Debates of March 22nd, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was new.
- Motion No. 479
- Criminal Code
- Kent Ellis
- Government of Canada
- Riding of Compton—Stanstead
- Regional Development
- Toronto Jewish Community
- Rural Communities
- Progressive Conservative Party
- Middle East
- World Water Day
- Conservative Party
- Mitchell Sharp
- Violence Against Women
- Employment Insurance
- Harrison McCain
- The Prime Minister
- Bill C-250
- Sponsorship Program
- The Prime Minister
- Public Housing
- National Defence
- Public Service
- Sponsorship Program
- Immigration and Refugee Board
- National Defence
- World Water Day
- Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
- Foreign Affairs
- RAI International
- Presence in Gallery
- Board of Internal Economy
- Government Response to Petitions
- Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act
- Criminal Code
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Question No. 7
- Question No. 14
- Question No. 15
- Question No. 16
- Question No. 23
- Question No. 24
- Question No. 26
- Question No. 34
- Question No. 35
- Question No. 41
- Question No. 44
- Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
- Question No. 3
- Question No. 4
- Question No. 8
- Question No. 10
- Question No. 12
- Question No. 18
- Question No. 19
- Question No. 21
- Question No. 25
- Question No. 28
- Question No. 29
- Question No. 31
- Starred Questions
- *Question No. 1
- *Question No. 2
- *Question No. 5
- *Question No. 32
- *Question No. 33
- Leader of the Opposition
- Supplementary Estimates (B), 2003-04
- Interim Supply
Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to know if, by these questions, my colleague means he is going to support the basic principles of the Canada Health Act? I would like to know if, with this question, he is supporting the basic principles that make health accessible to anyone who is sick, not just those with money?
With respect to the health transfer percentage, why does the opposition conveniently forget the tax points that have been transferred? Why do they forget the arrangements made two or three years ago whereby more than $30 billion was transferred for health? They forget about the $2 billion for health. They should talk. They were the ones who voted against this transfer to the provinces for health.
Let us be clear: health concerns us all. We all want to do the right thing. No one here wants to cause any harm. I do not accept, however, the biases and claims by the members opposite that we just accept figures without making any effort to explain the reality to Canadians. I do not agree with these figures.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will take the government House leader at his word since he is talking about health.
It is difficult for us to believe that this is a government that has changed, considering that it is using the same old rhetoric, telling us that we and the provinces voted against health. We voted for what little money your government transferred for health. Your government knows that the needs are greater. The Romanow report told your government to pump up to 25% into the health system. This is why we are defending the interests of Quebeckers.
I find it very hard to see any difference when the government's message is the same as it was with Jean Chrétien as Prime Minister. He used to tell premiers, “Why would you not be happy? You agreed and you signed agreements”. The provinces always have to settle for sellout deals, and your government knows that. When will your government openly say, “Yes, it is true; we did not invest enough money in health”? When we hear that, then perhaps we will understand. Tell me why you keep saying that the provinces have what they need, when you know that it is not true.
I hope that, if it is true, the hon. member will support the latest motion of the Bloc Quebecois, urging the government to invest half of this year's surplus in health care in order to achieve as quickly as possible a 25% federal contribution.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
I remind hon. members that they must address their comments to the Chair and not directly to another member.
Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, might I recommend a little more intellectual rigour to my colleague in his questions? I never said that the provinces had enough money. I never said that there was enough money for health. I never took the arrogant tone he claims I took toward the provinces. I never said that. I simply said that his 16% figure does not correspond to reality. That is quite a different thing.
Also, we are all aware that there are some completely obvious factors that justify the increase in health care needs. We are, of course, aware that the population is ageing and needs are increasing. The whole range of medical technology must be made available. Additional efforts are required to that end.
That is why a premiers meeting is planned for this summer, if memory serves—if I am wrong on the timing, I stand to be corrected. The specific purpose of that meeting is to find a solution or solutions acceptable to all of the country as far as health care is concerned.
The provinces are not adversaries, they are allies. If we could work with them in the best interests of the population, I would be extremely pleased. Not only that, I am confident that this is what the outcome will be, because we and the provinces share responsibility for one and the same citizen.
Andy Burton Skeena, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out a couple of things on which I have to disagree with the House leader, with all due respect.
Certainly, contrary to what the House leader stated, I do not believe this is a new government. It is a tired old government with a lot of tired old faces in the front row and an unelected Prime Minister. The deck might have been shuffled, but I think it is the same old crew.
With respect to the current scandal, the ad scam and this corruption the government is currently trying to put on the back burner, I think perhaps the government needs to look inward. The Prime Minister was there. He was finance minister throughout the whole process. He was vice-chairman of the Treasury Board. How can he not be responsible?
With regard to our borders, the real solution to the BSE problem is to reopen the borders. That needs to be done. The government has been unable to do that.
Also, it has been unable to resolve the softwood lumber issue, which is devastating communities across Canada, especially in the west.
So I would like to ask the hon. House leader this: What kind of vision is this for Canada and Canadians?
Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, softwood lumber is an issue of utmost concern to Canadians. It is of concerns to us too.
There are two approaches to this matter: one is a legal or judicial approach, and the second involves negotiation. As we say, it takes two to tango.
Much remains to be done. The situation is unacceptable. On numerous occasions, we have reaffirmed the principle according to which there must be true free trade. I think this is clear. It is so easy to sit there and then rise to ask a question, like a white knight on a white horse representing virtue. However, doing the work is something else entirely. It is much more complex than that.
One really has to take Canadians for fools to suggest that this can be resolved with a snap of the fingers. That is not how things work. We are determined to win, but winning takes time.
In the meantime, we need to think of those suffering the consequences and see how we can help them because, ultimately, that is our concern. That is where we are concentrating our efforts.
Very quickly, I want to stress something. How can those opposite give lessons on integrity when, in fact, I have here at least five or six examples of things said by their new leader, by their former leader and in the platform they have unveiled today that directly contradict one another? They have nothing to teach us about integrity or ethics. Above all, I would ask them to look ahead instead of behind. They might find interesting things to look at.
Odina Desrochers Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC
Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I will tell you that I shall be sharing the 20 minutes allotted to me with the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. He has many things to say as well, especially after what we have heard from the House leader.
On the weekend, I smiled when I saw how the Liberals were beginning to panic a little, especially the new Minister of Canadian Heritage, the new minister responsible for Canadian flags, who is fed up with hearing the word “scandal”. We must not talk about scandals any more. So, I will try to take her advice, and I with use other, perhaps harsher, words, but I will use them anyway to try to give a general picture of what this government has done since 1993.
First, I will say something about the sponsorship mess that enabled five Liberal Party of Canada-friendly agencies to pocket commissions of $100 million by overbilling for their production services. There is one thing that must be understood. If someone wants to make money on contracts, they must be large ones. In that case, with the work they had to do to ensure the visibility of Canada, they had to make it pay. So, to make it pay, they billed incredible amounts, making their commissions larger. As a result, out of the $250 million available for this program, $100 million went to them. That is not a scandal, since we must not use the word “scandal”, but I can state that these are Liberal government administrative horrors.
Let us now talk about the theft from the employment insurance fund, which now totals $45 billion. This theft is the main reason why Quebec regions are becoming deserted. It is the main reason why seasonal workers no longer qualify for EI benefits. This really shows that the government is not at all in touch with the Quebec and Canadian realities, because its program is not working. It only works to pump up money that is then used to pay off the deficit. This is a tax in disguise paid by the most vulnerable in our society, namely the unemployed, or our small and medium size businesses. These people came and testified on numerous occasions before the Standing Committee on Finance to condemn this injustice, but the situation has yet to be corrected.
Elderly people have been deprived of tens of millions of dollars under the guaranteed income supplement program. The most vulnerable people in our society, people who worked hard to raise a family or build a business, people who deserve a decent and fair pension, were deprived of this guaranteed income supplement by the government.
The government now recognizes its fault, but does not want to pay these people what they are owed. However, should one of these people have the misfortune to forget whatever amount in his or her income tax return, inspectors would quickly get on their case and demand payment. But when the government is asked to make retroactive payments because it made a mistake, it is only prepared to go back one year. And they would have us believe that this is not also a scandal.
Then there are the dozens of textile workers who have lost their jobs, or who will lose them in the coming months because this government lacked leadership when it knew that import quotas would be lifted in January 2005, but did not support the textile industry, which is severely affected by the increasing Asian competition.
During meetings of the World Trade Organization, Canada merely raised the financial issue. The government ignored critical issues such as the environment, health and occupational safety, thus giving countries such as China all the necessary leeway to achieve minimal production costs. This is what we call a government that lacked leadership.
And then there is mad cow disease, which has plunged the cattle and dairy industry in Quebec into a full-blown crisis, while the current Prime Minister, and the former and current Ministers of Agriculture and Agri-food have completely abandoned producers, leaving them to declare bankruptcy and face huge debts, not to mention the personal and family problems they have experienced.
Today, by total coincidence, the master of amnesia in the House, the current Prime Minister, is in Alberta to announce an assistance package. This is vote buying and comes on the day after—again by coincidence—the election of the new leader of the Conservative Party.
The current premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, was away this morning. He was in Washington. That is where the decision must change. It is the American government, the Bush administration, that refuses to lift the embargo on beef exports.
So what did the Prime Minister do this morning. He announced, once again, a political solution tainted by Liberal partisanship. Will this make me believe that this is a new government? I will say one thing. There has been a change in the House. There is a new problem gripping the House and the Hill. But not to worry, only the Liberals are affected.
It is called collective amnesia: the current Prime Minister did not know; the President of the Privy Council does not remember; Alfonso Gagliano, the shadowy head of the sponsorship program, has forgotten everything. The new ministers have lost important parts of the files of their predecessors. I point to the arrogant and smug new President of the Treasury Board, who is always rising to talk of change.
The change is that these people do not have a memory. Quebeckers have a memory. They have a collective memory of pride. In the next election they will tell the Liberals to leave. That is what this government can expect.
There is no use in trying to convince us this is change. It is legislative drivel. It is misleading to say that there is change in this government. The motion put forward today by my colleagues from the Conservative Party of Canada addresses this.
I will digress for a moment. Recently, we talked about the democratic deficit. It is omnipresent at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, where the majority of Liberals are dragging their feet and have become true accomplices of the Prime Minister in trying to get us to believe that there are no guilty politicians, that a dozen officials were involved.
We might question the role of Chuck Guité. We might also wonder about Pierre Tremblay, Mr. Gagliano's former chief of staff, who later was in charge of the sponsorship program. I do not know if Mr. Gagliano treats all his former employees this way, but last week he admitted that he no longer speaks to Mr. Tremblay and has not had any contact with him.
I think Mr. Gagliano sent Pierre Tremblay to replace Chuck Guité because he knew exactly how the sponsorships were rigged, and he wanted to make sure things continued to run smoothly. This was done without a deputy minister. As our committee progresses, we will really find out who lied and who told the truth.
I also met officials who are outraged and incensed at having the current Prime Minister point the finger of blame for this scandal at them. Yes, we are talking about a dozen officials. Mr. Guité and Mr. Tremblay may have been involved. However, it is clear that when it comes to partisanship and irresponsibility, this government is prepared to blame its own employees. Is that change? Is that what makes this Parliament innovative?
I do not buy it. Quebeckers do not buy it and Canadians do not buy it. Rest assured, at the next election Quebeckers will say: I remember.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to the Conservative Party of Canada motion, which is simplicity itself. I will read the main thrust of it:
--recognize that the current government is not new, but rather one that is intricately linked to the past decade of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence, and has accordingly lost the confidence of this House.
First of all, I wish to thank my colleague from Lotbinière—L'Érable for allowing me to share his allotted time. I congratulate him for what he is currently contributing to the public accounts committee.
It is not easy to try to get the truth out of people who choose not to remember. It is a feather in his cap that he is trying every way possible to achieve that. As we saw last week during the Alfonso Gagliano appearance, it is very difficult to get someone to admit to having known something when he has already made it clear to all the media that he knew nothing.
This is what we have to deal with as far as the whole Liberal government is concerned. This is the harsh reality. I understand, of course, why the Conservative Party of Canada is bringing such a motion before the House. The Liberals are trying to pass this off as a new government, with no one at fault. Some of the guilty parties have been fingered, the heads of some crown corporations have been dumped. They have even dared to say, the Prime Minister first and foremost, that there was a certain political control. However, as we speak, no political control can be pinpointed. Ministers remember nothing, nor does the Prime Minister, although several charges have been made against him.
I will list a few of these, and the ones I will cite did not come from the Bloc Quebecois. We have already spoken about what has been said in the media, including the million flags operation.
In 1996, the president of the federal Liberals of British Columbia, Doreen Braverman, informed the then finance minister, the current Prime Minister, that the government had bent the rules by which contracts were awarded and issued fake invoices under the flags operation. However, the current Prime Minister and former finance minister said, “I am not going to interfere. This matter comes under the former Minister of Canadian Heritage”. He said that he knew nothing, but that was not true. The president of the federal Liberals of British Columbia, not the Bloc Quebecois, made this accusation.
In February 2002, the Liberal policy committee chair, Akaash Maharaj, wrote a letter to the finance minister and current Prime Minister telling him that there were increasingly persistent rumours among the party faithful that the funds paid to advertising agencies were used to fund the Liberal party. Once again, the finance minister and current Prime Minister turned a deaf ear. This was from the Liberal policy committee chair, not a member of the Bloc Quebecois.
Then we learned last Thursday in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts from Mr. Gagliano himself that the close advisers of the current Prime Minister and former finance minister were present at the Communications Coordination Committee each time money matters were mentioned. I understand this, since the Minister of Finance issues the cheques. Therefore, department employees and close advisers were present.
The list of friends of the current Prime Minister goes on. As early as 1994, the finance minister had his own list. In a memo dated May 3, 1994, the current Prime Minister and former finance minister's chief of staff, Terrie O'Leary, asked finance department officials to consider various communications firms for an advertising campaign, including the Gingko/Groupe Everest consortium. The president of Everest, Claude Boulay, had worked on the current Prime Minister's leadership race in 1990.
I could go on. On the weekend, the Quebec Liberals told us that the word to use was no longer scandal but matter. I say that the more we investigate the matter of the sponsorship scandal, the better we will be able to prove that the current Prime Minister and former finance minister knew. Even if he did not intervene, he will be as guilty as the person who did commit the crime.
As for that topic, we shall see. That is the way the government is telling us today—as I heard the government House leader tell us a little while ago—“We have a new way of governing”.
Until now, all we tried to do was to have legislation in the future to ensure that the Liberal Party will never again be able to do what it has done. I agree with that. But today, they are still not ready to tell the public, which is demanding the truth, exactly what went on. That is hard to understand.
Under Jean Chrétien, it was the same thing. As for the 440 questions that have been asked—we heard Mr. Chrétien this weekend saying he had answered in English, in French and even in joual—the results were the same. The replies were the same ones we are hearing today from the mouth of the current Prime Minister and other ministers. No one remembers. It was nobody's fault. And they are trying to tell us today that things have changed. I am sorry, but absolutely nothing has changed.
I will continue to say that it has not changed. In fact, I am a member of the Standing Committee on Transport. This committee has provided the government with the current Minister of Human Resources—a graduate of the previous Standing Committee on Transport, as is the current Minister of National Revenue. There is also the hon. member for London North Centre, who is now a parliamentary secretary, and of course, the Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Initiative in Northern Ontario, who was the former chair of the committee.
I think that is funny, considering we are being told things have changed. The last week the committee sat, flight attendants came and told us that the government was getting ready to introduce regulation to reduce the number of flight attendants from one flight attendant for every 50 passengers to one flight attendant for every 40 passengers. Therefore, there would be fewer flight attendants on board. This was, once again, a regulation that was introduced.
I remember that every member of the Standing Committee on Transport I just named, who went on to become cabinet members, said it made no sense for the former transport minister to make decisions that were not ratified by the committee.
Believe it or not, the current Minister of Transport is on his way to having regulation adopted to change the number of flight attendants on aircraft without the Standing Committee on Transport having approved this option, heard witnesses or ascertained the safety of this measure, even though the Liberals talk about and rehash the issue of security in this House. No analyses were done, still they are about to introduce the change. This was denounced by all former Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Transport who have now become ministers.
Nonetheless, the current Standing Committee on Transport is doing the same thing, in that it is supporting the Minister of Transport who wants to regulate to reduce the number of flight attendants on aircraft, which could adversely affect safety.
Also, a noise regulation was referred to the Standing Committee on Transport by the former government as part of Bill C-27, which included a number of clauses dealing with noise pollution in railway yards and train stations. I am thinking of the Joffre yard, in Charny, and the Mercier-Hochelaga yard, in Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. There are problems there. Citizens are confronted to noise pollution issues.
Bill C-27 included an amendment allowing Transport Canada to take corrective action. The problem with noise pollution and the railway system is that there is no legislation—whether municipal or provincial—that can apply to Government of Canada property. All railway transportation lines and railway yards are federal property and thus come under federal jurisdiction. This means that no provincial or municipal standard can apply.
I mentioned the Joffre yard, in Charny, and the Mercier yard, in Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, but there are many others all across Canada. For the first time, there was an opportunity to force businesses that create noise pollution to try to correct this problem. But we have been told that Bill C-27 was not brought back by the new Liberal government.
So, hon. members can understand why it would be very difficult for me to support the position of the government House leader, who just told us, “This is a new government”. He said it very clearly in his speech. The democratic reform proposed by the government must be based on trust. The problem right now is that the public no longer trusts this government. Regardless of the measures that the Liberals will want to propose, the public will not believe them. So, it is time to call an election and let the public say whether or not it trusts this government.
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating a motion by the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, asking that:
—this House recognize that the current government is not new, but rather one that is intricately linked to the past decade of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence, and has accordingly lost the confidence of this House.
I think we can just say that the opposition parties are in favour of this motion.
I think also that the party from Quebec in particular has a big problem with this government, because of what went on with Groupaction and the others.
It is interesting though to watch both the opposition day motion and the government response. There is a dynamic going on that I find quite interesting from an historical perspective. I am not sure this has happened very often in the past, maybe never in this chamber. The dynamic that I see is that on one hand we have a government party that is pretending it has not been here for the last decade or been involved in any of the scandal around the sponsorship, that it was somebody else who did that. We see the Prime Minister going around the country, not even mentioning the name of his party, again pretending that the Liberal Party did not exist when he was part of the government, that he was not part of that. He is distancing himself as much as possible.
I must say that with my constituents, and from what we are seeing around the country by way of opinion polls, it is not selling very well. The Canadian public has not bought it and in the Province of Quebec, it is not being accepted at all.
While that dynamic is going on, if I can move over to this side of the House and the official opposition, the official opposition is pretending that somehow its history never occurred, that which got it to where it is now.
We see that element of the Conservative Party, which came out of the Progressive Conservative Party, pretending as if the former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, did not exist, and that all of the scandals that that government perpetrated on this country over a nine year period did not really happen. Or if it did--and here those members are taking a page out of the Liberal government's playbook--that it was not them, that they were not there and were not part of it, even though the former Prime Minister was very much involved in this last campaign for the leadership. Unfortunately for him, it was for a candidate who was not ultimately successful.
They do not want to acknowledge either the scandals that seem to be erupting out of the provincial Conservative Party in Ontario involving the former premier there and some of the money that he and his close associates were paid, which very much mimics what we saw in the sponsorship scheme and scandal. It concerns services being paid for and not delivered, or delivered at a scale that was inconsequential in proportion to the amount of money paid, whether it was to the former premier or to a number of his close associates who helped run the government when he was premier. There is a very similar pattern there, but again the mover of this motion and the party of which he is part is pretending that those situations did not exist at all.
We see this party pretending that it was somehow born like a virgin birth, that it came from nowhere with no background and no ancestry, but in fact it does. We need only to think of some of those scandals--as I was reading some of the material in preparation for this debate--like Justice Parker finding, in the case of Sinclair Stevens, 14 separate conflicts of interest over a relatively short political career. We saw things like the scandal around the movement of the airplane maintenance contract. It was well deserved to be placed in Winnipeg but was moved to Montreal.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
I am getting some support from one of our members from Winnipeg who remembers that situation very well, as does the whole Province of Manitoba. It is unwilling to forgive that Conservative government for doing that. There was the Oerlikon affair, just outright graft in that case.
Also, who can ever forget Michel Cogger and his shenanigans over an extended period within the Conservative government at that time? I have to say that there is a real level of hypocrisy in this motion from the Conservative Party when one takes that history into context.
I could mention others. Probably the most scandal ridden government ever in this country was the Grant Devine government in Saskatchewan. More than a dozen--I think it was 15 or 16--members of that government ultimately were convicted on criminal charges and sent to prison. The list goes on.
I want to say a bit more about the hypocrisy of the Conservatives in this regard. I want to challenge the new leader, the leader once again of this new party growing out of the old party. There is a real hypocrisy going on there. I want to challenge the new leader on his position because of his attack this past week on our party. He took a shot at us as being some kind of a major threat to the future of this country, but then refused to engage in a debate.
I think my colleague from Vancouver has pointed out that there really is a level of fear on the part of the new leader, but there is hypocrisy as well. How many times during the leadership campaign did we hear him and his supporters attack Ms. Stronach for refusing to take part in a debate? I say rightfully so, because someone who is going to be involved in the politics of this country has to be prepared to have his or her policies scrutinized and debate is one of the ways of doing that.
So when the leader of the official opposition, elected this past weekend, refuses to debate after attacking a leader of one of the other opposition parties, it really undermines his position. It shows the level of hypocrisy of that position and it shows a real lack of appreciation of what democracy is and should be about in this country.
Let me turn now to the motion as it applies to this current government. It is just a standard vote on confidence that we are seeking. As I said earlier, we are quite prepared, given the conduct of the government under both the former prime minister and the current Prime Minister, to say we do not have confidence in the government to lead this country and to provide governance to this country.
I should say, Mr. Speaker, that I am using the full 20 minutes. I am not dividing my time.
We have that dynamic going on, so let me for a moment fall into the trap that has been prepared and speak about the old Liberals, the government under the former prime minister. The sponsorship scandal we are currently confronted with and which is taking up so much of the time of the House and of this Parliament, to the detriment of other major national issues that should be addressed, is one in a series. We can talk about the gross mismanagement of HRDC or the computer scandals, which we saw first with the gun registry and the amount of money we lost on that and now with what appears to be more than just mismanagement and perhaps outright corruption around computer software and computer systems in the defence department.
We have, in addition to that, the scandal that is going on around the Fontaine health centre in Manitoba. As well, we have pending--we are still waiting to hear from the government on it--a scandal that is potentially about to erupt around the conflict of interest, if not outright criminality, in the environmental assessment division as it affects the work that the division is responsible for doing in the Yukon. We are still waiting for that report. We have not heard from the government. I do not know how much more it can take in the way of scandals. I assume the government is sitting on the report right now.
On the sponsorship scandal, clearly what has happened is that the Canadian people have said this is it. We have this other list, of which I have only mentioned a few that are around mismanagement if not outright corruption, but the sponsorship scandal was the final one for the electorate in this country.
Last week when the House was down I spent time canvassing some of my riding. It was interesting to hear how the government is viewed. For a number of people, but not a lot, there was very high anger and there were very harsh words. Most people said that they are over the anger now, but I come from an Irish background and it is that model of not getting angry but getting even. Certainly in my riding they are at the stage where they are going to get even. They are asking us to have that election and to get even with the government for all the corruption it has perpetrated upon the country.
It is interesting that we are hearing, as my colleague from the Bloc mentioned earlier, some rationalizations. We heard it in the public accounts committee from the member for Toronto—Danforth. He said it was not really that bad. He said that a good deal of the $100 million that was taken from the $250 million was in products and other things; he said that there is something there. Of course as more evidence came out, we saw how lacking in credibility that position was.
This past weekend we heard from the current heritage minister. What did she have to say? She said that this is a tempest in a teapot, that it is not really that important, that it is being blown out of proportion, or words to that effect. I have to ask the minister, what does it take for it to be important and significant? If this is blowing it out of proportion, how bad does the situation have to get on that side of the House before Canadians are able to say the government went too far?
I can tell members that at this point the Canadian public has made the decision and is saying that the government has in fact gone too far, that this incident is not being blown out of proportion.
I will deal with one final point, again falling into this trap that the Liberal government wants us to fall into even though I think it is at the point of not even wanting to talk about being Liberal. I will talk about the current administration. We constantly hear from any number of the cabinet members, from the Prime Minister himself, and from other members and apologists for this current administration, that they have changed. They say that this will not happen anymore.
In that regard, I have pulled out some of the appointments of some of the people who were involved with the Prime Minister's run for the leadership of the Liberal Party, people who have now become part of the administration in the PMO. I have a list of about 12 or 15 names here. A number of these people who are now in the PMO have ties to and were registered lobbyists. Some of them have very clear conflicts in terms of their position in advising and providing services to the Prime Minister and the PMO in general.
For instance, there is Bruce Young, out of British Columbia, who has been registered as a lobbyist. One of his clients before he became senior special adviser to the Prime Minister was a group of private health clinics, whose position very clearly was to undermine the existing health care system in this country and move us toward a full two tiered system. That person is now in the Prime Minister's Office advising him as a senior special adviser.
My background as critic is the environment and now we have the deputy chief of staff who was registered as a lobbyist before she was placed in the Prime Minister's Office after he took over. What was she a lobbyist for? She was a lobbyist for the Forest Products Association of Canada, which has a great deal of interest in how this federal government develops and delivers that policy around our forests in this country. I should point out that one of those associations--I believe this is accurate--is being sued for the ads being run across the country about the fact that the forests are actually getting larger in Canada when the reality is just the opposite: that they are shrinking at quite a rapid rate.
The list goes on. Of eight people who are in that office, all of them were registered lobbyists before they went in. Then there are the other people who worked directly on the leadership campaign, all of whom have close ties to or were registered lobbyists while they were working for him and are now back working full time. Of course Earnscliffe is the one that comes up all the time.
The point of all this is that we are faced with the situation where they are pretending that it was the other government, that they were and are not part of it. I am not sure who was there at the time, but certainly some of them were. Anyway, they want us to believe they were not part of that. That is what they want the country to believe. The country has already said it does not.
What I want to say for Canadians and the government as a whole is that if this is the way it developed over the first 10 years of the Liberal administration after 1993, when we look at these names and the people who are around the current Prime Minister, why would we have any expectation but that a similar set of circumstances would evolve if the government were to stay in power with these people advising the Prime Minister?
Let me go back to one point that I find troubling as an individual member of Parliament. Again, that is the amount of time we have been forced to spend--and I do not think we had a choice--on this scandal. We have major issues confronting us. Whether it is the environment, health, defence or education, the list goes on. Any number of public policy issues have to be addressed, but so much of our time is taken up with this scandal that the country is suffering as a result. That suffering our country is going through at this point lies directly at the feet of this government, whether it is under the current Prime Minister, the former prime minister or both.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech just made by our NDP colleague. I would like to address but one issue of the many things he said when he directly attacked our new leader.
I would like to point out to him that calling our new leader to a debate does not mean that our new leader automatically should drop everything he has on his plate right now and engage in a debate with the leader of the NDP, as wonderful as that would be. For the hon. member to conclude that there is an unwillingness to debate because of the fact that the schedule does not now possibly permit it with an election looming, I think he is jumping to an unwarranted conclusion.
Further, I would also like to point out that when finally the Prime Minister does decide to go to the people for a vote, there will be more than ample opportunity to debate among the leaders of the various parties, to put their visions forward, but that will then be done in an orderly fashion among all of the leaders.
I think the member is incorrect when he misinterprets this and says that our leader is unwilling to debate. The schedule right now does not permit it. There will be time for it and we will be very happy to debate especially the Liberals but also the NDP on the values of Canadians for the next election.
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
Mr. Speaker, I have a bit of a problem with that position taken by my colleague from the Conservatives. We need to go back a bit before this particular history of last week to when the leader of the official opposition was running for his seat in Calgary. He refused not once, not twice, not three times, not four times, but five times, to debate the NDP candidate in that riding, Reverend Bill Phipps.
An hon. member
But they're insignificant in Alberta.
Joe Comartin Windsor—St. Clair, ON
The insignificance was that we got 25% of the vote in that riding at that time; all 25% of that vote was insignificant to that leader and to his party.
The other point I want to make is that he initiated the debate. He attacked us. He attacked our leader and our party as also-rans. I have to ask the leader of the official opposition, if that was the case when Ms. Stronach would not debate him, was she treating him as an also-ran?