House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.


Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member. If he is referring simply to the householders we send out to our constituents, as the member pointed out, four times a year, we all have an opportunity to read them, as they are in the public domain. If we want to use them in debates here, that is acceptable and it has always been so. >The hon. member may do so if he wishes, as the other member did today.

However, I think that it is simply a continuation of the debate, which I hope we will resume in a few minutes.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.


Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Selkirk—Interlake referred to my speech this morning and suggested that somehow I had violated his privileges in this place.

I quoted from documentation that was not provided by the ministry but rather by our own caucus research bureau, quite extensive letters from this member dated June 24, 1997. I read the quote—

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I submit that this is debate on both side. The hon. member need not explain from where he got his information. Now the hon. member has it on the other side. I think this is indeed a matter of debate, and I would like to let the matter sit at this point.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am simply looking for a clarification of your earlier ruling. You are reserving the opportunity to review the blues.

The request from the opposition is quite clear. As I understand it, the documents referred to by the Prime Minister both yesterday and today in the House are what is being sought, and the Chair is reserving on whether the reference to those documents therefore demands that they be tabled.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I want to read the blues to see what precisely was said and in what context. At that time, if I judge that it is necessary to come back to the House with whatever the decision is, I will do it.

The House resumed consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

SupplyGovernment Orders

February 8th, 2000 / 3:30 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, this debate is on a tripartite motion by the Leader of the Opposition. The first element goes to internal management of the Human Resources Development department. The second relates to ministerial responsibility as a constitutional principle. The third relates to the particular minister actually holding the office of minister. The last two questions are related a little.

It might be worth noting that the present minister was Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development until as late as August 1999. I had the opportunity of negotiating at great length with her on native land claims in British Columbia as late as August. Most of the matters under discussion occurred or had their origins and were completed well before she entered into office. The issue of ministerial responsibility in the particular case thus has a certain artificial quality to it.

On the general issue of ministerial responsibility, we might say with some disappointment that the debate in the House has not been very edifying or very useful. It is a principle that developed in the early 17th century constitutional struggles in Great Britain. At that time there was a clear constitutional dichotomy between prerogative power and legislative power, and most of the principles were developed in that context. They apply with difficulty to a situation of fused governmental power. The parliamentary executive was developed in the 19th century and continued to the present.

Again, what one might call the modern concept of ministerial responsibility relates to the period of constitutional laissez-faire and limited government and probably has little practical relationship to the sort of problems we face today in a period of big government with very large spending power on the part of the government and very large departments of which we have two or three within the present post-war Canadian governmental system. In a certain way it surpasses the capacities of ministers to administer without considerably more sophistication in the administrative processes and structures available to them. It is perhaps a little disappointing therefore that so little has been said in follow up to the principle of ministerial responsibility and what it means in terms of concrete changes and modernization of governmental structures and processes.

I noted with interest the present minister's immediate responses to the situations that have been discussed in the House in the last two days: the internal changes which are being made without constitutional amendment and intensified staff training on administration. They involved the introduction of the principle of accountability of managers for the results of their programs; disciplinary action if gross mismanagement or fraudulent activities are revealed; the creation of a new audit group; the review of all active files by April 30, 2000; and ensuring files are complete before the contract is signed and that all requests for payment are accompanied by a check list containing necessary financial information. These are good steps and we welcome their introduction.

I think we should ask members of the House, both government and opposition but I think with particular reference to opposition members, what exactly they did or saw as their function as members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. These are all-party committees. The agenda is subject to consensus formation. The opportunity to ask for files and to review them is there.

I find it interesting that there seems to have been an absence of information on the part of members when specific issues have been raised of grants made to their constituencies. They do not seem to have been aware of that fact, and one wonders why.

The responsibility of a member of parliament or a member of a committee is to keep oneself appraised of the details of administration. It is always within the power of a committee to demand production of files or to demand the appearance of officials. With certain of the committees of parliament this is a fact of life. Some of them have been quite robust committees and quite rambunctious in the process.

I note with particular interest the surprise of the member for Vancouver East, a very much respected individual, that a total of $37 million in grants went to Vancouver East. As a resident of Vancouver I cannot think of a better area of the city to receive $37 million. I might even wonder whether that is enough. But, again, are members of parliament not utilizing to the full their role as members of committees or their role of individual members? In other words it is a case, as Bentham said, of judge and company, in this case government and members of parliament. There is more than one party involved in this whole process.

Every file that comes to my office, infrastructure, millennium grants and the like, is scrutinized closely. I have a subcommittee within my parliamentary offices and we go through them in great detail. We rank the applications hierarchically and I think it has been one of the factors in enabling us to present cases to ministers and to others for grants. I think that is part of the responsibility of a member.

Years ago I gave evidence to the McRuer commission set up by the Government of Ontario. James McRuer was a great chief justice of Ontario and was concerned with complaints of administration of grants and other programs within the Government of Ontario.

Chief Justice McRuer asked me to appear as a witness and to present evidence on this issue. Is there a crisis in government? Does it affect individual rights? Could we have advice on structures and processes of government? I repeat these simply because I think they are germane to the problem of the growth of big government in Canada, the phenomenon of certainly the last 25 years, the big spending governments, when we have accepted social responsibility for the welfare of citizens in health care, education and related matters.

At the time the McRuer commission was set up there were a series of debates in universities and elsewhere. Professor Hayek of Road to Serfdom was predicting the end of democratic government because administration was becoming so complex. Professor George Keeton, who was a top English jurist at the time, wrote a book, the Passing of Parliament . Parliament was disappearing simply because of the strains on executive government.

The obvious conclusion was that the post-modern British derived system of the parliamentary executive was not responding as well to these problems as other systems that have the separation of powers like the United States and other countries have, and to a certain extent like Great Britain had in the early 17th century when the great constitutional struggles on ministerial responsibility emerged.

The United States set up a commission under ex-president Herbert Hoover, the Hoover Commission on Government. It recommended substantial reforms within the United States system, which I brought to the notice of the McRuer commission.

In a certain sense the pro-active concern of the Canadian parliament under all governments in the last 40 years with the Quebec issue at the expense of other and larger constitutional administrative law reform issues has hurt us in taking effective action in advance of problem situations, situations such as we face today.

One of the recommendations made to the McRuer commission was the establishment of a uniform administrative procedure code applying to all government departments. A second was for a specialized Conseil d'Etat administrative tribunal having jurisdiction over all governmental operations. A third was personal liability of civil servants and others for misconduct, including gross negligence in the administration of their operations, personal liability, civil law damages and the like if that is necessary.

The present minister proposes recovery of misspent funds. It is a step in that direction. I recommend to the House, if we can carry this debate constructively further and if all parties would agree, that a priority should be a general overall structural review of administrative processes in government.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Surrey Central. It is a pleasure to speak to the situation if for no other reason than it brings to light an endemic and systemic problem within the government that has been occurring on the government's watch since it was elected.

This is nothing that began overnight. It did not begin with the audit for which the member for Calgary—Nose Hill had been pushing for a long time. It did not bespeak the 459 programs that have been brought to the floor of the House, showing a miserable lack of accounting. It bespeaks a problem that is running through many departments. I will begin with the HRD and will go to a few others after.

What actually took place here? Some 459 plus projects were looked at randomly in the audit that was done as a direct result of Reform Party insistence and pushing for a very long period of time. Of those programs, 15% did not have an application on file. Of the remaining applications, the following elements were missing: 72% had no cash flow forecasts; 46% had no estimate of the number of people participating; 25% had no description of the activities that were being supported; 25% had no apt description of the participants; 11% had no budget; 11% had no description of expected results; and 97% of the files showed no evidence that anyone had been checked to see whether they owed money to HRD, a requirement to determine whether or not the program fits the bill. Eight out of ten files reviewed did not show any evidence of any financial monitoring on the part of HRD, and 87% of the project files showed no evidence of supervision. I could go on.

The response from the Prime Minister is that in this small cross-section are all the problems we have. That is absolute nonsense. To think that this random cross-section, which shows such endemic mismanagement, represents the only problems faced by HRDC is, at best, short-sighted and, at worst, refers to things that we cannot mention in this place because they would be in the realm of unparliamentary language.

What does it actually bespeak? It bespeaks mismanagement and a lack of respect. It is a lack of respect for the taxpayers of Canada who break their backs to pay money to this institution, which should spend it in a responsible manner. It is a lack of respect for all Canadians and it is a lack of respect for the money the government receives. It is looked at as the government's money, and the government demonstrates that time and time again.

This is not the government's money. It belongs to some poor sod who is paying taxes on the $19,000 a year which he earns. It is his money. It is the money of 30 million Canadians. It is not the Liberals' money. It is not the Reform Party's money. It is the people's money. It is up to the government to manage it properly.

The government has prized itself, falsely as we can now prove, on being a good manager of the public purse. We have shown that not only is it an appalling manager, but when faced with irrefutable facts of its mismanagement, it obfuscates, it puts the issue under the carpet and pretends there is no problem. That is not only an insult to this institution; worse, it is an insult to all the taxpayers who pay money to the government.

The member for Mississauga West stood this morning to go on a pathetic tirade over issues that are completely irrelevant to what is taking place. The member stood and said that the Reform Party is against job creation, that it is against developing programs for places with high unemployment rates, particularly in certain sectors of Canada and in aboriginal communities. That money is meant for this purpose. We do not dispute that at all. We want to make sure that these places have higher rates of employment. However, every member of the opposition wants the money to be spent in a responsible way. We do not want the money to be used as a tool for pork-barrelling. We do not want it to be used cynically as a means to gain power. But that is exactly what has been taking place for far too long.

This did not happen overnight. For over 10 years the auditor general has been saying that HRDC has had a great deal of difficulty keeping its finances on track. In previous reports it has been stated that HRDC has been unable to monitor what was going on to ensure the money was being spent wisely.

The question which I pose to the government is: Why did it take until the year 2000 for the government to admit, in a backhanded way, that it has a problem? It does not have a little problem; it has a massive problem. It is a chronic problem that is faced not only by the programs within HRDC but by a lot of other programs.

I have worked on reserves and I have seen some of the most impoverished people of the land. The money which is targeted to help those people, to deal with the rampant unemployment amongst them, to give them the skills which they need, does not get to them. We can go to many reserves and see people living at levels of poverty which are akin to what we would see in third world countries. Children lie on concrete slabs in the middle of winter. Multiple families live in houses that are boarded up, without central heating and with soiled mattresses on the living room floor. There are drunk people all over the place and children who have infections all over their bodies. We probably would not see this situation outside these communities.

Money is earmarked to help these people, but for years they have not received that money. That is in part why there is deplorable, abject poverty in those communities. It is not because the money is not there. There were billions of dollars involved in the minister's previous portfolio. She knew full well what was going on. The member for Skeena brought it up time and time again, as did the member for Wild Rose, the leader of this party and other members of the opposition. Money is being spent by the department of Indian affairs, but that money is not getting to the people. The auditor general has brought that up time and time again, but the government puts its blinkers on and says it does not have a problem.

This is the tip of an iceberg that is very large. The honourable thing to do, beyond the minister resigning, would be for the government to finally come clean with the Canadian public and say that it will do an audit or it will listen to the auditor general and others and fix the problem. If the government does not fix the problem and make sure that taxpayer money is used as it was designed to be used, to help those who cannot help themselves, then it should leave because it is not doing its job. If the government professes to be the manager of the public purse, then it should do the honourable thing. Those responsible should either resign or fix the problem, together with opposition members. All members have people in their ridings who are suffering and the problem needs to be fixed now.

There are other things, such as western economic diversification and ACOA. The people at CIDA just found $850 million. The member for Surrey Central will speak later about the $850 million of CIDA money that was given with no or minimal accountability to Canadian companies. That money was designed to help the poorest of the poor. It has gone into the pockets of companies making millions of dollars. Why should the Canadian International Development Agency be giving money, with no accountability, to private companies to spend onshore? That is not what taxpayer money is for.

The government should do the honourable thing. The minister should quit, the government should fix the problems right away and come clean in all of the other ministries to ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.


Dennis Gruending NDP Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments of my hon. friend and I found them to be both thorough and thoughtful.

The New Democratic Party has always believed in giving a helping hand to people in any region of Canada when they need it. On the surface of things the transitional jobs fund was supposed to serve exactly that purpose. It was supposed to help people in regions of high unemployment, higher than 12%. We in the NDP support that initiative and we always have supported that kind of initiative.

People in my constituency of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar did not qualify for this job creation program because, thankfully, our unemployment rate is far below 12%. There are very few areas in Saskatchewan which qualified for this program because our rate of unemployment is considerably lower than the threshold.

I believe that people in my constituency and throughout Saskatchewan would support a program that would move resources to regions of the country where there is high unemployment. Where there is high unemployment there is always resulting poverty. That was what the program was intended to do, if it had been administered cleanly, but this program was not administered cleanly. This program became a vehicle for Liberal pork-barrelling and political interference.

As we know, the Prime Minister's riding alone received grants of over $7 million, 17 of them. We know that the human resources development minister's riding also benefited liberally, even though her riding, like mine, did not officially qualify. There is real evidence that there was political interference to the benefit of Liberal ministers. My friend mentioned the word “cynical”. I find this a cynical and disgusting attack on the unemployed and the poor. This Liberal slush fund is a shame and a scandal.

As my friend mentioned, government ministers must take responsibility for their actions, and I agree with him that the Minister of Human Resources Development must resign.

Can my hon. friend comment on the effects of this kind of pork-barrelling and the other examples he mentioned, like CIDA? That is an example which is of much interest to me. Can he comment on what effects this kind of pork-barrelling and cynicism have in the long run on the electorate and on the body politic?

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. friend from the NDP for his excellent question. There is a great deal of apathy and cynicism among the public today. We can see on the basis of what has been brought to the floor of the House with the HRDC scandal that it is to some extent, unfortunately, justified.

However, within the context of the problem we have today there is hope, hope that we as members of the opposition, and I hope hon. members of the government, can fix the problem. If we fix the problem, then perhaps we can start to rebuild the trust that elected officials should have with members of the public, trust that this institution and parliament should have but do not with the public. We need to mend those bridges by doing the right thing.

The member mentioned his riding. There are farmers. There is the aboriginal issue. There is ACOA. There is the western economic diversification fund, and on and on it goes where moneys are used by the government of the day to pay off friends and to win support for the next election. It has little or nothing to do with helping the poorest of the poor or those people in need of jobs. If it were, then we would all be in agreement, and the ministers on the other side know that.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Give me a case.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

The member says “Give me a case”. He need not look any further than the audits of CIDA. The member need not look any further than the audits of HRDC and where the money has gone.

We do not want to stand here and slam; we want to fix the problem. The government should do the same thing, as soon as possible.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, after the thorough, thoughtful and to the point speech by my hon. colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak on the Reform Party's supply day motion expressing our deep concern and the outrage of many Canadians over the gross mismanagement of grants and contributions by the Department of Human Resources Development totalling more than $1 billion annually, which is not a typo but $1 billion annually, and our lack of confidence in the minister.

We on this side of the House will take this opportunity to let Canadians know that we endorse the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, something that is sorely lacking under the current Liberal administration.

Today is the second day of the sitting of the House in the new year. On New Year's Eve, which I spent with my constituents in Cloverdale, everyone was excited as we moved from the past millennium to this millennium. I looked through the eyes of my constituents, and all Canadians, to their dreams. Canadians were dreaming of the government of the day building a strong and wide bridge over which all Canadians would cross from the previous millennium to this millennium.

In the new millennium their dreams are that their taxes will be reduced, that jobs will be created, that there will be no brain drain. We are hoping that the government will return the billions it has cut from health care and education.

They are dreaming of pension reform, policies that strengthen families and family values that are respected. Their are dreaming of a criminal justice system that will serve the needs of the victims not the criminals. They are dreaming of a federation that will be based on equality and democratic principles that will be followed in federal institutions. They want accountability in government and they we want the government to listen to the people. These are their dreams.

This weak Liberal government has no political will and no vision. Rather than fulfilling those dreams, we have unfortunately come back to the House in the new millennium confronted with the biggest boondoggle yet. This billion dollar boondoggle shows us that maybe every federal department is being mismanaged. It seems to be a systemic problem.

With only 1% of the grant moneys spent by HRDC being examined, we have discovered a great deal of mismanagement.

I will not repeat the facts, percentages and figures reported in the audit because my colleagues have already highlighted them. I will give some examples to the House to show the kinds of cases we are talking about. In one case, a sponsor submitted a $60,000 proposal but received $150,000. After verification, the sponsor indicated that only $30,061 should have been claimed.

In another case, out of the $50,547 in verified claims for one file, more than half of that money was the salary of two persons during the first three weeks of the project.

Another example shows that a firm was paid $150,000 out of which $30,000 was used for overhead expenses with no accompanying explanation. There was no business plan, just two pages of description; no feasibility study and no rationale on the file for recommending it. The project's length was extended and the grant increased to $420,000 with no clear explanation.

There are numerous examples. In the Prime Minister's own riding, where most of the money went, the job creation rate was negative. Bankruptcies were filed after receiving the grant money.

Hundreds of businesses disproportionately located in the hometowns of Liberal cabinet ministers received government grants without anyone checking where the money went. In some cases, out of those 459 examined, the grateful recipients did not even fill out any application forms.

The problem does not stop there. The worst is yet to come. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

The transitional jobs fund name was changed to Canadian jobs fund. I suggest to my Liberal friends that they should change the name again to the Liberal slush fund and amalgamate all the slush funds from other organizations so that they can pork-barrel and use this slush fund for buying votes as they do.

In April 1998, I questioned the minister responsible for CIDA on the lack of accountability in spending of CIDA's industrial co-operation program called CIDA Inc. Out of that $815 million, half of that money was spent in Quebec. This taxpayer money was given out without follow-up processes to monitor how the money was spent. The question is not where the money was spent but how the money was given out. Canadians do not get money for feasibility studies from the banks.

The audit commissioned by CIDA Inc. concluded that the benefits were overestimated and that information on projects and companies were incomplete and inaccurate. The minister could not account for CIDA Inc. funds to the tune of almost one billion dollars. The audit also identified other serious problems, including the fact that 33% of the money was allocated to just 7% of companies that applied.

The auditor general's office prodded CIDA to conduct a follow-up audit last year and the depressing results were quietly released just before Christmas.

The 1999 version of the audit showed that the problems at CIDA Inc. were not only continuing but in many cases had become worse. In more than 33% of the cases, money was paid out even though mandatory reports were not filed at all. No reports were filed on 10% of the projects and 33% of the money went to only 4.4% of the companies that applied. This was worse than the 1997 audit results.

The lack of proper accounting at both CIDA Inc. and HRDC, and many other government departments, like Western Economic Diversification or ACOA, is part of a much larger problem of billions of dollars being spent each year on grants and contributions.

There are charges of political interference from the top down, interference from government cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister. Incidentally, the former minister of CIDA was also the former minister of HRDC.

No one has assumed responsibility for these boondoggles even though they are backed up by the audit and the cases number in the dozens. The amounts involved are huge.

The head of the civil service has refused to take responsibility for his bureaucrats. In turn, the human resources minister has refused to take responsibility for him. The Prime Minister, in turn, has refused to take responsibility for her. The former minister of HRDC has blatantly refused to assume the responsibility. Why can they not take responsibility rather than cover up and engage in damage control?

Now we hear that the government has issued gag orders to government officials so that they cannot share the information with opposition members.

I have a private member's bill in the House, which I will be introducing soon, concerning whistle blower legislation. If that was in place these problems would probably have been prevented because the government's weaknesses, the corruption and mismanagement of those funds, would have surfaced.

There are many questions that remain unanswered. Canadians want to know if the Liberals will admit that these grants are political slush funds to buy voters with their own money. They also want to know if the previous HRD minister will admit that he knew about the missing money and, if he did, why he did nothing about it when he was in office.

There are many other questions. Will the Prime Minister take any action? He has always campaigned that he would show responsibility in government.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, I have looked at the motion put forward by the opposition party on this issue. I have also listened to a number of remarks in the House over the last couple of days during question period.

As a member of parliament who represents one of the ridings which has one of these 37 so-called boondoggles, or billion dollar mess-ups that the opposition likes to say, I would like to explain to people exactly what the one is in my riding. The Fanshawe College, with the help of Human Resources Development Canada, got a grant of $19,800 to promote summer student jobs.

I am in a rural area with a lot of small communities. It was Fanshawe's responsibility over the last couple of years to go to the small communities to promote summer student employment. It did a very good job.

When it came to reporting time, Fanshawe College came to HRDC and said that it was an educational institution and that it want to know what it should do about the GST in terms of its input cost. It wanted to know if it could claim back 100% like it had in other areas.

Because Fanshawe College was one of the 475 projects that was picked out, the auditors came from Montreal. They went through the college's books and said that everything was fine, but that it could only claim 50% of the GST not 100%. So Fanshawe College had to give back $200 in GST. That is one of the 37 examples that those people across the floor keeps saying is mismanaged money.

Summer jobs for students is vitally important in my riding. The jobs that Fanshawe College has provided, and the jobs that the department and the minister have provided in terms of more money going toward summer student employment, has helped my riding and the young people living there.

Hearing that fact, does the hon. member not agree that without knowing all the facts on these cases the motion put forward by his party is a little off base?

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to answer this question because it shows the ignorance and arrogance on the government bench. It shows that the Liberal government has no vision and is so weak that it cannot see what is happening on the national scene.

I ask the hon. member to go a bank and withdraw money without signing a withdrawal slip. Can he get money from the bank? Can the cashier give him any cash without him signing the withdrawal slip? How can the government withdraw the taxpayers' money? This money belongs to the taxpayers.

The government has to be accountable for this money, every dollar and cent. How can millions of dollars be given to Liberal friends or to some other business without having a paper trail or any application on file?

This motion is very much needed because it will demand accountability from the government. We will demand the resignation of the minister who first tried to cover-up the issue, who then misled the House, who then denied all responsibility and who then went into a damage control mode. It is shameful.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, my concern is in the real disparity in accountability. It is clear that there was no accountability with this program. I have to say that I do support the transitional jobs fund. It has been important in the Yukon.

There was accountability in other programs, such as the young entrepreneurs program where everything was filled out in triplicate. It did an incredible job. However, its funding was cut by two-thirds without any warning after the agreement had been signed. This volunteer group was left high and dry and scrambling to find money to cover the unexplainable cut in its funding, which was never to be returned. This was a volunteer group that was unbelievably scrutinized. It had to present everything in triplicate. It was accountable. What bothers me is that there is not the same kind of accountability on the other side.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, maybe there was no vote bank for the Liberals. They have been telling voters to vote and support them and they will reward them. There were no rewards given because there were no votes for the Liberals.

I think these programs are working as slush funds. Maybe there was no way of buying votes in that riding.

SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Brant Ontario


Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on this opposition day motion because it gives me a chance to clarify the areas in my department that do need strengthening. It also gives me a chance to explain to the members in the House and to Canadians the things that we are doing at Human Resources Development Canada to set things right.

I am the first to acknowledge that the internal audit that we received identified deficiencies in the administration of our grants and contributions programs. The grants and contributions we are talking about are moneys that go to Canadians with disabilities to help them to obtain the skills they need to get and hold a job.

It is money that goes to young Canadians for summer jobs, for internships so they can get that very important experience that they need to continue over the course of their lives to participate in our economy.

It is money that goes to Canadians who want to learn to read, to our literacy grants and contributions; Canadians who are not at the rate and the level of literacy so they can participate fully in society and the economy and get an opportunity to learn.

It is money that goes to Canadians who have not been able to find work through targeted wage subsidies, through self-employment assistance and to their communities where there may not be a diversified economy to help build new opportunities and jobs for men and women who want and need them.

Those are the kinds of programs we are talking about. I can tell the House that when I got the results, I was concerned.

From my point of view the right thing to do was to make it public, to tell Canadians that we have a challenge in the department but we are prepared to fix it. From my point of view, Canadians can have greater faith in a department that is prepared to identify its problems and commit itself to improve them, to fix them, than in a department that sweeps them under the carpet and does not pay attention. For me, that is what government should be about, to be able to continuously improve.

Canadians appreciate and understand that times change, people change, circumstances and technology change. We have to keep up. But we have to be able to recognize where the challenges exist and then have the capability and the force to make those improvements. That is what this is about.

We actually looked at the audit and what it said and did not say and there are some points I want to make. First and foremost the audit did not say that $1 billion disappeared. We know where the cheques have been sent. They have been sent to educational institutions, to community organizations, not for profit organizations, to small and medium size businesses and to individuals in the ridings of every single member of parliament in this House.

The audit did not measure the results of these programs. We do that every year in our performance analyses which are part of the estimates that are presented to this House and debated in committee.

The audit did not talk about political interference. How could it? As I said, these programs, these grants and contributions, are found in the ridings of members from the New Democratic Party, the Reform Party, the Bloc, the Conservatives and indeed here among Liberal members of parliament. But they are there to help communities and individuals in need.

I put my focus on what the audit did say. The audit looked at how we administer these very important projects. It looked at whether there were applications on file. It looked at whether the rationale for a project was included in the file. It looked to see if we were monitoring the receipts that we got from groups and organizations and individuals that identified and itemized the ways in which they spent the money that had been forwarded to them. These are important things because they are the foundation of the programs that we are managing.

The audit said that we can do a significantly better job. As the audit indicated, because in some cases there was not an application, it did not mean that there had not been one or there was not one somewhere else. It just meant it was not in the file. If there was not a rationale it did not mean that the project was not a good project. It just meant it was not written in the file. But for me, the files do have to be complete. We have to be able to confirm to Canadians why the investments we are making with their tax dollars are the right investments.

I have taken this audit very seriously. As I say, from my point of view the administrative management is the foundation of our work. It supports these grants and contributions, these projects that we know are important in the lives of Canadians and their communities. My job as minister is to shore up this foundation, to make sure it is strong, because when a foundation shifts or is weakened, that which it holds up can also become weakened. For me, the responsibility that I have as minister is to take this seriously, to do what I have to do to shore up the foundation, to make it strong. I am prepared to do that.

What is interesting about this is that that is the story, the story of a department that through its own series of checks and balances identified an opportunity for improvement, that made this information available to Canadians in a transparent fashion and asked Canadians to recognize what we are doing and then to measure it by the work that we do to improve it.

The opposition says that we are hiding something. How can that be when we have made the report public, when it is available for Canadians to deal with? I guess they do not have the same values of transparency and openness that we on this side of the House feel to be very important.

Another thing that is interesting is that we hear from individual members of parliament that they do not think we should be investing in hotels or in golf courses or in Bible colleges. What those members do not understand is that they are talking about people. They are talking about the people who have had the opportunity to get employment at these hotels, at the golf courses, or to get a summer job at a Bible college. Those people who listen to the members of parliament challenging those undertakings must be asking is this job not good enough? We know it is good enough for them. They know and they appreciate and they want the government to participate in providing opportunities for them so that they can benefit from the greatness that we know is ours as Canadians.

When we look at this from our side of the House we know that the government can play a significant role in the lives of individuals and that we can partner effectively with communities to create opportunities to strengthen both the social and economic realities that are theirs. That is what we believe in on this side and no one will change that. That is why for me it is so important to take this audit and to deal with it wisely, effectively and fully.

I would just like to share with the House some of the letters that we have received that tell us we are right to support these grants and contributions. We hear from Eric Boyd, the managing director of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. Mr. Boyd writes:

With the $1.7M provided by the Opportunities Fund over 3 years, I am pleased to report that we have been able to lever an additional $1.5M from our Corporate Campaign to support our employment programs. I'm even more pleased to report that the Association has been able to increase its annual job placements from 500 to 750 in just one year, resulting in annual savings to taxpayers in excess of $18M.

Here is another from Carolyn Emerson who is working at Memorial University of Newfoundland in the women in science and engineering program. She writes:

Funding for the WISE Students' salaries during the ten years of the program has come primarily from HRDC's Summer Career Placement Program from almost all of the Canada Employment Centres around the province. That support is most gratefully acknowledged and has been a real investment in young Canadians, an investment that is reaping dividends as they enter the workforce.

This one is from Barbara Mulrooney and Barbara Linehan. They are the co-owners of B & B Crafts. They are in Placentia, Newfoundland. They say:

Through this fund we are proud to say how we feel about the difference our business has made in our lives. This fund has enabled us to get up every morning and proudly say that we have to go to work. It has raised our self-esteem and confidence through the pride we feel and see in our work.

Again, I just point out that from our point of view these grants and contributions are extraordinarily important. They make a difference in the lives of Canadians and in their communities. From my point of view as Minister of Human Resources Development, when I see that there is a job to be done to improve our administration, I take that seriously, and I will ensure that we work to fix it.

In that regard we have worked very, very closely with experts to build a plan that will ensure that this problem is fixed; to ensure that this problem never happens again; to ensure that our foundation is strong and these grants and contributions are supported. I would like to give the House the highlights.

First of all, we will ensure payments meet our financial requirements. That means that no payments will go out until the local director at a human resources development centre, or the director general, certifies that the project file meets the new financial criteria. There are no new agreements that will be approved until we have signed confirmation that the project file contains all the essential elements. All active files will be reviewed by April 30 to certify that they are complete.

Second, we will check and correct all problem files. We have been talking about this. We are investigating 37, now 34 because we have completed some, audit cases where financial rules may have been broken. I underline may, because in the three we have already closed we found no difficulty. The paperwork was found and things were as they should have been. We also note that any similar cases that are identified through a review of active files will be investigated and resolved in the same way, and any cases of suspected fraud or other illegal activity will be referred to the police.

Third, and this is very important, we will provide improved training and support for staff. This means that we will provide them with the direction, tools, training and additional resources that are needed. We will review and improve accountability and management structures and work processes to make sure we have our structures right. We will complete the first round of training and make sure that by February our financial criteria are understood by all and that their responsibilities are understood.

There is a point I want to make here. What I do not want to do is build a system that sucks the accountability and responsibility all back to headquarters. We have worked very hard to build a service delivery model. We are at the local level. We can deal with individual citizens and with their community members to get the important grants and contributions into their hands in a timely fashion. That has worked well and that has been a great success in our department.

Now what I want to do is work to provide them with a system that will also allow them to be fully accountable and transparent to the Canadian taxpayer and ensure that the investments we are making, the tax dollars we are investing, are followed dollar by dollar. This is important to me and it is modern comptrollership that we are talking about here and that we can achieve.

The fourth aspect of our six point plan says that we will ensure accountability to judge results. We will ensure that the implementation of the action plan is part of the basic job requirement for all managers involved in grants and contributions. I am going to receive quarterly reports on our progress starting in April 2000. Those reports will be made public because I do want Canadians to judge us against our actions. We will have external reviews of our progress in June 2000 and January 2001.

Fifth, we will get the best advice available. We have presented the new system to the Treasury Board comptrollership standards advisory board and we have incorporated its advice. We have incorporated the suggestions from our meeting with the auditor general. We have also contracted with Deloitte & Touche who have advised us on the integrity of our plan and have given us suggestions on modern comptrollership.

Finally, and this is extremely important, we will report on our progress publicly. As I have mentioned, to me that is a priority. We will report to the media on our follow-up of the 37 cases. We will brief the media on our quarterly reports. We will provide information to the Canadian public and I will appear before the parliamentary committee of human resources on this topic this week.

I would like to share for the record the reaction of the auditor general to this plan. He said in his letter to our deputy dated February 7, “In our opinion, the proposed approach represents a thorough plan for corrective action to address the immediate control problems that were identified”.

I am taking the job as Minister of Human Resources Development seriously. I can also say that my department is taking this seriously. I have spoken with employees from coast to coast to coast. They want a better system. They want better tools. They want to continue to serve Canadians in the best possible fashion.

The department is committed to this plan. It is committed to this work and supports it fully. Together we are going to ensure that we have the best administrative practices when it comes to grants and contributions. We will continue to support these projects which are so vitally important in the ridings of each and every member of the House of Commons.

For me this is about ministerial responsibility. It is about taking information that says we can do a better job, making it public, building a plan of action that is approved by experts from the outside, and then committing to the people of the country to implement it, to fix the problem, to make it work and together to continue to build a strong Canada.

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4:30 p.m.


Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Madam Speaker, the speech of the minister could be summed up in three words: promises, promises, promises. They fly totally in the face of the failure, failure, failure of the minister and the department over the past few years. That is the real problem.

I would like to take the minister up on her promise of openness and transparency. We have asked through access to information for the files relating to the TJF grants that went into the Prime Minister's riding. When those requests came back they were about half whited out. In many cases the papers had their headings but the rest had been cut off.

I will take the minister at her word, and because she has promised full disclosure and transparency to the Canadian people I would ask if she is prepared to table in their entirety those documents relating to all the TJF grants in the Prime Minister's riding in the House this week. I would like an answer to that.

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4:30 p.m.


Jane Stewart Liberal Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, as the hon. member knows there are aspects under the Privacy Act that have to be considered when files that are offered to requests for access to information are presented. Those are the laws of the country.

I would note that the department of human resources has a good record in responding to access to information requests. We have sent out many, many pages. Thousands of pages are presented to those who request them because that is the right thing to do.

The issue here includes Canadians, the Privacy Act, and the information that can be forwarded is forwarded.

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4:30 p.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the minister's speech, because she downplays a situation that has been going on for several years. The minister also confuses two things.

She confuses projects on which individual members are expected, by virtue of their functions, to make a decision with the documents on file. That is my first point, and I believe all members here do support these programs in good faith. However, program management does not concern the members of this House who are not government members and representing the minister's department.

Is the minister familiar with the Public Service of Canada Act, which calls for public servants at all levels to be accountable? If a company were managed the way her department is, it would have gone bankrupt a long time ago.

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4:30 p.m.


Jane Stewart Liberal Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, that is precisely what this is all about. It is about taking responsibility. As I say again, the department through its own series of checks and balances, an internal audit, identified that there were things upon which we could improve. I received the information and I took it seriously. I have asked the department to make it a priority, and in so doing we have worked with outside experts to develop a plan that will ensure this problem is dealt with, that it is fixed, and that it will never happen again. That is about taking ministerial responsibility.

I look forward to being in a circumstance where Canadians are being provided with the information, which we will now have on a continual basis, to measure us by our results.

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4:35 p.m.


Dick Harris Reform Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would expect that if the minister is to speak to the House today she would at least be speaking in a truthful and open way. She has said—

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4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

This is not a point of order.

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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister is here. As you probably know, many opposition members would like to ask her questions. You said there would be four questions and there are four opposition parties. I would appreciate it if our party had the opportunity to ask a question.