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House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(18) and to order made on Wednesday, June 14, 2000, the recorded division stands deferred until later this day at 9 p.m.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

June 15th, 2000 / 5:30 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Vote 5, in the amount of $992,135,000, under HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT—Department—Grants and contributions, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001 (less the amount voted in Interim Supply), be concurred in.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak in support of this motion this afternoon.

The Government of Canada has made a commitment to improve the quality of life of all Canadians. We have developed a complete and cohesive vision to enable us to attain that objective.

That vision was defined in the throne speech and given concrete form in the budget. The supply bill we are debating today is proof of that. This vision is a clear one. We are striking a fair balance between expenditures, tax reductions and paying down the debt.

When our government came into power, we inherited an impressive deficit of $42 billion. With the support of Canadians in every part of the country, we have eliminated this deficit. After years of austerity, we are now in a position to make investments.

We are not investing carelessly, however. It is not our intention to go back to the spending policies of the Conservative government of that time. Instead, we will be investing strategically and responsibly in health and in programs that will enable us to create employment, to improve people's feeling of security, both individual and collective, and to promote prosperity in general.

Canadians have told us what they wanted: a prosperous country with well-protected communities, a country with a healthy environment, and opportunities for their children's future. They also want a country with a heart, a country with compassion, one with a shared and profound feeling of collective responsibility. Those are the objectives of Canadians, and those are our objectives as well.

Perhaps we are talking numbers today, but we cannot lose sight of the real meaning behind those numbers. It is easy to consider major expenditures as merely abstract figures. It is sometimes harder to see the human aspect that lies behind the columns of figures presented to us.

It is important to do it however. We must never forget that the expenditures we are discussing today will have an impact on the everyday life of Canadians.

The investments proposed in the supply bill will increase the ability of the RCMP to ensure the safety and security of our communities. They will help prairie farmers who have fallen on hard times. They will reinforce native communities. They will help young people to have access to post-secondary education and good jobs. They will make access to government services easier, and will thus bring citizens and their government closer together.

This is why I support the bill before us today. It is a good bill that will help people across the country.

As hon. members are aware, the government is asking for $34.5 billion in this supply bill. It represents a huge portion of this year's main estimates.

The main estimates reflect most of the spending plan presented by the government in the March budget. The main estimates for fiscal year 2000-01 amount to $156.2 billion, or nearly 99% of the total projected expenditures.

This includes the government's request to parliament with respect to a sum of $50.1 billion for which an annual authorization is required, and $106.1 billion worth of expenditures authorized under current acts.

It is worth noting, in passing, that this year's main estimates show a $4.6 billion, or 3%, increase over last year's estimates.

This is not to say that we are going backwards and spending wildly. This is not how this government is managing its operations. In fact, the total expenditures as a percentage of GDP has decreased over the last four years, from 17.1% in 1997-98, to 15.8% now.

The same for program spending, with expenditures to reach $116 billion in 2000-01, or $4 billion less than in 1993-94.

There are many reasons why this year's main estimates are $4.6 billion higher than last year. For one thing, we have put $1 billion more into the Canada health and social transfer, and $700 million more into old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the spouse's allowance program.

Because of our ageing population, we see that the number of beneficiaries and the mean rate of benefits are increasing. Canadians have told us what their priorities are: a strong social security net, and reliable, quality health care. We have listened to them and, as you can see, we are making the necessary investments.

Our commitment to serving Canadians is also clearly reflected in the funding that we are seeking approval for today. A significant portion of these funds will go to maintaining and preserving the levels of service that Canadians expect from their government.

Some of this money will go to ensure the sustainability of a number of core federal services. We intend to improve among other things the safety of the country's public infrastructure. We want to augment the safety of food inspection. We want to speed up the response times and capacity of search and rescue services.

The plans outlined in the supply bill will allow us to do this. Let me stress again the supply bill is not just about numbers; it is about people.

The funds we are seeking approval for are not arbitrary amounts. These funds will help us administer and fund programs and services that increase our general prosperity and competitiveness. We made a commitment to do this in the Speech from the Throne and these were not idle words.

Before I close my remarks, I would like to touch briefly on a related topic. There has been concern of late about the policies and frameworks that guide government expenditures. Concerns have been raised, particularly about grants and contributions. It would be remiss of me as President of the Treasury Board not to address this issue for a moment this evening.

Canadians work hard for their money. They expect the government to manage their tax dollars wisely and with great care. Canadians have a right to expect their government to administer funds judiciously. This principle is one of the pillars of good government. It is something this government takes very seriously.

That is why on June 1 I announced measures to strengthen the management of public spending through a revised policy on transfer payments. The revised policy will strengthen the supervision of grants and contributions, focus on results, promote responsible spending and heighten effective control. Above all it will provide for increased accountability and transparency to parliament and Canadians.

This is not a knee-jerk response to recent headlines. The revisions we have implemented were not hastily put together. Rather they are a result of the review of the policy of grants and contributions that was initiated in 1999. This was many months before the Human Resources Development Canada internal audit raised concerns about the grants and contributions issue.

The government routinely reviews its policies and frameworks to ensure that they are up to date and serving Canadians well. The review of grants and contributions was part of an initiative aimed at updating all policies related to the comptrollership function of the treasury board. We are taking measures on the broad front to identify ways to improve the stewardship of public funds. I should note that the revised policy on internal audits and evaluations is also forthcoming.

The revised policy on transfer payments requires that departments guarantee that measures are in place to ensure due diligence in approving payments. There must also be due diligence for verifying eligibility entitlement whenever a new contribution program is being established or renewed. Eligibility criteria for receiving assistance must be predetermined, made public and applied on a consistent basis. We want to ensure that grants are made in a fair and transparent manner. The playing field must be level and everyone must know what the rules are. Canadians should tolerate nothing less.

Before funds can be allocated, departments must demonstrate that they have a results based accountability framework in place. Accountability is essential to effective stewardship. These frameworks must include performance indicators, expected results and outcomes, as well as evaluation criteria to be used in assessing a program's effectiveness. After all, we cannot give public funds to projects that do not produce some sort of quantifiable results. Furthermore, departments must recommend specific limits to federal assistance where recipients receive funding from multiple levels of government, including other federal sources.

There are other important aspects of the revised policy. All programs will be required to be formally renewed through the treasury board at least once every five years to ensure ongoing relevance and effectiveness. If there are concerns about a program, this renewal process may be considerably less than five years.

We are also concentrating on transparency. The Government of Canada is committed to operating in an open manner. We have made improving reporting one of our main management priorities. This commitment is clearly reflected in the policy on transfer payments.

Departments must report on each transfer payment program which transfers in excess of $5 million in their annual departmental reports on plans and priorities. This must include descriptive materials such as stated objectives, expected results and outcomes, as well as milestones for achievements.

Departments must also follow up on this later in the year in their departmental performance reports. They must look at the commitments they made in their reports on plans and priorities and show evidence of the results achieved. In this way we ensure that all major programs are showing progress. If they are not, we will know why and be able to respond accordingly.

This revised policy on transfer payments only represents one element of our broader efforts aimed at modernizing the practices of the comptroller's duties. That element, in turn, is part of a larger and co-ordinated initiative aimed at modernizing public management in general.

The expectations and requirements of Canadians are changing and public management practices must follow suit.

That is why we developed a new management framework, which will allow us to take up the challenges of the new millennium.

Last March, I tabled the new management framework in parliament. It is entitled “Results for Canadians”. This document shows how management practices change to adapt to the changing priorities of Canadians.

It describes our new management philosophy, which stresses the need to maintain a strict control while using tools that enhance initiative and creativity in government departments.

It describes our management commitments, the way we strive to create a government more focused on citizens, on results and on values, intent on spending responsibly the funds made available to it.

Finally, this management framework shows how we honour our commitments, by working assiduously on many fronts.

In some respects, the supply bill is a major component of that process. The items for which we are seeking approval will help us meet our objectives. They will help us fund programs that will improve our capacity to serve Canadians. In short, they will also help us improve the government.

That is what citizens of this country want, and that is also what they deserve. Finally, without any doubt, that is what this government has committed to give them.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the speech of the president of the treasury board. I would like to draw her attention to the grants and contributions issue.

I remember that, after the situation at HRDC was revealed, the Minister of Human Resources Development said the situation was serious. This was directly contradicting the Prime Minister, who had talked about a $101 problem. Her attitude, at least at the time, seemed to be more responsible than the Prime Minister's.

Today, she talked a lot about having instituted a review of the policy for the future. But she also talked about control.

The control function involves, among other government responsibilities, imposing sanctions when mistakes are made and, more than mistakes, when unacceptable behaviours occur.

It would be great if the government could manage to rectify the situation in the future, but until today, it has not done anything to stop the use of funds for partisan reasons, which has been revealed, verified and demonstrated here in the House through a number of questions, particularly in the Prime Minister's riding, where public funds have constantly been used in an inappropriate and unacceptable fashion.

I would like to know if the president of the treasury board thinks something could be done to correct the situation. I have read reports in the paper this week, which I found alarming. There are people in the present Liberal government who say “We should get rid of job creation programs, because we really mismanaged them”.

Does the president of the treasury board share that opinion? Does she agree with the members of the Liberal majority who say that there should be no more job creation programs to stimulate economic growth in areas of high unemployment? Or would she agree that better control mechanisms and penalties are necessary to make sure that the present situation does not repeat itself?

Does she agree with me that there should have been an independent public inquiry and that concrete measures should have been taken to condemn such use of public funds for partisan purposes?

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us try to clarify things here. My colleague has several different elements to his question.

First and foremost, the situation that was brought to our attention related to an internal audit. It is totally normal for a minister to have an internal audit done. I would say it was the ABC of administration for a department to have an internal audit. It is an essential administrative tool for proper knowledge of what is going on as far as departmental programs are concerned, in order to see what is going well or less well in the application of those programs.

Let us put ourselves into the proper context. This was an internal audit carried out by the department, which had decided on its own to audit seven separate departmental programs. As soon as the internal audit report was completed and submitted to the minister concerned, it was made public.

The minister herself considered the situation so important that she released the report to the public, immediately proposing an action plan to remedy the problems. As far as I know, nowhere in the internal audit report was there any proof that there had been problems relating to partisan funding, as my colleague over there has said. These are his own conclusions, and I do not share them, absolutely not.

Let us not forget that the programs addressed by the internal audit were not strictly job creation programs, but also ones for other clienteles. I am thinking for instance of the literacy program. Various HRDC programs were covered in the audit report.

The programs covered by the internal audit were evaluated. Nowhere was this program mentioned. These are national programs.

Once the situation became known, the Minister of Human Resources Development called on treasury board for help in putting an appropriate action plan in place. And that is what we did. We worked very closely with Human Resources Development Canada. I even delegated a very senior official from my department, who worked with Human Resources Development Canada to put the plan in place. In addition, the plan was approved by the auditor general.

I see no need anywhere for a public inquiry. We are aware of the administrative problems of this program, and we have, accordingly, formulated an action plan that, at the moment, is in place and rectifying the problems in the system.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the minister. She talked about all the improvements, which was fine, but we still have a fundamental problem regarding the approval of the estimates and the fact that the motion that is being debated is actually a motion by the President of the Treasury Board to reinstate the $992 million for her department. That is the first motion that will be voted on because the Canadian Alliance put forward a motion to strike $110 million from that department.

Later on this evening when the first vote is called it will be on the $992 million, which I think is fundamentally wrong. That is the main motion. After the main motion is agreed to, we will be asked to vote on our amendment, which is totally converse and upside down to everything else that happens in the House. The amendment to the main motion is voted on before the main motion.

In the light of all the improvements the minister has suggested are taking place, will she tell tell House that she will undertake a study to ensure that the standing orders are amended so that when it comes to supply we vote on the amendment to the main motion before the main motion?

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague knows very well that he can refer this matter to other committees of the House, which will study the whole regulatory question. We are, at present, in a position to follow exactly what is going on in the House and therefore to follow the regulations before us.

Parliamentarians have had the main estimates before them for a number of weeks, and I am sure that they have looked carefully at this government spending and will monitor it carefully. For this reason, I thought it important in my presentation, given the recent concerns expressed particularly with respect to the grants and contributions program, to inform the House of the improvements we have made in recent policy.

I would hope that my colleague in opposition will study this policy closely, and perhaps take it to the public accounts committee which he chairs, to see the benefits of implementing this policy in all government departments.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would love to understand what the minister is saying. Whenever I inquired about a project involving the Department of Human Resources Development, I was told time and time again that, in the past, they followed treasury board guidelines.

The minister just told me that they revised their guidelines for the future. Is this to say that, in the past, there were no guidelines or that the guidelines were not followed?

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I should point out to the hon. member that a policy existed before June 1, in fact there has always been a policy on transfer payments with respect to grants and contributions. Such a policy has always existed and has been reviewed over the years. The last time was in 1994, six years ago.

Last year, a group of outside consultants who had been asked to see how we could modernize the control function submitted a report in which they strongly recommended that we review our policy on grants and contributions, which we did.

It is clear therefore that there is a treasury board policy with very specific requirements, which applies to all departments and which has been significantly strengthened compared to the former one.

Now, the problems that have occurred at Human Resources Development Canada—

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry, but time has run out.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Calgary—Nose Hill.

It is not often that I start this annual debate on the business of supply by congratulating the minister but I would like to do that on the progress she has announced this evening in the things that she is undertaking, about new policies to administer grants and contributions. While she has made these initiatives, they have been at the encouragement and coaxing of the public accounts committee which has been talking about these issues for quite some time. It has been telling the minister to make some real progress in ensuring that the door for grants and contributions is narrow and specific and is not five miles wide so that anybody can drive through and help themselves. It seems that we are making some progress in that direction.

I would also like to commend her because obviously the minister has read my private member's bill on program evaluation which talks about four things. First is that the public policy shall be determined and articulated. After we know what the program is trying to do we then ask how well we are doing it. Then we can ask, are we doing it efficiently and can we achieve the same results in a better way?

I have given talks across the country and people are appalled. They ask, “Are you not doing that already?” I have to say no. Such enlightenment has been beyond the government. Therefore I have to congratulate the minister, because that enlightenment seems to be shining through the window, albeit a small window. Progress is being made and I would like to congratulate her on that initiative.

Today we are approving approximately $50 billion worth of non-statutory spending. Let us remind the general public that the government is working its way through $156 billion of its money this year. That is what it intends to do, which by the way is up $5 billion from last year, and up from the year before and the year before. It has always increased. This year it is $156 billion and I expect that we will see some supplementary estimates between now and next year for another $4 billion or $5 billion, so no doubt it will get to $160 billion.

Of that $160 billion, $116 billion I think the minister said, does not even come to the House for a vote. That has to be changed too. We have to have the authority in the House to speak about the $116 billion of taxpayers' money that is being spent without parliamentary review. Periodically an audit surfaces, as one did last January, and we find that because there is no parliamentary review there are such things as billion dollar boondoggles.

That would not happen if the committees had greater input into the spending and we were able to look at that $116 billion. Then there is the rest, some $50 billion that is called non-statutory, to pay the rent, salaries, phone bills and the grants and contributions, that the minister has suggested we authorize tonight.

The Canadian Alliance party has said we do not mind grants and contributions by and large but the transitional jobs fund has been an absolute disgrace. It has embarrassed the government and has shocked Canadians. That program should be just plain old scrapped.

We have suggested in our motion that $110 million be removed out of the $160 billion. It is not a lot in the whole scheme of things but because it has been such a total shambles, let us cut that program now. There have even been some hints in the newspapers that the government will cut it. Let us do it tonight.

However, the process of the House is skewed so that the minister reaffirms that we spend the money before the House is asked to cut the money. We cannot speak out of both sides of our mouth and therefore the government wins the day.

The last time a nickel was cut out of the estimates was in 1972 when Prime Minister Trudeau had a minority government. The opposition had a bee in its bonnet about the CBC and $1,000 was knocked off the president's salary. The last time was in 1972. That is how ineffectual the House has become.

Approving the estimates has become a perfunctory joke. Because of that there is the billion dollar boondoggle at HRDC. That is the only one we have uncovered. Maybe we could go down the whole line of cabinet ministers on the front bench and find that each department is hiding a billion dollar boondoggle which we have not been able to uncover. That is why we need more parliamentary authority to investigate these things.

We in the Canadian Alliance have tried to be prudent and intelligent by saying cut the $110 million. We will live with the rest of the expenditures.

We have to take a look at the fifth party, the Tory Party. It is suggesting in its amendments that 90% be knocked out of national defence. It is suggesting that 80% be knocked out of fisheries and oceans and that $1 billion be knocked off health care. What kind of responsible party is that? Those members are not responsible.

Our fight this evening is largely with the government because taxpayers deserve better. They deserve to have more openness. The minister is now telling us that we are going to get more openness. The government has been in office for six years and it is only after $1 billion has gone down the proverbial drain that it is now talking about openness.

It is only after the government spent $145 million on the millennium fund that we are finally getting some accountability. The government was doling out money the week before last. I am talking about $25 million. Who is celebrating the millennium today? The Liberals had their big party on December 31. They had a good time. The lights did not go out and everything continued on as normal.

The government is still celebrating the millennium with Canadian taxpayers' money. What did we get? We got trees worth $1 million. We got balloons floating out of New Brunswick at a cost of $215,000. We got the celebration of fire in downtown Vancouver for $25,000. The idiocy went on and on. The government authorizes anything. If money is going to be spent around the millennium, it is called a millennium grant. The idiocy of some of these things makes me weep. We hope that idiocy is behind us.

I have to congratulate the minister because she is trying. She is bringing in some new rules and she is listening to the public accounts committee. She is listening to my private member's bill. She is listening to the Catterall-Williams report in which I played a fairly major role. After seven years in this place I am starting to see the government is finally listening to some of the proposals we are making to make the process better.

I still want to see the process of approving the estimates through the House change. I will work on that on another day, but we have started. On that note, I thank the minister.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to what the Canadian Alliance member had to say and I would like him to repeat what the official opposition party members think about the management of grants and contributions programs.

I know that we do not share the same point of view on the relevance of these programs, but would we not both agree that, in the end, the present federal government is the one that has most undermined their relevance? Whether or not one believes in the relevance of the programs, whether or not one believes in any particular program, one has to ensure that they are managed properly.

At present, when the government manages job creation programs, it undermines them terribly, it devalues them and, ultimately, it lays itself open to criticism from those who think these programs are not relevant.

We in the Bloc Quebecois think that these kinds of programs are relevant, but I know that Canadian Alliance members do not necessarily believe in them. Regardless of the intrinsic value of these programs, has the federal government not done serious harm to their reputation and contributed to the present debate within the Liberal Party of Canada as to whether or not it should continue to have them, is management lax, and is this not what damages the reputation of these programs in the eyes of the Canadian public?

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I said, it is not so much that we are totally opposed to grants and contributions in principle provided they are an investment in Canada and an investment in Canadians, rather than just spreading the largesse around the country where it can buy the most political votes. We have heard that. We heard about it in question period today.

I get back to my private member's bill which says that it does not matter if it is the grants and contributions program or any other program the federal government is involved in, we must ask four simple but fundamental questions. First we ask what is the program designed to do? Once we know that and the program is running, then we ask how well are we achieving what we want to do? Then we can ask if we are doing it efficiently. We should always be asking the question of whether we can achieve the same or better results in a better and different way.

When we have asked these four fundamental questions and we find out that a grants and contributions program is beneficial to Canadians, then perhaps we should support it. That applies to any program. But this pouring money down the proverbial drain with no thought whatsoever to the fact that the taxpayers have to sweat to make that kind of money and with no thought to the benefits that we are getting for that kind of money, that is the problem with the management of the grants and contributions program.

We found that with the HRDC billion dollar boondoggle. There was no grant application on file. We do not even know why they wanted the money, but we gave them the cheque. We did not know what they were going to do with the money when they got it, but they got the cheque anyway. And the list went on. It was absolutely deplorable that the government would spend taxpayers' money without the proper criteria being in the file to justify that it was value for money.

That is why I say to the hon. member that we want value for money in the spending of taxpayers' money.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, could the member for St. Albert share with us the position of the Canada Alliance with respect to bill 11? Does he personally support bill 11 in Alberta which is moving to privatize our health care system?

I remind the member that some of the Reform members, including his former and perhaps future leader, embrace bill 11. One of the leadership candidates, the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca supports bill 11 and a dual privatized health care system.

What does he feel about the results of the byelection?

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

I am sorry, I am interrupting because the hon. member for St. Albert has one minute for his response.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

Reform

John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will apply the rule of relevance and not talk about the byelection. We are talking about the business of supply.

The hon. member raised the issue of bill 11 and there is a motion on the table to deal with health care. He is right in saying bill 11 is not the privatization of health care but to provide accountability.

A few private institutions are going to be competing for business with public health care. The private institutions are going to have to cover their capital costs out of the exact same fee that the public sector is going to get. Hopefully, the fees will be enough to make a little bit of profit. They will have some profit. They will have to pay tax on the profit, on exactly the same fee that the public sector only has to cover its operating costs with. The public sector is having a hard time covering its operating costs, and the private sector on the same money will have to cover its capital costs as well. If that can be done, we ask why the public sector cannot do it so efficiently.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, as you know, we will be voting later this evening on almost $160 billion worth of government spending, and we will be voting after only three and one half hours of debate. We are given three and a half hours to examine $160 billion worth of spending. That is because parliament has lost control of government spending. There is no meaningful examination of government spending. We just vote it through as a matter of course.

The Canadian Alliance has introduced a motion to reduce government spending by $110 million. Out of $160 billion we are saying that $110 million should be taken from the grants and contributions program of the Department of Human Resources Development. It would be a tiny reduction, but it would be very significant. That $110 million represents the annual expenditure by the Department of Human Resources Development on the transitional jobs fund and the Canada jobs fund.

Let us look at this TJF/CJF program. First, 51 of 122 ridings across Canada which received TJF grants had been identified by the 1996 census as having less than 12% unemployment. In other words, 51 of 122 of those grants did not meet the criteria for the program. That is number one.

Number two, the riding of the member for Edmonton West, who happens to be one of only two Liberal members in Alberta, received three grants worth over $2 million from the TJF. All but $70,000 of the moneys were given three months before the last election, and the unemployment rate in that member's riding was 7% at the time, not 12% as the program required.

The riding of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois had an unemployment rate of 15% in 1996. That riding received only $100,000 over three years. However, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, having the neighbouring riding right beside the riding of the leader of the Bloc, and having a lower unemployment rate, received over $5 million. It was $100,000 for the Bloc leader's riding, and the Liberal riding next door received $5 million. That is how the program is being applied.

The minister signed off on 49 grants during the writ period of the last election, which is almost twice the program period. In other words, there was an accelerated approval that nearly doubled during election time.

In total, $13 million in TJF grants were approved by the minister during the election. Six grants were approved by the present minister the day after she was briefed on the disastrous audit of this program. She then approved nearly another $1 million worth of grants, the very next day, knowing that there was a serious lack of controls in the way this program operated. By December 3 she had approved a total of 19 grants worth almost $3 million. Yet the minister stated in the House many times that she took the audit very seriously and was going to make sure that everything was all right with the program.

Let us look at some of the grants that were given. First of all, there was the Auberge des Gouverneurs. This was a $6.4 million hotel project owned by a Belgian businessman and confessed embezzler. He received $600,000 in March 1997, which was first announced under the HRDC targeted wage program, but then later changed to the transitional jobs fund program because he needed the capital immediately. He did not want to wait until he actually created some jobs to get the money.

Then he lobbied for and received another $100,000 under TJF. This is a confessed embezzler and the subject of some real concern.

Then there is the Auberge Grand-Mère. This is a hotel beside a golf course, one-quarter owned until September of last year by the Prime Minister himself. Even after the sale of his golf course fell through in January 1996, he helped get a TJF grant for the hotel worth $164,000, knowing that improvements to the hotel might improve the value of the golf course beside it. The grant was announced by the Prime Minister's friend, René Fugère, just two days before the election, but it was only approved by the minister afterward in July 1997.

Then there was Globax and its daughter companies Placeteco and TechniPaint. They got over $2 million from TJF, which was announced just a month before the election. They gave nearly $20,000 to the Liberals, including $4,000 to the Prime Minister's personal campaign.

On the last day of the fiscal year over $1 million was placed in a trust, contrary to treasury board guidelines, set up by a law firm headed by a two-time political appointee of the Prime Minister and administered by that individual for a handsome fee.

One of the companies that got some of this money went bankrupt and was then repurchased by someone who had been involved in this whole business. The purchaser said that he was not bound by any of the conditions of the grant and set up business with half of the jobs that had existed previously. In other words, public money went into a company that cut jobs.

Then there is Les Modes Conili, which was given three quarters of a million dollars in 1997. It gave $7,000 to the personal election campaign of the Liberal member of parliament for Ahuntsic, who had lobbied for the grant. All of the workers from company A were simply moved to company B , and in the process they scooped up three quarters of a million dollars of taxpayers' money. The RCMP is now investigating this matter.

Then there is Iris Hosiery Inc., which got the largest single transitional jobs fund grant. It was over $8 million. It was supposed to create 3,000 full time jobs. This company gave over $21,000 to the Liberals, including nearly $6,000 to the Liberal candidate in the riding. This grant helped to put an undisclosed number of competitors out of business and killed untold jobs.

Then we have Duchess Foods, which helped the HRDC minister entice a company from Hamilton to her riding. The federal government financed 90% of that move. The unemployment rate in Hamilton at that time was 5% and in Brantford it was 6%.

Then there was a call centre that was induced to move into the HRDC minister's riding, RMH Teleservices. It got $1 million. It later said that it was just icing on the cake. Now we find that this same prosperous American company has received another $1 million in TJF money to operate another call centre in Sault Ste. Marie.

We have Media Express Telemarketing, which gave $10,000 to the Liberal Party and got nearly a million dollars of the TJF.

We have Superior Industrial Rail, which got over a million dollars from the TJF and the CJF. It just closed its doors on June 9. HRDC said that it needs to meet with the company to find out where the money went and whether it met the terms of the department. This is a good time to try to figure out where the money has gone.

The point is that it has been over 25 years since the House voted to reduce any of the main estimates. If anything begs to be cut it is this boondoggle program of $110 million a year for CJF and TJF which has been the subject of untold scandal and political pork barrelling. We are asking the government to finally stand on its hind legs, on behalf of Canadians who have to foot the bill for this kind of nonsense and wrongdoing, and simply say that it will cut a program that is clearly not in the best interests of Canadians.

Liberal members have been complaining that they are voting machines and trained seals and have to do whatever the government tells them to do. Here is a chance to vote down $110 million. It is a small amount, but it would send a very big signal that wasteful programs will not be tolerated by members of parliament.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the overview given by our colleague from Calgary—Nose Hill.

It brought back to the fore, on this last day of this parliamentary session, everything that has happened in this government over the past months with regard to grants, and everything the opposition parties have denounced.

I was very happy that the member for Calgary—Nose Hill summarized all these events. This shows these programs are there for a purpose. However, I realized that no matter what their purpose is, this government has lost control. It made sure these programs, which were necessary, designed to help taxpayers, and were supposed to meet very specific criteria, had no established rules to begin with.

There was no audit and no treasury board standards. They were left to the whim of the individuals who made the decisions.

I am disappointed. I come from a riding where we need programs to help communities. It is important to help people who have good ideas, but who do not have the money to bring them to fruition and create jobs.

I would like to ask my colleague for Calgary—Nose Hill if, in her great wisdom—I saw how wise she was during all the debates we have had in this House—she could tell us how it should go in the future, even if this government loses the next election?

Which criteria should be put in place to ensure it will not happen again and these programs truly help communities in need?

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Reform Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and I think it is true that Canadians are quite willing to help each other, particularly in areas of need, when that help actually delivers what it is supposed to deliver.

The President of the Treasury Board had some nice talk about the need for rigorous control and verification and the need to fund only programs with quantifiable results. I think that is what my friend would like to see. However, that definitely does not apply to the transitional jobs fund. In fact there is plenty of evidence that this fund has been politically used and that it has not created jobs—real, long term, sustainable jobs—which, as my colleague pointed out, is what Canadians really need.

Again I say that the government can show, and we can all show that we are serious about cutting waste and mismanagement. We can show that we are serious about getting value for our dollar, that when we invest money in job creation it actually produces some results for the people who are supposed to be assisted. Unless we can assure Canadians that there is value for our dollar and that we have a process in place that says they spent this money, they have got their money's worth, be happy, then we should cut programs that are shown to be totally contrary to that principle. That includes the $110 million for the TJF and the CJF.

I hope my colleagues in the Bloc will support our motion to cut that pork barrel program out completely so that money can go to programs that really help Canadians.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

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.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, before asking a question to the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, I want to congratulate him for his speech.

I want to tell him that it is extremely important to have a person like him as the Bloc Quebecois critic on Human Resources Development Canada.

This evening, my colleague stressed a very serious point when he said that there was no transparency in that department.

It is a serious thing for my colleague to tell all the Canadians who are listening to us that this government, with money that belongs to them, was not transparent in the management of these programs. But it should have been very transparent.

These programs were created to help the communities that need them. My region benefited from the Canada jobs fund. I can say that, in my area, the public servants who administer this program ran a tight ship. It was said that this is money that belongs to everyone and that it ought to go to those who need it.

But what is happening right now? People are suspicious. They ask themselves if the things they hear are true. The government did not act properly in the past and people wonder if it will do so again in the future. If things were not right in the past, people wonder if they are going to be penalized with the guidelines. Will the government go too far in the other direction by implementing excessive controls?

This is unacceptable. My colleague accurately described the situation and I want to ask him what this government should do so that Canadian taxpayers can finally regain confidence in the government's management and transparency, which should be a given on the part of a government that claims to be there to help, to be full of compassion and to be receptive to the needs of the public.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Jonquière for her kind words.

I believe this fight has been the fight of the whole Bloc Quebecois team. I want to acknowledge the efforts ,particularly of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, our House leader, the member for Roberval, the member for Quebec, the member for Rosemont, who exposed the matter of the company being moved to the riding of Saint-Maurice, members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, and more specifically of the opposition parties, who presented a unanimous report asking for an independent public inquiry.

This is quite an accomplishment when parties such as the New Democratic Party, the Canadian Alliance Party, the Bloc Quebecois, the Progressive Conservative Party, members who represent all sorts of trends in society, are asking for the same thing. They felt it was fitting to have one position on the issue of an independent public inquiry.

I know people in Quebec and Canada can rest assured there are still members who are concerned and represent their interests here in parliament.

Now for the solutions. I believe the government, or the Prime Minister, should appoint as quickly as possible a new minister at HDRC, someone who has not lost all credibility in the recent chain of events. The new minister should be given a mandate for a specific period of time to preside over the dismantling of the department and launch an independent public inquiry to get to the bottom of the whole situation.

The new minister should have a limited mandate, for six months, and say “Yes, I am going to dismantle the department. Yes, we are going to shed light on past events. I know that at the end of this period, my mandate will be over. I might be given other responsibilities, but I will have done what I had to do.” It will not be as tempting to look out for friends of the party and to avoid getting to the bottom of things.

I think we need these kinds of solutions. I think people expect us to do these things in a parliament such as ours, to show them that, unlike this government, we are not puppets of the Liberal Party of Canada or those who fund that party, but that we are simply here to work for the people of Quebec and Canada, for those who elected us and who will re-elect us—and by us I mean members of the Bloc Quebecois—in the next election.

We have waged this battle in a very open manner, using all the parliamentary tools available to us. We will continue to do so until we get all the relevant information in this matter.

In closing, I will give a concrete example. As long as the government is unable to produce a single invoice after having been asked to do so over a period of several months, as in the case of Placeteco, we will continue to maintain that this is proof of a serious lack of transparency in this government.

People are expecting a drastic change in direction, which does not seem to be happening right now. I think the Liberal government will have to answer for that in the next election, in a few months.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, in 1993 the people of this country threw out the Conservatives and re-elected the Liberal Party because they disagreed with the Tories always trying to cut spending that helped people. They disagreed with the Tories for spending like drunken sailors when it came to their friends and large corporations. They disagreed with the Tories because of their patronage-like approach and their big boosting of the Americans.

The Liberals on the other hand promised to kill the free trade deal. They promised to eliminate the GST. They promised to repeal Bill C-91, which would bring back protection for low cost generic prescription drugs and reduce some of the costs to health care. They promised to protect and enhance medicare. This is in their red book of 1993.

Today we see in this debate the budget almost seven years after the Liberals came into office. Did they end the free trade agreement? No. Did they eliminate the GST? No. Did they kill Bill C-91? No. Did they enhance and protect medicare? No. I will get to that later. Did they do anything for education? No.

They carried out the policies of Brian Mulroney and extended free trade, made billions from the GST, and extended the patent drug protection to the international multinational drugs companies for two more years. Just last week former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney gave an hour and a half speech congratulating the Liberal government for fulfilling all the Conservative planks. Not one Liberal plank from 1993 was carried out. Personally I would not want to be bragging about that.

The Liberals went on a porkfest in the last six years, with millions to their friends in Cape Breton although it ended up with Mr. Dingwall losing his seat to the NDP. Instead of spending millions on coal miners in Cape Breton they gave it to their rich friends and their Liberal connections, and the coal miners got crumbs.

The Liberals provided millions in tax cuts to the big banks while western farmers were going bankrupt by the thousands and were ignored. We see now, as we speak, on the agenda of the Liberal government yet another bill before the House that will give another $500 million in tax cuts to the banks that are achieving record profits, quarter after quarter after quarter, year after year after year, on their balance sheets. They have also given millions to every living, breathing Liberal they can find out west. There is not many of them, I might add.

Our health system is in critical condition. Literally hundreds of questions have been posed of the government requesting it to take some action on medicare. We have been asking it to take some action to review the situation for the last three years now and to reconsider its drastic cuts. In Saskatchewan alone it cut $1.2 billion to the health care system. Saskatchewan has a million people. That is $12,000 for every man, woman and child that was not committed to health care as was previously promised in the budget of 1993.

The Liberals are now sort of talking about doing something about health care. The federal NDP has been fighting under the leadership of the member for Halifax to get medicare fixed and to have the Liberals pay some attention. Rather than spend $500 million a year in tax cuts to banks, perhaps they could give it to the health care system where it is very much needed.

Premier Romanow in Saskatchewan spent the last two years trying to convince the government to do a review. We have waited and waited while he continued to hound the government. Then today he said that enough was enough. He believes as we do in the NDP that a family's health should not have to depend upon a family's wealth. The Liberals and the reform alliance believe that a family's health should have to depend upon a family's wealth. That is a fundamental difference between the NDP and the right wing parties of the Liberal and alliance coalitions.

The Premier of Saskatchewan today is taking the lead in defining a new vision of medicare to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Premier Romanow announced a commission on medicare which will be headed by health consultants and a former deputy minister of health in two provinces, Ken Fyke. It will identify challenges facing medicare, outline potential solutions, and engage public and health care providers in a discussion of new ideas.

Saskatchewan pioneered publicly funded, publicly administered health care in Canada. Today Saskatchewan once again leads the way in finding solutions to strengthen medicare and protect its core values into the future.

I might add that in 1961 under Woodrow Lloyd the NDP brought medicare to the country. We started in Saskatchewan. We funded it 100% in Saskatchewan for six years before the NDP forced the Liberal government of the day to adopt and embrace the health care system and the medicare system for all Canadians. At that time the funding for health care was 50:50. The provinces paid 50% and the federal government paid 50%.

In the last six years Saskatchewan has lost $1.2 billion in underfunding by the federal government. It went to the banks, the bond dealers and all the rich friends the Liberals want to send the money to. The NDP, whose vision established medicare in Canada and who made it work for six years before the country was able to adopt it, is now leading the way in terms of this commission.

Medicare faces many challenges today including new medical treatments, rising costs, an aging population and shortages of key health professionals. Identifying those key challenges will be the commission's first task.

Second, it will recommend an action plan for the sustainable delivery of health services across that province.

Third, it will identify long term opportunities for reform that will ensure a strong future for a publicly funded and administered medicare system. The commission will deliver its first report, a preliminary report, in six months and a final report in the year 2001.

Earlier today in the House, the Liberal member for Waterloo—Wellington, who is the chair of the health committee, had the gall to talk about what a great job the Liberals were doing on health care. He took personal credit for “redoubling our efforts in helping to rebuild health care”. He said “I want to make it happen. I want to make it work”. Let us review their redoubling efforts.

I asked the member to define those words in a question and comment period. I asked him to define for the House and Canadians what redoubling their efforts in butchering health care meant. The Liberals have cut $1.2 billion in health transfers to Saskatchewan alone. They have cut $9 billion or $12 billion, who knows what numbers are now, in health transfers to the rest of the country. However, the member says they are going to redouble their efforts.

We in Saskatchewan are worried because instead of losing $200 million a year in health transfers, we are faced with losing $400 million a year because of this Liberal member who chairs the Standing Committee on Health for the Liberal Prime Minister and the Liberal Minister of Health. They are going to redouble their efforts and finish off the system. What do these Liberal members do? They embrace bill 11 in Alberta which is meant to privatize our health care system.

The member for Waterloo—Wellington should perhaps be sitting in the back row of the House with his back against the wall. Even his Liberal committee members do not like what he is doing. He dictates in terms of what happens in committee. For three years he has been asked to undertake a review of medicare. What has he been doing? He does not even call a meeting of the health committee. Medicare is in crisis. The Liberals are passing the buck every time they get asked a question.

What does the reform party do? The reform party has not asked a question on health care in the House for the last three years until just recently. The leader of the opposition has never asked a question on health in the this House. His number one priority is making sure that the banks get more money, the oil companies get more tax breaks and all the wealthy families in Canada continue to be allowed to take their billion dollar trust funds south of the border. We see a coalition here. It is the Conservative-reform-Liberal-Alliance coalition. They are all looking for the same sort of objectives to defend and enhance the position of their very wealthy friends while ignoring the concerns and priorities of Canadians.

Members may notice that we never heard the words health care come out of the mouths of Liberal members between 1993 and 1997. They never talked about it but boy did they cut it. Since the NDP asked about health care back in 1997, we are starting to hear them talk about it again. The NDP has been the only party that has been raising this issue in the House with an action plan to fix health care.

Those members do not care if the health care system is strained at the seams. The Liberals do not care if the system is hurting people. They do not care if nurses are being run ragged and understaffed. They do not care if hospital employees cannot cope. They just want the political credit and they would like to assume to get that credit if they sink in some dough this fall with the Prime Minister.

I want to sum up the Liberal's record in the last six years. It can be summed up basically in four words: All pork, no vision. Pork barrelling is all the Liberals want to do. They send money to all their friends through HRDC. They give money to their friends through the Western Economic Diversification fund. They give money to all their rich friends, but do not look after the needs of people in Canada. The Liberals will be called to task come the next election for their approach to Canadians in the last six years, which is all pork, all patronage and no vision.

The Liberals are so busy looking over their shoulders to see who might be ready to pat them on the back—or stab them in the back as the member for Waterloo—Wellington is probably worried about—that they have forgotten to look forward. They have no vision.

Let us talk about grain transportation. The Liberals spent hundreds of millions of dollars fixing up rail lines in western Canada and then they privatized the CNR. CNR then closed those rail lines, ripped them up, and now the Liberals expect farmers to not only pay more in freight rates, but they want farmers to pay more to truck their grain to elevators further away on roads that were never designed for the transportation of these heavy products. They also want farmers to raise more cash to buy back the short line rail lines and fix them up again. They are just waiting for the provincial governments to upgrade the roads. This is the Liberal's vision for grain transportation.

In my view it is an incredible situation. The banks are getting $500 million a year more in tax cuts from the Liberal government and the farmers in western Canada are getting destroyed roads because of the Liberal plans and no rail lines to take their products to market. By the way, the railways made a killing in profits because the government subsidized their capital costs and reduced their operating costs but they were allowed to hike rates to farmers.

To whom did the railways gave big political donations? They gave donations to the Liberal Party and, to shut the Alliance up, they gave donations to the Alliance Party as well.

In Saskatchewan we have fewer rail lines, thousands of very angry and almost bankrupt farmers, very wealthy railway companies and probably the worst roads in Canada now because of the downloading of transportation costs to the very farmers who do not have any money because the government has abandoned them with respect to grain subsidies.

I attended the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France in 1995 with parliamentarians from all over Europe. They meet on a regular basis. I went to the agriculture committee. I said to them at that time that we were told by the Liberal government, by the minister of agriculture at that time from Saskatchewan, that Canada had to eliminate its transportation subsidies right away because of the World Trade Organization legislation.

I asked those European parliamentarians what they were going to do, because their subsidies at that time were three times the rate of Canada's subsidies to farmers. Those parliamentarians in the agriculture committee said to me “Under the WTO we have five years to address the subsidy issue for farmers, but if you think after five years we are going to sacrifice our farmers for the sake of the U.S.A., you are greatly mistaken.”

Here we are five years later and the chickens have come home to roost. This is a very sad situation.

On top of that, Canada's highway system is deteriorating rapidly. The government collects nearly $5 billion a year in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. Does anyone know what percentage of that money it puts back into roads? It is about 4.5%. Does anyone know what they spend in Saskatchewan? They say that they spend about $3 million over a five year period, but if one were to stop on a dime on a Saskatchewan highway, one could bet that dime would not be a federal dime building any highways. As a matter of fact, the other 95.5% of the $5 billion is spent elsewhere, not on transportation and not on highways.

This is quite embarrassing. We are the only country in the 28 the OECD countries that does not have a national highways program. I see that the government House leader is acknowledging that his government is the only government that does not have a national highways program and it does not expect to have one. I wonder if the minister might go to cabinet and put in a lobbying effort on behalf of Canadians to rebuild our infrastructure on our highways.

The rail lines used to be the ribbon connecting our country. It is now the highway system and we do not have a highway system that we can be proud of. I am not sure if Canadians have driven through northern Ontario or British Columbia lately. Those roads need money. They need twinning. They need lots of cash to make them safe for people to travel on.

The government is so morally bankrupt that it cannot spend public money getting the RCMP involved either in terms of looking at what is happening with this patronage or with this port. No wonder the government is starving the Mounties of cash, but it is so devoid of vision that it puts legislation through the House of Commons at the speed of light so its backbenchers do not have time to think about it before the debate is over.

People think, “Thank goodness we have an official opposition in the Alliance”. Our parliamentary system allows the official opposition to take over government at any time if there is any kind of an election that might support that. They think that but when they would look over there what would they see? There is an old saying in Saskatchewan that describes the alliance conservative reform party, “Big hat, no ranch”. Do members know what that means? It means those members think they know what they are doing and what they are going to do, but they do not have any idea of what they are really going to do. However, they wear a big hat pretending they know what is going on but they have no assets, no knowledge and no resources to support holding up that hat.

The reform alliance conservative party is the big hat with no ranch vision. The Liberals are the all pork, no vision party. I think Canadians are really worried about what is happening in the country but they are not as worried as they might be because they have the federal NDP to hold those two parties accountable for their lack of vision and to provide them with a significant amount of vision on every major policy in the country.

I have a number of things I would like to say, but in summary, we have a very serious situation but we also have an opportunity to correct the lack of vision or the poor vision of the Liberal government. If the government would consider doing what Roy Romanow and the NDP are doing in Saskatchewan, which is studying health care and committing resources to make sure that we have a universally accessible health care program, it would address the very serious concerns of Canadians.

If the government introduced a national highways program and spent some of the $5 billion that it collects in fuel taxes on the road system, that would help to build our country and make it stronger from coast to coast to coast.

If the government established a national agriculture program to defend our farmers, in view of the subsidies farmers in other countries receive, and not to match them but to provide even one-fifth of the subsidies other farmers from other countries receive, our farmers could be competitive.

We need more money for education. Does the bill before us tonight address Bill S-9 that was before the House? No. Do members know what Bill S-9 was all about? The reform alliance conservatives and the Liberal Party in the last parliament passed Bill S-9. It provided Canadians with tax deductions on Canadian incomes for making contributions to U.S. universities and post-secondary institutions. Meanwhile, post-secondary funding in this country is being cut back. This is their vision. They want to support and prop up the American institutions and they are sacrificing Canadian institutions. University and post-secondary institution students have, on average, $25,000 per year of debt.

Why does the government not do what Ireland does and many Scandinavian countries do? Why do we not have free tuition for our post-secondary students? The government could phase this in over five years. A 20% reduction every year for all students for the next five years would bring them down to zero. High quality, easily accessible and universally accessible post-secondary education and equipping youth with the skills they need is what built Ireland's economy.

I would like to go on because I have many other issues. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of some of the visions that the Liberals and the reformers do not have, and the vision that the NDP has.

I thank all members for paying attention. I thank all ministers who are here tonight for doing the job that they have to do in the future, which is taking instructions from the NDP and building a stronger country from coast to coast to coast.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member opposite go on and on and I was surprised by some of his comments.

For example, he made a comment that the government just blithely accepted bill 11 in Alberta. I am not here to defend the Minister of Health, but the member opposite knows that our government has intervened in the strongest way with respect to bill 11 and we will be responding over the next few months and years to ensure that what Alberta is doing meets the principles of the Canada Health Act.

The member also talked about the federal contribution to health care. He said that the federal government used to contribute 50% to health care costs in Canada. He must know that while we did contribute 50% to certain prescribed health care costs, in no way was it 50% of the total health care expenditures in Canada. In fact, it related to hospital expenditures and certain medical services covered under medical services plans but it was well below 50%.

He also conveniently neglected to talk about the tax point room in 1977 of 13 points of personal income taxes, which the provinces asked for, and about 1 point of corporate income taxes so that the provinces could move in. The provinces moved into that tax room immediately. It was totally transparent to the Canadian taxpayer. The federal government stopped taxing by these percentage points and the provinces moved in immediately to take that tax room.

At that time in 1977 the agreement with the provinces and the territories was that was in contemplation of the provinces and territories spending that money on health care, post-secondary education and social programs. There was no ambiguity about it. The tax points were there for health care, social programs and post-secondary education. There was not a lot of questioning and debate at the time. It was very clear.

People who leave out the tax points that the federal government vacated conveniently forget the huge contribution the federal government is making still to health care and social programs within Canada.

I would like to ask the hon. member opposite if he would like to check his notes again. I am sure he would find that what I have said is true and that the 50% was only certain prescribed services and not the total health care expenditures within Canada.

Main Estimates, 2000-01Government Orders

7:15 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Canada Health Act prescribes a minimum amount of health care services to every province. It used to be that the federal government would fund 50% of that. The provinces always had the option of doing more over and above that.

For example, Saskatchewan under Allan Blakeney and the NDP, in the mid-1970s started a dental program for children up to 18 years of age through high school. That was free to every 18 year old and under in Saskatchewan. It was administered through the school system. It was a very good system. It drew raves from around the world. People were coming from around the world to study our system until the Liberal-Tory coalition of Grant Devine bankrupted our province and shut down the program.

Yes, there is some relevance to the comment with respect to the basic minimum requirements. However, the minimum requirements now are no longer 50%. They are far less than that.

Nobody I have talked to in Canada, except the Liberal MPs who are given their briefing notes by the Minister of Health, believes that we are spending enough on health care. Not a single Canadian believes that health care is funded adequately. Not a single Canadian whom I have talked to believes that the Liberal government is doing a good job in terms of health care.

Even the Liberal premier of Newfoundland, who is a former Liberal member of parliament and a former minister of the Prime Minister's cabinet, has gone on record as saying that medicare is in crisis, that there is not enough money and not enough federal attention being paid to it. We need a fix on medicare from the federal government. Where is it and when is it going to come? We need it now. Brian Tobin said this, a former Liberal MP and cabinet minister and the current Liberal premier of Newfoundland.

The hon. member raised a good point, but again this is the typical vision of the Liberals. They want to pass the buck. They do not believe they should take responsibility for their actions. When the manure hits the fan, they want to duck and blame somebody else, even though its their fan and their manure.

As soon as something good happens, like the NDP in Saskatchewan starting medicare and the dental plan for children, then the Liberals want to take credit for it when they fought tooth and nail year after year, to kill the medicare plan in Saskatchewan. The Liberals did. The Liberals right here fought tooth and nail. There were demonstrations in front of the legislative building. Ten thousand people were shouting, “Don't give us medicare because it is going to be too expensive. The doctors are going to go. Don't give us medicare because the big multinational corporations will not make as much money”. Whoops, we do not want to say that. That is what they did.

We brought in medicare in spite of the Liberals leading the charge across western Canada, spending thousands of dollars to defeat Woodrow Lloyd's government in 1964 because he had brought in medicare. What happened in 1964? Mr. Thatcher, the Liberal, became premier. He got elected as a result of Liberals across the country trying to fight medicare. What did he do? He embraced medicare. Mea culpa. It was, “Oh, we were wrong a couple of years ago and medicare may work”.