Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to respond to the Minister of Justice.
It seems strange that the Minister of Justice took more than a week to react to the Auditor General's report criticizing the veritable administrative fiasco of the Canadian Firearms Program. Worse yet, it took the release of this report to get a reaction out of the government.
There are two possibilities: either the government knew and did not do anything, or it did not know, which is also worrisome because that means it does not even have control over the administrative machinery.
It took the specific intervention of the Auditor General to uncover the magnitude of the administrative mess, because the Liberal government, true to form, took an amazingly lax approach to the management of this program.
Because of this government's chronic lack of transparency, as highlighted in the Auditor General's report to Parliament, the costs of managing this program mushroomed. No one in the government had the moral decency to sound the alarm before the Auditor General did.
The costs of the program, originally estimated at $2 million, will soar to $1 billion by 2004-05, showing the government's incompetence and inability when it comes to managing public funds.
The fine words of the minister this morning do not assign blame or even admit responsibility, far from it. It is totally disgusting to see the minister downplaying the situation on the pretext that the challenge of firearm registration was such a great one. At best, this is evidence of the lack of concern and lack of awareness of the government, and of the present Minister of Justice, and his predecessors.
It is unacceptable that, despite the budgetary control exercised by Parliament, the government has succeeded in camouflaging the real costs of the program. Even some Liberal members have expressed their outrage at the government's mismanagement and called for the head of the Minister of Industry and former Minister of Justice.
Something along these lines is necessary, but it must be admitted that it was far beyond the administrative capacities of the ministers responsible. The hundreds of millions of dollars sunk into this program represent nothing more and nothing less than a huge government exercise in wasting public funds, the hard earned dollars of the taxpayers of Quebec and Canada.
As hon. members are aware, when this program was created, there was an atmosphere of austerity in Canada. Deep cuts in federal government program budgets, and in transfer payments to the provinces in particular, created some very precarious situations for the budgets of other levels of government.
In such a difficult economic situation, the taxpayers, who were bearing the brunt of these major sacrifices, were entitled to expect that the dollars saved would be properly administered. But no. Thanks to a cumbersome and incompetent government, the costs of one program were able to go through the roof without any control.
The Minister of Industry, formerly the Minister of Justice, was out of his depth and did nothing. Worse yet, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who kept a tight hand on the purse strings at the time, since he was Minister of Finance, did not sound the alarm either. And imagine that some people already see him in the Prime Minister's chair—unbelievable.
Through their incompetence, the Liberals gave the opponents of gun control plenty of heavy ammunition to use against it. This fiasco left two victims in its wake: the taxpayers' wallets and the very principle of firearms control.
More than ever before, we need to keep a close eye on this arrogant and incompetent government. That is why the people of Quebec have sent two new representatives of the Bloc Quebecois to this House.