House of Commons Hansard #122 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was competition.


Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

moved that Bill C-310, an act to require special interest groups that receive grants or loans from public funds to submit for tabling in Parliament a report on the purposes to which the funds were put, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased on opening day to discuss a topic which Canadians want to discuss, at least those who I met this summer.

I believe I have all party agreement to share my opening 15 minutes. I would take 10 minutes and share the other five with the hon. member for Dauphin—Swan River.

With your permission the hon. member will take five minutes at the beginning.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed in such a manner?

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Some hon. members


Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Some hon. members


Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

There is not consent.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, as members read in the introduction, this bill was to be debated the Monday after the House recessed.

I want to pay tribute to the hon. member from Hamilton—Wentworth who did a tremendous amount of work on this in the last session. I can tell the hon. member that I used his material.

I took his material along with my bill to every local government in my constituency. I made a visit to see what they thought about what the hon. member had presented and, in a minor form, what I was presenting. There is a fundamental difference in our presentations, in that I want this government to be held accountable to the people of Canada for some $49 billion which is handed out to special interest groups with absolutely no requirement for accounting.

This summer, after giving local government people an explanation, I heard responses such as: “I cannot believe it”. “That is incredible”. “How dare they”. Madam Speaker, I might tell you that they said some words which I cannot repeat in this House more frequently than the examples I have given.

The basic tenet of this bill is that every Canadian should have the right to know who is receiving funding from this government and what is the purpose of the funding. Let us bring this to debate so that Canadians will have accountability.

The Prime Minister mentioned the other day that if he is going to increase grants in health aid or other help to the provinces he wants accountability. We would not argue with that.

I hear government members saying that what people do not know will not hurt them. I would turn that around and say that what people do not know about this funding is hurting them. It is hurting them by $49 billion a year. It is hurting hep C people who are deserving of payment. It is hurting them because this money is not accounted for and not audited. It is hurting them because it is forcing them to pay higher taxes.

I want to make it abundantly clear to everyone that my intent in bringing this bill forward had one goal and one goal only; that is, to offer Canadians, no matter where they live in Canada, the opportunity to see totally, with accountability, where their tax dollars are going.

This is not a witch hunt. This is not a bill to embarrass some private interest groups. This is strictly trying to give Canadian people accountability as to where their money is going.

Canadians across Canada will tell us that it is a growing industry, hidden under the secrecy of government. Government is not making figures, facts and the individuals who are receiving these funds available to Canadians.

Let me talk a moment about our heritage and what happened in the village next to where I live. Because of rail line abandonment and property taxes its total revenue is down to some $200,000. It has to hire an administrator who is bondable. It has to prepare a budget as to how that money will be spent. At the end of the year it has to have an auditor come in to show the public where every cent of that money has gone.

That is part of our history. Part of the Canadian way is to have responsible people, including elected politicians at the local level and the federal level, who will say “Here is where our money is being spent”.

Why is it that a group that will get as high as $15 million or $16 million does not even have to submit a statement as to the intent of how that money is going to be used? That is incredible. What is worse is that the money is not accounted for. There is no audited statement and we do not know the source, who is running the operation, or the the purpose of that group.

Even the grassroots aboriginals have had something to say about this bill. They said things this summer and I want to quote two of them. The first quote is “Without democracy, equality and accountability there can be no self-government”. Grassroots people all over are saying that this is a terrible plague which this government has. It is willing to take $49 billion of taxpayers' money and tell us it does not have to account for it.

This government can take $100,000, as the hon. member from Hamilton—Wentworth pointed out, and does not have to say it gave any amount and then can repeat it five times. It can make that half a million dollars. There is not even a record on the books.

How can the people of this House sit by when we have groups like the hepatitis C group outside and we are not telling them how we are spending $49 billion on special interest groups? How can this government do that?

The second quote told to me by a grassroots aboriginal this summer was “A significant roadblock to accountability is indeed the Indian Act itself”.

Let me point out a few things. Let me point out what happens. We have a special interest group which knows it does not have to put forth a statement as to its intent and does not have to describe or give an accounting for one red cent. They can actually take that money and use it for any political purpose they like. That money may be used to counteract or go against worthy volunteer organizations within a community.

I noted a few things this summer. I met with several museum groups in my constituency. What are these people doing? They are working, volunteering, scraping up money to get a building to try to preserve part of our heritage which is the heritage of the homesteader who came to Saskatchewan. They cannot get $50 worth of grants from either government. I showed them how much money was flowing out of this government into unknown coffers. They, to put it quite bluntly, are extremely disgusted that this type of thing is taking place.

The hon. member from Hamilton—Wentworth made this statement loud and clear. Any group of people receiving government funding should not be allowed to make political contributions. It is happening all the time. I suggest if a study is made of this we will find that there are some very strange gifts going out when an election is near which are not accounted for and the parties which receive them make huge contributions to a political party. That is wrong. Canadians all across Canada say it is wrong.

What we need are regulations in place governing the funding of any organization. I would challenge anyone in the House, from any party, to stand and say that it is wrong for an organization receiving government funding, first, to state a purpose for which that funding will be used, and second, to have an annual audited statement as to how the money was spent.

I sat as a CEO to a school division. We had no choice but to print a final statement as to the money that was spent.

If senior government thinks that is a great thing for our villages, rural communities, towns, cities and province, why is it not a good thing for the government to exercise the same practice? Why is the government prepared to hoodwink Canadians into the billions of dollars but to deny help to hepatitis C victims and local museums? I could list a hundred of them, but the government will not move on this issue, to its demise, I hope. The lack of accountability of the taxpayers' dollar should show up come next election time.

I want to say how the people feel about this issue when it is explained to them. The trust in government goes down. What they think of politicians goes down. What they think of the whole nation because of this scam goes down.

If this uncontrolled industry continues, what will we find? If they can do it, why can we not do it? If the government can hide millions of dollars, why should I not cheat on my income tax? Why should I not cheat on the GST? Why should I not cheat on this and that as it pertains to government? The very act of government doing this is a signal to the rest of Canadians to go ahead: if they can do it we can do it. It is time for the government and the House to say no, we are finished, that our books will be open and there will be total accountability.

Although this is not a votable bill, I would encourage members who sit on the finance committee to give Canadians a right they deserve. Let us give Canadians a right to be able to look at the thousands of different organizations that get money and for the first time make government completely accountable.

Failure to bring a halt to this practice does nothing but foster mistrust in government. It makes parliament weaker and, above all, it deprives our citizens of their God-given right to know where their taxpayers' dollars are going. I challenge anyone to come up with some logical reason why this should not happen. There may be many defenders, but there is no defence against this accountability act. No one could muster up or find a defence.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Trinity—Spadina Ontario


Tony Ianno LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, over the years considerable study and discussion have taken place on the subject of accountability for parliament. It remains a timeless subject of interest not only for us as members of parliament but for the bureaucrats and academics who study parliament.

Much of the past debate has been focused on accountability to parliament when program delivery is through an intermediary or third party rather than directly by public servants or under contract.

The practice of third party delivery is most evident in the area of grants and contributions and other types of transfer payments. I am aware that concerns are sometimes raised that current trends in management reform and alternative program delivery run the risk of significantly weakening the accountability chain, leaving parliament with no one to hold responsible.

Bill C-310 is not necessary. There is already an accountability regime in place and information in this area has already been tabled in parliament.

Each year parliament approves through the estimates funds for the payments of grants, contributions and other transfer payments. Significant information on grants and contributions is disclosed annually in both the estimates and public accounts. Grants normally require the authority of parliament before they can be paid. Parliament is normally informed about planned contributions within a program through the identification of such contributions in the tables of transfer payments included in part II of the main estimates or in supplementary estimates.

Departments should further ensure that parliament is fully informed about the nature of the program, its objectives, target groups and expected results. This is normally done through supplementary descriptive material in individual departments and agency reports on plans and priorities. After the year is finished information is made available in departmental performance reports as well as in the public accounts. If this is not enough, detailed actual spending information on specific transfer payments of over $100,000 is also publicly available upon request from Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Contributions are conditional transfer payments. They are for a specified purpose subject to accountability and are audited pursuant to a contribution agreement. Listing of contributions in the transfer payments table found in the estimates while not a legislative requirement is considered necessary for proper disclosure to parliament. The payment of a contribution is conditional on the performance and achievement of a program, and contribution agreements are subject to audit to satisfy the donor department that all conditions both financial and non-financial have been met.

Grants are different. They are unconditional transfer payments. The main criterion that distinguishes a grant from a contribution in practical terms is that once again contributions are subject to accountability and are audited pursuant to a contribution agreement. Unfortunately the unconditional nature of grants gives the impression that the government does not require them to be spent in furtherance of specific program objectives.

The opposite is in fact true. While grants are not subject to being accounted for or audited, eligibility and entitlement may be verified. Eligibility or entitlement criteria must be specifically approved by Treasury Board for all class grant programs. Furthermore, departments have established verification procedures. Most class grant programs are subject to management review and/or in some cases formal program evaluations on a periodic basis.

Grants are usually paid out in instalments as required by Treasury Board policy. In many cases procedures are such that departments generally verify continued entitlement prior to making further payments. Many organizations maintain close relationships with the recipients. When problems arise it is possible for them to act quickly in order to stop the payment of the next instalment.

The government conducted a review of funding for special interest groups in 1994. We know the hon. member from Hamilton had a lot of influence in the process. The Minister of Finance announced in the February 1994 budget that the government would review its policy with respect to funding for special interest groups with a view to reducing the overall level of funding and encouraging further reliance on funding from other sources.

The government's review looked specifically at funding for interest groups, that is non-governmental, non-commercial groups pursuing an interest using federal government funding primarily through grants and contributions.

This definition included what is often referred to as the voluntary sector as well as groups such as sports administration bodies, research institutes, industry associations and professional associations.

The government recognizes the important role of the voluntary sector and other interest groups in Canadian society. These groups can play an important and cost effective role in program and service delivery.

Interest groups often perform other important functions such as bringing Canadians together, providing a voice for people who would not otherwise be heard and conducting research. Despite this the government's relationship with interest groups has evolved and has had to change over the years to accommodate new needs in a program review environment of fiscal restraint.

The government's review demonstrated that it had become increasingly more difficult to justify some special interest group funding when many government programs were being downsized or discontinued.

The government could not afford to continue funding all the interest group activities that it was funding at that time since the review principles were developed and provided to government departments to assist in priorizing funding for interest groups as part of the program review exercise. These principles remain valid today.

First and foremost, departments were and are now to consider the extent to which the interest groups members or the larger public benefit from its activities. The larger the benefit to the public from the group's activities, the more likely that group should receive funding from the federal government.

Second, the group's ability to obtain alternative sources of funding has to be considered. The higher the ability of the group to access alternate sources of funding, the lower the priority of that group for government funding.

The third consideration was the focus of the group's activities. Interest groups that confine their activities to support their own members should in most instances receive lower priority for government funding than groups that deliver important services to the public on behalf of the government.

Departments are to consider the consistency of the activities of groups with government priorities. The guidelines were designed to be flexible so that they could be applied by each minister to the interest groups funded by his or her department. Departments co-ordinate their funding activities with those of other ministers to ensure that a particular interest group does not obtain similar funding from more than one department of the federal government.

Loans and loan guarantees are handled differently. They are made for a variety of purposes and in accordance with a variety of different terms and conditions. The Treasury Board has policy statements for loans and loan guarantees.

Loans must be authorized through specific legislation or appropriation acts while loan guarantees require parliamentary authority and loan guarantee programs such as the Canada student loans program must be supported by separate program legislation.

I should also highlight that information on loans is available in the public accounts, volumes l and 2, part I, as well as policy statements for loans and loan guarantees.

I have a note on the administration of the reporting regime proposed by Bill C-310. It would be an onerous task when one considers the number of grants, contributions, loans and loan guarantees made by the government each year.

The task of such administration would also duplicate work since considerable information of this type is already tabled in parliament each year both in estimates and public accounts.

In conclusion, I am satisfied that departments and agencies—

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid that the time has expired.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Madam Speaker, as Parliament reconvenes, I am delighted to rise in this House to speak to Bill C-310 introduced by my hon. colleague, the Reform member for Souris—Moose Mountain, the short title of which is the Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability Act.

With this bill, organizations in receipt of federal grants would be required to report to the minister on the use made of the grant funds and the minister would table this report in the House.

The bill reminds us that our primary role as legislators is first and foremost to represent the people and not our party, and to ensure the sound management of public affairs. That is why the Bloc Quebecois supports this bill.

I remember that, soon after I was elected in 1993, the auditor general's report examined the responsibility of the various departments to be accountable for their activities. The auditor general suggested there was an urgent need to define more precisely the specific objectives and expected results of departmental programs. The auditor general wrote, and I quote: “Parliament may wish to consider more radical solutions to obtain more timely, relevant and reliable effectiveness information”.

The bill before us today, while far from being a radical solution, could be useful to both departmental managers and members of Parliament in determining whether grant funds were indeed spent on achieving the stated objectives. This requirement to table a report on the use made of these funds would fill the inexplicable vacuum whereby, at present, organizations receiving contributions are required to report on how their activities are funded, while those receiving grants are not.

A specific issue—and an infamous one—allowed us to show the major flaws that prevent the auditing of the actual use of public funds by the organizations benefiting from grants. This example helps us understand why, unlike the Liberal member, I feel this bill is essential to sound democracy in Canada. I am referring to Option Canada.

This organization received $4.8 million from the Department of Canadian Heritage to promote Canadian unity. That money was granted in the fall of 1995, over a 33 day period, during the referendum campaign, in contempt of the legislation on the financing of public consultations passed by the Quebec National Assembly.

Three years later, no one, including the Minister of Canadian Heritage, can tell us where that money went, money that was taken from the budget for the official languages support program. This is unbelievable. It is not known what use was actually made of that money, nor whether that investment produced the anticipated results.

In the letters accompanying the payment of millions of dollars to Option Canada, Michel Dupuy, the then Minister of Canadian Heritage, used rather protracted and trivial formulas to express his expectations, such as “I do hope this additional grant will allow you to complete all your activities and to reach your objectives under the official languages support program”. This “I do hope” shows remarkable rigour on the part of a manager of public funds.

Option Canada did not submit any report and no one in the Department of Canadian Heritage expressed any concerns about the situation until the matter was reported in the newspapers and the Bloc Quebecois began questioning the minister in the House. The cat was out of the bag and the Minister of Canadian Heritage ordered an internal investigation in March 1997, one and a half years after the fact.

Even after seeing internal reports pointing out numerous irregularities in how grants were issued to Option Canada, the Minister of Canadian Heritage refused to take action. Worse still, when she appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in November 1997, the minister tried to conceal the truth by saying, and I quote: “I checked to see if these funds were spent in accordance with Treasury Board regulations. It would appear that they were.”

Yet, when the minister made this statement to committee members, she had in her possession a briefing note prepared by her officials that said quite the opposite. Following a request under the Access to Information Act, the minister finally resigned herself to releasing the results of her internal investigations into the grants paid to Option Canada.

Consultant Bill Coleman was tasked with conducting the investigation and his report was explicit and devastating with respect to the lax approach and the degree to which Treasury Board regulations were followed. He established the following facts clearly: Option Canada did not fill out any form to obtain its grants; Option Canada met only two of the 22 conditions for obtaining a grant; Option Canada did not supply a piece of information as essential as the name of a person with signing authority; Option Canada did not undertake to provide a report on activities and a financial report; Option Canada did not undertake to return unused funds.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage did not act in accordance with the program's funding conditions and failed to follow her own procedures requiring that specific forms be completed in order to obtain a grant. It was only a matter of days before Option Canada received approval and obtained its grants, without being required to provide any justification as to how the amounts previously received had been spent.

It would appear, then, that 33 days were all that was required to receive, study, recommend and approve three grant applications totalling $4.8 million.

Finally, after several months of insistence by the Bloc and the auditor general, Option Canada was forced to produce two reports that proved to be very imprecise and fragmentary on how funding had been spent, or rather misspent.

The auditor general's conclusion on the first report, tabled in January 1998, was that it was minimal and that it could not be determined from it whether what was involved was a deficiency or a misappropriation of funds.

As for the second Option Canada report, tabled in March 1998, the Principal in the Auditor General's office reached the conclusion that, without better information, it was not possible to have any assurance that this funding had indeed been used as authorized.

In a CBC radio interview, the Auditor General of Canada went so far as to state that fraud could not be ruled out without access to all information concerning Option Canada spending.

Given the flagrant lack of political will on the part of the Liberal government to at last bring the funding and spending of Option Canada fully out into the open, doubts must still remain. According to the documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, at the time of the 1995 referendum, Option Canada was supposed to organize VIP visits, have organizers in place, organize federalist rallies, and even purchase media space.

Allow me to review all the coincidences in this matter: $4.8 million in public funds spent in the fall of 1995 by Option Canada, made up of friends of the regime, in the thick of the referendum campaign on the future of Quebec, in order to attain the objectives of the program supporting linguistic duality. So, who was being led down the garden path? I will let you be the judge.

What are we to conclude from this adventure? That Option Canada had people like Guy Bertrand and Howard Galganov on its payroll? That Option Canada financed some of the employees or some of the activities on the no side? Did Option Canada resolve the financial difficulties of a number of friends of the regime with ties to the Council for Canadian Unity?

No one can answer these and many other questions. The Liberal government refused and still refuses to act responsibly and explain the use of the $4.8 million in public funds.

In his 1995 report, the auditor general wondered whether financial management and control were all they ought to be. He wrote, and I quote “I believe there are good reasons for concern. My staff continue to find significant problems in financial management and control across a broad range of government operations. [—] There is increasing delegation of authority and empowerment of employees, but without corresponding accountability for financial results within organizations”.

It is high time the Liberal government moved to improve political practices and improve government efficiency. Scrutiny must not be left to officials or organizations receiving grants. It must be mandatory.

Passage of this bill will enable us to ensure that the millions of dollars of funding given out each year by the government to various organizations is really spent for the purposes intended.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the bill put before the House today by the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

Private Members' Business is one of the most genuinely democratic functions in this House because it allows us to represent our constituents without partisan constraints.

I appreciate what the hon. member is trying to accomplish with Bill C-310. He is a colleague of mine on the Standing Committee on Transport. He did good work on that committee so I was surprised when I read this bill to find that it has rather obvious oversights and mistakes.

It appears that when the hon. member was drafting the bill he had a rare lapse in judgment. I wonder if he took some advice for the bill from some of his Reform Party colleagues. That would explain how the flaws came about. In any case, having carefully considered the bill before us I cannot support it.

As members of the House, one of our most important responsibilities is to ensure that the government serves the people of Canada effectively. To that end we must make sure that government is not bogged down in administrative and bureaucratic red tape. Reform has pushed this issue on numerous occasions.

Make no mistake, Madam Speaker. I greatly value the work that our public servants do for the country, but we must always make sure that the work we give them advances the public interest. Creating unnecessary red tape is an unproductive waste of society's resources. That is what this bill would do. It would create unnecessary red tape.

The bill would require every charity receiving federal funds to file an annual report to Parliament to show how these funds were used. In principle that sounds fine and dandy but think of the cost of implementing such a scheme.

First, the charities themselves would have to devote more of their resources to accounting for where every penny of their federal funding goes. This might be possible for larger charities like the United Way, but what of the smaller ones? Many charities, including many food banks, are run by just a few dedicated volunteers. And in these days in Canada under this government we have needed more and more food banks.

These people give so much of themselves already. Many have to fill out reams of forms just to apply for a little federal funding to keep them afloat. It is hardly fair to expect them to fill out even more forms.

Regardless the size of the charity, whether it is the United Way or the local priest who hands out winter boots to underprivileged children, all this time and energy spent doing even more paperwork for the government would be better spent carrying out their charitable work.

Not only would this bill be an unnecessary drain on charities, it would be an unnecessary drain on the government itself. Think of the bureaucracy it would take to process the reports. Knowing the current Liberal government, the funding for this bureaucracy would come from existing budgets. Public servants, many of whom are still waiting for the pay equity they are entitled to by law, have been denied by 14 years of government stalling tactics. They would have to add this new paperwork to their workload. This would mean fewer resources devoted to health care, fewer resources devoted to getting EI cheques out on time, just to process these redundant charity funding reports.

I say these reports are redundant because the various government departments and agencies that dole out the grants and loans already serve the function of holding them accountable. If they do not see results, they can simply discontinue funding. Since this mechanism is already in place to make sure public funds are not wasted, the extra expenditures called for in this bill are unnecessary.

As if this bill did not waste enough resources, it would then require each report to be tabled in the House of Commons. I cannot even fathom a guess as to why the hon. member for Souris—Moose Mountain included this in the bill. Why would he not just have the Treasury Board publish and release the reports? Why bog down the House by tabling financial reports when it should be debating issues that matter to Canadians? It makes no sense.

Another thing that I question about this bill is its name. I know the naming of a bill is not important in how the bill functions. For instance, 20 years ago the government passed a bill called the Canadian Human Rights Act. One would think that an act with such a name would guarantee Canadians their fundamental human rights. But this has not prevented the current Liberal government from trampling on the human rights of Canadians by brutally cracking down on a peaceful democratic protest at the APEC summit, or by denying female public servants equal pay for work of equal value. So clearly the name of a bill has little relevance.

Nevertheless the name of a bill can offer insight into what its writer is thinking. I wonder what was going through the mind of the hon. member when he called this bill before us the Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability Act.

Clause 2 of this bill specifies that it only applies to groups or individuals who receive public funds for charitable purposes. From this I can only conclude that the hon. member considers charities to be special interest groups. He does not seem to understand what a special interest group is: a group that works to further its own interests.

Charities on the other hand do not fit that definition. Instead of serving themselves, they exist to serve others. They provide countless valuable services to society from meals on wheels for shut-ins to emotional support for cancer victims and their families.

I for one have experienced some of the things the member talks about. After the last federal campaign there was a rumour that the Reform candidate had received some funding from a group that was receiving government funding. But I am not willing to sell out the work that the charities do for the sake of one person or one organization that may not be doing things accordingly.

I would like to conclude by thanking the hon. member for bringing this bill before us today. Although the bill is flawed and redundant I appreciate and agree with his sentiments that there should be greater accountability for the spending of public funds. However, it is not the charities that need to be watched more closely, it is real special interest groups like corporations.

Today corporations receive billions in tax breaks and subsidies from the Government of Canada, yet there is no mechanism for holding them accountable for how these funds are used. Many corporations take this money but lay off hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

I urge members of the House to closely examine the tax breaks and subsidies government gives to corporations. Let us not be fooled into believing that all corporate tax breaks and subsidies are good or that they are detrimental. Some are undoubtedly used in ways to stimulate the economy while others waste monies that could go toward health care or tax relief for Canadian families.

We need to identify corporate tax breaks and subsidies that advance the public interests and do away with the ones that do not.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.


Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Madam Speaker, the real purpose of this private member's bill is most likely to ensure that the best possible use is made of limited government resources. I doubt that the demanding procedure for accounting to Parliament proposed in the bill would ensure such an objective is achieved.

As members know, the program review process is in its final year. The purpose of this exercise would be to rethink the role of the State. As the President of the Treasury Board announced in 1995, the new expenditure management system will ensure that the scrutiny of government spending conducted as part of program review will now be a fixed public sector management component. The program review routine will be maintained.

We all recall that, in 1994, we did not have the capacity or the resources required to maintain the status quo, let alone deal with new issues. We had to reach a point where the role of government would be more reasonably and logically in line with its financial resources and jurisdiction.

This was achieved with program review. Every program of every federal government department and agency was reviewed. The government looked at the financing of special interest groups in particular, as announced by the Minister of Finance in his 1994 budget. This review of the financing of special interest groups was conducted as part of the program review process.

The main challenge for government in reviewing programs was determining which areas of activity to focus on and what was the most efficient and effective way of providing these services or carrying out these activities, in light of its current financial situation. In some cases, the most efficient and cost-effective was of delivering a program or service was through special interests groups.

The ministers and their officials looked after reviewing the programs of their respective departments as well as evaluating their owns programs and activities. They consulted their clients and stakeholders as required and oversaw implementation.

In developing their strategic plans, the ministers and their representatives took into account six criteria concerning their organizations. These criteria are still being used and continue to be consistent with the expenditure management system.

The program or activity should meet a certain number of criteria before there can even be any question of the government, alone or in partnership with others, such as special interest groups, becoming involved.

There is the public interest: does the sector or program activity still serve the public interest?

There is the question of the need for government participation: is the government's role in this sector or program activity essential and legitimate?

There is the question of appropriateness: is the federal government's current role appropriate, or should the program or activity be harmonized with provincial programs or activities?

There is the partnership aspect: what activities or program elements should or could be dropped completely or partially by the private or volunteer sector?

There is the criterion of increasing efficiency: if the program or activity is maintained, how could it be made more efficient?

And there is funding ability: can the government afford to maintain all the resulting programs and activities with its reduced financial resources? If not, which programs or activities will be dropped?

As part of program review, the government looked at the funding of special interest groups with a view to reducing the overall level of funding and encouraging greater reliance on funding from other sources.

The government realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify funding certain special interest groups, particularly at a time when many federal programs were being dropped or curtailed.

We could not afford to keep on funding all the special interest group activities we were then funding. Under program review, special principles were developed to help departments establish an order of priority for the funding of interest groups. Departments were asked to make a distinction between interest groups offering important services to the Canadian public and those who primary purpose was defending their members' interests.

The feeling was that sizeable reductions in the funding for interest groups providing services to a broad range of Canadians would not be desirable, since these interest groups represent the most efficient way of delivering public services. Departmental representatives were asked to scrutinize the funding of interest groups that did not provide any essential service to a broad segment of the population.

When the funding of interest groups was being examined, departmental representatives and ministers were asked to keep in mind the following four principles: first, how much the interest group membership itself or the general public benefit from the group's activities; second, how capable the group is of finding other sources of funding; third, the intended purpose of the group's activities, and fourth, how much the groups' activities fit in with government priorities.

The government has attached great importance to program review and to a review of the funding of interest groups. The six criteria for program review still apply today, and are taken into consideration when designing new programs.

The four principles drawn up in 1994 for examining the funding of special interest groups have now become the general criteria used for determining the funding of interest groups.

The government acknowledges the significant role played by the volunteer sector and other interest groups in Canadian society. These groups may play an important and cost-effective role in the implementation of programs and services. Often interest groups perform other important functions: they bring Canadians together, they speak for those who would not otherwise have a voice, and they carry out research.

I am convinced that our process of re-examining the role of the State comprised a proper examination of the funding of special interest groups. Treasury Board has issued policies on grants and contributions, as well as statements of principle on loans and loan guarantees. These are part of an appropriate regime of accountability.

There are already proper mechanisms in place for reporting to Parliament through the estimates, departmental planning and priorities reports, performance reports and public accounts.

Implementation of the reporting structure proposed by Bill C-310 would cut across the lines of already established mechanisms by which ministers report to Parliament on their programs. In conclusion, I do not support this bill.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Madam Speaker, I stand in support of the private member's motion submitted by the member for Souris—Moose Mountain.

In the debate this morning I believe people are really missing the boat. They are getting the basic simple premise of this bill confused. I will reread the intent of this bill. The intent is that those receiving money from the government table a report on how the funds were used. In principle I do not think there is anyone in the House who would disagree with that. This is an issue of accountability.

As members of parliament we are accountable. We are accountable on how we spend our budgets and how we offer public service to the people of this country. Obviously our books are open to people all the time. I cannot understand why members in the House would disagree that any groups in this country receiving grants should be accountable for how these funds are spent.

I will give members an example of my own experience this summer. I called the National Action Committee on the Status of Women for an audit. I asked for a copy of its expenditures. Lo and behold, was I surprised how difficult it was to get a copy of expenditures for this past year. I was told I would have to go through the access to information. I did that and I am still waiting for the report. I contacted the Library of Parliament. I received a 1995-96 copy of its expenditures, but that is several years old. I can imagine what citizens of this country have to go through when a member of parliament does not have access to records of expenditures of taxpayer dollars when one needs to.

One thing I found ironic this summer was that having spoken to the media about expenditures of the national action committee, they seem to have all the figures at hand.

It appeared they had no problems getting the fine details but this member of parliament certainly has problems doing that.

I ask that all members of this House support this bill, certainly in principle, because it is about accountability and how money is spent by the special interest groups in this country.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Souris—Moose Mountain for putting forward Bill C-310 because he has given credit to some work I did in the past. The parliamentary secretary also gave credit to the work I did in the past on bringing transparency and accountability to special interest groups. I appreciate the support the member is giving to that issue by Bill C-310.

In my view the government did respond excellently to the report I presented in 1994. It did do the things that the parliamentary secretary said. It did bring greater transparency, greater accountability to those groups involved in contributions. It also cut back drastically on many groups that were abusing the public trust by taking money from government and spending it in ways that were not necessarily beneficial to the public interest but more beneficial to themselves and beneficial to the lobbying that many of these groups undertook.

However, Bill C-310 addresses one gap that still exists in the matter of public accountability of funds to special interest groups. That is the question of grants. I cannot speak for the government, and I rarely do, but I think one of the reasons why the government is a little reluctant to bring the same level of transparency and accountability as suggested by Bill C-310 to grant receiving organizations may have something to do with what the member for Rimouski—Mitis brought up. That is the whole question of options Canada and the suggestion that perhaps an organization like options Canada or any other organization may have been using some of the money it receives from the federal government in order to promote national unity. In the climate of the referendum the province of Quebec was looking for just that kind of opportunity to attack the federal government to suggest the federal government was interfering with the unity debate.

Bill C-310 should be supported. There is never an instance when a group should not be prepared to account for itself on how it spends money to parliament or to the ministry. If the federal government wishes to support national unity then it has my endorsement to use as much money as it wants. I am sure that everyone who is interested in national unity would want to see the government use the money. There is no reason to hide behind any special interest group.

I support and endorse this bill one hundred per cent. I also wish to acknowledge that the government did act with alacrity and efficiency on the report I presented in 1994.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington's giving support.

The member who spoke for the NDP had things a little mixed up. Perhaps I should say mixed up a lot. Perhaps the reason why she does not want to get into this is the contributions made by interest groups that get large amounts of money from the federal government, namely the CLC. In the last two elections that party received $1.5 million out of my pocket and everyone else's pocket, taxpayer money. That is what this bill is all about. That is why this is wrong.

I am not talking about charities. The hon. member said that giving to one special interest group and not to another is unbalanced and unfair. This would change that. This government has no right to be giving money to groups that want to influence their own thought against the will of the majority of Canadians. That is wrong. If they want to raise money let them go out and raise it themselves. There are many organizations and some of the largest organizations in Canada do just that.

I want to turn to what the hon. member did in his report. What people deplore is government supporting groups which exist primarily for one side or the other of the issue. That is wrong. The hon. member said it is a system that has gone sour. It is more than sour, it is rotten and it is rotten to the core.

I am glad some progress has been made in this. I am glad I had an opportunity to state my case on the private members' bill. In closing I would like to move a motion to have unanimous consent to make this motion votable.

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent to make this a votable item?

Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Special Interest Groups Funding Accountability ActPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired, and the order is dropped from the order paper.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-20, an act to amend the Competition Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other acts, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

There are eleven motions in amendment on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-20.

The motions will be grouped for debate as follows:

Group No. 1: Motions Nos. 1 to 3.

Group No. 2, Motions Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8.

Group No. 3: Motion No. 6.

Group No. 4, Motions Nos. 9 to 11.

The voting patterns for the motions within each group are available at the table. The Chair will remind the House of each pattern at the time of voting.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 3 to the House.

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Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

(for Ms. Francine Lalonde) moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-20, in Clause 12, be amended by replacing lines 20 to 29 on page 8 with the following:

“12. (1) Section 52 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-20, in Clause 12, be amended by replacing lines 26 and 27 on page 8 with the following:

“interest, by any means whatever, make a representation to the public”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-20, in Clause 12, be amended by adding after line 37 on page 8 the following:

“(2) Subsection 52 (2) of the Act is replaced by the following:”

Competition ActGovernment Orders



Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Madam Speaker, you were right to point out that it is the riding of Lévis-et-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. There could be some minor confusion since my colleague is the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré et l'Île-d'Orléans, Montmorency referring to the falls.

But let us get back to the real issue. At first glance, Bill C-20 may seem important and interesting, but it includes some provisions that the Bloc Quebecois does not like. This is why we are proposing some amendments today.

Before explaining these, I remind members that Bill C-20 is, for the most part, patterned on Bill C-67, which had been introduced in the House before the election. That bill died on the Order Paper because the Prime Minister decided to call a general election earlier than expected. Indeed, instead of waiting four years, he called the election after three and a half years. Thus, Bill C-67 died on the order paper.

The bill was reintroduced last fall, and we had to start the whole legislative process over again, including committee work. We again heard witnesses, such as representatives of the competition bureau and those of business people and consumers. A lot of people have noted that the legislative process can be lengthy, for all governments, but especially for the Liberal government, which preferred to call an election rather than continue its legislative work.

That said, I think it is high time we legislate deceptive telemarketing. We must be very careful. We do not want to prohibit telemarketing here. In this technological and communications era, it is a modern, practical and efficient tool. But over time, some people have come to use it to make fraudulent sales over the phone or by some other means.

For example, in its bill, the government neglected to include the word “Internet”, but we will talk about this later. In our opinion, it really must be included in this bill.

The United States recognized the problem much earlier than did Canada. Some organizations are talking of losses of $40 billion for individuals. So this a significant phenomenon.

In Canada, the same groups are citing a figure of $60 million, probably because they have not managed to grasp all the ramifications of the problem. Deceptive telemarketing occurs not only nationally, but internationally. It is therefore not limited by borders. One reason this is the case is the reduction in long distance costs. Telephones are now available reasonably everywhere.

At first glance, going after deceptive telemarketing appears to be a good thing to do. Everyone agrees, including the members of the Bloc Quebecois. However, the government's approach seems paradoxical, to say the least. It wants to criminalize deceptive telemarketing, that is make it a new crime, and yet the bill talks of decriminalizing the penalties. That strikes us as paradoxical.

There are other paradoxes as well. Apparently to speed up the process, there is a series of fines. So then the matter becomes civil. Quebec's civil code differs from that of the rest of Canada. Quebec has many provisions regarding the whole consumer protection question. It even has an agency that deals with the issue on a specific, ongoing basis. But, in its wish to improve controls that should already have been improved, the federal government is using this bill as an excuse to interfere in provincial jurisdiction. As we have agreed, however, we will not focus on this exclusively.

What we are less happy about, though, is the manner in which the government is attempting to regulate this area. On the one hand, it wants to give the Competition Bureau's director, whom we shall henceforth call the commissioner, quite a few more powers than he previously had. He will now have sole authority for making decisions that used to be made by a bureau, following hearings, in consultation with commissioners who examined the issue with him.

Now the director, or the future commissioner administering the Competition Act, can act alone, but must give those who will be charged 48 hours' notice. Another paradox is that the bill allows companies who are breaking the law to negotiate an out-of-court solution before any hearing takes place or any ruling is made.

In our view, section 52 of the old Competition Act was preferable. The measures being introduced in Bill C-20 are measures that weaken the legislation. It is odd that there is a desire, on the one hand, to introduce tighter regulations over deceptive telemarketing, which was not regulated at all before, while, on the other, the controls are being weakened.

I took part in the hearings of the Standing Committee on Industry and people from the Competition Bureau said that they were already looking at certain situations.

It is not surprising that we are way behind the United States as far as the financial consequences for individuals are concerned. Witnesses said: “We could not list all the problems, but we have seen enough and it is sufficiently harmful to the disadvantaged, particularly the elderly with their savings, who are the most frequent victims.” It is the elderly who are most often the victims of deceptive telemarketing.

People might think that the bill would offer better protection. On the contrary, we think that the bill is weakened by this provision. The means available to the competition bureau are weakened and no one in the Department of Industry has indicated that the means or resources allocated to the competition bureau will be stepped up, yet we know this phenomenon is likely to increase.

That is the reason behind our motions Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Motion No. 1 covers everything we want. If Motion No. 1 were defeated, we would certainly move on to motions 2 and 3.

We are calling upon everyone in this House to pay close attention, because this bill has huge consequences for the entire population, but particularly for the elderly, the disadvantaged, the house-bound, who are seen as a preferred target by companies or individuals involved in fraudulent telemarketing.

Not wishing to end on a sour note, I would emphasize that there are many companies involved in very honest telemarketing. Those are not the ones targeted by either the government or ourselves. There is good telemarketing, but the target here is fraudulent telemarketing.

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12:10 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Walt Lastewka LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on these motions today. I normally do not speak on the preamble to the motions, but it is with regret that I must.

When this bill was brought forward, the intention was to have it completed before the summer recess. However, it was the member's party that delayed it and would not allow the bill to be passed in the spring session. The first minute we were back in the House which was at 12 o'clock today, Bill C-20 was back in the House so that we could proceed with the passing of this act to amend the Competition Act. I want to make it perfectly clear that it is this government's intention to get this bill through as soon as possible, hopefully with the assistance of the other parties.

I cannot support these motions. They would effectively remove the proposed new required element of a knowing or reckless intention. They would leave the existing subsection 52(1) of the Competition Act dealing with misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices unchanged.

This discussion during committee took many hours to make sure that we would have items in place in the act to protect from misleading advertising and deceptive marketing. The question of deleting the knowingly and reckless requirement was raised many times in committee. It appears to be linked to a concern that we are softening the law with respect to the deceptive marketing practice provision in the act. That is not the case.

As witnesses for the competition bureau explained during the committee hearing, this is simply not the case. The committee dealt with and accepted the mens rea requirement along with the whole balanced criminal and civil regime provided for in Bill C-20, the amendments relating to deceptive marketing practices.

To understand the reason for the change in the criminal provision and the creation of a new civil regime to deal with misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practice, it is useful to put the current regime in context. While the prohibitions against misleading or deceptive advertising have generally been effective in dealing with many aspects of this problem, the current provisions are solely criminal offences.

There are a number of reasons a wider range of enforcement mechanisms would allow more appropriate and effective responses to the variety of such conduct in the marketplace. For example, the stigma of the criminal process may encourage an adversarial response and preclude the informal and speedy resolution of many cases.

Since the 1970s several studies have suggested that criminal sanctions with a focus on punishment are an incomplete response to misleading advertising.

The consultative panel that provided advice to the director in the development of Bill C-20 also supported a dual track educational approach to deal with the problem of misleading advertising and deceptive marketing practices. In particular it supported the approach contained in this bill.

The purpose of the misleading advertising and deceptive marketing provision is to ensure that consumers in the marketplace are getting the correct information they need to make their purchasing decisions.

We believe that in most cases the civil regime will provide the most effective and efficient means to achieve that end. The availability of more efficient, flexible and effective tools such as the administrative monetary penalty cease and desist orders and publication orders should provide a more rapid and cost effective response than the criminal law. It is better protection to the consumers and will encourage greater compliance by business.

The residual criminal provision in clause 12 is being retained to deal with the most serious instances of intentional misconduct. Given the gravity of the offence it is appropriate and necessary to change it from a strict liability offence to a full mens rea criminal offence.

In conclusion, we believe that the provisions contained in Bill C-20 create a balanced and effective way to ensure that there is fair competition in the marketplace and that Canadian consumers are getting accurate information to make their purchasing decisions.

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12:15 p.m.


Rahim Jaffer Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I feel particularly honoured today to be making my first official statement in the House as the industry critic for Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. I hope I can serve the Canadian people with the same integrity and common sense as my colleague from Okanagan Centre.

I am also pleased to be addressing Bill C-20, a bill that I believe will work to modernize the Competition Act. Having studied the amendments to the bill put forward by the hon. member for Mercier, it is apparent that they are certainly not without merit.

However, at this stage of debate we must decide whether these amendments warrant the delay of legislation that will among other things offer much needed protection against telemarketing fraud that is most often directed at Canada's senior citizens.

With respect, it is my conclusion that these amendments do not warrant the support of the House. To begin with it is my opinion that all the Group No. 1 motions should be opposed. If supported these motions would remove the words knowingly and recklessly from clause 12 of the bill and would change the intent of the legislation.

I remind the House that part of the purpose and design of Bill C-20 is to provide a new civil law framework to deal with deliberate and flagrant telemarketing frauds. It will provide for a civil law regime that will complement existing Criminal Code protection against fraud.

The intention of the legislation is not to soften the legal approach to deceptive telemarketing, as is feared by the member for Mercier, but to allow the courts to draw the distinction between those transgressions of the Competition Act that are deliberate and those that are not. This will allow these transgressions to be dealt with more expeditiously, which will benefit immensely the Canadian consumer. For this reason I recommend to the members of the House that Motion No. 2 and the entire Group No. 1 motions be opposed.

Bill C-20 provides a much needed legal framework for the telemarketing industry. Motions Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8 of Group No. 2 would expand the framework to include Internet communications.

It may seem tempting to share the Bloc member's belief that the legislation would better serve Canadians if its scope were broadened. In fact it appears to make perfect sense that deceptive marketing over the Internet is as fraudulent and abhorrent as deceptive marketing over the telephone.

However the sections of Bill C-20 that deal with telemarketing were designed with the understanding that telephone communication involves a potential for psychological coercion that is largely absent in Internet communication. The manipulation, deceit, pressure and intimidation that unfairly mark the telemarketing industry are not as acute in Internet trade where the customer can with the simple click of a mouse make the offensive party disappear. It is much more difficult to hang up on a live voice over the phone. It is much easier to be persuaded by a deceitful salesperson over the phone than on the Internet.

Furthermore, the question of how to regulate electronic commerce is one that demands a thorough investigation. I remind the House that in October of this year at a ministerial conference this issue will be addressed in its entirety, at which point the industry committee can examine the legal and regulatory questions with greater understanding. For these reasons I recommend to my colleagues that all Group No. 2 amendments be opposed.

Motion No. 6 presented to us again by the hon. member for Mercier stands alone in Group No. 3 and, if supported, would expand the guidelines provided for telemarketers to include fraudulent claims regarding warranties and the overall performance and efficacy of a product.

My immediate concern is that the amendment would wrongly place the onus on the telemarketer to ensure that the manufacturer's product claims are accurate. While I strongly believe telemarketers must act with due diligence in their relationship with manufacturers, the quality and efficacy of the product as supported by the manufacturer's claim should be the responsibility of the manufacturer.

Section 52 of the act as amended by Bill C-20 is sufficiently broad so as to include false claims concerning warranties and the overall quality of products. For these two reasons I recommend that Motion No. 6 in Group No. 3 be opposed.

When looking at Group No. 4 amendments I would first like to address Motions Nos. 9 and 10 and then move to Motion No. 11 to conclude my speech. As many members of the House are aware, all complaints that fall under the Competition Act are investigated by the commissioner and where deemed appropriate are then placed before the tribunal.

Motions Nos. 9 and 10 would allow a private individual over the age of 18 to bring a case to the commissioner for investigation. The current procedure, however, is to insist that at least six individuals submit a complaint. This is a mechanism intended to help to ensure against frivolous and vexatious submissions to the commissioner.

If a consumer has a complaint that he or she believes involves a violation of the Competition Act, he or she must find five other individuals who share the opinion that a violation of the Competition Act has occurred. This is not an unreasonable demand to place on the Canadian consumer. By insisting that six individuals be a part of the application process to the commissioner we can work to ensure that Canadian businesses are not subject to a barrage of frivolous complaints. For this reason I recommend that Motions Nos. 9 and 10 in Group No. 4 be opposed.

Motion No. 11 is one that I strongly considered supporting. I think the intent of the motion was to give Canadians direct access to the tribunal, thereby removing a barrier to communicating the needs of consumers.

The motion would allow a single individual to bring a matter directly before the tribunal removing the direct involvement of the commissioner. While I would normally support an initiative that would allow citizens direct access to this court, this motion unfortunately maintains the insistence that a single individual can bring a case to the tribunal instead of the six individuals currently required. For the same reasons I opposed Motions Nos. 9 and 10 I must also oppose Motion No. 11.

I recommend to all members of the House that the 11 motions put forward by the hon. member for Mercier be opposed. Canadians have for too long gone without adequate protection against telemarketing fraud and this legislation should do much to provide that protection.

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12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jim Jones Progressive Conservative Markham, ON

Madam Speaker, I will restrict my comments to the amendments proposed by the Bloc in Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 3. I believe we will have additional time to talk to the other amendments later.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak to these motions which deal with a fundamental component of Bill C-20. The component is an effort to move many issues of corporate non-compliance out of the realm of criminal courts and into a civil resolution mechanism.

This is a practical solution that achieves several goals. First and foremost it reduces the cost of moving a corporation into a position of compliance. Second, it creates a more positive environment for dispute resolution. Third, it is a time efficient approach to an issue that has all too often seen disputes dragged out for excessive periods of time.

It is not necessary for me to emphasize the exorbitant costs of criminal proceedings. For that purpose, except for the most egregious situations the goal of Bill C-20 should be to make corporations conform. The bill in its form does this. The bill should also assist in lessening combative relationships between the competition bureau and corporate Canada.

Critics may claim that this is a watering down of present legislation. The Progressive Conservative Party does not see it that way. In fact quite the opposite is true. What we will achieve is successful compliance in a cost effective and time efficient manner.

This is an enlightened and reasonable approach to legislation. For that reason we cannot support the proposed amendments by the Bloc.

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12:25 p.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, unlike the last speaker I do not think we should be watering down the competition legislation that we have in Canada. We do not have very tough competition legislation as it is and I think it is important that we maintain close scrutiny over the competitiveness of our marketplace.

It seems to me to be at the cornerstone of the way in which we are to protect consumers and the way we are to create a dynamic economy in the country.

With regard to the specific measures proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, it is important to ensure that there are not easy ways out of misleading representations on the part of corporations. Not only does that harm consumers when they are tricked into buying goods or services that are not as they were represented to be, but legitimate, honest and decent businessmen and women competing with those deceptive businesses suffer losses as well.

We want to ensure that a whole range of options is available to the Government of Canada, to the competition bureau, to ensure that we have vigorous competition in the various marketplaces across the country. Consequently I think it is important to be quite specific about what we expect businesses to do and we need to require them a rather greater standard of care than the government is suggesting here.

It is not surprising that the Liberal government and the Progressive Conservative Party would want to respond to the difficulties businesses face in trying to keep themselves honest and straight with consumers. After all, they receive considerable support from all businesses, those who might be misrepresenting statements as those who are being perfectly above board.

I think we have to call businesses to account to make sure that they actually pay some attention to what they say. I might call attention to the whole raft of letters people may be getting from Reader's Digest and Publishers Clearing House. In the letters, on the envelopes and all across these things they say one has won hundreds of thousands of dollars when quite plainly one has not.

We might say that's a load of nonsense and throw that into the garbage but plainly Publishers Clearing House and Reader's Digest would not be distributing that kind of promotional literature were it not persuasive to some consumers in the marketplace.

In this context it seems to me with these changes Reader's Digest, Publishers Clearing House and others like that would be even freer to distort the marketplace, even freer to gyp honest, hardworking Canadian citizens.

Rather than weaken these provisions I think we should be toughening them. We should be moving toward tougher competition legislation, not because it is hard on business but because it is good for business and it is good for Canadians.