Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak this evening on the estimates, particularly in connection with grants and contributions. I regret to say that I am opposed to this vote for the grants and contributions program.
I am not saying that they are not good programs in themselves. I believe it is important and essential for there to be programs to help people in areas where there is a high rate of unemployment, to give them the opportunity to get back on their feet and improve their economic situation.
Unfortunately, in the case at hand, the problem is not that the budget is too high, but it lies instead in the way the government is administering that budget. Let us keep in mind the constant scandal the government has been involved in for the past six months.
First, we came to realize that from the administrative point of view they had lost control of $1 billion. We came to realize that the treasury board directives that had been in place previously were not being followed by Human Resources Development Canada. What is more, they were full of holes.
Moreover, the President of the Treasury Board has already admitted this. In early June, she had to do her homework over again, and put other programs in place. But she has not corrected what went on before.
We cannot vote in favour of these budget allocations, as long as we have no guarantee that there will not be the same funny business as there was in the last election.
In the situation before us at the moment, the Minister for International Trade, the former Minister of Human Resources Development, is responsible for the loss of government control over the program of grants and contributions and for the use for partisan purposes of the funds allocated to the transitional jobs fund.
This minister, who is continuing along as Minister for International Trade, is not accountable for his action as Minister of Human Resources Development. However, in my opinion, he is primarily responsible for the crisis that has befallen Human Resources Development Canada.
He is getting away with it at the moment, because he does not want to get to the bottom of things. They refused do conduct an independent public inquiry.
So long as the government does not correct this situation, we cannot give it additional votes for job creation programs. Although the programs may be relevant and essential, we must be sure that they operate within an acceptable context. But we have seen no sign of this, either in the government's attitude to the behaviour of the former Minister of Human Resources Development, now Minister for International Trade, or in the behaviour of the current Minister of Human Resources Development.
On the contrary, instead of assuming her responsibilities in the fall of 1999, a month or two after her appointment, and saying “I have just discovered a situation that must be rectified. I will take a stand quickly and we will get to the bottom of things”, she simply helped the federal government's operation camouflage along.
No appropriate corrective action has been taken. One may well wonder why it has come to this. The situation is indeed tragic.
More than one dozen RCMP investigations on grant handouts and the fraudulent use of the funds paid out have been opened to public scrutiny. This was one serious situation that was uncovered, but many others still under investigation, and there are still unanswered questions.
A number of questions have been raised in the House, repeatedly, in order to find out how $1.2 million in funding could have been paid out to Placeteco and used solely to pay off a debt. It created not a single job. In the past two months, the government has never managed to produce a single invoice to prove what it has claimed, although it was apparently so very simple to spend the money.
Again today, the minister is telling us “Well now, those invoices, you can get them through access to information”. If I were accused of the same sort of thing that the government is today, and if I had proof in my possession, I would make it public and put out the fire right away.
They cannot do the same, because there are no invoices. How then could they produce them?
Placeteco is not unique. There is Modes Conili Star as well, another case the Bloc Quebecois exposed.
We acted more or less as if we were the investigators, and we were able to demonstrate that an investigation was required. Now the RCMP is looking into it, as a result of the questions raised by the Bloc Quebecois, because indeed most of the jobs that ought to have been created were merely transferred from one company to another. It is as though grants had been awarded to move jobs instead of to create jobs. The investigation was initiated because of questions asked by the Bloc Quebecois. There we have another case of pieces missing and things not working right.
If there were only these cases appearing one after the other, we could say that they were exceptions. But we discovered that, during the period leading up to the last election, in 1997, suddenly, 54% of all amounts earmarked for the Transitional jobs fund over a three year period was spent. During the election period, they spent the funds, especially in the ridings they wanted to win.
In ridings represented by Bloc Quebecois members, 63% of the funds were spent during that period. If this is not buying an election, I do not know what is and how we could prove it.
There should be a public inquiry into this whole issue, so that we can get to the bottom of things and see, for example, the links between grants obtained and contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada.
It is a good question to ask and one the present government has refused to answer fully. The Standing Committee on Human Resources Development conducted an extensive study on the administrative aspects. The Liberals were ready to look into that thoroughly. They were even ready to pass the buck to civil servants. But as far as the government's responsibility is concerned, they systematically tried to avoid debate and rejected witnesses that the Bloc Quebecois wanted to hear, so that they would not have to answer questions.
Among the administrative problems that were found, some were serious. I have here a list of about 15 companies. I will not name all of them, but I will name some.
In Newfoundland, Forest Renewal Sylviculture saw a project approved in November 1998. Yet, as early as 1996-97, $2,164,500 in funding had already been paid out.
Take this other company, Powel Nestle Farms. In November 1998 also, funding was approved, while $30,000 had been paid out in 1997-98.
The same thing with one company after another, where final approval was given a long time after the money was paid actually paid out. How can this be explained? Often, a decision is made based on whether or not they liked someone, during the election campaign. One Liberal candidate would meet company officials and say “Yes, I will handle this matter”. The civil servants were left to look after the situation after the election. They had to spend money without the authorizations having been signed, which is totally unacceptable.
So, this is not a situation with some specific cases only. Funds were, in my opinion, systematically used for partisan purposes. This is why it is unacceptable to continue to vote supply for grant and contribution programs, without knowing how the money will be used.
Another election is coming up. If the same situation occurs again, it will be totally unacceptable. We cannot in any way let such a situation continue if we are to ensure a proper quality of democratic life, a quality that Quebecers and Canadians expect. This situation must be corrected.
We also see many problems in the ridings that the Liberals were desperate to win. One such riding is that of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's riding is among those under suspicion.
Earlier, I mentioned Placeteco, which received $1.2 million. That transaction is being condemned for many reasons.
First, the payments were made in violation of treasury board rules. The establishment of a trust is against treasury board rules. The trustee himself is in a conflict of interest situation and no jobs were created. Moreover, there is no evidence to establish whether the payment was fair and to determine the overpayment.
When such a situation exists, it is very clear that light must be shed on the whole matter. Otherwise, it undermines the credibility of the elected member, in this case the Prime Minister, and of the whole system, since funds were used for partisan purposes.
And that is not all, a grant that had been awarded to a business in the riding of Rosemont ended up in the riding of Saint-Maurice, the Prime Minister's riding, without any jobs being created. That business committed fraud at the expense of another business that was expanding, and this case is now the focus of an ongoing RCMP investigation.
So we have here several deplorable situations that must be rectified, but the federal government is ignoring the problem.
The report issued by the human resources development committee in June was a true reflection of the government's actions since January: trying to hide the truth; systematically refusing, through the minister, to answer questions; minimizing the seriousness of the situation.
Let us not forget that the Prime Minister first talked about a $101 problem. A few weeks later, it was $5,000. There are now 12 RCMP investigations, and amounts to be recovered are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the case of Placeteco alone, we are talking about $1.2 million. I think we are faced with a situation that warrants a thorough review.
This exercise should not have been performed only by the committee. We needed to go beyond that, to go to an independent public inquiry, as called for by all the opposition parties. This would have helped give job creation programs the credibility they are currently lacking.
The human resources development committee report says nothing about the cases of fraud, late approvals, violations of treasury board directives, political pressure, patronage, the partisan use of public funds, attempts to hide information, the withholding of information, the falsification of documents, the absence of supporting documentation, and influence peddling.
We are confronted to a serious situation, a tragic situation. Since we are dealing with the business of supply, we cannot simply authorize expenditures. We have to ensure that things are done properly.
The president of the treasury board commented on this earlier, in her speech. In terms of the principle itself, what she said was interesting, except that she in no way remedied the past situation and did not put forward any concrete solution to ensure that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Many mistakes were made. There have even been convictions. Pierre Corbeil, for instance, was eventually convicted. Then, there was another conviction in the case of Mr. Fugère, an unregistered lobbyist, concerning an amount of $1,277,463. The company from Rosemont we were talking about earlier received $165,984. There was the CITEC case which was brought to light, and the Force Group, again in the Saint-Maurice riding. There was also Modes Conili Star, and the whole issue of jobs that were transferred instead of created. A Liberal from Cape Breton is also said to have received a $1.3 million contribution.
So, there are plenty of examples everywhere, several in the ridings where the Liberal Party wanted to win in the last federal election.
Given all these facts, I think it is important, before votes are adopted, that we be well-aware of the impact of our decision. Before supply is concurred in, the government will have to assure us that the money will be properly spent.
When the government talks of new directives from treasury board, why does it not provide for regular monitoring, month by month, of the situation by elected officials, those who speak for the people in this situation? I think the government refused to do so in the past and is still refusing to do so.
In fact, the most negative thing—and I stress this—is that the way the Canada jobs fund was used by the government allows people in favour of the abolition of this type of program to argue, by saying “You see, it serves no purpose to put this money in this sort of program, because each time they do, it is wasted in the end”.
I want to say that in my riding, in my region, the Canada jobs fund was quite properly used. The projects people submitted were correctly analyzed, and appropriate action was taken in the end, because the fund was not established in an election period and so was not subject to the pressures of an election period.
If, in the next election—and we are a few months away from then—the same scenario is not to occur, the Canada jobs fund must not become a tool to win elections for the Liberal Party of Canada, but continue to be a tool to create jobs in areas of high unemployment. There must be guarantees of transparency in the use of this fund, which we do not see on the table at the moment.
It is a great pity that the government has refused to shed more light on this, that it feels free to come and ask us to adopt these votes, when we do not have any guarantee that they will be used properly. The best example of this perpetual state of affairs is that there are plans to dismantle the Department of Human Resources Development. I personally am in favour of such a move.
I said at the beginning of the crisis, a few months ago, that the Department of Human Resources Development was a bureaucratic monster with a cancer that could only be cured if we got to the bottom of things. Dismantling the department is an interesting solution. I made this suggestion myself to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities when it came time to write the report.
However, there is another bridge that must be crossed, and that is an independent public inquiry. And that, the government has refused. Today, we are looking at a situation where, even if the department were dismantled, even if responsibility for these grants and contributions programs were to be given to another department, the management of grants and contributions would not have been resolved. The last step has to be taken.
The problem has not been resolved, if we are to go by the attitude of the President of the Treasury Board, who has issued a new directive on the management of grants and contributions. But what is there to say that these public funds will not be used for election purposes? There is absolutely no guarantee that they will not. There is no commitment from the government to respond because it is not going to look into what went on during the last election.
If a public inquiry were able to analyze how they managed to make use of the funding program systematically in ridings where they wanted to win the general election, if we were able to get to the bottom of the phenomenon of using these funds for partisan purposes, then we could develop some barriers, set some limits so that this did not happen again.
The government, however, refuses to go that far. It thinks that it may still have a tool for winning over some ridings in the next general election.
Well, my answer will be the same as last time. The voters of Quebec and of Canada are not going to be taken in. They will not allow themselves to be bought off by the federal government, by the Liberal Party of Canada. They insist that light be cast on what happens to their tax money, to what they pay into the employment insurance fund.
If there is one thing to which our fellow citizens are entitled, it is that the money they provide to the federal government for the administration of all these programs is put to proper use.
That is why—and on this point I will conclude—it seems to me that the Liberal government does not deserve our confidence as far as administering public funds is concerned, and does not deserve to be given a blank cheque for the authorization of funds. Authorization will be given when we have the assurance that they will be managed in such a way as to ensure maximum benefit and transparency.