Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on group No. 4, amendments to clause 23 of Bill C-54.
For Canadians watching the debate, I will repeat that the bill is an attempt to make the administration of some of the government social services programs more streamlined, a little more user friendly, so to speak. We think that is a good idea but there is real concern expressed in this group of motions about the accountability in the administration of these acts.
The Bloc has put forward two amendments to clause 23 and Reform has put forward one amendment to clause 23. In fact, that is the only amendment we have put forward on the entire bill.
The purpose of our amendment is to ensure accountability of the administration of these new rules and procedures. We think it is right and proper that our citizens have access to these programs in a way that is not unduly bureaucratic and which removes as much red tape as possible. We are also very concerned that it also removes the accountability of the department and the administrators of the program from the people because it removes needed accountability to Parliament.
We believe the amendment we are suggesting to the bill and to clause 23 specifically would make the system more accountable. We think they are very modest and sensible proposals. We have not put forward a number of amendments but we think the issue of accountability is so key and so necessary that we felt the amendment we put forward ought to be seriously considered and passed by the House.
The amendment we have put forward is set out in today's Order Paper on page 17 under Motion No. 7.
Essentially the motion calls for the minister to be required to make a report to the House every year within 30 days of the beginning of the fiscal year. The report would tally the overpayments under these programs, particularly CPP and OAS and the amount of the overpayments. At the very least, the minister and his department should be accountable to the House and therefore, to the Canadian people we represent.
The House should know exactly how much the overpayment is because it really identifies administrative error, waste and inefficiency. If overpayments are being made, clearly the department is not doing its job very well. Overpayments, of course, very properly suggest these are payments over and above what should be made.
It is necessary because the dollars available to assist people in need under programs are becoming more scarce, with the possibility of CPP going broke in the next few years. It is very important that the dollars available actually reach the people who are entitled to them. If dollars are going to people who are not entitled to them, then clearly some of the difficulties these programs are in will hit hardest the people who do need those moneys.
Therefore, we think right after the beginning of the fiscal year, the minister should give a report to Parliament through the operating committee, of the administrative error that has taken place in the last fiscal year.
It is all very well for the minister to report the overpayment and the errors that have been made by his department, but then what happens? The report will then be considered by the appropriate committee and the committee will then decide to what level the minister may have leeway to overpay for the next year.
For example, if the department has made overpayments under these programs of, say, $3 million the year before, the parliamentary committee may say to the department: "This is simply unacceptable. We will make you accountable by putting a cap of only $1 million on the errors and overpayments you can make next year. We think that is plenty of room for error and we want you to operate in that range". The committee then will decide how much margin for error that particular department can operate under.
This is sensible and sound management of very scarce and needed dollars. It would give the minister a target and goal and some parameters within which to operate. This limit would be considered by a proper authority, which is Parliament itself.
Someone running a business, a board of directors of a company, a school board, a union and even a household have to have some kind of budgetary parameters within which to operate. If there is an unlimited ability to overspend and to make errors in spending, two things happen. One is that the operation pretty soon does not operate on a sound fiscal basis and does not live within its means. The other is that money which is needed in other areas is simply not available because it has been wasted or not properly allocated in the area being considered.
I think that this is nothing but a very sensible, sound and modest way of ensuring that there is some accountability in the spending of the department under this bill. Under these new proposals we can effectively judge how well and how sensibly the program is being run.
Without this kind of accountability we lose a couple of things that are very important to sound management. One is the paper trail. There has to be some record kept of spending, where it has gone and why there has been overspending so that there can be a good assessment of how soundly things are being run. We also lose track of where the money is going. We do not want to do that. That is important not just because of some accounting fetish, but because money goes to people and the people who are entitled to the money need it and are entitled to know that is being well managed and put forward sensibly.
I urge the House to adopt this motion put forward by the Reform Party. It enhances the bill. It enhances the service to people and enhances our need to be accountable to the Canadian public.