This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was insurance.

Topics

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

May 9th, 2001 / 3:15 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, perhaps in part to pre-empt the member for New Brunswick Southwest, I advise him that written answers to his written questions were signed off by me on behalf of the government House leader this morning and I will be tabling them in the House tomorrow.

I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary and I will read remarks made yesterday in defence of this place we call parliament by the former prime minister, John Turner, when he said:

The member of Parliament is at the basis of our system...Give these members a voice. Let them speak their minds, let them speak their consciences and let them represent the interests of their constituents.

That is the point I have been trying to make, but I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's response.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Shall the remaining questions stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, Motion for the Production of Papers No. 19, in the name of the hon. member for Malpeque, is acceptable to the government with the reservation stated in the reply and the documents are to be tabled immediately.

I ask that all other Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Subject to the reservations or conditions expressed by the parliamentary secretary, is it the pleasure of the House to adopt Notice of Motion No. 19?

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Shall the remaining Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers stand?

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-17, an act to amend the Budget Implementation Act, 1997 and the Financial Administration Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

There is one motion in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-17, an act to amend the Budget Implementation Act, 1997 and the Financial Administration Act.

Motion No. 1 will debated and put to a vote.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-17, in Clause 6, be amended by replacing lines 14 to 22 on page 3 with the following:

“6. (1) Section 85 of the Act is amended by adding the following after subsection (1):

(1.1) Sections 89 to 130.2 and 153 and 154 do not apply to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.”

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to my motion, which is a fairly simple motion regarding a fairly simple bill. Bill C-17 is only about four or five pages long, but it is the last two paragraphs I had a problem with. They are the only two paragraphs in the bill that deal specifically with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. A clause in Bill C-17 asks for broad exemptions in the Financial Administration Act for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

While we agree with exemptions that would allow the board to act more as a private organization, we take serious exception to the fact that Bill C-17 would prevent the auditor general from looking at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

I raised this issue at committee the other day and I introduced an amendment, as hon. members are aware, that the auditor general be allowed to examine the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board if he or she so desires and to be the auditor of the plan if he or she so desires.

The genesis of this clause is that it was inadvertently omitted when we last amended the Financial Administration Act and an exemption that had been granted the board was inadvertently re-introduced. Now the government wants to put the exemption back in place and exempt the board from the Financial Administration Act.

I want to ensure that the auditor general has the opportunity to look at the plan. The reason I put the motion forward on the floor of the House is that when I went to committee we had a debate about whether the auditor general wanted to be involved in auditing the plan. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said that it was no problem to the auditor general in 1998 and that the auditor general had said that there was no problem, that he agreed with the amendment and that everything was fine.

However I am a bit concerned that everything is perhaps not fine and that the auditor general did have serious concerns about being prevented from auditing the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

We are talking, first, about a $40 billion amount which is growing. We are talking about an investment plan that is there for all Canadians. We are talking about money that is paid by all employed Canadians and held in trust by the government to be repaid to them during their retirement years. We are talking about a lot of money.

We need a lot more supervision than a financial statement addressed by an auditor once a year to the Minister of Finance. Canadians need to know that the watchdog of parliament, the auditor general, if he or she so desires, has the opportunity to do a value for money audit on the board. That is what my motion intends to achieve. It is more narrowly drafted than the one I presented at committee but it is absolutely mandatory.

We heard the Prime Minister talk today about parliamentary reform, openness and transparency. All I am asking is that the auditor general have the opportunity, if he or she so desires, to look at this plan. Is that too much to ask? I do not think so. I do not think any Canadian would want it any other way. That is what I am arguing for. I am not asking for a change in legislation. I am not asking for a change in the way the board does its business. I am not asking for any change other than some accountability on behalf of the board that holds $40 billion of taxpayer money. I am asking that it ensure Canadians are satisfied that their money is well managed and is held in trust appropriately on their behalf. That is all we are asking for.

At committee I asked that the auditor general come in. Other members said no, that they had a letter and that everything was fine. We moved to clause by clause and then it was too late for the auditor general to speak at committee.

Although I do not have definitive proof, I believe that the auditor general, when it was debated in 1998, had fairly serious concerns about his inability to audit the plan. A compromise was reached because the government in essence held a gun to his head and told him it was all he would get.

That is not fair to Canadians. We must let the auditor general be the watchdog on behalf of all Canadians. We must give him the opportunity to audit the plan. In that way the government and Canadians can be assured the plan is managed appropriately and in the best interest of all Canadians. I ask all members and parties in the House to recognize the importance of the amendment and to support it.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario

Liberal

Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the member for St. Albert exaggerates the case when he talks about a broad exemption. We debated that at committee just yesterday.

The amendment proposed to Bill C-17 by the hon. member would mean that sections 131 to 154 of the Financial Administration Act would apply to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. This was not intended when the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act was passed by parliament in 1997.

Amendments to the Canadian Wheat Board Act in 1998 inadvertently removed the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board from subsection 85(1) of the Financial Administration Act, a change which made the board subject to various crown corporation control provisions under the FAA. The error put it in conflict with its mandate to operate at arm's length from government, a result which was neither wanted nor intended.

The objective of Bill C-17 is to reinstate the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board as one of the crown corporations exempted from divisions I to IV of the Financial Administration Act. This was the intent of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act and of parliament in the first place.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board was created through federal-provincial agreement to operate at arm's length from government. Its legislated mandate and sole objective is to maximize returns for CPP contributors and beneficiaries without undue risk of loss.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has been structured with great care to ensure independence from political interference. At the same time, the board's own legislation contains strong accountability provisions. The board makes its quarterly reports public and is required to submit its annual reports to parliament. The board is also required to hold public meetings at least every two years in participating provinces.

The auditor general is responsible for auditing the financial statements of the Canada pension plan as a whole. The auditor general has access to whatever information from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board he or she considers necessary to audit the Canada pension plan.

In a 1997 letter to the finance committee chair Mr. Desautels indicated he was satisfied with audit and access provisions for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, information that is contained in the Canada pension plan legislation. For these reasons I urge members to vote against the amendment we discussed yesterday in committee.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, we are supportive of the amendment. In no way, shape or form would it impede the operational efficiency or flexibility of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

It would improve the accountability from a financial perspective and it would provide the auditor general with the power to oversee at least part of the operations of this board, which would have immense responsibilities in terms of the amount of capital that it would oversee.

In a parliament where we increasingly speak about the importance of parliamentary reform and the accountability of members of parliament, it is completely inconsistent with the stated message of the government, which is that it will refuse to recognize the importance of auditor general oversight on this issue by supporting the constructive motion introduced by the member for St. Albert. Our party does support the amendment.

If the government wants to act consistently with the stated objectives of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and others on that side of the House to improve parliament and to improve accountability, then this amendment would be an easy and simple step to take. The government has consistently not provided the auditor general's office with the appropriate level of respect.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the amendment put forward at the report stage of the bill is of such a nature as to satisfy numerous criticisms from various people in connection with accountability and improves the act. I would however like to speak about the reasons why we are opposed to Bill C-17, even with the amendments.

Understandably, everyone is in favour of supporting research and development, and innovation. I sit on the standing committee on industry and as the matter progresses, we begin to wonder if there is not something other than a financial strategy behind the funding of R and D efforts.

At this time it seems to me that there is one aspect that is totally lacking. For example, there are the post-secondary institutions, which are key figures in R and D support and in the training of the people involved in it. The bulk of the funding for post-secondary institutions, which are administered by the provinces, comes from the provinces, but of course there are federal transfer payments for post-secondary education.

All the additional funding since we have moved from a context of zero deficit to a context of surplus has been via initiatives such as the budgets allocated to bodies outside the government, such as the foundation. Non-governmental structures are being created in various fields and then they are given funding.

On the one hand, the government is putting money into human genome research, which is desirable, praiseworthy and correct. Yet there is one essential key element that must not be lost sight of: the funding of basic services and the necessity to increase the budget for transfer payments to the provinces, which in turn have to increase their budgets for post-secondary education accordingly. This is where the first problem with basic activities lies.

There is a second one as well. I have had the opportunity to mention it several times in a parliamentary committee and I once again want to make my message very clear to the government. There is another shortfall in terms of research and development and I am talking about the indirect costs related to the need for post-secondary institutions to submit projects and funding proposals to the Canada foundation for innovation or granting councils. For instance, universities have to pay additional indirect costs related to these proposals while their core budgets remain relatively stable. There have been cuts, but now their budgets are stable and have not been adjusted accordingly.

I understand part of the government's reasoning on this; although I do not agree with it, I understand the logic of it. It believes that this money is not as visible as direct investments in granting councils or agencies like the foundation. These investments are also necessary, extremely important and a top priority at this time. We have to stop thinking in terms of politics and start thinking about efficiency.

One fact remains: we have to be more open about the investment objectives set for research and development. There is no problem with setting a target and saying that investments in research and development will double over the next ten years, but our priorities need to be defined more clearly. If such a vision does exist, it should be more transparent.

The auditor general himself has, on several occasions, criticized the fact that there seemed to be a problem in terms of follow-up, as well as a lack of transparency with regard to R and D investments.

We sense that there is some kind of agenda because huge sums are being invested in this area, but effectiveness should not be measured merely by the amount of money invested. In this case, the bill will authorize an extra $750 million for the foundation on top of the $500 million announced last fall and on top of previous measures. This is a lot of money.

I am convinced that all these people do commendable work. In most cases there are peer review panels where people from the scientific community play a very important role in the selection of projects. However, there is a certain amount of criticism regarding the overall strategy and also regarding the ability of small universities, those located in less populated areas outside the large urban centres, to compete with larger universities. This kind of criticism cannot be ignored.

As a member representing a region, I know what this means in practical terms. We know the importance of post-secondary institutions and of their ability to generate research and economic activity in our communities. A post-secondary institution is an extremely important tool for the economic development of a community. It is also a tool for social development because research is not limited to the economy, but also takes in social and other fields.

Nor must we forget basic research, which is extremely important in increasing our knowledge in all fields. This requires research which is more basic. Educational institutions are far more oriented toward basic research than private companies often are even though it is in their interest and certain companies are very good at it. Unfortunately, they are all too rare because we have a problem here.

The research and development efforts of private companies are not what they should be, with the result that there are often problems of competitiveness which are not solely due to public under-investment in research and development.

The approach needs to be rethought in order to ensure that private sector stakeholders do more and are more aware. There is perhaps also a message here that small companies have trouble qualifying for government programs, which are often geared more toward supporting the research and development efforts of big business.

There are therefore concerns for small communities. There are also concerns for small businesses which often have some very clever individuals. We should make better use of them in order to improve our research and development efforts and bring about innovation.

We are far from being opposed to a research and development timetable, but we do not like it when political objectives take centre stage and funding does not proceed according to a timetable readily understandable to everyone, while at the same time, a very important aspect, that of basic funding through transfer payment programs, is being neglected.

As for the other provisions of Bill C-17 and the amendment moved, the latter will likely set to rest a number of fears expressed by other opposition parties at second reading and in committee. We do not have much to add on this particular amendment.

There is one aspect of the bill which leaves us basically unsatisfied however. Although the amendment is positive in nature it does not change the essence of the bill, nor will it change our position.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill again and clear some of the way for the industry committee. Between the industry and transport committees, we have been extremely busy in the last while. One would hope that we do not neglect parts of these bills that are not truly addressing the needs of Canadians.

I would like to give a refresher on the bill for those who are listening. We are debating Bill C-17, an act to amend the Budget Implementation Act, 1997 and the Financial Administration Act. This too is an omnibus bill introduced by the government to increase the grant to the Canada Foundation for Innovation by $750 million.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation is a government agency that gives grants to the public and not for profit research institutions, such as universities and hospitals, to finance acquisition and the development of research infrastructure. This part of the bill is extremely credible. There is no question that there is a need to invest in research and technology and post-secondary institutions. Our party supports that part of the bill.

Some concern was raised in committee, when discussions were taking place, that there should be more accountability as to the way the money given to the Canada Foundation for Innovation works its way through the system. We need more accountability. The auditor general gave some indication that he would have preferred to see things looked at more thoroughly. However, it is important that we do invest and that we see the dollars go to the foundation.

I want to emphasize at this point that, although it is extremely important that we see investment in this area, we need to recognize that there has been a serious lack of support on the part of the present government in the funding of students attending post-secondary institutions within Canada. As a result, a number of students, who attend university to take advantage of all the wonderful research and technology that is available to them, have huge debtloads. We need a balance here. The government has failed to meet the needs of students attending post-secondary institutions.

The second part of the bill deals with the closing up of loopholes. There are two amendments to the Financial Administration Act. The first amendment closes a loophole that allows government departments, agencies and non-exempt crown corporations to effectively borrow without the approval of the Minister of Finance.

One of the core principles of the Financial Administration Act is that departments, agencies and non-exempt crown corporations must get the finance minister's approval before any borrowing. This way the finance minister is ultimately accountable for any debt taken on by any branch of the federal government. Some departments were able to get around this requirement by taking on financial obligations that did not fall under the current definition of borrowing, such as lease agreements, and therefore did not need the finance minister's approval. Bill C-17 addresses that issue. In that sense, this is a very good part of the bill.

However, our party does not support the amendment dealing with the Canada pension plan board that exempts it from accountability and that does not allow parliament to have a say over investments that it would be making. I believe very strongly that Canadians do not want their pension plan dollars invested in just anything. Parliament needs to make sure that investment of Canada pension plan dollars would not be going into things such as tobacco companies. We are fighting a war against smoking and we are trying to discourage people from smoking.

Should we be seeing the investment of Canada pension plan dollars in tobacco companies? Should we be seeing the investment of Canada pension plan dollars in companies that use sweat shops or have terrible human rights violations in other countries? I do not want to see my dollars invested that way. I am very comfortable in saying that the majority of Canadians do not want that either. They do not want their Canada pension plan dollars going into sweat shops or into businesses outside of Canada or, for that matter, within Canada because we are not above having sweat shops either.

There are situations in Canada that do not meet ideal labour conditions or human rights standards. Those places exist in Canada as well, but we do not have the kind of control offshore that we should have within Canada. Canadians do not want to see their dollars invested in those kinds of operations. Because they are Canada pension plan dollars, parliament should have a say over the way the investments are handled. That has been a serious issue with our party, the people who support us, and Canadians as well.

The suggested amendment to the bill may try to increase the accountability of the pension plan board, but I am not convinced that it would. Our party will not be supporting the bill because there is no parliamentary oversight by the Canadian pension plan board. The board, by the way, has been more or less appointed by the governing side of the House. It does not ensure that it truly identifies with the entire population of the country.

There are very good parts to the bill such as the dollars that would be invested into research and development through the Canada foundation for innovation. If the amendment should happen to make its way we would be support that amendment as well.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms Bakopanos)

Is the house ready for the question?

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1997Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.