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House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was riding.

Topics

Young Offenders ActOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are growing increasingly more concerned over the violence associated with youth crime. Over the past three decades violent youth crime has increased by over 300%.

Since 1993 the government has promised substantive reform but it has failed to deliver. The minister's recycled act is simply the same old book with new covers and will be impossible to enforce. What is the point of introducing an act that cannot be enforced?

Young Offenders ActOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know better than most in the House that the act will be enforced.

The act is based upon three fundamental values shared by Canadians regardless of where they live. First, we prevent youth crime. Second, we hold young people accountable. Third, we make sure we rehabilitate them and reintegrate them into Canadian society.

The hon. member should know that is the only way we will truly create a safer and more secure society.

Young Offenders ActOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Ontario attorney general says that the new youth justice act is bad news because it does not deal with the reality on the streets, in the courts and in the hospitals.

The Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario attorneys general say that there was a failure to consult on the bill. If the minister has been consulting, why is she not listening?

Young Offenders ActOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, we have consulted on this legislation. We have been consulting for some three years and we have listened.

However, if the hon. member is suggesting that we on this side of the House will simply accept the solution of the attorney general of Ontario for youth crime, which seems to be let us put more young people in jail for longer, I am sorry but he can forget it.

Water ContaminationOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the water in the municipality of Shannon is contaminated and the source of this contamination appears to be on the Valcartier military base.

Yesterday, the Government of Quebec announced the measures it intends to take to rectify this situation.

Given that the pollution appears to originate on the Valcartier military base, does the minister intend to work with the Government of Quebec to identify its specific source?

Water ContaminationOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Haliburton—Victoria—Brock Ontario

Liberal

John O'Reilly LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, DND officials are aware of the contamination in the municipality. There remains a number of questions about the source and severity.

DND is very concerned about the health and welfare of the residents of Shannon and other communities near Valcartier. As a landowner, employer and community member, the department is working closely with provincial and local authorities to ensure the safety of area residents, many of whom are current or retired Canadian forces members and civilian employees of the Department of National Defence.

Presence In The GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of the Honourable Tim Stevenson, Minister of Employment and Investment of the province of British Columbia.

Presence In The GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege related to a committee. I want to point out that last March the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs studied a matter dealing with confidentiality of the work of legislative counsel. In fact the matter was referred to the committee by the House.

During a series of committee meetings, which started on March 28, 2000, the committee heard from a number of witnesses. In fact, on March 30 two employees in the office of legislative counsel, namely Louis-Philipe Côté and Diane McMurray, appeared as witnesses before the committee at the request of the committee.

Before making any statements, one of the witnesses asked:

Is the committee in a position to offer any safeguards against future reprisals for our wish to fully assist the committee in its deliberations with respect to the rights and privileges of members of Parliament as they relate to solicitor-client confidentiality?

In an examination of the transcript of that meeting, it is clearly evident from the witnesses' testimony that they alleged—and I want to emphasize alleged—chastisement and harassment for a period of some four years prior to this event before the same committee of the House. In fact, there was an harassment complaint laid by them at the committee on March 30, 2000 which had still not been resolved.

In the course of the discussions that ensued among committee members regarding the request for the granting of protection, the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough stated:

On this point, Mr. Chair, I would strongly urge you to give them certainly the assurance that they will if they tell the truth, which I fully expect they will, there is going to be no backlash or effect on their jobs or any sanction or any interference with their careers by virtue of coming before this committee—

After an examination of the transcript of that meeting, it was very clear and evident that the committee had afforded to them the protection of the committee.

It is extremely interesting to note that after their appearance these witnesses, as employees of the House, were shuffled. In fact, during early April they were told one would be seconded to the Library of Parliament and the other would be seconded to the Senate effective April 18. That was about two and a half weeks after they appeared before the committee.

There were a number of complaints later regarding this. On April 16 it was agreed that the two of them would go on sick leave for a short period of time. On June 9 they offered to return and were told no. They were put on leave with pay, notwithstanding their offer to work immediately.

In September, with a view to returning to work, the harassment charge, which was outstanding, was withdrawn. Again, they requested to return to work. They were not working, they were being paid but they were not allowed to return to work. It appears that they were ready, willing and able to return to work but they were being denied.

On Friday, October 13, after approximately four months of not working but being paid, and just as the election writ was descending, they received individual letters of termination. They were fired.

I want to suggest that the shotgun firing failed to relay or specify in any way specifics. There were no details or particulars. There was nothing but allegations and a push out on to the street. There was no severance package and no specific reasons. There was just a forced exit out onto the street on the eve of the election.

Beauchesne's 6th Edition, article 853 on page 237 states:

Every witness attending before the House or any committee thereof may claim the protection of the House in respect of the evidence to be given.

It is patently clear that this privilege was requested by these witnesses. It is patently clear it was given to these two people. That having been done, I would submit that the House cannot, should not and will not tolerate this type of interference with witnesses who have appeared before it.

I would also submit that their careers have been poisoned after 26 years of collective service to the House. I would also submit that if these dismissals are allowed to stand, we will never again see or hear an employee before a committee giving any evidence. I would have to ask who would blame anyone?

Finally and most importantly, I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, the temporal connection between their appearance before the committee, their workplace shuffle, the secondment and then out the door and their ultimate firing on the eve of the election call is far too coincidental to be ignored.

In closing, I submit that this is a prima facie question of privilege and I await your ruling as to whether I can put the question.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this question of privilege. I am sympathetic to some of the points raised by my hon. colleague. I think many members of the House of Commons are asking for increased resources, especially in legal counsel.

It seems that some of the institutional knowledge and the historic understanding of how we do business has been lost because these very experienced lawyers are not here to serve us daily. Therefore, I understand the need to have increased resources in the legal department. It is something that the Board of Internal Economy and members should be concerned about. I hope they will continue to raise the issue of how best we can serve all members of parliament on both sides of the House who do not have access to the government resources.

Let us hope that the promise in the throne speech that talked about increasing research dollars for the library also includes legal services to members in a way that helps us to do our jobs most effectively.

However, I have a problem with raising personnel issues on the floor of the House of Commons. I hope we can come to a speedy resolution or even an understanding of all the complexities that go into this sort of an issue.

When these two employees of the House appeared before the standing committee and asked for protection of the House, we did not understand that there were outstanding grievances between management and the employees about the working conditions and different things. We ended up hearing a kind of a rehash of the ongoing problems for which we did not have the background knowledge to deal with. In my opinion, it was not appropriate for the standing committee to hear the grievance process. It is not what the union agreement calls for. We should not handle a grievance process, in a public forum, on the floor of a committee or on the floor of the House of Commons.

Individuals certainly have the right of protection before a standing committee when they bring testimony and they should be allowed to speak freely. However, there is a question which needs to be asked before their testimony is heard. If it deals with an issue that has proper process in place, as long as the process is going ahead, then we should allow the management, the union and the representatives to move that forward.

Although I am sympathetic to many of the concerns raised by the member, especially in regard to resources to members in the area of legal services, I do not think that we should try to solve it on the floor of the House. I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you also take that into consideration in your ruling.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must say that I am disturbed, to say the least, by the matter raised by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton.

I am well aware that, as a member of the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy, I am held to a certain degree of confidentiality as far as the decisions taken are concerned.

I believe my colleague, the House leader of the official opposition, has taken care to point out that there were two overlapping subjects, if I may say so. First, was the administrative problem, a personnel management problem, and on top of that, the matter of the appearance of two legislative counsels before the procedure and House affairs committee.

A number of decisions were taken subsequent to the first problem. I must acknowledge right at the start that the outcome described to us here by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton does not seem to me to be in line with what the House leader of the official opposition calls the standard administrative procedure for dealing with a personnel management problem.

I must admit to being very surprised at the outcome of this so-called standard administrative procedure relating to a personnel management problem.

Returning to the other overlapping question, immunity of committee witnesses, perhaps there is no connection between the decision taken on the administrative level and the appearance of the two people before the procedure and House affairs committee. It must be admitted, however, that there appears to have been a very obvious connection between the appearance of the legislative counsels before the procedure and House affairs committee and what led to the standard administrative procedure, as the parliamentary leader of the official opposition called it.

In that regard, I wonder about the very legitimate issues raised by the member for Sarnia—Lambton. While parliamentary committees may not be the forum or the arena to deal with administrative or personnel issues, I must admit, in the defence of the two legislative counsels who appeared before the committee and who asked for and received the committee's protection, that it was not so much because they wanted to do reveal all that they did, but because the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs asked them to do so.

Perhaps it was not prudent on our part to ask the questions that we asked. Perhaps we should not, as members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, have exposed all that. But the fact remains we did ask questions and the two legislative counsels answered them.

Indeed, some of the answers provided were disturbing to say the least. If we were, and this is in reference to the comments made by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton, to accept what happened, we would send to these House officials or to public servants who may be called to appear before committees the message that, if they do their job may be on the line.

There may not be any connection, but some will make one. Our parliamentary institution would lose if House or departmental officials were afraid to appear before our committees to answer questions put to them by parliamentarians.

In that sense, I agree with the opposition House leader when he says that this situation is to be deplored.

Mr. Speaker, you know better than anyone that some in this House have for a number of years criticized the lack of resources at members' disposal to draft motions, bills and amendments. At the end of what appeared to be the conclusion of what my colleague the opposition House leader called the usual administrative process, it seems that we must assume we have lost, as my colleague the leader put it, part of the institutional memory of the House of Commons.

It must be acknowledged that, in recent years, we have lost a number of elements of the House's institutional memory. Be they services of the clerks, legal services or legislative counsel, we have lost these resources.

Do we have the means, as an institution, to do away with some of these resources? Mr. Speaker, I put the question to you.

I think the question of privilege raised by my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton should be considered and given a positive answer.

I submit this for your consideration, Mr. Speaker.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I am very grateful for the members' interventions on this matter.

I know the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough is rising on the same point, and others may rise as well, but I wonder if members could direct themselves more to the question of whether the privileges of this House or of its members have been breached. That seems to be the issue raised by the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton. I would appreciate it if members would direct their comments more to that point rather than to the events that led to the claim.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will try to follow that direction. Since this is an issue that really strikes at some of the grander issues and those that flow from parliamentary privilege that were discussed in the context of the committee, there is a tendency to go far afield.

However I think the member from Sarnia—Lambton is speaking specifically of two individuals whose careers have been sacrificed on the altar.

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Board of Internal Economy, you will recall some of the specifics of this issue, so there is little need to delve into its history. However those individuals were given a false sense of security when they testified before committee. This perhaps touches on the larger issue of protecting the integrity of witnesses who appear before a committee.

Although the individuals were there on a personal matter, the issue was of great importance to the House as it bore directly upon the ability of individuals to draft private members' business and partake in matters of a legal nature. Those employees of the House provided a very valuable service, and that department provides, I would submit, a crucial service to members of parliament.

We realize, Mr. Speaker, that the matter was dealt with at committee in the last parliament. While some would argue that it may be administrative and reserved for the Board of Internal Economy, I would suggest that a broader issue must be examined here. When House employees are subject to reprisals for providing valuable information that may affect them or others, or members of the House, it creates an intimidating atmosphere.

Many have suggested that we should be looking at whistle blower legislation. Many internal, and some would deem labour, matters come before us as members of parliament, members of the board and on committees. We should be concerned about the atmosphere of intimidation and the fear that heads will roll. No one should feel that while seeking the truth about a matter, whether a personal labour matter or one pertaining to privileges of members, that there will be reprisals.

I believe there is such an air about this matter. Two longstanding public servants, valued members of the legal counsel, were dismissed and there does not appear to be a forum in which to settle this.

I would suggest, given some of the circumstances here, that this should go back to committee. We should perhaps examine all the circumstances and bring all the facts forward because the fear is there. The fear is in the ranks.

I spoke to employees of parliament as recently as today who are embarking on similar exercises and trying to have matters addressed. I will be very frank. Members of the language staff provide services in terms of helping individuals to become bilingual. It is a very important service that is available to members. They are not satisfied, yet there appears to be no forum to address their issues.

I suggest that what has happened here was born out of frustration. It was a matter that had festered for some time. We must be concerned about the ability to get at the truth and the ability to get at the facts.

The hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton has raised the issue now. The Speaker has the prerogative to delve further into what has occurred. If in your wisdom you deem it appropriate, I suggest there are grounds for the matter to go back before committee so that there could be a proper resolution. At the very least members and the individuals affected would have peace of mind as to what took place so that we might avoid such situations in future.

When it comes to labour matters and the treatment of employees of the House of Commons, we should set a higher standard. We should set a standard for all Canadians to look at as a model. We should not be mired or back away from situations that arise because of the connotations or the potential personalities that are often involved. We should be very prudent and proactive when approaching these matters.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I too will try to focus on the precise issue of whether or not this is a matter of privilege which should be dealt with at this time or at your discretion later.

In my view it is not. While it is an issue that members have commented on and have concerns about, I do not believe it is a matter that directly or even indirectly involves the actual privileges of members of the House.

It looks more like a matter of employment conditions, termination of employment, or issues of that nature. Those generally, I think all members will agree, are taken care of by the Board of Internal Economy. If it is an employment related issue, the Board of Internal Economy should see to it. If it is not, it is the circumstances of employees that are at issue and not the privileges of members of the House.

There is another perspective. In the event, Mr. Speaker, that you see this as a committee issue involving the protection of witnesses at committee, I suggest it is perhaps an issue that should be taken up at committee first.

If the issue has arisen in committee and is one the committee would want to look at—perhaps the committee should; I do not know—then the matter should be taken up by members at the committee. It should be looked at there first and, if necessary, brought back to the House.

I respectfully suggest that while the issue is of concern and while other discussions may be had elsewhere at committee, it is not a matter of privilege which the House needs or could or should take up at this time.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will withhold my comments with regard to congratulating you until a more formal time in terms of a speech.

I wish to concur with my colleague from Sarnia—Lambton as well as with the comments of the House leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. I believe this is a matter that raises the issue of the ambit of privilege.

I am concerned that the circumstances, although dealt with by a committee, may not have had ample hearing from all members of parliament who at the time knew a bit more about the situation and were concerned that the two individuals, in my view and the view of many members of parliament such as those who have drafted successful private members' bill, were very capable and able individuals that were perhaps too good at their job.

I am concerned about the narrow question of the dismissal. I believe the House has an obligation to look at the reasons behind it.

I understand there are two other people who have now been replaced, one from western Canada. I am not convinced, when it comes to drafting private members' bills, that the individuals there can necessarily respond to and replace the effectiveness of those two individuals.

I would ask your consideration, Mr. Speaker, that this be duly treated as a matter of privilege and that the appropriate action be taken.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair would like to thank all hon. members who have intervened on this matter and offered their advice and opinions to the Chair. I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion for an address to Her Excellency the Governor General in reply to her speech at the opening of the session and of the amendment.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is February 2001 and we have heard from the government, at least in a circular way. The throne speech offered thin gruel of leftovers to a nation starved for administrative substance and political inspiration.

If Liberal backbenchers had the courage to truly speak up for their constituents, there would maybe be a New Westminster-like springtime in this cold town. Today, the lawns are green; the tug boats ply the mighty Fraser River; and the schoolchildren need no mittens as they play in my riding.

My former high school teacher, Mr. Morrison McVea, still warms to the challenge to remind me that Canada needs participatory democracy. These are concepts that he has talked about since the earliest days of his teaching career. He longs to see the realization of his vision of a political springtime for all of Canada, which sadly remains frozen in the past.

Canada needs a springtime of ideas. We should not be afraid of more democracy and accountability. That is what the Canadian Alliance offered in the last election, but too many frozen hearts could not feel it.

With a new Speaker and a renewed government mandate to hang on to power, we in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition will keep trying to raise the standards of governance and to do our best to require the government to justify itself to the electorate.

Along the way let us pray for a thaw on the government side to allow the House to blossom with parliamentary reform and to lift the nation out of the grey mediocrity and missed opportunity that we see today.

Since I have been privileged to be in the House since 1993 I have observed Liberal backbenchers allow the inner few who are close to the Prime Minister to stumble along with disjointed incrementalism. I challenge those backbenchers to get some fire in the middle, to realize that no laws need to be passed and no standing orders need to be changed for the House to come alive. All they have to do is gather the courage, empower their constituents through them, and simply take charge and live democratically.

They should refuse to co-operate with the corruption, the patronage, the lack of candour and the defending of their club at all costs. Backbenchers should empower themselves and all of Canada to give the nation a balanced, credible, citizen's initiative process law. That is what some of my constituents want from parliament. They want and expect higher standards of governance. They deserve to have mechanisms in their hands to ensure that it happens.

As long as the government backbench refuses to go along to get along, there will be little improvement and the nation will remain politically frozen in time.

British Columbians are provoked and resentful of the government's poor performance. They recoil from the political expediency of how all federal programs are refracted through a prism of regional advantage deliberately designed to shore up government support in the marginal constituencies needed to win a majority in the House of Commons.

That is why New Westminster residents sent me here to help fix it. However, because there was no change at 24 Sussex Drive, sadly many will just continue to pack up and move to the United States. They cannot bear the thought or cost of lost opportunity, of another four years of unnecessarily high taxes, wasteful programs, billion dollar boondoggles and pork barrel politics. They do not like cheaters, especially the smug political cheaters.

If Quebec thinks itself a nation then British Columbia is an alienation for we understand how so few determine so much in decision making. It is not simply that the cabinet drawn from the party of most members in the House and the Prime Minister have so much unaccountable power, for indeed they do. The tragedy is that too few Canadians take the time or find it worth while to get involved in federal governance. It is for good reason. They have found that it does not make much difference.

The Liberal Party of Canada is an amalgam of local riding associations, many with just a few hundred members at best. Of them 80,000 are national card carrying members, but only 2% attend a so-called national policy meeting as voting delegates where the planned script unfolds. A few thousand put on a show for television and elect a leader, who will then rule and not be accountable to those delegates.

When the local candidates for parliament are chosen, they might be appointed or perhaps elected by a few hundred delegates or less. Too few Liberal ridings in the run up to the last election had full blown secret ballot contests for nominations.

Then the victorious candidate goes to Ottawa because perhaps 15,000 or 20,000 voters went that way locally for a number of reasons. From the crop of 172 Liberal MPs, the Prime Minister approves a list of a small group of MPs to become ministers, who will then be run by an even smaller number of perhaps unelected operatives close to the Prime Minister. Even the cabinet has its power subgroups, its Treasury Board, et cetera.

Only a few hundred people or less in Canada dictate the Liberal platform, choose the leader, and even fewer run for government. Consequently the time to care about our country is not when a minister introduces a bill for the dye is cast, especially according to the Prime Minister. The critical time is when a party is deciding what it stands for, who its leader will be, and what will be the rules for policy development.

It has been admitted many times everywhere that the Liberals stand for nothing more than getting power and keeping it. They have hurt Canada for so long in that way. That malaise must be overcome.

Canadians under the Canadian Alliance banner seek to remedy that national plight. We cast the net widely to permit as many Canadians as possible to participate in policy development and every member in Canada could directly vote for the leader. We are doing it right. We have the processes and the plans. We are ready to repair the nation. It all comes together under the broad themes of national fairness and the need for wealth creation.

The record shows that the government has failed to make that kind of leap forward. Our national productivity rates and the work ethic are not leading the world. We do not lead in technology or science. The government climate hurts the operation of the markets and the velocity of ideas and investment. We are far from the top. Fortunately we are not at the bottom. We are mediocre. We are in a daze.

The government's lackluster program remains dreary, and Canada could do so much better. That is what British Columbians said in the last election. That is why the west is not content with merely old style Liberal and Conservative governments.

What is there to inspire young people anyway? What will lift them? We must lift up our eyes and engage global competition with a national economic political machine that can fight like an army but yet nourish like a family.

We must better protect our natural environment for future generations while we more appropriately derive sustenance from its diminishing bounty. Polluters receive unfair subsidies. Failing to deal with environmental factors is deficit financing. Canada has been there and we must forsake it.

The talk around this place is of finding a legacy. The Prime Minister wants to be well thought of historically. I would oblige him, for I could not help myself if he delivered on our change the system package of expanding the present boundary limits of democracy within the House and for the voter.

We need to empower Canadians democratically by giving them responsive parliamentary systems that give MPs the freedom to represent their constituents. We need to build a federation based on equality, respect and co-operation.

I close with this observation. Trudeau's legacy is the charter. The next step up is right before us. Let us have a real democratic country. It is called participatory democracy. That possible legacy is lying right there before us. Who is positioned to pick it up and carry it forward or higher? I say to the Prime Minister that Canadians are waiting.

The Liberal backbench should find the courage our country needs. The Prime Minister should use the gift of power wisely and make a legacy for the country, not for himself. We have enough people who think they can tell it like it is. What we need are more of those who can tell it like it can be.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, it is getting tedious to hear yet another Canadian Alliance speaker who had no comment on the Speech from the Throne. I guess it is that good. They suggest that we should speak up on the Speech from the Throne. I would implore him to listen because I for one already have.

On the day of the Speech from the Throne I released a press release in my riding that explained a number of the excellent items in the Speech from the Throne. For the first time in a long time a number of issues dealing with social policies were addressed.

The throne speech is a great move forward for this country. It is great for my constituents because aboriginal children were addressed and emphasized in the speech. The speech helps those in poverty. It is great for businesses to improve trade investment. It is great for the science community and the new knowledge based economy. It will assist in the movement in trade and investment. It is good for the education system because lifelong learning has been addressed. It is excellent for our first nation people because there is support for first nation businesses. It is excellent for the municipalities because there is more support for infrastructure, for improving water and for improving the environment.

As a past president of our literacy association, I was delighted to see that literacy was being covered and supported in the Speech from the Throne.

The Canadian Alliance should stand up with courage, not us, and start to deal with the poor and the disadvantaged.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, there we have it, a typical repetition of the mantra of the Speech from the Throne. I was talking about going beyond the banalities of a predictable throne speech and empowering Canadians so that they would be truly reflected here.

We need to have true participatory democracy. The throne speech vaguely alluded to parliamentary reform. We should continue to expand the bounds of democracy and that long tradition of great reform bills in England where it had the revolutionary idea of actually giving the vote to more citizens. We eventually gave the vote to women, but we continued to expand on those bounds of democracy by, believe it or not, giving aboriginal Canadians voting rights in 1960.

What I am talking about is the continuation of that tradition. Canadians should be empowered to participate and test what they want in a secret ballot box on national issues where a government has to be accountable on an ongoing basis to Canadians.

If we do not follow through on that vision, Canadians will not show up on national voting day because they know that they will have more of the same thin gruel for a nation that is starving for leadership and vision.

What we have been talking about in the House for a long time is empowering Canadians and expanding the bounds of democracy, not continuing to limit and not having top down control but bottom up liberation.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague on his excellent presentation. I certainly agree with everything he has said.

The previous speaker from the Liberal side of the House talked about the throne speech, about all the wonderful ideas, about what they are planning to do and about all the new programs that they will implement. A lot of that is good news for a lot of people.

However, the most practical way of bringing these things about is that one presents not only the programs, but a budget and the cost to implement them.

Everyone across the country has applauded the throne speech. Everyone thinks it is wonderful. However, what we have done is given the government a blank cheque to do what it darn well pleases. Canadians are tired of this.

Does the hon. member believe that what he is talking about fits in terms of how we cost out these ideas?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, I am not the most senior member of the House but I have experienced at least four throne speeches. I have some experience in listening to the generalities and banalities of throne speeches that have come from the government since 1993. There is a disconnection between nice sounding phrases and practical, sound and wise management of government administration, especially at the street level.

We heard in question period today of how the government cannot manage. Today the auditor general has said again how the government cannot manage its money. We must change the system somehow. Instead of continuing the political rhetoric in the nation, we must provide real political power to Canadians through the ballot box so that they can drive the agenda and hold the government accountable.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Madam Speaker, first of all, I want to thank the people of the riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie once again for giving me the mandate to represent them for the third time.

I must say that it is, I think, the title of which I am most proud. I am committed to working relentlessly for the social and economic development of that riding, which, through its diversity and its vigour, is a true reflection of Canada.

Just a few months ago, Canadians from coast to coast went to the polls. The result was a clear endorsement of the program set out by our government for the future of this country.

During the recent election campaign, we explained to Canadians the values that we believe in and for which we stand. Our platform was clear and our commitment, unequivocal.

Canadians embraced these values, the values of an open and receptive government that cares about the quality of life of people and communities across the country.

As we begin our third mandate, we will continue to build an even stronger and ever more inclusive Canada; a country full of opportunities where the quality of life is unparalleled; a supportive country that is respected throughout the world and cited as an example to show all the things people of various origins can do when they are bound together by common values and by a firm commitment to the welfare of the community.

In our two previous mandates, we were able to lay the foundation that will bring prosperity to Canadians. We must now protect what we have while continuing to build our future together.

In the new economy, success will come to those who concentrate on ingenuity, innovation and education. Canada remains a relatively young country within the international community. It is a young, vibrant and energetic country where ideas abound.

We need to encourage our scientists and our businesspeople to be daring. The government and the private and voluntary sectors have to work in partnership to provide the tools needed so that each of their projects can be carried out.

To improve the quality of life for Canadians, we have to move on several fronts. Each and every department and government agency has a role to play.

The Treasury Board Secretariat is no exception to that rule. Granted, my department is not well known to the public. More often than not, our fellow citizens just have a vague idea of its main purpose. But the Treasury Board Secretariat does play a crucial role in the government. It ensures sound fiscal management, acts as employer for all civil servants and even oversees management reform.

In the last few years, we have also assumed increasing responsibility regarding some Canada-wide initiatives, like government on line and Infrastructure Canada.

I would like to discuss some of these activities in the context of the Speech from the Throne. Infrastructure is one of the most concrete and tangible programs we administer. It is also a central part of our strategy for laying the foundation of Canada's economy in the 21st century.

We can all agree that a strong national infrastructure base is essential to Canada's competitiveness and long term growth. Investing in our infrastructure is a direct investment in improving the daily quality of life for citizens across the country.

The government set aside $2.65 billion for a new physical infrastructure program. The new program has two components: a municipal component that will account for $2 billion and a highways component that will account for $600 million.

Over the last few months we have signed agreements for municipal infrastructure with all provinces and Yukon. We have put together partnership programs where we share costs and decision making and work together to ensure that funding will go where it is needed most.

These agreements demonstrate the full potential of what can be accomplished when federal, provincial and municipal governments work together collaboratively for the common good. When we sat down with our partners we made it clear that we wanted to take a grassroots approach. We wanted the municipalities to be at the heart of the new program because they were in the best position to understand the needs of their communities and establish priorities.

We are already seeing positive results from our partnerships. As part of Infrastructure Canada we have set aside $2.5 million for an important national initiative identified by stakeholders involved in the construction and upgrading of municipal infrastructures.

We are working with our partners on the production of a national guide to sustainable municipal infrastructure. Municipalities have told us that this is something they desperately need. It is a compendium of best practices that will be a source of information for municipalities on infrastructure planning, construction, maintenance and repair.

We are projecting that the adoption of best practices and innovations will save municipalities across the country anywhere from $800 million to $1.5 billion a year on infrastructure maintenance costs.

When we factor in our $2 billion commitment with that of our provincial, territorial, municipal and private sector partners, we are looking at an investment total of approximately $6 billion over the next five years.

Another equally important commitment made by the government is to help Canadians to fully take advantage of the technological revolution. We have reiterated our commitment to put our services on line by 2004 so that Canadians can have quick and easy access to information and services provided by the Government of Canada.

To better use the technology, we have to make it more accessible and available. We have taken major steps to make Canada one of the most connected countries in the world. We have also promised to continue to help Canadians gain access to the Internet and to the world of new possibilities it has created for future generations.

There is an incredible potential for developing programs and services which are more open and more people-centered.

Our new website is an example of the kind of opportunities providing Canadians quicker and easier access to government information and services in the language of their choice.

Canadians want and deserve efficient, reliable and cost effective services from their government. They are also entitled to receive services in the official language of their choice, whether they are anglophones in Gaspé or francophones in Winnipeg.

I am particularly pleased about our government's firm and reaffirmed commitment to linguistic duality, a value that is fundamental to our Canadian identity.

Our government firmly believes that the official languages policy is a matter of mutual respect and that it shows our willingness to use our diversity as a driving force.

Building on the heritage of its predecessors, the government will revive efforts to promote and preserve this precious heritage and to allow Canadians of all ages to acquire a better knowledge of it, to contribute to it and to benefit from it.

Our government intends to develop an action plan in order to meet its objectives. Above all, we want our fellow citizens across the country to recognize linguistic duality as a value that is unique to us and that sets us apart, and to support our efforts in a concrete way.

We will see to it that government on line and other developments of this kind do not dilute support for both official languages, but rather that they result in increased services.

We will work actively to ensure that French has its place on the Internet so that the French language and the French culture can remain strong within a Canada where linguistic duality is considered an asset.

None of our initiatives, projects or objectives will be realized without the continued hard work and dedication of public service employees throughout Canada and abroad. After all, the best intentions and ideas amount to little without the talented and professional workforce to translate them into reality.

Canada is blessed to have an exceptional public service. The Public Service of Canada is a vital institution and the government is committed to ensuring its long term health and vitality.

The Speech from the Throne was clear. We will take the necessary measures to ensure that the public service is innovative, dynamic and reflective of the diversity of the country, and that it is able to attract and develop the talent needed to serve Canadians in the 21st century.

There can be no doubt that the government faces some very serious challenges. Demographics are changing and the workforce is aging. Competition for the talent we need to meet future challenges is becoming more and more intense. We are focusing on building a more inclusive and supportive environment, a working culture where people feel like they can make a meaningful contribution.

We are striving to fashion a new, more productive and mutually beneficial relationship between unions and management. We have engaged several outside groups such as the Advisory Committee on Senior Level Retention and Compensation, the Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the Public Service of Canada, and the Task Force on an Inclusive Public Service to identify areas where we can and should make improvements to our human resources management regime.

Much more work remains to be done but I am very confident that we have the will, the talent and the energy to effect the necessary positive changes. As President of the Treasury Board I have made this a personal commitment.

I have tried to quickly go over some of the elements of the throne speech that are more directly related to my department. I want to conclude however by saying that these are only a few elements of an ambitious program.

Canadians have once again put their trust in us, because they realize that our balanced approach, and dare I say our Liberal approach, has helped us to gingerly step into the 21st century. They also realized that in a world of quick technological and economic changes, we did not intend to leave anyone behind. We firmly believe in equal opportunity, and that is the vision we expressed in the throne speech.

This Speech from the Throne forces us to provide the people of Canada with good government. What does that entail? A government with ambitious goals that focuses on results. A government that listens to the people. A government that shares the values of the people it serves.

That is what Canadians want and they deserve no less. This is exactly want our government intends to do during this new term.

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for her comments on the throne speech and specifically her comments on infrastructure. I should like to ask her about something that is concerning the people in Dartmouth and Halifax.

The harbour solutions project is a major infrastructure project to clean up the harbour. It will cost over $300 million. Traditionally such infrastructure programs have been split one-third, one-third and one-third municipal, provincial and federal.

Is the federal government prepared to provide one-third of the cost for the harbour solutions project? Major environmental projects such as this one cannot be funded by a municipality. Often municipalities can go nowhere near that kind of funding. Where is the infrastructure program now in terms of this paramount project for Atlantic Canada?

Speech From The ThroneGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, as I said in my speech, we have already signed the agreements with all of the provinces and Yukon. It is clear according to the agreements we signed that the priority of the program should be on green infrastructure. This is an important element of the program with all provinces.

What is clear also is that the choices should be made by the municipalities. The municipalities should bring the project to the table so that we can study it and decide if a project is accepted or not. They have to decide their priorities.

There is a limit to the amount of money that each province receives. Even if it is a $6 billion program for the country there is a limit. It is a matter of choice, but I would say that the project is eligible according to the infrastructure Canada program.