IN THE HOUSE ~ Speaking on Bill C-68, An Act to Support the Development of Canada's Pacific Gateway

38TH PARLIAMENT, 1ST SESSION
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-68, an act to support the development of Canada's Pacific gateway. I will begin by saying that we in the NDP support the bill in principle, but we have serious concerns about the government's overall approach.

The bill itself is innocuous. It appoints another advisory board. In a moment, I will come back to concerns about the appointment process by the Liberal government. The reality is that the issue of the Pacific gateway is linked much more clearly to broader issues around the infrastructure deficit that we have had over the past two decades under both the Conservatives and the Liberals. Clearly there is a neglect of our infrastructure across the country.

The reality is that the funding, coupled with the advisory committee set up by the bill, is clearly inadequate to meet the needs and objectives of what we in British Columbia have to do to repair the infrastructure after decades of neglect, but also inadequate for us as the province of British Columbia and also as the country of Canada to respond to the need to diversify our trade markets, because very clearly the trade strategy of the current government has been a failure.

With NAFTA, we have seen the dispute settlement mechanism being basically ripped up by the Bush administration. There has been no reply from the government. There has been some posturing and there have been some speeches. The NDP put forth a three point action plan in September and none of those actions put forward in September have been undertaken by the government. It is very clear to me that this shows the Bush administration the government is not serious about defending Canadian interests.

If the trade policy has been a failure, one of the key things we have to do is diversify our markets. In order to do that we have to repair the neglect of our infrastructure over the past two decades and start to respond with broader infrastructure maintenance and broader infrastructure construction.

As for the bill itself, we will be supporting it in principle, but we have five concerns. I will start with the actual administration of the moneys that are attached to this particular bill.

We are talking about $190 million that has actually been allocated, both to infrastructure programs in British Columbia and in connection with transportation in and out of British Columbia. At the same time, about $35 million has been allocated to the advisory committee.

We are talking about $190 million when we know that for infrastructure needs the federal government's share should be at least $2.5 billion. While the government has allocated an additional $400 million for photo ops during the election campaign, this much needed money has not been allocated and very clearly is being kept in reserve so that when an election comes, sooner or later, members of the government can go forth and be present at the funding announcements.

However, $190 million has been allocated when we need $2.5 billion. I will come back to that in a moment. Very clearly, that is short-sightedness on the part of this government.

I will also talk a bit about the overall neglect of infrastructure. That is a key issue that the NDP, in this corner of the House, has been concerned about for some time. There is the issue of the neglect of infrastructure. There is the issue of the inadequacy of the funding that is attached. There is the actual role of the advisory committee, which has no clear governance role, as it basically advises the government and the government makes the decision.

Primarily this is an issue of the overall mismanagement of governmental programs. I will touch on that at the end of my presentation, but I would also like to start by quoting the Gomery report on who is responsible, those major findings by Justice Gomery, because it is important for the record to hear the concerns that have been raised about programs run by the government. We have $190 million that ostensibly has been allocated and $400 million that has not been allocated.

What did Justice Gomery say? What did the commission of inquiry find in terms of Liberal management of programs?

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The commission of inquiry found clear evidence of political involvement in the administration of the program, insufficient oversight, and a veil of secrecy surrounding the administration of the program and an absence of transparency in the contracting process. The inquiry also found a reluctance for fear of reprisal by virtually all public servants to go against the will of a manager who is circumventing policies. It found gross overcharging by communications agencies, inflated commission and production costs, and the use of the program for purposes other than those for which it was intended. It found deliberate actions to avoid compliance with federal legislation, including the Canada Elections Act, the Lobbyists Registration Act, the Access to Information Act and the Financial Administration Act, as well as federal contracting policy and the Treasury Board's transfer payments policy. It found a complex web of financial transactions involving kickbacks and illegal contributions to a political party in the context of the program, five agencies that received large contracts, regularly channeling money via legitimate donations or unrecorded cash gifts to political fundraising activities, and certain agencies carrying on their payrolls individuals who were in effect working on Liberal Party matters. It found the existence of a culture of entitlement among political officials involved with the program, and the refusal of ministers, senior officials in the PMO and public servants to acknowledge their responsibility.

The reason I raise this is that we are experiencing the exact same problems now around the issue of the Toronto Port Authority and $35 million that was allocated for a bridge that was never built. It is unbelievable. Some $35 million has disappeared from the federal coffers through the Ministry of Transport, and despite repeated requests under the Access to Information Act, and despite repeated questions, no answers have been forthcoming as to why it would cost $35 million not to build a bridge.

Very clearly what we have here is an ongoing pattern of mismanagement, the veil of secrecy that Justice Gomery referred to so clearly, where moneys that are public funds, paid for by the taxpayers of this nation, go forward and the ministry, in this case the Department of Transport, has sent that money away without any receipts, without any sort of production of documents to ensure that we are getting good use for those moneys.

I raise that because here we have another incident where the federal Liberal government wants to spend $35 million for an advisory committee, but since the practices that Justice Gomery has identified, that are current today and that we have seen not only with the David Dingwall affair but also very clearly with the Toronto Port Authority, have not been cleaned up, how can any of us in this House be fully assured that we are going to get the proper accounting for taxpayers' dollars that is a necessary obligation of the government?

Justice Gomery identified clear issues. The government has not responded to them. Other issues are coming forward, the Toronto Port Authority and other examples of the allocation of funds without the appropriate due diligence, yet the government continues to stonewall legitimate questions that are raised about the allocation of those funds.

That culture of entitlement is the first of the concerns we have about Bill C-68. Clearly if moneys are being allocated and very clearly if we have funds of $400 million that remain unallocated and obviously will not be allocated until a potential election campaign, it is important to raise those legitimate concerns about what is going to happen to that money. The government has not cleaned up its act, so there are legitimate concerns that the opposition, like the NDP, can express about whether or not those funds would be allocated properly.

The second concern is around the issue of the advisory committee itself. The deck presentation around the gateway bill talks about an innovative new governance structure. The innovative new governance structure is an advisory body, and the advisory body has only the mandate to advise governments. The advisory committee itself does not have the power to actually push forward projects. All it can do is advise the government.

One wonders about this, perhaps cynically with an election coming up. The transportation infrastructure in British Columbia has not been dealt with for decades under the Conservative Party or under the Liberal Party. The infrastructure in British Columbia has been completely ignored, but now we see an advisory committee that will be coming forward that has no power to actually implement anything. All it can do is advise the government. One can say that perhaps this will be an advisory committee that is set up primarily for electoral purposes. I hope that is not the case, but it is a legitimate question and we are asking that question.

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There is another question that stems from this. Given that the appointment process has not been cleaned up in any way by the government, similar to the financial transactions identified by Justice Gomery, a couple of weeks ago the hon. member for Ottawa Centre presented a clear seven point plan for cleaning up government, cleaning up Parliament, ending the appointments of political cronies that we have consistently seen from the government. There has been no response.

Creating another advisory committee will put us in the same situation. The government seems to be attracted to cronyism. Will the advisory committee actually be composed of legitimate individuals, or will it simply be another place where the Liberal Party appoints its cronies? This is my second legitimate concern.

I have a third concern. It is over the allocation of funding for this particular group of projects. I mentioned earlier that we are talking about $190 million that has been allocated. Some $125 million has actually been allocated to transportation infrastructure, including the Pitt River bridge on Mary Hill in the tri-cities area of British Columbia, the Deltaport road rail grade separations, and North Portal, Saskatchewan which is the same thing, road rail grade separations. Deltaport is allocated $30 million and $3 million goes to North Portal.

These are projects that are important, but it is a drop in the bucket to what the actual infrastructure needs are. The infrastructure needs have been identified at over $5 billion. The federal share of that would be $2.5 billion. Because of the neglect around infrastructure and transportation infrastructure over the last 20 years by the Conservatives and the Liberals these needs must be fulfilled. At the same time, over the last 20 years the population in greater Vancouver has grown by three-quarters of a million. We clearly have a gap between what the needs are and the government stepping forward to actually meet them.

Some $190 million has been allocated, and $125 million has actually been allocated to transportation infrastructure projects, and another $400 million has been kept in reserve, obviously for the next election campaign. The needs are many times what the actual allocation has been. That is the third concern with this bill and the allocation that goes with it.

It is important to mention the overall neglect of the government when it comes to infrastructure generally. Over the past decade we have seen the clear neglect of our infrastructure.

In the 1960s we actually had double the rate of public infrastructure investment to overall tangible capital. It was twice the rate in the 1960s than we are seeing now. That gap has led to the shortfalls that have been identified by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and by the Canadian Urban Transit Association. Very clearly our transportation infrastructure has not kept up with the needs.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has estimated the infrastructure deficit at about $60 billion across the country. Those are funds that Canadians need because of the shortfall between what should have been invested by the government and what actually was invested.That deficit is growing at about $2 billion a year. We have a substantial infrastructure deficit that continues to grow.

We are talking about $60 billion across the country, and the government is putting $190 million toward some transportation infrastructure projects. For the most part that just starts to address the problem. It is so far short of what is needed. There is a clear gap between the rhetoric of the government to want to respond to the urgent needs that are occurring in British Columbia and the reality of actually meeting those needs.

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The Canadian Urban Transit Association has talked about a deficit in terms of actual infrastructure funding between 2004 and 2008. We need about $7 billion to maintain our existing urban transit infrastructure and about twice that, $14 billion, to actually expand, which is what we need to do. As I mentioned, in British Columbia there are three-quarters of a million additional people over the last 20 years. We need $7 billion to maintain the infrastructure over that four year period from 2004 to 2008 and we need $14 billion to expand.

Not just my party but a number of parties in this House have raised the issue of the national highway program. We do not have a national highway program in place. Canada is the only country in the G-8 that does not have one. We have seen the deterioration of our highways across the country. It is another example of the infrastructure deficit that exists.

We are seeing a deficit in infrastructure. There are very clear needs that have to be met. The bill, and the relatively small amount of money that goes with it, does not in any way address the infrastructure deficit that has occurred certainly over the past 12 years of the Liberal government but even before that under the Conservative government.

I would also like to mention a number of examples of the mismanagement that we have seen around the overall issue of infrastructure and maintenance in British Columbia and elsewhere. Concerns have been raised about Ridley Island, the sale at the Prince Rupert port facility. A number of companies in the Mining Association of British Columbia have raised concerns that the transport minister should take a second look at a proposal to purchase Ridley Island because they are concerned about the actual sale that is being pushed through by the government.

Concerns have been raised about the Fraser River dredging. The Fraser River Port Authority has not been left with funds to actually do the required dredging in the Fraser River. This is another clear example of a need that is not being met.

In my riding, something that affects the entire greater Vancouver regional district is the Burnaby Lake issue that has come forward. The Burnaby municipal council, on behalf of the GVRD, made an application to the federal government to get funding for the Burnaby Lake revitalization. Mayor Derek Corrigan of Burnaby put together the financing on the municipality side. Harry Bloy, the MLA for Burquitlam, pushed the provincial government to provide provincial government funding for the infrastructure to revitalize Burnaby Lake, an important jewel in our community. We continue to wait for the federal government. We continue to wait.

In fact, the city of Burnaby was told that the infrastructure program did not finance Burnaby Lake renewal, but we know that the same program financed the renewal in Saskatchewan. Very clearly we have an issue around infrastructure. We raised those concerns. We have the provincial government on board. We have the city of Burnaby on board. Both sides who have put that allocation forward are waiting for the federal government to step in and make the commitment.

We have broad concerns with Bill C-68, although we are supporting it in principle. We have concerns over the overall financial mismanagement that we have seen and which was confirmed by Justice Gomery. We have concerns about the actual appointment process of the federal government. Despite the interventions of the member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, we have not seen a change to that appointment process. Any time we talk about a new advisory committee, that raises the alarm.

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We are concerned about the inadequacy of the funding of $190 million when $2.5 billion is called for. We are concerned about the infrastructure deficit that we have seen over the past 20 years, particularly over the last 12 years. We are also concerned about the mismanagement of current projects that should have been resolved.

With all those caveats, I close my presentation.