Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Quebecois has moved today for debate a motion that refers directly to the scandal at the Department of Human Resources Development.
This motion recommends:
—the creation of an independent public commission of inquiry, whose members will be appointed by the House, and whose mandate will be to inquire into all practices of that Department and to report to the House by September 19, 2000.
Several reasons have led the Bloc to move this motion for a vote in the House at the end of the day, among others: the lack of transparency of the government, which refuses day after day to answer straight out questions by the opposition; the government's cover-up of a fiasco that is still going on in the Department of Human Resources Development; the fact that Liberals are mixing up government and party and are using public funds for partisan purposes; the too numerous projects under investigation by the RCPM or the police.
Obviously, the minister received a very bad legacy from her predecessor. Consequently, since she became aware of the huge fiscal abyss her department is in, she tried to hide information, problem cases, patronage cases and criminal investigations that have been piling up since the scandal broke.
When the minister—or one of her colleagues who answers for her, as the Minister of Veteran Affairs did yesterday—does no longer know what to say, we hear as an answer that the Quebec government had recommended and signed these projects. Very well. But this information has absolutely nothing to do with the problem raised by the opposition.
Even though Minister Harel put her signature on all the projects, neither she nor her department were responsible for the management of the funds. It was HRDC and not Emploi Québec that managed the funds.
The Minister for International Trade and the Prime Minister, who talked about it in an televised interview last weekend, are really in no position to ridicule the work of Minister Lemieux and Emploi Québec. The hon. member for Papineau—Saint-Denis should remember that it is easier to look at the speck of dust in a neighbour's eye than at the plank in one's own.
One thing is clear: Minister Harel could certainly not recommend projects that received grants from the minister of HRDC even before any application was filed.
The serious carelessness in the management of the program made fraud, mishandling of funds, political interference and patronage possible.
How could the minister imagine for one moment that we believe her? What happened to her honesty, her integrity, her good conscience, her sense of ethics and the oath she swore when she assumed responsibility for the department last August?
I would like to give an example that illustrates this whole mess perfectly, the case of Placeteco. Listen carefully, you will be enlightened.
Placeteco is a manufacturer of plastic casts. In 1996-97, Aérospatiale Globax, the parent corporation of Placeteco, applied for a grant from the transitional jobs fund. HRDC approved a $2 million grant, and a first payment of $400,000 was made.
Placeteco, owned by Mr. Giguère, a friend of the Prime Minister, sought protection from its creditors under the Bankruptcy Act. The balance of the grant, $1.6 million, was placed in two trust accounts, one for Placeteco, and the other one for Technipaint, another subsidiary of Aérospatiale Globax.
Placeteco knew that it would eventually get a $1.2 million grant, but it kept this information from its creditors, in violation of the Bankruptcy Act. Through underhanded schemes—this is a bit harsh, but I cannot find any other way to describe the conduct of the Prime Minister's cronies—HRDC put $1.2 million in trust accounts while the situation of Placeteco was being sorted out, in violation of Treasury Board guidelines.
A lawyer, Gilles Champagne, was hired as a trustee for HRDC. Ironically, Gilles Champagne is also the lawyer of Claude Gauthier, another friend of the Prime Minister. Claude Gauthier would eventually buy Placeteco for a cool $1 and promise to invest $200,000 in the company. After that, Claude Gauthier received a $1.2 million grant.
Members must not forget that grants under this program are to be used to create jobs. What did Mr. Gauthier do with his $1 million? He paid off a loan at the National Bank, Placeteco's main creditor. That kind of behaviour is called misappropriation of funds.
Since the use of trusts is against the rules of Treasury Board, Technipaint had to submit a new application for a grant that was finally awarded to it. As for Placeteco, it did not have to make a new application, it received a grant of $1.2 million and its directors refused to be held accountable to HRDC.
Between 1993 and 1997, Claude Gauthier and his various companies donated a total of $48,673 to the Liberal Party of Canada. Is it any wonder that Placeteco was given preferential treatment?
Claude Gauthier is also the owner of Continental Paving, the company that got the subcontract for paving the RCMP road leading to the Prime Minister's cottage, whereas the initial contract had been awarded without tenders to Rénald Cloutier, a building contractor who had also built the Prime Minister's cottage in the area.
I could go on with the file on Claude Gauthier and talk about the golf course he bought from the Prime Minister, but that would simply add another scandal.
Let us not be naive. The Prime Minister prides himself on being a good member of parliament. I am not in a position to assess that statement, therefore I cannot confirm nor invalidate it. It will be incumbent on the voters to do it in the next general elections, if he succeeds in maintaining himself at the helm of the party up till then.
In the meantime, with the employment insurance reform and the billions in surpluses pocketed by the government, and in light of what happened at HRDC with the management of the job creation program, which is funded with savings made on the backs of the unemployed and the disadvantaged, one is justified in decrying this a unfair, indecent behaviour on the part of this government, which cloaks itself in its Caesar-like arrogance.
The job creation program is a good program when it is implemented in accordance with the existing rules. It is a good program when it is available to eligible ridings.
However, it is a bad program when the funds are squandered left and right, when these funds are used to make the Prime Minister's friends or the Liberal government's friends richer, when they are used to unduly favour Liberal ridings that do not meet basic criteria, when these funds are set aside for some at the expense of distributive justice, when they are mismanaged with no serious monitoring, and when grants are given without any application having been submitted to the department. The program must be reviewed, but it is definitely not with a six point plan from the minister that patronage, corruption and major violations of ethics, justice, honesty and integrity will be eliminated.
As long as the minister will not have the courage to face these problems, she will not be able to recognize them, let alone deal with them.
If the minister wants to do her job, if she wants to respect her oath and restore confidence in her department, she has no choice but to order an independent public inquiry.