Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to offer my comments on the opposition motion calling for an independent commission of inquiry into the grants and contributions activities of the Department of Human Resources and Development.
I am pleased to participate because it seems to me that after so many months of relentless attack from the other side of the House it is about time for some sanity to prevail in this debate.
This latest motion is little more than a vain attempt by the opposition to try to keep the issue alive and in the press for a few more hours or days. The old adage, if a story is repeated long enough and loud enough, maybe enough people will believe it. That has certainly been the tactic of the opposition parties.
Day after day in question period they say the same things. Day after day they repeat the same old questions: Where is the billion dollars? How come the minister will not resign because she has lost a billion dollars or more, and so on. Over and over they ask where the billion dollars is that is missing.
I do not think there are too many Canadians left who think the opposition really wants any answers to anything. They are ignoring Abraham Lincoln's famous script “You can fool some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time”.
Canadians are very smart and astute people. At some point the truth does comes through. This latest ploy to call for an independent commission of inquiry is not about the real issues that play to Canadians, it is about nothing other than cheap politics. What the opposition does not tell people is that we already have an independent review going on right now by an officer of parliament.
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada is on this case. It is working closely with the Department of Human Resources Development to address the issues. Who does the auditor general report to? He does not report to the minister or to the Prime Minister. He reports directly to the House, to all of us in the House. He reports to me and he reports to the opposition. He is independent of government. He is an independent officer of the House. He says what he wants to say. He investigates what he wants to investigate. He will report in the fall.
Does the auditor general sound the alarm? Is there a clarion call for the immediate suspension of all government operations and the appointment of a 10 year long royal commission into everything? Not at all.
Here is what the auditor general's officials had to say about the new regime HRD has put in place to rectify the current situation. They said that in their opinion the proposed approach represented a thorough plan for corrective action to address immediate control problems. They also said that some longer term actions were also included that would further strengthen the approach.
Those are the words of the people charged with the responsibility of auditing government programs and reporting this audit to the House.
However, that is not good enough for the opposition. It wants somebody's head on a plate. Solutions do not make headlines, only problems make the headlines. As we and the minister have all acknowledged, it was not an insignificant problem. In fact, it was the minister who brought this problem to the attention of the House. It was the minister who stood in her place and said that books on grants and contributions needed to be fixed because an internal audit showed that the procedures were not followed properly, that complete records were not kept and that forms were not filled out in the entirety.
What was the bottom line? After all the sound and fury from opposition benches about billions of dollars gone missing and after the department reviewed an audited 17,000 additional files, what was the result? The result was that $6,500 remained outstanding, not in money but in documentation for $6,500. All the boondoggle that continues to be talked about was never a boondoggle to begin with.
What is particularly important is that the minister and the department, rather than responding to the great controversy over the way the records were kept with a kind of easy response, a kind of grants and contributions chill that would have seen hundreds of excellent and worthwhile projects go waiting for funds, took steps to rectify the situation which balanced the need for grant recipients and the need for proper accountability and financial controls. In other words, they took the difficult plan. They rolled up their sleeves and got down to business.
Where the audit said that the paperwork was unacceptable, they set about to put it right and to get the right forms in the right places. That was what this is all about. Where the audit said 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.
However, let us remember again what the audit said. The audit said that important paper was missing, not money. In response to that, it went through one file at a time to ensure that everything was done exactly right.
Despite the repeated claims of the members opposite, that has not been the issue since day one. The Canadian public was clearly misled. If that is the role of the opposition, then at some point they owe an apology to the Canadian public, as well as to the minister.
As the minister has said, the paperwork is central to the accountability of her public funds. What is also central is the fact that these programs are there for a reason. They are not just political window dressing, as many of the critics claim. These are programs that help people; programs that members on both sides of the House have long agreed are both necessary and worthwhile; programs that help people get and keep jobs; programs, for example, that have helped reduce the unemployment rate from 11% in 1993 to below 7% today; programs that have contributed to the fact that over two million jobs have been created since 1993; programs that focus on the needs of individuals in all regions of this country and create practical and results oriented ways to help them become productive and contributing members of society and the economy.
The members opposite can sneer at these support programs and how they are administered and they can try to turn Canadians to their real agenda, which is that government should abandon those in need and provide more tax concessions to those better off in our society. I do not believe their plan will work. I do not believe the majority of Canadians would agree with that narrow vision.
The vast majority of Canadians believe in helping our fellow citizens when they are in need. The vast majority of Canadians believe in a sane and levelheaded approach to how we provide that support. I think the vast majority of Canadians will see this motion for what it is: Just another attempt by the opposition to grab some headlines; just another attempt by the opposition to undermine a whole series of worthwhile programs.
I sincerely hope that the House will reflect the opinion of the majority of Canadians and reject this motion.
I just want to say something about the comments made earlier by some opposition members about those of us on the government side being whipped into supporting the motion. I will not be supporting the opposition motion that is before us. I sat on the HRDC committee and listened to all the allegations from the opposition. I listened to the staff and the witnesses. I will be voting against the motion because the work has been done and the corrections have been put in place.