House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Supply
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Supply
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(18) and to order made on Wednesday, June 14, 2000, the recorded division stands deferred until later this day at 9 p.m.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

June 15th, 2000 / 5:30 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie
Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Vote 5, in the amount of $992,135,000, under HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT—Department—Grants and contributions, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001 (less the amount voted in Interim Supply), be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak in support of this motion this afternoon.

The Government of Canada has made a commitment to improve the quality of life of all Canadians. We have developed a complete and cohesive vision to enable us to attain that objective.

That vision was defined in the throne speech and given concrete form in the budget. The supply bill we are debating today is proof of that. This vision is a clear one. We are striking a fair balance between expenditures, tax reductions and paying down the debt.

When our government came into power, we inherited an impressive deficit of $42 billion. With the support of Canadians in every part of the country, we have eliminated this deficit. After years of austerity, we are now in a position to make investments.

We are not investing carelessly, however. It is not our intention to go back to the spending policies of the Conservative government of that time. Instead, we will be investing strategically and responsibly in health and in programs that will enable us to create employment, to improve people's feeling of security, both individual and collective, and to promote prosperity in general.

Canadians have told us what they wanted: a prosperous country with well-protected communities, a country with a healthy environment, and opportunities for their children's future. They also want a country with a heart, a country with compassion, one with a shared and profound feeling of collective responsibility. Those are the objectives of Canadians, and those are our objectives as well.

Perhaps we are talking numbers today, but we cannot lose sight of the real meaning behind those numbers. It is easy to consider major expenditures as merely abstract figures. It is sometimes harder to see the human aspect that lies behind the columns of figures presented to us.

It is important to do it however. We must never forget that the expenditures we are discussing today will have an impact on the everyday life of Canadians.

The investments proposed in the supply bill will increase the ability of the RCMP to ensure the safety and security of our communities. They will help prairie farmers who have fallen on hard times. They will reinforce native communities. They will help young people to have access to post-secondary education and good jobs. They will make access to government services easier, and will thus bring citizens and their government closer together.

This is why I support the bill before us today. It is a good bill that will help people across the country.

As hon. members are aware, the government is asking for $34.5 billion in this supply bill. It represents a huge portion of this year's main estimates.

The main estimates reflect most of the spending plan presented by the government in the March budget. The main estimates for fiscal year 2000-01 amount to $156.2 billion, or nearly 99% of the total projected expenditures.

This includes the government's request to parliament with respect to a sum of $50.1 billion for which an annual authorization is required, and $106.1 billion worth of expenditures authorized under current acts.

It is worth noting, in passing, that this year's main estimates show a $4.6 billion, or 3%, increase over last year's estimates.

This is not to say that we are going backwards and spending wildly. This is not how this government is managing its operations. In fact, the total expenditures as a percentage of GDP has decreased over the last four years, from 17.1% in 1997-98, to 15.8% now.

The same for program spending, with expenditures to reach $116 billion in 2000-01, or $4 billion less than in 1993-94.

There are many reasons why this year's main estimates are $4.6 billion higher than last year. For one thing, we have put $1 billion more into the Canada health and social transfer, and $700 million more into old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the spouse's allowance program.

Because of our ageing population, we see that the number of beneficiaries and the mean rate of benefits are increasing. Canadians have told us what their priorities are: a strong social security net, and reliable, quality health care. We have listened to them and, as you can see, we are making the necessary investments.

Our commitment to serving Canadians is also clearly reflected in the funding that we are seeking approval for today. A significant portion of these funds will go to maintaining and preserving the levels of service that Canadians expect from their government.

Some of this money will go to ensure the sustainability of a number of core federal services. We intend to improve among other things the safety of the country's public infrastructure. We want to augment the safety of food inspection. We want to speed up the response times and capacity of search and rescue services.

The plans outlined in the supply bill will allow us to do this. Let me stress again the supply bill is not just about numbers; it is about people.

The funds we are seeking approval for are not arbitrary amounts. These funds will help us administer and fund programs and services that increase our general prosperity and competitiveness. We made a commitment to do this in the Speech from the Throne and these were not idle words.

Before I close my remarks, I would like to touch briefly on a related topic. There has been concern of late about the policies and frameworks that guide government expenditures. Concerns have been raised, particularly about grants and contributions. It would be remiss of me as President of the Treasury Board not to address this issue for a moment this evening.

Canadians work hard for their money. They expect the government to manage their tax dollars wisely and with great care. Canadians have a right to expect their government to administer funds judiciously. This principle is one of the pillars of good government. It is something this government takes very seriously.

That is why on June 1 I announced measures to strengthen the management of public spending through a revised policy on transfer payments. The revised policy will strengthen the supervision of grants and contributions, focus on results, promote responsible spending and heighten effective control. Above all it will provide for increased accountability and transparency to parliament and Canadians.

This is not a knee-jerk response to recent headlines. The revisions we have implemented were not hastily put together. Rather they are a result of the review of the policy of grants and contributions that was initiated in 1999. This was many months before the Human Resources Development Canada internal audit raised concerns about the grants and contributions issue.

The government routinely reviews its policies and frameworks to ensure that they are up to date and serving Canadians well. The review of grants and contributions was part of an initiative aimed at updating all policies related to the comptrollership function of the treasury board. We are taking measures on the broad front to identify ways to improve the stewardship of public funds. I should note that the revised policy on internal audits and evaluations is also forthcoming.

The revised policy on transfer payments requires that departments guarantee that measures are in place to ensure due diligence in approving payments. There must also be due diligence for verifying eligibility entitlement whenever a new contribution program is being established or renewed. Eligibility criteria for receiving assistance must be predetermined, made public and applied on a consistent basis. We want to ensure that grants are made in a fair and transparent manner. The playing field must be level and everyone must know what the rules are. Canadians should tolerate nothing less.

Before funds can be allocated, departments must demonstrate that they have a results based accountability framework in place. Accountability is essential to effective stewardship. These frameworks must include performance indicators, expected results and outcomes, as well as evaluation criteria to be used in assessing a program's effectiveness. After all, we cannot give public funds to projects that do not produce some sort of quantifiable results. Furthermore, departments must recommend specific limits to federal assistance where recipients receive funding from multiple levels of government, including other federal sources.

There are other important aspects of the revised policy. All programs will be required to be formally renewed through the treasury board at least once every five years to ensure ongoing relevance and effectiveness. If there are concerns about a program, this renewal process may be considerably less than five years.

We are also concentrating on transparency. The Government of Canada is committed to operating in an open manner. We have made improving reporting one of our main management priorities. This commitment is clearly reflected in the policy on transfer payments.

Departments must report on each transfer payment program which transfers in excess of $5 million in their annual departmental reports on plans and priorities. This must include descriptive materials such as stated objectives, expected results and outcomes, as well as milestones for achievements.

Departments must also follow up on this later in the year in their departmental performance reports. They must look at the commitments they made in their reports on plans and priorities and show evidence of the results achieved. In this way we ensure that all major programs are showing progress. If they are not, we will know why and be able to respond accordingly.

This revised policy on transfer payments only represents one element of our broader efforts aimed at modernizing the practices of the comptroller's duties. That element, in turn, is part of a larger and co-ordinated initiative aimed at modernizing public management in general.

The expectations and requirements of Canadians are changing and public management practices must follow suit.

That is why we developed a new management framework, which will allow us to take up the challenges of the new millennium.

Last March, I tabled the new management framework in parliament. It is entitled “Results for Canadians”. This document shows how management practices change to adapt to the changing priorities of Canadians.

It describes our new management philosophy, which stresses the need to maintain a strict control while using tools that enhance initiative and creativity in government departments.

It describes our management commitments, the way we strive to create a government more focused on citizens, on results and on values, intent on spending responsibly the funds made available to it.

Finally, this management framework shows how we honour our commitments, by working assiduously on many fronts.

In some respects, the supply bill is a major component of that process. The items for which we are seeking approval will help us meet our objectives. They will help us fund programs that will improve our capacity to serve Canadians. In short, they will also help us improve the government.

That is what citizens of this country want, and that is also what they deserve. Finally, without any doubt, that is what this government has committed to give them.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the speech of the president of the treasury board. I would like to draw her attention to the grants and contributions issue.

I remember that, after the situation at HRDC was revealed, the Minister of Human Resources Development said the situation was serious. This was directly contradicting the Prime Minister, who had talked about a $101 problem. Her attitude, at least at the time, seemed to be more responsible than the Prime Minister's.

Today, she talked a lot about having instituted a review of the policy for the future. But she also talked about control.

The control function involves, among other government responsibilities, imposing sanctions when mistakes are made and, more than mistakes, when unacceptable behaviours occur.

It would be great if the government could manage to rectify the situation in the future, but until today, it has not done anything to stop the use of funds for partisan reasons, which has been revealed, verified and demonstrated here in the House through a number of questions, particularly in the Prime Minister's riding, where public funds have constantly been used in an inappropriate and unacceptable fashion.

I would like to know if the president of the treasury board thinks something could be done to correct the situation. I have read reports in the paper this week, which I found alarming. There are people in the present Liberal government who say “We should get rid of job creation programs, because we really mismanaged them”.

Does the president of the treasury board share that opinion? Does she agree with the members of the Liberal majority who say that there should be no more job creation programs to stimulate economic growth in areas of high unemployment? Or would she agree that better control mechanisms and penalties are necessary to make sure that the present situation does not repeat itself?

Does she agree with me that there should have been an independent public inquiry and that concrete measures should have been taken to condemn such use of public funds for partisan purposes?

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us try to clarify things here. My colleague has several different elements to his question.

First and foremost, the situation that was brought to our attention related to an internal audit. It is totally normal for a minister to have an internal audit done. I would say it was the ABC of administration for a department to have an internal audit. It is an essential administrative tool for proper knowledge of what is going on as far as departmental programs are concerned, in order to see what is going well or less well in the application of those programs.

Let us put ourselves into the proper context. This was an internal audit carried out by the department, which had decided on its own to audit seven separate departmental programs. As soon as the internal audit report was completed and submitted to the minister concerned, it was made public.

The minister herself considered the situation so important that she released the report to the public, immediately proposing an action plan to remedy the problems. As far as I know, nowhere in the internal audit report was there any proof that there had been problems relating to partisan funding, as my colleague over there has said. These are his own conclusions, and I do not share them, absolutely not.

Let us not forget that the programs addressed by the internal audit were not strictly job creation programs, but also ones for other clienteles. I am thinking for instance of the literacy program. Various HRDC programs were covered in the audit report.

The programs covered by the internal audit were evaluated. Nowhere was this program mentioned. These are national programs.

Once the situation became known, the Minister of Human Resources Development called on treasury board for help in putting an appropriate action plan in place. And that is what we did. We worked very closely with Human Resources Development Canada. I even delegated a very senior official from my department, who worked with Human Resources Development Canada to put the plan in place. In addition, the plan was approved by the auditor general.

I see no need anywhere for a public inquiry. We are aware of the administrative problems of this program, and we have, accordingly, formulated an action plan that, at the moment, is in place and rectifying the problems in the system.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the minister. She talked about all the improvements, which was fine, but we still have a fundamental problem regarding the approval of the estimates and the fact that the motion that is being debated is actually a motion by the President of the Treasury Board to reinstate the $992 million for her department. That is the first motion that will be voted on because the Canadian Alliance put forward a motion to strike $110 million from that department.

Later on this evening when the first vote is called it will be on the $992 million, which I think is fundamentally wrong. That is the main motion. After the main motion is agreed to, we will be asked to vote on our amendment, which is totally converse and upside down to everything else that happens in the House. The amendment to the main motion is voted on before the main motion.

In the light of all the improvements the minister has suggested are taking place, will she tell tell House that she will undertake a study to ensure that the standing orders are amended so that when it comes to supply we vote on the amendment to the main motion before the main motion?

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague knows very well that he can refer this matter to other committees of the House, which will study the whole regulatory question. We are, at present, in a position to follow exactly what is going on in the House and therefore to follow the regulations before us.

Parliamentarians have had the main estimates before them for a number of weeks, and I am sure that they have looked carefully at this government spending and will monitor it carefully. For this reason, I thought it important in my presentation, given the recent concerns expressed particularly with respect to the grants and contributions program, to inform the House of the improvements we have made in recent policy.

I would hope that my colleague in opposition will study this policy closely, and perhaps take it to the public accounts committee which he chairs, to see the benefits of implementing this policy in all government departments.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would love to understand what the minister is saying. Whenever I inquired about a project involving the Department of Human Resources Development, I was told time and time again that, in the past, they followed treasury board guidelines.

The minister just told me that they revised their guidelines for the future. Is this to say that, in the past, there were no guidelines or that the guidelines were not followed?

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I should point out to the hon. member that a policy existed before June 1, in fact there has always been a policy on transfer payments with respect to grants and contributions. Such a policy has always existed and has been reviewed over the years. The last time was in 1994, six years ago.

Last year, a group of outside consultants who had been asked to see how we could modernize the control function submitted a report in which they strongly recommended that we review our policy on grants and contributions, which we did.

It is clear therefore that there is a treasury board policy with very specific requirements, which applies to all departments and which has been significantly strengthened compared to the former one.

Now, the problems that have occurred at Human Resources Development Canada—

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry, but time has run out.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

6 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary—Nose Hill.

It is not often that I start this annual debate on the business of supply by congratulating the minister but I would like to do that on the progress she has announced this evening in the things that she is undertaking, about new policies to administer grants and contributions. While she has made these initiatives, they have been at the encouragement and coaxing of the public accounts committee which has been talking about these issues for quite some time. It has been telling the minister to make some real progress in ensuring that the door for grants and contributions is narrow and specific and is not five miles wide so that anybody can drive through and help themselves. It seems that we are making some progress in that direction.

I would also like to commend her because obviously the minister has read my private member's bill on program evaluation which talks about four things. First is that the public policy shall be determined and articulated. After we know what the program is trying to do we then ask how well we are doing it. Then we can ask, are we doing it efficiently and can we achieve the same results in a better way?

I have given talks across the country and people are appalled. They ask, “Are you not doing that already?” I have to say no. Such enlightenment has been beyond the government. Therefore I have to congratulate the minister, because that enlightenment seems to be shining through the window, albeit a small window. Progress is being made and I would like to congratulate her on that initiative.

Today we are approving approximately $50 billion worth of non-statutory spending. Let us remind the general public that the government is working its way through $156 billion of its money this year. That is what it intends to do, which by the way is up $5 billion from last year, and up from the year before and the year before. It has always increased. This year it is $156 billion and I expect that we will see some supplementary estimates between now and next year for another $4 billion or $5 billion, so no doubt it will get to $160 billion.

Of that $160 billion, $116 billion I think the minister said, does not even come to the House for a vote. That has to be changed too. We have to have the authority in the House to speak about the $116 billion of taxpayers' money that is being spent without parliamentary review. Periodically an audit surfaces, as one did last January, and we find that because there is no parliamentary review there are such things as billion dollar boondoggles.

That would not happen if the committees had greater input into the spending and we were able to look at that $116 billion. Then there is the rest, some $50 billion that is called non-statutory, to pay the rent, salaries, phone bills and the grants and contributions, that the minister has suggested we authorize tonight.

The Canadian Alliance party has said we do not mind grants and contributions by and large but the transitional jobs fund has been an absolute disgrace. It has embarrassed the government and has shocked Canadians. That program should be just plain old scrapped.

We have suggested in our motion that $110 million be removed out of the $160 billion. It is not a lot in the whole scheme of things but because it has been such a total shambles, let us cut that program now. There have even been some hints in the newspapers that the government will cut it. Let us do it tonight.

However, the process of the House is skewed so that the minister reaffirms that we spend the money before the House is asked to cut the money. We cannot speak out of both sides of our mouth and therefore the government wins the day.

The last time a nickel was cut out of the estimates was in 1972 when Prime Minister Trudeau had a minority government. The opposition had a bee in its bonnet about the CBC and $1,000 was knocked off the president's salary. The last time was in 1972. That is how ineffectual the House has become.

Approving the estimates has become a perfunctory joke. Because of that there is the billion dollar boondoggle at HRDC. That is the only one we have uncovered. Maybe we could go down the whole line of cabinet ministers on the front bench and find that each department is hiding a billion dollar boondoggle which we have not been able to uncover. That is why we need more parliamentary authority to investigate these things.

We in the Canadian Alliance have tried to be prudent and intelligent by saying cut the $110 million. We will live with the rest of the expenditures.

We have to take a look at the fifth party, the Tory Party. It is suggesting in its amendments that 90% be knocked out of national defence. It is suggesting that 80% be knocked out of fisheries and oceans and that $1 billion be knocked off health care. What kind of responsible party is that? Those members are not responsible.

Our fight this evening is largely with the government because taxpayers deserve better. They deserve to have more openness. The minister is now telling us that we are going to get more openness. The government has been in office for six years and it is only after $1 billion has gone down the proverbial drain that it is now talking about openness.

It is only after the government spent $145 million on the millennium fund that we are finally getting some accountability. The government was doling out money the week before last. I am talking about $25 million. Who is celebrating the millennium today? The Liberals had their big party on December 31. They had a good time. The lights did not go out and everything continued on as normal.

The government is still celebrating the millennium with Canadian taxpayers' money. What did we get? We got trees worth $1 million. We got balloons floating out of New Brunswick at a cost of $215,000. We got the celebration of fire in downtown Vancouver for $25,000. The idiocy went on and on. The government authorizes anything. If money is going to be spent around the millennium, it is called a millennium grant. The idiocy of some of these things makes me weep. We hope that idiocy is behind us.

I have to congratulate the minister because she is trying. She is bringing in some new rules and she is listening to the public accounts committee. She is listening to my private member's bill. She is listening to the Catterall-Williams report in which I played a fairly major role. After seven years in this place I am starting to see the government is finally listening to some of the proposals we are making to make the process better.

I still want to see the process of approving the estimates through the House change. I will work on that on another day, but we have started. On that note, I thank the minister.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to what the Canadian Alliance member had to say and I would like him to repeat what the official opposition party members think about the management of grants and contributions programs.

I know that we do not share the same point of view on the relevance of these programs, but would we not both agree that, in the end, the present federal government is the one that has most undermined their relevance? Whether or not one believes in the relevance of the programs, whether or not one believes in any particular program, one has to ensure that they are managed properly.

At present, when the government manages job creation programs, it undermines them terribly, it devalues them and, ultimately, it lays itself open to criticism from those who think these programs are not relevant.

We in the Bloc Quebecois think that these kinds of programs are relevant, but I know that Canadian Alliance members do not necessarily believe in them. Regardless of the intrinsic value of these programs, has the federal government not done serious harm to their reputation and contributed to the present debate within the Liberal Party of Canada as to whether or not it should continue to have them, is management lax, and is this not what damages the reputation of these programs in the eyes of the Canadian public?

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is not so much that we are totally opposed to grants and contributions in principle provided they are an investment in Canada and an investment in Canadians, rather than just spreading the largesse around the country where it can buy the most political votes. We have heard that. We heard about it in question period today.

I get back to my private member's bill which says that it does not matter if it is the grants and contributions program or any other program the federal government is involved in, we must ask four simple but fundamental questions. First we ask what is the program designed to do? Once we know that and the program is running, then we ask how well are we achieving what we want to do? Then we can ask if we are doing it efficiently. We should always be asking the question of whether we can achieve the same or better results in a better and different way.

When we have asked these four fundamental questions and we find out that a grants and contributions program is beneficial to Canadians, then perhaps we should support it. That applies to any program. But this pouring money down the proverbial drain with no thought whatsoever to the fact that the taxpayers have to sweat to make that kind of money and with no thought to the benefits that we are getting for that kind of money, that is the problem with the management of the grants and contributions program.

We found that with the HRDC billion dollar boondoggle. There was no grant application on file. We do not even know why they wanted the money, but we gave them the cheque. We did not know what they were going to do with the money when they got it, but they got the cheque anyway. And the list went on. It was absolutely deplorable that the government would spend taxpayers' money without the proper criteria being in the file to justify that it was value for money.

That is why I say to the hon. member that we want value for money in the spending of taxpayers' money.

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, could the member for St. Albert share with us the position of the Canada Alliance with respect to bill 11? Does he personally support bill 11 in Alberta which is moving to privatize our health care system?

I remind the member that some of the Reform members, including his former and perhaps future leader, embrace bill 11. One of the leadership candidates, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca supports bill 11 and a dual privatized health care system.

What does he feel about the results of the byelection?

Main Estimates, 2000-01
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry, I am interrupting because the hon. member for St. Albert has one minute for his response.