Motion No. 3
That Bill C-48, in clause 7, be amended by replacing lines 27 to 35, on page 3, with the following:
"7. The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of Parliament, not later than the fifth sitting day of that House after January 31 next following the end of each fiscal year, a report showing the operations of the Department of Natural Resources for that fiscal year."
Mr. Speaker, I and my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois find it easy to speak to Bill C-48, an act to establish the Department of Natural Resources, because we, as a sovereignist party, were elected by Quebecers to defend the interests of Quebec and to initiate dialogue with the rest of Canada.
The purpose of the amendment we are now proposing is to ensure that we will have all the information necessary at the right time, in order to better defend the interests of the Quebec taxpayers who elected us. Before we become autonomous, I must ask and ensure that this government respect Quebec's jurisdiction and that there be no reduction in our existing authority through unilateral action by the federal government.
The purpose of this amendment is to eliminate unjustifiable delays. We are bound to defend Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction with respect to natural resources. However, in order to fulfil our mandate, we need all the information available. We would be remiss not to ask for this information, and we would not be serving those who elected us if we remained silent before this bill, which does not set out any specific date for the tabling of its annual report and which therefore leaves the administration with full latitude in this regard.
In Quebec, the electorate's choice in the last federal election could not have been clearer. For the first time in our history, a sovereignist party formed the official opposition in this House. In addition, we were elected with the mandate to monitor as
closely as possible the administration of the public interest. This means that Quebecers are calling for more autonomy, more sovereignty, more independence and, above all, greater transparency. They are demanding that our governments be increasingly transparent and that nothing be hidden from the taxpayers. This is the object of our amendment.
An end must be put to the proliferation of structures, to duplication and especially to cover-ups. Can it be held that the taxpayers or their representatives, which we are, have all the facts in hand before it is too late?
Unless complete information is provided by a given date, how do you expect us, elected representatives, to serve the people adequately? Our proposal has no other purpose but to serve the people adequately. We cannot allow this department not to be accountable to the people of Quebec and Canada. Quebecers and Canadians alike have had it; they are fed up with paying twice for the exact same services, services that cost $3 billion in Quebec alone. Imagine what this amounts to Canada-wide.
The requirement to table an annual report by a certain day will ensure that the effects of duplication cannot be concealed from the taxpayers and enable us to react much more quickly. We, Quebecers, would be much better off financially if we gained independence and had only one level of government. In the meantime, it is our duty to make sure that we get our money's worth. Rest assured that we will carry out our duty and demand that this government be as transparent as can be.
If public funds were managed better, we could do more for rural regions where unemployment has taken on nearly catastrophic proportions as well as develop our natural resources better. We could take care of our own business much more efficiently. Never will this government accept any real decentralization of its powers. It is therefore imperative that it be forced to report on scheduled dates.
I would just like to remind this House that the Department of Natural Resources has, in actual fact, been in operation since the summer of 1993. The provinces were not consulted beforehand.
I will also remind you that, under the existing Constitution, natural resources are an exclusive provincial jurisdiction. Could at least the Constitution that governs this country be abide by, so that we can serve our taxpayers better? No, this government would rather continue its flag fight. It will do its best to conceal as much of the facts as possible. So, the requirement for tabling an annual report by a certain day will give us a better chance of getting at least a minimum of information. This is an absolute necessity in a democracy to account to those who have elected you.
This government prefers to make its presence felt wherever it can, at any cost, while we are unable to react because more often than not, we do not have the information required to react at the right time.
As the Auditor General of Canada pointed out in his 1992 report on page 342 about the Department of Natural Resources: "Prudence in administration requires that outcomes and results be scrutinized in the context of their costs to determine whether Parliament and taxpayers are receiving what was paid for".
Once it is passed, Bill C-48 would invest the minister responsible with the powers, duties and functions now assigned to the Minister of Forestry and the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources. The structure being established is therefore quite significant.
Our amendment, which is aimed at creating more openness and requiring this new or modified structure to table regularly scheduled reports, is totally justified in our opinion. The current government is hiding behind the principle of good government management established by the former government in 1993 as it sets out to create an independent Department of Natural Resources. The federal government is hiding behind the principle of good government management as it is about to interfere in another area of provincial jurisdiction.
The requirement to table the annual report by a certain date will probably bring our worst fears to light. It will become impossible to hide reality. This requirement will confirm that there is indeed encroachment and duplication and that taxpayers do not really receive what they pay for.
This government is hiding behind the principle of good government management to create another area of dual jurisdiction. The first amendment we want to see adopted-and I hope we will have the full and total support of this House and the government-reads as follows:
The Minister shall cause to be laid before each House of Parliament, not later than the fifth sitting day of that House after January 31 next following the end of each fiscal year, a report showing the operations of the Department of Natural Resources for that fiscal year.
Knowing how slow government administration usually is, we cannot leave it up to the minister to table this report before each House of Parliament as he or she sees fit, as soon as practicable after the report is prepared.
What does "as soon as practicable" mean? What does it mean to the government machinery? Let me tell you, Mr. Speaker. It means absolutely nothing. I will give you an example: I asked the Minister of Natural Resources for a report she had asked experts to write about the Eastern Quebec Development Plan, which should have been renewed months ago. The minister has
had this report for a long time. Although I have asked for it nearly every day, I still have not received it. That is government machinery for you.