House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order. I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Hon. Brooke Taylor, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal for Nova Scotia.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a point of order arising out of question period.

I was somewhat surprised that you ruled out of order the question from the member for Burnaby—Douglas, and then just a few moments ago the question from the member for Churchill involving financing around elections.

We have had many questions in this House. As one example, I would use the so-called in and out scheme that was raised numerous times, even by the Conservative Party. It was raised by members of the opposition, including ourselves. I am rather surprised that you have taken such a narrow view today, given the previous history and the questions that have been allowed in the House.

What I want to do is do a bit of work and look at the record and some of the questions that have been asked, because we believe that the questions that were asked today were permissible and certainly within the realm of asking legitimate questions of members and how they conduct themselves. They should be allowed in question period, particularly given what kinds of questions have been asked previously.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to go away and do that research, but I wanted to raise the point of order right now so you would be aware that we have concerns about the ruling that you made during question period, in effect ruling our members out of order.

We will come back with more information, but I would ask if you would think about questions that have been asked before and why all of a sudden it has changed and these questions are no longer in order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I will not get into a long discussion with the hon. member and I am sure her research will point out the difficulties that arose in the questions that were asked today, but virtually all the questions before asked if there was going to be a payment made based on claims that were there. Payments might possibly be the responsibility of the government since they do come out of the consolidated revenue fund of Canada.

The questions today had nothing to do with payments or reimbursement for any election expense. This was simply a discussion about various things that parties were doing, which is not the administrative responsibility of the government. Those are the key words for questions in question period. I think her research will indicate that to her. It was, to me, quite obvious. I did not have much doubt about the rulings today, but I thank the hon. member for raising the matter and I look forward to hearing from her further on this point in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Gatineau had the floor and had five minutes left for questions and comments after his speech.

The hon. member for Mississauga South.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Auditor General commented on the $3 billion so-called slush fund. She said that $3 billion is a fair bit of money and the government must have ideas, even broad strokes, of how that money will flow between April and June. She went on to say that the government could at least say where the money is going, whether it is to infrastructure or festivals.

This seems to be a matter of government integrity, honesty, openness and transparency. The government clearly cannot spend $3 billion between April and June without already having most of the pre-work done in terms of identifying the particular projects, the regional distribution, the contracts, et cetera.

It would appear that all the information Canadians would require to ensure that the government is being held accountable is available, and yet the government continues to skirt around the issue about whether or not it is even open to providing this disclosure on how it is going to spend this $3 billion over the next three months.

Does the member think the government has some specific reason that it will not disclose to Canadians and to this House how it is going to spend the $3 billion starting next week?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 24th, 2009 / 3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. We are indeed in a rather fuzzy, if not downright grey area. The government wants to get $3 billion from the House of Commons—one billion equals one thousand million, so three billion equals three thousand million dollars—to spend on the so-called infrastructure programs, which have no criteria and no guidelines. This clearly smacks of patronage. The way the current government is trying to set aside a sum of money, supposedly to help jump-start the economy, is totally inadequate.

The Auditor General of Canada was the one who expressed these opinions. We are not making anything up. Hon. members just need to hearken back to the sponsorship scandal, which is still very clear in the Liberals' memories. Or the long dark period in Quebec under Maurice Duplessis, for example, when not everything about public funds was made public.

When the Conservative Party of Canada came to power in 2006, it introduced bill C-2 concerning government responsibility and accountability. It claimed that it wanted to avoid this situation, and we welcomed that with open arms.

Yet now it is doing exactly the opposite of what it proposed in that bill, by not setting any criteria for that $3 billion. So the whole process is open to suspicion. This is no small matter, when we are well aware of how many Quebeckers and Canadians are desperately in need of money as they face the current economic crisis. On top of that, they have to put up with this totally unacceptable procedure being used by the Conservative government.

We cannot react to this situation in any way other than negatively. I hope that there is at least one Conservative who will be able to wake up the rest of them and let them know that this plan they have in mind to set aside $3 billion with no guidelines is absolutely unacceptable. All the opposition agrees on this. All Quebeckers, all Canadians, all the people represented in this House of Commons support this principle. When the federal government spends money, we have to know where it is going to be spent, and what guidelines and rules have been set out.

This is the exact opposite of an accountability bill. It is the exact opposite of appropriate, honest and democratic government responsibility.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to join this debate because this is Parliament doing something purposeful and necessary. In some ways, it is on its way to regaining some of the respect that it requires to do what the country needs it to do in these difficult times. It needs to make clear the difference between governments that simply make announcements and that want arbitrary powers and governments that give effect to government programs so that they make a difference in the communities where people are losing jobs.

This debate today is nothing short of making sure that actual aid and support is delivered from this place to the place where Canadians live. Unfortunately, there is a group of people currently in the government who need to be persuaded of that, who need to be brought on board with the concept that they actually have that responsibility.

This is an opportunity for parliamentarians to defend their constituents at a time of economic crisis. We are asking Parliament to implement the budget so that it has the required effect: new jobs, fair allocation and high-quality projects and programs.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee from the government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, and there are reams of quotes here, they encountered and embraced words like accountability and responsibility but we do not hear those words in any meaningful way today.

Incredibly, this debate is about a government that wants to have unfettered access to $3 billion without the oversight of the House establishing, as is required in its own rules of order, the requirements for due diligence. Contrary to what some of the members opposite might think, it cannot arbitrarily sprinkle dollars out there in its role as government. Instead, the traditions of the House are different and significantly different in a minority government.

Those are the reasons that the government is on probation. It finds itself not only on probation but getting constructive instruction from the House, and that is the nature of the proposal today, and what is going to start to change hearts and minds in this country in terms of the question they have.

Is the government trustworthy?

Is it possible to trust this government to deliver? That is the question people are starting to ask.

The average person, and I am sure there were tens of thousands watching question period before, does not comprehend why it is that the Prime Minister cannot stand up for unemployed Canadians and answer the question about whether or not he would consider allocating more dollars to help them. Instead, it is more a game about him and his prerogatives.

The idea that the government will not accept normal standards of oversight when it is looking to have extraordinary dollars is simply part of a pattern. However, it is a pattern that we are out to break. We are out to put the government into a mode of acceptable levels of governing. It is something that is very difficult for the government to do, and the track record and the facts underscore that very emphatically.

Let us rehearse what happened. The dilatory and obscurantist behaviour of the government, as some more eloquent speakers would say, is such that it actually got in the way of doing something on behalf of the country. The Conservatives pushed down the issues during the election and denied the recession was happening. They stalled for months.

However, there has been progress. The government has been compelled against its will to go from a $5 billion cut in programs to an $18 billion stimulus package. However, it only exists on paper until it is formed into programs that can reach people where they live, where people are losing jobs or need their jobs shored up by the investment that would actually touch them.

Whether it is in Summerside, Hamilton or any place in Canada, the government struggles on its own. All we are saying is that if the government is going to spend money, it needs to first say to the House where that money is going. The reason is that it has a track record of promising dollars and not delivering them. Only some 5% or 6% of the dollars have actually been delivered in the infrastructure programs in the last year.

Mr. Speaker, I want to mention that I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. I know she will bring the perspective not just from that part of the country but from the same kind of place where Liberals have had to go to have oversight on the government and make it do its job.

In fact, in the government's own accountability report, of the over $2 billion in 2007-08, only 5% of those funds found their way to Canadians. One has to draw a distinction from it.

Canadians have become very cynical. They saw the Prime Minister practising the old politics out there the other week where he went around and made the third or fourth announcement about a project that is not actually happening and not employing any Canadians, but is there for the benefit of the government to be seen to be doing something.

Although the government says that it needs to get the infrastructure dollars out, the reality is that it has a due diligence process in place that requires it to look at each and every application.

A couple of weeks ago, a motion was moved in the House and, for whatever reason, the members opposite did not think it was good enough for Hamilton-Wentworth or for the ridings they represented. The motion was simply to flow the money to the municipalities through the gas tax method.

The gas tax method is one for which the municipalities and the construction association expressed a preference as the way to get dollars out by April 1. The same government that is telling us that it wants $3 billion to spend has said that it will not get infrastructure dollars out now until July and September because it will be too busy sorting out applications and trying to apply some kind of due diligence. However, there are warning flags that every member in the House should be paying attention to.

The government's record for the distribution of infrastructure dollars is about $2 billion and its promise this year is for something over $7 billion. It passes strange that members opposite are not standing in their place and demanding to have a structure to ensure the $7 billion will go to the communities. We must ask ourselves why they are so quiet. Why is there not one member on the government side expressing concern and qualms about getting all this money out there in a proper time and in a proper way?

It comes down to the temptations of governance. It seems as though the government and all its members will give into this. They do not want to give up their prerogatives. The gas tax method would distribute money on a per capita basis, which means that half of the money would go across the country, because every part of this country deserves to be protected from the downturn, and the other half could be used, as we will be suggesting, to address where the needs are the greatest.

Every member opposite voted against that method. They voted against the money going into their communities, such as the $20 million for Hamilton, because they believe they will be in a special place. They think they can make deals behind the curtains and get projects assigned in some method that is not described here in Parliament and accountable. That anchor to the old way of politics will do in the government if it cannot relieve itself from it. There is no question in my mind that the government will find itself stumbling over its refusal to take constructive suggestions from this side of the House.

The public has the right to expect that each member in the House takes some of the responsibility of ensuring that dollars land. The record is sobering. Of the $2.8 billion promised but not necessarily delivered, the Conservatives have skewed their promises to 70% of it landing in Conservative ridings. About 36% of the population voted Conservative but the Conservatives sense somehow that they might be able to turn this to their advantage.

I counsel the members opposite that that will not only disappoint their voters and let down the people who sent them here, but it also goes against the grain of what is happening. If it is $3 billion that will be spent, it is being borrowed from their children and grandchildren because the Conservatives put us into deficit to do it. If there has to be another standard, then those should be dollars that are treated in a much more thorough way and we should at least have this ordinary requirement to know where this money is spent.

The government will be revealed very shortly in terms of whether it can genuinely change. Some of the members opposite in other parties say that Conservatives cannot be changed. We are not worried about their moral character. It will be shown in time. We are worried about helping Canadians and this--

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. The hon. member's time has expired.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess we finally discovered the difference between the Liberals and Conservatives. It is the approach on administration. Basically what we have here is a requirement to send a memo throughout the course of the spring. That is the Liberal opposition day memo.

Essentially what we have seen over the last few months is a gutting of pay equity by the Conservatives, rubber-stamped by the Liberals; a complete refusal to any reform of EI, even though 55% of Canadians who are unemployed do not have access to it, rubber-stamped by the Liberals; cutting back and repudiation of collective agreements, rubber-stamped by the Liberals; and a complete gutting of environmental regulations on smaller scale projects, rubber-stamped by the Liberals.

What we have seen so far in this Parliament, 63 times now if we go back to the previous Parliament, is the Liberals rubber-stamping of every Conservative decision. Today we have a motion that rubber-stamps it but asks the Conservatives to send a memo every time the rubber-stamping from the Liberals takes place.

Could the hon. member tell me why the Liberals rubber-stamp everything the Conservatives do?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what to say about the rigidity of the member's question in terms of actually delivering for Canadians. It is what matters. There are Canadians out there going hungry today because extra help is not being made available to them. There are Canadians out there who could lose their job and we could prevent that. The member opposite, however, would rather be self-righteous in being against. That is a luxury the members of this House cannot afford and keep their credibility.

We have a choice. We can fix the many things that are wrong in this budget but we cannot to do it in a way that delays the main part of the budget that could get out. The thrust of what is happening today is to ensure that the money gets out the door and lands effectively where unemployed and other people at risk of losing their jobs can benefit.

The Conservatives are not persuaded. The NDP would hold things up. The Liberals are focused. We have found new ways to do opposition because that is what this new situation and the new economic challenge requires. I would heartily recommend that the member who made the comment find his own way to make a contribution to helping people out because it is high time.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I know my hon. colleague has been doing a lot of work listening to and meeting with members from FCM. I, myself, have spent some time at FCM on FCM boards. I know that they know best what will work and what will distribute infrastructure funding better, quicker and more equitably.

I ask the hon. member whether it is enough for him that the big city mayors, which include the mayors of Kitchener, Calgary, Vancouver, Surrey, Winnipeg, St. John's, Halifax, London, Hamilton, Brampton, Windsor, Mississauga, Toronto, Ottawa, Gatineau, Longueuil, Montreal, Saskatoon and Edmonton, all signed a letter saying that the best way to flow the money to the municipalities was under the gas tax transfer model. Does he have any indication that they are wrong and that the government is correct in doing it backwards, slow and possibly a parochially crooked way?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, a pattern is starting to emerge with the government that it cannot resist the temptation. The municipalities have told the government clearly to get them the money and they will pull the projects in and make them happen. Sixty-five percent of infrastructure is in municipal hands and only 11% in federal hands.

The government should stand aside for a program that has audits, that assures incremental spending and that municipalities are prepared to play their part to help get stimulus happening. It is the only way. Even the government has admitted that there will be delays of three and six and who knows how many more months.

The record is two years. We wait for the government to get dollars out the door but it does not seem to be able to resist the prerogative that it feels it must have. I would enjoin the members opposite to step down and let go of that, to actually allow the dollars go to the municipalities, let the dollars be seen to be doing some good for Canadians, and actually employing them and not exercise that prerogative.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raised a good point. Much of the funding will be undertaken by the municipal levels of government. As he knows, this stimulus funding that we are asking for, which will go to build bridges, roads and other projects in municipalities across Ontario and Canada, part of the accountability measures will be that the municipalities and the provinces will be working with us to identify important projects across Canada.

I am wondering why he is so concerned about accountability measures that do include the provinces and municipalities.