my riding through Zoom. I told them the rumour was there would be $100 billion for infrastructure for municipalities, so we should get our ducks in a line and have ideas of what types of things we would want to prioritize as far as spending. I came across the village of St. Louis. It wants a new fire hall. It is taking on more fire services in the rural areas and wants to put its fire trucks in one location instead of the three locations it has right now. It identified that as one of the priorities it would like to get some assistance on, if it was there.
I spoke to the mayor of Nipawin, who talked about how the landfill was getting to the end of its life, that the municipality was looking to get a new landfill and having a new partnership with other municipalities. He was trying to figure out a way forward on that.
Just north of Prince Albert, the Town of Shellbrook, the arm of Buckland and the regional municipality of Prince Albert, it is saying that it really requires water. It is getting together with others to put in a rural water network, costing some $50 million. It is something that would take care of the farmers, the Town of Shellbrook, the acreage owners outside of the city of Prince Albert. It would probably be about 70 or 80 kilometres long. It is a good project that would get shovels in the ground and be of value at the end of the day.
Those are the types of things at which municipalities are looking.
One of the other priorities that came out of my meetings with the municipalities was high-speed Internet. They feel so neglected. When they start hearing these big announcements about billions of dollars, in this case, $1 billion over nine years, about $140 million a year, they thought they should be able to do it. Then when they see the actual rollout and the amount per year, they roll their eyes and say that is never heading their way, that they will never get it. Therefore, they are looking for support to do it on their own. They have been looking at new technologies, and I encourage the government to start looking at some of the new technologies as well.
I have been one of the lucky people in Canada to be involved in the beta testing for Starlink, and it has been fabulous. There have been a few little hiccups, as there are with all systems. Why would the government not embrace Telesat Canada or groups like that, even Starlink, and look at how it can speed this up to get the service to rural Canadians at speeds of some 150 to 200 megabytes a minute down and 40 or 50 megabytes up? Why would we not look at that and ask how we can empower the private sector to provide the service? The technology is there; we just need the will of the government to push it along.
Another thing a lot of people said was that some sectors had done really well during COVID. Those who sell cross-country skis, Ski-Doos, quads or camping equipment were busy. Canadians love the outdoors and since they were unable to travel, they were spending money on things they could do in their own backyards. The riding of Prince Albert is beautiful and there are a lot of things for people to do in their backyards and still respect social distancing. Companies selling lumber right now are doing great.
If we look at those types of businesses, they have done very well, yet some sectors have been left out. People who are in the tourism sector, people who run a fishing lodge in northern Saskatchewan are looking at their second season under COVID, wondering whether they can open or not. They have clients lined up who wanted to go last year, they have held their deposits and now those people want to come this year. They are vaccinated, most of them are Americans, but they cannot get a signal from the government on what the matrix would be for our border to reopen.
In Saskatchewan, the province has at least given us an idea, based on the number of vaccinations and a combination of things, on when we will start to see the province start to open up. The federal government has done nothing like that. It has not given any signals to Canadians or businesses on what a safe reopening would look like and what steps would be required to have that safe reopening. Because of that, we cannot make decisions.
If people are running a fishing lodge, to open up that lodge, they need to fly in with their supplies for the year, and that is an expensive trip. Therefore, they do not want to go up there unless they are have clients coming. That takes time. They will have to get a hold of their clients and ensure they have processes in place to come to their lodge. They have to ensure their staff is rehired and trained. People cannot just wake up on a Monday morning and say, “the border is open; let's go.” There needs to be some proper signals. While those things do not cost money, we have to be in control of the situation, use the science to our best ability and give our best predictions based on that science, not be secretive or silent. That is not an answer and it is not acceptable.
We have had a really serious problem right across Canada in our restaurant sector. Some have adapted, some have not. There is no question that they are struggling. If there is a sector that needs help, tourism, restaurants and these types of businesses definitely need help. Where is that in the budget. If they have a new restaurant, like my friend from Dufferin—Caledon mentioned, they do not qualify. What about a ma and pa restaurant that has around for years? The owners are two or three years away from retirement, but all of a sudden they have to dip into savings. They wonder if they should put another $40,000 or $50,000 into it. That money it is coming right out of their savings account. It is coming right out of their RRSPs, and they have to pay tax on that if they put it into their business. There has been no compensation for things like that. There has been no flexibility. People have to make very serious decisions and they do not have good information from the government on which to base those decisions.
When we look at that, it leads into my next topic, which is mental health.
I have been very concerned about my staff in my office, and I am sure my colleagues have been as well. One minute, the people are on the phone crying and the next minute they are yelling. The next call is from somebody who is overwhelmed. Our staff are dealing with that call after call. Mental health is a serious issue right now. To think that we cannot find money for the mental health hotline that the member for Cariboo—Prince George asked for seems irresponsible. Where is the government's heart? Where is it priority?
In the agriculture sector, farmers are grappling. I will highlight the fact that they are spring seeding now. The census is hitting while they are doing that, by the way, which they are not happy about. I want them to have a safe seeding system. There are some things in the budget that they liked, but the one area that concerns them is the $60 million over two years for a nature-smart climate solution, where the government will buy farmland. Why does the government want to buy farmland? Farmers are the best stewards of the land. If we want to set aside land for planting trees, why would we not just pay them for it? We could say that this is marginal land, we will pay them for it and they can take care of it and manage it, just like they do in Europe.
Again, the government prescribes things instead of consulting and talking to people moving forward.
In summary, a lot of money is being spent. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. I know the member from Kingston will ask what I would cut from the budget. It is not a matter of cutting; it is a matter of having the appropriate priorities, understanding the needs of Canadians and getting the funds to people who actually need them.