House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cio.


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An hon. member

As if the people of the justice department cannot do that.

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Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Indeed, as if the justice department had no employees.

This is why people rise up against such a way of doing things. We have a public service that I believe to be efficient, competent and able to do the work it is asked to do, and they do not make use of its services. Rather, they go into backrooms, they resort to alternative solutions, they rely on what is known as the pool of Liberal Party friends and they give them contracts worth millions of dollars for jobs that could be done by public servants at no additional cost, since these people are already being paid.

The minister was never able to explain to us the reasons why he relies on contracts with the private sector, when he has all the necessary resources within the federal administration.

The government laid off 45,000 public servants in 1995 and it is then that friends of the party in office started getting all kinds of contracts right across the country to do things that these public servants were paid to do and were doing very well. We were proud of their services.

The government is replacing career public servants with apparatchiks and friends of the party—

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An hon. member

Or with agencies.

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Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

—or with agencies. The government finds all sorts of schemes to make its friends get rich. This is what the minister never managed to stop. On the contrary, he blindly got on board and was never able to justify his decisions.

He should be brought back to reality so as to recognize, like everyone else here, that such spending to help his friends and ensure his re-election must be stopped.

The government is all over the place. It spends a fortune on the drafting of press releases when it has public servants who could do a very good job at that, believe me. When will the minister stop boasting and bragging with taxpayers' money? He wastes and spends but it is not his money. It is everyone's money, including yours, Madam Speaker.

That is the purpose of today's opposition motion, to say that enough is enough. The government must stop making fun of the public. It must stop taking advantage of taxpayers, making them work so hard and taxing them to the gills, while wasting public money inconsiderately, through extravagant spending, gargantuan dinners and so on.

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Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel Québec


Alfonso Gagliano LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I appreciate being given this opportunity to inform the members of this House and of the public at large of the role, procedures and many achievements of the Canada Information Office.

I am delighted to do so, because, clearly, the members of the Bloc Quebecois cannot be expected to applaud the development of direct and relevant communications between Canadians and their government.

In fact, more people, especially those from Quebec, are discovering the services and benefits available to them from the Government of Canada, as the separatist issue fades into the background. This is the reason for the unrest among the Bloc Quebecois members in recent days. I can understand this frightens them somewhat.

They will never let the facts interfere with their dream of breaking the country apart.

Established in 1996, the Canada Information Office first focused its efforts on establishing structures and meeting the most pressing needs.

In 1998, the Government of Canada struck a special committee in Cabinet to plan and co-ordinate all government communications. The Prime Minister did me the honour of asking me to chair it, and I can assure you I take this responsibility most seriously.

The Prime Minister also made me responsible for the Canada Information Office, which he mandated to provide strategic advice and operational support to the new ministerial committee. This committee and the CIO share a common mission, that of helping to improve communication between the Government of Canada and the public. Better communication means better understanding, and, indirectly, better mutual appreciation.

There is absolutely no doubt that the CIO makes a positive contribution to Canadian unity through its work, initiatives and successes.

This is why the members of the Bloc Quebecois are today calling for its dismantling, and I can understand them in a way. Still, I would remind them that Canadian unity remains more than ever an important priority of our government and of all the other political parties represented here in this House.

At this point I would like to explain the reasons that led our government to examine the whole question of improving communications with Canadians, to set up the CIO and to support the efforts in this area.

Throughout the world the new millennium is associated with the advent of new information technology. We are surrounded by hundreds of television channels, 24 hour information networks, the Internet, cellular phones, e-mail and many other tools or toys bringing instant communications and information to us.

The net result is that we are living in an environment where we have access to more information than ever before. At the same time Canadians have developed a taste, even a need, for increasingly precise, specialized and complex information.

Canada is not made up of an homogeneous group of individuals: education, language, economic situation and lifestyle are all factors which affect public information needs. However, there are some common values.

All studies show that in Canada as in other countries citizens feel that their governments are not tuned in to their needs. They want their governments to give them more precise information on available services.

Each one of the various departments can communicate its own priorities and accomplishments but the CIO offers a comprehensive perspective of Government of Canada communications.

That is the context in which the Government of Canada decided to give itself an indispensable tool to better communicate with the citizens of our great country. That tool is the Canada Information Office.

Besides assisting the cabinet committee on communication matters, the CIO develops projects and co-ordinates with various departments and agencies initiatives to better serve the Canadian population.

Our objective is to see the CIO become a centre of excellence in government communications. Everyday, the direction and staff of the CIO strive with ardour and dedication to reach that objective.

In fact, the success of some initiatives shows that we are on the right track. I am thinking for instance of the rural guide that was distributed all over the country. Last week, that guide received an award of excellence from the International Association of Business Communicators for the National Capital Region.

Of course, the Bloc Quebecois members did not even mention this honour.

This is a very concrete example of why we constantly seek to improve communication with Canadians, who have a right to know that what they receive from their government is factual, essential and relevant information.

The CIO does public opinion research, follow up and media analysis. These activities benefit a number of departments and are pursued in collaboration with them.

Thanks to these initiatives, the Government of Canada listens more attentively to the concerns and particular needs of citizens throughout the nation. Other projects like advertising in weekly newspapers offer Canadians specific information on the services that the government makes available to them.

There are also ministerial tours, which give Quebecers an opportunity to talk directly with Cabinet members. They talk about the issues that are close to their heart, and about the projects people in their area hold dear. They request and obtain relevant information on their government programs and services.

These tours are true examples of democracy in action. Ministers go back to the grassroots to keep Canadians in remote areas informed and to listen to them, even groups who have never had a direct and personal access to their elected leaders.

Who could condemn, criticize or oppose such an initiative? Nobody, apart from the Nlob Quebecois. I would even say that the Bloc has a hard time doing it. Not being able to oppose the very commendable and positive initiative from the CIO, the Bloc members are looking for flaws. They claim that these ministerial tours are partisan. We all know, and all the people we have met also know, that it is not true. I would like to let some of the people we have met talk about that.

At the end of a ministerial tour in his area, the president of the Trois-Rivières chamber of commerce, Jean Boutet, said, and I quote:

We took this opportunity to talk to Paul Martin about the budget surpluses, the bank mergers, the state of the Canadian economy, the need for regional equalization and the good work he has done in the last years.

Are the budget, banks and the economy partisan issues? Of course not. Those are issues that Canadians everywhere in the country are highly interested in. But let us see more.

In Matapédia-Matane, the mayor of Matane, Maurice Gauthier, stated, and I quote:

We discussed several issues, such as the port, the airport, the diamond development and new technologies.

Are those partisan issues?

In Quebec City, the editorial writer at Le Soleil wrote, and I quote:

—the beginnings of this era of co-operation are promising and are spreading in the Quebec City area a wave of positivism that is welcome.

I believe it is clear that these tours are a means to communicate with Quebecers.

Let us move now to the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, where the Bloc Quebecois House leader comes from. The mayor of Jonquière, Daniel Giguère, stated at the end of a ministerial visit, and again I quote:

We really felt that the government wants to help Jonquière and the area. It was very constructive.

Is that being partisan? When the truth hurts, the Bloc members holler.

Why are the Bloc members upset? Why are they demanding that the CIO be dismantled? They are terrified that Quebecers will find out that Canada is working well and that it is worth being part of it. Being short on substantive arguments about the value of and need for ministerial visits in Quebec, the Bloc members have attacked the contracting out process.

Here too, their accusations do not stand up to scrutiny. I repeat, all the CIO contracts have been granted in accordance with treasury board rules.

Better yet, I can assure the House that, since April 1, 1999, all contracts over $25,000 have been awarded to professionals who qualified through a bidding process.

All calls for tenders were posted on the MERX electronic bulletin board, and competitions were held under the rules set out by the Government of Canada.

In a fit of partisanship that is typical of the Bloc Quebecois, other members of that party are screaming because certain contracts were awarded to people who share the government's political philosophy.

I am trying to understand why the millions of Canadians who support this government could not or should not have access to government contracts. In my opinion, this would just deprive us of a large and precious pool of professional skills and expertise. Moreover, such an approach would create a highly discriminatory system that would go against our most fundamental values.

Of course, I understand that members of the Bloc Quebecois would prefer by far that these contracts be awarded only to sovereignists, but I have to tell them frankly that they are not being realistic. Even their head office, in Quebec City, cannot achieve such levels of so-called perfection.

In the meantime, the government team will continue to visit all the regions of Quebec. Moreover, thanks to the excellent services provided by the CIO, we will keep on spreading the good news that Canada works and that it is worth being part of this great country.

Yes, Canada is a great country and it is worth being part of it. I know Bloc Quebecois members are nervous and worried. The Canada Information Office has become an essential, efficient tool against the goal of separating Quebec from Canada. They want to see it dismantled. I am telling my friends loud and clear that this will not happen, not now nor as long as there is a separatist party threatening to break up our great country.

It is clear that Quebecers appreciate—

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Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

It is annoying listening to this.

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Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

When it hurts, they react.

I was saying that it is clear that with each passing day Quebecers find more reasons to belong to Canada. They do not want to hear about referendums. They no longer want to be at odds with each other. They want their governments, all their governments, to work together calmly, hand in hand, in order to improve our quality of life.

Their desire to live in peace, harmony and prosperity is legitimate and is shared by Canadians in all regions of the country. That is why I am proud of the constructive and positive work done by the team at the Canada Information Office.

Despite what Bloc Quebecois members have said, the men and women working in the CIO are making an important contribution to our country. Daily, they are strengthening the ties between individual Canadians and the Government of Canada. Daily, they are helping to build on Canadian unity and solidarity. They deserve our respect and our encouragement. That is why we are going to continue working together, calmly and with determination, in order to develop the potential of our great country, Canada.

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Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Madam speaker, after that great speech, I am tempted to ask the minister how much that speech cost us and who wrote it?

The Canada Information Office does not do anything itself. Everything is contracted out. I would not be surprised if the speech that the minister just read cost us $25,000 or $27,500—this is the scale involved.

If the drafting of his speech was contracted out, could the minister table the contract in the House and assure us that it was awarded through a bidding process?

If, as the minister admits, the Canada Information Office is a tool to promote Canadian unity, why is it managed by the Department of Public Works and not by the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs?

Is it because out of all the jobs the Prime Minister has given him, the minister omitted a very important one? Is it because he is the chief organizer of the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec that the CIO had to be at his service, so that he could do his job as the organizer in Quebec for his party? That is the real issue.

Why is the CIO not under the authority of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, if promoting Canadian unity is its only responsibility?

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Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, I thought I had explained at the beginning of my speech the reason why I was the minister responsible for the Canadian Information Office. The member of the Bloc Quebecois, however, is so obsessed by his beliefs that he has not listened in the least.

At the beginning of my speech I said that, in 1998, the Prime Minister created a cabinet communications committee of which I was made head, and he subsequently entrusted me with responsibility for the BIC since its mandate is to co-ordinate the communications of the Government of Canada, of all its departments.

So I am the minister responsible for the BIC because I am the chair of the communications committee and not because I am the Minister of Public Works. I believe, however, that this is a bit too complicated for the hon. member for Chambly to grasp.

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June 8th, 2000 / 11:10 a.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, I recall specifically when the Canada Information Office was set up originally under the heritage minister. The reason this minister is now in charge of the Canada Information Office is that it was not managed at all well by the heritage minister and in fact the CIO was getting into some difficulty.

I want to state clearly and unequivocally that my party and I, along with the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives, share the same beliefs as this minister and the government. Canada is the greatest nation in the world. We must do everything we can possibly do to keep it fully intact. I have some difficulty, though, with the way in which the CIO has conducted itself over its brief history.

First, the CIO has never explained its involvement in the missing $4.5 million for Options Canada. If that money were wrongly spent, if that money were put into a wrong place with respect to the referendum question in the province of Quebec, and if there were some malfeasance on the part of the government, I would suggest to the minister that it is in the interest of the people of Canada who are federalists for the government to come clean about the $4.5 million rather than continue to sweep and sweep and sweep it under the rug.

Second, the difficulty the government has created with the Canada Information Office is that many of the contracts and much of the ongoing activity have been conducted in a way that does not befit what we are in Canada, which is a democracy. In a democracy the people depend on the people in the Chamber to hold the government accountable for the affairs of the government and to be as transparent as possible.

I suggest in the strongest way possible to the minister that even if we can get him to clear up the history of the Canada Information Office, which I do not have a lot of hope for but I am asking for, from this point forward there must be proper transparency of the Canada Information Office. The country needs openness and transparency because democracy cannot be true democracy without openness and transparency.

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Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, concerning the hon. member's question about Options Canada, BIC was not in existence at the time. I think it was heritage, and the minister of heritage has said many times in the House that an audit was going on and the auditor general was involved.

Concerning my responsibility as the minister responsible for the CIO, as I said in the House this week, at the beginning of its creation the CIO was asked to deliver a mandate but it did not have the necessary tools among its civil servants, and it actually created a mess. Therefore certain extensions were given.

Once I took over the responsibility for CIO, since April 1, 1999 every contract above $25,000 has had to be publicly tendered. Those contracts can be checked through access to information. A full fiscal year is in place for every contract above $25,000 and that can be audited. I have been assured by officials that is what took place. My director was very clear in a written letter which I made public.

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11:15 a.m.


Daniel Turp Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, above and beyond the questions of transparency and use of public funds, which we consider misuse, for studies by Compex consulting on provincial legislation relating to amendments to the constitution, I would like to know who these people are.

What the Canada Information Office is doing is, quite obviously, part of plan B. I would like the minister to tell me whether what the Canada Information Office is doing and the propaganda it is distributing is not merely part of plan B, part of the arsenal being used against Quebec sovereignty, against that eminently democratic project of ours.

It is a major insult to us when the member says that what we are planning is a threat to break up Canada and that it lacks legitimacy, since the Supreme Court of Canada itself has said that it was a legitimate project.

Enough then of this talk of threats by someone who is himself from Quebec and who knows that there are people in his riding, as there are elsewhere in Quebec, who believe sovereignty is a legitimate option that deserves to be presented and defended to Quebecers with all the democratic tools at our disposal.

Is not the Canada Information Office and everything it is doing quite simply one more component of plan B, which is aimed at blocking Quebecers' path to sovereignty?

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Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, I hope I will have the same time as the hon. member.

First, I have always said that when Quebec City communicates, it informs. When Ottawa communicates, it is propaganda.

For example, in fiscal year 1999-2000, the Government of Quebec, through various departments, such as the departments of revenue, finance, treasury board and others, gave $96,000 to the Mouvement national des Québécois et Québécoises. That is legitimate. I have always said that it was legitimate to promote separation. Two referendums were held in Quebec and Quebecers said no. Is this not democratic?

Why are they allowed to talk up their option while we are obliged to say nothing and not defend our options? Where is democracy in all this?

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Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Madam Speaker, it is with a great deal of respect that I approach the debate this morning.

The Canada Information Office has a very interesting title. The word “Information” has some very interesting connotations because information is separate from facts. Facts are indisputable observations, the things that everyone would agree upon. Information is not necessarily agreed upon. Information is often the taking of facts, interpreting them and applying them in certain ways to create a particular result that may influence other people to make decisions, to feel a certain way or to develop certain attitudes.

It is to that extent that I would like to read from the department's statement, the departmental overview, the mandate, the rules and responsibilities of the Canada Information Office.

I would like to ask the people who are watching this particular debate to pay particular attention to the words in the statement and compare them, if they have read the novel by George Orwell, to 1984 . The statement reads:

The Canada Information Office's (CIO) mandate is to improve communications between the Government of Canada and citizens. While individual departments and agencies communicate about activities within their areas of responsibility, the CIO is increasingly focused on communicating with citizens from a corporate perspective, representing the Government of Canada as a whole....Information on the government's overall direction, key priorities and the broad range of programs and services.

Based on public opinion and communications research, the CIO developed national and regionally responsive citizen-focused communications initiatives. It also provides advice and support, in collaboration with the Privy Council Office, to the ad hoc Committee of Cabinet on Government Communications which was created in 1998 to improve the effectiveness of government communications.

The CIO's role and mandate has gradually evolved to the above. When it was created on July 9, 1996 through Order-in-Council 1996-1066, its mandate reflected the Government's commitment to inform Canadians about their country, about each other, about the renewal of the federation and about the role of the Government of Canada. This evolution from a largely unity focused mandate to one more focused on corporate communications was brought about in response to the Government's commitment to better communicate with citizens.

As I went through those three paragraphs, how many of those who have read George Orwell's 1984 would say, that is like the information office that George Orwell imagined a long time ago, which was actually to create a particular impression or direction as to what should happen.

The hon. minister just indicated, and it is reflected in a phrase in one of the above paragraphs, that it was primarily to bring about the unity of Canada. I could not agree more with the minister. I think we do need to have this country together. One of the saddest experiences I have had in the House was to witness the operation of the members of the Bloc whose sole purpose is to destroy the unity of the country.

Nothing hurts me more than to think of breaking up the country that my grandfather chose as being the place where he wanted to live and where he wanted his children to get married and his grandchildren to live. I am proud of this country. I am so thankful that he chose to move out of Russia, come to Canada and set up his operation here.

I want to keep the country united. I love our uniqueness and our various cultural differences. We are not all the same and I am happy about those differences. However this does not make one group better than another. It does not mean that we should separate from one another. We can learn from one another and live together.

Not only does that require information, it also requires an attitude, an attitude of patriotism, of transparency and of working together, and to be democratic about it. We must also be accountable to one another. We do not need nor do we want a propaganda machine that will do only one thing: promote a particular political party.

The mandate does not say that it is the Liberal Party that is being promoted. It says that the government's operations are to be communicated with the citizens. To that degree it is good, but is it doing that? That becomes the key question.

The minister has given us some assurances this morning, but I want to ask whether in fact those assurances are being observed.

I now want to get into another part of the department's own statement about the operation of the CIO.

I will read what it says on page 7 of the document that I am referring to. It says:

The CIO's activities are greatly influenced by the opinions and attitudes of the Canadian public. What Canadians tell us in our surveys help shape our initiatives and the communications advice we provide to the government. For instance, our research indicates that many Canadians believe the government is not providing them with enough information and a large majority believe that the government should place a high priority on providing information on how to access programs and services. Our research also tells us that Canadians possess relatively low levels of familiarity with government actions.

I cannot help but think about what has happened in the House in the last three months. The Minister of HRDC has been singularly secretive about certain things. It was not until a request was made by our critic, my colleague for Calgary—Nose Hill, that this be made public that in fact it became public. We have seen a number of things. We have had to dig and dig and push and pull to get the information.

We still do not have all the information. If that is the issue, if this group found out that Canadians want more information, why is it not forthcoming? I really question whether in fact the CIO is doing what it was supposed to be doing.

The overview goes on to say:

Demographics also play an important role in determining our activities. The CIO's communications strategies reflect Canada's increasingly diverse and pluralistic population and take into consideration factors such as regional differences, the aging population and varying levels of literacy.

That is indeed true. Just a moment ago the minister referred to the increasing sophistication of technology; that people want more information and they want it faster. With the complexity of the various issues, we need to recognize that complexity itself can be an impediment to clear communication. It therefore has to be simplified so that people can understand it directly and accurately. The key factor here is accuracy.

The final sentence reads:

Technological advances and new media are also having significant effects on how the Government of Canada communicates—

That is the case. There are rumours now that the government is considering a secure channel. There is a lot controversy around that particular channel. How will the contract be awarded for that particular channel? What are the specifications that will have to be met? These things are not clear at this point. There are a lot of complications with that, and I am sure the hon. minister would be only too pleased to recognize this and take some action.

I really encourage the minister to ensure that the kind of things he does in that particular connection do not fall into the kind of criticism that we are offering to the CIO, in the way it is operating and particularly the advice it has given to the HRDC, if indeed it gave it some. I think it probably did.

Let us look at the department's communications activities. It says:

In 2000-2001, the CIO will place much of its effort on the design and delivery of innovative, citizen-oriented, corporate communications products and initiatives.

If it is going to be citizen-oriented, we will have to see the evidence that it is citizen-oriented, that the primary purpose is to get the people and the government to talk together rather than the government talking to the people and telling them that this is what they had better believe and this is what they had better do.

We want to have it the other way as well which says “We, the people, would like you, the government, to do this”. I ask myself, I ask the hon. minister and I ask the Prime Minister, if this is the case, if they have been listening so carefully, if they want to be citizen-oriented, why is it then that we have not had a tax cut? Why is it that we do not have a plan to pay down the debt?

Over and over again I hear people asking when the government will start paying down the debt. When is it going to have a plan to pay down the debt? There is no plan. The only plan it has is that if it has a little surplus, it will put it toward the debt. That is fine but that is not what we want.

We want a systematic and planned contribution that will say how much the debt is going to be reduced each year. Unless we do that, the interest charges and the service charges for that debt will continue and we will get nothing.

The health care budget alone would be covered by half of the service charges on the debt at the present time, and I am speaking about the federal contribution. If we are going to be citizen-oriented, we must pay attention to that.

The paper goes on to say:

These corporate communications initiatives will be designed to reflect citizens' needs and interests for information—

The citizens want action. They want information, that is true, but they want to know what we are doing.

What is the Minister of Health going to do to fix the health care problem? We do not know. He is not telling us. When he goes to a meeting he says all kinds of beautiful things. Not too long ago he was in Kelowna in my constituency and made a beautiful speech. He said that we are going to enter into a partnership with a program with the Kelowna General Hospital. The doctors in the audience asked, “Where is the money?” It is easy to talk, but where is the action? Very noble activities are being proposed here, but what are they really going to do?

“They will be based on the CIO's research and what it has learned from its practical experience to date”. That has given us a whole lot of information. Are they really going to do that? It is going to be a major change.

The addition of regional communications co-ordinators will further enhance co-ordination and collaboration of government-wide communications at the regional and local level. The CIO will also continue to play an important role in a variety of government-wide communications initiatives led by other departments and agencies. For example, it is working closely with the Treasury Board Secretariat, the Privy Council Office, and Public Works and Government Services Canada on a revised government communications policy. It is also collaborating with the Privy Council Office on the development and renewal of the government communications community.

That is wonderful and it sounds so good. I want to ask the minister whether he will have those kinds of statements that this is what they are going to do. Will he present to parliament a report saying that these are the things the Canada Information Office actually achieved, that it did what was said it would do?

There are a lot of things we need to do, but I want to move on to another section which has to do with sole source contracts. The hon. minister a moment ago said that as of April 1, 1999 there have been no contracts awarded above $25,000 that were not tendered.

I have here the auditor's report dated November 1999. This particular report is a rather strong indictment on the whole business of sole source contracting. In fact, using advance contract award notices, the auditor general goes so far as to say that this has become a fifth way of granting contracts by the Government of Canada. He makes some rather strong statements. In his introductory paragraph he says:

The principles of accessibility, competition, fairness to suppliers, transparency and best value lie at the core of government contracting policy.


The contracting regulations require that all contracts be let through a competitive process, with certain very narrowly defined exceptions. When the contract is needed in an emergency, when the value is small, when it is not in the public interest to solicit bids (for example, if national security is involved) or when there is only one supplier who can do the work, the contract can be let without competition on what is called a sole-source basis. Almost 90 percent of the 50 sole-source contracts we examined did not fall under any of the exceptions or did not have adequate evidence of doing so and hence ought to have been competitively tendered. As in last year's audit of sole-source contracts for professional services, we concluded that the process of awarding most of the contracts audited in this year's sample would not pass the test of public scrutiny.

Those are very, very severe indictable statements. This refers not only to the CIO but goes right across a number of departments. I have the list of departments which were involved and they all came in for criticism: the Department of National Defence, the Canadian International Development Agency, Industry Canada, the Department of Human Resources Development, and the Department of Public Works and Government Services. Ninety per cent. That is high.

He goes on to become much more specific. I want to refer specifically to several of these. I am reading from the auditor general's report:

Only 11 percent of the 50 contracts we examined had a justification for sole-sourcing on file that complied with the conditions stipulated in the Government Contracts Regulations. Specifically, none of the contracts in our sample were for under $25,000. None invoked the exceptions for pressing emergency or national interest. The critical decision used to justify sole-sourcing in most of these contracts was the determination that the contractor was “unique”—that is, the only person or firm capable of performing the work. Managers are supposed to make this determination, justify it and document it before deciding to sole-source and before posting an ACAN, the advanced contract award notice. However, in 89 percent of the 50 cases we examined, the uniqueness of the contractor was either not determined at all (that is, management was fully aware that the firm selected was not unique) or was unsupported in fact.

That is pretty serious stuff. I want to go to another paragraph:

Accordingly, many more contracts than could be justified were awarded without competition—a situation that does not reflect the principle of open access to contracting opportunities with the federal government. The awarding of these contracts would not withstand public scrutiny. This situation also imposes significant opportunity costs on the contractor community at large, which is all too often unfairly denied access to potential business that it has a right to compete for.

It goes on. The Bloc made some very interesting observations. The sponsor of today's motion made some interesting statements about the fact that certain people's uniqueness was determined not by their qualifications or competence but rather by their political affiliation. It makes me think back to what the department said in its mandate and its role for the CIO. It says:

Through its media monitoring capacity and regional presence, the CIO will continue to track current and emerging trends, increasingly from a corporate perspective. It will gather information in a timely and targeted manner to enable the government and the CIO to respond to citizens' information needs efficiently and effectively.

That is beautiful. All of Canada is involved. Now watch the next sentence:

It will continue to co-ordinate ministerial visits in Quebec, providing factual background information on the communities they visit as well as logistical and other support. The CIO will also continue to produce a variety of information documents such as calendars of events to help the government in its communications efforts.

Singled out is Quebec. Why? I do not know why. One can surmise; one can speculate. But there is no question about the positive position that has been taken that a region has been clearly identified and it has been carefully articulated that is what we will be concentrating on. One of our focuses will be Quebec.

I am very concerned that this country stay together and there is reason to concentrate on Quebec. We want Quebec to feel welcome in Canada, but the rest of Canada wants to be welcome in Canada also. British Columbia wants to feel as much a part of Canada as Quebec, as Alberta, as Saskatchewan and all the other provinces. We want every citizen in Canada to be proud of being a Canadian.

I do not find I am sympathetic at all. I find little sympathy in my mind and in my heart to identify one particular area and say that is where we will concentrate, and by implication suggest that we will not concentrate in the same way on the other parts of Canada.

I wish the CIO would have stated clearly that we will concentrate on all parts and all regions of Canada and not name one in particular and say that by implication it is special. We are unique and we are different. We are not the same, but we are equal, and that is a significant issue. None of us is better than another.

This is the issue. If the CIO really wants to do its job, let us develop that patriotic attitude among Canadians that we are one and equal before the constitution and the law.

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11:40 a.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, it seemed to me that my colleague from the Canadian Alliance near the end of his remarks said that this instrument of electoral organization, the CIO, operated only in Quebec.

Is he not afraid, though, that one fine morning—at the moment we have a minister for electoral organization from the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec, he is using the CIO in Quebec— but is it unimaginable that a Liberal Party of Canada organizer in Alberta, British Columbia or Saskatchewan might one day also use the CIO to unseat Alliance members in their ridings where they live? Canadian unity is not an issue there and yet this is what the CIO does. For the time being, it is doing it in Quebec—and this does not distress the member particularly—but the day it starts its activities in his riding is the day my colleague will perhaps change his tune.

Finally, my question is as follows: is he not worried that the government will use its information for purely partisan purposes? And when a party is mentioned, it is not necessarily the member's party. I would like to know how he sees things.

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11:40 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Madam Speaker, am I concerned? Yes I am, very much so.

If the hon. member will recall, right at the beginning of my remarks I said that the CIO is becoming more of a propaganda machine in favour of the government party, rather than to do the broader thing, which is to direct the attention of Canadians to what is really happening. I tried to make it very clear that what we are talking about here is not necessarily facts, but about information which is designed to develop attitudes in a particular direction.

Am I concerned that this could be used for electoral purposes? You had better believe I am concerned about that. By the same token, I also am not that naive to think that a government that is in power would not try to slant the information to shine the best possible light on its activities. That is fair ball. The Bloc does exactly the same thing. When it is used exclusively and where it is manipulated, that is where I take exception. There is some evidence that has happened and it could easily be used that way.

That is one of the reasons I am very critical about the way in which the CIO operates. It must be encouraged to become very balanced in its approach and do as I indicated in the last part of my remarks, which is to build a strong Canada where people are equal, where provinces are equal, and where we can unite under one flag.

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11:40 a.m.

Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel Québec


Alfonso Gagliano LiberalMinister of Public Works and Government Services

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for a very enlightening speech.

He questioned whether or not the government listens. Definitely the government listens. We had a plan to reduce the deficit by 3% of the GDP. We eliminated the deficit and now there is a surplus. Now the government has a difficulty. When it had a deficit it could tell everybody there was no money. Now that it has money everybody wants some. The government must balance it. Definitely we listen.

The CIO communications division co-ordinates the government as a whole. I remind my colleague that each department has its own responsibility in communications matters to communicate its policies and reports. I would like to reassure the hon. member that every year there will be a report and it will match what is now the system in parliament. We have a three year plan and every year we compare our reports.

Along with the President of the Treasury Board we are striving to make sure that we can evaluate and express opinions as parliamentarians on whether the policies we advance are taking place and providing the results we hoped for.

The member addressed the question of the Quebec ministerial tour. I assure the hon. member that the tour is ministerial, even though the Bloc claims otherwise. As I indicated during my speech there are no party people involved. The real objective is to communicate to Quebecers the programs of the Government of Canada.

On a daily basis we, and when I say “we” I mean Canadians, the Government of Canada and the country as a whole, are attacked by the Bloc here or by the Parti Quebecois in Quebec misinforming or saying that Canada does not work. I recall in 1995 they said the country was in bankruptcy, that Quebec should get out of Canada because it was in bankruptcy. We are not in bankruptcy. We are one of the best industrial countries in the world. We can look at economic growth and its results in terms of interest rates and inflation.

As ministers from Quebec we said that we had to inform every region of the country of what Canada was doing. That is what we are doing. Ministers in other parts of the country decided to do it. This was demanded of the CIO by the Quebec ministers. Since we wanted to go around the province we needed an organization that could do it. We are different ministers with different responsibilities but we wanted to ensure there was a follow-up and that when questions were raised they got clear answers and solutions. In the meantime we can be co-ordinated to know exactly what as a whole the Government of Canada is doing for its citizens.

That is the Quebec ministerial tour. If we would not have included it in the report, probably the member would have accused us of hiding it. We are not hiding it. We put it there because we wanted everyone to know. I hope other regions of the country continue to inform Canadians because that is what it is all about.

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11:45 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. minister for saying that we listen to the people. Indeed we do. I am sure the government has listened to the people to a degree. My point is that the government is not listening well enough. People are telling us very clearly that while there is a certain amount that will be paid down on the debt it is not enough. Taxes have not been cut the way they should have been cut.

Before the Liberals became the government they said they would cut the GST. They did not. They are still taking the $7 billion which are being contributed by people in Canada who earn $20,000 or less. Talk about greed. The Prime Minister has said that ours is a party of greed. I would like to turn that right around and say it is exactly the opposite.

If we really want to listen then we should listen to the whole story. I commend the minister for the things he has done, but it is not enough by any stretch of the imagination. The Minister of National Defence has not listened.

If this is to be a co-ordinating function then let it be a co-ordinating function. Let them listen to all the people. Let the Department of National Defence, let the Minister of Health and let the Minister of Natural Resources hear what the situation is in British Columbia and in other parts of Canada. Why is it that they will not respond to the people? That is the issue.

With all due respect, the minister may be trying but it is not enough. It does not go far enough. I am not sure that this is the best vehicle to use. I am not at all convinced that is the case. It may be but I need more evidence than what we have today.

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11:45 a.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be very brief.

I want to ask the Canadian Alliance member if, instead of spending some $20 million through the CIO and several millions to organize the Canada Day celebrations—I have nothing against celebrating Canada Day in Quebec and against the fact that the government refuses to give the total budget for Canada Day celebrations across the country, because I am under the impression that it spends more in Quebec than elsewhere—it would not be more appropriate to invest that money in health, education and other services for which taxpayers have a real need?

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11:50 a.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Madam Speaker, the answer is that money can be spent better than it has been spent. First, we clearly need to fix our health care system. Second, we need to cut taxes. Both those things must happen. As to whether $20 million should be spent on CIO, there is enough information out there to know that if the government did those things it would not have as big a communication problem as it has now.

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11:50 a.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to say a few words about the motion before the House today. I say at the outset the our party supports the idea of having a Canada Information Office.

In other words, we disagree with the Bloc motion that the office should be disbanded altogether. There should be a Canada Information Office to help provide information about government programs across the country. That is a legitimate role. It is bit of a double standard for the Bloc to say that it should be closed entirely. There are similar agencies in the province of Quebec that provide information about Quebec government programs to the population of that province. That is where we stand as a party.

I hope the minister would agree that we have to make very sure and clear that this is a government information office for the Government of Canada and not for the Liberal Party or any other party. That is a fine line that can sometimes be crossed. It may not be by this minister or the next minister, but it could be the next minister or next party thereafter.

When there are government information offices in any democratic society it is always very sensitive that the role of the office be very clearly defined in terms of providing legitimate information and facts about government institutions, programs and policies to the population of a particular country and that it not cross the line into partisan politics. Once that happens we all have problems in terms of the legitimacy of governments programs, government spending and the whole national unity cause, which is the most important aspect here.

The Canada Information Office was established after the 1995 referendum, which was nearly a disaster. It was very close indeed. There was a feeling among many people including myself that there had to be a co-ordinating office for the Government of Canada to provide information, not just in Quebec but across the country, about federal institutions and federal programs.

Maybe we should take a look at its mandate and make sure that issues are more clearly defined. I think that is a legitimate question. These things should always be reviewed. Maybe we should look at the budget of $21 billion. Perhaps it is not necessary today. Perhaps it is a bit high.

By the way, I am told that amount would be enough to keep the CBC on air in the four Atlantic provinces, which is important to Canadians. It is also enough money to keep many thousands of hospital beds open for many months in all parts of Canada. That is extremely important to our citizens. There are many other priorities.

As I said at the outset, we need a Canadian information office. We need a co-ordinating body to provide information. Most provinces do that. Certainly the Government of Quebec does that. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea, but this agency has to be scrutinized like any other agency of government.

I have some concerns about some of the activities undertaken by that office, for example, the monitoring of some activities of certain journalists, a lot of which is legitimate, in terms of keeping tabs on what certain journalists say about the important issues of federalism and national unity. Sometimes it goes a bit overboard.

Edison Stewart is a very prominent reporter for the Toronto Star . Many members of the House and I know him well. He was monitored by the Canada Information Office because he had written pieces that were skeptical of the office in terms of its role, mandate and spending. I do not think some of the things said about him were necessary work for the Canada Information Office. By the way, he is no longer an employee of the Toronto Star . He has taken a job with the treasury board. He is hardly a person who is not supportive of the overall institutions of federal government and the promotion of legitimate government policies in the country.

I would watch those kinds of things in terms of not going overboard as has been done. The Bloc has released the names of some journalists where there has probably been undue monitoring of people in the media and the press. That being said, I think there is a legitimate role for the agency.

In the 1995 campaign the criticism was on the other side. Many people were very critical of the Prime Minister and the federal government not being better prepared for the referendum, not having their ducks in order and not having the plan in place for that referendum. That referendum was almost lost. That is why we need an agency like this one which is a bit of a quarterback in terms of providing government information. It must be stressed that it has to be government information, not propaganda for the political party in place. That is a fine line.

I must also tell my Bloc Quebecois friends that, if I am not mistaken, there were Quebec government agencies doing the same thing in that province, there were agencies promoting government programs in Quebec. The same thing is done in my province of Saskatchewan and in every Canadian province. It is important to have an agency that tells people about the policies of the government, not those of the political party forming the government.

In Saskatchewan, it is the NDP, and also in Manitoba and British Columbia. Here, it is the Liberal Party. In the Province of Quebec, it is the Parti Quebecois. It is important to have an agency that represents legitimate government interests, and not the partisan position of one political party or another.

The CIO was established after the 1995 referendum because we almost lost the country. This was a referendum where the results were very close, split almost 50-50 between the yes and the no vote.

It is important to remember that national unity is not just about information. We must have a very strong country, and an economy that is very strong and very fair for all Canadians.

When I look at the government right now, I see that it has cut too deeply into our social programs. I am thinking in particular of medicare, which has been slashed by the Liberal government. The one big difference between this country and the United States lies in social programs such as medicare. This is something that unifies the country from coast to coast. It is very important. Right now, we have a federal government that is only contributing 13, 14 or 15 cents out of every dollar spent on medicare throughout Canada.

I remember very clearly how, years ago, Tommy Douglas, the leader of the federal NDP, as well as the premier of my province of Saskatchewan, established medicare. In the 1960s—1966 or 1967—medicare was introduced Canada-wide by Lester B. Pearson. At that time, the federal government paid 50% of the cost of medicare in our country, and the provinces paid the other 50%. Now, the provinces are paying almost 85% or 87%, while the federal government is paying between 13% and 15%.

It is the lack of confidence in our federal government—I am not talking about the Liberal Party here—the lack of confidence in our social programs, such as medicare, and the lack of confidence in our education system and many other things that are contributing to the lack of national unity.

In our country, we can now afford to rebuild our social safety net, to have the best health care system, the best social programs, the best transportation system and the best communications system in the world. We have the money to do all that. With a very strong economy, we also have the flexibility to reorganize the federation immediately. We can recognize Quebec as a distinct society.

I was in favour of the Meech Lake accord and worked very hard on that proposal ten or twelve years ago. The current Prime Minister was against the Meech Lake accord. My friends remember vividly the role he played, ten or twelve year ago, with Clyde Wells and even with Mr. McKenna, who was the Premier of New Brunswick at that time. We saw the beginning of a rift during the Meech Lake discussions.

In this country, we still need to have an open mind and recognize Quebec as being different, unique and distinct. It is something we can celebrate everywhere in Canada. We also need some flexibility in our federation on the part of the other provinces, in another sense, and we need to recognize the right of aboriginal people to self-government. This is very important.

We can do all that since we have the money and we have a population that is diversified and open to new ideas. It is easier to have new ideas in a strong economy. It is easier to be generous when there is money in one's pockets. It is easier to have new ideas when there is money in one's pockets.

That is why national unity is not only about information on government, not only about having a new constitution, not only about such things but also about social programs like health insurance and a communications system such as CBC and Radio-Canada to unify this country.

What we have now, however, is a government that is in the process of slashing the budget of CBC and Radio-Canada. The Liberal government has reduced their budget more than Brian Mulroney's Conservative government. It may be a bit surprising to see a Liberal government doing this, to see that it is more conservative than the Conservatives, but such actions do not promote national unity.

We need the CBC and Radio-Canada. They are part of our national unity. We need a good communications system in what has become the largest country in the world. Now we are bigger, in terms of geography, than Russia. In this country, when we talk of national unity, we need a public broadcasting system, a public communications system.

The Canada Information Office is important, but it is only a small step toward national unity. As I said in French, the one thing that really sets us apart as Canadians from Americans is the fact that we have good, progressive social programs in Canada. I am talking about the national health care program, which is progressive.

There are a lot of things that unite us.

I look at my friends in the Bloc Quebecois and I see many similarities between Quebec and western Canada, in terms of the co-operative movement, the credit unions and the caisses populaires. I see many similarities in terms of community spirit and people working together. I see many similarities in terms of the social democrats of the New Democratic Party in western Canada and social democrats in the province of Quebec. If we could somehow organize and strengthen our similarities we could create a very strong and powerful country.

Too often we concentrate on the negatives, on the things that divide us. Too often we have politicians who practise the politics of division. We see that particularly in this parliament. Basically, we have five regional political parties, with Reform being the party of the three western provinces and the Conservative Party being the party of the Atlantic. My party represents the west and the Atlantic. The Liberal Party is basically the party of Ontario.

By definition, the Bloc Quebecois is the party of Quebec. We are all divided.

We tend to speak for regional interests. We could get rid of some of that. We could change our electoral system and bring in a mix of proportional representation so that whatever party gets 20% of the votes in the country would get roughly 20% of the seats. That would foster national unity because it would force each party in the country to have a national vision of where it wanted to go. A vote in Quebec for the Canadian Alliance would be as important as a vote in downtown Calgary. It would be the same thing for the NDP, the Liberals, the Conservatives or the Bloc Quebecois. It would force political parties to have a national vision. We are one of only three countries in the world with more than eight million people which does not have some semblance of proportional representation in our electoral system.

Along with electoral reform, we could reform this place to make the role of members of parliament more meaningful. We could strengthen the committees of the House and provide them with more independence. We could have more free votes and fewer confidence votes. We could take away power from the executive and the prime minister and restore power to parliament, where it belongs, to make this place more democratic and more accountable. Those are the kinds of things that would foster national unity, a stronger country and a sense of nationalism and Canadian identity from one ocean to the second ocean to the third ocean, right across the country. Those are the things that have to happen.

For example, why should a prime minister have so much power that the prime minister by himself, and except for one brief exception it was always by himself, appoints not just cabinet ministers, but the heads of all agencies, crown corporations and supreme court justices without any kind of democratic vetting of those appointments and without any kind of democratic accounting by the relevant parliamentary committee? That is too much power to focus in one person's hands.

I have not even said a word about the Senate, which is probably the most important place of political patronage in the history of the country, where the prime minister appoints his or her friends every few months to an office where they can serve until they are 75 years old without any democratic accountability or legitimacy whatsoever.

The whole question of national unity is one which involves more than simply proper information about what the federal government is doing. In fact, that is only a very small part of it. It should involve constitutional change, electoral change and democratic change in terms of our institutions. We should have a vision of an economy that is more equal and more just for each and every citizen; a vision of a country where the ordinary working family gets a more equal part of the national pie, where we have social programs that are fully funded, where unemployment insurance is fully funded, as well as health care, and where we have money for post-secondary education. If we did those things we would do more to foster national unity than anything else.

I look back on the heyday of national unity, which was really in the 1960s with the great celebration in Montreal of Expo '67. We had prosperity. We had great visions. Social programs were being born. The Canada pension plan was being born. People were happy. They were celebrating this country. The Victoria Charter was introduced, which would radically change the country. Six or seven provinces had agreed to become officially bilingual. There was all kinds of movement in the country, with inspirational leadership from people like Tommy Douglas, Lester Pearson and Bob Stanfield, who were in this House, and premiers like Robarts.

There were dreams. They did things then which made the country better, more progressive and more sensitive to diversity. They celebrated diversity, bilingualism and multiculturalism, and they tried to build things for our aboriginal people.

If we did those kinds of things in the future, we could have more national unity.

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12:10 p.m.


Ghislain Lebel Bloc Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I cannot help but find some incredible contradictions between what the member says and who he is.

The hon. member waxes nostalgic when he talks about the Meech Lake accord. But is he not the one who, while at the Privy Council Office, between 1993 and 1997—when his voters apparently sent him to purgatory for a while—worked very closely with the real killers of the Meech Lake agreement on developing the current plan B? That is one contradiction.

There is a second contradiction. The member talks about democracy. Democracy is the backdrop for today's opposition motion. This motion is about democracy. When the government slashes the CBC's budgets, it does more than just that; it interferes in the day to day management of the CBC's activities. The Lester affair is the most recent example, but there were many others before. The government is beginning to control the information.

Since 1960, we have gone from tailored to ready-to-wear clothing and from restaurant to ready-to-eat, fast food. Now, they are working on the ready-to-think, and the member is involved in the process.

The government is trying to manipulate the information in Canada. They talk about the greatest country in the world, about the greatest democracy; that is another contradiction in what the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle says. How should we interpret the member's position on Bill C-20? He talks about democracy, but this legislation will create an imbalance and arbitrarily set a majority for a future referendum.

Is the member aware that, when Ukraine decided to separate, the Russian government voted a law similar to Bill C-20 to prevent it from doing so?

I would like the member, who had the opportunity to work in the Privy Council Office and who is familiar with plan B, to tell us if he worked on that plan. I would like to hear him on this.

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12:10 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did not work on plan B, because I have been an MP since 1997 and I was an MP before 1993. I worked as a consultant for many people and organizations in the intervening years, but I had nothing to do with plan B.

The member spoke of the Meech Lake accord. I was a supporter of Meech Lake, because I thought it was important to recognize Quebec as a distinct society, and the vast majority of Quebecers supported this proposal.

Former Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa signed the accord. I remember very well when he signed it. The Quebec National Assembly supported the Meech Lake accord and voted for it. I remember that day very well.

After the failure of the accord, through the fault not just of the current Prime Minister, but of Clyde Wells and many others, we went through a crisis, and then, we had the Charlottetown accord and another referendum. I was a Meech Lake supporter.

He also referred to the CBC. Our party is the only one in this House to have pushed long and hard for more money for the CBC and Radio-Canada.

We asked a lot of questions in the last four, five and six weeks on the federal government's positions. We wanted to know why it cut funding to the CBC and Radio-Canada, because it is vital to have a public communications system. We did a number of things like that.

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12:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague. For those who do not know, he represents the riding in Saskatchewan where I spent most of my years when I was growing up. I am extremely proud to be here at the same time as he is, knowing that he has been involved in Canadian politics for so many years and has had the opportunity to meet and work with a number of the people he spoke about, those Canadians who had a real vision for Canada, not a vision of the decimation of a country, piece by piece by piece.

There is the old saying of death by a thousand cuts, which ends up destroying a nation or a life. That certainly has happened within Canada, with the cuts which were made to programs. The country has felt the brunt of those cuts.

We hear provinces saying “Why do we need the country? If we do not have a government that will be there to support each and every region equally, we will gradually lose the country”.

I know the member touched on this, but I would ask him if he feels that the government's cuts to the CBC are once again cutting off another region, piece by piece by piece, by not showing support for each and every part of Canada.

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12:15 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, the CBC is very important. The reason for the CBC in the first place, many years ago, was to provide a linkage from coast to coast via a public broadcaster by which Canadians could get to know their country better.

Part of its mandate was to provide regional broadcasting so that one region could hear about another region of the country. That was a very important part of the mandate of the CBC originally. We could hear more about the Newfoundland fishery, or the prairies, what was happening to aboriginal people, the north, the province of Quebec and so on. Those were all very important parts of the CBC mandate.

Much of that is disappearing. The federal government over the last number of years has made numerous cutbacks, which have put pressure on the CBC to make cutbacks and lay off people. That is very unfortunate in terms of national unity.