Madam Speaker, we are here this evening to debate the supplementary estimates for the 2022-23 fiscal year. As members know, budgets generally go up to March 31. That is usually how they work.
My question is about the supplementary estimates or the budget. Since we are talking about the 2022-23 budget, I want to talk more specifically about budget 2022, which was presented in March. I think tonight is the perfect opportunity to talk about a subject that is near and dear to me, but that the government does not seem to care much about. This will become clearer in a moment.
There was one short segment in the budget that the government presented not too long ago that might have been overlooked. A federal budget is several hundred pages long, and it is rare for someone to go through it line by line, word by word. It is easy to miss things.
Obviously, as the transportation and infrastructure critic, my staff and I are more interested in those areas, so we dug a little deeper. We found that on page 79 of the budget it says:
Budget 2022 signals the government’s intention to accelerate the deadline for provinces to fully commit their remaining funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program to priority projects to March 31, 2023. As a measure of fiscal prudence, any uncommitted funds after this date will be reallocated to other priorities. The federal government will work closely with provinces to support them in expediting project submissions.
The next line says that the deadline remains unchanged for the territories.
It is important to understand that the deadline was not 2023. It was moved up; it used to be later. In fact, the deadline was 2025. That is the whole problem. It is 2022 and the government is saying that all projects have to be submitted by 2023.
We also have to understand what type of money and what type of projects we are talking about. The investing in Canada infrastructure program is a huge program. It has a $7.5‑billion envelope for the Quebec component alone. How much is left in the program right now? A bit more than $3.5 billion roughly has been allocated, so there is $4 billion left. In an election year, where all sorts of things may happen, where we might lose a month and there may be changes in government and ministers, people had 10 months to submit plans instead of the three years they should have had.
Worse yet, it is not just the Government of Quebec submitting plans. The municipalities and towns of Quebec are doing so as well. Who will pay the price for these decisions at the end of the day? It is Quebec's towns.
I mention this today because it has had significant and profound adverse effects, but it is more than that. When a government decides to change its agenda, we might say that is its right. It can do that and we can speak out against the resulting consequences, which is what I am doing right now.
However, it goes further than that. An agreement was signed with the Quebec government in 2018, which essentially said that the end date was going to be 2025. There was a signed agreement in which the parties agreed on the amounts and the dates. When you have a signed agreement, you usually expect your partner on the other end to stick to it. Of course, when it comes to the federal government, it is a bit harder to know for sure whether one can rely on anything it agrees to, since it does have a bad track record in that regard.
Many will remember, as I do, the famous 1980 referendum in which Trudeau senior said that voting “no” was a vote for change. I was not there in 1980 because I was not born yet, but I remember the images, and they come back to haunt me every time I see things like that happen. The infamous change was the patriation of the Canadian Constitution. This was not a very positive change for Quebec, which never signed it, not even to this day.
Again in 1995, we were promised the world and what we got was the notorious sponsorship scandal and the equally notorious Clarity Act. That is the kind of reliable partner we can do without.
On the subject of infrastructure specifically, I could talk about the national trade corridors fund, which gave us peanuts. I could talk about contracts for the Davie shipyard and how the government laughed in our faces and gave us next to nothing. The federal government seems to enjoy laughing at us and showing us who is boss. That is what we are seeing here.
The problem is not just that the government wants to pretend it is the boss. The problem is that real people in real communities will be passed over. These are programs for green infrastructure, public transit and drinking water systems, which are huge issues for all the cities that need them.
There is $4 billion up for grabs. Those people over there will say that cities still have a shot at those billions because they still have 10 months to submit something that takes three years to prepare. That means cities will be in a big rush and will put anything down in an effort to save as much as they can, but they are almost guaranteed to lose.
It is sad to see a government acting that way. What is even sadder is that, in reading the agreement in detail, we realized that it contained something specific to Quebec. In Quebec, we do not necessarily like to be yes-men. Infrastructure and municipal affairs are not under federal jurisdiction. A total of 97% of the country's infrastructure belongs either to municipalities, provinces or Quebec. This means that the federal government owns roughly 3% of infrastructure, next to nothing, but it thinks it is the boss. The problem is that this government, which is notorious for thinking it is the boss, does not even uphold the agreements it signs. However, we need this money for our infrastructure.
As I was saying, we took a look at the agreement to see the differences between Quebec and the other provinces, because we know that the federal government does not like it when Quebec does something different—that is practically criminal—because Quebec does not have the right or because it is dangerous. Quebec is not allowed to have its own identity.
There are two sections in the 2018 agreement with Quebec, sections 3(a) and 3(b), under the heading “Commitments by Canada”, which are not in the other agreements. At the end, there are two short phrases noting that Canada would subsequently add phases to the program. There have indeed been several phases in the investing in Canada plan, but in the first phase, there was $342 million remaining in the amount allocated to Quebec.
The sections I just mentioned state that the amounts not used in phase I will be able to be used in subsequent phases. This is worthwhile and very positive, because Quebec will not lose money and will be able to use this money to plan other projects.
However, something happened at last Monday's meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Since we have a reliable partner that always keeps its word and never backs out of agreements, I asked the Minister of Transport what would happen to the money remaining from phase 1 and whether it would be transferred as set out in the agreement. The minister told us no, we would not see or get that money, and that the government would keep it, that it would be recovered by the receiver general of Canada. I was not impressed.
I then asked myself if Canada plays these kinds of games when negotiating with other countries. Take for example an agreement with China, the United States, France, Germany or Japan, or a bilateral agreement with another country. Will the Canadian government renege on this agreement a few weeks later? If so, do members think that the other country would be happy about it? Obviously not, and Quebec is also not happy today.
I am wondering if Canada generally honours its agreements. I am guessing it does, and I am guessing that the only reason it is not honouring this agreement is that Quebec is not a country. It is that simple. We are not a country, and the government knows that ultimately, there will be no consequences. It can do whatever it wants, and it knows that its word is worth absolutely nothing. That is disappointing.
Quebec is set to lose hundreds of millions of dollars because of the arrogance of this government, a government that we cannot trust, that could not care less about Quebec and that only wants to be in charge and impose its own laws. That is completely unacceptable. That is what we are fighting against, and we are really going to ensure that we hold the government to account on that.
I find this so unacceptable that we passed a motion in committee this week to once again summon the minister to explain why Canada is not living up to its bilateral agreements.
The government has not upheld its agreement with Quebec, but the other provinces are also suffering because their bilateral agreements have not been upheld either. Quebec is not the only one being disrespected; all the Canadian provinces are, through the decisions that the government makes.
However, the biggest difference is that it is Quebec that is being punished the most. Quebec believed the government opposite. Perhaps we were naive to believe that we could trust the Liberals and trust the Canadian government.
I am not sure if I any time left, but I think I have said basically everything I wanted to say.