Mr. Speaker, the opposition's interventions in this debate are very depressing. They speak of waste, of scandal and of chaos. According to them nothing is good in the country. I beg to differ.
Canada has at present the lowest unemployment rate in 24 years. Inflation is negligible. The annual deficit has been eradicated. Indeed the economy is producing surpluses. Canada is leading the G-8 in economic growth and the UN names us as the best nation in the world in which to live.
By focusing on the negatives the opposition is avoiding the real issue of how government might assist those Canadians who are in need. When the Prime Minister was in Berlin recently he reiterated our Liberal approach which searches for a middle ground between the extremes of left and right, an approach which focuses on real people with practical solutions.
The Canadian model is about more than making money. It is about accommodating diversity. It is about a partnership between citizens and the state. It is about a balance that promotes individual freedom and economic prosperity while sharing in the risks and in the benefits. In other words it is about an understanding that government can be a positive instrument for serving the public interest.
On the issue of HRDC grants and contributions, I want to remind all Canadians and my hon. colleagues that the standing committee fully explored the question of the administration of grants and contributions. This review was conducted to ensure that the best interests of Canadian taxpayers would be addressed.
To the surprise of no one on this side of the House, the report of the standing committee, entitled “Seeking a Balance: Final Report on Human Resources Development Canada Grants and Contributions”, concluded:
Although some of the government's critics allege that HRDC grants and contributions were dispensed to achieve political ends, proof supporting this allegation has never been provided to the Committee....In an overwhelmingly vast majority of cases, HRDC grants and contributions are properly administered and spent.
These findings should have put an end to this protracted and politically motivated debate. Certainly, they reinforce what the original internal audit indicated; that information, not money, was missing from many project files. Do not get me wrong. Proper administration is central to ensuring proper accountability for public funds.
Unless anyone has forgotten, it was precisely because HRDC was committed to strengthening business practices that it initially ordered and conducted the internal audit of its grants and contributions. It was the minister of HRD who first alerted Canadians to concerns that the department's administrative systems needed improvement and who insisted her staff correct the problems quickly and comprehensively.
It was the same minister who sought the expert advice of respected outside experts on ways to improve management, including the design and implementation of a six-point action plan, a plan that has been endorsed by the auditor general. He told the standing committee that the plan represents an exceptional response and a very thorough plan for corrective action.
HRDC is working hard to implement the action plan and to bring the department's procedures up to the standards Canadians expect.
The administrative clean-up is well under way. As the minister explained when she released the first progress report on the action plan, the department has reviewed not just the audited files, but all 17,000 active files, worth $1.5 billion. Where information was missing, it was obtained. Where approvals were not recorded or were carried out incorrectly, they were corrected. Where further monitoring work was called for, it was done.
What is most important to recognize is that of the $1.5 billion worth of initiatives we reviewed, we identified only $6,500 in outstanding debt to the government, not $1 billion as the opposition claimed.
To ensure that we will not see a repeat of the old paperwork problems, we have trained more than 3,000 program and financial staff on the action plan directives and clarified their accountability. We have put to use expert advice from the auditor general, from the treasury board's Comptrollership Standards Advisory Board, and from Deloitte & Touche. We have put in place new conditions to ensure that each and every payment meets all financial and administrative requirements before it goes out.
Throughout this process we have worked hard to ensure accountability for the tax dollars of the Canadian people, while at the same time trying to avoid unnecessary red tape and bureaucratic bottlenecks so that we can continue to provide the programs Canadians need to improve their quality of life.
We have also made a commitment to keep Canadians informed of our comprehensive response to this issue. In addition to quarterly reports, every effort has been made to make as much information available as humanly possible. HRDC has put more than 10,000 pages of details on specific grants and contributions on the Internet. Anyone wanting further information need only visit the department's website to find out more.
Anyone who takes the time to do so will discover the real story behind grants and contributions; the stories of personal triumph of people living in every riding in the country, people who count on federally funded projects to help them overcome challenges that would prevent them from achieving their potential.
The facts are that the dollar values of the grants and contributions projects range widely from hundreds of dollars for targeted wage subsidies to million-dollar agreements with national organizations. More than 60% of the projects are funded for amounts less than $25,000, and more than 80% are for less than $100,000.
Our grants and contributions serve a wide interest, such as vulnerable children through community based initiatives delivered by organizations such as Big Brothers and the YMCA. Youth employment strategy projects reach out to youth at risk, enabling them to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to lead productive lives. There are programs for Canadians with disabilities, such as the opportunities fund. The aboriginal human resources development strategy improves aboriginal people's employability. There are literacy projects run by local literacy groups that are equipping Canadians with the skills they need to function effectively in the job market.
I am talking about federally financed programs that are making a real difference in the lives of individual Canadians, and indeed in the life of our nation.
Our success is clear. Some two million jobs have been created since we took office. As I said before, the unemployment rate has dropped from 11.4% to today's rate of 6.6%. This is the real story that matters to Canadians.
I am proud to be a member of a government that believes deeply in social investment. I know it is what our constituents expect of us. Canadians share our conviction that we have a responsibility to look out for each other and to support each other when it is needed. To penalize Canadians who depend on grants and contributions would be to punish the most disadvantaged.
Some people are at a loss to fathom why the Canadian Alliance persists with this long, drawn out debate, based on worn out misconceptions and wrong information. I am not perplexed. It is clear to me that the reason is their basic disagreement that Canadians want their tax dollars used to help others who are in need.
If there were any doubt about their intentions, one simply has to read Hansard of Tuesday, June 6, when the Alliance's lead critic for finance said that government activity should be restricted to three things: the maintenance of law and order, running the criminal justice system, and a strong national defence. In other words, more policemen, more jails, more jail guards and more soldiers and sailors. In other words, people in uniform.
Did you hear the word health in that outline, Mr. Speaker? Did you hear the word education? Did you hear the word infrastructure? I do not think so.
Members of that party have clearly expressed their depressed view of the world and their pessimistic view of the future of Canada. I reject that and I invite all Canadians to celebrate in the Canadian value that Canadians help one another in their time of need. This government is pursuing that ideal.