Mr. Speaker, now I guess we can relax a little more.
I want to begin by congratulating the Speaker on his election. May I also, in addition to congratulating him, congratulate you and your colleagues who will assist him in that capacity.
I want to go beyond that. For my part I want to pledge that I will do all I can to assist you, Mr. Speaker, in ensuring that this House provides the forum for civilized and informative debate that Canadians I think are really expecting from their elected representatives.
Unfortunately, I cannot make my speech in French, because my fluency in that language is far from adequate. However, I can assure you one of my personal goals is to improve my French, not only because it is the other official language but because it is a beautiful language and the expression of a rich and important culture, both in Canada and internationally.
This is my inaugural address to the House. Therefore while preparing for today's debate I spent some time thinking about the men and women who preceded me in this place. For new members like myself there are many excellent role models to choose from. In fact there are people who now serve and who used to serve in this House whose compassion, persuasiveness and original thinking I admire a great deal. One such person is my predecessor the former member of Parliament for York Centre and a former Solicitor General for Canada, the Hon. Bob Kaplan. Bob Kaplan was an outstanding parliamentarian, a respected community leader and a man who is still highly regarded by his constituents. During the course of the election campaign I was struck by the degree of attachment and devotion people felt for him. Bob set a very high standard of service to his constituents and one that I will try to emulate.
While I am new to this House and to politics at the national level, I arrive here with the perspective of 22 years experience in municipal government, including 11 years as the mayor of Toronto. It was an honour to be mayor of my city and now I have the honour to use that experience for the benefit of the people of York Centre and the people of Canada. It was also that experience that persuaded me of the need for Canada's three levels of government to address the need to enhance the quantity and the quality of infrastructure in our cities, towns and villages.
I was a member of the board of directors of the umbrella organization known as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities during the period when it undertook a major survey of the state of our municipal infrastructure, a survey which demonstrated the extent of our need for new investment.
I was one of those who helped the federation shape its proposal for a new three way program of co-operation between the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government to renew Canada's municipal infrastructure.
The work of the federation did not take place in a vacuum. Throughout the industrialized world the last few years have seen a very active, renewed interest in the role and the importance of infrastructure, whether it is for economic competitiveness to attract investment, environmental protection and improvement, the quality of public amenities and the quality of life in general.
For these reasons and despite extremely difficult fiscal constraints which we are well aware of, the Liberal Party chose to undertake a major co-operative program of infrastructure renewal as one of the central planks of its election platform.
In my riding many people earn their living in construction related industries. During the recent election campaign our leader and current Prime Minister travelled to York Centre to outline our new program on infrastructure to an audience of skilled trades people from our local unions. These union officials report that their membership suffers greatly from high unemployment. In fact, levels get as high as 50 per cent at times in this industry in the Toronto area they told me. Our proposal, therefore, struck a deep responsive chord with these workers and with the Canadian public.
Given the importance which the Prime Minister attaches to the infrastructure program I was honoured when he asked me to become the Minister responsible for Infrastructure in the new government. The Prime Minister underlined to me the importance of moving quickly to develop agreements with the provinces and to get the program up and operating. An early start to this program will provide new hope to Canadians and help to rebuild the confidence that is such an important part of our healthy economy.
Some Canadians are asking why we have chosen infrastructure as a major priority and why are we doing this now. The answer is that the infrastructure program has become a cornerstone of the government's programs because it will create jobs while refurbishing at the same time Canada's infrastructure and promoting our long term economic growth.
There is also strong evidence that much of our infrastructure has deteriorated and deteriorating infrastructure, as they found out in the country to the south of us, can be a serious detriment to not only the quality of life but, of course, to attracting investment dollars into their communities.
Beyond that, the current tough economic climate has brought more competitive pricing and it provides, therefore, government with a chance to stretch the construction dollars to the maximum. This promises real value for the taxpayers.
The infrastructure program has not been designed as the government's only job creation project, I hasten to add, but rather as an important stimulus to the economy as a whole. The exact number of jobs it will create depends on the construction projects which will be approved. Some projects such as repairs and renovations will be extremely labour-intensive while those such as cultural facilities are also going to create long-term jobs.
One thing, however, is clear: The program will have substantial impact on unemployment. In fact, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated that for every billion dollars invested, some 20,000 jobs are created. The infrastructure program is more than simply the building of roads, the building of bridges or sewers. It is more than repairing buildings, more than restoring water supply systems. The infrastructure program is an integral part of the vision of the new Liberal government to lay the foundation for economic recovery, to kick-start a sluggish economy and provide a future for Canadians, particularly for young Canadians who are currently without hope or prospects.
We will give these young Canadians new hope and confidence in the future. That is what we said we would do in the red book and that is still our commitment now that we are here as the government.
This is an ideal time for accelerated investment in public infrastructure, as I have already said. Also, let me say that national unemployment, which stands at an unacceptable level of over 11 per cent and in the construction industry over 20 per cent, and as I said a few moments ago over 50 per cent, are very key reasons why we need to move into this program at this time.
There is a terrible waste of human talent and a tremendous distress on the part of hundreds of thousands of people and their families right across this country. I met many of these people in the course of the election campaign. I understand their pain and I understand their frustration at what has been called a jobless recovery. That is why the speech from the throne earlier this week stated: "the government attaches the highest priority to job creation and economic growth in the short and long term".
I am pleased to say that in the brief few weeks since the new government was sworn in we have made very tangible progress to put this new infrastructure program into place. After discussions between federal and provincial ministers and various officials, the Prime Minister and the provincial premiers endorsed the program when they came here to Ottawa for their meeting on December 21. Last Friday, January 14, less than 10 weeks after the new government was formed, we signed our first four federal-provincial framework agreements establishing the Canada Infrastructure Works Program for the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
My colleagues, the Minister responsible for Atlantic Development and the Secretary of State for Veterans Affairs, are signing an agreement today with Prince Edward Island and we will continue this momentum on Monday when the Minister of Industry and I will be in my city of Toronto to sign a similar agreement with the province of Ontario. I expect to sign agreements with the other four provinces and the territories in a matter of days.
The conclusion of this number of federal-provincial agreements in so short a time demonstrates that the federal government is honouring its commitment to Canadians to create jobs and to create jobs now.
Our success owes a good deal to the very co-operative attitude taken by all of the provincial governments. They have recognized the intrinsic merit of the program, they have responded to the public's desire for early action, and have shown a determination to demonstrate that federal and provincial governments can work quickly and co-operatively. I wish to express publicly my gratitude for the exceptional co-operation of the provinces on this program.
I also wish to underline the importance of the support this program has received from mayors and other elected representatives at the local level across Canada. They have been supportive, they have been enthusiastic, they are very much equal partners. I am delighted that the federal government will be able to contribute so significantly to a program that our local governments have created and have advocated for a number of years.
The federal contribution will be very tangible and very significant. We are providing the provinces and municipalities with a total of $2 billion over the next two years. For the most part the federal contribution will be matched equally by the provinces and municipalities. This will provide for a total joint program of $6 billion.
In some projects however the provinces themselves will provide two-thirds of the funding, while the federal government will contribute its normal one-third share.
Similarly the program will have flexibility to accommodate private financing. In fact the subject of my address in November 1993 to the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships opened the door for possible private financing of infrastructure projects.
The focus of our program is on local infrastructure and we believe that it should be the local and provincial governments themselves which take the lead in proposing projects. There will be, as is natural, differences in the precise form that the program will take in each province. In some cases only municipal projects will be considered; in others, other local government institutions such as education boards may be eligible, or there might be projects carried out by the province itself. Indian reserves are also included in the program.
As well the emphasis on types of infrastructure may vary by province. Some will put more emphasis on the traditional water treatment or sewage. Others may be more inclined to support roads or construction or repair of existing facilities. These variations should reflect local needs and priorities. That is what we clearly said in the election campaign and that is what we want to see carried out.
We should also point out that this is a national program and we expect some elements of consistency across the country. In all provinces the federal government will review projects in relation to broad program criteria such as long and short-term job creation.
We will be looking at the environmental benefits, wanting to ensure that environmental practices and environmental assessments are adhered to. We will be looking at the incremental or accelerated nature of the project. We are not looking to just fund projects that were going to go ahead anyway. We want to fund projects that create additional jobs.
We will be looking at the distribution of benefits within a province. We want to make sure there is a wide distribution in benefit across each province. We will be looking at the use of advanced technology. The term as to what infrastructure includes is changing because the economy of this country and of this world is changing. Here is an opportunity in fact to develop infrastructure, invest in infrastructure that has to do with the future kinds of jobs that will be taken by our young people in this country.
We will look at the use of innovative financing and the contributions to skills development. As people learn new skills the opportunities for them beyond this program expand. The bringing of infrastructure up to community standards, up to community codes will be considered. We will want cost-benefit information about these projects. We are also going to want to have cost control measures.
Our basic approach is to provide enough guidance to ensure the high quality of the projects approved, but at the same time to leave ample room for local or provincial priorities. We are offering federal money for infrastructure programs as you know at a time of very severe fiscal constraints. We all are very conscious of the financial constraints upon all governments in this country.
This government believes so much in the value of this investment that it is prepared to take the tough decisions to find the necessary funds through reallocations in the federal budget and by cutting spending proposed by the previous government.
The federal government, I should add, may well recoup much of its $2 billion investment from additional tax revenues which will fall into the federal treasury as a result of increased construction activity. For every dollar spent on the proposed construction projects, federal government revenues in the form of taxes, unemployment insurance premiums and Canada pension plan contributions will increase. The federal government of course will also benefit from reductions in payments that it makes for the unemployed because they will be getting back to work. They will be able to restore their dignity and their desire to contribute to this nation.
We moved quickly to sign framework agreements with the provinces and we shall move quickly to approve projects after we have appropriately evaluated them. Already federal and provincial officials in each province are working to refine the criteria and the guidelines which apply in each province. Local governments are being consulted. I expect to receive recommendations for the first proposals in the coming weeks and to see some projects approved in time for work to start in the spring of this year.
I know members of this House will take a close interest in the projects in their constituencies. For this reason we shall invite comments from each member of Parliament on projects recommended for his or her riding so that we can ensure that any information a member wishes to bring to our attention is available before a decision is taken.
I look forward to members honouring the spirit of this consultation which will need to be done quickly and with full respect of our local and provincial partners if it is to be effective. For my part I shall listen to the views of all members with great interest. I look forward to the chance to discuss the program with individual members as well.
The infrastructure program has received wide support across Canada not only from local governments but also from provincial governments, of very different political persuasions I might add. I hope members of this House will be responsive to this wide support and work as co-operatively as they can to ensure the success of the program.
The Prime Minister in his remarks in the debate on the speech from the throne emphasized that the long-term future of our country lies in forming a new partnership, a partnership where the municipalities and the provinces work in genuine co-operation with a national government which has the vision of what can be, not what used to be.