Debates of Feb. 21st, 2002
House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was species.
- Government Response to Petitions
- Interparliamentary Delegations
- Committees of the House
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 84—
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Species at Risk Act
- National Parks
- Citizenship and Immigration
- Black History Month
- 2002 Winter Olympics
- National Parks
- 2002 Winter Olympics
- Guaranteed Income Supplement
- International Mother Language Day
- International Mother Tongue Day
- 2002 Winter Olympics
- Human Cloning
- Black History Month
- Legal Aid
- Highway 11
- Team Canada
- National Defence
- Health Care
- National Defence
- Highway Infrastructure
- Middle East
- National Security
- Foreign Affairs
- Kyoto Protocol
- Pension Plans
- Minister of National Defence
- Kyoto Protocol
- Airline Industry
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Kyoto Protocol
- Softwood Lumber
- Public Works and Government Services
- Canada Lands Company
- Business of the House
- Points of Order
- Species at Risk Act
- Business of the House
- Species at Risk Act
- Business of Supply
Species at Risk Act
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I rise with great honour today to recognize my hon. colleague from Windsor--St. Clair, colleagues from Fundy Royal, York North, Lac-Saint-Louis and Davenport and others who did outstanding work on the committee. They brought to the forefront a very technical and very difficult bill, with all those recommendations and concerns, were able to get input from provinces, industry, environmental groups and politicians together and come up with something that has broad based support.
One would assume that when politicians can get competing sides to agree on something they would want to run with it. Unfortunately this government, with its agenda, will gut the bill completely.
I tremendously appreciate the efforts of the member from the Alliance Party who just spoke in support of the small family farm. I think it is a good tribute to him to do that, but at the same time that he talks about drought his party does not want Kyoto. He talks about money for farmers and agriculture but it was his party in a previous election that was going to gut hundreds of million of dollars from the agriculture department. I wonder if he told the people in his town halls and his riding that when he was talking to them. That is the last thing I will say about it.
The problem is that the environment minister stood here in question period and said that we cannot move on Kyoto until we have consultation. Kyoto has been around for five years and now we are to have consultation. What have the Minister of the Environment, his department and his government been doing for five years? Absolutely nothing.
Now we have a bill supported by the Liberal members on the committee along with other members of the opposition. They worked their guts out on the bill, only to have the government, in a very backhanded, very mean and vindictive way, tell its own backbench members of parliament that their work does not mean anything. All the money they spent, all the time and all the effort mean absolutely nothing. That is unacceptable in a parliamentary situation. If the Liberals treat their own members that way, no wonder they treat the rest of us in parliament the way they do.
We have talked about species at risk. The reality is that the committee considered over 330 amendments to the bill and tabled its report with over 125 of them. The bill in its current form, prior to the government getting its hands on it, represents the absolute minimum in terms of what we are willing to accept and falls far short of what was originally called for.
The bill that was brought back to the government is the minimum. What is ironic is that this is a government that downloads everything in sight to the provinces, but when it comes to classification of endangered species, oh no, it does not want scientists or experts to talk about that. It wants bureaucrats and politicians to decide on what is an endangered species. That is absolutely unbelievable.
I represent riding that is very suburban but very rural as well. I can assure the House that many of these farmers, fishermen and people in the logging industry support initiatives that protect endangered species. Everybody knows that for every species we lose or that becomes endangered, be it plant or animal, that goes up the food chain until it finally reaches us. Every time we lose an animal or we lose a plant or we lose a valuable protected space for habitat, we are signing our own death warrants. That is a fact.
The bill done by the committee was the bare minimum that people were willing to accept and the government has the audacity to just rip it up and have its own agenda. That is absolutely unbelievable.
Off the coast of Nova Scotia is one of the most beautiful underwater canyons on the planet, the Sable Gully. For close to three years the government has been dithering around on whether to make it a protected area or not.
The government cannot decide. The oil and gas industry is saying to protect it. The fishing industry is saying to protect it. The provinces are saying to protect it. However what do we have to do? We need to have more studies. For three years we have been asking for this to be protected. There are 15 species of whales. It is an area larger than the Grand Canyon. Many varieties of fish and plant life live in the gully. All we are asking is that it be protected. What does the government do? It waits and waits. The environment cannot wait. The people of our country, and for that matter people from around the world, require legislation that is broad based and protects spaces for our endangered species and other species to inhabit. We share the planet and ecosystem with many other species. Our role is not to dominate and rape and pillage the planet on our own.
If we continue on this path, the government's eight year legacy will be a scorched earth policy. When the Liberals get out of government, and one day they will, what will happen is that the people of Canada will ask them what they did for the environment. Absolutely nothing. The government looks at other species and just ignores them. It wants to give control of this and the scientific listings to bureaucrats and politicians. It is absolutely unbelievable that the Liberals could do that.
For the absolute life of me I do not understand how a government could treat nine members of its own committee in this way. However, I remember very well the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans a few years ago, which was chaired by the member for Gander--Grand Falls. We spent over $180,000 on the east coast fisheries report. We consulted widely and broadly across the east coast. We told the people of those fishing communities that we would bring their recommendations to the House of Commons. All five political parties on the committee spent a long time on it.
It was the first time that five political parties in the House of Commons unanimously agreed on a report, word for word, and as we know, in committee it is difficult to get unanimity on most things. This report would have protected an awful lot of fish stocks. It would have protected coastal communities. It would have done an awful lot of good. Nine Liberals signed that report. We moved consensus for the report in the House only to have those same Liberals stand up and vote against their own report. They did not do it with just the east coast report; they did it with the west coast report as well.
Therefore, what we basically told the people of Canada is that we will fly on luxury aircraft to their communities, talk to them, promise them the moon and the stars, go back to Ottawa and write a report. However, unbeknownst to the people of Canada, especially people in rural Canada, the Liberals do not tell them that they have an agenda that completely ignores their future needs.
The day will come very soon when the people of Canada will wake up and understand that, because every species we lose, be it plant or animal, brings this closer to us ourselves. If the government and the Prime Minister want to leave a legacy for the people of Canada from coast to coast to coast, I will tell him now and I will tell the Liberal Party that I would support their initiatives if they did the following: if they made their legacy one of leaving the country in a very healthy condition, a condition in which we can drink the water, breathe the air, eat the natural food and maintain a livelihood from the labour and sweat of our brow for farmers, fishermen, loggers and so on.
I encourage the government to reverse itself, to accept the recommendations of the all party committee and to move forward in a positive light to protect the fellow species we share the planet with.
Species at Risk Act
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to take part in the report stage debate on the Group No. 2 amendments to Bill C-5.
About 35 amendments in this group mainly deal with issues relating to jurisdiction such as ministerial power or discretion to pass judgment on provincial laws; federal or provincial co-operation; and the role of the federal government in protecting our wildlife on provincial lands. Issues such as criminal intent are also raised among others such as public input, consultation and public notice; timelines; negotiations with landowners; criteria for effective legislation; mens rea offences. There are also technical or housekeeping changes.
The government has not yet developed more detailed policy or regulations. There are some verbal promises but nothing has been put on paper in black and white. This trust us attitude is totally unacceptable. “Trust me” or “read my lips” is just not good enough.
We strongly oppose Bill C-5 because it lacks fair and reasonable compensation. The other important reason is it permits the minister entirely at his own discretion and without any criteria, negotiation or accountability to impose federal law on provincial jurisdiction. This is wrong. It is confrontational and unworkable.
This does not mean we believe that jurisdiction must be entirely provincial. The federal government via its criminal law power can be legitimately involved in protecting endangered species on provincial lands. We require a balance between the two extreme views, a balance that encourages co-operation and negotiation.
I will now deal with some of the amendments in Group No. 2 in the limited time that I have.
Motion No. 2 intends to place the protection of habitats and species on provincial lands entirely in the hands of the provinces.
Motion No. 33 gives the minister the discretionary authority to develop, in consultation with the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, a stewardship action plan under Bill C-5. However, it does not require that the minister do so.
If the basis of the bill is supposed to be voluntary stewardship programs, then it is entirely reasonable to expect that the minister will set out a plan for accomplishing this. Further, this plan must spell out the incentives and measures which will be used to support stewardship action plans. The minister should be required to do this and should not be allowed to simply say “trust me”. Therefore we must oppose this motion also.
Motion No. 35, which was put forward by the Liberals, is a complete reversal of the approach taken by the standing committee toward the establishment of the legal list of species at risk. The committee had placed a reverse onus on the government that if cabinet did not act within six months, then COSEWIC recommendations would automatically be added to the legal list. This is dangerous since it is necessary to maintain a balance between giving unaccountable scientists full power to determine the list and giving cabinet the power to ignore objective scientific recommendations.
Instead, we believe that the final say must rest with the elected cabinet. After all, placing a species on the list of endangered species triggers the provisions of the act with serious criminal sanctions and potentially heavy economic costs for landowners and resource users.
The process must be transparent. The people affected must have the ability to argue their case. It is inappropriate for scientists to exercise political discretion in having to balance these competing social and economic policy objectives.
The committee struck this balance properly by giving the cabinet the final say on the list but requiring it to act in a timely fashion. This amendment tips the balance back toward cabinet discretion too far and potentially undermines the expert work of the scientific panel.
Motions No. 39 and 44 on the other hand require that to be found guilty of a criminal offence under the act, a person would have to have knowingly done harm to endangered species.
Bill C-5 would make it a criminal offence to kill, harm or harass endangered species or to endanger their habitat. Fines would be up to $1 million for corporations and $250,000 for individuals, and even up to five years for an indictable offence. The bill ignores one of the fundamental tenets of western legal history called mens rea. This Latin phrase means that criminal penalties are only given for offences committed with a criminal mind. It is very clear.
We support the goal of protecting endangered species. It is a laudable goal and a responsibility we take very seriously, but it cannot be done in a heavy-handed way.
How are oil and gas companies supposed to show due diligence over operations covering millions of hectares of land with very limited resources? Moreover they have no familiarity with endangered species or the regulations. The minister knows this is a serious problem. The bill would make many honest people into criminals.
The bill is part of a pattern of the government's dealings with rural Canada. Its heavy-handed approach to registering long guns utterly fails to consider everyday living in rural and northern Canada. The Kyoto accord potentially will add heavy costs to agricultural producers across Canada. Now the endangered species legislation threatens to criminalize farmers and property owners who may have every intention of helping endangered species. These people are supposed to be our allies in protecting endangered species. How can we declare them criminals?
Until the government commits to negotiate with the provinces to establish criteria for the application of federal law to provincial lands complete with a timeframe and provisions for compensating property owners for losses, we are forced to oppose the current legislation. It is bad enough for the federal government to assume the right to intrude in provincial jurisdiction. It is even worse that this intrusion will be completely discretionary and therefore increase uncertainty for the provinces, for landowners and for users across the country. Since there is too much discretion for the minister and not enough public input, we must oppose that motion.
My Canadian Alliance colleagues support effective endangered species legislation. While politicians should have the final say on legally listing species, the public must be able to review and comment on the government's reasons not to include a scientifically listed species. To ensure co-operation, criminal liability must be changed from strict liability to reckless offences. People should not be scared of prosecution for accidently killing species or disrupting habitat. The provinces must be consulted and agree to application of the federal law to provincial lands and species. The endangered species roundtable must be representative of all stakeholders. The species at risk act must apply equally to natives and non-natives irrespective of race and ethnicity.
Protecting endangered species is both an urban and a rural issue. Endangered species legislation in other jurisdictions, for example the United States, has not been successful primarily due to a lack of emphasis on co-operation and voluntary initiatives and incentives. Therefore we will not support this legislation and we cannot support the amendments I have mentioned until they are changed.
Species at Risk Act
Charlie Penson Peace River, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-5. We have seen quite a few versions of this bill in the last several years. I have been in the House nine years and I am not exactly sure when the bill was introduced. It seems like a lifetime ago and it has not really gone anywhere. There is a huge debate in the country, not about whether we should have endangered species legislation or co-operation but about what is the best way to carry that out to get the result we all want.
Some people on the other side of the House seem to indicate that people in rural areas, farmers, ranchers, oil companies and forest companies, do not have any concern about endangered species or their habitat. That is a sad statement from the Liberal side of the House because it simply is not true.
My wife and I and our children have a 2,000 acre grain farm in Alberta. We enjoy the wildlife and habitat as much as anyone else but we feel it is pretty unfair that 30 million Canadians share the view that we want to be able to build up our numbers of endangered species.
I can think back to the 1950s when a fellow in the Grande Prairie area single-handedly took on the task of renewing the trumpeter swan population. The numbers were pretty low at that time. He had co-operation from landowners and he was able to bring that about. There was no heavy-handed legislation which said $250,000 for this and $500,000 for that. That is not to suggest that it cannot work but I do not think it would have worked in that case. Co-operation is a far better method.
It is a little ironic that a lot of people in cities and members who represent city ridings seem to be suggesting that we want to keep these endangered species and habitat but we want landowners to pay the full price for doing that. That is not a workable solution. It never has been and never will be. We know that in the United States it was not. If there is no co-operation from the people who are going to be directly affected in trying to maintain the habitat and species, it simply will not work.
I agree with the Liberal government that this is a laudable goal. I do not think there is a person in the House that would not agree with that. No one wants to see a species become extinct. I cannot think of one person I know who would want that to happen. But what is the best method of achieving our goal? By all means it is not a heavy-handed approach.
As I have said, we have seen the example in the United States. If landowners are not compensated, are they expected to bear the burden for 30 million Canadians? In western Canada there are about 200,000 grain farmers. Are they expected to bear the brunt of all of this? It would appear so. It is an unworkable solution.
In my riding of Peace River there are 10 million acres of agricultural land alone. That does not include the forestry and oil and gas operations which include much more land in terms of size. How can this be policed? It cannot be.
There has to be co-operation from the user groups to make it effective. It seems that common sense has flown out the window on the Liberal side by not including co-operation and compensation. It is simply not workable. We must be a little more enlightened about this. We must come to a better solution.
How many species of flora and fauna do we see in our major cities? I would suggest not many. It is hypocritical in the extreme that members representing urban ridings are trying to tell the rest of us in rural Canada, which takes up 99% of the land base, that we should do this on our own because they have wrecked theirs. There are not too many endangered species in downtown Toronto. A lot of them are gone. That is not their habitat. Their habitat is largely in rural areas.
We have a lot of moose, deer and wildlife in my rural area. People who live in the cities have to take a more enlightened approach to this. We all have the same goal in mind but they had better start paying their share of the cost.
I will use an example of what in my view is a good solution. It is a practical solution that has been used for quite a number of years. I refer to the Ducks Unlimited program. Ducks Unlimited expanded across the country. It is very successful in saving habitat for waterfowl. It started with the ducks and geese and has a pretty enlightened approach. It pays landowners to allow ducks and geese to stay in their natural state so they have an area to nest.
I was a grain farmer for 25 years and participated in the Ducks Unlimited program before coming to the House of Commons. I saw it as being beneficial and was willing to do my part, but I could not afford to do it all on my own. The Ducks Unlimited program paid us to leave our fields in ground cover so the ducks could hatch. It was successful, and its program has been expanded across the country. We now see more ducks and geese than we used to.
I am familiar with the program of the Alberta government which has feeding stations at harvest time. Grain is bought from grain farmers. It is spread out in certain areas so that ducks and geese have something to eat without raiding the crops of people and destroying their livelihoods. It is a very successful program.
Why would the government ignore a successful program like Ducks Unlimited and instead use a heavy-handed approach of legislation that has huge fines? It will not be successful. It is as simple as that.
We talk about criminal intent in Group No. 2. I suggest that if this is not a reasonable law that people feel they can comply with, there will be criminal intent. We saw it happen in the United States. Species were destroyed, which was the exact opposite of what the powers that put that policy in place expected and wanted. We have seen it happen before.
Farmers and ranchers cannot carry the burden of this for society. They are already struggling with very serious financial conditions, and we have a government that seems to be telling these people that for the good of the country they have to provide the habitat for endangered species. It will not work. It will have the opposite effect of the intent. It is criminal in the extreme to be putting forward programs like this that will actually cause, in my view, more endangered species to become fewer in number as a result of public policy.
After seven or eight years of discussing the issue, has the government not learned anything? Did it not learn anything from talking to people in the United States that had the heavy-handed approach with fines? I suspect not because it just keeps blundering on and pushing this forward.
I have outlined what I think is a workable solution. If we have the same goal in mind between rural and urban people, why not share the cost of protecting habitat for endangered species? It is a laudable goal and it is something we need to work on together.
I wonder about people in Montreal or Toronto who have residences with nice lush lawns. What if all of a sudden earthworms in their lawns became endangered species and the people were not able to fertilize their lawns, spray them with organic chemicals or others? What if they were told that their lawns had to be three feet high to protect the habitat. It simply would not work because there needs to be an incentive for people to do that.
I am calling for a better understanding by urban people as to the threat. The threat is that we will completely go down the wrong road on this in spite of examples that have taken place in other parts of the world, such as the United States. The goals will not be achieved.
After listening to debate on this for five or six years, it seems to me that any government that has not really heard this message is not listening. The government is holding hearings but it is not listening. It is not hearing what will take place and it is doomed to failure. I suggest this policy should be withdrawn and the minister should put forward a more co-operative approach that will be successful.
Species at Risk Act
Brian Pallister Portage—Lisgar, MB
Madam Speaker, the issue before us is critical, certainly for people in my riding. I come from central Manitoba which is predominantly a farm area. However we are blessed with a number of other natural features in our riding. The world's second largest waterfowl staging area is in our riding as well. It is not agricultural land of course, but there are private landowners. Any legislation that is not perceived to be fair to landowners will not work.
We could go back to many examples, but the one that comes to mind was during the 1970s in Africa. There was serious concern about the depletion of the elephant population. Different jurisdictions tried different approaches. In some jurisdictions they tried heavy penalties. They tried criminal law consequence. They tried to impose those kinds of things as a deterrent to the excessive loss of the elephant population, and they failed miserably.
However, other jurisdictions used different approaches. They gave landowners the right to harvest the tusks of those elephants that passed away of old age. In essence, those landowners became stewards of the environment because they were given the right to protect and the reward for protecting a species that would be depleted in the absence of some government regulation. The intelligent approach was one that rewarded landowners, not one that punished them. The intelligent approach is the one that works.
In this case as my colleague just said, the government is trying to inflict the obligations on the landowner without the presence of any kind of potential reward apart from the great feeling that all of our countrymen get when they protect a species that is endangered. That is a wonderful feeling and we all share that goal.
The best conservationists I ever met are farmers. My dad backed up the swather a lot of time in the fall when he was harvesting just to protect the nests of birds. He would relocate them in the bush. I watched him do this many times.
Farmers are like that. Farmers are in touch with nature. They are close to nature. They understand the cycles of nature. They understand birth and death and they understand the partnership they have, not just with their livestock if they are in that industry, but with the natural creatures that are around them. They see that, they feel it and they live it.
I remember watching my dad many times in the spring when the frost was coming out of the ground, smelling the earth, feeling in touch with it and sensing it as a man does who depends upon that earth for his life and for his family's life and security.
What concerns me with this legislation is that it will not work because it is unfair and it punishes the very people who it should be encouraging, rewarding and respecting. That is why it will not work.
I want to talk about the criminal intent aspects of Bill C-5. It creates a criminal act and subjects landowners potentially to penalties of up to $1 million. The key problem is that people could commit such an offence without even knowing they were committing such an offence. The bill does not require intent. It does not even require reckless behaviour. It places the burden of proof solely on the individual to prove he or she was exercising due diligence. The problem with that should be pretty obvious. That is a double standard. There is a term in law that people refer to called mens rea, which means a person has to be of a criminal mind if the person is to be found guilty of a criminal charge.
I will use an example of the Minister of National Defence. The Minister of National Defence is using as his defence against charges of wrongdoing that he is ignorant. He is saying that ignorance and confusion mean that he cannot possibly be guilty of being devious in any way, shape or form because he was just puzzled. If the Minister of National Defence on the government frontbench can use ignorance as a defence, why can landowners not use it? It does not make sense to me. Ignorance is no excuse for farmers, but it is a heck of a good and convenient excuse for a minister of the government. That does not make sense to me.
The government does not require competence of its ministers. I use again the example of the Minister of National Defence. He is a member who was not sure when the JTF2 troops were going over. He was not sure when they left or when they got there. He was not sure what they were wearing or what anyone else was wearing. He was not sure how they should be clothed. A man who was not really sure about every important aspect of our involvement in Afghanistan has clearly built a case for incompetence relative to the charges he faces right now.
That matter is before committee at the present time so I do not want to refer to it specifically, but rather in a general sense only. I refer to it because I see it as a tremendous contradiction. This is a government that will allow a minister to plead ignorance to legitimate concerns expressed regarding his conduct, but will not allow a landowner to be unaware of all the incredible detail about the biota and flora and fauna that exists on their farm.
As this government knows, its policies have led to the growth in the size of family farms, corporate farms, et cetera. They are getting bigger and bigger all the time. I grew up on a half section of land and we knew every square foot of that land. Nowadays, farmers farm 5,000 acres.
Not only are farmers expected to take the risk of producing what they grow, research and understand crop selection, herbicides, pesticides and marketing, but the government now expects them to understand botany, biology and all the other aspects commensurate with understanding species at risk. That is incredible. The onus that the government is putting on farmers and their families under this legislation and the potential for criminal wrongdoing and significant fines are remarkable.
I ask members to consider this. Is it fair to convict people of serious criminal offences when they might have had no idea they were in danger of committing one? They not only have to recognize and understand in detail the species at risk, but they are expected to recognize their critical habitat in case they disturb a place where some of these animals spent part of their lifecycle, or where they used to live or where they might be reintroduced.
Let us think about migrating waterfowl. I will not give a specific species, but just suppose there was one species of migrating waterfowl that was in danger. Every spring and every fall just about every acre in my riding is used by migrating waterfowl. The flocks are enormous. In some cases those species would not be a problem. The problem would be the species that was near extinction, the species that was at risk. What would we do to protect them?
Of the 17,000 square kilometers of mainly farmland in my riding, which acres would be potentially used by these migrating waterfowl as habitat for part of their lifecycle? I would submit that this potentially puts a serious burden on landowners in a very dangerous way. I am concerned about it. It is particularly significant at a time when our family farms are under attack. That is something all of us should pay more attention to.
A case could be made for rural Canada becoming an outpost or a second class part of the country with respect to some of the legislation the government has brought forward, whether it be the lack of initiative in agriculture, the depletion of the agricultural budget or the reduction in agriculture research. The gun control legislation is a prime example. I suppose most urban Canadians would assume that a .22 was a weapon, but we in rural Manitoba and in rural Canada see a .22 as a tool. People who live in rural communities have a different perspective on things than people who live in urban ones.
In my riding farmers have led the way in soil management. Conservation districts have been established. I think of the Delta agricultural conservation co-op. I think of the work, as mentioned by the member for Peace River, of Ducks Unlimited. Throughout my riding, farmers have given of their time and sacrificed their efforts and dollars to preserve the environment. They are capable, diverse and knowledgeable people, and they are under stress.
I believe the legislation disrespects them and places them under even greater stress. The number one concern I have is that we should have legislation that works. This would provide a perverse incentive because what it would do is make it less likely that the environment and the species that we would like to protect would be so protected.
Species at Risk Act
Reed Elley Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC
Madam Speaker, as we debate Bill C-5, the species at risk legislation, I want to speak to the Group No. 2 amendments before us.
I continue to be amazed that even with this third attempt by the government the minister continues to upset so many different groups of people including the standing committee members, the agricultural community and those who would describe themselves as active environmentalists. That certainly takes some kind of special talent to anger so many groups at once. Unfortunately it is a skill that I do not have nor do I desire to have it.
However as we look at these amendments I would like to take a few minutes to look at them in greater detail. Motion No. 2 states that the preamble be amended by adding the phrase “the protection of habitats and species on provincial lands is entirely under provincial jurisdiction”. While my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance have long advocated the full recognition and differentiation between federal and provincial jurisdiction, the amendment is simply not true. For example, certain migratory birds are already protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994.
We strongly oppose Bill C-5 in part because it would permit the minister, entirely at his own discretion and without any criteria, negotiation or accountability, to impose federal law on provincial jurisdiction. This is wrong, confrontational and in the end really unworkable. However we do not agree that jurisdiction must be entirely provincial. There are some cases where the federal government by way of its criminal law power, as set out in section 91 of the constitution, can legitimately be involved in protecting endangered species on provincial lands.
I believe that Motion No. 23 is a key part of what we are debating today. The amendment would give the minister far too much power under the act. While the standing committee gave this issue full and fair debate, making recommendations to the minister, he has now turned around and usurped his own committee's recommendations. What a shame that is and what a slur it is on the democratic process.
The motion would give the minister the discretionary authority to develop, in consultation with the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council, a stewardship action plan under Bill C-5 but it would not require him to do so.
If the basis of the act is supposed to be voluntary stewardship programs, then it is entirely reasonable to expect that the minister would set out a plan for accomplishing this. Further, this plan must spell out the incentives and measures which would be used to support stewardship action plans. The minister should be required to do this and not allowed to simply ask to be trusted. Unfortunately Canadians have seen too many bad examples of the government asking people to trust it without really knowing all of the facts.
Under Motion No. 35 the minister has again ignored the standing committee's debate and recommendations. The amendment, like the original bill, would mean that the cabinet must actively choose to place species identified by the expert scientific panel on the legal list. If it does nothing, the panel's recommendation has no effect.
The committee placed a reverse onus on the government. If cabinet did not act within six months then the COSEWIC recommendations would automatically be added to the legal list. It is necessary to maintain a balance between giving unelected and unaccountable scientists full power to determine the list, as some of the environmental groups wish, and giving cabinet the power to ignore objective scientific recommendations.
Placing species on the list of endangered species would trigger the provisions of the act with serious criminal sanctions and potentially heavy economic costs for landowners and resources users. Because of these implications the process must be transparent and the people affected must have the ability to argue their case. It is inappropriate for scientists to exercise political discretion in having to balance these competing social and economic policy directions; indeed, few of them really want that job.
The committee struck this balance properly by giving the cabinet the final say on the list but required it to act in a timely fashion. The government amendment would tip the balance too far back toward cabinet discretion and potentially would undermine the expert work of the scientific panel.
Motion No. 48 would delete clause 34(1) which would open the door for the minister to recommend that a governor in council order apply the federal act on provincial lands.
I cannot accept the position of my hon. colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois that the federal law should never apply in a province. We believe that the federal minister and cabinet should not have sole discretionary power. Therefore until the government commits to negotiating with the province to establish criteria for the application of federal law to provincial lands, complete with a timeframe and provisions for compensating property owners for losses, we will oppose the current provisions. In short we need to have some restrictions on the ministerial discretion.
Motion No. 53, if deleted in its entirety, would reduce or possibly even eliminate public input. I believe that the criteria developed by federal and provincial ministers for the application of the act on provincial lands should be made available for public comment. This would be a vital step in the development of a national program to protect endangered species that has the support of all governments and stakeholders.
My colleagues and I will be supporting Motion No. 54 which would eliminate the provision that the act would be applied on provincial land should the minister and the provincial ministers not reach an agreement within six months. We have no objection to the application of the act if it is done with the agreement and involvement of the provincial governments.
Many motions introduced by the government overrule the work that was done by the standing committee therefore usurping the role and the power of the committee. What a sad statement on democracy as we see it in the House today, perhaps even sadder than the amendments themselves. For this and many reasons we will be opposing the bill and supporting some of these amendments.
Species at Risk Act
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)
It being 5.30 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 November 21, 2001 consideration of the motion.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
February 21st, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 296. I thank my colleague, the member for St. Albert, for bringing much needed attention to this matter.
To emphasize the importance of the motion I would like to read a couple of paragraphs from the Hill Times . The paragraphs in this article were written by Bill Curry, entitled “Parliament 'abandoned' constitutional responsibility”.
Bob Marleau, the former top House bureaucrat and an expert on Parliament, says MPs have “almost abandoned” their constitutional duties to review how government spends money, a job that is considered one of the central tenets of Parliamentary democracy.
“The last fundamental review of the supply process was in 1968 and it really needs to be revitalized, Parliamentarians are losing interest,” he told the Hill Times.
“The House of Commons has two basic roles, and that is to pass legislation and supply [review and approve government spending]. It has, in my view, over-focused on legislation in the last 25 years and almost abandoned its constitutional responsibility on supply. Now that's pretty strong for me [to say].”
Motion No. 296 is concerned with the fundamental right that is unique to democracy: government accountability. In the throne speech the government clearly indicated the need for parliamentary reform and indeed, mentioned the need for reform to the estimates process. Increased scrutiny is certainly much needed in this area. The time has come to give all parliamentarians an added degree of power in reviewing the estimates process.
Many people like to cite and compare the importance of the motion to parenting and disciplining. Members should imagine a parent who gives a child lots of money and freedom, allowing the child to do whatever the child wants. This parent puts minimal restrictions on what is appropriate for the child. During adolescence this child probably would think that this particular parent is amazing. This parent more than likely would become popular with the child and also would be the envy of many of the child's friends.
However, when the child is out on his or her own and has to learn how to handle money in a responsible fashion and also hold down a job, he or she would eventually realize that the parent who was once thought of as being cool or the most amazing person in the entire world, because the parent was so generous or easy-going, was not really doing them any favours as a child. If a parent is not responsible or held accountable for actions in the upbringing of the child, the child suffers in the long run.
This example makes an obvious connection to government spending habits. The government will often put money into certain social programs for the simple purpose of gaining public support. However, in doing so, it is not really doing society any favours because another program is likely suffering the consequences of cutbacks in an attempt to compensate for the area receiving public support.
This happens all too often, and is often not recognized until it is too late. For example, we have all repeatedly heard about the government reducing the debt by $36 billion from its peak level. This looks to be quite impressive at first glance, however upon looking deeper into the matter we also find that the employment insurance fund was robbed of $36 billion during the same fiscal period. The EI fund is not a piggy bank into which the government can dip in attempts to gain public support.
It is for reasons such as this that all members of parliament, on behalf of the citizens of Canada, deserve increased scrutiny into the estimates process. Motion No. 296 goes a long way toward putting the power back where it belongs. The citizens of Canada contribute equally nationwide to fund government programs and these people all deserve a representative acting on their behalf to ensure that their money would go to the most productive uses possible.
These people work hard and their money is not intended to fund multibillion dollar popularity contests. It is in this light that the standing orders must be amended to create a standing committee on the estimates with a mandate to monitor and review the estimates and supply process, along with other related matters. It is time for the government to be held accountable for its actions and for the abuse of Canadians' money to come to a halt.
In my personal experiences on the job, which I am sure parallel those of a lot of members, I repeatedly hear from constituents who are unhappy and frustrated with the way their money is being handled at the government level. They are unable to receive benefits from programs they have been paying into all their lives often with little or ambiguous reasons as to why their claims were denied. At the same time they are hearing in the news that the government has been dipping into the EI fund to pay down the debt. As one can imagine, this is very frustrating for many people.
These people pay into the fund on the assumption that they will be assisted when assistance is most needed. However when they are denied access to these programs they cannot help but feel that all their work has been in vain. These programs were established for the benefit of the citizens of Canada, not to benefit the government.
I tell these people that I will look further into the spending habits of the government and hold it accountable for its actions. However I am presently unable to effectively do this as a member of the official opposition.
The report brought forth by the member for St. Albert is entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. However the report is also known as the Catterall-Williams report. The government House leader played a major role in the writing and direction of this report.
Similarly the Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific was also a member of the committee that put this report together. It would be nothing less than hypocritical for these two prominent members of the government to vote against this motion, a motion which they both endorsed and helped to write.
The sponsor of this motion is the chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts. He is also the co-author of this report. He strongly believes that the adoption of the motion would go a long way to return the ability to scrutinize spending back to parliamentarians.
One of the main reasons that parliament exists is to grant supply to the crown. Therefore it seems ridiculous that all parliamentarians do not presently possess the ability to make changes and have a real impact on the estimates process. We must put the power back where it belongs.
This report must not be ignored. It encompasses the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens that we were all elected to uphold. We must not turn our backs on the duty and privilege that the citizens of Canada have bestowed upon us. I strongly urge members to take this motion seriously and to give it the attention and consideration that it so obviously deserves.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC
Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Blackstrap for the very good points she made in her speech. I also congratulate my colleague from St. Albert who has been a champion of fiscal responsibility for years in this place. Although he sits in the opposition benches he will one day be on the government side. He would make a fine minister of finance. He has done well to effect the agenda in the House on fiscal matters. This is another example of that and I congratulate him on it.
There are some very good proposals outlined in the 51st report entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. Before I address some of the recommendations outlined in the report I should like to establish why these kinds of changes are so important and so vitally necessary to be implemented.
It is becoming clear to all Canadians that this is a tired, weak, arrogant and corrupt government. The evidence is clear. Pierre Corbeil, a Liberal fundraiser, was convicted of influence peddling, of shaking down companies to cough up cash to the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Prime Minister called the head of a crown corporation to help out his friend in the Shawinigate scandal. As we know, Alfonso Gagliano was kicked out of cabinet for similar shady dealings to pressure crown corporations to help and hire his Liberal pals.
The billion dollar boondoggle of HRDC cash to Liberal pals scandal is well documented. There has been a waste of billions of dollars through poor and scandalous management. How could the government possibly expect Canadians to trust them with their hard earned money? It is clearly time for this tired, weak, arrogant and corrupt government to be swept out of office.
Some of the recommendations mentioned here as put forward by the committee are outlined under headings such as the ability to assess new program proposals at committee. That is a positive recommendation and there is a set of subrecommendations under it. There are others as well.
On the recommendations found in the report under having a higher profile for the review of the estimates, as my colleague from Blackstrap pointed out there has not been a substantive review of the estimates in the House since 1968 when I was six years old. That is absolutely unbelievable.
My colleague quoted the comments of our former clerk Robert Marleau on the House abandoning its constitutional responsibility in examining the estimates. I agree with that. It is time for change. We have to act. We have to take the issue very seriously. Billions of taxpayer hard earned dollars are spent in this place by the government with hardly a second glance. This has to change. These kinds of recommendations are positive ones. I hope they will be supported by all members of the House.
Another recommendation calls for improved support for committees, for members and for the scope of parliamentary financial review of statutory expenditures. There is a whole list of recommendations under that heading as well.
There are some recommendations on tax expenditures, loan guarantees and the accountability of ministers and deputy ministers. I will focus on these for a minute.
Not only are there good recommendations in this report, but there are suggestions that others have put forward which go beyond the recommendations within the scope of this report. I will read into the record a set of proposals that has been proposed by the democratic task force which the PC/DR coalition has put forward for debate and for input from Canadians across the country, members of opposition parties and members of the public as to many different needs for parliamentary reform.
One of the issues in that task force report which I would like to read into the record concerns the power of the purse. I want to read it directly into the record:
The granting of “Supply” to the Crown is the most fundamental prerogative of Parliament, in particular of the elected representatives in the House of Commons. Parliament has effectively lost “the power of the purse”. Its inability to monitor or control government expenditures and to hold the government accountable has been documented by Auditors-General as far back as the 1970s and as recently as December 2001. The annual Estimates of government departments are automatically referred to Standing Committees of the Commons. The Estimates are then “deemed” to have been approved by the particular Committee, whether or not the Committee has ever opened the book, spent a minute examining them or called a single minister or official to explain or account for them. “Supply Days” in the House of Commons give Opposition parties the right to choose a subject for debate, and to move no-confidence, but little attention is paid by public, media, or government to these formalities. They are no substitute for rigorous examination of ministers on their Estimates. Last June, the Commons, in a procedural shortcut, “approved” proposed expenditure of $166 billion of taxpayers' dollars in a single vote.
That is simply not acceptable. We have a proposal from the coalition which states:
Commons Rules regarding Supply must be changed. In the period March-June each year, a fixed number of hours (say, 160 hours--40 sittings @ 4 hours, Monday-Thursday, mainly in the evening) will be spent in Committee of the Whole. The Estimates of...four departments and agencies (to be determined by the Opposition) will be examined with no time limit in any one case, and the responsible ministers will be required to defend and explain their spending Estimates. This would remove any incentive for the government to pressure committees not to meet on Estimates.
That often happens. It continues:
It would leave in place the provision for committee examination of all other Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. It would require all Ministers to prepare for examination because they would not know until the last minute if they were to be summoned to Committee of the Whole on Supply. It would provide a televised proceeding in evening viewing time. It would allow many MPs to question the Minister without the Minister being able to refer questions to officials.
That is what parliamentary accountability on the estimates is all about: issues and ideas that are found in proposals like these. We are open to other suggestions as well but we think there are some institutional changes that have happened in this place over the years, perhaps not purposefully, to the point where we have not taken seriously the power of the purse.
As parliamentarians the legislative side is very important. As Mr. Marleau pointed out, the supply of the estimates needs to take on the same importance it once had in this place for that is what provides good government regardless of which party happens to sit in power on the other side of the House.
It is only when we have changed the procedures and we have put in effect non-partisan rules which give members the ability to examine in detail the costs, estimates of costs and every government expenditure that we will have truly accountable government. That is good for all of us. That is good for every party in the House and it is best for every Canadian because those tax dollars belong to the people who sent them in trust to us to spend on their behalf on priority areas.
We understand the nature of politics and different parties having different visions. We know visions change from time to time based on which government is in power, but woe to us if we do not change the procedural aspects of this place to the way they once were where every member could stand on behalf of their constituents and examine the expenditures of any government.
That is our job. We need to get back to that.That is why I think this is a proposal well worth debate in this place and well worth the support of every member from every party. Let us do it. Let us change the process for the good of our people.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
Lorne Nystrom Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK
Madam Speaker, I would like to say a few words in support of the proposition before the House today. The proposition is one that is worthy of support by all members of the House and I hope all members support it.
It deals with the most fundamental part of a parliamentary democracy, namely the granting of supply. The granting of supply means the approval of funds, the approval of money, money paid by the taxpayers for the various programs, for the $150 billion or $160 billion that we approve in terms of expenditures every year.
It is quite shameful, if the Canadian people knew how quickly we approve the spending of billions and billions of dollars with very little scrutiny. Madam Speaker, you are a very credible intelligent person and I imagine even you could not explain all the billions of dollars that we vote and spend and approve without even knowing the details of what is going on in many cases.
I first came to the House in 1968 when I was 22 years old. I remember a great debate in the summer of 1969 when there were major rule changes made in the House. Pierre Trudeau was the prime minister. Bob Stanfield was the leader of the opposition. Tommy Douglas was the leader of the NDP and Réal Caouette was the leader of the Créditistes.
One of the things that was debated was the moving of the estimates out of the House into the committees. In those days estimates were dealt with by the committee of the whole. In 1969 as part of streamlining parliament the plan was to make sure that committees had more power and by moving the estimates to the committees, the estimates could be scrutinized more carefully in a smaller body with fewer MPs taking more time and therefore doing a better job on behalf of the Canadian public.
That debate went on for a long, long time. It was my first summer in Ottawa and it was a hot July. My recollection is the debate went on until the 29th or 30th of July. It went on day after day. It was a controversial debate as to whether or not we should move the estimates out of the House of Commons in terms of the committee of the whole to the various parliamentary committees.
I remember sitting in the back row. Once during a recess Réal Caouette, Bob Stanfield and other members of the Conservative Party walked over to our House leader, Stanley Knowles, and asked “What do we do next, Stanley? We are worried about the process, about taking the estimates out of the House”. For a while it seemed to be a pretty exciting thing to do. But after 1969 as time went on, it became more and more of a formality. As time went on the government whips, regardless of which party was in power, would crack the whip and steamroll the estimates through the various committees. There is very little scrutiny of the estimates and expenses in committees, to the point where I think this is one of the big problems in our parliamentary system.
I support the motion before the House. We are in need of serious parliamentary reform. We have to devise a system. Whether it is a special committee on the estimates or bringing more estimates before the House as my friend from the PC/DR Coalition has suggested, we have to do something to make sure there is better scrutiny of the estimates here.
Every year we approve spending for fisheries, agriculture and national defence. We approve $60 million for the other place, the Senate. At least when we get to most estimates in the committees, we call witnesses from the various agencies and government departments to justify what they are spending. It may be happening very quickly and it may be very superficial but in the case of the Senate, it refuses to appear before the appropriate House of Commons committee to justify the roughly $60 million it spends every year. Liberal members of the House of Commons have invited the relevant people from the Senate and they refuse to appear. Where is the accountability? Where is the scrutiny of the money that is spent here that is collected from each and every single Canadian taxpayer?
We should be moving toward more parliamentary reform, more openness, more accountability, more independence for individual members. There should be less control by the whips particularly on the government side of the House of Commons. There should eventually be more free votes, fewer confidence votes, more power for parliamentary committees and more independence for parliamentary committees.
My goodness, we cannot even elect a committee chair by a secret ballot even though we elect the Speaker of the House of the Commons by a secret ballot. That is how centralized and controlled we are.
There are some new cabinet ministers, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Hopefully he will bring some reforming zeal to the inner sanctums of government across the way. I hope in a year or two he will not become like most of the others and isolate himself because of all the awesome power or be intimidated by the Prime Minister and some of his advisers like Eddie Goldenberg.
We have to change our system. We have to reform it. No matter who sits on the other side, people elect members of parliament to scrutinize supply, to scrutinize the estimates, to suggest ideas, to make changes, to make laws, to vote freely in accordance with their conscience and in accordance with the wishes of their constituents. That really has not been happening in the House of Commons.
We are probably the most handcuffed parliament of any country in the democratic world in terms of the lack of freedom to speak one's mind and to vote one's mind. Even in Britain which we model our own system after, often the government will lose a bill in the British House of Commons despite the fact there is a majority parliament. When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and at the height of her popularity I recall several times when Conservative backbenchers rebelled and defeated a government bill. The same thing has happened to Tony Blair, who is a very popular prime minister, especially in his first term. There were a number of cases when the Labour government in Britain lost a proposal in the House of Commons because members of the prime minister's own party stood up and said no.
If that were to happen here on even the most timid little measure, it would become a great parliamentary crisis. It would be a great issue of confidence. The Prime Minister talks about going to the country and having a brand new election. That is really a farce. We are shortchanging Canadians if we cannot organize our most powerful democratic institution to be truly democratic and representative of the people of Canada.
This motion is a very timid little step toward making this place more relevant to each and every Canadian citizen. I urge all members of the House to support the idea before us.
I urge the Minister of Foreign Affairs, being a progressive, bright, refreshing, young voice at the cabinet table compared to the seniority in the House, to take the bull by the horns and make sure he helps organize the government benches to accept this very worthwhile and credible idea. I look forward to hearing the remarks of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I will cede the floor to him.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Madam Speaker, the business of supply is not a matter that many members of parliament take very seriously or feel passionately about. I was fortunate to share that interest with the member for St. Albert. In fact I am committed enough to this topic that I actually requested to chair the subcommittee on the business of supply.
I enjoyed very much working with the member for St. Albert. We share a common commitment to the fundamental principle that the founding role of parliaments around the world is the right to determine how the government may collect money and how it may spend money. We shared a common opinion that by and large our Canadian parliament has not been doing that job well.
The member for Dewdney--Alouette referred to the fact that standing committees have not been reviewing the estimates. I should point out to him that in fact under this government every standing committee has reviewed the estimates, unlike standing committees in a previous parliament headed by a government of a party with which he has now chosen to align himself.
Our work started from a debate and a controversy which rose in the House. One of the first jobs I had to do was to educate the member for St. Albert that the answer was not simply to change the business of confidence, which was his opinion going in, but that there was a much more important job to be done by the subcommittee to demonstrate to parliament what tools it had and how it could use those tools to not tinker with estimates when they are tabled but to have a profound influence on the estimates of the following year.
A number of those tools, as the member for St. Albert knows, have been provided by the government since we took office in 1993. There is the idea of departmental performance reports. There are the plans and priorities reports that project into the future which the government initiated. Changes have been made to the standing orders which give the standing committees virtually full scope to investigate any matters within the purview of the departments that they are responsible for. These have given parliament the tools to do the job that needs to be done, not only to hold the government accountable which is primarily the role of the public accounts committee, but to influence the most important document that parliament approves which is the budget. That is what determines the government policy for the coming year. If it does not have the money, it cannot do the actions.
We also came to appreciate that parliamentarians need some incentives. A number of the recommendations in our report go to the very heart of how to lay out for parliamentarians how they can use those tools. Of the 52 recommendations in the report, nearly half are not recommendations to the government at all, but are recommendations to parliament and to the standing committees.
There is work for all of us to be done, to make sure that we are using the tools at our disposal in carrying out our responsibilities a little more fully.
The government has also taken measures as has parliament to implement some of these recommendations. I would point out for instance that the report on the modernization of the procedures of the House of Commons has given parliament a significantly greater scope in reviewing the estimates. It has allowed the House of Commons itself to take two full departmental estimates and have a special debate on each of them in committee of the whole. That is an important tool which we have not used yet, but I look forward to the first time that it happens.
The government has shown the attention it has paid to our recommendations regarding crown corporations by giving one minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, responsibility for virtually all crown corporations. It is an extremely important step forward.
One of our main recommendations was the establishment of an estimates committee. It has not happened and the hon. member for St. Albert knows why. In the last two parliaments with five parties in parliament, House leaders have had to agree that it was necessary to collapse and combine a number of committees to allow the business of parliament to proceed. Establishing a new committee while that is going on has not been practicable.
I fully endorse the recommendations of our report that such a committee could play a vital role in supporting and strengthening the work of standing committees on the estimates. It could continue on behalf of parliament to review the estimates process and constantly upgrade and improve it. It could look at horizontal issues which cross a number of departments and standing committees and for that reason do not normally get examined by the standing committees.
One of our recommendations had to do with public visibility in the estimates process as a way of providing incentives to members of parliament. As the hon. member will know, in recent months we have doubled the amount of television space available for committees. It is an important step forward. I urge, as does I am sure the hon. member, all standing committees and members of parliament to take advantage of it to make sure their work on estimates is done in the public eye and on camera.
I reassert our recommendation to the finance committee that it invite committee chairs whose committees have done a thorough review and report on estimates to appear before the finance committee as part of its fall prebudget consultations.
In the time that remains, and it is not much, I will refer to a number of areas in which progress has been made. We called for the resuming of reporting on tax expenditures. That has been done. We called for the minister to respond to standing committee reports and recommendations in the budget. To some extent that is being done although not systematically and not always.
The Treasury Board has prepared a package for MPs on the estimates process. I think the member for St. Albert would agree that it has dramatically increased the accessibility and readability of estimates information for standing committees and members of parliament, as well as of related documents such as the statutory provisions underlying some provisions in the estimates.
Work continues to go on. One area in which I hope there will be further progress fairly soon is the relationship between members of parliament and public officials and how we deal with each other at committee. Our report recommended guidelines for public officials. We need guidelines for committee members to enable them to build trust with public officials so we can be partners in the budget making process as opposed to opponents.
I do not have much time left. I will go over a number of issues in which progress has been made on implementation. I count close to 10 on which significant progress has been made toward implementing the recommendations in the report. The member for St. Albert and all who worked on the committee report should be extremely proud of the influence we have had to date. Is there more to be done? Yes, there is. Can all the recommendations be fully implemented now as the member's resolution calls for? No, that is not realistic. This is an evolutionary process. We try something and move forward from that.
Substantial progress has been made. I again thank the hon. member for St. Albert and all those who worked with us on the report for the opportunity of working together and having an impact on how the government deals with the estimates.
I wish we had a little more impact on how parliament and members of parliament deal with the estimates. Notwithstanding the statement by the member for Dewdney--Alouette, since our government took office every standing committee has reviewed its estimates. Have they done a thorough and complete job? Probably not, but they have been done and they had not been getting done before.
The opposition has a role to play. It has a number of days every year that are commonly called opposition days. They are actually supply days but it is rare to see the opposition using supply days to discuss and examine the business of supply. I encourage all members on both sides of the House to use the tools we have and do our job as parliamentarians.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Madam Speaker, I congratulate my friend and colleague from St. Albert not only for putting out the report with the government whip but for his continued leadership as chair of the public accounts committee.
I also congratulate him for the superb work he is doing in rooting out corruption in government internationally. It is a superb act of leadership on his part that I hope the government and hon. members pay close attention to. He has been working internationally in an organization he started to help root out one of the prime causes of inefficiency in government: corruption.
I will talk about what we just saw. We saw the chief government whip, the co-author with my colleague for St. Albert, turn herself inside out like a pretzel. I mean this with all due respect to the government whip. She is a fine lady.
For the people watching above, the reason this happened is that the government whip, like all members of parliament in the government, is forced to do the bidding of the Prime Minister's Office. It is a profoundly tragic situation that a member of such high quality and credentials would be forced to turn herself inside out like a pretzel to vote against the good work she and my colleague have done to democratize the House of Commons.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was accused of not expressing my own opinion. I expressed entirely my own opinion. I wrote my own speech. I will not have my motives questioned. It is out of order in this House.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC
Madam Speaker, I will retract my statement and apologize to the member. I would never impugn her motivations whatsoever.
I will get to the point about the lack of democracy in the House. Viewers can judge for themselves how the situation functions and how we are all unable to function as well as we ought to for the people who elected us.
The motion is an effort to enable us to attain one of two major objectives. As members of parliament we have two major roles. First, we produce and analyze legislation. Second, we deal with issues of supply. The motion was presented in an effort to enable members of parliament to do the latter and look at how the government spends taxpayers' money.
Some $165 billion of the taxpayers' money is spent with very little analysis whatsoever. The former clerk of the House of Commons, the top bureaucrat of the House, said members of parliament had abrogated their responsibility to the public in analyzing the way taxpayer money is spent. He was absolutely right.
The $165 billion goes to committees which spend about two or three hours analyzing how we spend the money. The analysis takes so little time that it is barely recorded anywhere. The analysis which should be quite extensive is not done. Nor are benchmarks or performance measurements attached. That must happen. That is why the motion is important and why all members should support it. The motion would enable MPs to analyze government expenditures, question the expenditures thoroughly, and set aside performance estimates through a new committee that would enable this to happen on an ongoing basis.
One of the shocking things I find as a member of parliament is that many in the bureaucracy are unable to determine where money is being spent, what the objectives are and whether the objectives have been met over the previous year or years. Furthermore, long term planning is often paid little heed.
This cannot continue. How can we operate anything, let alone a large organization like this, without knowing where the money is going, knowing how it is being spent and measuring performance on an ongoing basis? We have no idea what is happening.
In my province of British Columbia it is starting to happen. Premier Campbell has set up benchmarks which is what we should be doing federally. Motion No. 296 put forward by my colleague would go a long way to accomplishing that. It would enable us to determine where and how money is spent by setting up performance measurements and measuring them on an ongoing basis. All of us, especially the public whose money we are spending, could know how it is spent.
I will also address the issue the NDP member mentioned earlier which is the big sleeper issue in Canadian politics today. It is the fact that the House of Commons is a house of illusions. It is not a democracy. We have been sleepwalking into a situation of virtual dictatorship.
I will explain why. Let us imagine we are cabinet ministers let alone members of parliament. Cabinet ministers are squeezed between the unholy alliance of senior bureaucrats and the Prime Minister's Office. If cabinet ministers want to innovate, can they? No, they cannot. If cabinet ministers are young, active, vigorous innovative individuals who want to make their ministries innovative places to deal with the big issues Canadians are affected by and interested in, can they do it? No, they cannot. They will be taken aside by someone from the Prime Minister's Office and told they cannot do it. If they say they must because it is the right and moral thing to do they will not be cabinet ministers much longer. They will be out. That is what happens.
The cabinet member is squeezed between senior bureaucrats, who are in many cases appointed by the Prime Minister's Office, and the Prime Minister's Office. They squeeze the minister and the minister becomes a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister's Office.
Does the public ever wonder why the large issues of today are actually not dealt with? No, because we have a government that is more interested in a legacy of racking up successive election wins than in using power for public good. I said this to the government not so long ago: What is the point of having power if the government is not prepared to use power for the public good? There is no legacy other than that of using power for the public good. Anything less is a sham.
As an example, let us look at the committee structure. Committees are make work projects for MPs. For health care we have umpteen committees: the Senate committee, the Romanow commission committee and more. However, does anyone remember the Prime Minister's blue ribbon panel on health care in 1995? Does anyone know what happened to that committee? Nothing. Or we could look at aboriginal affairs too.
With my last two minutes, let me say that the public should understand that we do not live in a democracy. We need to democratize the House. We need to make committees effective. Committee members must be able to be independent. Committees must work independently from the government to create legislation and send it back to the House.
We need to make the House a place of free votes, where we can have fixed election dates, where we can have electronic voting and where we can do work that is actually meaningful to the Canadian public. It must be a place where members of parliament, across party lines and including cabinet members, can have a say, can innovate and can give proper solutions that are meaningful to the Canadian public.
If we do not do that, we will not help all the people out there who are suffering in waiting lines for health care, who cannot get a job, who are suffering under environmental conditions that are less than acceptable or who are aboriginal people on and off reserve suffering third world conditions. Unless we are able to use the House for their public good, this place is useless. We have to make this a democracy.
In closing, I compliment my colleague from St. Albert for his excellent motion.
Business of Supply
Private Members' Business
John Williams St. Albert, AB
Madam Speaker, I know my time is short but I would like to thank the chief government whip for her positive comments regarding this report. As a co-author of the report she now has different responsibilities, but I do appreciate the comments she made, albeit with some qualification.
Therefore, I will just say to her and to all parliamentarians in the House: Remember that we are parliamentarians to hold government to account, and the government is the people who sit in the front row and only those people. The rest of us, on both sides of the House, have a responsibility to ensure that this place is governed well and governed properly. This report would in many ways bring that authority and that responsibility back into the House. Therefore I would urge all members, including the chief government whip, to vote in favour of the motion when it comes up for a vote.