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House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was endangered.

Topics

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 21, 2001 consideration of the motion.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

February 21st, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Canadian Alliance Blackstrap, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 296. I thank my colleague, the member for St. Albert, for bringing much needed attention to this matter.

To emphasize the importance of the motion I would like to read a couple of paragraphs from the Hill Times . The paragraphs in this article were written by Bill Curry, entitled “Parliament 'abandoned' constitutional responsibility”.

Bob Marleau, the former top House bureaucrat and an expert on Parliament, says MPs have “almost abandoned” their constitutional duties to review how government spends money, a job that is considered one of the central tenets of Parliamentary democracy.

“The last fundamental review of the supply process was in 1968 and it really needs to be revitalized, Parliamentarians are losing interest,” he told the Hill Times.

“The House of Commons has two basic roles, and that is to pass legislation and supply [review and approve government spending]. It has, in my view, over-focused on legislation in the last 25 years and almost abandoned its constitutional responsibility on supply. Now that's pretty strong for me [to say].”

Motion No. 296 is concerned with the fundamental right that is unique to democracy: government accountability. In the throne speech the government clearly indicated the need for parliamentary reform and indeed, mentioned the need for reform to the estimates process. Increased scrutiny is certainly much needed in this area. The time has come to give all parliamentarians an added degree of power in reviewing the estimates process.

Many people like to cite and compare the importance of the motion to parenting and disciplining. Members should imagine a parent who gives a child lots of money and freedom, allowing the child to do whatever the child wants. This parent puts minimal restrictions on what is appropriate for the child. During adolescence this child probably would think that this particular parent is amazing. This parent more than likely would become popular with the child and also would be the envy of many of the child's friends.

However, when the child is out on his or her own and has to learn how to handle money in a responsible fashion and also hold down a job, he or she would eventually realize that the parent who was once thought of as being cool or the most amazing person in the entire world, because the parent was so generous or easy-going, was not really doing them any favours as a child. If a parent is not responsible or held accountable for actions in the upbringing of the child, the child suffers in the long run.

This example makes an obvious connection to government spending habits. The government will often put money into certain social programs for the simple purpose of gaining public support. However, in doing so, it is not really doing society any favours because another program is likely suffering the consequences of cutbacks in an attempt to compensate for the area receiving public support.

This happens all too often, and is often not recognized until it is too late. For example, we have all repeatedly heard about the government reducing the debt by $36 billion from its peak level. This looks to be quite impressive at first glance, however upon looking deeper into the matter we also find that the employment insurance fund was robbed of $36 billion during the same fiscal period. The EI fund is not a piggy bank into which the government can dip in attempts to gain public support.

It is for reasons such as this that all members of parliament, on behalf of the citizens of Canada, deserve increased scrutiny into the estimates process. Motion No. 296 goes a long way toward putting the power back where it belongs. The citizens of Canada contribute equally nationwide to fund government programs and these people all deserve a representative acting on their behalf to ensure that their money would go to the most productive uses possible.

These people work hard and their money is not intended to fund multibillion dollar popularity contests. It is in this light that the standing orders must be amended to create a standing committee on the estimates with a mandate to monitor and review the estimates and supply process, along with other related matters. It is time for the government to be held accountable for its actions and for the abuse of Canadians' money to come to a halt.

In my personal experiences on the job, which I am sure parallel those of a lot of members, I repeatedly hear from constituents who are unhappy and frustrated with the way their money is being handled at the government level. They are unable to receive benefits from programs they have been paying into all their lives often with little or ambiguous reasons as to why their claims were denied. At the same time they are hearing in the news that the government has been dipping into the EI fund to pay down the debt. As one can imagine, this is very frustrating for many people.

These people pay into the fund on the assumption that they will be assisted when assistance is most needed. However when they are denied access to these programs they cannot help but feel that all their work has been in vain. These programs were established for the benefit of the citizens of Canada, not to benefit the government.

I tell these people that I will look further into the spending habits of the government and hold it accountable for its actions. However I am presently unable to effectively do this as a member of the official opposition.

The report brought forth by the member for St. Albert is entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. However the report is also known as the Catterall-Williams report. The government House leader played a major role in the writing and direction of this report.

Similarly the Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific was also a member of the committee that put this report together. It would be nothing less than hypocritical for these two prominent members of the government to vote against this motion, a motion which they both endorsed and helped to write.

The sponsor of this motion is the chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts. He is also the co-author of this report. He strongly believes that the adoption of the motion would go a long way to return the ability to scrutinize spending back to parliamentarians.

One of the main reasons that parliament exists is to grant supply to the crown. Therefore it seems ridiculous that all parliamentarians do not presently possess the ability to make changes and have a real impact on the estimates process. We must put the power back where it belongs.

This report must not be ignored. It encompasses the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens that we were all elected to uphold. We must not turn our backs on the duty and privilege that the citizens of Canada have bestowed upon us. I strongly urge members to take this motion seriously and to give it the attention and consideration that it so obviously deserves.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Blackstrap for the very good points she made in her speech. I also congratulate my colleague from St. Albert who has been a champion of fiscal responsibility for years in this place. Although he sits in the opposition benches he will one day be on the government side. He would make a fine minister of finance. He has done well to effect the agenda in the House on fiscal matters. This is another example of that and I congratulate him on it.

There are some very good proposals outlined in the 51st report entitled “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. Before I address some of the recommendations outlined in the report I should like to establish why these kinds of changes are so important and so vitally necessary to be implemented.

It is becoming clear to all Canadians that this is a tired, weak, arrogant and corrupt government. The evidence is clear. Pierre Corbeil, a Liberal fundraiser, was convicted of influence peddling, of shaking down companies to cough up cash to the Liberal Party of Canada.

The Prime Minister called the head of a crown corporation to help out his friend in the Shawinigate scandal. As we know, Alfonso Gagliano was kicked out of cabinet for similar shady dealings to pressure crown corporations to help and hire his Liberal pals.

The billion dollar boondoggle of HRDC cash to Liberal pals scandal is well documented. There has been a waste of billions of dollars through poor and scandalous management. How could the government possibly expect Canadians to trust them with their hard earned money? It is clearly time for this tired, weak, arrogant and corrupt government to be swept out of office.

Some of the recommendations mentioned here as put forward by the committee are outlined under headings such as the ability to assess new program proposals at committee. That is a positive recommendation and there is a set of subrecommendations under it. There are others as well.

On the recommendations found in the report under having a higher profile for the review of the estimates, as my colleague from Blackstrap pointed out there has not been a substantive review of the estimates in the House since 1968 when I was six years old. That is absolutely unbelievable.

My colleague quoted the comments of our former clerk Robert Marleau on the House abandoning its constitutional responsibility in examining the estimates. I agree with that. It is time for change. We have to act. We have to take the issue very seriously. Billions of taxpayer hard earned dollars are spent in this place by the government with hardly a second glance. This has to change. These kinds of recommendations are positive ones. I hope they will be supported by all members of the House.

Another recommendation calls for improved support for committees, for members and for the scope of parliamentary financial review of statutory expenditures. There is a whole list of recommendations under that heading as well.

There are some recommendations on tax expenditures, loan guarantees and the accountability of ministers and deputy ministers. I will focus on these for a minute.

Not only are there good recommendations in this report, but there are suggestions that others have put forward which go beyond the recommendations within the scope of this report. I will read into the record a set of proposals that has been proposed by the democratic task force which the PC/DR coalition has put forward for debate and for input from Canadians across the country, members of opposition parties and members of the public as to many different needs for parliamentary reform.

One of the issues in that task force report which I would like to read into the record concerns the power of the purse. I want to read it directly into the record:

The granting of “Supply” to the Crown is the most fundamental prerogative of Parliament, in particular of the elected representatives in the House of Commons. Parliament has effectively lost “the power of the purse”. Its inability to monitor or control government expenditures and to hold the government accountable has been documented by Auditors-General as far back as the 1970s and as recently as December 2001. The annual Estimates of government departments are automatically referred to Standing Committees of the Commons. The Estimates are then “deemed” to have been approved by the particular Committee, whether or not the Committee has ever opened the book, spent a minute examining them or called a single minister or official to explain or account for them. “Supply Days” in the House of Commons give Opposition parties the right to choose a subject for debate, and to move no-confidence, but little attention is paid by public, media, or government to these formalities. They are no substitute for rigorous examination of ministers on their Estimates. Last June, the Commons, in a procedural shortcut, “approved” proposed expenditure of $166 billion of taxpayers' dollars in a single vote.

That is simply not acceptable. We have a proposal from the coalition which states:

Commons Rules regarding Supply must be changed. In the period March-June each year, a fixed number of hours (say, 160 hours--40 sittings @ 4 hours, Monday-Thursday, mainly in the evening) will be spent in Committee of the Whole. The Estimates of...four departments and agencies (to be determined by the Opposition) will be examined with no time limit in any one case, and the responsible ministers will be required to defend and explain their spending Estimates. This would remove any incentive for the government to pressure committees not to meet on Estimates.

That often happens. It continues:

It would leave in place the provision for committee examination of all other Estimates and Supplementary Estimates. It would require all Ministers to prepare for examination because they would not know until the last minute if they were to be summoned to Committee of the Whole on Supply. It would provide a televised proceeding in evening viewing time. It would allow many MPs to question the Minister without the Minister being able to refer questions to officials.

That is what parliamentary accountability on the estimates is all about: issues and ideas that are found in proposals like these. We are open to other suggestions as well but we think there are some institutional changes that have happened in this place over the years, perhaps not purposefully, to the point where we have not taken seriously the power of the purse.

As parliamentarians the legislative side is very important. As Mr. Marleau pointed out, the supply of the estimates needs to take on the same importance it once had in this place for that is what provides good government regardless of which party happens to sit in power on the other side of the House.

It is only when we have changed the procedures and we have put in effect non-partisan rules which give members the ability to examine in detail the costs, estimates of costs and every government expenditure that we will have truly accountable government. That is good for all of us. That is good for every party in the House and it is best for every Canadian because those tax dollars belong to the people who sent them in trust to us to spend on their behalf on priority areas.

We understand the nature of politics and different parties having different visions. We know visions change from time to time based on which government is in power, but woe to us if we do not change the procedural aspects of this place to the way they once were where every member could stand on behalf of their constituents and examine the expenditures of any government.

That is our job. We need to get back to that.That is why I think this is a proposal well worth debate in this place and well worth the support of every member from every party. Let us do it. Let us change the process for the good of our people.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to say a few words in support of the proposition before the House today. The proposition is one that is worthy of support by all members of the House and I hope all members support it.

It deals with the most fundamental part of a parliamentary democracy, namely the granting of supply. The granting of supply means the approval of funds, the approval of money, money paid by the taxpayers for the various programs, for the $150 billion or $160 billion that we approve in terms of expenditures every year.

It is quite shameful, if the Canadian people knew how quickly we approve the spending of billions and billions of dollars with very little scrutiny. Madam Speaker, you are a very credible intelligent person and I imagine even you could not explain all the billions of dollars that we vote and spend and approve without even knowing the details of what is going on in many cases.

I first came to the House in 1968 when I was 22 years old. I remember a great debate in the summer of 1969 when there were major rule changes made in the House. Pierre Trudeau was the prime minister. Bob Stanfield was the leader of the opposition. Tommy Douglas was the leader of the NDP and Réal Caouette was the leader of the Créditistes.

One of the things that was debated was the moving of the estimates out of the House into the committees. In those days estimates were dealt with by the committee of the whole. In 1969 as part of streamlining parliament the plan was to make sure that committees had more power and by moving the estimates to the committees, the estimates could be scrutinized more carefully in a smaller body with fewer MPs taking more time and therefore doing a better job on behalf of the Canadian public.

That debate went on for a long, long time. It was my first summer in Ottawa and it was a hot July. My recollection is the debate went on until the 29th or 30th of July. It went on day after day. It was a controversial debate as to whether or not we should move the estimates out of the House of Commons in terms of the committee of the whole to the various parliamentary committees.

I remember sitting in the back row. Once during a recess Réal Caouette, Bob Stanfield and other members of the Conservative Party walked over to our House leader, Stanley Knowles, and asked “What do we do next, Stanley? We are worried about the process, about taking the estimates out of the House”. For a while it seemed to be a pretty exciting thing to do. But after 1969 as time went on, it became more and more of a formality. As time went on the government whips, regardless of which party was in power, would crack the whip and steamroll the estimates through the various committees. There is very little scrutiny of the estimates and expenses in committees, to the point where I think this is one of the big problems in our parliamentary system.

I support the motion before the House. We are in need of serious parliamentary reform. We have to devise a system. Whether it is a special committee on the estimates or bringing more estimates before the House as my friend from the PC/DR Coalition has suggested, we have to do something to make sure there is better scrutiny of the estimates here.

Every year we approve spending for fisheries, agriculture and national defence. We approve $60 million for the other place, the Senate. At least when we get to most estimates in the committees, we call witnesses from the various agencies and government departments to justify what they are spending. It may be happening very quickly and it may be very superficial but in the case of the Senate, it refuses to appear before the appropriate House of Commons committee to justify the roughly $60 million it spends every year. Liberal members of the House of Commons have invited the relevant people from the Senate and they refuse to appear. Where is the accountability? Where is the scrutiny of the money that is spent here that is collected from each and every single Canadian taxpayer?

We should be moving toward more parliamentary reform, more openness, more accountability, more independence for individual members. There should be less control by the whips particularly on the government side of the House of Commons. There should eventually be more free votes, fewer confidence votes, more power for parliamentary committees and more independence for parliamentary committees.

My goodness, we cannot even elect a committee chair by a secret ballot even though we elect the Speaker of the House of the Commons by a secret ballot. That is how centralized and controlled we are.

There are some new cabinet ministers, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Hopefully he will bring some reforming zeal to the inner sanctums of government across the way. I hope in a year or two he will not become like most of the others and isolate himself because of all the awesome power or be intimidated by the Prime Minister and some of his advisers like Eddie Goldenberg.

We have to change our system. We have to reform it. No matter who sits on the other side, people elect members of parliament to scrutinize supply, to scrutinize the estimates, to suggest ideas, to make changes, to make laws, to vote freely in accordance with their conscience and in accordance with the wishes of their constituents. That really has not been happening in the House of Commons.

We are probably the most handcuffed parliament of any country in the democratic world in terms of the lack of freedom to speak one's mind and to vote one's mind. Even in Britain which we model our own system after, often the government will lose a bill in the British House of Commons despite the fact there is a majority parliament. When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and at the height of her popularity I recall several times when Conservative backbenchers rebelled and defeated a government bill. The same thing has happened to Tony Blair, who is a very popular prime minister, especially in his first term. There were a number of cases when the Labour government in Britain lost a proposal in the House of Commons because members of the prime minister's own party stood up and said no.

If that were to happen here on even the most timid little measure, it would become a great parliamentary crisis. It would be a great issue of confidence. The Prime Minister talks about going to the country and having a brand new election. That is really a farce. We are shortchanging Canadians if we cannot organize our most powerful democratic institution to be truly democratic and representative of the people of Canada.

This motion is a very timid little step toward making this place more relevant to each and every Canadian citizen. I urge all members of the House to support the idea before us.

I urge the Minister of Foreign Affairs, being a progressive, bright, refreshing, young voice at the cabinet table compared to the seniority in the House, to take the bull by the horns and make sure he helps organize the government benches to accept this very worthwhile and credible idea. I look forward to hearing the remarks of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I will cede the floor to him.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, the business of supply is not a matter that many members of parliament take very seriously or feel passionately about. I was fortunate to share that interest with the member for St. Albert. In fact I am committed enough to this topic that I actually requested to chair the subcommittee on the business of supply.

I enjoyed very much working with the member for St. Albert. We share a common commitment to the fundamental principle that the founding role of parliaments around the world is the right to determine how the government may collect money and how it may spend money. We shared a common opinion that by and large our Canadian parliament has not been doing that job well.

The member for Dewdney--Alouette referred to the fact that standing committees have not been reviewing the estimates. I should point out to him that in fact under this government every standing committee has reviewed the estimates, unlike standing committees in a previous parliament headed by a government of a party with which he has now chosen to align himself.

Our work started from a debate and a controversy which rose in the House. One of the first jobs I had to do was to educate the member for St. Albert that the answer was not simply to change the business of confidence, which was his opinion going in, but that there was a much more important job to be done by the subcommittee to demonstrate to parliament what tools it had and how it could use those tools to not tinker with estimates when they are tabled but to have a profound influence on the estimates of the following year.

A number of those tools, as the member for St. Albert knows, have been provided by the government since we took office in 1993. There is the idea of departmental performance reports. There are the plans and priorities reports that project into the future which the government initiated. Changes have been made to the standing orders which give the standing committees virtually full scope to investigate any matters within the purview of the departments that they are responsible for. These have given parliament the tools to do the job that needs to be done, not only to hold the government accountable which is primarily the role of the public accounts committee, but to influence the most important document that parliament approves which is the budget. That is what determines the government policy for the coming year. If it does not have the money, it cannot do the actions.

We also came to appreciate that parliamentarians need some incentives. A number of the recommendations in our report go to the very heart of how to lay out for parliamentarians how they can use those tools. Of the 52 recommendations in the report, nearly half are not recommendations to the government at all, but are recommendations to parliament and to the standing committees.

There is work for all of us to be done, to make sure that we are using the tools at our disposal in carrying out our responsibilities a little more fully.

The government has also taken measures as has parliament to implement some of these recommendations. I would point out for instance that the report on the modernization of the procedures of the House of Commons has given parliament a significantly greater scope in reviewing the estimates. It has allowed the House of Commons itself to take two full departmental estimates and have a special debate on each of them in committee of the whole. That is an important tool which we have not used yet, but I look forward to the first time that it happens.

The government has shown the attention it has paid to our recommendations regarding crown corporations by giving one minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, responsibility for virtually all crown corporations. It is an extremely important step forward.

One of our main recommendations was the establishment of an estimates committee. It has not happened and the hon. member for St. Albert knows why. In the last two parliaments with five parties in parliament, House leaders have had to agree that it was necessary to collapse and combine a number of committees to allow the business of parliament to proceed. Establishing a new committee while that is going on has not been practicable.

I fully endorse the recommendations of our report that such a committee could play a vital role in supporting and strengthening the work of standing committees on the estimates. It could continue on behalf of parliament to review the estimates process and constantly upgrade and improve it. It could look at horizontal issues which cross a number of departments and standing committees and for that reason do not normally get examined by the standing committees.

One of our recommendations had to do with public visibility in the estimates process as a way of providing incentives to members of parliament. As the hon. member will know, in recent months we have doubled the amount of television space available for committees. It is an important step forward. I urge, as does I am sure the hon. member, all standing committees and members of parliament to take advantage of it to make sure their work on estimates is done in the public eye and on camera.

I reassert our recommendation to the finance committee that it invite committee chairs whose committees have done a thorough review and report on estimates to appear before the finance committee as part of its fall prebudget consultations.

In the time that remains, and it is not much, I will refer to a number of areas in which progress has been made. We called for the resuming of reporting on tax expenditures. That has been done. We called for the minister to respond to standing committee reports and recommendations in the budget. To some extent that is being done although not systematically and not always.

The Treasury Board has prepared a package for MPs on the estimates process. I think the member for St. Albert would agree that it has dramatically increased the accessibility and readability of estimates information for standing committees and members of parliament, as well as of related documents such as the statutory provisions underlying some provisions in the estimates.

Work continues to go on. One area in which I hope there will be further progress fairly soon is the relationship between members of parliament and public officials and how we deal with each other at committee. Our report recommended guidelines for public officials. We need guidelines for committee members to enable them to build trust with public officials so we can be partners in the budget making process as opposed to opponents.

I do not have much time left. I will go over a number of issues in which progress has been made on implementation. I count close to 10 on which significant progress has been made toward implementing the recommendations in the report. The member for St. Albert and all who worked on the committee report should be extremely proud of the influence we have had to date. Is there more to be done? Yes, there is. Can all the recommendations be fully implemented now as the member's resolution calls for? No, that is not realistic. This is an evolutionary process. We try something and move forward from that.

Substantial progress has been made. I again thank the hon. member for St. Albert and all those who worked with us on the report for the opportunity of working together and having an impact on how the government deals with the estimates.

I wish we had a little more impact on how parliament and members of parliament deal with the estimates. Notwithstanding the statement by the member for Dewdney--Alouette, since our government took office every standing committee has reviewed its estimates. Have they done a thorough and complete job? Probably not, but they have been done and they had not been getting done before.

The opposition has a role to play. It has a number of days every year that are commonly called opposition days. They are actually supply days but it is rare to see the opposition using supply days to discuss and examine the business of supply. I encourage all members on both sides of the House to use the tools we have and do our job as parliamentarians.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my friend and colleague from St. Albert not only for putting out the report with the government whip but for his continued leadership as chair of the public accounts committee.

I also congratulate him for the superb work he is doing in rooting out corruption in government internationally. It is a superb act of leadership on his part that I hope the government and hon. members pay close attention to. He has been working internationally in an organization he started to help root out one of the prime causes of inefficiency in government: corruption.

I will talk about what we just saw. We saw the chief government whip, the co-author with my colleague for St. Albert, turn herself inside out like a pretzel. I mean this with all due respect to the government whip. She is a fine lady.

For the people watching above, the reason this happened is that the government whip, like all members of parliament in the government, is forced to do the bidding of the Prime Minister's Office. It is a profoundly tragic situation that a member of such high quality and credentials would be forced to turn herself inside out like a pretzel to vote against the good work she and my colleague have done to democratize the House of Commons.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was accused of not expressing my own opinion. I expressed entirely my own opinion. I wrote my own speech. I will not have my motives questioned. It is out of order in this House.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I will retract my statement and apologize to the member. I would never impugn her motivations whatsoever.

I will get to the point about the lack of democracy in the House. Viewers can judge for themselves how the situation functions and how we are all unable to function as well as we ought to for the people who elected us.

The motion is an effort to enable us to attain one of two major objectives. As members of parliament we have two major roles. First, we produce and analyze legislation. Second, we deal with issues of supply. The motion was presented in an effort to enable members of parliament to do the latter and look at how the government spends taxpayers' money.

Some $165 billion of the taxpayers' money is spent with very little analysis whatsoever. The former clerk of the House of Commons, the top bureaucrat of the House, said members of parliament had abrogated their responsibility to the public in analyzing the way taxpayer money is spent. He was absolutely right.

The $165 billion goes to committees which spend about two or three hours analyzing how we spend the money. The analysis takes so little time that it is barely recorded anywhere. The analysis which should be quite extensive is not done. Nor are benchmarks or performance measurements attached. That must happen. That is why the motion is important and why all members should support it. The motion would enable MPs to analyze government expenditures, question the expenditures thoroughly, and set aside performance estimates through a new committee that would enable this to happen on an ongoing basis.

One of the shocking things I find as a member of parliament is that many in the bureaucracy are unable to determine where money is being spent, what the objectives are and whether the objectives have been met over the previous year or years. Furthermore, long term planning is often paid little heed.

This cannot continue. How can we operate anything, let alone a large organization like this, without knowing where the money is going, knowing how it is being spent and measuring performance on an ongoing basis? We have no idea what is happening.

In my province of British Columbia it is starting to happen. Premier Campbell has set up benchmarks which is what we should be doing federally. Motion No. 296 put forward by my colleague would go a long way to accomplishing that. It would enable us to determine where and how money is spent by setting up performance measurements and measuring them on an ongoing basis. All of us, especially the public whose money we are spending, could know how it is spent.

I will also address the issue the NDP member mentioned earlier which is the big sleeper issue in Canadian politics today. It is the fact that the House of Commons is a house of illusions. It is not a democracy. We have been sleepwalking into a situation of virtual dictatorship.

I will explain why. Let us imagine we are cabinet ministers let alone members of parliament. Cabinet ministers are squeezed between the unholy alliance of senior bureaucrats and the Prime Minister's Office. If cabinet ministers want to innovate, can they? No, they cannot. If cabinet ministers are young, active, vigorous innovative individuals who want to make their ministries innovative places to deal with the big issues Canadians are affected by and interested in, can they do it? No, they cannot. They will be taken aside by someone from the Prime Minister's Office and told they cannot do it. If they say they must because it is the right and moral thing to do they will not be cabinet ministers much longer. They will be out. That is what happens.

The cabinet member is squeezed between senior bureaucrats, who are in many cases appointed by the Prime Minister's Office, and the Prime Minister's Office. They squeeze the minister and the minister becomes a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister's Office.

Does the public ever wonder why the large issues of today are actually not dealt with? No, because we have a government that is more interested in a legacy of racking up successive election wins than in using power for public good. I said this to the government not so long ago: What is the point of having power if the government is not prepared to use power for the public good? There is no legacy other than that of using power for the public good. Anything less is a sham.

As an example, let us look at the committee structure. Committees are make work projects for MPs. For health care we have umpteen committees: the Senate committee, the Romanow commission committee and more. However, does anyone remember the Prime Minister's blue ribbon panel on health care in 1995? Does anyone know what happened to that committee? Nothing. Or we could look at aboriginal affairs too.

With my last two minutes, let me say that the public should understand that we do not live in a democracy. We need to democratize the House. We need to make committees effective. Committee members must be able to be independent. Committees must work independently from the government to create legislation and send it back to the House.

We need to make the House a place of free votes, where we can have fixed election dates, where we can have electronic voting and where we can do work that is actually meaningful to the Canadian public. It must be a place where members of parliament, across party lines and including cabinet members, can have a say, can innovate and can give proper solutions that are meaningful to the Canadian public.

If we do not do that, we will not help all the people out there who are suffering in waiting lines for health care, who cannot get a job, who are suffering under environmental conditions that are less than acceptable or who are aboriginal people on and off reserve suffering third world conditions. Unless we are able to use the House for their public good, this place is useless. We have to make this a democracy.

In closing, I compliment my colleague from St. Albert for his excellent motion.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I know my time is short but I would like to thank the chief government whip for her positive comments regarding this report. As a co-author of the report she now has different responsibilities, but I do appreciate the comments she made, albeit with some qualification.

Therefore, I will just say to her and to all parliamentarians in the House: Remember that we are parliamentarians to hold government to account, and the government is the people who sit in the front row and only those people. The rest of us, on both sides of the House, have a responsibility to ensure that this place is governed well and governed properly. This report would in many ways bring that authority and that responsibility back into the House. Therefore I would urge all members, including the chief government whip, to vote in favour of the motion when it comes up for a vote.

Business of SupplyPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Pursuant to order made earlier this day, all questions necessary to dispose of Motion No. 296 are deemed put and a recorded division is deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, March 12, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

It being 6.18, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6.18 p.m.)