Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to take part in the debate on the Group No. 1 amendments to Bill C-36, the budget implementation act.
I am sure Canadians will be pleased to know that once again we are being pushed to limit the debate on this important topic by the time allocation motion that the government has introduced to the House. Many speakers who were planning to take part in this debate will now be prevented from doing so.
I was happy to speak on this bill at second reading. At that time the millennium scholarship foundation was one of the hottest issues of the budget. It has now been three months since the federal government announced its budget and the $2 billion legacy to our current Prime Minister, also known as the millennium scholarship fund, is still a hotly debated issue particularly in the provinces.
From day one the government was criticized for entering into an area of provincial jurisdiction, especially by the province of Quebec. The government was strongly criticized not only by members of the official opposition but by parliament's watchdog, the auditor general, whose job is to keep an eye on the government's questionable accounting methods.
I would like to spend some time on this issue because this is an important issue which needs to have some emphasis. As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts I am well aware of the work of the auditor general. As I have stated on several occasions not only in committee but here in this place as well, I hold the Office of the Auditor General in the highest esteem for the integrity, perseverance and determination to see that value is received from every dollar that the government spends. It is largely because of the work of the Office of the Auditor General that the government has worked toward cleaning up its act in the spending of the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians. I am sorry to say there is still a long way to go in this.
This government has shown Canadians all too frequently that if given the opportunity it loves to tax Canadians to the very hilt while providing them with useless programs having little if any tangible benefit. As I speak on this issue I am reminded of the distribution of $15 million to $20 million worth of flags. I would like to know what tangible benefit that had to the economic well-being of Canadians. Some of these programs do not provide Canadians with good value for their money, something on which as a member of the public accounts committee, as a member of parliament and perhaps most of all, as a Canadian taxpayer I work to hold the government accountable.
The auditor general has criticized the finance minister for his accounting practices in previous budgets and has gone so far as to offer a qualified opinion on last year's budget. It is obvious by this qualified opinion that the government is not producing a transparent picture of the nation's finances. The year before, the auditor general also questioned the manner in which the government crafted its budget.
Canadians need to know and have a right to know and have a clear picture of the financial situation of this government, how it intends to spend the money and not have those numbers fudged by moving figures from one year to another.
The finance minister has responded by saying that the government has to evolve and change as events change. However as the auditor general has reminded the government time and again, the finance minister does not have the liberty to make the rules up as he goes along for his own political purposes. The federal government blatantly ignored standard budget guidelines and tried to brush off legitimate criticism by changing the rules for its own political purposes.
We have heard the same line of reasoning in the hepatitis C debate that this government is doing what is best and right. We all know how the general Canadian public feels about the government's idea of what is best and right in the hepatitis C debate. Here also in the budget what is best and right falls far short of the standards set up in the general rules of accounting.
Group No. 1 deals largely with the millennium scholarship fund. I am happy to support many of the amendments in this group. I would like to spend some of my time talking about the amendments proposed.
The motions proposed by the Bloc Quebecois delete all the clauses which establish the millennium scholarship foundation. As I mentioned earlier, those in Quebec have made it perfectly clear to the federal government that they do not want the federal government intruding in matters of provincial jurisdiction. The Quebec government is also worried that this will detrimentally affect its system of grants and loans. I can sympathize with Quebec's complaint.
I can also assure the government that there is a growing chorus of dissatisfaction from British Columbians. This growing chorus must not be ignored.
Every province has experienced similar problems. As the government has waged its war on the deficit, it did not cut out inefficiencies in many government departments and eliminate needless grants and programs; rather it cut transfer payments to the provinces. Now that the federal government is continuing to meddle in provincial affairs instead of restoring transfers, after the millennium fund is spent many students will not benefit from it. The provinces however will still be responsible for all these students, even though they lack the money that should be theirs to fulfil this responsibility.
Cuts to the transfer payments to the provinces over the past few years were brutal and swift. That was money the provinces needed and counted on to ensure that their people would receive adequate programming in areas such as health and education. We have clearly seen the effects of the federal government's approach to balancing the books in the province of British Columbia. Services have been dramatically reduced due to the reduction of these federal payments.
Motion No. 67 speaks specifically to the provinces being able to opt out of the millennium scholarship fund and to enter into an agreement where the foundation pays the province the amount that would have been spent in a particular province allowing the province to use these funds for their own purposes. This would help the provinces make up for some of the lost funds from the cuts to these transfer payments.
Before my time is finished, I would like to touch on several other motions which touch on the accountability issues surrounding this initiative.
Motion No. 66 from the fifth political party, the Progressive Conservatives, would make the millennium scholarship foundation subject to the Access to Information Act. This would be a great idea.
Canadians demand that the government provide them with value for their money. Having federal departments and programs subject to Canadians having access to information explaining how each department spends its tax dollars in essence makes it more accountable to the public.
I would like to comment on several of the amendments put forth by the Progressive Conservative Party which deal with the appointment of an auditor for the foundation. Motion No. 56 would have the auditor general be that auditor of the foundation, something which I wholeheartedly support.
As I mentioned earlier, the office of the auditor general has done a splendid job in evaluating how various departments and programs operate and, in cases where value for money is not achieved, the office of the auditor general can present that program or department with several options on how to improve its operations. That evaluation would surely benefit the operation and spending of the millennium scholarship foundation.
Government Motions Nos. 55, 57 and 58 are a different story. They give all the power of appointing and terminating the auditor of the foundation to the government. Motion No. 55 allows the government to appoint the auditor of the foundation.
The difficulties we have with Bill C-36 are headlined in the last Hill Times . The headline reads “The decline of the Canadian Parliament and the escalating deterioration of public information and debate in Canada's Parliament”. This is a serious issue that cuts through this debate and the bill that is presented here.