Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-277 and to compliment the member for Repentigny on his noble purpose in this private member's bill. Without hesitation, I applaud the intention to expand the scope of the Office of the Auditor General. It is a measure that I know the residents of my community feel is long overdue.
The Auditor General has become somewhat of a hero to all of us, but perhaps not to the government, which cringes every time she sheds more light on its mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars.
As an officer of Parliament, the Auditor General serves us well with the thorough audits of the accounts of federal government departments. However, there are currently many organizations, funded with billions of tax dollars, which she does not have the authority to investigate. These federal crown corporations include the Bank of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telefilm Canada, the International Development Research Centre and the National Arts Centre Corporation.
Beyond these significant corporations that operate with taxpayers' money, there are also numerous foundations that receive the majority of their funding from the government. These include: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, Canada Health Infoway Inc., Genome Canada, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology and the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation.
There are also endowment funds, which include the following: the Green Municipal Funds, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund Society, the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, the University of Moncton and Frontier College Learning Foundation.
Other foundations also include: the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Green Municipal Enabling Fund, Precarn, the Canadian Network for the Advancement Research, Industry and Education, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the Canadian Centre for Learning and Development.
To my mind, any organization established and operated on government funding needs to be open to the appropriate scrutiny to ensure that Canadians are being served well and our money is being spent responsibly.
I sat on the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which gives out $100 million a year, and I can assure the House that what the government is doing pales in comparison to the levels of scrutiny and accountability we faced for $100 million. The levels of accountability were far more significant for only $100 million than they are for the billions of dollars we are talking about here today. I believe there should be more scrutiny of this money.
All Canadians deserve this overdue accountability. During my last election campaign, accountability was the central issue in my community. People have lost trust and confidence in their government and its institutions and, based on a recent survey, I would say in politicians as well. I do not blame them.
It was because of this that I lost trust in this government and decided to run for office and advocate for accountability. Over the past 11 years of the Liberal government we have seen shocking scandals involving grants, contributions and government contracts. This was driven home again last week by the continued revelations at the Gomery commission.
The Auditor General has led numerous investigations into government mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. It is clear that the government is incapable of managing taxpayers' dollars in a prudent manner. Government spending has continued unabated and with little accountability. Funds are too often being used for all the wrong reasons. This government needs a watchdog with sharp teeth and a strong bite to keep it in line.
The federal government spends approximately $18 billion a year on various grants and contributions and another $13 billion annually in awarding government contracts. This is a staggering amount of taxpayers' dollars and we trust our government to spend it responsibly.
Unfortunately, experience has shown us that we have misplaced that trust. Unarguably, a serious review of all government spending is required. Canadians have found out in recent years that the Prime Minister's companies received $161 million of taxpayers' money, not the $137,000 originally claimed by the government.
We have also watched $100 million disappear into thin air as government friendly communications agencies were paid millions of dollars in commissions and fees, with little or no service provided to the federal government or to Canadians. The gun registry was supposed to cost $2 million and is now costing us $2 billion, and $1 billion in grants and contributions at Human Resources Development Canada was misappropriated.
The list seems endless. What is really scary is that these abuses of tax dollars took place in departments that were subject to investigation by the Auditor General. We all have to wonder what other horrible mismanagement we may uncover through the extension of audits to a broader spectrum of the government departments and other organizations that receive government funding.
What we do not know does in fact hurt us. That is why it is so important to find out how federal crown corporations and other bodies established by Parliament and funded by Canadian taxpayers' dollars are managing Canadian resources and funding.
We need transparency and accuracy in all the accounting of government finances, whether that is for a government department like defence, a government corporation like Canada Post or an at arm's length foundation like Canada Health Infoway.
The Auditor General has stated that since 1997 the government has transferred $9.1 billion to 15 foundations. As of March 31, 2004, $7.7 billion was either still in the foundations' bank accounts and investments accumulating interest or was a receivable from the government, yet the government has already recorded these transfers as expenses.
The Auditor General has also stated that she is concerned about the manner in which these foundations are funded, the accounting for transfers and the accountability regime for the foundations. With her current mandate, she has no authority to audit any of these foundations even though this is taxpayers' money.
As a matter of fact, there is absolutely no parliamentary accountability or scrutiny of these foundations whatsoever. Can members believe that this government, which is constantly telling us that it believes in transparency and accountability, has not taken into account the Auditor General's own recommendations, year after year, on being able to review and audit these foundation books?
Nine billion dollars of hard-earned taxpayer dollars have been handed over with absolutely no parliamentary perusal or scrutiny or even a review by the Auditor General. Not only is this reckless, but this government's unaccountability is totally unacceptable.
Again, I agree with the objective of this bill. The Auditor General should most definitely have access to all the government books. I will support this bill's passage in principle. There is some loose wording that needs to be tightened, such as specifying that the Auditor General should be the Auditor General of any federal crown corporation rather than just crown corporations, as the bill currently reads. However, I am certain that the appropriate amendments, which we will propose at the committee level, can address such items.
I also think this bill should be expanded upon. Along with providing access to all government books to the Office of the Auditor General, we need to include access to the books of other outside organizations such as foundations, and we need to provide appropriate resources for the Auditor General to fully and completely execute her duties to the best of her ability.
There is no doubt that the cost of implementing expanded audit services will be substantial. However, the benefits of enhanced scrutiny are well worth the initial cost. The public's trust and confidence in government operations need to be restored and that can only happen through rigid accountability measures.
In fact, I would argue that the Auditor General should be authorized and directed to conduct expedited audits on all federal grant and contribution programs and contracting policies. Granting programs should be reviewed every five years on an ongoing basis at an absolute minimum.
As well, the government should act on the Auditor General's recommendations rather than just let them gather dust.
I would have no problem in supporting increased funding for internal audit functions and I am sure many of my esteemed colleagues would feel the same. The payoff for all Canadians would be tremendous. With a clear and accurate picture of how our tax dollars are spent, we could finally move forward in meeting the concrete demands of Canadians by providing more focused federal government that gives better service to all of us.
We would spend our money more wisely and clean up government waste and mismanagement. As a result, we could provide to Canadians both more efficient government and tax relief.