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House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was defence.

Topics

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by reading from the news release of the auditor general wherein he wrote:

Longstanding and widespread problems finally being addressed—Sustained effort is required.

As I have said on a number of occasions, the administration of grants and contributions in my department was unacceptable. That is why we implemented a corrective action plan for which today the auditor general has given unqualified support. He asked us to sustain our effort, and I will commit to the House that indeed we will.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:30 p.m.

Reform

Deborah Grey Reform Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is finally being addressed. They have been in government seven years. I can understand they would get the itch to do it right. The auditor general also said:

We note, however, that HRDC's review of 76 sampled files was not sufficient to determine whether all 17,000 active files fully met program requirements.

That is a heck of a shortfall. How can the minister defend ignoring 99.5% of all those files?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely clear that the hon. member opposite has never, in all these months, taken the time to look at our corrective action plan.

The first thing that we said we would do was review our active files, because of course that gives us the opportunity to correct them now. In that action plan we also commit to reviewing our dormant files and we are engaged in a process with PricewaterhouseCoopers to do just that.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, the auditor general informed us this morning of two serious problems in CIDA's awarding of a contract to Transélec, in Louiseville. This company now belongs to the Prime Minister's good friend, Claude Gauthier, who also owns Placeteco, which received funding worth $1.2 million and is under investigation. This is the first problem.

How can the Minister for International Cooperation justify the choice of Transélec in the prequalification stage, when it did not meet the basic criterion of 51% Canadian ownership.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Beaches—East York Ontario

Liberal

Maria Minna LiberalMinister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, in the pre-qualification stage the officials sent to the minister a list of seven companies, one of which was Transélec. This was under the old system before a competitive system was established, which we changed after the previous government.

This company won the competitive bid with 30% under. It has finished the program without any problem whatsoever.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is unconvincing, but there is a second problem. The auditor general tells us that Transélec did not even get a qualifying grade on CIDA's evaluation grid. How does the minister explain the Prime Minister's friend getting the contract?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Beaches—East York Ontario

Liberal

Maria Minna LiberalMinister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, obviously the member is not listening. The memo that went to the minister concerning the pre-qualified companies included seven companies. Transélec was one of those seven. Three companies were selected to go to bidding.

This was under the old system when these things went to the minister. That is no longer the system. We have changed that system, because we now have a transparent and open system in CIDA.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, according to today's auditor general's report, Transélec, the company run by the Prime Minister's friend and campaign contributor, did not qualify for the $6.3 million CIDA contract awarded to it in 1997.

Not only did it not meet the minimum score to apply, it was not even Canadian owned during the pre-qualification phase. Yet that did not stop the Prime Minister bending every rule in the book to benefit his friends.

Why does the Prime Minister not just admit that the auditor general has caught him red handed using public funds to favour his Liberal friends?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Beaches—East York Ontario

Liberal

Maria Minna LiberalMinister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, the allegation is totally irresponsible. First, CIDA's practice is to hire professional auditing accounting firms to ensure compliance with professional decision standards.

In this case CIDA accepted the formal declaration by the proponent that the Canadian ownership requirement was met, with the declaration confirmed by a recognized reputable Canadian accounting firm. The allegations are totally erroneous.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, personally I think it is terrible that the Prime Minister's career has to end this way. For over a year the Prime Minister has attended his cronyism as business as usual.

According to the auditor general the PM has broken every rule in the book in handing out this $6.3 million contract to his friend. How does the Prime Minister defend this obvious abuse of taxpayer money simply to reward his friends?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Beaches—East York Ontario

Liberal

Maria Minna LiberalMinister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, that the member tries to accuse the Prime Minister directly is absolutely despicable.

This company was 30% below the bid. It finished this job and we saved $2.5 million as a result.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:35 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are still reeling from the report tabled by the information commissioner, which states that PCO is challenging his power to require witnesses to appear and to answer his questions.

This behaviour by PCO constitutes an attack on the very foundations of parliamentary democracy. It is yet more proof of this government's arrogance.

What explanation can the Prime Minister give the House for such a flagrant lack of respect for parliament's decisions?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Saint-Maurice Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I have here a portion of the report that talks about PCO, which comes under my responsibility. I am quoting from page 15:

—the Privy Council Office deserve a special mention and genuine praise for their accomplishments...(The Privy Council Office) devoted the energy and resources necessary to clear up a significant backlog of late cases and establish procedures and practices to prevent the delay problems of the past from returning.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is free to read quotations that show him in a good light, but there are also quotations that cast a shadow over PCO, and there is no getting around that.

We are really reaching the bottom of the barrel when, because of government paranoia, senior officials are driven to break the law rather than provide the information required by the commissioner.

How can the government justify such contempt, not just for the commissioner himself, who was appointed by parliament, I need hardly point out, but also for the law?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Saint-Maurice Québec

Liberal

Jean Chrétien LiberalPrime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the member has just made a very serious accusation when he says that officials are breaking the law.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

An hon. member

That is what it says in the report.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jean Chrétien Liberal Saint-Maurice, QC

If he has proof, it is his responsibility to give names and circumstances, rather than make groundless accusations.

That is all they know how to do: make accusations and then hide.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

An hon. member

It is in the report.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Auditor General's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, today the auditor general confirmed the HRDC minister has been grossly exaggerating, even fabricating, the jobs supposedly created from her free-spending ways. I quote:

Project officers did not properly monitor the number of jobs created.

I quote again:

HRDC counted all the jobs created by a project, regardless of the extent of its contributions toward the project's total cost.

Why does the minister insult Canadians with pretend numbers when she knows she cannot back them up with facts?

Auditor General's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, indeed the auditor general agreed that jobs had been created. There is a question over how many and he is right that we did not document appropriately the data that would support the numbers employed.

Having said that, the auditor general recognizes that last spring we implemented a program to review all our programs to ensure that we have appropriate outcomes identified and the measures to confirm those outcomes. That work will be done and implemented by next spring.

Auditor General's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would hope that if we are spending $3 billion a year something would be created. The problem is that the minister justifies her reckless spending by saying jobs are being created, and yet the auditor general says she has no basis on which to make those allegations.

The records are not being kept. There are jobs being claimed for which other people are paying. The minister is not coming clean with Canadians. Why is she exaggerating job figures when she knows very well that she cannot back them up with the facts available?

Auditor General's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, unlike the party opposite we believe that there is a role for government to play in ensuring that Canadians have the opportunity to work.

As I have said, we are engaged as we speak in a complete review of all of our programs to ensure that we know the appropriate outcomes and that we have the appropriate tools to measure those outcomes.

The auditor general has given us his complete confidence in the application of the program and we will ensure that the job is done.

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:40 p.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday in this House, the President of Treasury Board stated that it has always been government policy to support the role of the information commissioner.

How can the Prime Minister justify such a statement when the information commissioner says in his report that the Minister of Justice chose not to defend the Access to Information Act when its constitutionality was challenged in the courts by Privy Council?

Information Commissioner's ReportOral Question Period

2:45 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, in response to that specific situation, everyone in the House should know that case involved a private litigant who decided to contest the constitutionality of a section of the Access to Information Act.

I would point out to the hon. member that the information commissioner ultimately concluded that the absence of the attorney general at that stage of the proceedings was perhaps the better approach.