That this House consider the reports of the Auditor General presented in 2002.Debate arose thereon.
Mr. Speaker,it is a pleasure to rise today to consider the report from the Auditor General. Certainly my colleagues in the House who sit on the public accounts committee have had the opportunity to consider the report at some length.
We have reviewed a number of the chapters and a number of issues have been raised on those chapters. Today will give us time to further involve ourselves on a number of issues the Auditor General has raised and to discuss other issues that were not raised at committee.
A couple of things are noticeable in the Auditor General's report and I will give a quick summary of the report. In chapter 1 she recognized matters of special importance. The Auditor General was concerned that Parliament was not and is not informed and that government wide management reforms risk losing momentum.
If there is one piece of information that we should take from the Auditor General's report, it is, I believe, that the Liberals are very poor managers. For the past decade they have governed through the best economic opportunity this country has ever seen. They have had more revenue flowing from the GST and other tax issues that previous governments have put in place and they have not managed that money well. We can see from the budget and the $25 billion spending spree that they could not stand it any longer.
If we break down separate departments of government, and this gives all speakers in the House an opportunity to do exactly that, whatever department one may be critic for, whether it be defence, fisheries and oceans or aboriginal affairs, there is a wealth of information in the Auditor General's report on each and every subject that one could even dream of raising in the House.
I want to move to the issue of the lack of parliamentary information coming from the government and the fact that the government has introduced a number of reforms that have fizzled. Too often we introduce legislation and a process in this House that starts to reform a particular area of government and that reform never goes anywhere else. Probably the best example of that would be the Auditor General's report on the firearms registry. If we were to look at the history of the registry, we would see one series of bureaucratic bungling and mismanagement on top of another.
If we start at the beginning we see that it is quite a tangled web. It will take a little bit of time to actually follow the road map through the registry, but the registry was never run on real money. The government has an obligation to the Parliament of Canada to present its costs and its cost projections in the estimates. Most of the money that was funnelled through the registry never came through the estimates. Some came through the supplementary estimates but by far the majority of it came through the contingency fund. Although the Treasury Board approved spending, it was not approved in a proper manner and it did not follow the mandate of Parliament.
Who is responsible for this? That is the question of all the questions that should be asked. Most of us in this place do not like to point the finger at the civil service because civil servants, after all, work for the government.
However if there were a problem with a civil servant, whether it be a manager or a deputy minister, one would expect that would automatically go up the line to the minister. On the issue of the long gun registry and the $1 billion in cost overruns, that simply has not happened.
We have a deputy minister who has been there for the majority of the life of the registry and yet the ministers in charge of the registry have been changed as often as we would change our suit. We started out with the now Minister of Industry. We went through the now Minister of Health. We now have the new Minister of Justice. The government is now saying that since the program is not really working at all, it will do the little bureaucratic shell game and move it over to the Solicitor General. The government brought in an action plan, spending taxpayer dollars, and now says that since the program is not working and it has $1 billion in cost overruns, that it will move it over to the Office of the Solicitor General.
Hopefully we are past the point where Canadians are simply going to take the government's word for it and they will start asking questions about what is really happening here.
When the Auditor General did her audit on the firearms registry she found the firearms registry to be guilty of a number of infractions: huge cost overruns that were not reported; instead of taking money through the estimates and the supplementary estimates, taking it through the contingency fund; having the ministers, including the Prime Minister, in collusion to bury the facts from Canadians; and to funnel money through surreptitious means to make sure that they could continue to fuel the fire of the gun registry, even though they knew it was not working.
When the Auditor General gave up her inquiry because she could not get enough information out of the registry, the government came in and said that it was not a problem, that it would simply hire KPMG to continue the audit. KPMG did little or nothing. The government still had a bit of egg on its face and said that it was not too difficult and that it was still in control of the situation. It decided to hire Mr. Hession who came in and gave us the Hession report.
If members have looked at all at the background and the information available through the long gun registry, then they will know that the Hession report was simply a cut and paste of information that was already there. There was not one new item of business in it. Information that was already there from internal reviews done by registry personnel was cut and pasted into a report, and the government came out and said that this was it. Well, yawn. Nobody really accepted that at any more than face value, just the charade that it was.
The government then said that it still had not convinced Canadians, that it had not buried this deep enough and that it needed an action plan. The Minister of Justice said that he would bring in an action plan, that he was certainly prepared to make a difference, that Canadians were pounding on his door demanding that the firearms registry be fixed, and that better audit procedures and better management practices be put in place.
When the new action plan was unfurled with some fanfare last Friday we learned for the first time that the government would be spending more money on the gun registry. Surprise, surprise. However, now, for the first time, we actually know how much more. The government has already spent $780 million that we know about, with projections to go to $1 billion, and now it says that it will spend $65 million to $67 million. I should mention that there is absolutely no guarantee that it will not go over budget.
Given the history of the registry, I would expect that the government will go over budget and by a huge amount.
We know the program needs an immediate infusion of cash because of the $72 million in the supplementary estimates that we were successful in having withdrawn through a motion by the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. We know the government has to vote on that this week and we know that it needs an additional $15 million just to fix the database that it has in place. If one talks to the people who actually work at the gun registry, no one believes that $15 million can even begin to fix it. Therefore we can expect that the database will be thrown out.
We have a fair amount of information but none of the information should console Canadians that we will not continue to have cost overruns and involvement from the Prime Minister and his hand-picked ministers. The Solicitor General now will be in charge of the cover-up. It decided that it could not cover it up enough in the justice department, so it would move it over and cover it up in the Department of the Solicitor General.
Never once has there been any admission on behalf of the government that the gun registry has failed. It has not made one comment, a whisper or even a whimper that this has not worked. The government continues to try to confuse the issue and Canadians by saying that Canadians believe in gun control. They do and they should. There is nothing irresponsible or unreasonable about gun control. What we are not told is the fact that gun control has absolutely zero to do with the long gun registry. The registry is a totally different matter.
What we have is a Canadian public that has embraced the issue of gun control, especially the safe storage, safe handling and the screening process that is in place. I think that has been implicit in seeing that we have safer homes and safer streets in the country, better qualified hunters, better trained sportsmen and better trained target shooters. All of that has worked. All of that has been a plus to the firearms community. However none of that has anything to do with the registry because the registry has not been the part that has worked. After all, it is still not in place.
Several hundred thousand Canadians have not registered their firearms yet. Several hundred thousand more Canadians have only registered part or a portion of their firearms. They may have registered their favourite hunting rifle and perhaps a shotgun in order to receive their hunting licences but they have not registered the rest of their firearms. This is rampant throughout the country. This is not one or two firearm owners. This is the majority of them.
We have a failed registry and the biggest incidence of Liberal mismanagement and continued mismanagement that we have probably seen in the country since the HRDC scandal. What happens? The same thing that happened with HRDC. One minister caused it and another minister had to clean it up. In this case, the justice ministers were incapable, incompetent or unable to clean up the mess left to them by their predecessors, so it was moved laterally to another department, that of the Solicitor General.
Canadians should ask themselves what has changed. The Auditor General has said that it was inexcusable overspending and inexcusable accessing of funds by not going through the parliamentary process. Now we are going to spend more money and move the department to another department. That has fixed it. Everything will be okay now.
Hundreds of thousands of firearms still are not registered. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians still are not in compliance. This is not just the criminal element because none of those folks will register their firearms. We are talking about law-abiding citizens, men and women who stop at stop signs and who have never broken the law. Probably the biggest thing they have ever done in contradiction to the law is to have a speeding ticket and they are embarrassed about that.
We have a blatant situation of government involvement in the affairs of Canadians with no reason for it except to save face for the Prime Minister and the ministers of justice. Worse yet, and this should be a warning to all Canadians, now the government has moved it to another department. It will still spend nearly $100 million a year on it. There is no reason for us to think that it will work any better than it did before. The department which the program has been moved to is the same department that will enforce the law.
Obviously, we have learned now that the Liberals are getting serious. Now they will go out and arrest all these law-abiding Canadians who are in contravention of the act. There would be no other reason to involve the department that handles CSIS and the RCMP, the enforcement agency. The RCMP does not especially want to be the enforcer. It would sooner see someone else do it. However it falls upon its shoulders and it will have no choice but to start to arrest people who do not obey the law.
The government has given a six month extension. Therefore can we expect that come May 31 a lot of the people who have not registered their firearms but may have bought or sold a firearm at one time, and there is some nefarious record of it, the government will now use strong arm tactics? Will the government kick down their doors, walk into their homes and drag them off to jail? That is where all Canadians, who do not believe that Liberal mismanagement is a real serious problem, should be. That is a bit extreme but if there is an act and a law with penalties in place, sooner or later it will have to be enforced. The one thing the government has done is move the agency to the very agency that will enforce the law.
In wrapping up, the Auditor General's report has opened a number of doors. There is an endless repertoire of issues on which to speak. There is an endless list of incompetence and mismanagement at a time when the government has more money to spend than any government in the history of the nation. It is unfortunate that this window of opportunity and time has been wasted. It is unfortunate that there has not been more done in these past 10 years. Instead we have had the smoke and mirror tactics of trying to ram the gun bill home because there are a bunch of people who are anti-firearms and anti-hunting.
I cannot think of any other reason because the issue of gun control is not the issue at stake here. Even the Auditor General in her report said that she was not making a judgment of gun control. She was making a judgment on the books, on the sloppy auditing practices and on the fact that the facts were hidden from Canadians.
If I could ask Canadians to do just one thing, it would be to take a look at this single issue, and there are dozens more. It is not about gun control, about which the Liberals like to say it is. It is about a long gun registry that has failed, that will continue to take dollars out of taxpayer pockets, that will continue to be run poorly, that will continue to have a database that does not work and is not efficient, and nothing has changed. Even though the Auditor General has asked for change, nothing has changed.