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House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was via.

Topics

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the House this minister said that the inquiry would go on maybe into the 21st century, maybe eight years or so. The commissioners said that it would be over, that they would have the finished report on the minister's desk by the end of December 1997. In the House this minister implied that it could last forever.

The minister can bluster and scatter red herrings in every direction but that will not help. For the first time in history the Liberal government shut down an independent inquiry at a crucial time when they were just starting to expose some of the government's friends.

What is the government trying to hide by this high level cover-up?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, because of my respect for the House and awareness that question period answers should be brief, I will not address all of the irresponsible and absolutely wrong-headed information the hon. member tried to put into his question.

Let me deal with one specific issue very briefly. The hon. member said that the commissioners have apparently said to him or to someone that they would be totally finished by the end of December of this year. That is what I heard the hon. member say.

Let me quote from a letter sent by the commission of inquiry into the deployment of Canadian forces to Somalia to the Privy Council. This is a quote from a document provided to the government through the Privy Council directly by the commission: "Scenario one, the most desirable or optimum scenario". It goes on in too much detail for me to take the time of the House but let me go to the conclusion: "The most desirable or optimum scenario would result in the completion of hearings by May of 1998, followed by a four to six month period thereafter for the production of the final report".

The hon. member sooner or later has to make an effort at getting his facts straight.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Reform Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, obviously we would like that document tabled so we can all take a look at it. I am going on what the commissioners have said to the public in their news conference yesterday.

The real issue here is that the government has obviously been happy as long as the guys at the bottom are being charged. The minute we started to move up that ladder we brought an end to this inquiry. For the first time in Canadian history we did that. This government and this Prime Minister are responsible for that.

Why is the Prime Minister shutting down this inquiry before it can investigate at the highest of levels? It is happening right under his nose. What is the government trying to cover up by cancelling this inquiry?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member often refers to the bottom of the ladder. He is obviously far more familiar with the bottom of the barrel.

In his previous question the hon. member talked about when the commissioners had assured him they would be able to report. I have indicated clearly that there is another view from the commissioners with respect to when they could properly report.

With regard to another allegation made by the hon. member, I will help him out this time rather than embarrass him. Maybe I could suggest to the hon. member that he check his facts to find out for sure whether any government in Canada has ever put an end to an inquiry, before he repeats that allegation again.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

February 13th, 1997 / 2:30 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Human Resources Development.

The Prime Minister boasted about the passage of the employment insurance legislation. That is odd. Less than five weeks after the main provisions of the new employment insurance act came into force, the Minister of Human Resources Development is already acknowledging the need to correct what he describes, with his legendary lack of understanding of the issues, as flaws. But time and time again the official opposition has criticized the absurdity of certain provisions of the system.

In connection with the flaws he has to correct, will the minister deal with the case of Rita, a woman who is receiving a meagre $35 per week in benefits, after working twelve 35-hour weeks at minimum wage, because, under the new legislation, only the previous 26 weeks are taken into account?

Does the minister realize that-

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. The Minister of Human Resources Development has the floor.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Michel Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, the hon. opposition member said we had acknowledged that are flaws in the system. What our government acknowledges, and the Prime Minister referred to it this morning, is having had the courage to carry out a comprehensive reform, reviewing the entire unemployment insurance system, which was so dear to the hearts of our friends opposite but which no longer met the needs of the people on the modern job market at all.

What this government has always maintained, as did two of my predecessors at Human Resources Development Canada and as I myself have done since my appointment as the Minister of Human Resources Development, is that we will closely monitor the transition to the new employment insurance system and, if adjustments are required here and there, we are prepared to make them in order to improve service to Canadians.

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are people living on $35 a week instead of $121. I have another question on the same subject for the Prime Minister.

What does the minister have to say to Benoît, who, after accumulating 450 hours of work over 10 weeks in 1996, is eligible for employment insurance benefits because the transitional measures the minister introduced along the way penalize workers who fulfilled the conditions of the law in 1996?

Is the minister prepared to soften the transitional measures to ensure that anyone who worked more than 35 hours per week in 1996 will not be penalized as is currently the case?

Employment InsuranceOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Michel Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, with the transitional measures, the government decided in favour of the person who worked the last 26 weeks in 1996. At the time, employers had no system to determine if the hours of work had actually been completed and we operated on the assumption that every week claimed, whether or not 35 hours of work were actually performed, was a 35-hour week. We are doing claimants a favour, giving them the benefit of the doubt. This way, 22 hours become 35 hours.

As for those who may have worked 50 hours, what the opposition is requesting for them did not exist under the former system,

because these hours were not insured under the system. There were only 35 insurable hours per week.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Reform

Jack Frazer Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the defence minister's decision to shut down the Somalia inquiry prevents investigation of allegations of high level cover-up in the defence department.

What this means is the minister is letting the lower ranks take the fall, while senior brass, bureaucrats and maybe even politicians get off scot free.

Why is the minister refusing to hold high level officials accountable for trying to cover up the events surrounding the torture death of a Somali teenager?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member, as I have said often in the House, has had a distinguished career over many years in the Canadian forces.

I simply want to say through you, Mr. Speaker, to the member who has put the question that surely, as was the case yesterday in committee, hon. members are not going to stand in the House or use opportunities elsewhere to tarnish the reputation of all the men and women who serve in the senior echelons of the Canadian forces.

Everyone recognizes that mistakes were made and some very heavy prices were paid by people at the very senior levels of the Canadian forces. There have been significant changes in the upper echelons of the Canadian forces and the Department of National Defence.

Surely the hon. member and some of his colleagues who have served in the Canadian forces understand that to continue to pursue this denigration of men and women who have made a commitment to Canada and the Canadian forces and who have served in the most distinguished and honourable ways not only in Canada but around the world cannot continue.

Surely the hon. member after his distinguished service has a few shreds of decency left in him and-

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

The Speaker

I hope that all hon. members will use some restraint. I know we are all under some pressure in here. I appeal to hon. members. Questions should deal with administrative responsibility and members should refrain from attacking each other personally. That would be the better way to proceed and I would urge you to do that.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Reform

Jack Frazer Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have some understanding of how military people react when they see blatant unfairness in the system that is dealing with them.

The minister's response does not change the fact that Shidane Arone was beaten, tortured and murdered. Then there was an attempted cover-up at national defence headquarters. By shutting down the inquiry the government is trying to cover up the cover-up. Why is the minister so willing to let senior officers, bureaucrats and politicians go uninvestigated? What is the minister afraid of?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, to be absolutely honest, what I am afraid of is that the hon. gentleman and his colleagues will continue for the next two or three years with this absolutely unacceptable kind of approach.

They try to paint everybody in the armed forces as being involved in cover-ups, involved in mismanagement and involved in the kinds of activities to which the hon. member and his colleagues keep alluding without ever once taking into account the fact that the vast majority of men and women in the Canadian forces at every level do their jobs well and honourably.

If the hon. member really believes the Canadian forces deserve to be supported, he should be among the very first to stand up and to recognize that. I know he goes on to the bases. I hope he and his colleagues continue to avail themselves of the opportunity to go out and meet with the men and women of the Canadian forces at all ranks. I hope they try to get a grip on what is really going on there instead of continuing to try to exploit a political situation, where I say to my hon. friend, you are going down the tubes.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of National Defence.

Yesterday, we witnessed a first in Canadian history. The chairman of an inquiry accused the government of political interference and clearly indicated he cannot hear all the witnesses, as the government is misleadingly suggesting. The minister can no longer provide meaningless answers, which are just a smoke screen used because an election is in the not too distant future.

How can the minister still deny that the true reason why his government wants to end the inquiry's mandate is because the inquiry was about to question senior public servants and top military officials about their involvement is this coverup?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I cannot presume, as does the hon. member, that the inquiry was about to question anyone in particular. Indeed, the inquiry has always decided who it would call to testify and how it would proceed.

I made reference to a document sent to Privy Council by the inquiry, in which it is said that the commissioners' preferred scenario would have been for the Somalia inquiry to continue until the end of May 1998, with the report being completed only by the end of that same year.

It would be pure speculation on my part to try to guess who was going to be called to testify, given that, in a two-year period, the inquiry heard over 100 witnesses and apparently did not see fit to call those whom the hon. member thinks it should have heard.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister's answer is close to demagoguery. He is well aware that, if the inquiry was not able to hear all the witnesses, it is because of the delays, the problems created by his department and the army's top brass, who never co-operated with the inquiry, who did everything possible to interfere with it, and who never gave it the required support.

The minister is a man of experience and he knows full well that, the higher you go, the closer you get to the government. Are we to understand that, if the government interfered in such an unprecedented manner to put an end to the inquiry, it is because the Prime Minister and the minister felt the commissioners were getting dangerously close to their government?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, as is often the case in the House, I will certainly give the benefit of the doubt to the hon. member. It is not the first time that we put an end to a inquiry's mandate, even though I know it takes time to conduct an inquiry and to find out what happened.

As I said, it is not the first time, but we will let the hon. member get away with his erroneous statement, because I know he did not make it in bad faith. He simply does not know any better.

But, to answer his question, nothing prevented the commissioners from setting up their own agenda. While there may have been delays in providing information, nothing prevented the inquiry from calling on any witness to answer questions.

Let us not forget that the mandate of the Somalia inquiry was extended three times. The last time, the inquiry even told the government it would table its report before the end of June. We agreed three times. Now that we say it is time to complete the job, the hon. member calls it political interference. It is fine when we say yes, but it becomes political interference when we say no.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the defence minister said the Somalia commissioners should not have accepted the job if they could not get the job done. Yet it was his government that allowed the shredding of documents, lying to the military police-

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

The Speaker

If I understood the hon. member correctly he used the word lying. I would like him to withdraw that word now.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I withdraw that word.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

The Speaker

I would ask the hon. member to please put his question.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, yes. It was under the watch of this government that these incidents took place: the shredding of documents, the misleading of military police. My question is directed to the Minister of National Defence. What are the Liberals trying to hide?

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young LiberalMinister of National Defence and Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I can assure my hon. friend that if I was trying to hide something from the hon. member and his friends, it would not be nearly as difficult as putting a needle in a haystack because I do not think they could find anything that was right in front of their very noses.

The hon. member raises this question and says that the alleged shredding took place under the watch of this government. The shredding that allegedly took place which was referred to by the former prime minister took place while that person was minister of national defence.

The incidents in Somalia and much of what the hon. member alludes to happened while a previous administration was in charge of the affairs of the country. But we are not going to slough that off. Maybe the hon. member thinks that I am spending my time in the House and working as the Minister of National Defence to protect members of a previous administration or people who have gone on to other walks of life.

What the government is trying to do is to clean up a mess, one of many, that occurred while the previous administration was still in power. We have not been perfect in getting it done. I would agree to that. But it is a long way from the total lack of understanding and comprehension of the events and the facts that the hon. member and his colleagues so abominably display in here nearly every day.

Somalia InquiryOral Question Period

2:50 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, shutting down the inquiry at this stage is like shutting down a court case before all the evidence is in and asking the judge to render a verdict.

The Somalia commissioners stated publicly that they have completed some 90 per cent of their work with only 10 per cent left to go. Whatever that percentage is, it involves the high level cover-up and whitewash of the murder of the Somalia teenager. The Liberals have slammed the door on the inquiry just when it was getting to their friends, the bureaucrats and cabinet ministers.

With only 10 per cent of the work left to be done, who is the defence minister trying to protect?