Mr. Speaker, as we have known for some time, communities in northern Quebec, like those in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, are in desperate need of infrastructure.
When it comes to poorly adapted, inadequate transportation infrastructure, to the housing shortage that is at the root of serious social problems, or to any kind of infrastructure that is essential to the well-being and development of any community, but is typically minimal or even non-existent, it is clear that one federal government after another has neglected the north.
There is a high cost to such neglect, not only in terms of dollars, but also, and more importantly, in terms of heavy social costs. This problem cannot be solved overnight. Updating and developing northern infrastructure will require the kind of significant, stable and predictable financial support that is seriously lacking right now.
These vital investments must be tailored to meet the needs of people living in the north. They must also be integrated with money promised by the provinces and the Government of Quebec.
The motion before us today calls on the government to develop “a strategy to improve transportation and other vital public infrastructure” in cooperation with Quebec and the provinces, as well as with “local governments”.
While it is a good idea to consult with the target populations despite having ignored them for so long, such consultations have to follow the rules.
And the rules are simple: in Quebec, the Government of Quebec is the interlocutor for local Nunavik governments.
The Government of Quebec is in the best position to assess the needs of its people and to connect them to the right funding programs. The Government of Quebec is also in the best position to consult target aboriginal communities and economic, institutional and social stakeholders, and to get them involved in the decision-making process.
In far too many cases, the federal government has interfered with the cooperative relationship between Quebec and the communities involved, a relationship that is critical to harmonious and stable development.
Every federal government, whether Liberal or Conservative, has always adopted a brand of federalism that some have called predatory. Moreover, they have ignored Quebec's jurisdiction and have interfered in areas that are none of their business, such as education, health and municipal affairs. That interference does not help anyone, because all it does is make a mess of programs.
The last federal budget clearly shows the unscrupulous character of the federal government when it come to intervening directly with the municipalities. It is allocating $2 billion to provide loans directly to the municipalities, going over the heads of the governments of Quebec and the provinces, even though they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for whatever is built.
In the past, as we have seen, certain federal infrastructure programs have allowed some of the larger municipalities to build themselves two or three new arenas, for example. Unfortunately, those three arenas are no longer profitable at this time, and we have a good example of that in Quebec.
In short, if the federal government goes ahead with the development of an infrastructure strategy for the north, it must cooperate with Quebec and the provinces, and not deal with the municipalities directly, since they do not fall under federal jurisdiction.
Yet nowhere in the motion before us do we find any indication that the federal government has understood that there are limitations on its actions. On the contrary, the text of the motion implies and even suggests that the federal government could develop this infrastructure strategy in cooperation with local governments, that is, with the municipalities, even though neither the municipalities nor the infrastructure fall under federal jurisdiction.
I would remind the House that municipal and strategic infrastructure in Quebec is in urgent need of major investments—and this is also true of Nunavik, in the north—given their ageing and deteriorating state. In addition to that, I would even say that there is a lack of infrastructure in the north.
The money allocated to repairing and developing infrastructure by the Quebec government and the municipalities is insufficient. On its own, the Quebec government is not in a position to increase its contribution enough to make up for the deficit. There is such a deficit in terms of infrastructure, and the deterioration of infrastructure is so serious, that even greater investments are needed at this time in order to be able to solve the problem.
After years of modest contributions, the federal government has finally decided to invest gradually in infrastructure renewal through various programs and funds, including the gas tax transfer and the building Canada program.
Even though substantial funding is now available, needs are still great.
In addition to the amount of money allocated for infrastructure, there is another aspect of infrastructure funding that is problematic: the great number of programs now in place is threatening Quebec's ability to keep full control over choosing projects and how they are carried out. These new programs, which are all more or less targeted, are making previous agreements that recognized Quebec's authority obsolete and are requiring new one-off agreements where Quebec is having to work hard to assert its rights.
The same is true of funding for public-private partnerships, which receive federal funding based on merit. It is not up to the federal government to decide what infrastructure will be built in a public-private partnership; it is up to Quebec, which has the expertise to make such decisions.
The Bloc Québécois position on this is clear and firm: Quebec has full jurisdiction over municipal affairs under the Constitution, as well as over regional economic development. It has the authority to determine which priority projects will be most beneficial to Quebeckers, including the residents of the north, through organizations such as the Société de financement des infrastructures locales du Québec.
Currently, every federal infrastructure program targets a different clientele and has its own schedule and criteria. This is creating confusion and allowing Ottawa to set its own priorities even though the Government of Quebec and local governments have exclusive authority to do so.
It is interesting to note that in its 2007-08 budget plan, the Government of Quebec was very clear on this issue. The document states:
Moreover, to accelerate investment and make the administrative process less cumbersome, money for infrastructure should be paid to the provinces through block funding rather than through a number of administrative agreements covering specific projects.
The Bloc Québécois has consistently called on the federal government to change funding conditions so that infrastructure investments reflect ability to pay. Our proposal would have the federal government paying 50% of costs, the Government of Quebec and the provinces, 35%, and the municipalities, 15%, which would accurately reflect the ability to pay of each level of government.
The federal government collects more tax than it needs for its own responsibilities.
With the money it received from such overtaxation, it started spending in a large number of areas outside its jurisdiction: health, education, social programs, family policies, natural resources, culture and university research. Over the years, the federal government has created certain needs. At one time, it withdrew from these areas and the provincial governments were forced to look after needs that were no longer met by the federal government.
Ottawa acknowledges that the Constitution prevents it from legislating in these areas, but it claims that it can spend money in any area it wants to, without regard for the distribution of powers. That is its so-called spending power.
In the areas that Ottawa is wading into without being invited, Quebec is supposed to have complete sovereignty in the choice of programs and autonomy in funding.
In particular, this is the case for infrastructure, which—with a few exceptions such as interprovincial railways, bridges spanning the seaway and border infrastructure—are within the jurisdiction of the governments of Quebec and the provinces.
Unfortunately, and as I was just mentioning, the federal government has a longstanding tradition, which it is continuing, of interfering in provincial jurisdictions by providing funding. The motion should have been clearer. The motion should have been very clear in this regard and stated that the federal government should work cooperatively with the governments of the provinces and the Government of Quebec, but not with local communities, to resolve the infrastructure problem in the North.