Feb 27 2013

Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Speaker: The Honourable Andrew Scheer



Business of Supply


Opposition Motion—Federal Infrastructure Plan

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP) moved:


That this House call on the government to commit in Budget 2013 to a long-term, predictable and accountable federal infrastructure plan in partnership with other levels of government, as recommended by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in order to: (a) improve Canada’s lagging productivity; (b) shorten commute times; and (c) fix Canada’s crumbling infrastructure.


Mr. Mike Sullivan (York South—Weston, NDP):


Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on this timely and appropriate motion from the member for Trinity—Spadina. I will be sharing my time with the member for St. John’s South—Mount Pearl.

First, I need to take umbrage with the comments from the member opposite just prior to mine, in that he suggested that somehow the NDP was voting against the gas tax. That could not be further from the truth.


Jack Layton was the champion of the gas tax, was the one who thought of the idea in the first place, and was the member of Parliament who brought it to fruition. Without Jack Layton, we would not have a gas tax for the other side to now crow about. Part of what goes on over there is that things get done by members on this side and then get adopted by members on that side as things that they thought of when they did not.


The other issue is in relation to the $2 billion the member pointed out as being the government’s ongoing contribution to the infrastructure deficit in this country. It will take 80 years for that money to actually deal with the infrastructure deficit that this country now faces. If anyone thinks that the bridges, roadways, water systems and sewer systems are going to last 80 years, they have another think coming. It is not possible. That is way too little money, and it is not the cities of this country that are going to suffer, but the people who live in those cities.


The other part of the speech from the member opposite talked about how we voted against things. It is very interesting that none of the issues that they put forward as things they have done were ever separated out, were ever something that we could have voted for, because they were always buried with things we could not stand, such as the reductions in environmental protections in Bill C-38 and the removal of the Navigable Waters Protection Act from many of the waters in Canada in Bill C-45. Those are the kinds of things that we are forced to vote against.


If Conservatives throw a few crumbs in with that and then later say we voted against it, it is very erroneous thinking. It is not fair for the government to suggest that the NDP is not in favour of infrastructure when in fact we are pushing infrastructure everywhere we can.


The biggest infrastructure deficit facing this country will be the infrastructure deficit caused by our commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and our commitment to deal finally with the problem of global warming and climate change. That infrastructure deficit is something we all should pay attention to.


The situation now is that the previous government signed on to Kyoto and then did not really do anything about it, while the current government abandoned Kyoto and still has not really done anything about it. There have been some vague promises from the Prime Minister that we will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in this country by 2020 by 17%. Right now, by my best guess, we are actually going to increase our level of greenhouse gases by 2020 if we do not start doing things about it.


The other thing he promised was that we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2050; 65% is a lot. It means that two-thirds of the activity in this country that is currently using fossil fuels must stop using fossil fuels.


There are basically five things that go on in this country. We heat and cool our buildings. We have industry, which requires energy. We have agriculture, which requires energy. We have goods transportation and we have personal transportation. Each of those five is roughly 20% of the use of energy in this country. Are we going to stop doing three of those five things? Are we going to stop moving people? Are we going to stop moving goods? Are we going to stop having industry? Are we going to stop having agriculture? Are we going to stop heating and cooling our houses? No, we are not going to stop doing all those things.


However, if we are to attain the goal of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases, we have to stop using fossil fuels for all of those things. How do we do that? We do it with electricity. That is currently the only way. The only way we can actually have enough electricity to do those kinds of things is to start building the generating capacity of clean electric power now, through infrastructure programs that will allow it to be delivered across this country.


In my riding right now there is a giant infrastructure program going on to build new rail lines. Rail is good. It moves people more efficiently than cars and goods more efficiently than trucks. The trouble is that the Conservative government has not signed on to making that rail system electric. It would be a first huge step for the government to show its commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by electrifying our transportation networks across this country—by first building the transportation systems, but by building them electric.


The member for Davenport has suggested that we have $6 billion worth of gridlock in the city of Toronto every year. That means we are losing $6 billion, and these guys are throwing $2 billion at the problem.


We need to build public transit infrastructure and we need to build it quickly if we are to meet that 2050 target of a 65% reduction in greenhouse gases that the Prime Minister has set for himself. We need to have electric transportation across the country to deliver our goods and people safely, quickly and without using fossil fuels. It is the only way we are ever going to achieve that target.


We are not going to achieve that target by regulation. If we think about it, how would we regulate an industry like agriculture into not using fossil fuels? That is not going to happen. How are we going to regulate the movement of goods and people without providing a system whereby the movement of goods and people can done without using greenhouse gases? This is not something that a P3 is going to solve. It would take actual leadership from the government across Canada to take the bull by the horns to actually deliver on the promised reduction in greenhouse gases.


The way to do that is through the generation of clean electricity from the use of turbines, photocells and other forms of clean electric generation, such as tidal generation in the north and the east. That electricity could be provided across Canada for heating and cooling homes and for transporting people and goods in such a way that we could stop using fossil fuels for those activities.


We cannot meet that 2050 target any other way. If we do not start now with a real commitment to infrastructure in this country, a real commitment to transportation infrastructure, a real commitment to public transit and a real commitment to the kind of money that is necessary to do this, we are never going to meet the 2050 targets.


The Conservatives used to have a green infrastructure fund. However, what did they do in the last budget, which we voted against? They slashed the green infrastructure fund. The Conservative government used to have a home renovation credit, a renovation payment plan, so that individuals could make their homes use less greenhouse gas energy. What did the Conservatives do? They gutted it. They actually cut it off before all the money that was budgeted was spent. There was money in that budget to try to reduce greenhouse gases through infrastructure spending, but it was not spent. That was infrastructure money from the minister, but that money was never spent.


The government talks a big talk but does not actually deliver, and that is what is needed. It is what this motion is all about. It is to say to the government that we need to have a strategy to do this. It is not just because the cities need it, not just because the country needs it, not just because we say so, but because it is an absolute priority in order to create the kind of Canada that will allow our children and grandchildren to be able to breathe and to live in the kind of comfort that we now live in.


However, that is not going to happen without a significant new input in financial resources from the government. The $2 billion a year just to cover repairs of existing infrastructure is never going to do the kind of work that is necessary to build the infrastructure that this country needs to move forward into this century.


Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):


Mr. Speaker, one of the things I am sure my colleague has heard is that many of the municipalities around this country, certainly in my own area as well as his, have talked about the fact that they can avail themselves of eight cents of every tax dollar to create and help sustain the programs within their own communities. Obviously they are relying on more of that, not just on the gas tax or on operating grants.


I was wondering if the member could respond to how certain measures are being put forward by the FCM and other groups in relation to having more tax leverage for raising their own revenues so that they can leverage bigger government programs.


Mr. Mike Sullivan:


Mr. Speaker, the system as it is now has municipalities getting 8 cents of every dollar and the federal government getting the lion’s share of every dollar of revenue. Over time, municipalities have seen their share of infrastructure grow to where they now have something like 58% of the responsibility for infrastructure with 8% of the revenue. There is something wrong with that math. It cannot be done, and it cannot be done on property taxes.

Is the answer to say to the federal government that it must transfer more money to the cities? That is one answer. However, perhaps the cities have a better answer, and that is to transfer tax points directly to the cities so they can share in the income growth that goes on in Canada all the time. That is another way of doing it.


Whatever the solution, it has to be acted on now. We cannot wait.


Mr. Pierre Nantel (Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, NDP):


Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech. He spoke very convincingly and pushed the envelope by stressing environmental considerations and the future, something we as parliamentarians need to bear in mind. We have a duty to think about future generations. There is no question that infrastructure and public transit systems help leave a better legacy for our youth.


Does my colleague not agree with me that, sadly, having long-term vision is much too much to ask of short-sighted people like some of the members opposite?


Mr. Mike Sullivan:


That is so true, Mr. Speaker. It is obvious.


The transportation committee studied public transit. In fact, the title of the study, until the very end, was the study of a strategy for public transit. Members opposite did not like having a strategy, so they deleted the word “strategy” from the study, and the same is true here. We are asking members opposite to have a strategy on infrastructure and they have said they are going to vote against it. They do not want to have a strategy. They want to bumble along with their eyes closed, but that is not going to save Canada.


Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):


Mr. Speaker, it is important that we recognize that millions of dollars are necessary for infrastructure in order to be able to invest in our communities. Every region of Canada is in desperate need of infrastructure dollars.


What these municipalities and so forth need is a commitment from Ottawa and a commitment from their provinces. Ottawa and the provinces need to recognize that cities or municipalities do not have the financial means or resources to meet the current demand. As a result, the federal government must play a role in dealing with infrastructure dollars or the cities and municipalities will not be able to do the things they have to do.

Would the member not agree that not only should Ottawa play a leadership role, but all three levels of government have an obligation to come to the table to try to come to grips with how to deal with the huge infrastructure deficit that Canada has today?


Mr. Mike Sullivan:


Clearly, Mr. Speaker, that is what the motion is all about. I thank the member for getting it.

I would remind the member that these problems have not existed just over the last year or the last six years; these problems have been in existence for the last fifteen or twenty years. Municipalities have discovered that they do not have enough money to deal with their infrastructure. The previous government actually handed over a bunch of infrastructure to the municipalities without money to repair it, and I am talking about the housing infrastructure that the federal government was responsible for. That is not the way to run a society. For the federal government to hand over infrastructure without handing over the money is not sustainable.


Permanent link to this article: http://mikesullivan.ca/opposition-motion-federal-infrastructure-plan/