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House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by 200 people from across eastern Ontario with concerns about the way our law is applied very often to child abusers. They mention here that babies and young children lack the ability to defend themselves. Therefore, they are calling upon Parliament to amend the Criminal Code to ensure that stiffer sentences and mandatory treatment are handed out to all child abusers.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition from my constituents that recognizes there is a unique relationship between grandchildren and grandparents and that no parent should have the right or the privilege of providing an obstacle and preventing that relationship.

Therefore, the petitioners request that Parliament amend the Divorce Act to include a provision similar to article 611 of the Quebec Civil Code which states that in no case may a father or mother without serious cause place obstacles between the child and the grandparents.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I submit a petition to Parliament from Canadians who wish to amend the Criminal Code to protect unborn children.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I present a petition urging the government not to amend the human rights code, the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in any way which would indicate approval of same sex relationships.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I present a petition from citizens who oppose physician assisted suicide. They petition that Parliament ensure the present provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada prohibiting assisted suicide be enforced vigorously and that Parliament make no changes to the law which would sanction or allow the aiding or abetting of suicide or active or passive euthanasia.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville—Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to bring forward a petition organized by a nationwide network of Canadian grandparents and to add my voice to those of my colleagues.

These grandparents seek amendments to the Divorce Act to ensure their own access to their own grandchildren. As a grandmother I agree with these petitioners and support their cause.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Cowling Liberal Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I too am pleased to present a petition on behalf of residents of Canada requesting changes to the Divorce Act which would extend the rights of children and grandparents.

It is my pleasure to present this petition.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have a number of petitions containing 8,500 signatures, primarily from the residents of my riding of Sarnia-Lambton, calling upon the government to

place a moratorium on any changes or cuts in VIA Rail service between the cities of Sarnia and Toronto.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

October 5th, 1994 / 3:15 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Shall all questions stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motion For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the notice of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motion For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Shall the notice of motions be allowed to stand?

Motion For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from October 4, consideration of the motion that Bill C-52, an act to establish the Department of Public Works and Government Services and to amend and repeal certain acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee; and of the amendment.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Discepola Liberal Vaudreuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying yesterday in my presentation, the minister has already invited all members, be they from the other side of the House or from this side, to get on the open bidding service.

The minister has also introduced in this bill clauses in the contracts effectively eliminating the practice of contingency fees and securing government contracts. This will go a long way in curbing the influence of lobbyists in this area. He has also introduced sound guidelines with respect to purchase of advertising and public opinion research which brings the procurement of these services in line with general purchasing practices.

These and other initiatives taken by the department have already had a very positive effect on the partnership between the government and the business community. They have gone a long way toward reassuring the general public that the government is conducting its business in a fair, open and efficient manner.

Public Works and Government Service Canada is committed to seeking out more opportunities to co-operate with the private sector and to establish strategic partnerships wherever possible.

Mr. Speaker, in the past year, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services has achieved convincing results in support of government goals and priorities by increasing operational efficiency, eliminating duplication, establishing partnerships and restoring trust in our government. This shows among other things that integrating the most important common services into a single organization makes sense.

Bill C-52 will give the department the legal foundation it needs to pursue government objectives in order to better serve all Canadians.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec-Est, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to let the member mislead this House. It is completely false to say that improvements were made in the Department of Public Works to make it more transparent and to reduce the influence of lobbyists.

Furthermore, for members of the Bloc, for example, it has become nearly impossible to obtain information on how Public Works awards contracts. As members of Parliament, we would like to have access to this information and we are prevented from having it. We get the feeling that there is not only lobbying and patronage but that there may also be a lot of inefficiency and waste.

So when the member says that the Department of Public Works is open and efficient, that is far from true.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Discepola Liberal Vaudreuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the purpose of this bill is to bring together four organizations in order to reduce costs for the government and to provide taxpayers with better service at lower cost, so this bill is worth presenting.

I hear that there is no openness, but the open bidding service exists and all members of this House have been invited to use it. This computer system provides access to the information at any hour of the day or night. It does not cost much and even your constituents and business men and women can subscribe to it. It gives you information on the kinds of contracts available, their value, who bid in the past, how many contracts have been awarded in the past few years and also the value of the contracts that were awarded. If that is not open, I do not know what it is.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec-Est, QC

Mr. Speaker, as far as openness is concerned, again, of course this computer system provides information on contracts, on some but not all contracts. Many contracts are submitted by other departments or by public tender; maybe in some cases, maybe not in others, we do not know. Many contracts are not on that information system. Of course, an electronic listing of government contracts is not a bad thing. Of course not. But how do you go from there and say that merging four organizations in one department, Public Works and Government Services, will improve the efficiency of awarding contracts or even the openness of the process, when we have to know if there is really waste or inefficiency?

I even hear from some people who worked in the department that the regulations and their application are so confusing that they are afraid to disclose what goes on inside the Department of Public Works. There are all kinds of regulations in the government, but actually implementing them is another matter and that is where waste and inefficiency and patronage come into the Department of Public Works. And we know it. We said many, many times before that if there is one department where patronage and waste are a problem, it is the Department of Public Works and Government Services.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Nick Discepola Liberal Vaudreuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, in the registration of contingency fees, since May of this year Public Works and Government Services Canada has put in place that every single person who bids for contracts in the public service sector, of which there are almost 175,000 to the tune of $10 billion, must state clearly that they have not hired lobbyists to influence any contract.

Sometimes I am also shocked because since the Bloc Quebecois came on the scene, it has been criticizing us federalists on this side of the House and saying that we waste money and that there is so much duplication throughout the federal system. This bill is intended to eliminate duplication and make the service more productive, that is make it provide service to the Canadian public. We will save money with this system.

I find it appalling at times that they criticize. When we do take the initiative in this government to group together three or four levels of service under one roof to provide that service so vitally needed, not only for the business community but for our taxpayers who ultimately pay the final bill, the hon. member on that side of the House has the audacity to criticize us for doing it.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the bill to establish the Department of Public Works and Government Services. As you know, this is an incorporating act which, by tradition, is not considered to be very controversial legislation. Not so with this bill. The Bloc Quebecois does not have to follow any such tradition: We are here to question everything, even what appears to be a mere formality.

In fact, the seemingly neutral character of this legislation conceals very important considerations. This tool to restructure the Department of Public Works and Government Services should have been used to develop procedures ensuring true transparency regarding the management of public money. Such transparency is conditional on extending the role of MPs. Let us not forget that this department is among the top solicitors of goods and services.

In the 1994-95 budget, expenditures for this department were expected to reach $2.3 billion, under the program for real property services, supplies and Crown corporations. In 1992-93, through the Quebec procurement directorate alone, a total of 17,400 contracts representing an estimated value of $269.9 million were awarded. Cheques totalling over $34 million were also sent out in the form of benefits, payments and tax refunds.

Stocked items representing $3 billion were sold, as well as $4 million worth of surplus assets, through the Crown Assets Distribution Centre. But are there any monitoring measures involving elected representatives?

In other words, this bill should be based on the fundamentals of government transparency, follow-up and monitoring, in the riding, by the member concerned. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Early last summer, I asked the Minister of Public Works to provide me with information on his department's activities in my riding of Châteauguay. Like my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois, I thought this was a very reasonable request, since one of the major roles of a member of Parliament is to ensure proper management of the taxpayers' money spent on federal government operations.

After a long wait, I was really surprised to get from the minister a rather terse and disappointing answer. He told us, and I quote: "Unfortunately, the information you are requesting cannot be found in a single document only- In short, your request would represent an excessive workload for our department-" This goes to show what the government thinks of follow-ups by members on expenditures made in their ridings. How can a member of Parliament carry out his or her duties and functions when he is unable to get follow-up reports or information on the operations of this department in his or her riding?

This lack of transparency is what people concerned by the integrity of the public system have been decrying for some time now. This lack of transparency can be noticed even in our ridings as it affects civil servants and contractors. Let me give you two examples from my riding of Châteauguay. Early this year, the director of the Canada Employment Centre in Châteauguay called me to ask if I had any objection to the Centre being moved. The offices were getting crowded it seems. Of course, I said I saw no drawbacks, but I would have liked to know the

criteria that were used and be informed before the decision was made.

Some time later, the manager of the building told me that he could have provided more space to the Centre, making the move unnecessary. How much did this move cost? How could I check and interfere in this matter without the proper documentation? At a time when it is no longer possible to waste taxpayers' money, why is the member constantly fighting to obtain information?

I have another example. I have learned recently that the Canada Employment Centre in Châteauguay had asked a non-profit organization, namely the Société de développement économique de Roussillon or SODER, to manage the independent workers assistance program. It did not take long for some people to come to my office complaining about decisions made under the program. When I asked the director of SODER for information regarding the budget, the number of applications turned down, the reason they were turned down, the name of the applicants, etc., he told me that all this information was confidential.

According to him, he was the one who made the decisions. Is it possible that an employee working under contract for a federal government agency can decide what an elected member of Parliament has the right to know? I talked to the director of the Employment Centre. He was supposed to know whether this situation was normal. I have been waiting for his answer for several weeks. I am now convinced that I should go to the minister and ask him again to be more open and to have more respect for the role of the member of Parliament.

Similar examples speak for themselves. It is not surprising, in these circumstances, that about 87 per cent of Canadians no longer believe in politicians. What do we do? What can we do? The bill before us today gives us a golden opportunity to change direction. With this merger which, according to the government, will lead to savings, it would be possible to put in place control mechanisms accessible to members of Parliament in order to make the system more transparent.

The minister was worried about the cost of transparency. He even used this as an excuse to turn down my request. I suggest that transparency, and to me there are no ifs and buts, is a real way to save money. Today, how can we be sure that budget limits are observed? This is not about challenging the way public servants implement policies and regulations. It is about exercising our vigilance as elected representatives.

The government should use this bill to set up the appropriate mechanism for exercising that vigilance. The Auditor General of Canada has already pointed out the department's shortcomings in this respect. In 1991, leased office space represented over 40 per cent of the total and required annual rental expenditures of $379 million. The Government of Canada procured goods and services for a total of $8 billion annually and participated in the administration of major projects valued at $23 billion.

According to the Auditor General, the department awarded $3 billion worth of non-competitive contracts annually-three billion dollars that were not subject to the rules for competitive bidding. Furthermore, there was no corporate system to record and report on supplier and product performance. What action was taken on the comments and recommendations made by the Auditor General?

Whether the project is in its initial stages, during the bidding process, or in its final stages, when the books are closed, access to information is not available as a matter of course. Much depends on the good will of public servants, whose workload was not planned to accommodate this much needed transparency. However, whether we are talking about agencies or individuals, when funds are allocated from the public purse, public funds and the public interest are involved, so we must be able to account for the ways such funds are spent.

This lack of transparency casts some doubts on the integrity of the entire system for awarding contracts. Transparency is essential to prevent any possibility of patronage, conflict of interest or undue privilege. Look at the Pearson Airport case. Look at the bill to control lobbyists, a bill was watered down as a result of very effective representations made by those same lobbyists. Look at the proposal concerning grassroots funding of political parties which was dismissed out of hand by the Liberals.

The management and control of government contracts must be a priority for us, for the sake of both fiscal responsibility and openness. Recently, a Canadian Press dispatch indicated that in 1993, that Coopers & Lybrand, a very prestigious firm, contributed to the then leading federal parties: $107,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada, and $150,000 to the Progressive Conservative Party. During the 1992-93 fiscal year, that same firm was awarded government contracts for a total value of $3,771,917. If you are good with arithmetics, you can figure out that Coopers & Lybrand's total contribution of $257,000 is approximately 6.8 per cent of all the contracts awarded. A pretty good return!

I have another similar example. Again according to the Canadian Press, Ernst & Young also participated in the funding of the two major federal political parties in 1993. It gave $64,000 to the Progressive Conservative Party and $44,000 to the Liberal Party of Canada. During the 1992-93 fiscal year, that firm was awarded government contracts worth $272,132. The ratio is much higher in this case since the total of $108,000

contributed is 39.6 per cent of the contracts awarded. I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions.

These two examples stress the need for openness in the government contracting business. As things stand right now, all government contracts over $25,000 for goods purchased or over $60,000 for capital projects are handled through the Open Bidding Service, the OBS, which is an electronic service available only through subscription. If contracts are less than $25,000 or $60,000, invitations to bid are sent to the chosen few who are listed on the suppliers file.

Of course, there are transfer payments published in the Public Accounts, but that is not readily available and is out-of-date when you want answers on what is happening right now, today. I must admit that the Minister of Public Works and Government Services is right when he says that these tools are meant to ensure the efficient management of the tendering process, they were not designed to give members of Parliament or the general public access to information on that process.

This is precisely for that reason that the parliamentary wing of the Bloc Quebecois is asking for a monitoring mechanism which would scrutinize the contracts and implement what we are asking for in our amendment: openness. A contracting-out code must be included in the bill. In particular we demand that all members of Parliament, irrespective of their political affiliation, be consulted or at the very least informed, when government contracts are awarded through this process in their ridings. Finally, the Department of Public Works and Government Services must establish a system whereby periodic summaries would be made widely available.

I would like to mention another particularly damning fact about the way the federal government manages public spending, and consequently the questionable administrative practises used in the Department of Public Works and Government Services.

One of these practices, unfortunately not publicized enough, is to accept advance payments by government agencies to allow them to keep their annual budget allocation. In order to do so, they pay in advance for services to be provided in subsequent years and, as a result, they can maintain the integrity of their resource envelope for the fiscal year.

Last month, the President of the Treasury Board wrote a letter to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services indicating that questionable practices, namely advance payments, were going on in his department. In so doing, the President of the Treasury Board was forcing the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to look into this practice involving among others the Canada Communication Group.

In a press release dated September 19, he said the following: "In mid-August, officials from Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) contacted Treasury Board officials with information indicating that an internal audit showed that the Canada Communication Group (CCG) might have accepted irregular advance payments. They asked for advice and direction on this issue. Treasury Board officials responded by explaining that this practice was indeed contrary to government policies, and gave direction on the actions required to rectify the situation".

By emphasizing the seriousness of the situation, the President of the Treasury Board drew attention to a problem inherent to the administrative practices of this government. In a letter to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services accompanying the press release, he even made the following comments: "This situation is, of course, very serious. Of particular concern to me is the question of apparent disregard for existing principles of financial management and control within government and Treasury Board policy. Therefore, I am asking you to look into this matter personnally; have an independent review of the matter undertaken by your internal audit organization and report back to me within a month on your findings".

In summary, we have here a convincing and damning example of shameful waste of public finances. It is really regrettable that the ongoing inquiry was limited to the internal level. I doubt that this inquiry is being done correctly; it is obvious that the procedure used to examine this serious problem of fraud is deficient because it is limited to the internal level. How many such cases never get discussed in public?

A conclusion must be drawn immediately about this major incident. The administrative practices of the government, as they appear in the present case, are in no way transparent. This is why the Bloc Quebecois asks in its amendment that all the expenses of the Department of Public Works and Governmental Services be made known to the public. I find deplorable and charged with consequences the fact that the government has not considered amending Bill C-52 in this way. The same thing could be said of the transparency, so often promised by the Liberal Party of Canada during the last election campaign, but which has gone unheeded since the Liberals took office.

The control of public finances necessitates such mechanisms. Without them, members of Parliament cannot have free access to government contracts that are in effect in their own ridings. Without transparency mechanisms, how can we make officials accountable for their spending?

The amendment of the Bloc Quebecois is therefore the expression of that new philosophy which should inhabit us all: to find a new way of administering public affairs in order to put

aside the old traditional practices that are responsible for our $508 billion deficit.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

St. Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc has repeatedly talked about "transparency" and "openness". I find very interesting that, since last Friday, not one Bloc member has accepted two proposals from the minister which would allow them to obtain the information they want. Not one member of the Bloc. Perhaps the Bloc could tell me why? This would cost them only $37 a year.

On the same subject of transparency, committees such as the Standing Committee on Government Operations on which sit two members of their party can ask for any information they want. This is another mechanism which helps ensure transparency.

As for the advance payments, what happened? The minister himself called for an investigation. The minister himself accepted the recommendations. The minister himself has already begun to make adjustments. The minister himself, with the President of the Treasury Board, is conducting an investigation in order to make further corrections. We have listened, we have heard and we know that there is a problem. We have taken steps to correct it.

I find interesting that, when my colleague talks about transparency, he seems to want to use as an example the donations we have received from some companies. They know who our financial supporters are. That is why they put the question. We do not know who theirs are.

Therefore, when talking about transparency, it would be interesting to know their reaction to that.

In closing, I would like to make a last comment. When they talk about the data they want, riding by riding, they refuse to understand that we are in the process of amalgamating a number of departments where there were different systems. They are not yet all integrated, but progress is being made.

I would like to hear what my good friend thinks about the questions I just raised and about the points I just made. Does he not think that he and his colleagues are going a bit overboard? This department is transparent, this minister has listened and has taken steps to make necessary adjustments.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for his questions. I agree that his government is trying to be transparent, but we cannot see any results. It is the results that we would like to see much more quickly.

The hon. member said that there were ways we could use to get the information, but this is not exactly what I want. In fact, what I would like to know is exactly what is happening in my riding, and how to go about finding that information.

The computer system is often mentioned as a possibility. This is a good way to get information while the process is going on, but once it is finished, we cannot confirm anything with this system. It does not work anymore.

On the second question, I would say that yes, the minister is changing these things, but the point of our amendment is to avoid the need to provide for a mechanism that would force us to pay millions when it is not necessary, each time the minister notices-or fails to notice-that something is going wrong. We simply want to ask him to establish a framework that would allow the minister to do his job without having to check to see if there are any problems.

As for the contributions we get, that makes me laugh. Since we raise money two or three dollars or even 25 cents at a time, you can be sure that we would much prefer to get $140,000 or $150,000 all at once. I would like that a lot. It would make me very happy to present you with a list. But unfortunately, such is not the case. For our part, we raise 25 cents or one dollar at a time; and I can tell that, at this rate, the list on your desk would be rather long.

I think that this sums up what the member was saying. I would simply like to point out that on July 5, I wrote the following letter to the Minister of Public Works trying to get some information concerning my riding: "am writing you with a view to obtaining information on the activities of your department in my riding. I would like to have the list of service, procurement and rental contracts issued since October 25. I would also like to have the list of federal properties located in my riding". I did not ask for much. It was not complicated. This was the minister's answer: "I thank you for your letter dated July 5, 1994 requesting information on the activities of my department in your riding from October 25, 1993, to this date. Unfortunately, the information you are seeking cannot be found in one single document. In order to be able to answer your questions, we would have to conduct extensive research in many areas of my department and in the numerous data bases which we have inherited following the amalgamation of the four different agencies which now make up the new Department of Public Works and Government Services.

Moreover, the costs involved in collecting data and preparing reports for MPs could run as high as $168,000. For the most part, this data is not computerized. In short, it would unduly increase the workload of our department. I am sorry to inform you that the department simply does not have the human and financial resources to collect the data you are seeking".

In other words, what the minister is telling me in his letter is that it is not possible for the time being. This is precisely why we would have liked to see the bill amended, so that we could be able to get the information we need, whenever we need it.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec-Est, QC

Mr. Speaker, I simply wished to congratulate the member for Châteauguay. His speech was excellent and his reply to the member for St. Boniface most effective. He quite rightly pointed out that in refusing members of the Bloc access to information about contracts awarded in our own ridings, the Department of Public Works merely confirms its complete lack of interest in transparency. It is as though the department wished to conceal information.

So I wanted to congratulate the member for Châteauguay on his speech.

Department Of Public Works And Government Services ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member and tell him not to take it too much to heart. When, in a speech, a member points out a flagrant lack of control, however tactfully, it is never well received. I, too, wish to congratulate you on your speech.