House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I actually wish I did not have to get up to speak on this issue.

There is a statement made occasionally that “real men don't eat quiche”. Then there is another one that says “real men don't cry”. I have to admit that when I first saw this unfolding in the government operations committee, of which I am a part, I actually had a tear come to my eye. I was really distressed that an officer of Parliament would have so little regard for truth and honesty in what he did. I was really very concerned.

I should interrupt myself to inform you, Madam Speaker, that I will be sharing my time with the member for Lethbridge.

I would like to say a little in support of the motion. The hon. member who has made the motion is also a member of the committee. I would like to commend him for bringing this forward.

As the House knows, very often these reports are made to Parliament and they basically go on a shelf somewhere or a filing system and as the saying goes “they gather dust”. However this is one report from the government operations and estimates committee that I believe should be concurred in. I would like to urge all members to support this motion to concur in this report.

I would like to take the few minutes that I have to highlight the main reasons for encouraging support of the motion.

This is a report which was done very quickly at the end of June, just as Parliament was winding down prior to the summer when we were informed. To a degree it was almost a stroke of luck, as the hon. member opposite has indicated, that we found out about the total mismanagement, misuse and abuse of taxpayer money in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

To a degree some members may believe the report is now redundant because of actions that have taken place. However I think it is still very important that we concur in it to send a very strong message to all civil servants and indeed to all people who in any way receive public funds that, in my basic premise, are to be used in public trust.

We have heard of trust accounts. We have heard of people who are executors of estates. My young son has just been admitted to the bar and is now a lawyer. Among other things he administers trust funds on behalf of his clients. Whether a lawyer or anyone else is administering a trust fund on behalf of children or whatever, we expect that there be absolutely no absconding of those funds for personal use by that person.

That is my premise as a member of Parliament. Whenever I spend money on behalf of the taxpayer, I must remember that I am doing that as a trust. I do not know whether the adjective is appropriate here but I would almost say it is a sacred trust because it gets right at the basic elements of trustworthiness in government by the people who elect us. If we lose that trust, our whole democracy is at risk. That is why it is so very important that we do this.

One of the phrases in the report which we are debating today and whether we should concur with it is we received information from officials who testified before the committee and who had a duty to speak the truth. However as a result of this, we were informed of a situation which led very clearly to the fact that the commissioner himself was misusing funds.

It is important for us to remember that it is a two-way street here. The Parliament and parliamentary committee have to depend on witnesses and testimony that is given to us in committee. It must be truthful. Otherwise it is not useful. On the other hand, on the part of officers of Parliament, deputy ministers and others, if they want to continue enjoying the support and respect of Parliament, then they must ensure that they maintain this relationship of trust. That trust was specifically breached and in a very dramatic way in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

This report says that we, as a committee, have lost confidence in the commissioner. This was a unanimous report.

If I may just add a little sidebar here, it was so delightful to finally have a committee working together in unison and in unity, putting aside partisan differences. The last thing that any of us wanted to do was to make political points on this issue. This was a matter of serving the Canadian people, and I want to commend the members from all parties that were represented on that committee because we did set those considerations aside.

I do not like the phrase “making cheap political points” because politics, being a politician, a member of Parliament, should be a position of high esteem, trust and honour. We call ourselves honourable members here and politics is the work we do. It is not some sleazy operation. I resent it when people say that we make cheap political points. I do not think we should ever do that. We do the work in a political environment here but it is our work as parliamentarians to do this.

I would like to say that this committee worked in extraordinary harmony without political consideration. That comes forward in this report as well when it says that we were in unanimous agreement.

I also want to say that a very important element is the committee wishes to commend the public servants who came forward with information. Here again I was touched emotionally with the integrity of these people. It was so obvious when they were testifying before us. It was all done in camera, so I cannot divulge the details of it. However some individuals actually admitted very candidly to the committee that they felt that what they were doing put their jobs at risk. That should never be.

If we, as a Parliament, as a House of Commons, vote to concur in the motion to accept the report, I believe that will send a very strong message to all civil servants that we want to trust them. If they come forward to a parliamentary committee with truthful information, they will be commended and we will protect them from punishment. That is what this report says. It says directly that the committee is assuring these individuals that they will receive neither harassment, job action nor any other negative results due to the fact that they have come forward to committee and that they are immune from any negative consequences for having done that.

I would like to add a very hearty thanks to those people who worked in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and who had the strength of steel to come forward and say what they were saying to us. That is in the report. Those are just a few remarks. I probably would not be permitted, but I could go on for a whole hour in putting forward all the reasons why we ought to support the motion, and I commend it to all members of Parliament.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the remarks of the member for Elk Island because he was able to put into context not only the non-partisan way the committee operated, but also the very human dilemmas that people found themselves in when he appeared before the committee. I am told by my colleagues that it was really an exercise in good judgment and compassion on the part of the members of the committee who had to hear witnesses who were speaking from the heart and out of a sense indeed of fear of reprisal.

However let me put one question to the member opposite. Surely we members of Parliament should always be prepared to walk the talk. By that I mean, we have gone through an experience of looking at the expense accounts and other matters pertaining to the privacy commissioner who is outside the Access to Information Act. In another forum under the public accounts committee, there were problems with respect to exempt political staff not having to disclose their expense accounts, but that has been corrected.

Should not members of Parliament and Senators also come under the Access to Information Act, at least in the sense that we too should be expected and should be willing to disclose our routine spending?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, that is a very curious question. I have been asked that by members of the press and I have been asked that same question by individuals out there since this has broken out. They have asked if I would disclose my expenses. There are two answers to that.

First, a report already publicizes the expenses of every member of Parliament. It is in the public domain. I believe the Hill Times , if I can do some free advertising for it, gives quite a bit of attention to that once a year when that report comes out and it indicates who are the highest spenders and who are the lowest.

We need to recognize the inherent difficulty with that because sometimes people just reading the numbers will fail to take into account the fact that some members live far away and have very large travel expenses compared to those who are closer.

For myself personally, I like that information to be made public because as far as I know, my travel expenses, even though I go back to my riding in Alberta almost every weekend, I take the care to book cheap flights and I think that I am the lowest spending member in the whole province. For me it would be good. Maybe some of the others would not like it, but that information is out there now.

Second, with respect to expenditures, we have details of our office expenditures which are not in the public domain and I would have no problem with that. I purchased a photocopier for my office some time ago. I have nothing to hide and would let people know that I bought it.

As far as my personal expenses are concerned, I do not use government credit cards or anything like that. I am not a minister. I have no government expenses. Those are on my personal card and I pay them out of my own money. If I were to attribute any of them to a government expense, the instant I do that as far as I am concerned, it ceases to be private information. I have moved it into the public domain myself by putting it onto the public expense card.

Therefore, yes, let it be disclosed. I would encourage that and would welcome it. I would vote in favour of it, and of course it must apply to all members equally.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, just to correct a detail, the member for Elk Island is perfectly correct. The MP's expenses are routinely released but they are global expenses. The information the public gets of MP's expenses is nothing like the detail that was required of Mr. Radwanski or is required of a public servant or is required now of ministers and politically exempt staff.

I would just repeat the question to the member. Would he be prepared to see greater detail? For instance, we are given a form which describes our travel movements and that kind of thing. Would he be prepared to see that level of disclosure, always understanding that the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act protect who we talk to? That is we have to have the same level of confidentiality I would suggest that any minister has. Would he be in favour of the same level of disclosure that public servants are required to have?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, my answer will be very quick. I would support total disclosure of anything that happens, with the proviso that the member mentioned.

Sometimes people want to talk to members of Parliament and they do not want the public to know that they are going to an MP with an issue. I am ready to protect their privacy.

As far as I am concerned, as a public official, pretty well everything that I do should be an open book.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, it is good to have the opportunity to address this issue. The issue certainly has the attention of hard-working Canadians whose tax dollars go into the public purse and who sometimes have grave concerns over what happens with those tax dollars once they are collected.

Most Canadians do not mind paying a reasonable amount of tax. It would be better if we did not have to pay any but most Canadians understand that to fund the things that are important to us, a certain amount of tax is necessary.

However, when taxpayers see any kind of abuse it makes them wonder why they get up every day, go to work and work hard trying to make ends meet to raise their families. When the money that they send off to Ottawa through the tax rolls ends up being squandered it raises some questions.

Certainly as public officials we should accept when we take on this role that what we do should come under scrutiny by the public. If we are being paid through our MOBs or whatever it is to carry on the function of our offices, those are taxpayers' dollars and they have a right to know where the money is going. Certainly we would not have a problem with that. It would give a lot of credibility to us as politicians if some of that was exposed.

If there is something that we are doing wrong we need to know about it. Certainly if we are doing something that is not in the rules so to speak, we need to know those rules. It is our duty to make sure that we understand them fully and if we do not that needs to be pointed out to us or we need to ask the question.

When we look at the Auditor General's report and analyze what happened in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, there is an old saying that a fish starts to rot at the head. I believe in this instance that is exactly what happened. When there was not the leadership needed and the leadership shown in that department and proper instruction given to the people under the commissioner, things started to fall apart and they fell apart in a hurry.

It is important that a person who is put into a position of responsibility or leadership is capable of fulfilling those responsibilities and is truly a leader that will lead in the right way. I suppose many times what separates some people from that role is the fact that they cannot do that.

In this instance a little bit of power went to the person's head and he abused his responsibilities and his power.

I want to get into some of the specifics of what happened. Under the main points, the Auditor General found:

The former Privacy Commissioner abdicated his responsibilities as a deputy head to ensure the proper administration of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

I am sure that somewhere it was explained what the duties and responsibilities were. The Auditor General found that those were not being fulfilled. The Auditor General also found:

An environment of fear and arbitrariness in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner that led to a major breakdown of controls over financial management, human resources management, contracting, and travel and hospitality. The effect of this breakdown was a climate that allowed the abuse of the public treasury for the benefit of the former Commissioner and a few senior executives.

These are very serious accusations. It is very unfortunate. It goes back to the fact that if the person in the lead ignores the rules and starts to do things that are less than above board, it starts to filter down. People who answer to that person soon become influenced by that, even under fear of reprisal.

One of the things that was mentioned was that significant financial and human costs were incurred as a result of a poisoned work environment. It is the human cost, the intangible cost of people who lived in fear of their jobs, people who were doing things that they knew were wrong, but knew that if they came forward there would be reprisals.

Thank goodness for the committee that was able to get to the bottom of this and bring it to light, and for the Auditor General for taking it on as a project.

When the Auditor General got into some of the specifics she found that the former commissioner repeatedly abused his discretion and that he often failed to exercise sound and reasonable judgment.

There is a table in the Auditor General's report that indicates some of the travel that took place. Between May 2001 and September 2002 the commissioner and the senior director general went to London three times. They went to London in March, June and September. There was a total of six days without international business, so there were six down days while they were there. Expenses for those days without government business were $3,500, $6,000, and $1,200. This just went on and on.

It seems to me that after the first time it happened, somebody that was paying attention to the bills or the reimbursement forms that were coming through should have picked up on that and come forward. When we hear of the fear that was held over that entire department, over the staff, then we understand why possibly some of these things were left unexposed.

One of the biggest ones is a trip to Wellington, New Zealand in March 2002. The total days on the trip were 13: four days of travel, three days with international business, and four days without international business. The total expenses were $30,000, but the expenses for the days when there was no government business going on were $6,000. I can understand expenses for four days when one is staying in a hotel and having meals but that amount to me seems quite high. Six thousand dollars for four days, or $1,500 a day, is pretty high living by most people's standards. It sends the wrong message to the taxpayers in this country who are trying to make ends meet and they see this kind of abuse happening.

The Auditor General will go in and check on departments. That fact alone helps to keep people doing the things they should be doing and not doing the things they should not be doing, knowing that there is somebody watching. We should not really have to have that. A lot of times the Auditor General just makes recommendations on process and procedure to departments. If they are acted upon, then the incidents that we have seen in this department would be kept to a minimum. What we are all trying to do is to eliminate them at best but certainly to minimize them at least.

As we went through this process, and I know over the last couple of months this has been a pretty hot topic for Canadians, we sometimes wondered why, when issues like this happen, there does not seem to be the attraction or the outrage by Canadians that there should be. However, in this instance some of the things that happened really hit home. People are talking about them. People are phoning our offices. People are saying that it is just typical. I do not believe it is typical. I believe there are cases and certainly we need to expose them, but we should not be all tarred with that same brush.

One of the main points by the Auditor General states:

In our view, these conditions have seriously impaired the ability of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to function. A great deal of rebuilding is needed to restore its management capabilities. The present situation is cause for concern, given that parliamentarians provided the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with powers in an area of critical importance--assisting Parliament in protecting and preserving the privacy rights of Canadians.

All Canadians have a right to worry about these types of things. They have a right to their own lives. They have a right to a certain amount of privacy. Then they find out that the person who is in charge of protecting those rights has done some of the things that we are discussing here. It is not acceptable. We need to do what is necessary to make sure it does not happen.

The recommendations in the committee report and the recommendations in the Auditor General's report need to be acted upon to restore the faith of the average Canadian taxpayers that their money is being put to good use.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, discussions have taken place between all parties, as well as the member for Windsor West, concerning the taking of the division on Motion No. 399 scheduled at the conclusion of private members' business later this day, and I believe that you will find consent for the following:

That at the conclusion of today's debate on M-399, all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put, a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to Tuesday, October 7, 2003 at the end of government orders.

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it agreed?

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's contribution to what I think is an extremely important debate because the Radwanski affair really is troubling. I suspect that whenever Canadians hear the name Radwanski, they will have some memories of the Auditor General describing it as a reign of fear and terror. One can imagine what people were going through for an extended period of time in what the Auditor General described as a poisoned environment. How could they do their jobs?

Even more important, how is it that it took so long for it to come out, for it to be sensed by someone who was on the periphery at least? How is it that it took so long for someone to speak up? Quite frankly, it was not that someone just decided to speak up on his or her own volition. It was prompted by someone who saw a document being altered, heard a representation of how this happened and it turned out the representation that it was a complete, original document was not true and the person said it was not true because that person had witnessed it.

This is a sad story too. It is a very sad story because of the impact it has had on the people who worked within the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. It went so far that the people who did not play ball in this reign of fear and terror were prohibited from going to the floor on which Mr. Radwanski's office was located. It went from, “You are banished from this floor if you don't play ball”, right down to having a meeting and being threatened. He has been quoted as saying, “If I find the rat who is making the leaks, that person's career as a public servant is over”. Can anyone imagine that environment?

The member has raised some interesting and sorry aspects. It is important for us to learn lessons and that is why we have struck a subcommittee in government operations to deal with this, not only to report on the loose ends of the Radwanski affair but also to report to Parliament on the lessons learned. Since we are going to be doing this report, I would be interested if the member has some thoughts on the lessons that we have learned as parliamentarians or that we should pass on to the public service so that indeed situations like this are detected at the earliest possible moment or in fact do not happen at all.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, as I indicated in my remarks, the ultimate goal of any of this is to eliminate in its entirety any actions such as those we are discussing. However, being realistic, we must realize that we are going to move a long way to diminishing them.

If this was an isolated case, and I think in many instances some of the things that have happened are pretty unique to that office, but we have seen other aspects in government operations where that is the type of attitude, that the public purse is somehow disconnected from the people who send in those tax dollars. That is something we should never forget.

My lessons came from the municipal level of government. Everything that we did, whether it was a change in the water rate or garbage pickup or whatever, we knew all the people we were affecting. We knew the people who were on fixed incomes who did not have that extra $5 a month. We knew the people who would not be able to do some of the other things that they enjoyed in life because they would have to put more money toward utilities and taxes.

When we went through the process at that level, it was minute. We were not talking about billions of dollars that were farmed out over many departments. We were talking about dollars and cents and what it meant to each and every taxpayer. That laid the ground for having a respect for tax dollars.

Hopefully we can all stand the scrutiny of a full-blown exposure of what we spend. Why should a member of Parliament have any aspect of his operation that the public cannot scrutinize? I understand some of the privacy concerns as far as the people we deal with and that is separate. That is dealing with the problems we face every day for our constituents on a one to one basis, but if it has to do with spending taxpayers' dollars, then certainly we should have to stand and answer those questions when they are posed.

Hopefully over a period of time these issues will be resolved to the satisfaction of Canadian taxpayers.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:10 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

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—

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, but the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis wishes to rise on a point of order.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I apologize for interrupting my colleague, which I regret having to do, but time is getting short.

This morning I tabled a report from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which calls for an extension of the Copyright Act review from its original expiry date of October 3, 2003 to September 30, 2004.

This could not be done sooner, because the committee had to be struck yesterday.

I presented that this morning to ask for the Copyright Act review to be extended to September 30, 2004, which is only a technical matter.

I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, presented to the House earlier this day, be concurred in.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it agreed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has three more minutes to complete his comments.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to conclude my remarks on government operations. Again, to make sure that the people of Quebec and Canada who are listening understand clearly, I will repeat what Michel Vastel wrote in Le Droit yesterday. He was commenting on the findings of the Auditor General.

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?

I would not want this Radwanski affair to be considered unique. There is a need for a thorough clean-up of this public service, which is vastly overclassified according to prominent analysts and those who have been following federal politics for years. A permanent solution is required.

Again, I hope that the Liberal members on the standing committee looking into the Radwanski affair will accept the recommendation made by my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois, the hon. member for Châteauguay, who is asking that Eddie Goldenberg be summoned to appear before the committee.

We really need to know who authorized the cost overruns and the unusually high travel expenses. Who made the decision? It would be important to know, if only to prevent this from ever happening again.

Of course, we must not stop there. It is especially important that the questions asked in the House by opposition members be answered. When we ask the government for an answer, it should avoid doing what it has been doing for the past two weeks: passing the buck. It is passing the buck. If it not the fault of the President of the Treasury Board. It is not the fault of the person in charge of the Queen's Privy Council, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville—

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sorry to have to interrupt the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel but, unfortunately, his time has expired.

It being 1:30 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 May 26 consideration of the motion.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

October 3rd, 2003 / 1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, it is Friday and I am a busy guy today. I seem to be getting up on a number of different motions.

Motion No. 399 brought forward before us by one of our colleagues from the NDP is a pretty good motion because it says we should take some measures that would prevent people from getting ill. It is very hard to argue against that. One would not normally say that we should vote against something that will prevent people from becoming ill.

I would like to read the motion in its entirety. It states:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

How could one ever vote against that? The government should take measures to prevent people from becoming ill.

I regret to inform the House that even though I have not heard all of the debate yet, I will probably be voting against this, not because I am opposed to avoiding illness but because I think this is a measure that is going nowhere. It would take an effort to produce legislation that I do not think would do anything unless it would be very intrusive.

What are we talking about here? First, we are talking about environmental contaminants. There are many things that contaminate the environment. I remember that when I was growing up on the farm in Saskatchewan there were times when the wind blew from the barn to the house and we had a fair amount of environmental contamination. Not very long ago, and I do not know why, I think one of our little friends from the skunk family parked himself right next to our bedroom window at night. It got into a fight with somebody and it was not very pleasant at all. That was a contaminant.

In both those instances, I suppose one could say the offensive smell is biodegradable. For the most part, it has no long term health effects. It is just one of those things that happens in the cycle of life.

However, we have other things that are contaminants, for example, exhaust from vehicles. I used to ride my bicycle to work all the time. That was how I was able to maintain this fine physical condition I am in. I always enjoyed riding my bicycle, but part of the route from my house to the college where I taught involved climbing up a hill. Of course, the human motor when cycling up a hill tends to create the need for more oxygen, so the old guy was huffing and puffing going up the hill all the time.

I remember that right about that time they brought in catalytic converters. The exhaust from vehicles was always difficult. When one breathes really hard when one is exercising hard, as that was for me, one is really pumping in air through the lungs. When these vehicles right alongside the bike path also were going up the hill and spewing out their exhaust, it was very uncomfortable. But when they brought in the catalytic converters I actually could not breathe; it was interesting because the catalytic converters apparently were designed reduce pollution, yet my body's reaction to them was that the exhaust then was something that one should not breathe in at all.

I can think of other examples of environmental pollutants. To me, an interesting one is one my dad told me about. When he was a young kid, they used to mix formaldehyde into seed grain before they seeded. They of course were totally ignorant. My dad at that time was just a youngster. They would take off their shoes and socks, roll up their pant legs and get into the wagon, where they would put in the seed and pour a bunch of formaldehyde over it. The kids would trundle through it with their feet in order to mix it.

Formaldehyde is an environmental contaminant. These youngsters in my dad's family, my dad and his brothers, were exposed directly to huge quantities of it. I think the formaldehyde worked as a preservative because my father lived to be almost 91. At least it kept his feet in good shape for all of those years.

I could go on with different examples of environmental contaminants. This motion leaves the whole issue of environmental contaminants wide open. There is no definition here, which is one of the things that concerns me.

Right now, health and safety in regard to most pesticides is already covered under the Pest Control Products Act, which was passed by this Parliament. I am not at all sure why we would want to have another piece of legislation that would go beyond that. If so, I would like this motion to be more specific in terms of identifying exactly what it is that they want to identify now and control, and I presume it is control.

The other thing is that it is left so wide open. It states: “to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure.” How does the member propose to prevent illness caused by exposure to these contaminants? Would it be by preventing manufacturers from manufacturing it? Would it be by bringing in regulations with respect to how these contaminants are to be handled? Would it be, in the case of car exhaust, to plug all the exhaust pipes in all the vehicles so that we no longer have exhaust from vehicles? I think that is probably one of the greatest pollutants.

There are so many things in the bill that are so ill defined I really am reluctant to give carte blanche to the government to say, “Here, go and make some laws, prevent illness and prevent medical conditions that could be caused by exposure”.

There is one thing that is clear, though, and that is the use of the word “contaminants”. It is generally accepted that a contaminant is a negative thing, although again I can think of many instances where we have to use contaminants or totally change our lifestyles.

I think, for example, of the use of batteries. We all have electronic devices with small portable batteries in them, yet those batteries form a significant contaminant. What are we to do with those batteries? First, we definitely should take measures to dispose of them in a safe way, yet there are many people who just throw them into the garbage. I wish that were not so because it puts a lot of contaminants into our soil.

There should be measures taken. Is this the proper role of the federal government? Should the provincial governments be doing this? And is this what is envisioned by this bill? We are not really told, so it is really a difficult thing.

I definitely support good health, and one can tell by looking at me that I am a strong proponent of good health, and I have no problem at all with measures taken to preserve our health and avoid illness in our society, a laudable goal. I am afraid, however, that this motion just does not begin to cut it. It is very ill defined. It has no definitions in the terms and it seems to simply call on the government to do something, which I am not sure gives it even enough direction to know what it should do.

Therefore, I am in the difficult position of supporting in principle the concept the member is talking about, but because I cannot see how this is going to do the job my present thinking is that when the vote comes I will probably be voting against it. However, I will be very interested in hearing the rest of the debate and, as always, my mind is open.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, the debates that we are having this afternoon are most interesting. I am thinking of the one that just ended because my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel launched a discussion in which I would have liked to take part.

Today, we are also debating a motion dealing with environmental protection. It reads as follows:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation—

I have some difficulty with that because too often people are under the impression that, if the job does not get done, it is because there is not enough legislation, when we spend our days here passing legislation. Unfortunately, too often our laws are not enforced.

I would say that if the federal government really wanted to protect the environment, we would not need more legislation. Simply enforcing the existing laws would go a long way in achieving results in that area.

I will give you an example. Since I have been elected to Parliament—and I was doing it even before that—I have been working, among other things, on a serious issue that is of great concern to me, namely the pollution caused by the federal government and the Canadian army.

I would like to come back to the problem in Lake Saint-Pierre. When I first raised this issue, I gave an interview to a radio station in Quebec City and the host of the show could hardly believe what I was saying, that the Canadian forces had fired 300,000 shells into Lake Saint-Pierre during the last 50 years. Imagine, 300,000 shells, including 10,000 to 12,000 which could still be live.

It is a serious pollution problem, so serious that it killed one man. In the early 1980s, a worker who had been dreaming about retiring for a long time had restored a sailboat, hoping to take his family around the world. One evening, before the launch of his boat, with the boat finally ready after many years of hard work, he decided to have a party to celebrate the beginning of his life as a retiree. His guests were dancing and singing around a bonfire when someone picked up what he thought was a piece of wood and threw it in the fire. It turned out to be a shell from Lake Saint-Pierre that had washed up onto the beach. It exploded and killed the man who was retiring and injured a few others.

These accidents were the result of pollution by the Canadian Forces. When I prepare my speeches on such subjects, I think that if the legislation were lacking in some respect, I would support the motion. However, I am convinced that the political will to protect our environment is all that is lacking. The problem is that nobody believes there is a problem. I refuse to believe that a few hundred million dollars could not have been taken from the defence budget to train people to clean up following firing exercises on a body of water as big as Lake Saint-Pierre, recognized by UNESCO. The shells still lie on the bottom of the lake and, after each spring thaw, they wash onto the beaches. One spring two years ago, a little girl was playing on the beach and came home with a shell that had washed up on shore after the thaw.

As a result, in the absence of legislation, when we ask the government to accept its responsibilities, this is our goal. However, if the federal government has the political will, it can protect the environment, according to its jurisdiction. I can give another example.

Back in the 1970s, there was the oil and gas crisis. Everyone panicked, certain that we would run out of oil and gas. Consequently, car manufacturers started to make cars that guzzled less gas. In the early 1980s, I remember seeing a Cadillac that consumed about six litres of gas per 100 kilometres.

The previous speaker talked about carbon monoxide pollution. Now that there is an abundant supply of oil and gas, people wonder how to protect the environment, and we allow cars that use up to 20 and 22 litres per 100 kilometres. I refuse to believe that protecting the environment is a priority. If it was, no car would consume that much gas.

What is needed is cars that are both comfortable and environmentally friendly. We know that carbon monoxide causes serious problems for many in cities like Montreal, including children.

I agree with my party on voting in favour of this motion, but only on condition that the federal government be asked to stay within its own jurisdiction. Let it do so. There is plenty for it to do there.

In connection with the state of public finances, for instance, which has already been addressed, when the opposition is told that this is the responsibility of the House, that comes pretty close to blaming the opposition for the mismanagement.

The government has plenty to keep it busy within its own jurisdiction, rather than stirring up trouble and interfering in provincial areas of jurisdiction. Where the municipalities, health services or education are concerned, we can see how the government is constantly trying to interfere in areas that belong to the provinces.

Since we are dealing with the environment, I would like to move an amendment, one I think people will agree with. We must vote in favour of this motion, provided the federal government stays within its own area of jurisdiction. But within that area, it must do its job properly. So let it clean up Lake Saint-Pierre. Let it see that ships, particularly Canada Steamship Lines ships, protect the banks of the St. Lawrence. That is a major problem in Quebec, excessive speed on the St. Lawrence which is destroying the banks.

The shipping company that belongs to the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is probably one of the worst offenders. I live on the edge of the river and I know it is one of the worst offenders as far as not bothering about the river banks is concerned. It refuses to repair the damage it causes. We do not need any special jurisdictions in order to ensure we assume our responsibilities. This government is the one that needs to assume its environmental responsibilities.

I therefore move, pursuant to Standing Order 93:

That the motion be amended by adding after the words “necessary measures,” the following: “within its sphere of competence,”.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the hon. member for Windsor West in agreement with the amendment?