House of Commons Hansard #19 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was general.


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11 a.m.


Nic Leblanc Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand why the President of the Treasury Board is refusing to set up a special committee. This would not be the first time we have special committees. We have had them for finance and in various other areas.

We know very well that the President of the Treasury Board does not manage the treasury, because there is no more money in it; rather, he manages the debt and the deficit. He should be a little more serious and accept the support we are offering. We want a neutral position to be taken so that the government can make the right decision.

Since I am the critic for Foreign Affairs and I am speaking to the President of the Treasury Board, I would like to know if he intends to consider cutting the spending of our embassies and representatives abroad, but especially of our embassies.

Every time I went abroad, with my friend the member for Beauséjour, who is here, the ambassador always told us: "You know, this embassy did not cost very much. We paid very little for it 20 years ago". I tell him: "Twenty years ago, I too bought a house that is worth $200,000 today, but I paid $20,000 for it". They are always trying to justify themselves, because in my opinion and that of many others, our embassies are probably more in keeping with the standards of a country like the United States, France or England, whose population is two, three or ten times as much as ours.

I think that we should seriously consider having embassies more in keeping with our standard of living and our spending power. That is why I ask the President of the Treasury Board the question. It is up to him to do it and I hope that he will do it because we just learned again that we spent $75 million to build the embassy in China. I think that is huge for a country like Canada. We also spent $95 million to build the embassy in the United States, in Washington. I think that is huge too.

I do not know if the President of the Treasury Board, who manages a debt rather than a treasury, will be able to stop and think, even if he does not have a committee because he does not

want one, and will be prepared to cut the spending of our embassies which is much too high, without being given a hand.

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11 a.m.


Art Eggleton Liberal York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows cutting government expenditure is under consideration by the Minister of Finance and will be addressed in the budget.

As to some of the past expenditures at various embassies which he is talking about, perhaps that has been referred to in this and previous reports of the Auditor General. I am sure he knows that all too well, since he was a member of the House and a member of the supporting party of the last government when many of these matters were carried out.

I must come back to the matter of a new committee. I use the words that hon. members opposite used when they talked about overlapping, when they talked about waste, and when they talked about duplication. That is what they are proposing when speaking of this committee.

It is not required. We have a committee where all these issues that have been talked about can be raised. It is a committee that they chair. Perhaps they are indicating they do not have confidence in one of their members to chair the committee. Maybe somebody else should chair it. It seems to me they have every opportunity without overlap, without duplication, without waste to raise these issues in the public accounts committee.

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11:05 a.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the whip of the Reform Party I would like to advise the House that pursuant to Standing Order 43(2) our speakers on the motion will be dividing their time.

First my congratulations to the Bloc for introducing a motion that deals with trying to come to terms with the problems of money and lack of money in the country. We are $500 billion in debt. It is nice to see the opposition and the government taking these things seriously.

It reminds me a bit of the parable of the prodigal son who left home and wanted to take a share of his wealth with him. Here we have the Bloc wanting to ensure that the fiscal House of Canada is in order so there is sufficient wealth for them to take with them. I would remind the Bloc that the end of the parable was that he did have to come home, unfortunately without his wealth.

I do not think anybody has spoken louder on managing the government's money than the Reform Party. During the last election we produced a four-page flyer that showed how we were going to reduce the deficit to zero. If anybody was eliminating waste it was the Reform Party because, as I say, it was a four-page flyer. My hon. friends across the aisle with a 120-page red book could only get the deficit down to about 3 per cent of gross domestic product or $25 billion. When it comes to the elimination of waste, duplication and extra effort the Reform Party is the party to which one should be looking.

The problem does not lie in the elimination of duplication of government expenditures. The President of the Treasury Board has already said, and other speakers have said so this morning, that we have a public accounts committee that is chaired by a member of the opposition. They have every opportunity to look at the expenditures examined by the Auditor General. He has pointed out that we are losing money here, that we are wasting money there: $10 billion is being thrown down the drain by this department; $100 million is not being collected by the Department of National Revenue through loss of taxation on the GST as half a million people have not been filing their returns. These things have been pointed out to us.

The thing to remember is that the deficit is $43 billion or $45 billion according to the Minister of Finance. The total spending by the federal government on its administration, on its salaries, on its rent, on its desks, telephones, computers and whatever else it needs to manage the country is only $17 billion. If we eliminated the entire civil service and everything that goes with it our deficit would still be around $25 billion.

Therefore if the members of the Bloc Quebecois think they can resolve the waste and deficit problems of the government by narrowly defining the idea they can find enough money in waste and duplication, they only have to look at the numbers and that will tell them that unfortunately they will not find the answer in another committee that looks at the same problem again.

In chapter 5 of his report the Auditor General talks about the debt and the deficit and concern about where this country is going. If we want to find out where we are going, it is always best to look at where we have been. He produced some interesting graphs and charts in chapter 5 showing it was in 1975 that our deficit really started to balloon. It was our colleagues on the other side of the House who decided it was time to start spending money on social programs by the billions. It was then they introduced what they called the just society.

I talked about this earlier in the pre-budget debate. At that time I said that if taxpayers had been given the bill to pay for the just society rather than borrowing the money to pay for it, we would have told them we could not afford it and we would not have the problems we have today.

Between 1974 and 1976 spending on programs mushroomed to about 130 per cent of the money collected in tax revenues. By the time we added the interest on the debt being created our spending exceeded 155 per cent of government revenues. That is where the problems started and why we have these problems today. Unfortunately we have to squeeze the social spending we have created in order to be able to afford government in the country. Not only do we have to eliminate the fat from the waste and duplication in services but we have to take a look at how we

spend our money on social programs in order that we can afford to balance our budget.

The Minister of Human Resources Development has decided to strike a committee to look at how we are going to revamp social programs and unemployment insurance. Last year we spent $19 billion on unemployment insurance. That is almost 50 per cent of the current deficit.

I do not suggest for a moment that we should get rid of unemployment insurance but we have systemic unemployment in this country of around 7 per cent. That is now to be considered full employment; 7 per cent of workers do not have jobs because of the problems with the social programs that say we do not have enough incentives built into them for people to go to work.

Our neighbours to the south have a systemic unemployment rate of about 3 per cent lower than ours. Their cost of unemployment insurance as a percentage of their gross domestic product is significantly lower than ours. That is the way we are going to balance the budget. It is not going to be through trying to save a nickel here or find a dime there by creating another committee to find out how on earth we are going to balance the budget. The answer is not there; the answer lies in social programs.

When we produced our zero in three flyer last fall we said that about $3 billion to $4 billion could be saved by providing incentives for people to get back to work. By reducing the unemployment rate, we reduce the cost of unemployment insurance and create additional tax revenues from people who are now working. That is where we are going to find the answers to our problems.

We said last fall that we should talk about eliminating old age security to families that earn more than $54,000 a year. It would save another $3 billion. We could save between $4 billion in UI and $3 billion on old age security, which comes to $7 billion. That is 40 per cent of total government expenditures we can save by looking at these two programs without having to go through every nickel and dime and line by line of the entire government expenditures. We identified $7 billion with these two programs alone.

Last fall when I was knocking on doors and talking to senior citizens in my riding they were concerned about our policy on old age security. For those families which make more than $54,000 a year, we are going to cut it off. Why should young families which are trying to get ahead have to pay taxes so that the rich can use their old age security to go to places in the sun in the winter? Many of the seniors I talked to said: "I wish we had seen $54,000 in our lives. My goodness, cut that off. By all means cut that off. We support you 100 per cent if we are going to balance the budget". Those are the types of things that my colleagues from the Bloc should be proposing in the motion.

The motion they have proposed today is far too narrow. The budget cannot be balanced if we focus on one thing. I know they have their own political agenda that says: "Put the blame on the federal government and that way we do not have to worry about what happens in the province of Quebec".

I am concerned about all of Canada not just the province of Alberta. I am concerned about Canadians who live in the province of Quebec. Everybody who lives in the province of Quebec as far as I am concerned is a Canadian and participates fully in this great nation of ours.

As I mentioned we laid out a full program on how to balance a budget last fall. We did it as volunteers. We did it as Canadians who wanted to make a contribution to the country. That is where we should be looking to resolve our problems rather than this narrowly defined motion as proposed.

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11:15 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was interested at the beginning of the member's presentation to learn that the Reform Party has a whip. It seems to me that it is something they would not have in their type of organization. Looking at the attendance it seems to me that he or she needs some practice.

The motion before us today actually deals with confederation and we have heard a good deal of criticism-

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11:15 a.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe it is inappropriate to make any comment about attendance in the House.

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11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The hon. member makes a very valid point. Hon. members should not take issue with the absence of any member of any party from the House.

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11:15 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I make my apologies to you and to members present.

The motion today deals with confederation and we have heard a good deal of criticism about that form of government. Confederation it seems to me is a form of government which has developed particularly in North America, here and in the United States, as a very effective and powerful way of dealing with large and diverse countries. Overall, and I think members opposite will agree with this point, the method has been very effective in North America. We have produced two nations that have been among the most productive, however you define

productive, economically or in some other terms, socially for example, that have ever existed on the face of the earth.

In a debate like this, one could tend to forget the strengths of confederation. If I could give one example, one strength of the confederate approach to government is the fact that a process of trial and error can go on in different parts of the confederation and that process is a very creative and, I would suggest in the light of the comments this morning, also a very economical way of testing new ideas. Sometimes those ideas will work and they can be taken on by the confederation or sometimes they will not work and we will have saved the expense of a trial which would have failed across the nation as a whole.

A famous example is medicare being developed in Saskatchewan. Their system of medical health support was developed, it was tried, a substantial trial and error process, and then we were able to spread it to the rest of the country.

Another example is the work that is going on in New Brunswick in the area of our social support systems which were discussed this morning. In New Brunswick as we speak experiments are going on which look as though they will show that there are better ways to deliver the social services which are so important to our nation. In a debate like this the strengths of Confederation must be stressed as well as some of the weaknesses.

It seems to me that in a form of government like this there are inevitably overlaps. Some of them for a while are necessary and many of them are unnecessary. To that extent I agree with members opposite.

Wherever there is unnecessary duplication we must eliminate it and, as the President of the Treasury Board said, I hope the government is doing so.

Simply to recite things like fisheries, agriculture or environment and then point to the fact that those things are dealt with by two jurisdictions is not to show unnecessary duplication. It seems to me fisheries would be a good example. The fishery in Quebec would be very different from the fishery in British Columbia. It therefore seems appropriate that people who understand those fisheries deal with them in those regions. But it is equally appropriate that national and international aspects of the fishery be dealt with economically and without unnecessary duplication by a central government.

What has been lacking has been national leadership, proper leadership from this Chamber. The duplication which has arisen has been a result of that, not the result of a weakness in confederation but a weakness of previous governments to address the truly national issues.

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11:20 a.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think I missed the question in that little discourse but I do agree with the hon. member that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

The way that Confederation has been designed has worked great for Canada for the last 125 years. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that it cannot continue to make sure that problems, programs, assistance and government overlap from one jurisdiction to another shall remain in the federal jurisdiction.

We see that in fisheries, for example, the flow-over from one province to another. We see it in other areas. The hon. member mentioned agriculture.

We also see other opportunities where governments of different provinces might address the problems of budget deficits and management of their own tax revenues. I believe New Brunswick was mentioned. In my home province of Alberta we have seen the government take a real hard firm stance to address these problems to ensure that it can live within its means. This is an example for us here in the capital to follow and perhaps other provinces that have the same problem.

I think the hon. member has a good point and it should be noted today.

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February 10th, 1994 / 11:20 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak against the first part of the Bloc's motion and in support of the second part.

Surely the Bloc must see the obvious contradiction in its motion. It is calling for a formation of a special committee of Parliament and proposes to examine the public expenses of the federal government. The second part of the motion focuses on the elimination of duplication between federal and provincial programs.

Does it not see the special committee of Parliament as a duplication of administration? Is this not why we already have a House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts?

If the Bloc is sincere about eliminating duplication and wants the review of the public accounts to be open and transparent to the public then I would suggest that it amend its motion and that the House direct the Standing Committee on Public Accounts to undertake the review of the Auditor General's report and the elimination of duplication between federal and provincial programs. As it stands I cannot support the motion.

My constituents in Yorkton-Melville voted for me because I promised to oppose the waste of taxpayers' money. The way I see it, the special committee proposed by the Bloc and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts would be doing the same job.

When a farmer wants to spray his crop in order to kill weeds he does not first of all buy a spray that will kill thistles, spray his crop for thistles and then buy another spray to kill the wild oats and then buy a spray to kill the mustard, and another spray to kill the chickweed and go over his crop half a dozen times. That

would be foolish. That would be inefficient; it would not work. A farmer who would do that would not be in farming very long. It is no different when it comes to government. We cannot have the same thing being done over and over again. It will not work.

I would like to comment on the three themes that are proposed by the Bloc in its motion: first, the need for a review of the Auditor General's report; second, the need for a review of federal-provincial programs with a view to eliminating duplication of effort and saving the taxpayers' money; and, third, the need for an open and transparent process permitting public input and scrutiny of our public accounts.

There is a need to review the Auditor General's report while it is in progress, not to wait until his report is released. When the Auditor General encounters waste, mismanagement or corruption, these matters should be brought before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts immediately. If this were done, we might be able to stop the bleeding before the patient becomes terminally ill.

The Auditor General should have access to any and all public accounts, including cabinet ministers' travel expenses.

The Auditor General should have the authority to make public the decisions and waste that he uncovers in the Board of Internal Economy if he feels it is necessary and in the public's best interest.

I agree with the Bloc Quebecois that there is too much duplication of administration between the federal and provincial governments. For example, there is the duplication between unemployment insurance and social assistance. Both programs provide protection for the unemployed. Many people who exhaust their UI benefits go to welfare. In Saskatchewan almost half of the people on social assistance are considered fully employable. Here we have two programs serving much the same purpose and many of the same clients.

There are two sets of bureaucracies, one in the federal government and one at the provincial level. The duplication continues.

Unemployment insurance collects its own special payroll tax from both workers and employers in the form of the so-called insurance premiums. When the UI account goes into the hole, like it has for the past three years, the taxpayers, mainly workers and employers, are asked to pay again, only this time through income tax and corporate tax.

Social assistance is paid for on a 50:50 basis by the federal and provincial governments. Again there is only one taxpayer footing the bill.

I do not want to belabour the point. I think anybody with any common sense can see that there is duplication and where there is duplication there is waste of taxpayers' hard earned income.

In my former life I was a school teacher. This reminds me of a time when the school board was trying to provide the same level of service but on a fixed budget. It was running buses along the same road, twice in the morning and twice at night; once to pick up the elementary school children and the second time to pick up the high school students. When that fixed budget could be stretched no more, when the crunch came, it had to come up with new ideas. It found a way to make the run once and to pick up both groups of students.

If there has ever been a budget crisis it is now, and we have to come up with a better and cheaper way of doing things. The programs should be delivered by the level of government which can best provide the service for the best and the lowest possible cost. It has been my experience that the closer the government is to the people, the better the program that can be delivered and the lower the costs.

I have the honour of serving on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. I will make sure that the issue of duplication between federal programs administered by the department of human resources and provincial governments are addressed in our review of the social programs. I believe it is the duty of each member on each standing committee to ensure that they do the same. I would, therefore, not recommend the need for a special committee to look into duplication.

I strongly support the Bloc's recommendation for a more open and transparent process permitting public scrutiny.

The more I work in Ottawa the more I realize that the process is a big part of the problem. We found during the referendum on the Charlottetown accord that people want to get directly involved in the decision making process.

We also found that Canadians could understand complex issues such as the Constitution. There was a desire among the vast majority to know more and more about issues that affect the future of our children. They correctly analysed the situation, ignored the cries of the so-called elites and made the right decision.

We need to put more trust into the common sense of the common people. Nowhere is this common sense needed more than in the review of public accounts.

While the Minister of Finance is proud of the four conferences he organized as a part of his pre-budget process, I do not know

of one person from my constituency who was invited to attend or make a submission. So much for an open process.

Any consultative process should be open to all Canadians. Using today's technologies, it is possible for all Canadians to register their votes on issues of public spending and public borrowing.

Annual tax returns could be used by taxpayers to register where and on what programs they want their money spent. We need to put Canadians back in control of government. Once every four or five years we have democracy but in between we are run by decree of the governing party. Ask the people in Markham-Whitchurch-Stouffville if they feel they live in a true democracy.

When families are in a financial crisis and can no longer borrow money to support their standard of living, they sit around the kitchen table and talk about how everyone is going to pull together to make ends meet.

Canada is just like a family. Our government meetings should be held at kitchen tables instead of conference tables. We need to sit around and discuss these things. All three levels of government have their hands in the same taxpayers' pockets and there is less and less room for the taxpayer to get his own money out of his own pocket. There are three levels of government but only one taxpayer. We all have to work together to get out of this financial mess.

In closing, I commend the Bloc for bringing forward this motion and drawing attention to the need for reform. I would like to again register my objection to duplicating the efforts of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts by forming another special committee as proposed in the Bloc's motion.

While I cannot support the first part of its motion, I would be able to support the second part of the motion calling for a review of the Auditor General's report, the elimination of duplication between federal and provincial programs and a call for more public scrutiny of our budgeting and spending processes.

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11:30 a.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the speech just delivered by the Reform member, who objects to the striking of a special committee to examine federal government expenditures. During the last election campaign, his party strongly advocated that the government clean up its act as far as spending is concerned. That is why, I think, they were elected in western Canada with such a majority. When you go hunting, you arm yourself appropriately, just as when you go fishing, you use the right gear. You cannot change equipment, even if you decide to do something else.

The Reform Party campaigned to defend the interest of its electorate, as we did during the campaign, as we always do in the

House, and as the Bloc Quebecois will continue to do throughout its mandate. Hence the importance of striking such a committee. The Bloc Quebecois said during the last election campaign, and I am very proud of it, that it would defend the interests of Quebecers and, in its capacity as the Official Opposition, the interests of all Canadians, of course, as far as government expenditures are concerned. Today, in Quebec as well as in Canada, there is a feeling of social insecurity, because Canada's debt level is very high, as is the interest on this debt which is in the order of $110 million per day.

I think there must be, here in Parliament, a committee to study government expenditures, item by item, and also to verify all departmental expenditures, item by item. An hon. member said earlier that such a committee has always existed in Parliament, which brings me to the following question: Did such a committee exist in 1980? Did that committee exist from 1980 to 1993? If it did, either it was ineffective, did not do its job properly, or else did a very good job but was not listened to. The previous governments did not listen to suggestions made by that committee because, from 1980 to 1984, the Liberals were in office and the debt stood at $30 billion in 1980, whereas by the time the Conservatives took over, it had already climbed to $187 billion.

Similarly, if the committee was in place after 1984 and until 1993, what did the government do with the recommendations of that committee? The $187 billion debt inherited from the Liberals kept increasing under the Conservatives. What prevented the government from taking appropriate action? Did it follow the recommendations of that committee? Is there any point in having a committee if the government does not follow its recommendations?

I suppose that the committee does a very good job and makes some useful recommendations to reduce expenditures, or at least to flash a yellow light warning ministers and some departments of imminent danger, by telling them that they are about to go over their budget, or to flash a red light telling them that they have indeed used up their budget and must be careful with their spending.

I also want to say that there would be no overlapping in this case because, within the government finance sector there is a Department of Finance as well another department called Revenue Canada. I guess you could call that overlapping. Likewise there is a finance committee, of which I am a member, and there is also a public accounts committee.

The Bloc Quebecois motion is to ensure that government expenditures are thoroughly reviewed and that a report is then tabled in the House.

Earlier we referred briefly to infrastructures. I think that the $2 billion infrastructure program of the Liberal government is insufficient, since the Federation of Canadian Municipalities suggested a $15 billion investment.

My question is: Is it the politicians who spend too much, not knowing where they are headed, or is it the civil servants who mismanage programs?

I will conclude by saying to the Reform Party that the situation is much worse than that.

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11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I apologize for interrupting the hon. member for Charlevoix, but I have to remind all members that, as their representative, I must ensure that they comply with the Standing Orders of this House.

I am aware that five minutes for questions and comments is a very short period. However, comments must be brief in order to allow the member who makes a speech to provide a reply or an answer to a question.

In that spirit I would ask the member for Yorkton-Melville if he would like to make a concluding remark or comment.

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11:35 a.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have taken to heart what has been said. I will try to be brief.

I feel it is very important that we sit down together and discuss these things, as my colleague from the Bloc has said. We need to do this in an atmosphere that our standing committees are conducive toward. We have these committees in place. They have a mandate to review the programs. I am on the Standing Committee for Human Resources Development and we are looking at a budget of $68 billion. Right there, if we are going to restructure that, there is a tremendous opportunity to do the things suggested here and those are to review social programs and look at ways in which spending can be reduced.

We have all these standing committees in place already. I do not think we are going to solve our problems in government by bringing in more government. That contributes to the problem we already have. We need to reward people for finding ways to do with less, to downsize government and consequently spend less. That is the aim that we must have. We must never lose sight of that as we work on our individual standing committees.

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11:40 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate today. I hope that our arguments will help enlighten hon. members about the merits of our motion. What we are proposing is a simple and realistic process that no member in this House can off-handedly reject simply because it was not put forward by his or her party.

Our constituents expect such action from us. I do not see how I could go back to my riding this weekend and try to explain why we refused to examine public finances. Such a refusal would show a lack of respect for our voters and an attempt to shirk our responsibilities. We as members of the Bloc Quebecois have received an additional mandate, and a significant one at that.

Quebecers have especially asked us to protect their interests and to focus our energy and efforts to help Quebec attain its sovereignty. Soon Quebecers will democratically determine their own future.

For more than three months now, each and everyone of us has noticed, day in and day out, that our federal system has some major flaws on several levels, especially from an administrative and a political point of view. On the one hand, the Auditor General has always loudly complained about the mismanagement of government funds.

On the other hand, provinces claim that they have been treated unfairly, because of unjust decisions based on so-called national standards, which obviously are not making provincial authorities very happy. Add to this the willingness of hon. members to play a bigger part in the decision and legislative system, and you can say without a doubt that our system is not efficient and needs some major changes.

Take, for instance, the Auditor General of Canada who publishes every year horror stories like some of Stephen King bestsellers on the way our government manages this country. The Auditor General cannot all by himself go through everything. He focuses on some very well defined areas. He examines only some of the elements of public administration. He is asked to perform a monumental task requiring detailed knowledge of the situation. Recently we heard some horror stories about senators, but let us not dwell on that.

The evaluation process used by the Auditor clearly shows the scope and the complexity of the federal administration. It is becoming more and more difficult, if not utterly impossible, to control this monster and the vast number of programs involving extraordinary public spending.

Our approach or proposal is a symbolical and responsible attempt to democratize and open the whole issue of public finances. The people will better understand public expenditures and will be in a better position to evaluate the government's decisions.

Year after year, successive ministers of Finance pledge to apply stricter controls, to eliminate waste and to reduce spending. Alas, results are always disappointing. Governments are

much more apt to raise revenues through taxes than to reduce their extravagant expenditures and waste.

We, the Bloc, will allow, with this motion, every member to keep this promise. It is up to you to decide.

The Minister of Finance prefers to travel throughout the country at the taxpayer's expense to hold other consultations. I do not think these little trips will solve anything.

The minister should sit down with us and all the other parties in this House and look carefully at the true financial mess our great country is now in. I am sure that everybody here would agree to such a serious and open process. Nobody in this House can support ridiculous or useless spending.

Nobody can condone waste and deadwood. In the end, this process aims at ensuring that every tax dollar is spent efficiently.

As social housing critic, I have to look at the activities and programs of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Note that Quebec also has its own housing corporation, that is, the Société d'habitation du Québec. The work of these two similar corporations is similar and sometimes complementary. Both organizations deal with housing.

There is certainly some duplication of services that is very costly in terms of the number of employees doing similar tasks at both levels of government. These sums are possibly included in the operating budgets of the various programs under their authority. And let us not forget the incredible number of interdepartmental meetings required in order to harmonize the programs and all the co-ordination meetings between officials working on various projects.

Since there are federal-provincial agreements in each of the provinces, we can multiply by ten, plus two for the territories, this type of duplication of services that is very costly for the taxpayers and very confusing for the general public. Each level of government has its standards, its inspectors, its codes and its regulations. There is a cost attached to all that. We must simplify the system and concentrate all these activities at the same administrative level in order to meet needs more efficiently and to maximize the use of the money allocated for these programs.

Obviously, in Quebec, the Société d'habitation du Québec must be the only administrative authority in this area. The other provinces should do the same. That is up to them.

Right now, in Canada, in this rich and developed country, 1.2 million people are in desperate need of housing. The total withdrawal of the federal government as of January 1, 1994 is indecent and unacceptable. Moreover, the general agreements with the provinces are melting away like the snow because of deep cuts in federal funding. So, all of a sudden, the provinces/ find themselves without funding and it is the poorest in our society who suffer the terrible consequences.

Liberals do not seem to be doing anything to rectify the situation. They say that there is not enough money. Here is a golden opportunity for the government opposite to find considerable amounts of money in order to meet the housing needs of disadvantaged Canadians. But, a word of caution, the money taken from the various departments will have to be redistributed under new criteria. Federal standards must meet the particular needs of individual provinces and reflect their reality.

Quebec wants its fair share of funding for social housing, which has not been the case in the past few years.

Finally, let us administer our country intelligently and openly so that we have the means to meet the needs of the people, some of which are urgent.

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11:45 a.m.


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit hard to believe some of the things we are hearing in the House today in this debate. We heard the member for Yorkton-Melville earlier complain that his constituents were not invited to comment on the budgetary process, the most open one ever held in the country.

I would remind all members of the House that we are members of Parliament and we have an opportunity and a responsibility to consult with our constituents. We did that in my riding of London-Middlesex in collaboration with my other two colleagues in London. We held a pre-budget meeting and heard the concerns of our constituents. I would remind members of Parliament that as talented as he is the finance minister cannot be all places at the same time.

The member for Laurentides castigated the past government for its financial excesses and I would certainly agree with her. I would note that the leader of her party was a cabinet minister in that past government. Perhaps he could rationalize that past performance for her.

I quite frankly doubt very much that I could support the Bloc motion. Where specifically do the terms of reference for the public accounts committee, of which I am a member and which meets for the first time today, fall short in what the Bloc seeks to achieve by its motion?

If I can have explained some of the shortcoming in these terms of reference then perhaps I might be persuaded to support the motion.

As has already been noted, it will be interesting whether the Bloc takes up its opportunity today to have the chair of that committee be one of its own members. I am unconvinced at this moment. I am flabbergasted by some of the remarks I have heard

by members of Parliament in the House. It is an abdication of their responsibility.

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11:50 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer the question asked by the hon. member, I would like to say that we will all work in committees, but it is federal expenditures as a whole that need to be examined. At the moment, I think this task is divided among various committees, but our motion goes way beyond the study of a particular area of expenditure by a committee.

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11:50 a.m.


Jean-Robert Gauthier Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the hon. member's comments and I agree with her that overlap and duplication are two different concepts. We talk about overlap as if it was the same thing as duplication. The latter can imply waste of money, but the former is not unusual in a federation like Canada.

According to our Constitution, there are only two areas that I can think of where there is no duplication and they are postal services and defence. In all other areas, duplication is a fact of life in a federation. We will try to eliminate waste as much as possible, waste being the unjustifiable spending of public money. I agree with the hon. member that we should try to eliminate duplication.

However, I would remind her that it is not easy to get rid of overlaps. As chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for three years, I had tried to convince the previous government, and maybe members of this House, that it was worth letting the Auditor General table reports on specific issues as he saw fit to draw the attention of members of Parliament to administrative problems.

Maybe the hon. member did not know it, but I submitted a bill to this House, Bill C-207, I think, which would have allowed the Auditor General to table reports on selected issues whenever he wanted. Right now, he can only table one annual report. The hon. member is right when she says that it is quite thick and sometimes difficult to read, and that even the committee finds it difficult to act on its recommendations. Would the hon. member and her party support a measure like the one I advocated to authorize the Auditor General to table reports on selected issues whenever he wants?

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11:50 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are not against the principle but we must study the question further. As for duplication, the hon. member is right, some duplication is unavoidable. We try to eliminate duplication in order to reduce costs, to save money, to become more efficient.

This is not the case now in several areas and I think that you are well aware that that situation has been with us for many years. It is high time to empower a special committee to study all those questions, all forms of waste. Such a committee could, for the first time, I think, be very effective and it could produce fresh new solutions and maybe an alternative to the system we use presently to manage public funds.

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11:50 a.m.


Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the occasion of the first substantial speech I have the opportunity to make in this House, I would like first of all to greet all the constituents of the riding of Châteauguay. Nestled by the borders of Quebec, Ontario and the United States, this part of the area called Montérégie is located southwest of Montreal. Previously made up of rural towns and villages, this riding has become over the years one of the suburbs of the largest French metropolis in North America.

In the west of the riding lies the city of Châteauguay with a population of about 40,000 people who for the most part work on the island of Montreal.

In the east, there is a group of towns that have become industrial centres. In the south, some other towns were able to save farmlands from urban development. The northern part of the riding is taken up by the Mohawk reserve.

In the riding of Châteauguay, we know what federal presence means. It means the St. Lawrence Seaway and, through it, the demise of the port of Montreal; it means the development of Sarnia, in Ontario, through the transfer of the petrochemical industry from the east end of Montreal; it means the Kahnawake reserve and the closing of the Mercier bridge during the Indian crisis in the summer of 1990. It also meant war measures in 1970 and conscription for the two world wars, and I could go on.

For many years, the federal presence has meant only trouble, worry, indecisiveness, lack of determination and, most of all, poor management of public funds. That is why so many Quebecers are increasingly looking at sovereignty for Quebec.

At a time when the deficit is reaching proportions beyond the comprehension of most people, all of us here in this House are challenged to resolve this monstrous problem. Citizens have lost confidence in the capacity of governments to control expenditures. We do not have any grace period to regain that confidence. We must act now and act effectively. From now on we will have to live within our means and our capacity to pay.

Yesterday the Bloc Quebecois caucus had the opportunity to meet the Conseil du patronat du Québec. Established in 1969, this group of employers has 547 members, 430 of which are corporations or associations actively involved in developing Quebec economy. That most influential organization told us about its concerns with regard to public spending, among other things.

Where does the Bloc Quebecois stand? Despite the heavier tax burden we experienced in the last few years, it seems that federal expenditures always exceed revenues by over $35 billion each year. It does not seem possible to increase the tax burden any further.

We should therefore have a look at expenditures and tax loopholes. In this regard, the Bloc Quebecois will support every proposal to better manage our public expenditures and lower the annual deficit. The Bloc Quebecois appeals once more to this government to scrutinize all budgetary items.

First of all, we should eliminate duplication, consolidate administrative units and bring about the decentralization of powers. Second, we should implement the corrective measures recommended each year by the Auditor General, whose reports always point out situations where billions of dollars of public money are wasted both in program spending and tax expenditures. Take for example foreign investments by corporations which are always mentioned since 1986.

We should then reexamine and eventually abolish special privileges granted to the wealthy through family trusts, on which the Department of Finance will not give any information whatsoever. Fourth, we should hand over to Quebec jurisdiction over manpower and training. We should also cut 25 per cent of the defence budget. That could save nearly $3 billion without putting the security of Canada or Quebec in jeopardy.

The Conseil du patronat du Québec supports the Bloc Quebecois position that duplication should be eliminated. The Conseil also agrees with the Bloc Quebecois that the whole field of manpower training should be transferred to Quebec.

In my capacity as the official opposition critic for the Department of Veterans Affairs, I will endorse the Bloc Quebecois position concerning that department and its mandate. The total estimated budget of that department for the fiscal year 1993-94 alone stands at $2.1 billion. Of this amount, close to $700 million is earmarked for health care, a third of all spending.

According to the 1993-94 estimates for Veterans Affairs Canada, health care claims have been on an unprecedented rise in the last few years. The reason for this is that veterans are getting much older, triggering higher administrative and financial costs.

These trends confirm that this department is taking more and more hospital space. In the last four years, health care costs went up in excess of 59 per cent. A third of the budget is spent on services already provided by Health and Welfare Canada and the Quebec department of health and social services. Hospital care is one of the areas where overlapping of government services is most frequent. We must ask ourselves if this duplication is really necessary or if the provinces could not simply take over hospitals which are now managed by the federal government.

What makes these services so different from those provided by provincial hospitals? What sets veterans apart from the rest of the population? We are proposing a solution to reduce public spending without diminishing the quality and the amount of services. It is the kind of solution that must be looked at, and that the Bloc strongly advocates because the situation calls for it.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, the government cannot increase taxes, directly or indirectly. It must, however, do everything it can to reduce the annual deficit. Consequently, there is no other choice. It must cut public spending, but in an intelligent way so as to not hit the needy, the poor, and even all those in the middle class who work so hard to earn a living in this country.

I repeat that the government has to eliminate duplication of services and waste public funds. This is why so many Quebecers see in Quebec's sovereignty the only solution which will help save Canada from bankruptcy.

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Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have just heard some the remarks of the opposite member. He was talking about the veterans and the few institutions established to help them. Do I understand that he advocates the closing of the institution in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue? Did I hear him right?

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Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his comments. No, it is certainly not our intention to close the institution in Saint-Anne-de-Bellevue. In fact, we simply want to thoroughly review the whole system for the veterans at federal level and see if it would be possible to put an end to duplication of services in order to provide the same services to the veterans or to the general population in the provinces.

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Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry, but I still did not quite understand the member's comments. Earlier, he was calling these kinds of things a duplication. If I understood him correctly, and I will check Hansard tomorrow, he said that there was no reason why veterans deserved to have a different service than others. Does he not believe that veterans deserve at least some special consideration? If this is not his position, I would ask him to take this opportunity to correct what he said a little earlier today.

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12:05 p.m.


Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry, but that is not what I said. Indeed, I said-and you can verify that when you read the Hansard -we should maintain the same services and the same volumes. What I am simply saying is that we have identical organizations and systems, both on the federal and the provincial side, that are providing the same services. The same goes

for hospitals. We could give the same services to veterans without requiring two organizations to head the hospitals.

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12:05 p.m.


Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Châteauguay for his first speech in the House. When he was first describing his riding, I thought he was talking about mine.

We do have many standing committees in the House. Maybe the standing committees did not work like they should have in the past. My lesson in life is not to look too far back but try to go forward. There are over 200 new members in the House. Coincidentally it is almost half and half on either side of the House. Although some members might have been affiliated with the previous government they are not here in great numbers any more.

I think the hon. member used the words "if we act intelligently". I would ask the member if we all act intelligently on all our standing committees and are very cognizant of the fact that we have a mandate and a budget in each of the committees, would that not enable us to take a better look at how we are spending our moneys?

Also, with respect to the public accounts committee the chairman is a member of the opposition as has been mentioned over and over again. The committee's effectiveness and whether or not things are done properly over the next 12 months will be recorded in the next Auditor General's report. Is that not the challenge we have now with the public accounts committee as chaired by the opposition, to perform better than in the past especially since we have 200 new members in the House?

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Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, in response to my colleague, it is often said that the past guarantees the future. But if I look back in the past, I see that we are now facing a $500 billion deficit. And the existing system does not correct the present situation. What we want, what we are proposing is not another standing committee, but the striking of a special committee that could perhaps allow the existing committee to straighten up, so that we could really take the corrective measures that the Auditor General has been recommending for several years and that have still not been taken.

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12:05 p.m.

Ottawa West Ontario


Marlene Catterall LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion today.

As members in the House have heard, the President of the Treasury Board has already commented on the benefit we are already taking of the advice and analysis of the Auditor General to improve the way we do things as a government. At the same time we welcome the scrutiny that the public accounts committee will bring to the report of the Auditor General and to other operations of government. We look forward to its advice on how we can make even further progress.

To this point in the debate we have talked about money. There is no doubt that the preoccupation of many of us in the House and of many Canadians is how we can move toward a balanced budget and how we can better control our spending and ensure value for those dollars that we do spend in terms of service to Canadians and the programs our country counts on.

I want to depart on a somewhat different track to simply say that while we deliver programs and services with money mandated by this Parliament, they are delivered by the people who work for the Government of Canada.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to set out today plans of the government to renew the Government of Canada. My colleague, the President of the Queen's Privy Council and minister responsible for federal-provincial relations, has set out a plan which he aptly calls "Getting Government Right".

Unlike the previous government which felt it could use the public service as the brunt of all its problems, without affecting the services Canadians have come to depend on, we are working closely with our employees to develop new and innovative ways of cutting costs. I intend to talk particularly about our plans to give them the tools to do their jobs in a more efficient and effective way.

Unlike the previous government we believe government can be a force for good in society. By working together with federal public servants and by establishing a harmonious working relationship with our employees we can produce the solid results the previous government found so elusive. We can reduce waste. We can eliminate obsolete functions. We can improve services to taxpayers and create a more productive government.

We have one of the most respected public services in the world. Federal public service employees are ready to rise to the challenge of the coming years.

Under the previous government, Canadians became increasingly alienated from their government. The sense of cynicism and distrust was reaching crisis proportions that were beginning to threaten the health of our democracy and our future prosperity. How can we manage our country's affairs or bring people together to face tough issues when Canadians have so little confidence in the country's decision makers and the decision making process?

The problems we face today, the heavy debt load left behind by the previous government, the dropout rate in our schools, the need to get Canadians back to work, the need to improve our competitiveness in the global economy, all are crying for

innovative approaches and fresh solutions. We have to change the way we have done business in the past.

Let me set out some of the recent innovations the federal public service has developed to provide affordable, accessible and responsive services and programs to Canadian citizens. It truly is an impressive list and members will be as impressed as I am with the quality of the public service we have working for us.

First we are harnessing the computing and networking power of new technologies to improve services to Canadians. There are enormous opportunities for the government to improve its services and program delivery through innovative use of information technologies and we are tapping them.

By its very nature, the government is focused on services and uses large quantities of data whether for the payment of family allowances, pensions and UI benefits or for the delivery of health and safety services. Income tax, scientific research and statistic programs, for example, need very complex information systems. At the same time, substantial improvements in government efficiency, in the quality of services and in the reduction of related administration cost can be achieved by using the new technologies to manage information and design systems.

Recent technological developments in information management systems have considerably reduced the cost of applications while increasing their effectiveness and efficiency. With the new technologies it is now possible to collect, store, manage and distribute data with a high degree of efficiency. The ability to obtain accurate data in a very short period of time provides us with tools to improve service and decision-making.

We are managing this unprecedented rate of change in a way that taps the creative and organizational skills of federal public service employees. They play a vital role in shaping the human face of government and in making government a force for good in the economy of the country. Public service employees are rising to the challenge.

To give an example of the kinds of changes taking place in the public service, one just has to look at the typical work station of a government employee. Today microcomputers are used by one out of every three government employees and networks linking them are expanding rapidly. Program operations and service delivery are becoming increasingly dependent on information technology.

The challenge now is to bring our present systems up to date and adapt them to the new applications which are emerging. We have developed a plan for doing so. It is a comprehensive, integrated approach to modernizing government services and program delivery mechanisms through the use of enabling technology.

In the next few weeks the Treasury Board secretariat will be sending out for consultation a draft blueprint for government service renewal. We are asking government employees and private sector suppliers to government to comment on the plan. That is a very important step in our transition from paper driven bureaucratic processes to modern, efficient, electronically linked business transactions. It is people who can turn ambitious plans into reality.

We are building partnerships with our employees. We are building partnerships between government departments, between the federal government and its clients and between the federal government and the Canadian public.

Employees want to know how they can fit into a new and more efficient way of delivering services. They want to know how they can contribute to this important goal. The plan sets out a vision for a new way of doing business and lets employees contribute where their skills are most needed.

A key principle in the plan is the recognition that the role of government must be dramatically reassessed to live within shrinking budgets.

Another is that we can improve the way services are delivered. To do this we are creating a learning culture in the public service that supports employees in their transition to new ways of doing business. We are committed to enhancing the knowledge, skills and active participation of employees. We believe in partnerships. The advent of computer based networking means that we are becoming increasingly interdependent and so it is only logical that partnerships between the various players must be the starting point of any initiative. The blueprint for government service renewal reflects this.

Program renewal projects are already under way in agencies such as Revenue Canada, Health Canada, and Human Resources Development Canada. These will serve as models. Revenue Canada , for instance, is introducing a single business registration number for corporations paying taxes, duties and GST. This number will make it possible to have a single window access to Revenue Canada and to file and submit a consolidated net payment. In a number of areas in a number of departments single window access has the potential to be a major improvement for people dealing with the federal government.

A government-wide telecommunications network infrastructure will mean that federal public service employees will be able

to contact colleagues anywhere in Canada by electronic mail. The infrastructure will set the stage for delivering public services electronically and it will trigger significant efficiency gains and reduce duplication of networking facilities.

The real payoff from these innovations comes through the synthesis of organizational innovation with technological innovation. Viewing information as a strategic resource that infuses every dimension of government operations and employing information technology in government to achieve the public sector equivalent of competitive advantage provides a framework for this synthesis.

Everyone in the House today will agree when I say that the remaining years of this century will be a period of significant challenge for Canada. A growing and increasingly diverse population, continuing global economic transition and rapidly changing public priorities will require that the government adapt existing programs and create new ones that are more productive, require fewer public resources and increase the timeliness and convenience of public services. Thoughtful strategic uses of information technology will mean the difference between well managed effective programs and programs that are a public encumbrance.

Let me give the House a look at what it will be like to do business with the government in a few years. What will work be like from the perspective of a federal government employee?

First, the information people need to do their jobs will be available at their fingertips. The public will have direct access to government information from its homes. Electronic libraries will be available from libraries and stores. The government will publish a catalogue of software that will be available free or for licensing to the private sector and the public. Service providers will be able to make rapid, on the spot decisions supported by information systems which provide immediate access to all required information and expertise.

Far fetched? Not at all.

Canadians will be able to access personalized services, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, through terminals-similar to automatic teller machines-installed in convenient locations or through personal computers. Regular communication between government and the private sector as well as within government itself will soon be electronic. This will be reality very shortly. Consider, for example, how quickly Canadians got used to automatic tellers once they realized how convenient they were.

The computer will become just another household appliance, as commonplace as a refrigerator or a stove. It will be able to recognize voice messages, handwriting, be able to communicate with pictures. We will take it for granted. Employees will use computers even more widely in their work. They will routinely create spread sheets, retrieve information from data bases and produce charts and diagrams. Computer assisted translation will support and enhance employees' language abilities, thus improving service to the Canadian public. This is not science fiction.

The government's strategy for moving forward aims to take advantage of five key trends. Employee's attitudes to technology are rapidly changing. Their knowledge, proficiency and confidence are improving at a rapid rate. Employees no longer resist technology. They want more of it and want to be better trained to apply it. The public is getting used to electronic service and is asking to be served in this way. New entrants to the workforce who have grown up with technology expect to use it in their jobs.

It will be much easier to obtain information. Knowledge will be available via expert systems to answer queries as a specialist might. New applications will be less costly and more timely due to the use of packaged systems or modern system development products and it is getting easier all the time. The ability to manage text, graphics, data, sound, video and pictures in the same data base will change the way information is used. The ability to access multiple data bases easily will contribute to this change as well.

Why is it so important to move in this direction? It means improved delivery of service to the public, significantly improved productivity in the public service and increased international competitiveness in a global economy. Partnership with other levels of government, with business, with labour is how it will be achieved. The government's vision for information management is the orderly transition to a seamless technological environment in the home or in the workplace at the service of Canadians.

I add as well that the Auditor General in his report placed great emphasis on the importance of information for parliamentarians. In our decision making we rely increasingly on rapidly available and accurate, well analysed information. The technological revolution that we see in the way government services will be delivered will also be a technological revolution in the kind of information that will be available to us as parliamentarians to make decisions as we move into a new world.

In closing I would like to quote Peter Drucker: "Every few hundred years throughout western history a sharp transformation has occurred. In a matter of decades society altogether rearranges itself: its world view, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later a new world exists. And the people born into that world cannot

even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born".

We are going to be ready for that new world because in the words of all my colleagues in our cabinet, we are getting government right.