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.