Mr. Speaker, I would be only too delighted to let the member continue because, as I said before, usually her speech is well worth listening to, which is more than I can say for a lot of my other colleagues and perhaps myself occasionally.
Earlier this morning, when the first government speaker rose on the motion, she asked why would something like this be brought in for debate. As the day unfolds the answer is becoming quite clear. It gives a number of people in the House the chance to point out to government that it is not doing what it prides itself in saying it does and wants to do; that is, to be accountable and transparent.
There is no way that government could be more transparent and accountable than to defend in this chamber the dollars that are spent by government. That is not being done.
The motion today is broad enough to interest various members in different perspectives of the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General did not just come out and say that government does not report to the House as it should. She went through department after department, agency after agency, and in practically all of them found just cause to raise extremely important concerns.
It comes back to what I said in the beginning. The Auditor General points out clearly that the government is not accountable to Parliament. If the government is not accountable to Parliament it is not accountable to the people of Canada. The members of this august chamber represent, from coast to coast to coast, the people of this great country who sent us here to represent them. It is through us that government accounts for the dollars which it takes out of all our pockets.
It is not money printed at the Canadian mint just down the road that government spends; it is not its money which it does not have to tell anybody about. That is not the way it operates, as we well know. The money that the government spends is the money that the people of Canada gave it to spend properly on the things that they need and that the country needs to become, as we should be, the greatest country in the world.
However, the government, through mismanagement, by being uncaring, by not being prudent, by looking after its friends, and I could go on, is not spending in accordance to the rules and regulations which govern the accountability of the government.
The government should be accountable to this House. That is why, as different members stand to speak, they make it quite clear that the various ministers who administer large budgets should defend their expenditures in this chamber. If it is impossible to cover all departments and all aspects of expenditure, then certainly the expenditures could be closely scrutinized in committee.
If we do not have the opportunity to scrutinize and to question, then the minister, and government generally, does not have to worry about responding, and that is what has happened over the last number of years.
We can go back a couple of years to the horrendous waste that we saw in the public works department. We saw contract after contract being issued to friends of the ministers involved. We saw contracts being issued which were never worked upon and reports that were supposed to be done that were never completed, yet agencies got paid. The biggest ripoff was through the different aspects of advertising that the government was involved in.
If we look at the billion dollar cost of the gun registry and if the expenditure in relation to that agency was scrutinized closely, how much of it was spent on advertising the registry and trying to sell it or perhaps I should say ram it down the throats of the people of Canada? I think we would find that again a lot of the money was spent on giving friends of government the opportunity to try to convince the people of Canada that this was good for them.
This is extremely serious. Would this type of thing happen, if the minister involved and government generally had to defend these contracts and procedures in front of the House and then through the House and through the press, defend how they spent the money to the people of Canada?The answer is no, it would not happen. It happened and continues to happen because government and ministers therein, behind the backs of parliamentarians and the people of Canada who give them the money in trust to spend, go off and do what they like without being accountable to anybody.
This basically is what the Auditor General is saying, that the government cannot and should not keep such expenditures from Parliament. Parliament should not be kept in the dark in relation to government expenditures.
I will come back a little later to the gun registry but there are other departments. We see attention being drawn to the surplus in the EI fund. The Auditor General questions whether we need a surplus of $40 million. The answer is no we do not. We need some surplus. With a downturn in the economy, if a lot of working people end up being laid off at any one time, then undoubtedly we need a cushion. However it does not need to be one of that magnitude.
Could that money be used or should it be used elsewhere? The answer is, certainly. People contribute to the fund. It is not like it goes into the general consolidated revenue fund. This is a specific fund paid into by employers and employees for the benefit of the people involved within these various employment agencies. If we could have enough money to operate the fund and if we could have a reasonable surplus with smaller premiums, would that not be the way to go?
Government will come back now and say that it reduced premiums in the budget last week. It did by 10¢ or whatever the case may be. At least it is going in the right direction. As we all know, the premiums could have been reduced much more. This would have been of some benefit to the employee, particularly the small business person who pays heavy EI premiums when it is not necessary. However because the fund is there and because it is really owned by a certain segment of society rather than by society generally, maybe we should look at spending some of that within the spectrum of the contributors.
We have in the workforce today a tremendous number of people who could do better than they are. I do not mean in relation to the hours of work or the effort. I am talking about the fact that many people in our workforce have not had the chance, through education and training, to reach their potential.
It is amazing to see how difficult it is for some people, who want to get ahead by becoming better educated or trained so they can move up the ladder, to get funding for training through government assistance programs. There is such a bureaucracy set up within Human Resources Development Canada that everyone, even the workers on the frontlines, are completely and utterly frustrated. Let me provide a couple of examples of things that are happening in rural Canada.
It is probably worse in the larger urban centres because I find everything is very impersonal in those centres. A person picks a number, gets in a line up and somewhere along the line that individual gets some attention. In the smaller rural areas through outreach offices, et cetera, quite often the people involved know those who come in looking for assistance. They bend over backward where they can, depending on the regulations under which they operate, to help these people.
I have a couple of examples. First, I will refer to when the HRDC outreach offices were set up in Newfoundland, and undoubtedly offices were set up throughout the country. However I will only speak of Newfoundland. When the moratorium was imposed on the fishery, many parts of rural Newfoundland were hurting. Thousands and thousands of people were put out of work, work that they had participated in for a lifetime. Their parents, grandparents and great grandparents had also participated in this type of work as far back as the 1500s and 1600s.
Many of these people grew up in small communities knowing that employment was there for them whenever they wanted to start. Some started at a very early age. Older people will say, “When I was nine years of age, I went to work on a boat”. Others will say, “When I was 15 years of age, I went to work in the fish plant”. In recent years it depended perhaps on when a person could leave school because the regulations changed and one had to be a certain age before leaving school. I think it was around 15 years of age.
Some people at 15 did not want to go somewhere else to work and did not want to earn a degree. A lot of people asked themselves why they would want to spend four years obtaining a degree to find out that they could not find work. They could leave school not only four years earlier, perhaps even six years earlier, before they finished high school. They could work in the fish plant next door. It was unionized, provided work for 52 weeks a year and paid better wages than what any of their graduating friends received. People made that choice and stayed in Newfoundland, went to work, raised their families, built houses on their land and paid very little taxes. It was a pretty good life. However when the resource disappeared, their jobs disappeared.
They had two choices. One was to go somewhere else to work with the qualifications they had. Many of them had little experience, except for direct work in the fishery. They lacked the education upon which to build. Some still made that choice and went away to work in the meat packing plants or in the car factories. However many others decided to re-educate themselves, and many of them have done very well. There are some tremendous success stories not just on how they improved their own standing in life and how they obtained better jobs or whatever, but the self-worth that came with that and the assistance to their families. I could go on and on.
These people were assisted by workers in outreach offices set up by HRDC, which did a great job. What is HRDC doing now since it has a $40 million surplus? Is it expanding upon this great move it once made? Is it helping more people? Is it encouraging more people to retrain and get into the workforce to make life better for themselves, families, communities and consequently the country because they become contributors to the system rather than take from it? No, it is cutting back. It is reducing the hours. It is shaking its fingers at some of the outreach officers because they go above and beyond their counselling practices. They are not supposed to help people fill out applications or look for funding projects and so on. That is not their job. They are only there to counsel.
In the rural areas these outreach officers did a tremendous job. They provided a great services to the communities which surrounded the offices. They helped a number of people by going above and beyond perhaps what the direct guidelines requested. The bureaucrats stepped in and told them they could not do that, they could not help people. Their hours were cut. If they were working 40 hours a week, the department figured for 10 or 12 hours during that week the officers were doing things they should not be doing. They were not supposed to help people that way. Therefore their hours were cut. They now work four days a week instead of five. That is one thing that was done to recognize that $40 billion surplus.
What else did the government do? Perhaps we should look at the people who wanted to become further educated. They could go to their outreach office, sit down with a counsellor, discuss their situation with somebody who recognized their strengths and weaknesses and who probably knew the family background and the challenges they faced. This person would be somebody with which people felt at ease.
Many people are shy and they do not want to go to the big city, sit down with strangers and discuss their plans. In fact, they will not do it. However they will go to the local office, sit down and discuss their plans. The local counsellors had the power to assess the potential of individuals and approve funding for training programs or upgrading programs at whichever institution was practical, viable and within a certain price range. Things went very well. In fact it was going so well that the department again sent in its bureaucrats.
The big question here is from where does all this originate? Giving credit where credit is due, I do not think the minister sits up all night trying to complicate things at the local offices. I am sure people who work at the local offices and who do such a good job do not stay up all night trying to complicate things for themselves. Because they are dedicated individuals, they will not complicate things for their clients, so where is this happening?
I would suggest it is probably happening in related fields in other departments. Somewhere in between we have a bunch of middle management bureaucrats who want to protect their own positions. They tell the minister that there is a lot administrative work to be done, speaking of the gun registry, that it is a complicated system and that they need more people and more money. The bottom line is fewer results.
What these people decided to do, rather than let the simple process of the local office dealing with its clients, was to tell clients that they could go in and talk to counsellors in their local offices but then they would have to go to the central office in the city to get their funding. That delayed and complicated things. No longer did the local official, who had done such a great job and had so many success stories, call the shots. The client had to go on to the city. Then it was made even more complicated. Individuals had to get appointments first with their local offices in order to see the people in the city to talk about money. Then they would be referred back to the local offices where the deals would finalized.
That should not happen. The Auditor General talks about that. It would not be happen, if the government were more accountable in the House.