Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise and get this opportunity to address the motion before the House concerning the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Finance ironically called “Securing Our Future”.
In referring to the report itself, at the start of my remarks I would like to pay a special tribute to my colleague in the coalition from Kings--Hants and all the work he does as our finance critic in trying to hold this government accountable. Trying to do that is a huge job, as I am sure people out in the real world fully understand.
I would like to point out and perhaps read just a couple of excerpts from the report itself into the record. They show a clear difference of opinion between the approach taken by the Liberal government with its free spending ways, which the latest example of which is contained in the budget of this week, and the approach advocated by the PC/DR coalition. One of the recommendations states:
The PC-DRC strongly supports recommendations to significantly increase resources for the Department of National Defence, the RCMP and CSIS.
I want to say that at the outset because the government did move in that area. All of us are aware that it has spent a considerable amount of time over the last few days bragging about what it calls its security budget. In a few moments I will to get why we have concerns about that.
While we support the general approach that we obviously need and have been calling for money to be funnelled to especially our armed forces for a number of years now, we have some concerns about the way in which this government will be held accountable for that spending. Another recommendation states:
The PC-DRC recommends implementation of an annual “Red Tape Budget” in addition to the annual spending budget. This would afford Parliament the opportunity to debate the regulatory burden on both Canadian business and individuals. The regulatory budget would detail the estimated total cost of each individual regulation, including the enforcement costs to the government and the compliance costs to individual citizens and businesses. A regulatory budget would help hold governments accountable for the full costs of their regulations and could prevent the current patchwork of redundant regulation that can stifle Canadian enterprise.
That is in direct response to pleas that we hear constantly from the private sector about the increased costs of regulation, yet we see all too often that the government does not move in that area to eliminate red tape to reduce the costs of doing business in Canada.
We have a number of other recommendations that came forward, as I said, from our finance critic, the hon. member for Kings--Hants. I strongly recommend that people read not just the report of the committee but the supplementary report contained at the back, which puts forward some ideas from our critic.
Specifically on the issue of the budget, as I said in my remarks, we support the specific targeting of some of the hard-earned tax dollars that are sent to Ottawa to areas of law enforcement, border, port and airport security, and increased funding to replace the cuts from CSIS and RCMP, as well as to try to replace at least some of the funding that has been slashed from our armed forces budgets over the years.
I would like to perhaps just remark briefly, again with a touch of irony, that this budget, for which we waited almost two years, follows the latest report from the auditor general by about a week.
Some of the issues the auditor general raised are very interesting. In connection with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, she said that it needed to improve the way it looked for smuggled or dangerous goods entering the country, obviously highlighting some of the problems that she has identified with that particular agency. It is interesting that contained in this budget is an additional $1.2 billion of new money for that area.
That is a concern because, while I think there is general acceptance across the nation of the need to spend increased dollars in these areas to secure our country and our citizens, there is great concern about the accountability or lack of same from the government.
On the employment insurance surplus, she noted that the surplus grew by about $8 billion last year to roughly $36 billion, even though the government's own actuary said the fund needed no more than a maximum of $15 billion to cover any potential downturn, which we all know we are already into. Obviously the government is using the dramatically inflated employment insurance fund as its slush fund to funnel money into programs that it deems important. I stress it deems important. It is quite likely not shared by a lot of citizens out in the real world.
I also noted one other area, which is the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The auditor general noted that ACOA failed to inform the public about $400 million in loans. Why that jumped out at me is because another piece of legislation which is currently before the House of Commons is what is referred to as a housekeeping bill, technical amendments to a variety of acts, Bill C-43. One change the bill would make to the act which deals with the governance of ACOA is that the board of directors of ACOA, once Bill C-43 is passed into law, will only meet once a year rather than four times. This will occur despite some obvious concerns being expressed by the auditor general about the accountability of that organization.
What else has the auditor general said? I am sure some of the numerous quotes will be of great interest to the viewing public. On the big issue of the undermanagement of grant and contribution programs, the auditor general said:
A lack of diligence in designing programs, assessing project applications, and monitoring recipients' performance meant that public funds were placed at risk. But the attention paid to grants and contributions has not yet been translated into overall improvement in the way they are managed across the federal government. As this report shows, all programs we audited had one or more significant shortcomings.
The auditor general went on to say:
The government still has a lot to do to fix the chronic problems in the way it manages grants and contributions.
I assume this is despite the so-called human resources development minister's much vaunted six point plan. She went on to say:
Our most recent audits found a government-wide control system for grants and contributions that is not yet rigorous enough to ensure the proper management of public funds. We are concerned that serious and correctable problems remain unexamined and uncorrected.
She went on to say:
Grant and contribution programs tend to be undermanaged—departments pay too little attention to their design, delivery, capacity, and performance and to the training of staff who manage them. Until the Secretariat and departments meet all of their responsibilities and manage grants and contributions rigorously, these programs will have chronic problems and run an ongoing risk of using public funds ineffectively and inefficiently.
I would suggest that this is a pretty damming report by the auditor general about the spending habits of some of the departments of this Liberal government. Yet we see dramatic increases in spending in the budget.
It is interesting to note that one would have to question why the finance minister did not address some of the issues brought forward by the auditor general and try to clean them up. Perhaps part of the reason is the very real worry, which I am sure he has, that with an upcoming leadership race in the Liberal Party of Canada he cannot afford to alienate or anger any of his caucus colleagues, especially his cabinet colleagues who wield certain influence within the Liberal Party of Canada.
I wonder how much of the government's inattention to the auditor general's report and correcting the problems she has identified is attributable to that rather than oversight and sloppy bookkeeping.
During question period this week, the hon. finance minister made some sort of remark about the importance of a budget being how it is received by the public. What is important in a budget is the proper care and maintenance of the sanctity of tax dollars of hard-working Canadians, not what the public might or might not think about how the government puts its budget together.