Mr. Speaker, Bill C-52, which is at second reading today, is primarily an attempt to group four different services under the same authority.
These services either existed as distinct entities before, such as public works and government services which were formerly two separate departments, or were part of another department, as was the case for telecommunications and translation services. In any case, under the new legislation those four services will
now be part of a single department, the Department of Public Works and Government Services.
The primary objective of this bill is obviously to implement an organizational restructure. It is simply a musical chair exercise to reduce, in the months to come and according to what we were told, the number of civil servants from 18,000 down to 14,000. In other words, the government wants to eliminate some 4,000 jobs in the public service and offer essentially the same services.
From that perspective, the bill is not without merit. If the government can reduce the number of civil servants and still provide the same quality of service, particularly in the current context of excessive government spending, debt and deficit, then it must do it.
The problem is that this legislation does not go far enough. It could go a lot further toward improving the operations of the Department of Public Works and Government Services. It is very unfortunate to stop short of doing that, because the hon. member said the following.
"It is another initiative to revitalize. This is not mere housekeeping. This is job creation. This is an incentive approach. This is government in action, with clout, based on simplicity". It is a lot of mere words that we hear from the government. Basically it is housekeeping. These are a lot of empty words because there is no revitalization whatsoever.
As a matter of fact the law that is being proposed is discouraging to some extent because it does not address itself to the real problems that concern the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services. I am not surprised because the government really does not have the backbone to act where action is needed.
The fact is that except for a musical chair exercise, a grouping together of various services, this housekeeping bill does not include anything very exciting for anyone. Even though we are told that this is the first major change since that legislation was drafted in 1867, the bill still does not introduce anything new.
In fact, civil servants to whom we had an opportunity to talk have insisted that they did everything in their power to ensure that no new provisions were included. The various related acts were grouped together and great care was taken to make sure that nothing was changed. The exercise was conducted as though it was important not to affect existing structures.
This is precisely why Bill C-52 is such a disappointment. There is nothing new in this bill to improve the performance of that department, to reduce waste, or to eliminate abuse. Yet, changes or improvements to the Department of Public Works and Government Services are long overdue. We all know that this department is often accused of wasting public money.
Mr. Speaker, you and all the hon. members in this House, not to mention the public watching us on television, are aware of specific instances of waste in government, which can hurt because it is taxpayers' money being wasted. This waste and this abuse are often linked to the Department of Public Works and Government Services or directly or indirectly. The reason is obvious. As my hon. colleague said earlier, the department spends a lot of money in Canada, grants something like 175,000 contracts each year and has hundreds of thousands of civil servants and thousands of construction and service contracts to look after. In the past, the department has wasted a lot of money and significantly contributed to increasing the government debt.
The public also knows full well that this department is the major channel for government into patronage. Without going into too much detail, how else would the government manage to award construction or service contracts to its friends and supporters who poured funds into its war chest? In fact, we saw again this week to what length government members are ready to go to leave the door wide open for unlimited corporate contributions.
We on this side of the House have tried to limit contributions to campaign funds to a minimum and to enforce throughout Canada an act limiting contributions similar to the legislation in force in the province of Quebec, which is quite reasonable and much more democratic and helps to reduce abuses and patronage.
Again this week the government voted in favour of an act which does not limit donations from large corporations in Canada. Once the party these compagnies have financially supported is in office, the companies want their share of the contracts, hence the problem. Such undue influence can be seen particularly in the Department of Public Works and Government Services. What is disappointing unfortunately is that Bill C-52 in no way addresses these issues which are vitally important in Canada, since, as everyone knows, our country is faced with some serious debts.
Nor does the bill contain provisions to curb lobbying, another big concern for Canadians. We know how lobbyists have control over the contracting process when big government contracts are involved. But then, for God's sake, with Bill C-52, why does the government not take the opportunity to deal with some major public concerns, like waste, patronage and lobbying? Nothing in this bill addresses these issues. In fact, this legislation does nothing to improve openness in the allocation of contracts for the Department of Public Works and Government Services, for telecommunications or for translation. That is the main problem
with this legislation. It is also the main problem with the current government. It is the main problem facing Canadian politics.
Basically, the government has a serious credibility problem. Of course, it did not start with the current government. The Conservatives before them had the same problem. This is an image problem. Elected representatives and the government are accused of mismanaging public funds. Canadians accuse them of waste and patronage and they are right, since the national debt is reaching the $600 billion mark and the deficit exceeds $40 billion.
Besides, the government has a serious debt problem, so much so that the International Monetary Fund is about to intervene. From a debt and deficit point of view, Canada is in a critical situation. Bill C-52 gives us a great opportunity to reduce waste in the thousands of contracts that are granted in Canada and, in doing so, to reduce our debt and deficit. But we do not take advantage of it.
As everybody knows, we are faced with a very serious problem, which affects politics in general. Politicians themselves have lost most of their credibility with the public at large, precisely because of this loose management of the public funds, which conjures up stories of patronage, abuse and waste. It is not surprising that Canadians call us hypocrites, crooks and liars and accuse us of not doing our job as their elected representatives.
It is a serious problem because that loss of confidence by the people in their elected representatives challenges the very basis of our democracy. When the uncertainty and the lack of confidence felt by Canadians is such that it weakens our democratic institutions, then it becomes a serious problem.
The government could have seen Bill C-52 as an opportunity to address these concerns, to show Canadians that it is taking action to reduce waste and overspending, but it has not done so.
This bill could have been used to make the government more open, which is essential if we want members of Parliament to regain some credibility. I think that openness was one of the first concerns expressed by the government when it was elected last October. The Liberals promised Canadians that there would be a certain level of ethics within their government, and that is why the Prime Minister appointed a former Liberal minister to see to it that his ministers follow this code of ethics. Openness is mentioned in the red book, although not on the first page. I will read to you an excerpt from page 95 of the red book that most Liberal members are very familiar with. It says: "We will follow the basic principle that government decisions must be made on the merits of a case rather than according to the political influence of those making the case. We will take an approach of openness in decision-making. A Liberal government will not allow the public agenda to be dominated by lobbyists as it has been since the Conservatives took office".
The Conservatives are being accused of patronage and lack of openness, but we see no change. The present government is not doing anything to address the problem and does not even seem willing to do something about it. Bill C-52 is a perfect example of this unwillingness on the part of the government. The Liberals could have given some teeth to this bill to put an end to the waste and misuse of taxpayers' money, but it has not done so.
It is disappointing because today, as I said earlier, the general public has grave doubts about the effectiveness of its elected representatives and the federal system. In fact, that is one of the reasons why Quebec wants sovereignty, and will become sovereign, because it looks like the federal system is unable to adjust.
Government members show no indication that they want to improve the system. Consider lobbying, for instance, where there has been considerable abuse. This week, the government which, as I just mentioned, said in the red book that it wanted to restrict the influence of lobbyists, again gave in to the lobbyists, who scored at least two points on the restrictions the government wanted to impose on them. The lobbyists managed to avoid having to disclose their fees, and corporations may deduct lobbyists' fees from corporate income tax. This is one more example of a government that lacks the political will to deal with the real problems.
We had a whole series of events just this week which clearly reflected the government's lack of concern for the problems of Canadians. Yesterday we found, for instance, that the Prime Minister had purposely withheld information about federal compensation for the cost of the 1992 referendum in Quebec. The government has shown a preference for secrecy and an utter lack of transparency.
Consider the Pearson Airport controversy. Granted, the government cancelled this contract or attempt at privatization because it had to stop this kind of abuse, but it is trying to ensure that the parties concerned receive quite substantial compensation. The government is compensating lobbyists. It is compensating private interests. Even the Senate, in this particular case, suggested paying up to $45 million to the people involved in the privatization of Pearson airport, which is abuse of public funds. The Senate itself is another case of this kind of abuse, of wasting taxpayers money: we have 104 senators sitting around doing nothing, who are paid $70,000 a year, spend $500,000 each and as a result cost the public Treasury a total of $50 million. This is a horrific waste of money in a country that is already carrying an extremely heavy debt load. We know the senators are just
another kind of waste, another form of patronage, because they are all-