Mr. Speaker, I wish I could thank the minister on tabling this report, but that will unfortunately be impossible for a number of reasons.
I am pleased to rise in this House today to speak on the report on international business development entitled "Achievements, International Business Development Programs" tabled today.
But before I do, I would like, if I may, to tell the Minister of International Trade, through you, how the unacceptable attitude of his government and his department has saddened and annoyed me. Once again, this government and the minister's department have
shown disrespect for the opposition by waiting until the very last minute to tell us about the tabling of the report on international business development. This hardly gives us enough time to become properly acquainted with such an important report and to fully absorb all of its contents.
We know that documents could have been made available to us by the minister's office yesterday, and we would have known not to release this information, because we thought there was honest and sincere co-operation. We hope there will be honest and sincere co-operation in the future. This is not the first time that I have to raise this point publicly in the House. We do hope this issue will be addressed.
I will not go on about this, except to say that the government was unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps to ensure that we could carry out our duties properly; otherwise, we would have been afforded the opportunity to read and prepare comments on the report on international business development before it was tabled. After all, is that not what we are supposed to be doing here today?
According to the minister, his report responds to the recommendations made in the November 1996 auditor general report. The report includes the following:
-in spite of the some $375 million spent by the federal government every year to promote trade, the data on the results of this activity is not gathered systematically and is not sufficiently objective. Moreover, a systematic and more objective feedback on the results would allow the government to be better informed about the eventual benefits of its action, and to better understand what adjudication process is required when co-ordinating and distributing its resources.
Finally, the auditor general pointed out "that the government must inform Parliament more systematically about the activities and achievements made under the international trade development program".
In short, the auditor general is saying that the government invests $375 million per year in a program, without checking to see where that money goes. This is what the auditor general is saying.
Moreover, the auditor adds: "I noticed the same thing 10 years ago, and no change has been made since". So, $375 million are invested to help small and medium size businesses, to help businesses export their products. Does the program work? Maybe, but we do not know, because the government does not conduct any audit regarding a meagre $375 million invested hapharzardly.
In light of all this, you can imagine my surprise when I noticed at the last minute that the report tabled today by the Minister for International Trade does not in any way address the Auditor General's recommendations, any more than it addresses the report of the committee on assistance to small export businesses. Because the minister was not called to order on one occasion, he has now been called to order twice: once by the Auditor General and once by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
We would have expected the Liberal government to explain in this report how it was going to come up with systematic and more objective feedback on the results obtained in international trade that would allow it to be better informed about the eventual benefits of its action, and to better understand what adjudication process is required when co-ordinating and distributing its resources.
Instead, the report tabled today looks more like a pre-election score sheet of the Liberal government's accomplishments with respect to international trade. The report, the minister's speech, far from making specific recommendations, only goes over the mechanisms already in place within this program, as well as the general directions taken by the government.
The minister should have done his homework. He wrote the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade asking for an examination of existing mechanisms. We did as he requested and, what is more, concluded our study and tabled our report. And they replied to it. They are telling us they will reply at some point. I am telling him he has already done so.
Moreover, the Minister for International Trade's letter of presentation with this report clearly stipulates that the mechanism for measuring the performance of resources allocated to the international business development program is not yet in place, and that further details will be forthcoming.
The auditor general has said: "We have been waiting ten years for it", and now the minister tells us that he is well aware of the fact that he needs to put feedback mechanisms in place, and that he will do so in future.
I would like to point out that we can easily be a bit sceptical about this. The government also wrote in its red book that two groups were going to be set up to examine trade disputes and anti-dumping problems. Both were to report to Parliament by December 1995. They are saying: "Trust us. We will make the reports by these two groups available during the next election campaign".
Asking the Canadian public, and particularly the official opposition, to trust the government is perhaps asking rather a lot of them. One might have expected that the government and the Minister for International Trade would have taken concrete steps to respond to the auditor general's concrete recommendations. It was not the nasty separatists, nor the Reform Party, but the auditor general who asked the Minister for International Trade to take concrete steps to correct the situation. The minister tells us: "Trust me, and you will see that, in future, we are going to coeect this situation".
In closing, I remind him that former Prime Minister Kim Campbell also said "Trust me" during an election campaign. So now there are only two of them left.