Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the debate on Bill C-31.
The bill deals with changes to the Export Development Act and the Export Development Corporation and the way we help our exporters participate in the global economy we now find ourselves in. Unfortunately as we all know the economy of the country and the economy of the world have been taking a bit of a knock on the head since September 11 and perhaps even before that.
Any time September 11 is mentioned we think of those who suffered and died in New York and Washington. We should never make light of what happened there. However it does have some ongoing effects on our economy and these are things we have to discuss.
The Minister of Finance is going to have to bring down a budget soon. He is trying to stay away from that awful D word, the deficit. Perhaps it will be looming large again in our vocabulary but we certainly hope not.
The Export Development Corporation's role is to help small, medium and large exporters obtain sales abroad for Canadian goods and Canadian services. To ensure that our Canadian suppliers get paid, they can obtain insurance through the Export Development Corporation to guarantee that they will get payment. On a normal transaction that is not a bad thing. We ensure many different things these days. We wonder why it has to be a crown corporation that does that and not the private sector.
It used to be that mortgages had to be insured by the government and then the private sector took over that. Why can we not think about allowing the private sector to do it in the export market as well? That of course would bring to bear what is called the Canada account.
The member who spoke previously talked about the Canada account which is a political account. Team Canada sometimes likes to slide all those great big sales that it announces to justify its trips around the world through the Export Development Corporation. In the final analysis sometimes Canadian taxpayers end up picking up the tab not only for the trip around the world but also for those great sales promotions that team Canada said it had achieved but it did not quite work out that way.
I would like to think that we would get away from these politically motivated deals. The governor in council, the cabinet, can dictate to the corporation saying it has signed a deal to sell a Candu reactor to some rather nefarious country it would rather not deal with but it is good for Canadian jobs. It tells the corporation to sign the deal and guarantees the deal. Lo and behold if sometime later something goes wrong and we do not get paid, the Canadian taxpayer gets to pick up the tab.
It works in much the same way as the Canadian Wheat Board which sells wheat and grain around the world all guaranteed by the Government of Canada. When we look at the financial statements of the Canadian Wheat Board, it has never had a bad debt since it started. The Government of Canada pays every bad debt that it incurs. We never know exactly how much that is costing us. The wonderful statements made by the wheat board say, “Don't worry. We get paid”. It is the Canadian taxpayer who quite often pays for the wheat that we presumably sell elsewhere.
Part of the bill deals with trying to require the Export Development Corporation to build in some environmental criteria. We recognize that the environmental laws are different in different parts of the world. To apply a Canadian standard and say that we are not going to finance a project in country x unless it meets a Canadian environmental standard may be totally inappropriate. The environmental standards would be different in that country and there would be a total mismatch of rules and regulations and the whole thing would fall apart. It is going to require the Export Development Corporation to try to develop some criteria to ensure that not only the country involved but all the inhabitants of the world benefit and that the environment does not suffer too dramatically because of the project that is being anticipated.
The auditor general's report produced in May 2001, just a few months ago, reports on the Export Development Corporation and its environmental review framework. That is what the bill talks about in some degree.
On page 5 the report talks about the important gaps in public consultation and disclosure. We are talking about a crown corporation. A crown corporation is owned by the taxpayers and has to report to the taxpayers. On the first page of part 1 the auditor general says there are important gaps in public consultation and disclosure. That is right at the front.
That is typical of the government. Every time we turn around there is something it is trying to hide, be it the shawinigate papers we could not get our hands on, or just yesterday I was reading in the newspaper how the privacy commissioner is trying to get a hold of the Prime Minister's agenda, not the contents of what he discussed, but whom he met with. Even that is a state secret. It is little wonder that the Export Development Corporation is saying that it wants to be part of the same mould.
The auditor general is right in saying that the elite of the corporation will have to act quickly to address issues of transparency and that there is lack of policies and procedures at the project level to govern public consultation and disclosure of environmental information. These are serious allegations. The auditor general, our officer of parliament, is saying it is time for EDC to wake up and start being more open and transparent and tell us what it is actually doing because we the taxpayers are the shareholders.
In paragraph 10 on page 6 under the heading “Is the framework operating effectively?” the auditor general says:
In most cases we found significant differences between the framework design and its operation. In those cases, employees seem to have viewed the framework more as a guidance, to be interpreted according to the circumstances of each project, than as an important risk management tool that they were expected to apply.
Who is minding the store? If there is no openness and transparency, the institution of parliament which is supposed to be holding it to account does not have the information. Therefore we cannot do our job properly and it gets away with anything it wants to get away with.
Paragraph 22 on page 8 states:
Unlike federal departments and agencies, the Export Development Corporation is not subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act or to the Access to Information Act. Unlike private sector financial institutions, it is not subject to regulation by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, does not pay income tax, is not required to pay dividends, and can borrow at favourable rates on the credit of the Government of Canada.
If it can do all those things, we would think the least it could do is tell us what it is up to so we could keep an eye on what the organization is doing. But we all know that transparency is not the watch word of the government.
Paragraph 27 on transparency, public disclosure and accountability states:
The government acknowledged that the information the corporation currently discloses provides few details.
What are we really trying to do here? Are we a dictatorship or are we an open democracy? I thought we were an open democracy. It goes on to state:
It noted, however, that the corporation was making significant strides toward making more information on its activities available to the public.
Well, we are still waiting. The litany continues on. In paragraph 34 which deals with developing a framework for risk management it states:
To provide the public with a better understanding of the corporation's environmental practices. Although the corporation had been assessing environmental risks of projects for some time, it had not kept the public informed on the nature or extent of its analysis.
We are right back to square one. Whatever it wants to do it does behind closed doors. It does it incompetently or not at all. As long as the taxpayer is kept in the dark it thinks it is home free.
That is not the way it should be. Given that it relied on the environmental information provided by project proponents for its risk assessments, the corporation needed to communicate to participants what information it required and how it would be used.
Going through the report, there are many instances of problems in the organization. In paragraph 56 at page 14 the auditor general points out that there are important gaps in public consultation and disclosure. It states:
The key gaps in the design of the Corporation's Framework are in transparency--
Through the entire report transparency or the lack thereof is the key. The organization needs serious review to open itself up to the public. It needs reform.