Mr. Speaker, the Official Opposition is using the first business day of which it is controlling the agenda to deal with the issue of federal government expenditures. In doing so, we are responding to an expectation that was repeatedly expressed by the people during the election campaign. The urgency of the situation speaks for itself. The deficit is reaching a record high and is out of control to such an extent that, as a percentage of the gross national product, it is 63 per cent higher in Canada than the average in the G-7 countries.
Half of this deficit is due to structural problems. Canada's structural problems are legion and most of them are related to the very structure of our federalism. For instance, interference of the federal government in the areas of provincial jurisdiction as well as a loose definition of the jurisdictions of each of those levels of government lead to numerous duplications, a waste of energy and conflicting policies. Other structural problems simply reflect bad government managemnent or policies.
For instance, Canada invests very little in research and development which is a major sector if we are going to try and meet the challenges of foreign competition. Furthermore, at the international level, Canada has a poor record on public debt management. In fact, since 1989, government expenditures in Canada have increased more rapidly than those of all G-7 countries.
According to the review of The Report of the Auditor General of Canada made by Mr. Yves Séguin, bad public expenditures management has resulted in a $5 billion loss each year for the past three years.
Add to that the cost of overlappings. Sixty-seven per cent of the federal programs overlap provincial programs to a certain extent. They account for 65 per cent of all government expenditures, besides payments made for the public debt and unemployment insurance. For example, if Quebec took over the present federal programs and offered the same services, the savings would amount to $233 million for transportation and communication, $289 million for expenses related to collection of custom duties, income taxes and other taxes, and $250 million in salaries, all that for one year and for Quebec alone.
It can be reasonably estimated that just by eliminating duplication of services we would save two to three billion dollars. These figures are the financial result of duplications in the services provided by both governments, plus the increased need for co-ordination created by the claims of each government. The overlaps reduce the efficiency of government measures due to the competitive, if not conflicting, nature of federal-provincial relations. Witness the flag wars that have been waged by the two sides for the last 20 years.
In June 1988, Quebec and Ottawa signed an agreement on regional economic development which was to result in an investment of $820 million over five years, divided as follows: Ottawa, $440 million, and Quebec, $380 million. Now, believe it or not, it took a little over two years for Ottawa and Quebec to agree on the programs and on their respective roles. Five years after this agreement was signed, the two governments had spent only $281 million, that is to say a mere 34 per cent of the $820 million agreed to. This is a far cry from what was expected as the result of this allocation of funds.
The overlapping of services also increases the burden on individuals and companies seeking access to the programs and services offered. A lot of energy is wasted just to find one's way through this regulatory and administrative maze. I think that since we have been elected, everybody realized that, because it took us a few months just to learn to know all the existing programs. As I said, we are wasting a lot of energy just to make our way through this administrative maze.
When a firm wants to make a plan for the development of its human resources, for example, it has to convince both the
professional employees from the federal government and the people from the Société québécoise de la main-d'oeuvre in order for its employee placement plan or employment assistance committees to be implemented. Small businesses often have to pass on to consumers the costs of the redundant representations they make to both governments. Without realizing it, consumers end up paying for the cost of federalism through an intermediary.
Keeping up with programs and services is in itself an important additional cost for individual businesses. Furthermore, the few sessions held by the industry committee allowed me to realize that it was a problem felt throughout Canada.
An ENAP study found that out of a sample of 221 federal programs and 244 Quebec programs, 197 overlapped to various degrees and were seriously jeopardizing the efforts to enhance the management of government policies.
For example, the following sectors, among the most depressed in the Canadian economy, accounted for more than 75 p. 100 of all the program overlaps between the federal government and the Quebec government: fisheries, housing, education, secondary industries, financial markets, territorial management, labour and employment, and of course regional development.
These overlappings also reduce the control citizens have on their government. As a result of this competition between governments, no government alone has the ability to carry out projects that have been undertaken, while allowing each governement to throw the ball back into the other's court.
Citizens do not directly pay for the programs available to them and cannot avoid paying for a program which they feel is less satisfactory. What is ultimately questioned is the principle that a person who pays taxes has the right to be represented. Under the Canadian system, taxes paid to one government are often spent by another government, whose criteria do not necessarily coincide with the other's criteria. This may explain the lack of confidence voters have shown in the Canadian electoral system and their elected representatives.
Competition between governments seldom improves the quality of the services they offer, because governments do not operate in the same way as the private sector. The constraints are not the same.
The government's other objective is to deal with the poor management practices observed and criticized annually by the Auditor General of Canada. Horror stories aside, we should pay particular attention to the substantive recommendations made by the Auditor General. To ensure that the situation is corrected, we suggest a careful follow-up of these recommendations in order to return control over the budgetary process to Parliament. Members can then be heard before decisions are finalized and can influence those decisions, with the help of adequate information on the use of public funds by departments and Crown corporations.
This year again, the Auditor General's report criticized departments for their lack of emphasis on program evaluation. In 1991-92, expenditures for 16 programs totalled $124.5 billion, and only two of these programs were given a thorough evaluation.
We cannot tolerate taxpayers' money being spent without an evaluation of the efficiency and effectiveness of the activities involved. It is necessary to do the right thing and to do it right. One must be able to evaluate what is being done. On the basis of the information for 1991-92, the Auditor General observed that over a seven-year period, only 18 per cent of the programs had been evaluated.
Considering the urgency and seriousness of the situation, the Bloc Quebecois is asking the government to strike a multiparty committee of the House of Commons with a mandate to examine all the government's operating budgets. The government must guarantee this review of government spending will be an open and transparent process.
To ensure that the instruments required to provide for sound management of public spending are put in place, the government should undertake to react officially and promptly to the committee's recommendations.
There are many avenues to explore, but for this exercise to be successful, parliamentarians must lead the way. Ministers, members, senior officials and all other players in the administrative apparatus must realize there is an urgent need for a change in attitude, from "it does not matter, the government is paying" to "this is everybody's money and I must ensure it is used effectively".
By carefully examining operating budgets, we should be able to eliminate a number of obsolete programs that have continued to exist by sheer force of habit.
The most striking example is military expenditures. We approved the cancellation of the helicopter contract, but we believe the government is engaging in the same kind of non-productive expenditures by not transferring the high-technology jobs involved into a really comprehensive project and by letting them go instead, thereby increasing unemployment insurance costs.
We think it would be possible to reduce defence expenditures by 25 per cent, that is an amount of $3 billion.
Another example we should look at is the natural tendency to self-justification within the bureaucratic machine. The first thing that comes to mind is the considerable amount of energy and resources spent for the preparation of perfect forms and detailed instructions, even before anyone knows who the users will be. Please let us not put the blame on those who already
have trouble enough surviving the financial crisis; they are only the victims.
On that point, tax expert Yves Séguin said that the fat in social programs was much leaner than the fat on the other side; that there were more savings to be made by curbing waste than by cutting social programs because, except in cases of gross abuse, these are not overly generous in the first place.
Why is the Bloc Quebecois putting so much energy in this fight against waste if it wants Quebec to redefine its relationship with Canada? Simply because it is the wish of everybody in this country and particularly of taxpayers who pay their income tax regularly and keep the system going. But also because Canada and Quebec cannot look ahead to any kind of future if they do not succeed in curbing that monster the federal system helped create.