Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to the supplementary estimates, which were tabled in the House of Commons just a few minutes ago, and vote 10 of Environment Canada and vote 10 of Natural Resources Canada.
I am rising at this time because of a reference of Marleau and Montpetit, at page 734, which states:
--members raise questions about the procedural acceptability of Estimates as early as possible so that the Chair has time to give “intelligent” consideration to these questions.
There is no doubt that the issue I am about to raise is quite serious and deserves the appropriate consideration.
Speaker Jerome also said in a ruling on December 7, 1977, at page 184 of Debates :
--supply ought to be confined strictly to the process for which it was intended, that is to say, for the purpose of putting forward by the government the estimate of money it needs, and then in turn voting by the House of that money to the government...legislation and legislated changes in substances are not intended to be part of supply, but rather ought to be part of the legislative process in a regular way...
Mr. Speaker, I also refer you to the remarks of Madam Speaker Sauvé on June 12, 1981 at page 10546 of Hansard when she said that it did not matter whether the amount spent was a large sum or simply one dollar.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, I maintain an interest in the estimates and the financial procedures of the House and I continue to be concerned that parliament has lost control of the public purse. Parliament must remain supreme, and when the government undertakes actions that I will now explain, it causes me a great deal of concern.
I also want to refer you to a motion tabled in the other place on June 14, 2001 at page 1192 of the Debates of the Senate of which I am sure you are no doubt aware. It states:
The actions of the Government of Canada in creating a private sector corporation as a stand-in for the Foundation now proposed in Bill C-4, and the depositing of $100 million of taxpayer's money with that corporation, without the prior approval of Parliament, is an affront to the members of both Houses of Parliament.
The Committee requests that the Speaker of the Senate notify the Speaker of the House of Commons of the dismay and concern of the Senate with this circumvention of parliamentary process
The Auditor General of Canada has expressed serious concerns with the events surrounding a $100 million grant to the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology of which $50 million has actually been paid out. These concerns were contained in her observations on page 1.34 to 1.38 of the Public Accounts of Canada for 2000-01, which were tabled in the House on September 27.
In March 2001 a not for profit corporation named the Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology in Canada was established by four Canadian citizens under part 2 of the Canada Corporations Act. Later the same month a funding agreement was signed between the Government of Canada and this corporation.
On March 22, the treasury board approved a temporary transfer of $25 million to vote 10 of Environment Canada and $25 million to vote 10 of Natural Resources Canada. The funds were to come from the government contingency vote, which is vote 5 under the treasury board's vote 5.
On April 5 the treasury board advised Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada that they each had the authority to transfer $25 million to vote 10 from the treasury board's vote 5. On April 9, $25 million was paid to the corporation and charged to Natural Resources Canada vote 10. On April 11, $25 million was paid to the corporation and charged Environment Canada vote 10.
While the Appropriation Act No. 2, Bill C-29, received royal assent on June 14 providing Environment Canada for 2001-02 spending authority for vote 10 in the amount of $2.85 million for the grants listed in the estimates and Bill C-29 provided Natural Resources Canada with 2001-02 spending authority in the amount of $0.6 million for the grants listed in the estimates, these amounts did not include the two amounts of $25 million each since they were transferred from vote 5.
Today the President of the Treasury Board has tabled supplementary estimates which provide supplementary spending authority of $50 million to vote 10 for each of Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada. The full amount for the foundation, I believe, is listed separately in the grants section of these two departments. When the bill receives royal assent, I expect that treasury board vote 5 will be replenished for the $25 million advanced to the two departmental votes in April 2001. I also understand that $25 million is expected to be paid by each of Natural Resources Canada and Environment Canada in January 2002 and charged to their respective vote 10.
Essentially, the government is appropriating money in one fiscal year, placing it into a separate account and spending it in future years. This is unacceptable. I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Marleau and Montpetit at page 741 which says:
The Chair has cautioned that an Appropriation Act gives authority only for a single year and is therefore not appropriate for expenditure which is meant to continue for a longer period, or indefinitely.
That is what we have here. A foundation has been created with money appropriated by parliament which is meant to continue indefinitely.
The auditor general states in her observation at page 1.37 of the Public Accounts of Canada for 2000-01:
However, I question whether it was appropriate for the Government to use a general contingency vote to provide $50 million in temporary authority so the departments could make the grant payments to the Corporation, all before Bill C-4 received royal assent
Bill C-4 was given first reading in the House on February 2, 2001. The bill proposed the creation of the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology and proposed that any corporation proposed under part II of the Canada Corporations Act continue as the foundation.
Bill C-4 did not receive royal assent as the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Act until June 14. Prior to the House voting on supply, with specific funds for the corporation, which subsequently became a foundation, the government and the corporation signed a funding agreement on March 26. The government then transferred $25 million to the corporation on April 9 and $25 million on April 11, yet the request for supply has just been tabled in the House today, November 1, which is almost nine months later.
Members of the House as far back as 1971 have repeatedly objected to the government's use of estimates and appropriation acts as vehicles to spend money on programs that have not received legislative authority. Your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, have struck votes from the estimates several times: March 10, 1971; March 22, 1977; December 7, 1977; March 25, 1981; June 12, 1981; June 21, 1981; March 21, 1983; and March 21, 1984.
I refer you to the ruling of Mr. Speaker Jerome on March 22, 1977 at page 4221 of the Debates which states:
--the government receives from parliament the authority to act through the passage of legislation and receives the money to finance such authorized action through the passage by parliament of an appropriation act.
The auditor general continues in her observation to state on page 1.37 of the Public Accounts of Canada:
I also question Government statements that the Corporation had to be established and the funds transferred to it quickly or the spending...would lapse. Parliament had not granted any spending authority for 2000-2001; therefore, there was no spending authority to lapse.
This is a typical way in which this government appropriates and spends money without parliamentary approval. Let us not forget that parliament is supreme. The Prime Minister and his cabinet have no authority to spend the tax dollars of Canadians without prior approval of the House.
Standing Order 80(1) of the House is clear: It states:
All aids and supplies granted to the Sovereign by the Parliament of Canada are the sole gift of the House of Commons,...
That is the reason why the Magna Carta was signed away back in 1215, to remove the arbitrary power of the monarch and to replace it with the representatives of the people, who either approve or reject the government's spending proposal. As the saying goes, no taxation without representation.
The auditor general states in her opinion that it is likely parliament will approve the supplementary estimates, but that is no reason or excuse for the government to assume that the House will respond to its beck and call. If we are to be a rubber stamp where whatever the government proposes, it assumes we will approve, and whenever the government acts without our authority it assumes it will get it, then we might as well all go home.
I have stood in the House before and said that you have the title of Speaker because you speak for all of us. If this place matters to anyone, then in my opinion you must rule these votes out of order.
I concur with the auditor general who stated:
Finally, should Parliament not approve the Supplementary Estimates and thereby not give retroactive approval of the spending authority for the $50 million already paid to the Corporation, my reading of Vote 10 for both Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada leads me to conclude that these two $25 million payments could not be charged to that Vote. This is because the grants to the Corporation do not fit within any of the classes of grants currently described in the Estimates of those departments.
Again, I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the auditor general's conclusion that there has been no authority granted by parliament for this expenditure, which already has taken place.
If the House does not approve the supplementary estimates, the government would be required to obtain the return of the $50 million from the corporation, since no money may be paid out of the consolidated revenue fund without the authority of parliament. Yet the government is bound by its funding agreement with the corporation, and any action to recover funds would put the government in breach of the agreement. Quite simply, parliament has lost control of the public purse and $50 million of taxpayer money. Fifty million dollars is now outside the scope of the Financial Administration Act. This is completely unacceptable.
The auditor general concludes with strong language. She says:
I certainly hope that in the rest of my tenure...I will not see another such series of events carried out to achieve a desired accounting result.
I would also point out that the auditor general who was appointed this spring has almost 10 years left in her mandate. I am glad to see that the auditor general, an officer of parliament, is standing up for due process and proper control of the public purse in the country.
It is clear that the government has used smoke and mirrors to achieve its goal. In anticipation that the House would approve Bill C-4, it set up a private corporation with four shareholders, thinking that it could subsequently legitimize the foundation by having Bill C-4 approved and that this corporation, under the Canada Corporations Act, would be swallowed up by the foundation created under Bill C-4.
The government could not wait for parliament to speak and approve the legislation. It could not wait for parliament to speak and vote supply. Its arrogant, presumptuous attitude says that it will take this place for granted and whatever it wants, the members will do.
I ask you today, Mr. Speaker, to speak on behalf of all parliamentarians and state clearly and unequivocally that this place matters and that before the Government of Canada spends the money, we approve the request in the House.
Therefore I am asking that you rule both vote 10 of Environment Canada and vote 10 of Natural Resources Canada out of order and demonstrate once and for all that parliament is the guardian of the public purse.