Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to address this particular matter today. When I came here in the fall of 1993 one of the biggest promises I made to the constituents of Elk Island who elected me was to exert pressure on the government to be accountable for the way the taxpayers' hard earned dollars were being spent.
I remember very distinctly one of the things which shocked me when I arrived here. There was an orientation for new members. The individual making the presentation told us what our office budgets were and explained the formula. Then he said that it did not matter, that we could spend more, that we could spend any amount we wanted to. I was getting upset and as a brand new member I did not know what to do. Should I get up and say that is wrong and we should not do that? I was getting quite angry about this carte blanche that an MP had to spend any amount he wanted.
Then the presenter said that to remember, any amount we overextended or overspent on our budget or any category in it would simply be deducted from our salary. I immediately relaxed and was happy. He was obviously building it up. He said that as a member of Parliament I had a personal responsibility to be within my budget. If I am not trustworthy or not on the bit in terms of managing my budget, then it would come out of my own pocket.
When I left that meeting I remembered how my emotions went up with anger and down with great delight that there was one level of accountability. I then asked some of my colleagues if it would not be wonderful if we could require that same level of accountability from all members of the government, all of the bureaucrats. A deputy minister would be required to give up a portion of his salary for overspending the budget.
I have been watching the budget and we have been working in committee on the estimates for the year and I am appalled. Over and over we hear about cuts, cuts, cuts. Yet in every set of estimates I have looked at so far the spending is up. The people of Canada need to know that total government spending under this new, much touted cutting budget is actually $2 billion more than last year. The people of Canada and members of this House ought to know that we are spending more and more.
When the hon. member from the governing Liberal Party was speaking earlier, he made some comments about the Reformers. He said that here is this group of Reformers who want accountability and all they are doing is proposing something that will cost more money. The member then said that the amount of overspending is not really that much. Why, it is only five one-thousandths of one per cent.
Five one thousandths of one per cent is certainly not excessive if it is put that way. But if we look at the tens of millions of dollars which are overspent because of administrative errors, because of lack of accountability and lack of resolve, I think that maybe 100 taxpayers would be required to pay their total tax bills just to pay for the overpayment. If we got those 100 taxpayers, or 1,000 taxpayers or however many are needed to come up with the tax dollars to fund this administrative error, I think we would have howls of protest. Perhaps then we would have a greater cry for accountability.
The member said that it is an administrative hassle. It will cost money to ask the minister to be accountable for the overpayments. Yes, indeed, accounting for money is a cost item. As any person who has ever been in business will tell us, the money which is spent on reliable accountants and on acceptable accounting procedures is usually money well spent. Money which is spent in providing accountability usually provides a saving of an amount much greater than the amount which is required to deliver on that accountability.
I would speak against the Bloc amendment to the Reform motion. What we are doing is we are promoting accountability.
The cry from the other side was that these people do not care, that we want to cut people off. Another statement was that we want to prevent the minister from being able to do his job. Wrong on both counts.
We in the Reform Party believe it is time we managed our fiscal affairs in such a way that we do not go down the tubes, so that we do maintain the ability to help people who are truly in need. As long as we keep on wasting money because we are too lazy to account for it, we are diving headlong into a disaster. That will prevent us from doing anything for anyone because we will have either runaway inflation or increased taxes and probably both in order to try to bail us out of a fiscal problem which was generated by governments over the past 30 years. There is probably nothing more urgent than bringing accountability to the whole process.
There is a recommendation in our motion that the minister must include his recommendations in his report. In other words, we are not saying that the minister cannot do his job; we are telling the minister to do his job and to do it well. Where it can be improved, he should bring his recommendations to the House. We will then provide assistance, via the House or a committee, so that we can be more efficient and better stewards of the money which Canadian taxpayers entrust to us.
We are saying to the minister that if he is overspending because of administrative errors, if he is giving money to people to whom it is not due, that money should be recoverable. If there are mitigating circumstances which would recommend that on compassionate grounds or for whatever reason it will not be paid back, we want to know why that is so. We want to know what the minister is going to do about it. Many years a go a very wise
teacher of mine said: "If you set no goals, you will be sure to reach them. If you aim for nothing, you will be sure to hit it".
We are asking the minister to account for administrative errors in his department that cost the taxpayers money. We are asking the minister to come up with a plan that will save the taxpayers money. I do not think anyone would argue that when there is increasing competition for increasingly rare dollars from government, the money should go to people to whom it is intended. If someone receives money, whether it is OAS or CPP or UIC, to which they are not entitled it is actually a violation of the rights of the people who need it and it should be paid back unless there are very severe mitigating circumstances.
We want the minister to aim ever higher. We want the minister to say: "Last year this amount of unauthorized payments were made and we could not collect it back". We want the minister to stand in the House or table a report that will say what the amount was. He must be up front with the taxpayers who are footing the bill. Then he must also show his plan for reducing those costs. He must show what he is prepared to do in order to make the administration more efficient to reduce the number of people receiving payments to which they are not entitled. If the minister aims at nothing or says if we will have a certain amount of overpayment, so be it, we cannot improve, that is exactly what will happen. There will be no improvement.
However, as our amendment suggests, if the minister is required to give a report, stage his plans for doing better then we hopefully will find there will be improvement and fewer people will receive money to which they are not entitled. There will hopefully be fewer people required to pay back money they should not have received because the administrative procedures will be so honed to a fine art that people who are not entitled to receive money will not receive it. That is the ultimate goal for which we should strive and the goal which we should keep in mind and work toward until it is actually met.
We recognize it is not possible for a minister to micromanage his department. We say without equivocation that if the committees are to have any function in the House, as we were told by the so-called Liberal red book, we were to have more meaningful activities for MPs, let them work in the committees and deal with these recommendations.