House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was general.


SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS


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.

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11:30 a.m.

Westmount—Ville-Marie Québec


Lucienne Robillard LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Hillsborough.

I am very pleased to participate in this debate on the Auditor General's 2002 reports. However, I should mention that I question the usefulness of this motion, since we all know that this House considers these important reports on a regular—and I could even say mandatory—basis. They are subject to special consideration by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

That said, I am very pleased to be here, because I believe this matter to be of fundamental importance to our democratic government, which is morally and legally responsible to Parliament and Canadians.

Canadians expect the taxes they pay to be put to the best possible use. Confidence in our democratic system depends on the certainty that public moneys will be spent wisely and effectively. To that end, the government must be transparent and provide regular reports.

We have good mechanisms for ensuring proper accountability. The government must report on its performance, through the public accounts, the estimates, and various annual reports. These documents, and many others, provide the hon. members and the Canadian public with a large quantity of information, which ensures that the government is held accountable. One of the essential elements of this accountability is the independent auditing of this information.

Under the Auditor General Act, the Auditor General is responsible for determining the accuracy of financial statements and if the government is properly administering its affairs.

The government so fundamentally believes in the concept of independent verification that in 1994 upon taking office the act was amended to allow the auditor general to report four times a year in addition to special studies. This independent reporting is essential to helping us to improve the functioning of government.

In her assessments the Auditor General addresses three main questions. The first is: Is the government keeping proper accounts and records in presenting its financial information accurately? This is called financial attest auditing. Auditors general attest to or verify the accuracy of financial statements.

The second question is: Did the government collect or spend the authorized amount of money and for the purposes intended by Parliament? This is called compliance auditing. The Auditor General determines whether the government has complied with Parliament's wishes.

The third question is: Were programs run economically and efficiently? Does the government have the means to measure their effectiveness? This is called value for money in which the Auditor General asks whether taxpayers got value for their tax dollars.

A value for money audit judges how well a policy or a program was implemented. This is the same objective Treasury Board has as the management board of the Government of Canada.

The Auditor General is an important partner in our efforts to improve the government's management practices. When she speaks, we listen and when it is appropriate to do so, we take action.

Allow me to provide a few recent examples of accountability to Parliament.

For many years, the Auditor General and her predecessors pointed out the necessity of reforming human resources management in the public service. The Auditor General recommended both legislative and non-legislative changes so as to clarify the role of the key stakeholders, improve human resource planning and manage those resources within a more strategic perspective.

This required a major reworking of the complex rules-based staffing system, which hindered the recruiting of qualified candidates to the public service.

The government has responded and proposed the most extensive legislative reform in more than 35 years. At the present time, this House is engaged in examining the public service modernization bill, which will allow more leeway to managers for hiring staff on the one hand, and create a framework of accountability and protective mechanisms on the other, with a view to striking a proper balance of powers within the system. The bill also clarifies the roles of the key stakeholders in human resource management.

Another point on which we agree with the Auditor General is the necessity to bolster the very foundations of modern administration, namely performance information, risk management, good stewardship of public resources, values and ethics. These are what we consider the function of a modern comptroller.

The Treasury Board requires all departments and agencies to create this modern comptrollership function and I am pleased to be able to say that this new practice has been inaugurated in 89 departments or agencies, and the results are beginning to show. In her 2002 report, the Auditor General again confirmed the importance of this initiative to enhance the government's administrative capacities.

We also agree with the Auditor General on the need to improve department reporting to Parliament. Over the last few years we have renewed our guidance to departments on performance reporting and increased our investment in evaluation and performance measurements. We have sponsored learning events and continue to review departmental performance reports on an annual basis.

We have renewed this commitment to improved performance reporting in this year's budget. Our focus remains on improving the relevance, clarity and timeliness of performance information. We will be investigating ways to use electronic reporting as well as other means to maximize transparency and accountability to parliamentarians and Canadians.

For many years auditors general have also recommended that the government implement full accrual accounting. In her observations on the government's financial statements included in the Public Accounts 2002, the Auditor General urged the government to implement this important initiative fully.

We have listened. After many years of hard work, we announced the implementation of full accrual accounting in budget 2003. The recent budget was prepared on a full accrual basis, and the financial statements for Public Accounts 2003 will be prepared on a full accrual basis of accounting. In addition, the financial results of previous years have been restated on a full accrual basis. The implementation of full accrual accounting will help to ensure that Canada remains a world leader in open and transparent financial reporting.

For a number of years the Auditor General has also recommended that the government strengthen the accountability to Parliament of arm's length foundations that receive federal funding.

The government took action. Funding agreements for foundations arising out of budget 2001 were strengthened to address many of the Auditor General's concerns. Furthermore, budget 2003 outlined a number of measures that would ensure effective accountability for the use of federal funds. These would include annual reports to Parliament, compliance audits, evaluations and dispute resolution mechanisms. Provision will also be made for the possible recovery of the unspent funds in the event of winding up.

Like the Auditor General, the government is constantly seeking to improve its management practices, controls and reporting mechanisms. This was, moreover, part of our commitment to good stewardship made in the year 2000 in the document “Results for Canadians: A Management Framework for the Government of Canada”.

No organization is perfect, especially one of the size and complexity of the Government of Canada. A responsible government knows enough to acknowledge that errors and problems may occur, and when they do, takes corrective action.

Being such a responsible government, we have put in place a system that makes that corrective action possible, and the Auditor General is an essential partner in that system. Our shared objective is to maintain public confidence in Canada's public institutions.

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11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister responsible for the Treasury Board speaking today, because certainly the Treasury Board was closely involved with the cost overruns at the gun registry.

I will ask the minister about this. When she reads the Auditor General's report on the gun registry, and I am certain that she has, she will note that the Auditor General stated on page 11, chapter 10, that by November 1996, two years after the gun registry had been implemented:

--the Department had concluded that its 1994 estimate for required funds and expected revenues were based on a series of assumptions that were no longer realistic.

At this point it asked the government for, and the government approved, another year in which to implement the program. It estimated that it would need an additional $193 million to implement its part of the program from 1996 to 1997 and for completion. It was given an increase of approximately $166 million. The figure included increased spending of about $71 million from the Treasury Board and a $40 million loan from the Treasury Board, which makes it $111 million in total. This was to be repaid in 2005-06, but was forgiven in 2000. There is another reallocation of $55 million from the Department of Justice.

The issue at stake here is that this minister knew all along that there were cost overruns in the gun registry, yet there was nothing done about them. She also knew that the funds were not being allocated fairly and properly through the estimates, that the funds were coming either through the supplementary estimates or the contingency fund, which she also has a responsibility for. So what was the minister's role in the failed long gun registry and why was she complicit in helping to cover it up?

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11:40 a.m.


Lucienne Robillard Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member has just demonstrated that the motion he is presenting to Parliament today might not be useful or could be questionable. The motion asks:

That this House consider the reports of the Auditor General presented in 2002.

I would like the member to know that Parliament, especially through the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, regularly looks at each report by the Auditor General and studies each of the chapters. The committee regularly brings together not only representatives of the Auditor General but representatives of the Treasury Board Secretariat specifically to follow up on the observations and recommendations of the Auditor General.

The question I have been asked today about the firearms registry is currently being studied by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I have been asked to appear shortly before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts—which is unusual—to provide a detailed and longitudinal explanation of what actions the Treasury Board has taken.

I will no doubt have the opportunity to come back to this in detail, but allow me at least to tell the member that Parliament was apprised of all the money committed to this specific program through the Public Accounts and the Appropriation Act that was introduced. The proof is that a parliamentary committee took a very special interest in the cost of this program.

I am referring to the Senate finance committee, which, each year, asked for a progress report on the program's cost, which we duly provided. One look at the work done by the Senate finance committee shows that the projected costs were clearly established, discussed and re-discussed with the senators to explain what was happening with the firearms registry.

That said, this occurred in the other place. Nevertheless, I imagine that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, with all of its expertise, will certainly ask the minister involved to demonstrate that public funds have been properly managed.

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11:45 a.m.


Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and speak on this very important issue.

Chapter 10 of the 2002 Auditor General's report dealt with the Canadian firearms program. We have heard a lot in recent weeks about the administrative problems that the Canadian firearms program has had in the past. It is not my intent to, nor will I, downplay these problems, but I do think it is time to hear something about the changes the government has proposed to improve the Canadian firearms program.

I want to thank the hon. member for South Shore for the opportunity to remind Canadians about the gun action control plan that the Minister of Justice announced last week. This plan will deliver a gun control program that provides significant public safety benefits while setting the program on the path to lower costs. The plan will streamline management, improve services to legitimate users of firearms, seek parliamentary, public and stakeholder input, and strengthen accountability and transparency to Parliament and, through Parliament, to all Canadians.

A key element of the action plan is the passage of Bill C-10A and the adoption of consequential regulations by the end of this year. During the debate on what was then Bill C-15B, the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville told the House, “...the amendments given here may in some small way improve the original errors in Bill C-68”. I share that view and I associate myself with those remarks.

Unlike certain members of the opposition, however, I believe Parliament exists to, and has a duty to, make an engaged and constructive difference. Despite the overheated rhetoric of the gun lobby, Canadians, I am convinced, are committed to the principles of Canada's Firearms Act. Opposition to the Canadian firearms program is neither as broad nor as unanimous as opponents would make us believe. Canadians want meaningful, effective gun control delivered to them in an efficient, cost effective manner. Poll after poll demonstrates this deep commitment.

If we have listened to a lot of the rhetoric that has gone on in the House, in the newspapers and on radios and TV in the last month, we would think that Canadians do not want anything about gun control. I disassociate myself with those remarks. People in Canada do not want a situation where any person can go out and buy a gun, store that gun and use it in whatever way they want.

I am a poster boy for gun control. I have never owned a gun. I have never fired a gun. I have never stored a gun. I would not know how to shoot a gun. I should not be allowed to go out to Canadian Tire later this morning, buy a gun and store it under my living room couch. That is not what the Canadian people want.

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11:45 a.m.

An hon. member

That's not what they have.

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11:45 a.m.


Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

If I can drive a car, I have to get licensed and I have to get trained. If I want to buy an airplane, I have to get licensed and I have to get trained. If I buy a boat, I have to get licensed, trained and registered. Certainly what the Canadian people are telling me and telling everyone is that if I go out to Canadian Tire later this morning and buy a gun, I first have to get trained in the use of that gun. Second, the authorities in Canada want to know that I am a capable person to own the gun: first, mentally capable; then physically capable, of a certain age; and, most important, trained in the use of firearms.

They want to know that I have a gun. If there is a domestic dispute in a household and the police come in at two or three in the morning, they want to find out, not the day following and not the week following but that minute, whether or not there are any licensed firearms in that particular house. That is what Canadians want.

For example, an Environics poll released last week shows that 74% of Canadians support the elements of our government's gun control program. Among gun owners themselves, support is split: 45% support the policies and 55% are opposed. Interestingly, 77% support is found among respondents from homes where somebody else owns firearms.

I am aware of the problems that the administration of this program has undergone since it was enacted. I am aware that certain fundamentals, the costing that was carried forward in the system, were no longer realistic. I am aware that certain ministers should have come back to the House with updates on the costing. This matter is coming before the public accounts committee at 3:30 this afternoon. I am a member of that committee. That committee will certainly deal with this issue. It will deal with it in depth, and recommendations will be made and tabled in the House.

Going back to polls, hon. members here today also may remember that not too long ago a national poll found that supporters of every political party represented in the House supported the Firearms Act.

Briefly I want to turn to the government's initiatives to reduce costs, which is important, to increase transparency and to improve client service, which are contained within Bill C-10A. I must stress that the principles included in Bill C-10A are as important today as they will be when the program moves to the Department of the Solicitor General. Last Friday's announcement does not in any way make Bill C-10A unnecessary.

There are a number of initiatives that, if passed, will help the government respond to concerns expressed by our Auditor General and also by Canadians in general. One of these measures is a proposal to stagger firearms licence renewals, which is intended to help avoid a surge of applications in five year cycles. To even out the workload in such a manner would result in more efficient processing, better client service and, I also submit, very significant cost savings.

Streamlining the transfer process for non-restricted firearms allows provincial firearms officers to focus their efforts and, I should add, their resources on other public safety functions. It facilitates client service without compromising public safety. Moreover, consolidating administrative authority for all operations under a Canadian firearms commissioner would ensure more direct accountability to the minister, who in turn is responsible to the House. This would enhance both financial and political accountability. As well, the Canadian firearms program would present an annual report that would give a more full picture of the program and complement existing government reports to Parliament.

I believe strongly that Canadians want common sense gun control legislation delivered in a cost effective manner and with full accountability and transparency to Parliament. They also want a commitment from us that we will administer this program from this point on in the most effective manner possible.

Before I close I want to remind the House that this is not just a Canadian issue. Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association of America, recently told The Wall Street Journal that the National Rifle Association is watching Canada very carefully. It wants us to be an example. The NRA wants Canada to fail and the NRA wants to tell the world that we have failed.

Canada is an example. We are showing the world that the path of the NRA and their brothers in Canada's gun lobby is not the way.

Canadians overwhelmingly support the principles of our program and have for years. We have challenges to overcome, but with the support of all Canadians I am confident that we can overcome these challenges and ensure that Canada has an effective, common sense gun control policy.

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11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I must shake my head after listening to the comments from the hon. member. I know he is a serious member of Parliament and does try to raise the level of debate on most occasions, but I have never heard such drivel come from the mouth of a member of Parliament in the almost six years that I have been here. This is absolute bunk. What in the world is he talking about?

The member said the RCMP would check every household before it is called to that home to see whether individuals have firearms or not. The member should give his head a shake. RCMP officers approach every domestic dispute as if firearms are involved. That is their training. They are supposed to do that. If they do not, they will wind up on the wrong end of trouble some day, and their wives and families will regret it.

The speech that the member gave has nothing to do with the firearms registry and the billion dollars wasted, nor the number of lives that could have been saved in this country. As a person with a legal background, how many peace bonds could be enforced in this nation if $1 billion was put toward extra RCMP personnel out on the streets?

This is not a poster boy for gun control, but rather a poster boy for incompetence. The long gun registry is not about gun control. Canadians have accepted gun control because it is needed. There needs to be safe handling and safe storage of guns. Where was this member in 1994 when this came in?

There was a bill that included safe storage and safe handling. It included a process of screening gun owners and training gun owners to ensure they were competent. That was thrown out the window. His government wants to debate whether or not to have gun control instead of dealing with the GST and the rest of the election promises it made. This is not about gun control. It is about incompetence and poor management.

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11:55 a.m.


Shawn Murphy Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, I did not detect a question from the member. He said I was talking drivel, but that is all I have been hearing for a month in this place on the issue of gun control.

Between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party all they want to talk about every day is gun control. They do not want anything to do with gun control. Their premise is that every man, woman and child in Canada has a God given right to own a gun, store a gun and use a gun in any way they see fit. That is drivel and the learned member should be ashamed of himself.

Canadians want a common sense approach to this situation. They want gun control and they want it delivered in a cost effective manner. They are fed up with the drivel coming from the Progressive Conservative Party and from the Canadian Alliance.

We want it delivered in a more cost effective and transparent manner. The Auditor General reported that in chapter 10 and made some excellent recommendations. Those recommendations would be before the public accounts committee this afternoon, of which I am a member. We will deal with the auditor's report. We will hear witnesses, including the president and the past administrator of the gun control program. The committee will write recommendations, and those recommendations will be filed in the House and acted upon. At the end of the day, we will have a better, more cost effective gun control system for all Canadians and that is a good plan.

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Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, let me put on the record that we thank God for the Auditor General of Canada. She is the great, impartial, credible person who has access to the records of the Government of Canada. When she tables her report the country sits up and takes notice, and rightly so because her report points out the deficiencies, maladministration, ineffectiveness, waste, mismanagement, and so on that we find in the files of the Government of Canada.

Left to its own devices the government would take every dollar that Canadians had, spend it on frivolous and inefficient programming, and Canada would be going down the drain. So thank God for the Auditor General, who goes in there, diligently looks at the files and says that we must tell Parliament what is going on.

The Auditor General has said many things over the years. On accountability, she said:

Parliament must be in control when it comes to approving expenditures and scrutinizing results. When Parliament is out of the loop, taxpayers lose their say in how the government spends their tax dollars.

Our Auditor General speaks well. She speaks loudly and wisely. She keeps Parliament informed. Parliament's job is to keep the government on its toes and for the government to answer questions in the House about how Canadian taxpayers' money is being spent. Unfortunately, we find out far too often it is not being spent well.

If we go back two or three years, there was a thing called the HRDC billion dollar boondoggle, where we were writing cheques when we did not even have an application on file. We did not have any idea why we were spending the money, we would just write the cheque because somebody thought it was a good idea. Every rule in the book was being broken. Nobody was paying attention to the rules. Nobody was worrying about the Canadian taxpayer and value for money. The Auditor General pointed it all out to us and it became a major scandal, and rightly so.

What happened after it became a major scandal? The government said, “Oops, we had better start following our own rules written by the President of the Treasury Board”. She showed up here this morning and said that when the Auditor General speaks, we listen. I wish that were true.

The Auditor General has been talking for years about the $40 billion, and growing, surplus in the employment insurance fund.The Minister of Finance stood in the House last week and told us that he would be reducing EI premiums. How wonderful he is, he is going to let Canadians keep their own money. He only dropped the premium 5%, from $2.10 down to $1.98. It is under two bucks.

He says this is good news, but it was only a 5% decrease. Guess what? It does not take effect until January 1, 2004. He will be keeping the old cash machine rolling the cash in for another 11 months before he has the generosity to let Canadians keep their own money. Even though the Auditor General has been pointing out for years that this should not be a cash cow, that this is supposed to be a self-financing program and nothing else, the government has used it to self-finance the government. So thank God for the Auditor General, who puts the pressure on the government and it must pay attention.

We have talked a lot about the gun registry, another billion dollar boondoggle. This was going to be a $2 million program by the then minister of justice. He was so proud of this because he was going to keep it as his own little program, run by his own little department, the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice has about 2,000 or 3,000 lawyers who write legal reports and briefs. They do legal opinions and write legislation. But they have never ran a program in 100 years.

The minister of justice of the day, and we know who I mean, thought that this would be his great kickstart into the Prime Minister's office. But like everything else he touched, it went sour on him.

The Auditor General did a complete report which she tabled last December. Here are some of the headlines in her report:

Current ownership and registration requirements are more rigorous.Single point accountability for the Program was not implemented.Program cost estimates have risen from $119 million to over $1 billion.Contrary to the original announcement, fees will not cover expenditures.From the start insufficient financial information was provided to Parliament.Supplementary estimates were inappropriately used.Accountability for all Program costs was not maintained.The financial information provided does not fairly present all costs.In 1996 the Department recognized that funding assumptions were unrealistic.In May 1998, program costs were estimated to be $544 million.By February 2000, program cost estimates had increased to $764 million.By May 2000, the Program cost estimates rose to more than $1 billion.In February 2001, a new plan to restructure the Program was approved.The program became excessively regulatory.Restructuring involves replacing an expensive, three-year-old computer system.

The government was going to trash the computer system because it did not work. That is hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain.

That is what our Auditor General told Parliament. She added that there were deficiencies in the management of revenues and refunds. The whole thing was just a dog's breakfast. We are glad we have the Auditor General to point that stuff out to us because the government is incompetent, plain and simple.

What did the Auditor General say about the gun registry? She said in her news release:

The issue here is not gun control. And it's not even astronomical cost overruns, although those are serious. What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark.

We can thank God for the Auditor General that she can shed some light on these issues. We can take these issues up on behalf of all the taxpayers in this country and ask about the waste, mismanagement, incompetence and so on that goes on each and every day.

Then, of course, last year there was the Groupaction scandal. The Auditor General said that senior public servants broke just about every rule in the book. This is reminiscent of the HRDC billion dollar boondoggle. She said:

I have referred this matter to the RCMP and I am undertaking a government-wide value-for-money audit of advertising and sponsorship programs of the Government of Canada.

We have Groupaction that comes to light and $40 million goes straight down the drain. We dealt with that at the public accounts committee. We would have had a report in the House if it had not been held up by some members of the committee, but I will not get into that. The point is we will table a report in this House that will tell us what went wrong. Maybe we do not have all the answers, but at least we have the report of the Auditor General telling us that every rule in the book was broken. How can we have faith in a government when the Auditor General tells us these types of things are going on?

Do members remember the heating fuel rebate? It was introduced two days before the election in 2000. We had a budget and the day after the budget we had an election. The budget was never implemented, but the Minister of Finance promised Canadians assistance to help them with the high cost of heating fuel because they could not afford the increasing prices throughout the winter. The Auditor General told us about this program later on. It was a fairly short lived program because heating fuel prices went up and then they came back down, and the program was finished and cancelled.

We in the Canadian Alliance have no problem with and in fact support the idea of helping those in need when they need help. The point was that the program cost $1.4 billion and the Auditor General told us that only $400 million went to people who, by the government's own definition, needed the subsidy. That was $1 billion wasted again. What is even worse is that 90,000 Canadians who needed the money did not get a dime, not one dime.

The government, the Liberal Party, went across the country, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and everybody else went from coast to coast saying, “We are doing a wonderful thing for Canadians”. It was $1 billion down the drain.

The HRDC billion dollar boondoggle, the gun registry billion dollar boondoggle, the heating fuel rebate billion dollar boondoggle; three programs, $3 billion. Do we not realize there is a pattern of waste, incompetence and mismanagement? The attitude that it is okay, it is the taxpayers' money and they can afford it so do not worry about it cannot prevail. That is the point we must get across.

Taxpayers are beginning to realize that they are being taken in a scam by the government. The government had better pay attention because after the next election, the Liberals will be over here and we will be over there because the Canadian taxpayers think that enough is enough. That is why I say thank God for the Auditor General.

What does the Auditor General say on financial management? “Like other similar government-wide reforms, this initiative aimed at improving financial management and control has not received the commitment and leadership that it needs to succeed. For an organization that spends almost $180 billion a year, this is not acceptable. It is time for the government to get serious and get on with making the necessary improvements”. Here we go again. The government does not know how to manage taxpayers' money.

What does she say on lack of leadership? “Without better direction and clear expectations, these initiatives will flounder. Even the best intentioned department cannot make up for a lack of leadership from the centre”. She pointed a finger at the Prime Minister. It is time the Prime Minister and the whole front bench realized that they are the centre and if they cannot run the show, they should step aside and let somebody else do it.

Then there are the foundations. There is $7 billion of taxpayers' money parked in private bank accounts outside the control of Parliament, outside the control of the Auditor General, outside the control of anybody but a board of directors appointed by, of course, the Liberal government. The foundations can spend the money as and when they see fit.

The numbers were massaged so that when we thought the books were balanced, they took $7 billion that would have been reported as a surplus and put it in a bank account. Then if they ever wanted to have some deficit financing, they could spend the money without it even showing up on the books.

For example, $2.5 billion went into the Canadian scholarship fund in 1998 and it is still sitting there. We have paid to educate tens of thousands of Canadians, to help with their post-secondary education, to give them a start in life, to help them build this great and wonderful country we live in.

We authorized the funds. Where are they? Sitting in a bank account. The kids did not get the money. The taxpayers forked out the cash that is sitting in a bank account so that when the Minister of Finance thinks the time is right, when it is most advantageous to the party on that side of the House, he can say, “Open the floodgates and let it roll”, and nothing will show in the Public Accounts of Canada.

There is $7 billion parked there off balance sheet. We have heard about off balance sheet before. It seems to me it was tagged to a couple of names like Enron and WorldCom. We came down heavy on those companies and we should come down heavy on the government.

When we dealt with this at the public accounts committee last week, the government members just shrugged and said, “We can do what we want. We have an agreement. We have created the organization. It is perfectly legal”. We know it is perfectly legal but the point is all the people on the government backbenches hold their noses and vote for whatever the Minister of Finance wants and the taxpayer is left holding the bag, and the bill. Do not forget the bill.

The Auditor General also reported on health care. The Department of Health delivers health care to our native population. It is not the provinces that does that, but the provinces deliver health care to everyone else.

The Auditor General pointed out that one dentist caught on to the scam that the government does not check its bills. For one particular procedure, and I am not sure what it was, he charged the Government of Canada 40 times more than the allowed price by the insurance companies and the provinces. These things are all negotiated. We know how it is; a dental plan only pays so much and if the dentist charges more, he can go away.

We paid 40 times more than the going rate and no one asked, “Is this not a little pricey?” The government's attitude is, “We do not need to ask these questions, we just pay the bills. The taxpayer can afford it”. We need the Auditor General to point these things out.

The Auditor General also pointed out that one gentleman called an ambulance to go to the hospital, which is fine. If someone needs to go to the hospital, he or she can call an ambulance. That is what they are there for. He did it 150 times in a five month period. There are approximately 150 days in five months. If we do the math, he called an ambulance every day, which means he needed a ride to town. No one asked, “Is there something going on here? Is this guy really sick? Maybe not”. The government said, “Just pay the bill. Do not worry, the taxpayers can afford it”.

Then there are the serious cases. We dealt with this in the public accounts committee also because the Auditor General pointed it out. We pay for the prescriptions for our native population. We do not have any controls on the central nervous drugs, the ones people want to sell on the streets. We have controls for the rest of society because of the triplicate prescription concept. But no, we cannot do that for the native population because it would be against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, human rights and privacy, the whole ball of wax. We cannot do it for them. They can go down the street to 10 different doctors, which some of them do.

We heard the story from Mrs. Stonechild from Saskatoon whose brother and son both overdosed on drugs, all paid for by the Government of Canada, all prescription drugs, within a three week period. The Department of Health said it was not its problem and there was nothing it could do. That is disgusting. It is absolutely shocking and shameful. We can do it for everybody else but not for the native population.

I could go on but I want to point out a couple of things. There are a couple of members on the other side who took the Auditor General to task and I say shame on them.

The member from Beauséjour—Petitcodiac said, “I hope before anybody gets too exercised about what the Auditor General might think, they look at the mistakes that her office made, including a $4 billion overpayment to the provinces”. The Auditor General does not pay anybody; we all know that. She is the auditor. She does not run the Government of Canada. She does not write the cheques for the Government of Canada. Shame on him for saying something like that.

The MP for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge questioned why the auditors general for years also missed the problems with the sponsorship program. What about the government? It runs the program. It broke every rule in the book. She only takes a look at a small sample and thank goodness somebody stumbled across the fact that these things were a mess.

Shame on those members for taking the Auditor General to task.

I finish as I began. Thank God for the Auditor General of Canada.

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12:20 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have a question and a comment and I will start with my comment.

We are talking about the Auditor General's report. Not that long ago there was a report relating to abandoned mine sites. We have some contaminated sites in the north. There was a need to deal with them and the Auditor General pointed this out. I would like to commend the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for making sure this was in the budget. I believe there is a $175 million fund to deal with the contaminated sites starting with the most risky. That was a very positive reaction. Of course I lobbied for this because we have such sites in my riding. I am very happy that the minister responded.

I always enjoy the member's detailed input. My question relates to HRDC. The member's party continually brings up the old situation and it has a negative effect for Canadians who really need the help. The system has now been fixed and the administration is on solid ground. However, by constantly bringing up this situation and pushing for so many rules, it is causing many delays in the program delivery and there is great expense on the part of the government to deliver programs to those who need them.

I am sure the Alliance Party is in support of the programs that help people in need. There are people with disabilities, for instance. The NGOs have told me that because of constantly bringing this up, there are delays in the processing and so much expense will be added to the debt and taxes because the Alliance members are pushing this so far. It would be a tremendous help to society if they would let the situation go now that it has been fixed and if they would stop creating more problems for those in need.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will first respond to his comment. The member admits that he lobbied for money to be spent in his riding. I am not disputing the fact that there is a need for environmental remediation in his riding, but there is a need for environmental remediation right across the country. We know about the tar ponds down in Nova Scotia, which is the worst environmental disaster in the country. We know about the nuclear contamination in the uranium mines up in northern Saskatchewan and that is going to cost billions of dollars too.

The idea that government members can lobby for money for projects in their ridings is totally wrong, but I will leave that aside.

Regarding HRDC and the rules, we do not write the rules. The President of the Treasury Board is sitting right there. She and her department write the rules. If the rules are--

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12:20 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member is not allowed to mention who is present in the House.

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12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There is a slight difference. We make a differentiation between someone being here and someone not being here, understanding of course that when people are not here, it is simply because their duties take them elsewhere, whether it be here in the parliamentary precincts, in their ridings or wherever it may be. However, it is not a point of order, respectfully.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, the President of the Treasury Board is sitting right there. She and her department have the responsibility for writing good management rules that protect the taxpayers of Canada and allow the government to do the job.

If the government cannot write these management rules like the private sector can write these rules, as private auditors check to see that the private sector is doing things appropriately, the Auditor General keeps an eye on the Treasury Board rules. The Auditor General said that every rule the President of Treasury Board had written had been broken. How can anyone complain or criticize the opposition for saying it should fix the problem?

I cannot believe the member is saying we should slide back to the way it was before because it was a lot easier. Shame on the member.

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12:25 p.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging the work by the member for St. Albert as the chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I have watched his work over the last few years and it is an extraordinary piece of government accountability that he organizes through his committee experience.

I personally believe that one of the greatest reasons why we have a democratic deficit in the House of Commons is the unelected, unaccountable officials who virtually spend 95% of the money that goes through this place. They need a realization that the political culture is keenly interested in how moneys are spent.

I believe that the Auditor General's budget of $66 million to cover over 40 departments of government and some 70 crown agencies, et cetera, is not enough to do the job.

Could the member for St. Albert put forward his views on the fact that if we are to really get this system back on track so the elected people in the House of Commons know where all those moneys go, the way to do that would be to ensure that the accountability through the Auditor General's office is dramatically intensified? Therefore we would need to give the Auditor General's office a lot more than less than a million dollars per department to audit.

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12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, first let me thank the member for the compliment. Let me return one to him because of the hard work he does. We know he speaks out on issues freely, rather than following the government line. My compliments to him also.

Every year when the Auditor General appears before the committee on her estimates, I always ask if she has the money required to fulfill her mandate. If she ever has a problem, she knows she can come to the committee and we will go to bat for her with the President of the Treasury Board. We will go head to head with the president on that issue.

Most definitely there is a democratic deficit right in the House. The House does four, simple, fundamental things. It approves the legislation requests of the government. It approves the taxation policy for the government to raise the funds it requires. It approves the estimates that the government wishes spend and the government reports to us. Those are the four things that we do in the House and we fail miserably on most of these things.

When the government wants legislation we roll over and say, “Whatever you want, you will get”. When the government introduces a taxation policy that squeezes taxpayers even more, we roll over and give it what it wants. On the estimates, the Auditor General points out that we are kept in the dark, but we give them to the government anyway, and it reports to us. What more can I say than thank God for the Auditor General of Canada.

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12:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, one of the topics that will be talked about over and over today is the waste of money on the gun registry. The Auditor General in her report looked upon the amount of money the registry had cost. The important point the Auditor General made was that ministers involved and the government generally kept that great amount of expenditure from Parliament. We were completely and utterly kept in the dark.

I agree with my friend opposite who says that the member who is the chair of the public accounts committee has done a very good job over the last few years in that position. The member has a good idea of how government operates, how the expenditures are accounted for and how the reporting system works. How can somebody spend a billion dollars without letting the people who really should be making such decisions know?

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12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is fairly simple. The Auditor General said that we were kept in the dark.

If we look at the estimates, we will see that every other department has programs by lines, for example, the old age security. We can see the administration costs, the grants cost and the capital costs involved.

On the gun registry, there is not a mention, not even the words gun registry or firearms registry show up in the estimates. In the plans and priorities supporting document there are a couple of paragraphs which say that it will spend $113 million. That is how we are kept in the dark.

Every year we get a big stack of documents called the main estimates and Parliament is supposed to plough through that and get all the information. We have to rely to some degree on the Auditor General and she does an excellent job of following up. I certainly compliment the member on the fact that we need to do more in the House. We cannot accept that what the government wants, the government gets.

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12:30 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate on this motion to consider the 2002 reports of the Auditor General.

First, I will say that is goes further back than 2002. The House should be considering reports of the Auditor General going back ten years or so. I have been sitting on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for four years and, on many occasions, I have felt frustrated.

There is frustration because, for the public and the media, when the Auditor General tables reports three or four times a year, these reveal shortcomings and irregularities. The media jump on these reports and splash the results over the front page of newspapers all over the place. There are a few reactions in the House of Commons. Then, all is forgotten.

There is also the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. We sit together with representatives of the various parties in the House, including the federal Liberals, set an agenda, summon witnesses and try to identify reasonable solutions to correct the shortcomings. This is when it gets frustrating.

By the end of the day, I will give examples to illustrate how each time we deal directly with ministerial decisions, decisions made by the Liberal government, we see the kind of political manoeuvring we have seen at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

When we are considering issues that matter less to the Liberals, two or three Liberal members show up for our meetings, just enough to have a quorum. It is quite a different story with more sensitive issues, issues directly related to government decisions, such as in the Groupaction affair. There is a sudden change in their attendance habits then; there are nine Liberal members on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. They monitor everything to make sure the truth will not come out. Once again, this is frustrating.

Members of all opposition parties have stood in this House to demand explanations regarding the Groupaction affair. The minister responsible asked the Auditor General to investigate. The Auditor General reported; this report was tabled in April 2002. To this day, February 24, 2003, consideration of the report has not been completed.

The last time I participated in proceedings in connection with the consideration of the report, there was a filibuster. The Liberals wanted to change what the Auditor General had said.

I rose and I said, “We are not going to change the Auditor General's text. There is a problem. If the Auditor General has identified a problem, we must examine it”.

It is clear from this that this House is losing credibility. The Auditor General's report was tabled in April 2002. Today, we are told that perhaps an effort will be made to finish this report on Wednesday. Once again, work on this matter in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts was trying. We were forced to meet in camera, to hear certain witnesses and not others. Large excerpts of this report were even published by the media.

Today, even if this report is now public, the Liberals are doing everything to water down the truth. That is why, today, the House is discussing the Auditor General's reports.

I could give another example, relating to foundations. No later than last week, representatives of the Treasury Board could not tell us where the money, the $2.5 billion from taxpayers that had been taken out of the budget and granted to a foundation, had gone. The Treasury Board cannot tell us how this money has been spent.

Since 1993, this government, with agencies, committees and foundations, has increasingly taken responsibility away from Parliament. Furthermore, the former Auditor General, Denis Desautels, was very clear when he took stock of his time in office. He questioned the House of Commons' accountability and the authority continually taken away from it.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, when an Auditor General tables a report, it makes the headlines. However, once it goes to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, it is extremely difficult to pass on the recommendations for addressing the shortcomings identified by the Auditor General.

Once again, I am going to talk about social insurance numbers. We are living at a time when increased security is required and efforts are being made to tighten security at our borders. The Auditor General said that so-called “900” numbers had been authorized for temporary residents of Canada. However, their whereabouts was not known.

In a few days, we will hear from certain witnesses, just like when officials from Human Resources Development Canada came to explain themselves. The Auditor General is becoming anxious because the Liberal government is not budging. She has therefore instituted an annual report in which she has clearly indicated that there are still some shortcomings in situations that she has already been critical of.

A week or two ago, an action plan was presented for correcting the situation, but it was not made clear why.

On Friday, I had to laugh when the Minister of Justice announced major changes to the gun registry program, knowing that he is to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts this afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

This is some sort of marketing operation to stretch the truth and show that the Liberal government is taking action. However, the work of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts consists of asking questions and getting to the bottom of things. This afternoon, I am going to ask the Minister of Justice if he was aware of this mess. When officials are asked to appear before the committee, they are asked the same question.

At the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, I would expect there to be measures, deadlines and figures. But often officials respond with philosophy, big words, flowery explanations, and no measure, deadline or figure. They tell us, yes we will improve things, yes we will take steps, we will focus on this or that, but the result is always the same; nothing happens.

The Auditor General meets with us four times a year: three times with new chapters and one other time to tell us that things have not progressed in such and such a case. She does not shy away from issues, and now the general public is starting to take an interest in her work. From this side of the House, this is a slow and lengthy process and often, the truth is stretched and changes are not measurable, and the reports are forgotten.

I will provide one example, social insurance numbers. There were two subsequent reports, which again demonstrates a great action plan. I am anxious to see what the outcome will be in another year or two.

Meanwhile, the situation persists. As for the firearms issue, another $500 million has been announced. We do not know why it is costing $1 billion. The Minister of Justice tells us, “It is no longer my file. I will pass it over to the Solicitor General”. That is acting irresponsibly.

What has happened with that program? We are going to try to get to the bottom of it, but all we will get is one more manoeuvre with the excuse, “Yes, there was a problem; the computer system cost a lot. There have been some registrations and a few squabbles with the provinces”. Nevertheless, the Government of Canada has dropped a billion in funds into a project that was supposed to cost $2 million. Now we are up to $1 billion. These are issues the Auditor General continues to address.

In connection with Downsview Park, for example, she has told the government three times, “You committed $100 million to this without House of Commons authorization”. Those are $100 million non-accountable dollars. And the situation drags on. Three times already she has commented, “I trust that this will not happen again”.

With respect to Groupaction, three different reports said the same thing. The Auditor General denounces the situation. We are still waiting for the first report. And once again, there is much manoeuvring on the part of the Liberals to put the blame on officials. Officials are said to be doing a terrible job on certain issues since Groupaction, say the Liberals. Officials are providing information, as far as I can tell. But on that side of the House, they are continually engaging in political intrusion. That is where the administrative quagmire begins.

I consider that to restore credibility to what the Auditor General is doing, it is incumbent upon the government to take specific, timely action, not to wax philosophical and make statements about doing this, that or the other without taking any action. It is trying to allay the suspicions not only of this House, but also of the public and the media. Meanwhile, the Auditor General is holding her ground. She has received a mandate to provide clarification with respect to how the government operates.

In light of the fact that her predecessor's efforts were often misunderstood, the Auditor General introduced the status report. Once a year, she will come before the House and tell those whom it may concern, “Look, such and such issue has not yet been settled”. I would expect the federal government to quickly pass legislation and settle these issues.

At present, when the Auditor General submits her report, she raises issues like the gun registry. She raised the issue of social insurance numbers. And that of employment insurance as well. Yet, she has to raise the same issues again in her status report, to say that they have not been settled, that there has been no action.

In his recent budget, the current Minister of Finance suggested that measures will be taken to try to determine where the money in connection with the foundations went. We are talking about $7.1 billion that this government is removing from scrutiny by the House of Commons. We do not know where all this money went. The millennium scholarship foundation, for instance, said it could provide us with a list of individuals who were awarded scholarships and benefited from the foundation. But we do not know how much money was spent, if there are interests in this foundation, and how it is all administered. The government is unable to tell.

When these foundations were set up, in the days of the member for LaSalle—Émard, they were not controlled by the House of Commons. The Auditor General even told us last week that she had no idea how to go about checking on these foundations. If the board of directors decided to cooperate, Parliament would be provided with reports, but if it decided to withhold information, the House of Commons had no leverage to obtain it.

I think we need to take a serious look at the impact of the Auditor General's reports. In the House of Commons, we have to act quickly and ensure that issues criticized by the media do not drag on too long.

Two things will happen if we do not act: the media and the public will start to say that the Auditor General can cite cases and denounce them, but that it is becoming nothing more than a news story three times a year. There will be a few reactions in the House of Commons, and then everything will be passed on to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and we are all aware of the intricacies of that committee.

The other risk has to do with the accountability of parliamentarians in this House. If there is no follow up to the Auditor General's reports, then what? If we in this House are no longer accountable for the money spent in Canada, then what are we doing here?

Today, I think that the motion presented by my hon. colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party on the 2002 reports could go much further than it does. In fact, since I was elected in June 1997, I realize that the last two auditors general have made incredible progress in reporting to this Parliament on deficiencies and situations that are unacceptable, but often, too often, we await the reaction of the Liberal government.

So, if we want to maintain the Auditor General's credibility with the public and the media, if we also want Parliament to remain accountable to the entire administration about all moneys spent on behalf of taxpayers, then a change, a signal from the Canadian Liberal government, is needed to show that something is not right.

In terms of the foundations, $7.1 billion remains unaccounted for. There was the $1 billion spent on the firearms registry. There were the Employment Insurance Fund surpluses. How many times have we risen in this House to condemn this situation? Once again, in her April 2002 report, the Auditor General continued to point her finger at the Ministers of Finance and Human Resource Development for the surpluses. But nothing is happening.

We learned, when the budget was tabled, that possibly, if all went well, there would be a new reform in 2005. But, in the meantime, the meter is still running. The Employment Insurance Fund will continue to accumulate surpluses, to the continued disadvantage of those paying employment insurance.

I could go on at length. I would have liked this to be a votable motion, but we must follow the rules of this House. Once again, I think that the House of Commons is not only not taking into account the Auditor General's 2002 reports, but it is completely ignoring the work of the auditors. It is ignoring the Auditor General's periodic warnings. This House must show signs of change; otherwise we will be waiting for the Liberals during the next election campaign.

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12:50 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to participate in a discussion about the 2002 Auditor General's reports. It is a welcome recommendation by members of the Conservative Party that we devote some time today to the Auditor General's reports and talk about our need as members of Parliament to play a meaningful role in the scrutiny of public expenditures.

I was elected in 1997 and became the health critic for the New Democratic Party at that time. The very first lesson I learned in that role and in carrying out those responsibilities was in fact that there was within the Department of Health, and presumably across the board, a culture of deception and a culture of secrecy that clearly permeated the situation. We learned that quickly through trying to scrutinize government expenditures on a limited basis in that department and by responding to concerns of officials who felt the need to speak out and were hamstrung every step of the way in those efforts.

So I learned early on that the government has a very serious problem and that the Auditor General is playing an absolutely critically important role in exposing that culture of secrecy, that culture of deception, within the government and helping parliamentarians regain the necessary tools to do our jobs effectively.

It has been said by many today: thank God for the Auditor General. If it had not been for the Auditor General's reports over the last numerous years, but particularly the year in question, 2002, we as parliamentarians would be in the dark, without the information and the ammunition to be able to try to hold the government to account for its inappropriate administrative patterns and misuse of public expenditures.

The Auditor General has always played an important role in terms of Parliament, a role that is critical in terms of our ability to try to hold the government to account, but in fact in recent times it has become clear that the Auditor General plays a role that cannot be filled by any other aspect of our system, because the role that opposition members play in the House has been hamstrung and frustrated. There is no question about that. Through various techniques and manoeuvrings by the government of the day, the role of the opposition member has been greatly reduced and our ability to hold the government to account on basic matters of the expenditure of public funds has been greatly curtailed.

The government has developed many paths around access to information and has presented all kinds of obstacles to members every step of the way. When we look at what happens during question period and the kind of stonewalling that happens whenever we ask basic questions about government plans and about spending priorities, it is clearly an obvious example of the treatment by the government of the role of parliamentarians, particularly opposition members.

The 2002 Auditor General's reports made a very important contribution to this fundamental issue about the role of parliamentarians and the role of this place in terms of holding the government to account. Her report entitled “Placing the Public's Money Beyond Parliament's Reach” is important in that regard.

Many members have referenced her reports but I think we need to look at the broad issues with respect to accountability and with respect to the tools that the government uses to make it impossible for us to do our jobs.

It is critical that we recognize and give some attention to the fact that in 2002 the Auditor General clearly did indicate that the government has moved to ensure that substantial amounts of public money are transferred to foundations, which puts that money beyond the reach of Parliament and beyond our ability to scrutinize. That point has been raised today, and recently the Auditor General made a very clear statement at the public accounts committee indicating that this is an issue which has to be resolved and which requires a concerted effort on the part of members of Parliament to redress.

The Auditor General was very clear in her statement on February 12 when she said:

The federal government has “delegated” program responsibilities to certain foundations without making them appropriately accountable. Since 1996-97, it has transferred more than $7.4 billion to 10 foundations, money provided well in advance of program needs.

She referenced the prominent examples referred to in the House today: $3.15 billion in federal funds for the Canada Foundation for Innovation; the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Fund with $2.5 billion; and Canada Health Infoway Inc., with $500 million.

Madam Fraser went on to say:

At March 31, 2002, almost the entire amount that had been provided to the foundations was still in their bank accounts and investments. It will be years before the ultimate intended recipients--students, health care providers and others--receive the money.

This is an issue that speaks directly to the role of Parliament in holding the government to account for public expenditures and to one of the mechanisms which the government has implemented to ensure that we are kept in the dark and Canadians are not fully informed of the revenue available and the programs that are committed.

That is clearly an issue that must be brought into focus today and must be dealt with through this debate. The more we can give public attention and parliamentary focus to this kind of accounting practice, the more we in fact can overcome this kind of method on the part of the government which hides and confuses the situation.

The opposition role clearly has been hurt and hamstrung by the fact that it is almost impossible to have a serious discussion of the estimates of a department at the appropriate committee. My own experience has been that in the standing committee pertaining to health, it is next to impossible to be able to have a serious, in depth look at the expenditures of that department on a line by line basis. If we are lucky, and if the committee members and the opposition put enough pressure on the committee as a whole, we will have the minister before the committee and have about an hour to discuss millions and millions of dollars being expended in terms of health care. It is hardly an appropriate way to account for public expenditures and as a result the House proceeds without the benefit of an in depth look by members of Parliament who have experience and interest in an area like health care.

It is interesting to note that it always takes a fight to get something as basic as estimates dealt with on an in depth basis. Why should it take a motion on the part of committee members to have the estimates dealt with in a serious way at the committee? Why does it take a motion that must be voted on by members of the committee to have the minister appear before the committee so that we can question him or her and the priorities of that department? Why does it take a motion to have the reports of the Auditor General pertaining to that particular committee presented in order to have the issues dealt with?

Are these not basic aspects of the role of parliamentarians and the role of the standing committees in terms of accountability? It is baffling to me, and to so many others in the House, that we continue to have this battle day in and day out. Why is it not automatic and why are steps not taken to ensure that we as members of Parliament have the tools necessary to scrutinize the government? Why are we continually having to fight just to be able to access the basic methods for scrutiny of government expenditures?

Here we are today, as a result of years of what I would characterize as deceit and secrecy, discussing the Auditor General's reports, which are very significant from that particular vantage point. The gun registry has certainly become a symbol of that kind of arrogance and maladministration on the part of the government. The Auditor General was very clear in her December 2002 report entitled “Matters of Special Importance”. She said about the gun registry program:

The issue here is not gun control. And it's not even astronomical cost overruns, although those are serious. What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark.

Parliament was manipulated by the costs, $1 billion by the year 2004-05, coming in under supplementary estimates with no mention of that in the performance report. That is the real issue at hand today. How was it that parliamentarians were not given the information they needed to scrutinize this program in detail? How did it come to be that members of Parliament were kept “in the dark” about expenditures with respect to this particular program? How did we end up today with the $1 billion scandal, the $1 billion overrun?

Mr. Speaker, how do we get control of that situation so that members of Parliament are informed along the way and so that we can in fact pursue the issues and try to bring the government to its senses with respect to the fiscal mismanagement problems it clearly has?

The gun registry was just one of the many issues raised by the Auditor General in her 2002 reports. I want to touch on a couple of issues that often get sidelined in the midst of this $1 billion fiasco, which of course we need to focus on because it is such a glaring example of what is wrong with the government's accounting practices and of the trust that is placed in Parliament and parliamentarians.

If it had not been for the Auditor General's 2002 report, Canadians would not have become aware that the problem with social insurance numbers had not been resolved. We would not have been aware that there are roughly five million more social insurance numbers circulating than there are Canadians. We would not have been aware that the resources are still insufficient to follow through on information checks, that usage is still inappropriate even within government departments, and that fraud continues to run rampant without us really knowing the extent. That is one issue.

Let me go to another area, which has to do with health care, because I think that in the year in question the Auditor General made two very important reports pertaining to health care. They shed light on how the federal Government of Canada can play a role in sustaining our health care system and pursuing a cost effective approach to a system that many would say will not be affordable in the future.

Let me use the example of the Auditor General's report with respect to disease surveillance. For the benefit of members, let me point out that it was chapter 2 in her report. Sheila Fraser said the following:

The risks that poor health surveillance creates are very real: preventable illnesses may not be prevented, approaches to treating disease may not be as effective as they could be, and government funding may be directed at the wrong issues.

She basically said that in this area, which falls directly under federal jurisdiction, the Government of Canada was failing its citizens. It has failed to adequately track diseases making it difficult to design effective prevention and treatment programs.

Here we have a basic tool, a basic aspect of public policy decision-making, that being the surveillance of the incidents of disease in this country, and the government of the day cannot find the wherewithal, the means or the leadership to track the rates of disease, the methods of disease prevention and the alternatives in terms of treatments and interventions.

When we have breast cancer killing so many women every year why is it that the government cannot track the interventions that make a difference and advise Canadian women about those interventions and those alternatives? When it comes to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and mental illness why do we not have a tracking system that encompasses the nation and ensures that information is available to everyone about such serious matters?

It does not take a rocket scientist to know that if the federal government could do that, we could be looking at tremendous cost savings in the future because we have engaged at a preventative level, we have taken on these issues from the point of view of holistic health care and we have made every effort to address prevention and promotion as part of our health care system.

Another very interesting report by the Auditor General in 2002, which may come as a surprise to members, concerned health care and the enforcement of the Canada Health Act. In that report the Auditor General repeated her concerns that the government did not seem to know what money was going to health care and did not have the mechanisms in place to ensure that the money as committed was spent on the appropriate programs and that provincial governments were in full compliance with the Canada Health Act.

It is interesting that despite all the pronouncements in all of the reports we are still a long way from that kind of accountability and that kind of national system of surveillance of our basic health care system.

I know some of those issues were addressed in the last budget. We eventually will see a move from the Canada health and social transfer to the Canada health transfer, which will provide a measure of accountability and ensure that funds flowing from the federal government to provincial governments will be directed toward provincial health care systems.

However there are still no guarantees that the money allotted to provinces in terms of medical equipment and diagnostic services will be targeted and directed in terms of the non-profit health care delivery system. There has been no attempt on the part of the government to ensure that the new funding arrangements as announced in the budget will live up to the basic principles outlined by Roy Romanow in terms of accountability and in terms of ensuring a non-profit health care delivery system.

There are many other issues we could mention today. Needless to say, the issue at hand is one of accountability and about ensuring that parliamentarians have the mechanisms and the tools they need to keep a check on government spending and to do what the public expects us to do, which is to ensure that the money set out in the budget will be spent on the designated items and that there will be honesty and integrity in terms of government expenditures so that no one gets a sense of waste, mismanagement, unscrupulous behaviour, fraudulent activity or any sense that things are being kept in secret, out of sight and out of mind.

Our job today is to remind the government that we as parliamentarians need the tools to do the job and that this whole era of fiscal mismanagement and operating behind closed doors, out of the scrutiny of the public and Parliament, must end and it must end soon.

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1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speaker from the NDP with interest. As usual, she is worth listening to because she speaks from the heart in a lot of cases. Her concern about health care, which she has expressed many times in the House as she always finds a way to talk about health in her speeches, was extremely appropriate at this time.

I will glance over the fact that we need to have an accountable system and stay strictly to the point of the waste that has been identified by the Auditor General, including the billion dollar fiasco in the gun registry, and the Auditor General's question about the need to have a $40 billion surplus in the EI fund.

From my own point of view, if we had known from the beginning that this was happening we could have prevented it. The biggest point the Auditor General made was that Parliament was kept in the dark while this was being done. If Parliament had known what was going on, as it should have if a proper accounting system had been in place, this waste would not have occurred. If the minister and his people could defend their estimates and their estimates could be scrutinized, this waste would not have occurred.

With the billion dollars wasted on the gun registry and the built up EI surplus for no apparent reason other than to pad government coffers, does the member not think this funding could be more properly targeted if we knew what was going on within the government?

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1:10 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member makes an important point about the way in which the government has played a shell game. Whether we are talking about the EI surplus, the fiasco with the gun registry or the broader issue of the unaccounted surplus dollars in general, the real scandal in terms of the federal government's accounting practices is the lowballing of surplus dollars available to it.

For the last three years the government estimated that its surplus would be $7.5 billion. It turned out to be $39.5 billion. The estimate was out by $34 billion. How did that happen? What is the government's purpose in engaging in this kind of shell game, this lowballing exercise?

What it does is it gives the government a way to accomplish its objectives around debt reduction without being upfront and clear with Canadians. The Auditor General addressed that point when she said that the government could not make the statement that it was a normal practice to put all surplus dollars against the debt. She was addressing the kind of shell game that the government has been playing.

With respect to the gun registry, I am looking forward to another indepth review of the gun registry at the public accounts committee this afternoon. I find it interesting that the government in the last little while has made three different statements to the House about the gun registry program. The government clearly is on the defensive, scrambling to address the concerns of the Auditor General and leaving many questions about how we ended up in this state of fiscal mismanagement.

As a committee we have to look very carefully at the information provided by the Auditor General and the government, and we need to make a decision based on those findings. The government is presenting us with a damage report more than it is with a full and open accounting of a public policy option or a program that needs to be weighed in terms of pros and cons.

I look forward to the discussions later today and in the days ahead to make those kinds of a decisions with my colleagues. How do we address the issue of this overexpenditure in one area with surpluses in other areas? How do we get the government to give parliamentarians the tools and Canadians the choices in terms of our public revenues?

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1:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have had the feeling over the last while that the government somehow has been trying to lead the public to believe that it is because of its hard work and tight budgeting practices that it has saved all this money for Canadians, and that it now has this wonderful amount of money waiting to be spent on the debt or whatever it chooses, such as some extra advertising with Groupaction or wherever.

In reality, it is hard to imagine, as the member was indicating, a $30 billion surplus that was unexpected.

I wonder whether the member has thought of how Canadians see a government that somehow does not realize there will be $30 billion extra. How does she think Canadians feel about a government taking an extra $30 billion from them and not putting it into health care, into infrastructure, into security practices, pharmacare, daycare programs and numerous other programs that Canadians have been asking for more dollars to be going into? Rather, the government just talks about all the hard work it has done and how big the surplus is.

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1:15 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my colleague. This is an important issue for Canadians because we know that if there are surplus revenues today, it is as a result of Canadians paying for those revenues over the last number of years because of Liberal cutbacks and mismanagement of public dollars.

If we look at the last 10 years in terms of unaccounted for surpluses, the government was out by $80 billion. Where did that money come from? It clearly came from a decade of cuts beginning with the former minister of finance hacking and slashing our health, education and social programs back in 1995-96. Let us not forget that the government, and that particular member of Parliament, was the architect of the dismantling of our social programs. It took over $6 billion out of our health and education transfer system in one fell swoop, the biggest bite out of social programs in the history of this country.

Canadians have paid for that over the last decade and we continue to pay for it today. Canadians feel despair, disappointment and anger at a government that has not been honest and forthright about its spending priorities, about its surpluses, and about who actually took the hit in order for a government to be in this surplus position today. What is called for is complete honesty on the part of the government about its surpluses so that Canadians can make real choices and so that we as parliamentarians can play our proper role in terms of scrutiny and accountability.