Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure today to speak to Bill C-52, an act to establish the Department of Public Works and Government Services and to amend and repeal certain acts. My colleagues and I in the Bloc Quebecois think that the Liberal government has missed yet another golden opportunity to honour its pontifical promise to make our political institutions transparent.
After the Pearson affair-I think you would do well to listen-and Bill C-43 on registration of lobbyists, now the Liberal government confirms its lack of transparency with Bill C-52.
I have a problem with the bill not because I am against the principle of integrating two departments, but because the bill does not go far enough. Although I have been sitting in this House less than a year, I have enough parliamentary experience to see that such a bill should really go further. Allow me to explain.
It is important that our legislation in this area be stringent. About two weeks ago, I received from the Minister of Public Works a reply to a letter I had written, asking him for information on his department's activities in Berthier-Montcalm. Having been elected in this riding, I wanted to know what was going on there, who was being awarded contracts, whether there was waste, news on buildings and so on.
This request for information from a member of Parliament was entirely legitimate. I will simply read you a short paragraph from the minister's reply. He wrote: "Unfortunately, the information you are looking for is not contained in any one document". To provide you with an answer would require intensive research in the many and varied branches of my department as well as in multiple data banks, the number of which has increased considerably since four separate entities have been merged to form the new Department of Publics Works and Government Services Canada. Moreover, the costs associated with information retrieval and the preparation of reports for members of Parliament could exceed $168,000, and a large part of the work is not computerized. All in all, this task would put an excessive load on the operation of our department".
I wonder, and would it not be ironic if it were the case, if the minister based his calculations on his own hourly rate and add on computer time to get this $168,000 figure. The acme of this department's inconsistency was reached on April 18, when my hon. colleague the member for Laval East received her response to a letter she had sent to the same department asking for a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of businesses located in her riding. In response to that letter, the minister made no reference to the fact that her inquiry would cost $168,000 or some other amount to the taxpayers. He did not say that answering her inquiry would prove impossible because of the number of documents that would need to be analyzed before an answer could be provided to the hon. member.
Nothing of the sort. The minister wrote back stating that the information she had requested was attached. I asked myself whether his department had double standards. Information considered as not overly compromising and of no consequence is released, while the rest is not. I sure hope this is not the case. At any rate, the hon. members opposite who sit on the industry sub-committee on Bill C-43, the lobbyists registration bill, tell me that members of Parliament make the best lobbyists when it comes to obtaining this kind of information.
I note however that this statement does not apply to ministers. I wonder if Government Policy Consultants would not charge less than $168,000 to provide me with an answer to my question. Moreover, I think that an in-depth analysis of certain aspects of the answer received from the department on September 21 is essential. The minister responsible for Supply and Services Canada says that the information I am requesting does not appear in a document per se. Where can the information be found then?
I will give you a few hints. These answers may be in the data bank of some lobby groups very familiar with Parliament Hill. These lobbyists make thousands of dollars a day-up to $10,000 a day in some cases-to advise companies hoping for government contracts. As my colleague from Québec-Est proposed a few days ago, if Public Works and Government Services Canada were to issue monthly reports guaranteeing the federal government's openness in awarding contracts, we could probably, in the long term, save a lot of money and eliminate patronage in that department.
If lobby groups make so much money giving advice and explaining how the system and its institutions work, it is because the system is very complex and not open enough. The members opposite and the minister himself will tell me that merging the Department of Public Works with Supply and Services will simplify things, but I say that Bill C-52 does not provide for any mechanism that would open up that department. Furthermore, this bill will not encourage public servants to denounce cases of shameless waste at the future Department of Public Works and Government Services.
It is not normal that, in 1994, people and the members who represent them are not informed of that department's contracting-out activities in their own ridings. Openness in that depart-
ment appears to be a fine source of patronage. In any case, that is what my grandmother would say in such a situation.
In the red book, the word "openness" appears almost as often as the word "employment"; it is surprising that it is nowhere to be found in Bill C-52, and it is not in Bill C-43 either.
Legislators must look at the goal of openness as a whole. The government's right hand must know what the left hand is doing. Yet, in the red book, they talk about the citizens' confidence in the system, the undue influence of lobbyists; they talk about openness, the sacrosanct integrity, involvement, etc. The red book should not be quoted just for wishful thinking. We need an appropriate legislative policy. Now is the time to take action while we have a bill before us.
Why make laws amounting to half-measures? Bills C-52 and C-43 as they now stand are cases in point and deal with two closely related subjects. There should be a legislative link between the two. Government contracts, procurement and buildings automatically remind us of lobbyists. The Bloc is probably the only party in this House to see that link. But it is there!
The Pearson affair, which this House is very familiar with, shows what happens when you mix government contracts with lobbyists' pressure. Will we prevent similar situations with Bill C-52 before us today or Bill C-43? No, Mr. Speaker, not the way these two bills are now written.
Laws are supposed to mean something and not be just rhetoric, so a law should be passed to change things and not just to put up a smoke screen to hide shameless patronage, like what has been going on in those departments for decades.
Something else that would contribute to the much-desired openness, which is just wishful thinking on the part of the government, could be a reality or well on the way to becoming reality if the financing of political parties was reformed as suggested by the Bloc Quebecois member for Richelieu. But no, we saw the government's true face. It refused the hand that we extended to it on this issue.
Although we could say more about the pretense of openness desired by the government, I will return to Bill C-52 and probably we will have a chance later to talk about this famous openness that the government would like to have. However, it never acts openly when it has the chance.
What we refuse to do is to give second reading to Bill C-52 because the principle of the bill does not provide for a precise code of ethics to make the contracting process transparent and to show how the Department of Public Works and Government Services acquires all the goods and services.
For this purpose, we propose five things that would provide a basis for obtaining this desired transparency. The Bloc's five proposals are as follows: one, create a public supervisory commission; two, a code for contracting out; three, consult all federal MPs; four, make public servants accountable; and five, control advance payments by the government.
Sometimes I hear ministers say that the opposition never makes any proposals. Well, here I am making proposals. Besides, we often make proposals but you do not listen to them. I am giving you some very clear proposals and I will explain them.
Let us take a closer look at these proposals. The first one is to create a public supervisory commission. Among other things, this commission would submit monthly reports on all government contracts that go through the department. With such a system, the frustrating delays currently experienced with requests submitted to the minister under the Access to Information Act would be avoided. These periodic reports would help streamline government operations. This would be a simple, accessible and understandable process.
Finally, this public supervisory commission would have the power to question any vague or obscure contract violating the applicable rules of procedure. This judicial power could also be used in cases of influence-peddling or patronage.
Also, the proposed code for contracting out takes into account the fact that this activity represented a $5.2 billion market for the year 1992-93 alone. Such an important economic sector must be subjected to some government guidelines.
This issue is too important for civil servants, trade contracting firms, as well as Canadians and Quebecers to be taken lightly. In that regard, the Bloc would have liked the bill to set rules, or at least a legal framework compelling the federal government to adhere to specific standards regarding contracting out activities. If the government is prepared to do it for the lobbying industry, which is not a $5.2 billion market, it can also do it for the contracting out sector.
Canadians, unions and management could only win if there were specific rules in that sector. And do not try to tell me that contracting out is a cyclical thing. When such a practice has been in use for ten years, it is there to stay.
I would like it if someone could tell me why parliamentary committees use private printing companies to publish their reports when that service is provided here in the House of Commons.
Then there is the consultation of federal MPs. I believe we are here to represent our constituents. We could be asked to do more, and that would be a good thing. As a third element for transparency, the Bloc Quebecois suggests that all federal members of Parliament should be consulted. This proposal is based on the Liberal commitment to enhance the role of members of Parliament. Hence, it is important to give more responsibilities to members of Parliament and to inform them of the contracts placed by the new department in their ridings. Such consultation outside the House of Commons will provide
members of Parliament the opportunity to monitor and confirm the impact of the bills on which they voted.
Consequently, members of Parliament will not be consulted only in the House of Commons or in parliamentary committees. I was democratically elected to represent the people of my riding of Berthier-Montcalm and I must have all the necessary tools to fulfil my mandate. Information on public spending is one of these tools. How can members of Parliament play their roles adequately if they are not even aware of all government expenditures in their own ridings? Cleanliness starts at home, as we say, but when you do not know what to clean, it is hard to look clean to the public.
I reject the argument used by the minister who claimed that it would cost too much, because I think if members of Parliament were to closely monitor what is going on in their ridings, they could surely find some waste to eliminate. We could quickly come up with the money required to provide this information to members.
Fourth, accountability for public servants. This would be important. Public servants must be responsible and feel accountable to Parliament. We must clearly give more responsibilities to civil servants. No one is in a better position to expose all the awful waste occurring in federal departments. We have to find ways to encourage public servants to denounce such extravagant spending by the government. The right to expose public waste must be addressed by this House and very soon at that.
Since most contracts will be executed by the Department of Public Works and Government Services, it seems to me that Bill C-52 should have covered this issue.
Federal public servants must realize that, as taxpayers, they also pay for unnecessary spending they are aware of.
Here is a good example to justify the cleaning up, which, as I said earlier, should start at home.
I invite the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to visit the back entrance to the Confederation Building to see for himself what is an immoral spending.
Public Works rebuilt the access ramp for handicapped people. Although I completely agree with the principle, I am outraged with the end result. Instead of a simple efficient and functional slope, the contractors have created a huge labyrinth not accessible by wheelchair. Moreover, I am told this non-functional labyrinth cost $170,000.
That shows how some expenses are fit for a transcendental world.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about advance payments by the government. The purpose of this practice by senior officials is to make maximum use of the resources available to a function within a department in order to ensure that the same level of resources will be allocated to that function in the next budget year. Government officials do this because they are afraid of having their annual budget cut if they do not use all the resources available to them in the current year.
The whole issue of advance payments concerns all departments. Moreover, it becomes clear that the Department of Public Works must take the bull by the horns and exert strict control over government expenditures.
While Public Works and Supply and Services have historically been considered the ideal departments for patronage, the new department must now do everything it can to become the department of transparency, and it has to have all the necessary tools to be able to do that.
Again, the Liberal government is watering down this objective and, in this particular case, it is drowning it. Instead of being a watchdog as it should, the Department of Public Works and Government Services is playing an unhealthy game that prevents it from being as transparent as we would like it to be.
Another example that I find appalling concerns some electricians from Public Works Canada. I was outraged when this information was made known to me. It would appear that some electricians keep the copper from the electric wires that they dispose of, melt it and then sell it to pay for the big party they throw at the end of the year. I think this kind of practice is unacceptable in 1994.
Another quick example, Mr. Speaker, because I see that time is running out-