Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion, brought forward by the member for Mississauga South, for concurrence in the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
I am pleased because it is a unanimous report. The input of my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, the member for Châteauguay, is very significant and I am proud to support this motion today. I am proud but I am also very concerned about statements made by Liberal members. Even the member for Mississauga South just asked Alliance members for solutions to these problems.
The government and its members have questions and they are asking the opposition for solutions to their problems. So I will try to help them find ways to solve these problems. I will not do it in a partisan way, by simply by quoting from the committee report and from statements made by the Auditor General and by experts, that is political observers who followed the infamous Radwanski saga. They also proposed solutions and tried to enlighten members from all parties. I hope that Liberal members will understand the message that I will be conveying today.
First, the unanimous report is simple. After hearing representatives from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and a representative from the Office of the Information Commissioner, the committee drew four main conclusions.
The first addresses the circumstances surrounding the commissioner's providing a copy of a letter from which one of the original paragraphs had been deleted. The committee had requested certain documents from him, and we noticed that parts of original documents had been deleted.
The second relates to a set of expensereports whose incompleteness was not acknowledged in the covering letter. That is, reports were incomplete.
Third, there were travelexpense forms on which there had been an attempt to conceal certain information, by the applicationof white-out material. That is, correcting fluid had been used in an attempt to alter the contents. Not very clever, but very noticeable. The committee members noticed it.
Fourth, the reasons for his failure toappear in person at a hearing on the commission’s main estimates. When theseconcerns were brought to the attention of the Commissioner or his officials, some additional documents were provided but the Commissioner continued tomislead the committee with respect to these matters in subsequent letters andevidence given before the Committee.
Obviously, then, the committee could not do otherwise than to blame the Commissioner, since he was being asked questions. At the same time, the Auditor General was doing her job. Since one of the government institutions was being investigated, she, as any good Auditor General would, decided—since there was fuel for scandal here—to produce an indepth report on the work of the Privacy Commissioner.
I will refer to some of Auditor General Fraser's observations:
Some employees cashed out vacation leave that they had, in fact, taken but not reported.
The RCMP is therefore looking into this, at her request.
Financial statements were falsified in order to disguise the fact that expenditures exceeded the amount approved by Parliament.
That is a pretty harsh statement.
Late in the fall of 2002, the Secretariat was advised that the OPC would likely exceed its approved funding levels. The Secretariat did provide it with $73,000 from the Vote 5 operating reserve for additional personnel costs.
So the Secretariat is the one she faults.
The appointment of the personnel manager in April 2002 was approved by the Public Service Commission even though the candidate did not meet the security criteria.
There were also patronage appointments. The girlfriend of Mr. Radwanski's son was hired to a position in the legal department that was created especially for her.
In May 2002, Mr. Radwanski received $15,000 without justification.
The Public Service Commission was aware of the violations of the staffing procedure since the human resources director of the office of the commissioner had warned the Public Service Commission during the summer of 2001.
The public servants who were questioned talked about a “reign of terror” under Mr. Radwanski and some of his managers. They described instances where employees have been intimidated and humiliated.
What is even worse is that the Auditor General has said that both the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Public Service Commission were aware that there were internal management problems at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner but did nothing. This is serious indeed.
It gets even more serious when Liberal members have to turn to the opposition for ways to solve the problems.
At the Treasury Board Secretariat, there is a minister responsible for the Treasury Board, which means that she was aware of what was going on. The Auditor General had told her.
I will try to explain the government's response. We have no problem explaining what is going on in the public service. We will gladly do so. In fact, let me quote what political columnist Michel Vastel wrote in Le Droit yesterday:
The Auditor General's comments, damning for George Radwanski, were carefully weighed so as to not smear the whole public service. But why does Sheila Fraser not go see, in the offices of ministers and deputy ministers for instance, if she could find more artificially inflated positions, patronage hiring, unjustified performance bonuses, excessive time off, falsified financial statements, high travel and entertainment expenses?
Michel Vastel is a very prominent columnist who has been following politics on the federal scene and is keeping abreast of what goes on here on the hill. He wrote further:
But like the icing on the cake, these are the more recent of an incredibly long series of excesses: the billion dollar boondoggle at HRDC, triple billing for reports under the sponsorship program, the untendered contracts awarded by Public Works, the grants and loans to friends of the Prime Minister.
Of course, this is on top of what I mentioned earlier. I will add a few figures out of his article.
Data concerning infrastructure work underway in Ottawa illustrate the current climate in the federal government. The Department of Public Works has started projects totalling $1.3 billion in the National Capital Region alone, while all projects for the rest of Canada represent a mere $310 million.
And by National Capital Region we must understand the Ontario side: new buildings at $150 million or $200 million each, approximately $500 million in renovations around Parliament Hill, plus $300 million for museums of all sorts, and even $60 million for a new radio and television broadcasting centre, CBC—Radio-Canada.
But $57.4 million to renovate the garage of a federal building in Gatineau.
Out of the $1.3 billion, only $57.4 billion will be spent in Quebec, while the rest will go to the Ontario side of the National Capital Region.
And he continues:
Other expenses are more difficult to take into account. Shocked public servants have told me about new informatics systems intended for organizations with over 10,000 employees being ordered by agencies that employ only a few hundred. Flat-screen computers--the most expensive kind—high-definition television systems, and leather chairs are all being shipped into departments by the truckload.
And we are not even mentioning the contracts for all kinds of services, especially communications and public relations.
He finishes with this:
Too much money has finally corrupted all of Ottawa. We must have some lunches to celebrate—with lots of good wine.
That is from a political columnist who is not a member of the Bloc Quebecois. He is quite critical of our party, in fact. Nonetheless, he is very much aware of what is happening on Parliament Hill.
And that is what staggers me, knowing that the federal Liberal members are asking us how this problem can be solved. It is as simple as cleaning the Augean stables. It will take a great tidal wave to clean out everything that has gone on here on this hill. This is just the result. There is no other way.
Obviously, when we listen to the government's answers, we ask questions. In closing, I will mention an article that appeared in this morning's Journal de Montréal . Under the title, “Radwanski affair: Prime Minister's Office in spotlight”, we read:
The Prime Minister's Office played a decisive role in granting generous privileges to George Radwanski, the Journal de Montréal has learned from reliable sources.
Those are not our words. The journalist learned from a reliable source that the Prime Minister's Office had played an important role. He continues:
The Auditor General estimates that this former adviser to the Prime Minister squandered more than $500,000 in public money.
One person, all by himself, squandered over $500,000 in public money.
The article continues:
All day, again yesterday, ministers in the Chrétien government passed the buck to avoid answering the question: who recommended that the former privacy commissioner receive additional allowances totalling $85,000?
The reason is simple: the Prime Minister's Office is responsible. Several reliable sources within the government confirmed this.
The Journal de Montréal journalist says this, not the Bloc Quebecois. We conducted our own investigations and we reached the same conclusions. The journalist did his job, he went to his sources and got confirmation that the Prime Minister's Office is the one responsible for appointing Mr. Radwanski and authorizing his spending.
There is more:
Others named the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Eddie Goldenberg. “At the time I was only the senior policy adviser”, Mr. Goldenberg told the newspaper. “I never wa involved in the appointment process”.
We thought Mr. Goldenberg was responsible, and he himself says he was not.
Yesterday morning, the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, stated that, “the contract was negotiated and approved by the Privy Council Office”.
But the President of the Queen's Privy Council, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, refused to answer the newspaper's questions.
Ms. Fraser, the Auditor General, says that the Privy Council Office is responsible, and yet the person responsible for the Privy Council office does not want to respond.
His spokesman, André Lamarre, stated that, “the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is the honorary minister responsible for the Privy Council, but he plays no role and has no responsibility with regard to appointments”.
The Privy Council Office is responsible, but that individual plays no role.
Appointments and related benefits are determined by the Prime Minister's Office, as the Prime Minister wrote in his guide on ethical conduct for ministers.
Obviously, everyone is saying that the Prime Minister's Office was responsible.
Last Wednesday, a PMO spokesman denied this.
The Auditor General tells us that the Privy Council Office is responsible; the head of the Privy Council Office, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, says he is not responsible, but that the Prime Minister's Office is; the Prime Minister's Office says that it is not responsible.
Finally, we read:
In the House, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who is responsible for the Privy Council, had also refused to rise to answer the Bloc Quebecois' questions. And in the Prime Minister's absence, it was the government House leader who went up to bat.
The Leader of the Bloc Quebecois said that:
No one in the government can deny that George Radwanski's working conditions had been negotiated in the Prime Minister's Office by Eddie Goldenberg.
The government House leader responded as follows:
Other officers of Parliament have received similar benefits.
When the Bloc Quebecois told him that no one wanted to respond, the House leader replied by saying other officials have had similar benefits.
In order to wrap up the committee's work, the member for Mississauga South is proposing that we support the fourth report, but I hope he will support the recommendation that my Bloc Quebecois colleague, the member for Châteauguay, submitted at committee. The newspaper has this to say:
The Bloc Quebecois called for Mr. Goldenberg to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The request will be debated next week.
These are the journalist's words, and it is true. Our colleague submitted a request to have Eddie Goldenberg appear before the committee. I hope that all the Liberal members who sit on this committee will agree to this appearance.
Obviously, we do not necessarily have to be able to adopt a report today. But every day for almost two weeks now newspapers like the Journal de Montréal have been wondering who made the decision. I hope that the committee will tell us. As things now stand, it was neither the President of the Treasury Board, nor the minister responsible for the Privy Council, nor the Prime Minister.
The Liberals are going to end up making the public think that it was Mr. Radwanski himself who approved his own salary increases and that he controlled the budget. That is what will happen. That is what we are being told today. They are asking us for help in finding a solution. Earlier, the member for Mississauga South asked the Canadian Alliance to help them find a solution.
It is simple: the government is corrupt. That is the reality. Cleaning it up would be a very difficult task. Again, Mr. Vastel is absolutely right; it is a chronic problem from one department to the next. It is not just the Office of the Privacy Commissioner that needs to be cleaned up, but all the departments of this government.
Probably by focussing the spotlight on the Radwanski affair, we will manage to—