Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating the government for adopting Reform policy with respect to departmental consolidation. Since we are dealing with the legalization of a fait accompli I should probably be thanking the previous government for this recycled bill, a toast to absent antagonists.
Having said that, the government is pretty unclear on the concept. As a matter of fact the government is pretty unclear on almost every concept, but I will leave that for another day.
The object of consolidation is to increase managerial efficiency and save money. What has been accomplished? Instead of 10 assistant deputy ministers there are now seven, which is commendable. Minor economies have been made in human resources, accounting and so on, but the total decrease in corporate overhead has been only $16 million, 1.6 per cent of the department's annual budget. The elephant laboured and brought forth a mouse.
The department has expressed pride in the fact that the amalgamation was done with only minor staff reductions. The act states in section 8 that all employees in the old department will occupy their same positions in the new department. Perhaps this makes some sense in the short term with respect to clerks, typists, technicians and other lower rank staff who would merely swell the massive ranks of Canada's already existing unemployed. Is there really no scope for reducing the number of middle managers and technocrats to conform with today's economic reality?
This department, which deals almost exclusively with matters of provincial responsibility, has a $1 billion budget and about 5,000 employees, of whom 3,000 are right here in Ottawa. How can that be rationalized?
I know that the uncontrolled growth of bureaucracy is not a disease that attacks only governments. I have worked for or been associated with a few multinational resource companies and they have the same problems. They also have built-in safety valves which prevent such growth from destroying them, as it surely would if it went unchecked.
Every few years the boards of companies like Exxon, Shell or Noranda become aware that the ratio of payroll to gross revenue is grossly out of whack. Department heads are summoned to the CEO's office and the word goes out: too many engineers, too many planners, too many people engaged in redundant programs, too many assistant managers, too many professionals who never leave their offices, and so on.
The axe is swung and corporate survival is assured. It is not pretty and it is not nice but it preserves not only the company but also the jobs of the people who actually harvest the resources and produce corporate and national wealth.
Up to now Canadian governments have not responded to these same economic imperatives. With no apparent limits to their capacity to increase income and no real motivation for cutting expenses, they simply raise taxes, or more recently borrowed unimaginably large sums of money.
I know perfectly well that streamlining government operations will not in itself get us out of the awful mess we are in. It has been said many times in this House that the entire cost of government operations is less than half of the annual deficit. If we do not start there, where will we start and when?
Let me cite a couple of specific examples of where I believe that small but significant cuts could be made in departmental spending. The mining sector has 168 full time equivalent employees and a budget of just under $26 million. More than half of that budget represents contributions to mineral development agreements with the provinces, primarily with Quebec. These are sunset programs, most of which will expire next year.
Planning, observing and studying these MDA programs requires a substantial investment in time and resources. If the federal government must participate in these programs as a form of equalization, and I question the wisdom of that, it would be much more efficient to just send cheques. We do not need two levels of bureaucracy administering the same programs.
The mining sector's most essential functions are gathering statistics and helping to formulate government policy with respect to taxation, investment and trade. These duties could readily be handled by Stats Canada and by a few specialists in the various ministries responsible for the administration and execution of the policy.
At the end of the day the usefulness of this small sector of the Department of Natural Resources is open to question. Certainly the possible cost benefits of dismantling it should be considered.
Not all questionable department expenditures are related to overlap and duplication. The Atomic Energy Control Board is the sole agency in Canada which regulates the storage and use of radioactive material. This is fitting and proper. The agency suffers from a severe case of bureaucratic bloat. Between 1985 and 1993 the number of licences to sell, store or use nuclear materials decreased by 17 per cent, from 4,543 to 3,743, while the number of AECB employees rose from 252 to 373, a 48 per cent increase.
This organization is supervising only 10 licensees per employee. Senior department officials attribute this ridiculous ratio to increased public concern for health and safety. Really, now.
The AECB is now working on a partial cost recovery basis. All private licensees pay a fee for service. The AECB provides no service. It is a regulatory agency and its fees are therefore just another form of taxation targeted at small specialized industries that cannot duck. The system reminds me of the practice in China of requiring a condemned man's family to pay for the cartridges used for his execution.
If the agency got rid of one third of its employees it would not have to proceed with its well known plans to increase fees by an additional one third annually until 1997.
Before I conclude my remarks I want to tell the House my favourite civil service story. It concerns Charles Camsell, an early director of the Geological Survey of Canada. He and some young assistants were on a long canoe traverse of several weeks' duration. They came to a Hudson Bay post. They had been living on the usual diet of the day which was beans, bannock and fish for these many weeks. One of the young fellows got up the nerve to approach Mr. Camsell and ask him if they could get a little variety in their diet since there was a store near at hand. The old man reached down into his pocket, pulled out a quarter and sent one of the boys over to the Hudson Bay post for a can of tomatoes.
If we had one or two guys like Charlie in the Department of Natural Resources today we might see some action in the direction which the people on my side of the House would like to see.
In closing, the mandate in article 6 of this act is a motherhood mission statement which hardly anyone would disagree with. It looks great, but should there not be something in there about cost effectiveness?