House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was police.

Topics

Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too rise to speak to Bill C-35 and to respond to the comments made by the parliamentary secretary. As she knows, the Bloc Quebecois voted in favour of the bill at second reading because, among other things, it agrees with bringing up to date the whole way we look at foreign missions and international organizations.

But what my honourable colleague does not say—I am not saying she is lying, she is an honourable colleague after all—is the fact that in the original bill, which amends a considerable act, a thick piece of legislation in the good meaning of the term, there are three sub-clauses under clause 5 which give increased powers to the RCMP without enough controls. This is why we will vote against the bill even though we supported it at second reading.

I will add that witnesses, including the one mentioned by the parliamentary secretary, said unanimously that this clause should be somewhere else than in this bill because it is either useless or quite incomplete. The witnesses agreed that this could not be amended lightly. On the contrary, to make sure that the powers of the RCMP do not go unchecked and for other considerations I will highlight later, these sub-clauses should have been included in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act. These provisions being thusly taken out of their proper context, we cannot support the bill because of the implied consequences.

However, we want to say that we are very much in favour of the part of the bill aimed at modernizing in various ways the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act, which is the main purpose of the bill. This bill recognizes international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, the G-8, the G-20 and other international organizations which are not treaty based and which, as a result, are not currently covered by the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act.

Also, in granting the required immunity to international inspectors who come to make sure that Canada is respecting its commitments in terms of land mine or nuclear test bans, we are simply adapting the circumstances of the legislation to the needs of the moment, as did the first act.

The bill recognizes permanent missions to international organizations in Canada, by granting them the privileges that come with their status. More than 40 missions are accredited with ICAO in Montreal without having access to the privileges they should have. Bill C-35 corrects this anomaly.

Bill C-35 also grants the status of international organization to international summits and meetings by amending the Immigration Act as well to facilitate the travel of delegates during international meetings.

Since we agree with most of the bill's contents, we denounce the oft-repeated comments made by our colleague from the Alliance, as though the diplomatic corps in Ottawa was a den of undesirables.

Speaking of which, I want to point out that I learned that there are 102 embassies in Ottawa with 3,000 diplomatic staff persons who benefit from immunity to some extent or another. Therefore, in my opinion, the 76 offences over five years, almost all of which were minor, does not seem to be an alarming crime rate.

I believe that, to the contrary, we must highlight the importance of the diplomatic corps here and the role they play, and also how important the international meetings that take place here are to us in helping improve the affairs of the international community.

The world has changed and it has changed quickly. Globalization, which some people believe must be humanized, means that various governments co-operate on many levels, and consequently, have to travel.

There has also been much criticism of the provision to discontinue the use of the Immigration Act to grant immunity to persons arriving to fill positions in embassies at various levels. We know that immunity does not mean the same thing when applied to an ambassador, a consul, or the embassy cleaning staff. Embassy staff play an important role, and we are happy to point this out.

From now on, the Minister of Foreign Affairs will be responsible for ensuring immunity at international meetings. It should be pointed out that because of his role in the liberation of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was associated with activities which, when documented in his application to come to Canada, mean that he is refused a visa and has to apply to the minister for an exception to be made. This means that, in future, he will no longer be refused a visa.

However, after any investigation conducted in the same way, but without the objectionable aspects of this procedure, international figures whom the government thinks it would be appropriate to invite here, respecting its international obligations, as I realize, will not have to go through this long and sometimes difficult process.

However, I wish to spend most of my limited time explaining why the three paragraphs of clause 5 should not be included in this bill and in what will be the core of the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act.

First, I wish to reply to the first member who spoke to this. In the testimony given before the committee, there was no mention of the fact that it was necessary to include these three paragraphs in order to ensure the security of international meetings and of international figures and all those who accompany them in the course of their duties as international representatives.

I myself called for this, and it was called for on a number of occasions. It is not necessary to have the three paragraphs that make up clause 5. It would be worthwhile looking at the content of these three paragraphs.

The first gives the following power to the RCMP, and I quote:

10.1 (1) The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has the primary responsibility to ensure the security for the proper functioning of any intergovernmental conference...

An added amendment states that this must be done in conjunction with other police forces. Had this paragraph, as amended, been the only one, we could have lived with it.

But there is a second paragraph, which reads:

(2) For the purpose of carrying out its responsibility under subsection (1), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police may take appropriate measures, including controlling, limiting or prohibiting access to any area to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances.

This means the institutionalization of the famous perimeters. Until then, the RCMP, in collaboration with the municipal or provincial police forces, as it did in the last Quebec City Summit, had to negotiate, taking into account pressures from lobby groups, mayors and governments, as well as logistical considerations, what type of perimeter would be set up. They were forced to take living breathing reality into consideration.

According to section 7, which is not restricted in any way whatsoever, they may do so “to the extent and in a manner that is reasonable in the circumstances”. I will come back to this later. It gives them every latitude to decide whatever they want.

What is a source of concern is that there is no rush to get these three little paragraphs into the bill. There is no urgency. The only international meeting of any importance that is upcoming is the G-8 at Kananaskis. One of the witnesses who came before the committee said that the RCMP, or the government, did not need this clause to be able to ensure people's safety, as it was ensured, moreover, in Quebec City. Even if one could mention this or that aspect which could have been better handled in Quebec City, as far as the security aspect was concerned, the mission was accomplished.

There is no rush. All of the witnesses we heard say that these clauses, lacking any specification, ought not to be there, that they are undoing any balance that was in place, that they are conferring additional powers. I beg to differ but while the minister described this as merely a codification of the common law, all those who appeared before us, not those we invited—who were unfortunately unable to come—but those who came at the invitation of other MPs, said the same thing: this clause of the bill was extremely inappropriate, not to mention incomplete.

I will read part of the testimony made by the lawyer to whom the parliamentary secretary referred. He said, with regard to this issue:

It will be up to the courts to decide what is reasonable under the circumstances, should the behaviour of the police be challenged.

But already, the fact that people will have to go to court when there are no guidelines in the bill speaks volumes about the problems that individuals and groups will face. Think about the people in Quebec City who had a business or a home inside the perimeter. They did not know ahead of time. The bill is silent on issues such as what happens to their rights, when they can enter the perimeter, the damages that they may suffer, how long the perimeter may remain in place, other rules that may apply, or the distance of the perimeter.

Let us also think about the Hughes report, which says that protesters have a right to be heard by those to whom they want to talk.

Therefore, there is nothing to ensure, in a preventive fashion, that people's rights and freedoms will be protected. This means that they would have to go to court after the fact.

Let us see what this expert says:

Such a broad mandate could also be found to be unconstitutionally vague by a court or a royal commission, to the extent that it affects fundamental freedoms protected under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Therefore, it seems appropriate to define the mandate more clearly, in the interest of the peace officers responsible and of those who might be the targets of police operations. Otherwise, it might be much wiser to leave this potentially controversial issue in the common law arena, where it currently may be found.

So, this does not exist there or, as the expert later said in response to a question “Yes, it would be better if it were in the RCMP Act, since it includes a number of guidelines”.

So, this provision is not necessary. And if it is not necessary, why try to ram it through parliament? I have to say that the witnesses were unanimous and the committee members would also have been unanimous had they been left to use their own good judgment.

The best evidence of this is that the Liberal members of the committee have done excellent work, even if sometimes there harsh words were exchanged between some opposition MPs and others. The thrust of the work done was that those paragraphs should in fact be part of the RCMP Act, as witnesses had suggested.

Liberal members introduced a motion which was adopted by the committee and tabled in the House and which is based on the arguments used before us. Allow me to read the motion:

Whereas witnesses have expressed serious reservations about the appropriateness and interpretative clarity of the existing wording of clause 5, including the provisions which make it the RCMP's primary responsibility to take appropriate and reasonable measures in the circumstances, such as setting up security perimeters;

Whereas, despite the powers already granted to peace officers under the common law and to the RCMP under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and other statutes pertaining to the security of internationally protected persons, clause 5 will have the effect of granting for the first time the RCMP the explicit power to set up security perimeters during some international conferences;

Whereas the codified powers of the RCMP could affect the rights and privileges of Canadian citizens during conferences;

Whereas the witnesses heard by the committee clearly supported a broader review of legislative texts—

And I have commented on that.

—governing the powers of the police in circumstances where it could be necessary to set up security perimeters in Canada.

The original version of this motion read as follows:

Be it resolved that the committee urge the government to consider the legitimate concerns expressed regarding the wording of clause 5 of the bill—

Again, this proposal was submitted by the Liberal members of the committee. They added:

—the committee also proposes that the broader issues raised in connection with the powers needed by the RCMP to set up security perimeters, as well as legislative or other basis of these powers, be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons for further examination.

They finally introduced an amendment which was adopted and which said that the matter was being referred to the House and that, depending on the response of the government, other measures might be taken by the committee.

This motion, put forward by the Liberal members, basically confirms all that we know for certain—not suspect, but know—from the work done by the committee and from the testimony we heard.

I will follow my thought through. Since we have been here, we have become used to wondering about what lies behind a particular measure. We also know the various ministers and departments. Why are they determined to keep paragraph 2—the key item in the clause—which gives unlimited authority to establish perimeters? Is it because the government thinks it will have problems establishing the perimeter for Kananaskis? Is it possible that in Kananaskis the government will be unable to follow the recommendations of the Hughes report, which says, and I will repeat the provision:

Protesters have a right to be heard by those to whom they want to talk.

I think that a lot more could be said about this. But if this is the way things are, I would have appreciated being told. Once again, we asked the question in various ways.

Is this clause necessary to ensure the safety of those attending the event? The answer we were given was no, that they were using the opportunity to codify the common law.

I will elaborate. The expert witnesses who appeared before the committee all said the same thing about the common law in different ways. The third paragraph says that peace officers possess powers at common law. They therefore do not lose them. We are speaking here about all peace officers, including those in the provinces.

The interesting thing about the common law—which is not the tradition in Quebec, which operates under French civil law—is that all those living under the tradition of the common law know that, along with its advantages, it has the disadvantage of not being available to peace officers, who have neither the resources nor the time to find out exactly what their rights and obligations are because they have to stay on top of the entire range of case law and all the latest interpretations.

So, with respect to the common law, when the government says that perimeters are already covered in the common law, we are told that that is not what is in the common law. Saying that the RCMP is responsible and so on for establishing perimeters is adding to the powers of the RCMP.

The government tells us: “We are codifying.” However, witnesses have said: “The government is adding, enhancing”, which was the imperfect translation of Mr. Fairley's text that was alluded to earlier.

As for Mr. Pue, a law professor who holds a chair in British Columbia, he said several times that this provision would provide powers to the police, without them knowing their obligations.

This worries me. I have problems with the fact that, out of a context, the government would give increased powers to the RCMP without any restriction.

I will use the last minutes that I have left to deal with this issue. I will mainly quote Wesley Pue. I will read again a passage where he somewhat condemns the fact that the government is saying that this is only codification.

We should not believe that Bill C-35 is only reiterating the common law principles governing the police. If it were only that, this bill would not be necessary. Legislation is used to correct shortcomings, to change the law, to clarify the law or to freeze it to avoid ulterior legal interpretations. Obviously, no Canadian court that would be called to interpret this clause would start from the principle that the Parliament of Canada has agreed to it without any reason. This clause affirms the prominence of the RCMP.

I agree there was an amendment to this clause.

This would be the first legislation that would explicitly give to the RCMP the power to establish security perimeters. The clause would give the RCMP special responsibilities in an area, “international affairs”, where the federal executive enjoys a major discretionary power, which is often invisible and almost always beyond judiciary control.

But where I especially want to quote him is when he talks about the effects on citizens. He says:

Which rights might be violated by erecting a security perimeter? The right to freedom of movement in Canada, the right to organize, the right to freedom of expression, the right to own property—the erection of a security perimeter to limit a private area amounts to an expropriation, limited though it may be in time—the right to work, the right to conduct one's daily business legally without being interrupted or harassed by the police.

The erection of a security perimeter compromises all of these rights. Depending on the time and place, it can compromise the freedoms of thousands of people. The vague legislative wording does not tell the police what measures are appropriate. How, in this case, could the police decide on the following issues: how long prior to an event can a security perimeter be erected? One day, one week, one month, more? Violation of property rights. Whose property rights could be violated? Private Canadian businesses? Private businesses from other NAFTA countries? Property owners, municipalities, churches, religious organizations, the media, provincial governments, Indian bands?

What is the legal recourse for property owners to object? What would happen if another level of government or an Indian band were to object? If the government confiscated private property for such purposes, would there be compensation? If so, would payment be considered a favour or a right? Where would the money come from? Would the security measures taken depend on whether or not compensation would be paid to property owners whose rights were violated? If so, who would pay? And how is the RCMP to assess this? The clause says nothing about all of these aspects.

He continued on the subject of the area covered by security perimeters. This is still Wesley Pue speaking:

One can presume that the security of an event is better ensured with a larger perimeter.

That is the mandate that they have. The mandate is not to ensure that protesters' rights are recognized, or that the rights of citizens who live inside the perimeter are recognized. Mr. Pue continues:

Are there limits to the size of these security perimeters, which appears to be growing? How is the police to balance the area of the perimeter, security, and constitutional rights?

Jeopardized rights. Canada's constitution is clear: Canadians who respect the law have the right to organize, to express themselves and to protest. Allan Borovoy from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says that in order to be the least bit efficient, a demonstration must create a climate of political and social tension for those who make decisions in an attempt to influence them. It is acceptable to keep demonstrators at a sufficient distance to prohibit them from being physically intimidating, but they must be sufficiently close to have a political effect.

This bill does not remind the police that they must protect these rights. It is woefully mute on the principle of balancing security with freedoms.

He goes on talking about security passes, since the establishment of a perimeter, particularly if it is long, and we have no indication and no directive whatsoever in that regard, means that the police will have to issue passes and accredit the media to make sure that only certain people have access to protected areas.

This clause does not specify the criteria, nor the information that the police can rely on, or the responsibilities that it must assume regarding the justification of its decisions to people who had their request for a pass turned down or regarding the appeal procedure in case of abuse.

He gives a whole list and concludes by saying:

These are all important questions. It can of course be assumed that most RCMP agents will conduct themselves as responsible policemen. But their desire to act in a responsible way will not be enough to protect the public anymore than the imposition of an obligation that is brutal but sufficient in police terms. According to the rule of law, the law must specify as clearly as possible the conditions in which these violations of fundamental rights are foreseen.

Once again, I have read the extracts from testimony because they show that the Committee had, unanimously if I may say so, reached the conclusion that if the clause could not be eliminated from the bill, the Liberal members would table in the House this afternoon a motion adopted in committee.

This motion expresses, in diplomatic but clear terms, the reasons why all those involved in the committee work, including the witnesses, think that these provisions should have been incorporated in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, after a proper review by the committee to which these provisions are normally referred to, which is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Let me remind the House that, at second reading, the Bloc Quebecois supported the bill even if it wondered about certain clauses, particularly clause 5. In committee, we argued and voted against it. Amendments to remove clause 5 were not allowed at that stage.

At report stage, we moved an amendment to remove clause 5. Since it has not been deleted, I deeply regret that we have to vote against this bill at third reading, even if we totally agree with the provisions to modernize the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act.

We fully recognize the need to protect adequately foreign dignitaries and their officials who come to Canada for the important meetings made necessary because of repeated changes in the world and a growing globalization and interdependence.

But no one has proven to us that clause 5 is essential and urgent in Bill C-35 in order to protect the security of those we must protect.

We will vote against the bill in the hope that the government will listen to our arguments, which have been supported by witnesses and Liberal members of the committee.

Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I wish I could have asked government members some questions when they spoke, but under the rules I cannot do so. I was quite surprised at some of the things that both parliamentary secretaries said. Had I had the opportunity to ask them questions I would have done so. Perhaps I will pose those questions now, not that I will get any answers because seldom do we get answers here.

One of the parliamentary secretaries raised the accident involving Catherine MacLean and the tragedy of her death. She said the government did all that it could. I take exception to that. The government did not do all that it could. In fact amendments proposed in committee would have done more to help and those amendments were refused.

The amendment I proposed was to have a public list every year of what foreigners had applied for immunity under these new expanded immunity laws. I believe the Russian diplomat involved in the accident with Ms. MacLean would not have been here had that rule been in place. He would have been on the record at least once or twice before and would not have even been here had there been an annual reporting of people who claimed immunity.

The government could have implemented an annual report where it would list which foreigners had applied for immunity. It cannot say that it did all that it could do.

Another comment indicated that the government would request a waiver of immunity if there were a criminal or civil act where a foreigner claimed immunity. That does not make sense. Why would the government ask for a waiver of immunity when it is bringing forth legislation to create the immunity?

Why not just forget the whole thing? Why not drop the bill or send it back to committee as has been proposed by the amendment we are debating now? Why not reassess the bill and find ways to avoid a situation where our government would apply for a waiver of immunity when it just gave immunity?

These are some of the questions that I would have asked. Why are we creating immunity if we are planning to apply for waivers of immunity? Why would the government not agree to provide parliament with an annual report of who applied for immunity under these new expanded rules as proposed in Bill C-35?

Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act
Government Orders

5:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. It being 5.41 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 1 consideration of the motion.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

November 21st, 2001 / 5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House today to speak about my favourite subject: the accountability of parliament to Canadian taxpayers on how their money is spent.

My colleague from St. Albert has brought forward an important motion. It is worthy of the support of all members of the House. The report is one that was put together by a committee which was dominated by the Liberal Party as all committees are. The final committee report was tabled a couple of years ago and the motion calls for the government to implement that report.

Our democratic system has a circle of accountability and it occurs over and over again except when it comes to the expenditure of public money. Every citizen is responsible to obey the law put together and passed by parliament.

On the other hand, in the circle of responsibility parliament is accountable to the citizens. We in parliament must ensure that the laws we pass have the support of the citizens. There is a gigantic circle of accountability where we are accountable to them and they are accountable to us.

That is a good principle because with a circle of accountability we can prevent the tyranny of any individual with excessive power or a powerful majority in the House. Eventually the majority has to be accounted for.

My favourite example about the circle of accountability happened on October 25, 1993, when a government with a majority got the ultimate message of accountability. It was reduced from a majority government to two members. That was done by the people and rightly so.

The people cast their judgment, said the Liberal and the Conservative governments of the past had driven them into ever increasing debt and held them accountable. The people did not like the taxation policies, the management and arrogant style of those governments. The Progressive Conservative Party moved from being the majority to holding its caucus meetings in phone booths.

By voting for the motion we have an opportunity to improve the circle of accountability with respect to money. It is true that members of the public elect their parliamentarians. I have heard many times that Canadian taxpayers are discontented with the fact that there seems to be no accountability.

This occurs when government waste comes out. My colleague from St. Albert is now famous for his waste reports where he highlights silly spending by the Government of Canada. It is maddening to taxpayers when these things are made public.

Government members can say that it does not really matter because it is only $50,000 or $60,000. I hope that I never stop thinking of $50,000 or $60,000 as an awful lot of money. We should think about students who can hardly make ends meet and who must pay income tax on their meagre earnings. It is their money that is being wasted. We should think of the many families having trouble making ends meet and who cannot pay their bills adequately to provide for their families the way they would like to do.

Some are being taxed at $100 or $200 a month, some at $1,500 a month and some higher than that. Usually if people are paying more than $1,500 a month in taxes probably, they have an adequate income to pay most of their bills.

Thousands of Canadians who are in low income brackets are still being forced to pay $100, or $200 or $300 a month of income tax. When they hear about how that money is being wasted, my choice would be to let them keep their money and stop the government waste.

The motion we have before us asks the government to accept and to implement the report that was put out by this subcommittee, entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. To give a very quick summary, it proposes to create yet another committee of parliament.

Before everyone reacts and says that the House of Commons has enough committees and does not need another one, I would like to venture a guess that if we passed this motion and if such a committee were formed, we would find out very quickly that it would be deemed to be the most important committee of parliament. I am a member of the finance committee. I almost hesitate to say this, but I think it would be considered, if not greater than, at least equal in importance to the finance committee because it would have so much influence in controlling and exposing the expenditures of government.

The number of recommendations in the report are quite large and I will comment on a few of them. This is a private member's motion and it is votable. I urge all members who stand up to vote on this not to follow the instructions from their party bosses because by tradition this House has become a House of free votes. In other words, each member uses his or her own intellect instead of going on in blind obedience when being told how to vote. I would encourage each member, especially those Liberals who have a lot of control here because of their numbers, to vote in favour of this important bill to establish this committee and put the financial accounting of our country back on a sound basis.

I remember when we first came here we tried to do this in a rather innocuous way. The estimates were tabled in the House and then we would get to vote on them. We had those all night sessions, usually late in June, when we would start voting at 10 o'clock. We would vote and we would vote from 10 o'clock until 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning. By the time we would sat down, we had voted in expenditures of maybe $25 billion or $30 billion.

I made a point the other day in the finance committee that the government spends approximately $6,000 per second, every second of every day, every day of every year. That is 86,400 seconds in a day and we spend $6,000 every second. Every snap of my finger right now is another $6,000 down the tubes. It is about time that we, as parliamentarians, demonstrate to Canadians that we are spending that money wisely and not frittering it away.

The set up of that committee would give it great powers. It would have the power to call in front of it, not only members of the committees themselves but the chairmen of the different standing committees whose job it is to check the estimates for each department.

A great improvement in this system which is being proposed is that parliament would scrutinize all government expenditures not just the non-legislated ones. Right now we only get to vote on about one-third of the amount of money that is spent because the rest of it is called statutory spending and is in the statutes. However this committee would scrutinize that expenditure as well. It would bring into its sphere of influence and accountability issues like the HRDC spending.

Billions of dollars are spent on pensions, on Canada pension, on the supplementals, on child tax credits and things like that. That does not go through HRDC. That is a tax credit, but there is another area where we have lost accountability and we need to bring it back.

I regret that my time is up because I pretty well only finished my introduction. If no one else stands again to rise, I could perhaps stand up again and use the next 10 minutes on someone else's behalf, by proxy if you permit, Mr. Speaker.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

David Pratt Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to speak on the motion by the hon. member for St. Albert on the implementation of the recommendations of the business of supply report, made by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the last parliament.

The subcommittee's report was first presented to the House in 1997 and then re-tabled following the 1997 election in the last parliament in 1998.

I share the report's emphasis on the fundamental role of parliament in the business of supply. Indeed, Marleau and Montpetit quote from the report in their book on the House of Commons Procedure and Practice , on page 697. They say:

If committees are going to do a better job of examining the Estimates, they need more opportunities to influence expenditure, more authority, and better information. Once improvements have been made, committees should be able to bring new attitudes and approaches to their study of the Estimates.

This is why the government has been working with the procedure committee on a project to improve reporting to parliament. That project has led to a series of improvements to the provision of financial information to parliament and to the timeliness of getting this information to parliamentarians.

The government has also worked with parliament to adjust the estimates documents so that more timely information on departmental spending is provided for study by committees.

In addition, the report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, which was tabled in June and adopted earlier this fall by the House, contained further improvements to the estimates process.

Under our new rules, the House will have a greater role in the review of estimates and in debating the government's spending plans on the floor of the House. In particular, two sets of estimates per year will be considered by the whole House. This will strengthen the consideration and scrutiny by parliamentarians of public spending. It will also reinforce the importance of parliament in the supply process. Of course, it will give all members of the House an opportunity to participate in this debate and to demonstrate to their constituents their interest in ensuring effective scrutiny of public expenditures.

It seems to me that the modernization committee's changes, which were supported by all parties earlier this year, build on the procedure committee report from the last parliament, and, indeed, go further than the procedure committee report in important respects.

I would not want to support any initiative that had the effect, even the unintended effect, of undoing the work of the modernization committee.

As other members have noted, the subcommittee recommended the creation of a new estimates committee to examine estimates issues. I have long believed that our current committee system has the strength and flexibility to handle a broad range of issues, and that each committee builds up a level of expertise on subjects that enables the committee to scrutinize expenditures.

I can tell hon. members that in my experience as chair of the defence committee over the last 10 months or so that has most certainly been the case. At the defence committee we have taken a leadership role in that respect.

It seems to me that the establishment of yet another committee would put a burden on the members of the House, while undermining the work and effectiveness of our current committees. This would have the unintended effect of reducing the effectiveness of the work of the House on the business of supply.

I am also sure that the subcommittee's suggestion that committees be empowered to increase or reallocate funds was made in the interest of providing members with a role in the scrutiny of public spending. However, the Constitution Act, 1867, is clear that there must be a royal recommendation for any vote, bill or resolution containing financial provisions.

Giving standing committees this power would raise constitutional problems because, as all members know, only the government may introduce or recommend the appropriation of public money.

I share what is I believe the view of all members, that improving reporting to parliament, review and accountability, deserves our attention and effort, and that there is more to be done in this area.

I am proud that when the government was first elected in 1993 it took early action to improve reporting on the business of supply.

The improved reporting to parliament project was initiated by the government in consultation with parliamentarians in 1994. Since then standing committees were enabled to examine and report on future fiscal year departmental plans and priorities as part of the main estimates process.

Departments now produce performance reports in the fall, detailing how well they have fulfilled their mandate during the year.

These reports allow parliamentary committees to evaluate subsequent departmental estimates on the basis of immediate past performance. After the 1997 election, the government took further action in long term legislative planning among House leaders. This has provided all parties with more predictability on government legislation, including the estimates documents.

In the past several years there has also been more use of new information technologies, specialized reports for standing committees and streamlined reporting. All this helps to ensure that the best information goes to parliamentarians and committees for their work on public expenditure scrutiny. Of course there is always more that can be done, so I am very pleased that the President of the Treasury Board has committed to continue her work with the procedure committee on improved reporting to parliament.

To conclude I want to say that I share the member's view that parliament has a crucial role in the business of supply and I applaud the work the member and others on the procedure committee have done to strengthen the financial reporting to parliament. I am also pleased that the President of the Treasury Board will continue her work with parliament in this area.

It seems to me that today's motion may have been overtaken by the work of the modernization committee and its adoption could inadvertently undermine the work of the modernization committee, which was supported by all parties earlier this fall.

As I indicated, there seems to be both constitutional and operational problems with some of the recommendations in the report of the subcommittee. While I agree with some of the principles behind today's motion, I believe the motion would actually reduce the effectiveness of parliament's work on the business of supply. That is why I will not be supporting this motion.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin the debate today by commending the hon. member for St. Albert for bringing forward the motion, which is a motion to adopt an 80-page report done in the 35th parliament. He actually co-authored the report with the current whip for the government, the member for Ottawa West--Nepean. The committee they were on was the procedure and House affairs committee. It should also be noted that the Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific was also on that committee and was obviously a contributing member.

The report has a number of recommendations centred around creating a special estimates committee that would investigate government spending in all departments. The recommendations of the report are outstanding and I will get to them in a minute. However, I want to preface my statements by stating a few facts for the record in the House.

First, the annual expenditures of the Government of Canada, according to the 2001-02 main estimates, were $166 billion. The previous year, according to the 2000-01 main estimates, they were $158 billion. We saw an increase in government spending of $8 billion over a one year period. The reason I bring up this point is that the government does not have a taxation revenue problem, it has a spending problem. The Liberals are fixated on big government programs and on continually increasing taxes. The problem is that there is no proper scrutiny of or accountability for how that money is being spent. The motion of the hon. member for St. Albert to adopt the report and the recommendations contained therein would bring the necessary accountability to this spending.

Perhaps if a special committee for scrutinizing the estimates had been in place over the past number of decades the country would not be in the fiscal mess it is currently. The projected national debt for 2001-02 is $579 billion. That is an absolutely outrageous burden. In fact, the result of carrying such a massive debt is that our annual interest payments alone are $42 billion each year. I think the significance of those numbers speaks for itself. Clearly we need greater fiscal responsibility. Clearly we need better ways to examine the estimates and to scrutinize government spending, and clearly we need a better analysis of the performance of the bureaucracy. All these are addressed in the recommendations contained in the report.

The co-author of the report clearly will be supporting it because she co-authored it, as will the secretary of state, as I previously mentioned. I am a little disturbed by the previous Liberal speaker who indicated he would not be supporting procedures to increase accountability and to bring more into the domain of parliament the scrutinizing of government spending of our tax money. I certainly hope other Liberal members are not taking that same view of improving accountability.

With respect to the recommendations in the report, they are many and I will not cover all of them. However, I would like to touch on a few of them. First, the standing orders would be amended to create the standing committee on estimates, the mandate of which would be to monitor and review the estimates and supply process. That committee specifically would be empowered to report to the House of Commons on an annual basis. The standing committee on the estimates would co-ordinate its activities with the Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and from time to time when appropriate would sit jointly with either or both of those committees to examine such broad issues as government wide expenditure and revenue generation.

The recommendations include giving that committee a permanent mandate to televise its proceedings so that the public could be more engaged in the spending practices of the government and as well, of course, providing that committee with a small, permanent, dedicated research staff to facilitate its work. As well, as part of its prebudget consultations the Standing Committee on Finance would give priority to inviting chairs of standing committees and the chair of the new standing committee on estimates in particular to appear before it as witnesses to present views contained in committee reports on departmental plans. Also, the Minister of Finance would include a response to standing committee reports on departmental plans in the supporting documents that accompany the budget. Furthermore, as part of their plans and performance documents, departments and agencies would regularly include a reference to previous committee reports on past plans and performance or to any committee report to parliament, with specific attention devoted to steps taken in response to the views of members of parliament as expressed in standing committees.

Another recommendation is that departments and agencies include in their plans and performance documents specific references to outstanding issues contained in the reports and audits of their activities conducted by the Auditor General of Canada. These references would include a list of the recommendations made by the auditor general, a list of recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, when appropriate, and a brief but detailed discussion of the actions taken in response as well as the results achieved as a consequence.

It is also recommended that the Treasury Board Secretariat prepare for the use of members, in consultation with members of parliament and chairs of standing committees, a concise, comprehensive information package on the estimates and supply process and on government financial management generally. As well, the government would establish a schedule for the review, preferably over the next 10 years, of all existing underlying statutes that affect the size of statutory expenditures.

Another recommendation is that the government would take all possible measures to improve the quality of program evaluations conducted in areas involving major statutory expenditure and would ensure that these evaluations are provided in a timely manner to committees reviewing statutory programs. In particular, evaluations would articulate the public policy objectives and address the questions of whether or not these objectives are being met, whether the program is being efficiently managed and whether there are alternative means of meeting the same policy objectives.

As well, it is recommended that all legislation for new statutory programs contain a provision for parliamentary review at a minimum of five years following their introduction and on a cyclical basis thereafter. Also, there would be a thorough review, on a schedule established by government and conducted on a periodic basis thereafter, of all tax expenditures, focusing on whether they are meeting the public policy objectives that have been established for them, whether they are being efficiently managed and whether there are alternative means of meeting those policy objectives.

Lastly, it is recommended that departments and agencies authorized to provide loan guarantees include in their estimates summary information on the status of all their outstanding loan guarantees, the potential liabilities they represent, explicit statements of the policy goals such loans are meant to achieve and whether there are alternative means of meeting these policy objectives.

As we can see, these recommendations are outstanding. They would bring about a much greater degree of accountability in the bureaucracy and in government departments.

I will conclude by once again commending the hon. member for St. Albert for introducing the motion. I would like to commend the government whip for co-authoring the report.

I urge all members of the House to vote in support of the motion because of the great degree of increased accountability and scrutiny of the expenditure of tax dollars that would result.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the motion put forward by my esteemed and learned colleague from St. Albert, the chairman of the public accounts committee.

I am pleased that it is a votable motion. Too few private members' motions in this place are votable. It is a rare votable private member's motion in so far as it gives effect to a unanimous report of an all party House committee. I hope and expect the matter will have no difficulty in achieving similar unanimity in the House as a whole. Motion No. 296 reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should fully implement the recommendations of the 51st Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the First Session of the 36th Parliament, entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”.

I will address the first principle that one of the central powers of parliament, perhaps its raison d'être, is to act as a check and a balance on the spending authority of the executive branch or the crown.

Over several hundred years our mother parliament, the Westminster parliament, evolved precisely to give the Commons and different interests in the country an opportunity to pass judgment on proposals of the government and to raise and spend revenues in the name of the crown. This is one of the most significant powers we possess as parliamentarians. Yet it is a power which has been very much in decline for the past several decades, in this parliament in particular.

The estimates are documents tabled by ministers of the crown which detail, at least theoretically, the spending the governor in council proposes to engage in within a given fiscal year. Anyone who is more than a passive observer of parliament will realize and agree that the estimates process has increasingly become something of a bad joke. We sometimes sit in this place at the end of the estimates period having had virtually no serious committee review of the estimates.

Often the estimates tabled here and referred to committee are considered in the course of a few minutes or hours at most. There is often no more than a cursory review of the sometimes billions of dollars of proposed spending for various departments and agencies.

The estimates then return to this place where we rubber stamp them in a hurried voting process, often on division. Sometimes in a given evening we will authorize the spending of tens of billions of dollars as though it were not real money and as though we were not exercising a real power of review.

The vast majority of members of parliament who vote on the estimates both at committee and in this place have little or no idea what they are authorizing. One of the central purposes of parliament, namely to act as a check and a balance on the spending plans of the executive, is not being exercised. This requires fundamental reform.

The motion contemplates such reform. It is not a complete panacea for the shortcomings of our current estimates process. However the establishment of an all party estimates committee would take us much closer to allowing parliamentarians who have a particular interest in scrutinizing government spending plans to do so with a meaningful level of detail. This was concurred in by all members of the committee and all parties they represented. It would be a major step in the right direction.

I note that this is a motion coming from the chairman of the public accounts committee who by convention is a member of the official opposition. I would submit that an estimates committee, insofar as it would play a role similar to that of public accounts committee, ought also to have as its chair a member of the official opposition so that we could ensure that there was active and aggressive scrutiny of the executive branch's spending plans. We know full well that members of the government in this place, not just this party but in previous governments, and members of parliament who are also members of the government feel beholden virtually all of the time to acquiesce to the spending proposals of members of the governor in council. Therefore, for the sake of parliamentary scrutiny, it would be preferable to have an opposition member chairing the committee.

The federal government spends some $180 billion in a given year. Removing from that the debt servicing costs of over $40 billion, the total program spending is roughly $140 billion. This is an enormous sum and much of it is driven by automatic program spending increases, entitlement programs, which are driven by statutory authorization. We do not even properly review these programs of tens of billions of dollars which ought to be reviewed.

There are so-called tax expenditures which carry on year to year, many of which are actually spending programs designed as part of the tax system. I would include in this category the Canada child tax benefit. This is a major multi-million dollar program which we have not reviewed since its inception and which is in effect an entitlement program operating within the tax system.

These things need to be reviewed. We need the opportunity to bring forward to the estimates committee ministers of the crown to answer in detail questions about their spending proposals. We need this now more than ever precisely because we have seen over the past three or four years a very troublesome return to the old pattern of enormous annual program spending increases.

The government has been increasing its program spending from year to year by 5% to 7% over the past three or four years. That is a level nearly twice as high as the combined rate of growth in population plus inflation. In other words, the federal government's spending envelope is growing far more quickly than our economy's capacity to pay for it, particularly given the fact that we continue to sit on a $540 billion debt, the second largest debt in the G-7. This worrisome increase in spending, which I believe is in part a result of parliament's lack of effective scrutiny of government estimates, is threatening the surpluses which Canadians have paid so dearly to achieve.

In fact, the department of economics of the Bank of Nova Scotia projects that in the next fiscal we will see budgetary deficits of as much as $5 billion. Other banks predict that we will see planning deficits by the fiscal year 2003 of several billion dollars.

All of this is to say that there is an urgent need, as virtually every business group, private sector economist and think tank have suggested, for us to return to very serious spending restraint. That restraint, I submit, would be most effectively brought about by empowering a parliamentary estimates committee to dig down deep, to discover by questioning witnesses, to have an independent capacity to do research and to call before it government officials. By doing that, it would have a tremendous ability to identify wasteful and needless government programs.

It would be my hope that, if such a committee were adopted should this motion pass, government members would sometimes vote against spending proposals brought before them by their ministers.

This could be one small but important step toward empowering individual members to represent their constituents in the best interests of the Dominion and to restore one of the central purposes of parliament to act as an effective check and balance against the spending power of the government. I therefore support the bill and encourage all members to do likewise.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion tonight. We are talking about bringing increased transparency and accountability to parliament. The motion would create a special estimates committee of the House of Commons.

I have been in this place since 1994, but my federal political awareness really came into effect in 1992. I believe, and I think so do many of my constituents, that the primary duty of this place is to look after taxpayer dollars.

It was clear to me in 1992 that the mechanisms in this place were inappropriate to the task, and everything I have experienced since 1994 has done nothing but reinforce what I believed to be true before I got here. That is a sad statement.

This is a genuine attempt at reforming the system and one that should be encouraged. We have an opposition and government initiative with this co-authored report. Therefore, when we vote on the creation of the estimates committee, there is a reasonable opportunity, chance or probability that we may create this very important oversight committee. This committee could perform some very effective roles.

We need fiscal discipline and we need to get away from the kind of politics which the country can no longer afford, such as spending promises politics. What we now have is a Byzantine process at best. It needs to be modernized.

There are two things about which I want to talk. One-third of our expenditures are scrutinized by the House in committee of the whole, which is not an effective oversight. We do not look at a lot of things such as the kinds of government guarantees on all fronts which create liabilities.

When the government of New Zealand faced a bad fiscal situation in the 1990s, it added up all the guarantees made over the years, and which were still current, and discovered that the country had a negative net worth. That was the point at which it hit the wall and had to impose a complete new fiscal regime on the country.

We are not quite there, but we do not know what our liabilities are or what guarantees have been made and so on. That is what motivates the official opposition and that it is what motivates me. That is also what has motivated much of our policy development, which is the basic framework and architecture of the party I represent.

We brought a discipline to this place that did not exist before we got here. The $42 billion deficit that the current government inherited from the previous government required a form of discipline and that was aided and abetted very much by the actions of the Reform Party of the day. I can honestly say that I am very proud that we had that kind of an impact on things because it was a net gain for the country, the citizens and the taxpayers.

We have gone from a balanced book position into a new era which means we need a new discipline driven by new needs and that requires some new mechanisms. We have a whole new set of security concerns, new spending requirements and a government that, up until now, has been adept at creating new spending but very poor at re-prioritizing spending. There was always new spending while the old programs tended to continue. The committee could assist in shedding that kind of baggage. We need to get away from that kind of thinking.

We must create the circumstances required to have all the things we not only want but actually need if we are to retain any semblance of sovereignty and the ability to retain our best and brightest. That means we must continue to lower taxes and continue to pay down the debt.

We must also spend on new areas of major concern that we have allowed to lapse, such as in the area of security. That includes the Department of National Defence, the RCMP, CSIS, new technology at our borders and addressing security issues surrounding the way our refugee determination process is often abused at our borders. In order for these things to be effective they require a new philosophy and new scrutiny. We need to get there and this is one way to help us reach that goal.

I talked about the $42 billion deficit we had in 1993. We were getting very close to being internationally insolvent in a sense. That was the stimulus that got us to change our ways. We now have an obvious need to re-prioritize. The last time it was a lot easier than it will be this time because the last time the federal government did not really change its internal behaviour. What it did was cut transfers which affected health care and the provinces much more than the federal government itself.

I do not think we can get to where we need to go without the committee. It is not that this is a nice thing to do but it is essential. We will all be better off if we retain control of our spending. If we do this, we will all be earning our pay cheques in this place.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Waterloo—Wellington
Ontario

Liberal

Lynn Myers Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Motion No. 296. For the record the motion before us states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should fully implement the recommendations of the 51st Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the First Session of the 36th Parliament, entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”.

It is important to have this debate on the motion. I certainly listened with great interest to the members who have spoken up to this point. I want to make a minor correction. The member who spoke prior to me said that because of the cut in transfer payments that was how the books were balanced when the Liberal Party took power in 1993. Of course he knows better. It was a result of rolling up our sleeves as a government and making sure that through program review we cut spending in many of the departments. We went on to make sure that we did the right thing. We asked Canadians to sacrifice and they co-operated with us. As a government we were very successful in eliminating the Tory deficit that had really beleaguered us in 1993.

Now we are paying down the debt in substantial amounts of billions of dollars. At last count it was over $30 billion we have paid down on the debt.

As a government we are making the kinds of moves that are consistent with what Canadians expect and want. It is in keeping with our obligations not only domestically but internationally as well. It underscores the good work of the Prime Minister and the cabinet, and especially the finance minister and all members of our caucus. They have worked very hard to ensure that is the case.

There was some allusion prior to my speaking about the history of how this motion came about. It is important to know the subcommittee of the procedure and House affairs committee presented its report in 1997. Of course events overtook that report being submitted. As a result there was a general election. It was re-tabled following the dissolution of parliament in 1998.

We need to understand this point thoroughly. The House modernization committee built on the recommendations and the work of the procedure committee. That was a very important committee dealing with the whole idea of modernizing the House of Commons. There was talk about making it more efficient, more accountable and better working and in keeping with a new approach in how as parliamentarians we deal with the various functions of parliament and in reverse, how best to proceed in terms of parliament proceeding to do what members of parliament want.

I mention that because it is important to note that as a result of the government's initiatives we struck the modernization committee. On June 1 that committee report was tabled. It was adopted. We have now seen extensive improvements as a result of the good work of that committee. We have seen the extensive improvements that have occurred especially as they relate to the estimates process which is in essence what we are speaking about tonight.

These changes have increased the role of the House, based on the good work of the modernization committee, in the review of estimates and in debating the government's spending plans in the full House of Commons. That is an important point because that has happened. We have now taken the appropriate steps to ensure that the estimates are debated thoroughly. Therefore unfortunately this motion is not necessary. It is not required. In fact it is redundant. We need to keep that in mind.

My second major point, which is an important one, is that if we were to put in place a new estimates committee, it would overlap the present work of the existing committees.

For example, when I chaired the health committee we called in the health minister who at the appropriate times discussed the estimates and recommended, supported, debated and talked about what was being planned by the health department. That is a very appropriate process. That committee has the kind of overall public health approach philosophy, the kinds of departmental issues and overall policy objectives that would be part and parcel of the health committee. The Minister of Health would be there to discuss and debate those estimates as they were presented.

The same is true at the justice and human rights committee of which I am a member. For example, in the next little while, I believe within the next week or so, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada will be there, whose job it will be to defend the estimates that she will be presenting at the justice and human rights committee. That is precisely the appropriate forum for that to take place.

The process has worked very well. It is an ongoing process in terms of requiring members of parliament to get down to the basic work of researching their questions, studying the issues and making sure they understand the policies. At the same time, I guess for lack of a better word, they grill the minister to see whether he or she can defend the estimates as they are being presented. That is the parliamentary process. I believe it is a very good one. It has served us well. It has worked very well. It continues to be fine tuned and refined. It also continues to be made modern in the sense of keeping up with existing and other changes which occur which are consistent with the values of this House and by extension the values of all Canadians. We need to keep that in mind.

We have heard from other people. Certainly the President of the Treasury Board has indicated that she is prepared to maintain the Treasury Board requirements to report fully on parliamentary spending and spending matters as they pertain to expenditures across the departments. We continue to press for any and all improvements in that reporting because I think that is in keeping with the will and the wishes of Canadians and our constituents. That is precisely what the President of the Treasury Board has committed to, as she has in the past. That is appropriate. It makes a great deal of sense in terms of what we can do, what we should do and quite frankly what we must do.

I have to confess that in terms of some of the implications of where this motion could take us, I do not like the notion or idea that confidence in the government might somehow be reduced on the issue of supply. The whole notion of confidence in the government based on supply is a longstanding parliamentary tradition. It goes back to the very essence and roots of parliamentary democracy as we know it and as we have tailored it to the needs and requirements of Canada based on some of the British parliamentary traditions and other traditions which exist.

That is an appropriate convention to have. It goes to the very heart of what I believe to be parliamentary democracy. It is something that should be maintained. I do not for a minute like the idea that somehow we would reduce that or make it less than what it is now. That would have the net effect of making parliament not the place that it is today. It would neutralize it to a point which I believe would be unacceptable.

My point is simple. We need to carry on with the modernization committee report. We need to carry on with those recommendations, which we are now doing. It makes a great deal of sense. As a result, I find the motion is not required. I certainly cannot support it and I would urge all other members not to as well.

At the end of the day, we will carry on as a government with the assistance of all members I believe in a manner consistent with the great values of Canada. We will do it in a way which ensures that spending is done in a manner that is appropriate and one of which we can all be proud.

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that my colleague from St. Albert put forward this motion that talks about transparency and accountability.

The member beside me would have liked to ask about the $39 billion debt when the Liberals took power. It has been reduced by $36 billion. The difference is exactly the amount the government robbed from the EI fund in the same time period. That question is on the record now and perhaps we will have a chance to talk about it again.

This is an excellent motion because it talks about accountability. My husband related to me the story about someone who came up to him one day to say his brother was so kind. His brother always used my husband. He always borrowed his tractor and brought it back empty. He always borrowed the car and brought it back with no oil. He was always using him.

Then this friend comes up and says that his brother is so kind and generous that he would give the shirt off his back. My husband replied to the friend by asking “Why does it have to be the shirt off my back?” That is what politics is all about today. It is about parliamentarians being able to have power.

I am new and I would love some power. I would sit on that committee for nothing. I would not even charge the House the $5,000. Would that not be a saving? That would be my first offer because I am paying too much taxes anyhow. Could I use it for a deduction?

Business of Supply
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Business of Supply
Adjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, on October 4, I asked a question of the Minister for Human Resources Development regarding the unanimous report from members on the EI plan. It is important to remind the House that members of all parties worked on that report.

The report recommended 17 changes to the employment insurance plan, which was deemed insufficient and unacceptable as a social safety net for people who lose their jobs.

I raised the question at that time. It was the beginning of October, a short time after the events of September 11. There was indeed an awareness that changes would have to be made to the EI plan. The minister answered my question then the same way she did today, saying that the plan was working very well and that changes were made through Bill C-2, which abolished the intensity rules, among other things.

The minister noted that we voted against that bill. We did because the bill provided that, as soon as it became law, the government could decide to do as it pleases with the EI fund surplus and establish the contribution rates based on its general funding needs.

In our opinion, the EI should guarantee people a minimum income when they have lost their jobs. The intensity rule, which had been abolished, to give hon. members an idea of its relative importance, represents a saving of some $100 million per year, whereas this year, as in past years, there will be a surplus of close to $8 billion in the fund. So the amount associated with the intensity rule is less than 1% of the surplus.

This means that, at most, all of the measures contained in Bill C-2 would represent a recovery of 2% or 3% of the $8 billion surplus. That is not what our fellow citizens said during the election campaign. They spoke of their desire for a balanced program, one that would ensure people's contributions would provide them with sufficient income when they were unemployed.

There are two ways to do that: either lower the contribution rate or improve eligibility conditions. The problem with our Employment Insurance program is that there is a third party, the federal government, which does not contribute to it but helps itself to huge amounts of money in order to finance its other expenditures.

I believe that, when it does this, it diverts the funds from their primary purpose, which is to ensure a proper employment insurance plan, something we do not have at the moment.

Regrettably, closings were announced once again today in the softwood lumber industry, and everyone in Canada, Quebecers and Canadians, are being called upon to join together so that our position prevails with the Americans.

We would have expected that the federal government, which has done its share in the negotiations with Ottawa, would sympathize with the people who are the most affected by these closings, that is the people who are now unemployed.

Could the government not have taken advantage of the unanimous report tabled in the House, which the Liberal members participated in and which called for major changes to the employment insurance plan? This is the question that always goes unanswered.

Now as the federal government is generating a $8 billion surplus in the employment insurance fund, why is it not able to ensure reasonable fairness with the tool it has to use in its fight against poverty?

Can the government give us an answer and finally agree to make changes in this direction? Until now, we have not received a convincing answer.

Business of Supply
Adjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member opposite said, he already asked that question during oral question period and the minister answered it.

I must say that the September 11 events have had a profound impact on the lives of all Canadians. This government is closely monitoring the situation to ensure that Canadians have access to the support and services that they need.

Human Resources Development Canada has already made a number of adjustments. We launched the pilot project on shortened work weeks. We eliminated the rule on undeclared earnings. We extended parental benefits. We also made major changes to Bill C-2 by repealing the intensity rule and amending the provisions on clawback and on parental return to the workforce. We will continue to make sure that the program takes into account the changes in the labour market.

Employment insurance is designed to react quickly and automatically to changes in the local labour markets since eligibility criteria are relaxed as unemployment rates increase. The number of hours needed to qualify is adjusted every month in every one of the 58 EI areas to take into account local unemployment rates. A change in the local unemployment rate as tiny as one tenth of a percentage point may relax the eligibility criteria and extend the benefit period for people in the concerned area.

Moreover, we offer various labour market measures locally to employees and employers whenever an emergency arises, for instance massive layoffs.

The government's priority is always to make sure that Canadians can find a job. Labour market conditions remain sound in spite of the upheaval created by the September 11 events in the United States. Job creation has been weak but at 7.3 % the unemployment rate has never been as low. For adult women this rate is even lower at 6.1 %. These numbers point to the health of the Canadian labour market.

Employment insurance is a national program that is here to help workers whose job was directly impacted by the September 11 events just as it is here for every other worker. The 2000 Monitoring and Assessment Report reveals that 88 % of Canadians gainfully employed would be eligible to benefits should they lose their job.

I believe that given the information we just gave, it can be said that, thanks to the changes made to date by the government, the program is as ready as ever to meet the needs of Canadians.

Business of Supply
Adjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, the member is referring to something that was amended in Bill C-2. Why then did the members, including the Liberal members, unanimously submit 17 supplementary recommendations?

Was it not precisely because—despite what Bill C-2 contains, which recuperates a maximum of 2% or 3% of the $8 billion surplus—the federal government is still using 98% of this surplus for purposes other than what the employment insurance system was designed for?

When she says that 88% of those gainfully employed would be eligible, I feel compelled to remind her that employment insurance is not designed to insure those who have a job; it is designed to insure those who do not have a job. Only around 40% of those who are unemployed receive employment insurance benefits.

Does the parliamentary secretary to the minister not agree with me that if this were a private insurance plan, she would never in a million years pay into it, because she would consider it robbery?