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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.

Topics

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3:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. I have listened all morning to members speak about the gun registry. I must go to the public accounts committee in 20 minutes which will be dealing with guns, the Auditor General, et cetera. Therefore, I will speak about chapter 2 of the Auditor General's report, not chapter 10. Chapter 2 concerns Health Canada and national health surveillance activities. I suggest that it will be more interesting than gun control.

Overall, this chapter acknowledges the progress made in a number of important areas over the last three years. The Auditor General found that Health Canada had improved disease surveillance in a number of areas including HIV, food-borne and water-borne diseases and influenza.

I will first give a little background on surveillance. Health surveillance is the collection of information generated by the health care system, an analysis of that information to determine trends in diseases or causes of disease across time and place, and to forecast what may happen in the future. We can think of Walkerton, labelling on food containers, and a number of other things.

This information can be used in the short term perhaps to recall a food product or drug or, in the longer term, perhaps to plan health care programs to meet the needs of the future. Surveillance may also give clues concerning the nature and causes of diseases--ideas which can be investigated further by health research.

The vital importance of health surveillance in providing the information needed by public health professionals and decision-makers is readily apparent. It provides much of the information needed to inform policy decisions, to plan health programs, and to take regulatory action to manage risks and protect the health of Canadians.

This is not something that the public necessarily sees every day and it is perhaps something that we may sometimes be tempted to take for granted, but a moment's thought will reveal just how important this role is.

Canadians rightly expect that governments are standing on guard to preserve their health and the government takes that responsibility very seriously. Not only does Health Canada maintain national surveillance in a wide range of infectious diseases such as meningitis, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, food and water-borne infections, as in Walkerton, but it also stands ready to monitor new threats as they emerge.

For example, it has initiated surveillance of West Nile virus and new variant CJD or mad cow disease, and continues to monitor the growth of the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.

Health Canada also monitors the safety of regulated products including drugs and vaccines, as well as injuries which require care in hospital emergency departments. There is also considerable effort spent in the surveillance of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The list of conditions under surveillance also includes child abuse and neglect.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House that since 2000 Health Canada has created a single focal point to help advance its work in health surveillance which is the centre for surveillance coordination. The centre is a national centre of leadership, expertise and excellence in health surveillance. Working with others in Health Canada it ensures the coordination of national surveillance that allows it to gather and share information more efficiently with our partners including the provinces and territories. The centre for surveillance coordination, in collaboration with public health stakeholders, aims to increase the capacity of public health professionals and decision-makers across Canada to better protect the health of Canadians.

National health surveillance is a shared activity. Health Canada works in partnership with the provinces and territories as well as other partners such as voluntary agencies, professional associations and universities on national health surveillance issues.

Health Canada is proud of the work that it is doing with the provinces and territories on national health surveillance and will continue to work with them to enhance surveillance systems which are constantly evolving.

An excellent example of this work is the Canadian integrated public health surveillance system or CIPHS, which has been developed by Health Canada in collaboration with the British Columbia centre for disease control and now being piloted or scheduled to be piloted in no fewer than nine provinces and territories. It would drastically improve the speed and ease of the surveillance of infectious diseases by linking laboratories and front line public health workers at local, provincial, territorial and national levels. In her report, the Auditor General recognized the contribution that the Canadian integrated public health surveillance system would make to the surveillance of infectious diseases.

Another example of the innovative work being done in Health Canada is the global public health intelligence network or GPHIN. This system scans news sources for reports of disease outbreaks and collates and transmits them to public health officials. This not only gives us information on health threats which may be imported into Canada or pose a threat to Canadians abroad, but it is also a significant Canadian contribution to the work of the World Health Organization.

I want to assure the House that we have taken the recommendations made by the Auditor General seriously. A national approach to health surveillance that will ensure that weaknesses and gaps in health surveillance are addressed is set out in a document entitled “Canadian Health Infostructure Health Surveillance Tactical Plan”.

We will continue to work with the provinces and territories to obtain further agreements on the sharing of disease information including agreement on data collection, data dissemination, data standards, and the list of diseases that should be reported nationally, as well as developing an evaluation framework.

Finally, Health Canada is developing a distance learning approach to help its partners increase their skills in the scientific disciplines necessary for the operation of surveillance systems. We will continue to enhance current surveillance of communicable diseases, with emphasis on specific diseases such as HIV, enteric diseases, sexually transmitted infections, blood-borne pathogens and vaccine preventable diseases.

To illustrate how this commitment continues, let me point out that the recent federal budget provided funding for a national immunization strategy and that this included continuing work on the surveillance of vaccine coverage, vaccine preventable diseases and vaccine side-effects.

We have surveillance systems for chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes at various levels of maturity and in collaboration with the provinces and territories, and others, we will continue to work addressing specific gaps such as cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease.

As an example of federal, provincial and territorial collaboration deputy ministers of health have asked for a task force on the surveillance of chronic disease risk factors and Health Canada will be participating fully with its provincial and territorial partners in strengthening the surveillance of chronic disease.

In summary, we have here an issue of the utmost importance to the health of Canadians. The Government of Canada is playing a leadership role in ensuring that governments across Canada improve their ability to track and monitor diseases and to have the information they need about emerging threats to health.

This is a considerable challenge at the technical level but there is a commitment to a collaborative approach to strengthening our capacity to gather the information needed to protect the health of Canadians. The Auditor General has recognized the progress we have made, with HIV-AIDS, diabetes and others, and there are other enhancements under development.

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3:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member's comments and sadly could find no connection whatsoever with the subject matter before the House. I have great respect for the member and I know that he comes from a part of the country that is extremely concerned, in particular about government waste and accountability.

Among other things, the Auditor General's report said it was inexcusable that Parliament was kept “in the dark” over the blatant waste and mismanagement of the gun registry. I want to ask the hon. member, having put so much emphasis on the issue of health, would he not agree that the $1 billion and the further money that is being plugged disingenuously into the system would be much better spent doing the types of things he just outlined? Does he not agree that the money could be spent in a way that would effectively protect Canadians' health, that would in fact enhance people's current health, rather than a gun registry that has no connection to public safety whatsoever, none?

We know that criminals will not participate. We know that it is of no assistance. We know that it was presented to the Canadian people in an extremely disingenuous way because the costs have ballooned out of control. I know that the hon. member is a very common sense gentleman. I know that he does listen to his constituents. Would he not agree that the $1 billion spent on the gun registry, like the $1 billion that it cost to cancel the helicopter program, like the $1 billion that went unaccounted for in HRDC, like the other hundreds of millions of dollars spent in advertising contracts for work that was not done, is what the Auditor General was talking about?

Does the hon. member not see the connection in what the Auditor General, his constituents and all Canadians are telling him, which is that his government's priorities are completely out of whack? Would he not agree that the money being spent is not having an effect on public safety, that it could be better spent on programs and health like he suggested? Would he not agree that this is a common sense change that might occur?

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague asks an interesting question following my speech. I am quite aware of everything he talks about. I am also quite aware, because we heard speeches this morning, and my hon. friend might have heard them too, which pointed out that death by long guns has now become less prevalent than death by handguns and that 2,000 hits a day on the computer system come from police forces.

There is a lot of good common sense safety involved in the gun bill, and I do not want to go through all that. I went through the gun bill trials too; I stood in the street with the then minister of justice and had 300 angry farmers tell us about things.

The registry will be improved. In about two minutes I will be going to find out all about what the Auditor General wishes us to do.

I will agree with my hon. friend that the value has to be obtained and that it would appear that in the gun registry we did not obtain the value that we should have for our money. I would suggest, however, that health care is a place where the hon. member would agree with me that the government is trying very hard and, it would appear, having some success with the participating provinces and territories in achieving something. It is the envy of the world now and I hope we will keep it that way.

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3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, following up on my colleague's question, the question from the Progressive Conservatives, I think I heard the hon. member correctly state that he did agree with the Progressive Conservative member in the sense that the government did not get value for the dollars invested. I do not think that is an earth shattering statement, because I think everybody in Canada knows by now that the $1 billion was just wasted on this senseless registry, this supernova list that the federal Liberals have come up with. I wonder if he would take that next step, which is to address the real question my colleague asked. Having said that, would he now admit that the money would be better spent, along with the money that the government will continue to pour down the drain into the registry, on health care and other priorities of Canadians?

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February 24th, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, my answer to that is no. I think that obviously there would appear to have been money not misspent, not mishandled, but mistakes obviously were made in the difficulty that was demanded or in the kinds of parameters people were working with in the gun registry. I will hear about that in a few minutes. Again, I have heard about it before, but no, on health, gun registration, licences for guns and the safety of people are important as well. Sure, it would have been better to have spent those dollars that we may find have not been too well administered and to have put them into health care. Sure, that would make sense. I would have to know better than I know now, though, how much it might be.

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3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

It is a pleasure to rise and address this issue today, to consider the Auditor General's reports from the year 2002. It was a fruitful year for the Auditor General, which means a bad year for Canadians. We have just heard from a member from across the way, from the Liberal side, who was talking a little bit about some of the flaws that we all know exist, for instance in the firearms registry. I want to talk about that in a moment, but I do want to underline why it is important that we talk about these issues.

I believe, and I think many Canadians believe, that this government has not been a good steward of our money, which is why we have taxes that are much higher than necessary. I want to underline how important it is to get rid of waste in government by adhering to what the Auditor General says and just by using common sense, by pointing out the impact it could have on the ability of people to look after their families, to buy clothes for their kids, buy school books, pay the dental bills and buy prescriptions, all these things, if we are able to rein in wasteful spending.

Consider, Mr. Speaker, in Canada today the average family pays about 40% of its income in taxes. On an average annual family income of $60,000, that is about $24,000 in taxes. Now consider if we were able to drop our tax rates down to the equivalent of those in the United States, down to about 30%. That would be a saving of about $6,000 a year. Over the course of 10 years, that is $60,000 that we could save a family, $60,000 if we could lower the waste in government and start to leave that money in the pockets of families.

Every time I come in here I notice the relief on the wall of the Chamber of the House of Commons in which there is a father, a mother and a child. Over the top of it is the word tax and, en français, impôt. The point I am trying to make is that we need to be respectful of taxpayers' money and too often this place does completely the opposite. I get so angry when I see the complete disregard for taxpayers, for instance on the firearms registry.

That registry was supposed to cost taxpayers net $2 million. It is now approaching $1 billion and apparently it is going to go to $1.5 billion, by the government's own admission, before the thing is fully implemented. We think even that number is flawed. It could go much higher. This is so common. It happens all the time. All the time, and every department is guilty of this, and the Auditor General's report is full of examples.

I have mentioned the firearms registry, and we will hear more about the firearms registry today, I can guarantee it, because it is so blatant, that wanton disregard for taxpayers' money. There are many other examples. One of the examples that I think has had short shrift is how the government hid previous surpluses in private foundations.

The Auditor General, who does an outstanding job on behalf of taxpayers, and I admire her and her office very much for what they do, pointed to the fact that these private foundations are essentially off the books. The government will have a big surplus at the end of the year and will do all kinds of very funny, tricky transactions to essentially hide the surplus, to spend the surplus so that it did not have to in this case pay down the debt, because under the old rules that it set for itself, the money was supposed to go to pay down debt.

That would have been a good use of that money, but instead the government put it into these foundations. The problem with that is that these foundations are completely unaccountable to taxpayers. As a member of a committee, one cannot have access to find out what really is going on there. The Auditor General could not audit some of these foundations. She brought down in her report a lot of criticism, concerns and recommendations with respect to these private foundations. She asked the Treasury Board to come up with some rules so that they could actually be regulated. We are talking about a lot of money in many cases. For instance, $300 million is going into Genome Canada, off the books in a place where parliamentarians cannot scrutinize that spending. Another example is the $500 million to Canada Health Infoway Inc.

Why is the government hiding this from the eyes of parliamentarians? I do not understand it. There are many other examples, such as advertising contracts. This is completely scandalous.

For weeks on end, our party criticized the government over its use of contracts to put money into the hands of political supporters, advertising contacts. We raked the government over the coals. Finally it had to yield and sent this off to the Auditor General so she could have a look at it. At some point, hopefully in the not too distant future, she will have a very comprehensive report on how this was done and its impact. Pretty clearly this was a misuse of taxpayer money.

We all know people who work not 40 hours a week but 50, 60 or 70 hours a week to support their families and they pay huge amounts of taxes to do that. Where does that money go? Unfortunately, in many cases it is not used for what it should be used, which is to provide more opportunities for Canadians, to build an environment where more jobs are created, to have modest but sustainable and good social programs and to have a strong national defence. Instead it is very often spent on things that are frivolous, or on things that are well-intentioned but do not meet their objectives and or on things that are blatantly wasteful. That has to end. We have to find a way to rein in the government.

I want to make a suggestion along these lines. At one time Parliament used to review the main estimates line by line and vote line by line on whether an expenditure was warranted. We need to return to that type of system so we can get rid of some of the waste and frivolous spending in which this government majors.

If members think I am kidding, I want them to refer to this past budget, where we saw spending leap through the roof. We are seeing spending go up year after year. Since 1997, program spending by the government has risen 45%. That is chilling. We just barely got out of deficits. We carry a $536 billion debt. We have taxes that consume 40% of people's paycheques. Those are the priorities. What does the government do? It decides to drive up spending at a time when spending is already at all time record highs on a per capita basis in Canada. That cannot be justified.

I would argue that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have spent like this to try vainly to establish a legacy for the Prime Minister and to try to tie the hands of his successor, in all likelihood the former finance minister, so he will not have the room to put his imprint on government. There is no justification for that. This is taxpayer money. It is completely irresponsible to behave in that manner.

I will conclude by saying it is time for the government to take seriously the spending of taxpayer money, to treat that money with some respect and not to wave it off every time another scandal is revealed. There have been so many in the time I have been here it is almost impossible to keep up with them. Suffice it to say, it is no joke to taxpayers back home who struggle very hard every day to make a living and to support their families. They do not laugh very hard when they find another $100 million has been blown, or $1 billion wasted there, or whatever it is. There are just so many examples.

I would urge members across the way to take this issue seriously and to embrace some of the suggestions of the Auditor General and members of the opposition when it comes to the judicious use of taxpayer money.

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3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his intervention on this opposition day. I must admit I have heard the same kinds of allegations about mismanagement or misuse of funds in a variety of areas. It is important that not only do we look at what the allegation is at the outset, when it comes forward, but at the aftermath, after all is sorted out and all is done. It is important to finish the story.

With regard to the HRDC program, the member will well know that it was a billion dollar program to promote HRDC objectives. There were some contracts, et cetera, which came out and there were suggested overpayments. Even on that one alone, I was told by the minister directly that after all was said and done there were prosecutions and the amount of money actually lost was very little.

In this regard, is the member aware of what in fact the ultimate outcome was of the HRDC incident?

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3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know one of the outcomes was that the confidence of the public was completely shaken in the ability of the government to handle its money because there never was a full accounting of where that billion dollars went. We have asked over and over again for the minister to fulfill her commitment, which was to put on the HRDC website a list of where all that money went. It has never been fulfilled.

Speaking of Human Resources Development Canada, my friend asked me what the outcome was. Five years ago Human Resources Development Canada was the subject of an audit with respect to social insurance numbers. Today we are still battling to have the Human Resources Development Department account for five million extra social insurance numbers over and above the population of Canada. That is five years later. We had officials before us who told us that they were not allocated the necessary funds to go ahead and deal with that problem

In return, how seriously does the government take these condemnations that come from the Auditor General? Not very.

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3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think one has to be a rocket scientist to realize the amount of waste that has gone on in the government over the past 10 years, and even in previous governments. It has just been horrendous.

I come from a rural riding and I have approximately 16 RCMP detachments in that riding. I have also ridden around with a number of policemen in Calgary and other cities. I cannot find anyone on the ground level who has indicated that spending this money on the registry is worth one ounce of good to them.

For example, in the cities when officers go to a domestic dispute, they assume there is a gun there. They do not care what any registry tells them or does not tell them, they will not go in there blind. They absolutely assume that there is a gun. The registry is not helpful, it is a waste. They all believe that. I cannot find one officer at the ground level who agrees with the registry.

However, I can agree with them when they tell me that they are very short of men and equipment. They would love to have a national strategy on child pornography, but they cannot get these things because of this waste.

Does he find it the same in his riding?

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3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I can confirm exactly what my friend has just said. As members of Parliament, I am sure we all speak to police officers, people at the frontline enforcing our laws in Canada. I can literally say I have not met one police officer, out of the dozens and dozens I have talked to, who has said the national firearms registry is a good idea.

They would much rather see the money devoted to improving CPIC. They would much rather see the money devoted to having not just future sex offenders but all sex offenders listed on a national sex offender registry. That is where the money should be spent: more cops on the beat, more resources for police that make a difference, not on a bureaucratic boondoggle that costs taxpayers a billion dollars for no value at all.

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3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will follow up on what the member for Medicine Hat just said, although I would like to commend my colleagues from the Progressive Conservative Party for bringing this matter before the House.

The member for Medicine Hat talked about accountability. I wish that I had unlimited speaking time because I could be here for a week talking about the different departments and the lack of accountability.

I hear some ministers heckling, and they are in charge of those departments. I could go on and on. The saddest part of all this is that this type of behaviour by the government and all the departments is not the exception, it is the norm. That is what this has become. That is the scary part.

I will focus my comments on three areas because I could go on for many but I only have 10 minutes. I will talk about the Human Resources Development Canada, the military and the gun registry.

Let us talk about HRDC. In 1994 the Auditor General stated the following regarding operations:

We believe Parliament should know whether these programs are producing the results expected, whether value for money is being obtained, and whether the programs in certain circumstances are having possible negative effects on the economy.

What a novel idea that is. Imagine that. In 1998 the Auditor General stated that inadequate controls existed in grant programs in many departments.

In 2000 an audit of HRDC revealed a billion dollars was mismanaged. When the files were looked at, 97% showed no evidence that anyone had checked if the recipient owed money to HRDC, 80% showed no evidence of financial monitoring and 15% did not even have an application on file.

Last year the Auditor General revealed that there were five million more SIN cards than there were people. One household received 225 SIN cards before being investigated. Where is the accountability?

Members have referred to these as allegations. These comments come from the Auditor General. Yes, we in the Canadian Alliance bring these up all the time, things like the gun registry. The member for Yorkton—Melville has been a most tireless spokesman on the issue. In fact he fed the Auditor General hundreds of letters that he investigated so that she could have a base for her report. An independent investigator has come up with this.

Let us go on to defence. The Auditor General continually warned the government since 1996 that the military was critically short of resources. In 1994 national defence lost twice as many members as it enlisted. The Auditor General's audits in 1996, 1998 and 2000 and 2001 all demonstrated there was human resource problems in national defence.

The government does not listen. It does not act. The money gets spent on its own slush funds.

In 1999 the Auditor General reported that Bombardier obtained a $2.8 billion contract. The contract was let without competition in complete contravention of government regulations. In 2002 the Auditor General confirmed that $65 million of the contract was paid out for flight training that was never received. This is absolutely shameful. This can go on in any department. It goes on all the time and I will get to that in my conclusions.

The Auditor General has stated for some time that the Canadian Forces need $1.5 billion a year more in its base just to meet the current operational and capital procurement requirements. What did it get in this year's budget? It got half that. It was desperately in need of an ambulance. The government barely gave it a band-aid.

Let us go on to the gun registry. I commend the member for Yorkton—Melville. Through courtesy of the Auditor General came the scandal that best defines the government over the past 10 years. This was to be a net cost of $2 million to the taxpayers. Everybody in the country has learned that it cost a billion. As the member for Medicine Hat pointed out, the government's own estimates now take the cost of the registry up to a billion and a half dollars for a database. It is ridiculous.

Was it all worth it? Not according to Toronto police chief Julian Fantino who, on January 6 of this year stated:

I am very devastated by the amount of gun related violence that we are experiencing here in the city of Toronto; a tremendous increase over years gone by. The difficulty of course is that we haven't yet come across any situation where the gun registry would have enabled us to either prevent or solve these crimes.

Tell me how this $1 billion is doing any good. The Auditor General, not an opposition member of Parliament but the Auditor General herself stated, and these are her words, not mine:

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

If people in a Crown corporation kept information from the shareholders on purpose, they would be thrown in jail, but not here. It is an absolute disgrace.

I mentioned three examples. Another frustrating thing is that this has become the norm, whether it is about public works contracts, whether it is in justice with the gun registry, whether it is in HRDC, or whether it is in environment on Kyoto. Billions of dollars are being thrown around. Nobody on that side of the House is prepared to take this on. It will not change. The only solution is a change of government.

Is the former finance minister who is the heir apparent to take over from the badly bruised current Prime Minister prepared to take on these departments? Not a chance. He has been around here for a long time. We will see more uncontrollable spending.

The House has been asked to consider the reports of the Auditor General for 2002. Frankly, we should be considering a lot more.

We started off last year by learning that sponsorship program moneys were being funnelled to Liberal friends and supporters. One communications firm, Groupaction, received $1.5 million for three reports which all delivered exactly the same thing. This is not just wrong. This is not just scandalous. This is criminal. Someone outside Parliament would have been thrown in jail.

Last year ended with it being exposed that the government wasted $1 billion on a gun registry that does not work. The government tried to hide this from the Canadian people.

In short, 2002 was a banner year for waste and corruption. The Auditor General deserves our thanks for helping to expose those files. We need to remember that is only one year in a long tradition of ignoring the Auditor General's office.

I listened to members saying that these were just allegations and that the Auditor General was wrong. If I were in the government and the Auditor General delivered such a report, I would say that we would get to the bottom of it and fix it. What did the Liberals do? They ran, ducked, hid and took cover. They tried to come up with every excuse in the book as to why it was not their fault. Sometimes they actually blamed it on the Auditor General herself. It is unbelievable.

Previous reports told the government to watch how it spent HRDC funding. Previous reports told members opposite that the military needed our help. The reports go on and on.

The worst problem with all of these reports is that none of them have had any effect on the government. That is the scandalous part of all of this. The government carries on with its spending. As the member for Medicine Hat just stated, government spending in the budget we have just witnessed is up some $17 billion, the largest single percentage increase in a budget over 40 years.

The Liberals have not got it yet. They are not going to cut their wasteful spending. They will funnel billions more, all coming out of the taxpayers' pockets. It is unbelievable.

The government treats scandal and corruption with a business as usual attitude. If it were not for motions like the one before us today, the government would not even consider the Auditor General's reports which consistently expose its failures. It has been like this since 1997 when I became a member of Parliament.

The worst problem is that things do not get fixed. We see the same things happening in report after report. The government has a complete disregard for the Canadian taxpayer.

The Liberals' arrogance has grown. They will treat the money as if it were their own and will spend it as they want. They will keep it and funnel it to their own supporters. There is no solution coming from over there. The only way to fix this is to throw the government as far as we can or we will continue to read about billions being funnelled to the government's supporters and being thrown in the paper shredder.

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3:45 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has shown a great amount of support for the Auditor General's reports as I have as well. The Canadian public has also indicated strong support for the Auditor General.

One of the things the Auditor General has said in the last number of months is that she felt that the reporting requirements of first nations governments were extremely excessive. Every first nation was expected to produce 168 reports in order to receive its funding and four separate financial audits had to be done. As a result, the first nations were utilizing dollars out of their very limited funds. They did not have the resources to produce those reports. A good number of those reports were never being used for anything other than the fact that they were just being produced.

Would my colleague have a comment on the Auditor General's specific comments relating to first nations governments having to produce an overabundance of reports?

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3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member. The bureaucratic red tape for our first nations people is cumbersome to say the least. It is problematic. The government's response again is low accountability and to create more reports. What are the results? Does anybody measure results?

I am sure the member has been to some first nations reserves as I have in my riding. It would be very difficult to find people in our society who would trade places with those of first nations. There are some horrible conditions. I am sure the member would agree.

The first nations receive a fair amount of money, something in the magnitude of $25,000 a year tax free for every man, woman and child. Is it reaching those people? I do not think so because they do live in horrific conditions. There are massive problems within the first nations and how the government has treated the situation.

I agree that the reports are cumbersome. They are not addressing accountability and are creating a bureaucratic nightmare. Again the worst problem is that the grassroots first nations people are still in an extremely difficult situation. Most members have been to some of the reserves and the current practices are clearly not working.

What is the government's response? Status quo, do nothing. Let us funnel money into the gun registry to actually try to fix some of the real problems that the country faces.

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3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to visit a number of reserves when I was on the health committee and we were dealing with aboriginal health issues. I hope the member can provide a bit of knowledge on the resources available to aboriginal Canadians, whether it be with regard to sewers and water, human resources development, or improvement of the economic scenario for our aboriginal peoples.

One of my concerns is that there are a number of programs in a variety of departments which provide a variety of funding to all Canadians as well as to aboriginals. The inability for us to identify the cumulative support whether it be for seniors, the disabled, children, et cetera, is problematic.

Has the member identified that we are talking about a shortage of resources or is it that those resources are very difficult to follow through the system to get that accountability he is talking about?

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3:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is indicative of the problems we see in many departments, whether it be justice or environment. We are talking about first nations. Nobody measures output, as the Auditor General has asked us to do. Nobody actually looks to see if there is value for the money.

The minute a scandal comes up, the minute a story breaks that $1 billion has been lost or blown, the first reaction is not to say that the problem has to be fixed. The first reaction is to cover it up and hide the facts from Parliament. Everybody goes into justification mode as to why the money had to be spent as opposed to actually looking down and saying, “We are not getting any results. What do we need to change?”

The same would hold true with first nations issues with respect to funding. We should be measuring results and ensuring that the money is actually reaching the people who need it and that we are making a difference. I think it would go a lot further.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the very hon. member for Kitchener Centre. She is a very good member of Parliament and I am sure that her speech will be of great interest to all hon. members.

I first want to comment on a couple of items which were raised by the member for Medicine Hat. As a preamble, today's opposition day motion mentions that we look at the Auditor General's report. Obviously it covers a broad range of subject matter and pretty well leaves it open to discuss virtually anything one wants.

The member for Medicine Hat decided to do what opposition members are supposed to do, which is to take information and present part of it in such a way as to paint a picture that is somewhat different from the reality. As an example, he suggested that the government should finally identify all of the contracts that were included in the $1 billion HRDC grants program as well as other HRDC programs.

The member probably forgot that the government actually issued about 10,000 pieces of paper. Every member of Parliament received details of every contract that was there. If the member would check, he would see on the HRDC website that all contracts are listed for members and the public to see. As to the indictment that there is no information, I think the member misspoke.

The member for Medicine Hat also said that there are five million social insurance cards out there in excess of the population of Canada. Members can say whatever they want in this place but they should take the opportunity to look at the information underlying that, which I did. I asked the minister for HRDC. She made a phone call and obtained the answer.

For the benefit of Canadians, this is why there is a difference of five million social insurance cards. Some 2.6 million of the cards are dormant. There are 600,000 social insurance numbers that belong to deceased persons. They are inactive and will be dropped off the list. One million social insurance numbers were allocated to persons who are non-resident in Canada and would not be on our census. People such as foreign investors who want to earn income in Canada are assigned a social insurance number so they can report their income and receive the appropriate tax credits, et cetera. It is part of the deal. I am told there are also 133,000 Canadians who reside abroad but still maintain their Canadian citizenship and have a social insurance number, et cetera, and report on their world income. On adding the numbers up, the total is about five million.

There have been some differences. Seven hundred thousand people of the so-called five million actually are accounted for in the difference in the time from when the census was taken. It is a lag. The population does move but there was a discrepancy. The number of social insurance cards that existed at the date of the census would have to be adjusted to account for that 700,000.

If one asks the questions, one will get the answers and will not be in the position of simply falling into the trap that the member for Medicine Hat did which was to suggest, “I heard someone say we had five million unauthorized cards floating around. Is that not awful? Look at the irresponsible government”. That is just not the case. However the member is doing his job by giving incomplete information and hoping that Canadians will fall for it.

We are here to discuss probably the most open-ended question one could ever imagine. It is clear that our job as parliamentarians is to do the best we can to ensure that the public funds are protected and that they are used appropriately, wisely and effectively. Members have called for accountability and value for money. However, other members have suggested that sometimes money should be spent for example on a health related program and it may be that during the period of accountability a number of lives were saved or the number of problems went down.

How do we place a value on the health or the lives of a number of Canadians? Is $25 million too much to spend to save lives in Canada?

It is important to understand that when we do things in our legislation and our programs they are done after having given due consideration to our responsibility as a government to inform Canadians, to ensure Canadians are protected in our society and to ensure they have an opportunity to be healthy.

It is very difficult to put a dollar value on the many things that we can do.

The Auditor General asked three questions that need to be dealt with. First, is the government keeping proper accounts and records and presenting its financial information accurately? This is the financial attest auditing.

Second, did the government collect or spend an authorized amount of money and for the purposes intended by Parliament? This is the compliance auditing.

Third, were programs run economically and efficiently? Does the government have the means and the measures to measure their effectiveness? This is the value for money audit.

When we do our job we can answer these questions. We have a tremendous amount of resources.

This morning Mr. Desautels, the former auditor general, appeared as a witness before the government operations and estimates committee. He was the auditor general for 10 years and is well-known to all of us. He often was very pointed in his reports but was always fair in his reporting when problems were identified. He also was quick to point out when remedial actions were taken to make sure the problems identified were dealt with in an effective and efficient manner and on a timely basis.

One area that Mr. Desautels talked about, and one which is important for us to acknowledge, is the area of government operations. Quite frankly, in any business in which I have ever been involved, about three-quarters of the costs of doing anything in this life has to do with people. It is human resources costs.

Whether we are operating a hospital or operating a business, our payroll cost, the cost of training our employees properly, keeping them up to date and making sure their needs are taken care of so they will do good work on behalf of our organization, is a very important aspect.

In the Auditor General's last report there was a lot of talk about ethics and value within the civil service. There was a lot of talk about issues such as whistleblowers. Should civil servants, who see difficulties within their own areas for which they have direct knowledge, be able to come forward and say that something is not right and that it should be fixed, without being afraid of repercussions, either to their job or maybe their success over the longer term of their career?

I think the House has basically given the public service the indication that it is in the best interest of Canada that problems are identified, no matter how they are identified, and that people should never be afraid to come forward and say that we need to continue to look for ways to do a better job to safeguard the assets of Canadian taxpayers and to use that money wisely and effectively.

One of the specific aspects that the Auditor General raised in the report was that there seemed to be an increasing reliance on contract and part time workers. I can recall being at the public accounts committee when it dealt with that. One of the explanations given by the Auditor General was that it took too long to hire a full time person and that it was actually more efficient for a department to get a human body in place doing the work based on part time and contract work.

This is not simply a matter of government doing every job in the public service. We are there to provide on a broader base the guidance to ensure that our public service has the tools to do the job properly. We are confident that we have an excellent public service. Public servants do the best they can with the tools that they are given.

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Monte Solberg Canadian Alliance Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, during the member's speech I believe he referred to me and to some of the information I provided to the House in an earlier speech. This information had to do with social insurance numbers.

He apparently said that he contacted the department and it provided information explaining away the five million extra social insurance numbers. He provided somewhat of a defence on behalf of the department for the problems with the social insurance registry.

However it is important to point out that after five years the government is only now coming up with some kind of an argument for all these extra social insurance numbers. The government also cannot tell us how many fraudulent social insurance numbers are out there. It is guesstimating about whether some of these numbers are being used in a way that will sustain the system. Some of them are dormant, as some people are out of the country, but officials have admitted that they cannot account for hundreds of thousands of these numbers, even if they could account for four million.

Officials also acknowledge that there is a problem in the way they gather information so people can actually get a social insurance number. When people produce a birth certificate that has no picture on it, it is quite possible for them to defraud the system.

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4:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt but the member has used a full two minutes of the five, so I will give a chance to the hon. member for Mississauga South to respond.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. Many things could happen and might happen and we do need to be concerned, but even in our income tax system we have a system that is based on the honour system. It is a self-assessing system. We do not check everything that everybody does. It is not like big brother. We found out that it was a more efficient use of taxpayer money to trust people and to assume they are honest as a starting point.

The member says that somebody could get another piece of paper and could defraud. When 99.99% of Canadians who hold social insurance numbers are doing what they should be doing, why would we impose some enormous bureaucratic system on each and every one of them? Although the member feels that somehow we have to stop 100% of the cases, I just cannot agree.

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4:05 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, key to one point and sort of responding to my colleague from the Alliance, when the member for Mississauga South talked about giving incorrect information and expecting Canadians to fall for it, I would suggest that the issue here with Canadians is that the government has been giving incorrect information and using that information to waste taxpayer dollars in a good number of cases, or possibly even misusing taxpayer dollars. Quite frankly, that is what has created the problem. I would like the member to respond to that.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the opposition can use platitudes and generalizations but governing is a matter of being accountable, transparent and open. People can do anything they want. We live in a democracy. This is not a communist country. We do not check everything that everybody does because we assume they have to be controlled.

Canadians have opportunities. Members of Parliament on all sides have a responsibility to look at specific areas where they feel there is some concern. We have to make sure that we get value for money, which is one of the Auditor General's responsibilities.

I do not paint that same picture of doom and gloom. We do in fact have a very efficient civil service that works on behalf of the people of Canada with the guidance of parliamentarians and a government to do a good job checking the kinds of things that concern the member.

I would just say to the member that when she has some difficulty this is the appropriate place to discuss it, whether it be in the House or in committee, to make sure we look at it and we do the job we are paid to do.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the government I am pleased to say that I welcomed the report of the Auditor General. It is important to point out that the Auditor General looks in a very holistic way at how government does the business of government.

I would ask the House to turn its attention to the Auditor General's report regarding Industry Canada. The Auditor General told CBC's As it Happens program that the improvements made to the small business financing program constituted a good news story. She also said that Industry Canada had made significant improvements in its administration and in the information that it has provided to Parliament since the initial audit in 1997.

In 1999 Parliament addressed many issues raised in the Auditor General's 1997 report. In adopting the Canada Small Business Financing Act, Parliament enhanced the program's ability to recover costs and improve due diligence that lenders apply when making loans. Industry Canada has implemented an audit strategy and has enhanced the information it provides on job creation. It has also reduced the interest paid to lenders. This is all good news.

Canada's small businesses have been responsible for a significant proportion of new jobs created during the past decade. The Canadian small business financing program is the Government of Canada's single most important tool to assist small business.

At this point I think it would be useful to clarify some of the key elements of this new program. The government sets the framework for the program and defines what is an eligible loan. The program, however, is delivered through about 1,700 private sector lenders. The Canada Small Business Financing Act requires these lenders to exercise the same due diligence for loans made under this program as they do for other conventional loans. This means that entrepreneurs apply directly to the Canadian financial institution service provider of their choice for a loan, due diligence is carried out by the institution and the institution then disburses its own funds under the loan.

Industry Canada registers the loans submitted by the lender and is not involved in the administration of the loans. Amazingly, in 92% of cases loans are repaid in full without any involvement by Industry Canada. If a loan goes into default, the lender takes action to realize upon the security and any guarantees involved in the loan and submits a claim for loss to Industry Canada.

Following an audit of claim by Industry Canada staff, the lender is reimbursed for up to 85% of the eligible loss on the loan. The lender then assumes the remaining 15% of the loss.

For an important segment of the Canadian small and medium sized business sector, the Canadian small business financing program plays a crucial role. In fact, over half of the loans made in the program from 1995 to 1999 went to new start-up business. A study done in 1996 indicated that more than half of the loans given would not have been made without this program.

From 1995 to 1999 the program leveraged 117,000 loans worth a total investment of $7.85 billion. Furthermore, a study done in 2002 suggested that 234,000 new jobs were created as a result. Again, this is good news for Canadians.

In the fiscal year 2000-01, 14,000 loans, totalling approximately $1.2 billion, were made under the Canada Small Business Financing Act. We are of course continuing to move forward with further improvements to this program, including the implementation of on site audit plans; a new results based management and accountability framework; and the implementation of updated claims forecasting models.

The Canada Small Business Financing Act requires a five year review of the program. The next review is due in the year 2004-05. Industry Canada will present a complete report on the program at that time.

In the 2002 Auditor General's report, three issues are raised concerning Canada's small business financing program. The first two relate to issues raised during the initial audit, and the Auditor General has raised a third, a new issue for Industry Canada to consider.

The first issue the report noted was that the department has not adjusted its claims forecasting model. Industry Canada has been addressing that issue. Experts have recommended a minimum of three years of data, which is needed to build a reliable model, in order to do this forecasting. I am happy to say that this data is now available. Industry Canada is now developing this model for the program. This model will help determine whether the program is likely to achieve its cost recovery goals.

The second issue raised by the Auditor General concerned the estimate that, on loans that were guaranteed between 1995 and 1999, the former small business loans program could experience losses in the neighbourhood of $200 million. This estimate is in line with Industry Canada's 2000-01 annual report on the small business loans act. While the estimated loss appears to be rather large, we must remember that during this period 117,000 loans, with a value of $7.85 billion, were made in this program. That works out to an average loss of about $1,700 per loan.

To reiterate, the Canada Small Business Financing Act was developed to address issues raised by the Auditor General in 1997. The program has been in operation in the period since those loans were made.

The third issue the Auditor General raised was one that emerged since her predecessor's audit in 1997. This concerns the fact that the value and the number of loans has decreased significantly in recent years.

It is unclear whether such a decline is related to the program or to other general economic conditions. Industry Canada has begun studying the causes of this trend and has come up with the belief that a broader range of financing options has emerged in the market over recent years and this may well be one of the driving factors in creating this trend. In other words, it is not really certain at this point whether such a change in the use of this program is positive or negative.

The Auditor General acknowledged that Industry Canada had made significant progress in improving the program. Her conclusions also reinforced the crucial role that this program plays in supporting the growth of one of the most dynamic segments of our economy. While any program can be improved, it is clear that Industry Canada is taking the steps needed to strengthen the Canada Small Business Financing Act.

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4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak during the Progressive Conservative's opposition day. I am following on the heels of the speech made this morning by my hon. colleague from the riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable, who made a terrific presentation, all the more so since he is the Bloc Quebecois' public accounts critic.

In our parliamentary system, the role of Auditor General is extremely important. In fact, the Auditor General is no more and no less than the watchdog of assets handled by managers, senior officials and therefore, by different departments and indirectly—obviously—by ministers.

The best proof that this watchdog is efficient and credible is that, under our British parliamentary system, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is now, unlike other committees, chaired by a member of the official opposition.

Parliamentarians and the parliaments that are our role models wanted to demonstrate that a government cannot be both judge and jury. You cannot ask the government to be credible when it comes time to reprimand bad behaviour. That is why this committee is chaired by the opposition and that is why I think the role of Auditor General is extremely important.

In 2002, the Auditor General submitted various reports to us, at different stages. The common denominator, or rather the common thread in all these reports, is the sad reality that public funds have been poorly managed by the Liberal government opposite.

Unfortunately, I do not have enough time. My Latin professor at the Chicoutimi seminary always said, tempus fugit , times flies, time gets consumed and thus disappears. I could give a 20-minute speech on each of the subjects that I am going to list because they gave rise to very eloquent chapters in the Auditor General's reports.

Among other things, I could mention the fact that the Canadian firearms registry was supposed to cost $119 million in 1995 when it was created. We will soon realize that this program has cost more than $1 billion.

We could also talk about the integrity of the social insurance number program. According to the Auditor General, the Department of Human Resources Development Canada has handed out SINs without properly checking the identity and citizenship of applicants.

When this chapter was written, I remember hearing that several thousand, if not tens of thousands of Canadians, according to the figures, were over 100 years old. I realize that in Canada, the quality of life has improved and there are more and more centenarians, but this was simply an indication that the Department of Human Resources Development Canada was lax and did not adequately fulfill its management role. People were not taken off the list and that is why, years later, we have so many centenarians.

If nothing were done, the first thing we would notice is that there are a million centenarians in Canada, simply because deceased persons are not taken off the lists.

Not to mention the people who have already been arrested with 32 or 34 social insurance cards in their possession. These were not necessarily stolen cards, but cards obtained very legally.

It is my pleasure to say once again that the Minister of Human Resources Development Canada is a bad manager.

The Auditor General also told us that over the past ten years, fiscal arrangements for foreign subsidiaries have cut Canada's tax revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Auditor General also told us that first nations must submit an unbelievable number of reports annually to the government. She mentioned 168, which requires considerable resources on the part of first nations.

These resources could be better used by those who need them, particularly young families and children of first nations. Half the population of some nations, such as the Cree and the Inuit, is under 30. These resources could be given to young families in these communities.

We also know, from what the Auditor General has said, that the federal government has trouble with the quality of the available health statistics. This might give rise to some questions. Judging by the words of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health, their interest in interfering with the management of health is increasing, while their own health statistics are as inaccurate as they are poorly managed. One might well wonder what the objective of this visibility the federal government is seeking in the health field might be.

As well—and I am pleased to see that the Minister of Human Resources Development is in the House to hear this—the Auditor General repeats her criticism of the EI surplus and of the lack of government transparency in this connection.

We know how the member for LaSalle—Émard, the apprentice PM or the PM in waiting, always patted himself on the back during his time as finance minister for having inherited a $42 billion deficit when he was appointed and then waving his magic wand over it to make it disappear.

Those in our audience who have the misfortune to be on employment insurance—although I still think it should be called unemployment insurance, because a person on it has the assurance of remaining unemployed—are aware of the cuts this government has made, and the fact that people can no longer qualify because the number of hours required is too high. People know that their benefit periods are getting shorter and shorter. The duration of benefits has been cut, and the amount people get every two weeks is also getting smaller and smaller.

This means that there are people coming to my office, like certain seasonal workers for the Quebec Department of Transport, who are already experiencing, or soon will be, what is termed the spring gap. This is what happens when they did not accumulate enough weeks to qualify for benefits for the entire time, so they have to get through March and April with no income, until called back in May. That is what the spring gap is all about.

With this example of the Quebec Department of Transport employees, people might ask why they do not keep working through the winter. The answer is that these are seasonal jobs, summer work. The same thing would be true for people who work in ski resorts and have a period of unemployment in summer.

The same would be true for those working for golf clubs. Golf is seldom played during winter in this climate, and these people find themselves without work.

The whole lumber industry comes to mind, and workers in the tourist industry also experience the spring gap. This Liberal government has cut the benefit period.

I indicated earlier that the member for LaSalle—Émard, who boasts about reducing the deficit, did so by dipping into the surplus in the EI account. A $42 billion surplus has accumulated in that account. We told the government, and continue to tell it, “You had no right to take that money”. The federal government is no longer contributing to the employment insurance fund. This money belongs to workers, who pay premiums that are deducted weekly on their pay-cheques. It also belongs to employers, who also pay premiums.

EI premiums have been reduced, but the government could do more. An overall payroll tax reduction would enable small and medium sized businesses to create jobs. They would not be so strapped for cash. Let us not forget that the benefits known as marginal benefits are becoming less and less marginal. These are also referred to as fringe benefits.

If they were given some breathing room, employers could create jobs. If they created jobs, perhaps some people could get off EI or social assistance and contribute to society. They could help us pay for day care, for hospitals or to finance schools.

I have yet to hear anyone on EI or social assistance tell me, “I have managed to set $200,000 aside while on EI or welfare. I am off now and I have decided to use this money to start off my own business”. No, social assistance and employment insurance provide recipients with a minimum level of income to keep their heads above water during the first half of the month. The rest of the month, they have water up to their noses, if not over their heads.

This has been confirmed by the Auditor General. The government has unashamedly dipped into the surpluses in the EI account, in spite of the fact that the money does not belong to it.

Often, the Liberals tell us, in the Bloc Quebecois, “You are only good at blaming and complaining; you are not proposing any solutions”. What we in the Bloc Quebecois are proposing is an independent employment assistance account run by workers and employers who pay premiums. They would be able to manage the premiums. The government has to withdraw from this plan.

As if these blunders mentioned by the Auditor General were not enough, let us also not forget other issues raised by the Auditor General in 2002, such as the use of foundations to remove billions of dollars from the control of Parliament and thus underestimate federal budget surpluses.

The accounting procedure is classic. The government takes x billion dollars and creates a foundation that will be managed or run by members of the private sector, by friends of the Liberals, such as the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, chaired by Jean Monty, the former CEO of Bell Canada Enterprises. We could also mention the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

When we parliamentarians want to fulfill our role, when we want to ask questions to ministers, to those who are sitting on the front benches, and when we say, “It does not make sense to have foundations. The millennium scholarships do not make sense. This is an intrusion”, we are told by the ministers sitting on the front benches, “Put your questions to Mr. Monty”. Mr. Monty is not an elected representative. He is not like each and every one of us here, including you, Mr. Speaker, in that he was not elected. If Mr. Monty wants to manage public funds, he should seek election, he should become a minister and be accountable.

Such is the role of foundations. Indeed, the government takes billions of taxpayers' dollars and gives them away. It so happens that the members of these boards are all good Liberals, good contributors to the election fund. This is not from me, it is from the Auditor General.

She joined those who want changes. We are not in collusion with the Auditor General. Her independence is absolutely not in question. However, she raised issues that we had raised. I remember that the Bloc Quebecois had raised very valid issues following the budget speeches announcing the creation of these foundations.

The Auditor General also mentioned unapproved grants, whereby Treasury Board allows the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants without the approval of Parliament. She also told us about the fact that 90% of the departments omitted to conduct internal audits regarding the security of information technologies. We are talking not about 5% or 9%, but 90%. Is this good management?

In 2004, the Liberals will be running in an election. They will say, “Elect a Liberal government for the fourth consecutive mandate. We have shown good management”. This is good management: 90% of all departments neglected to conduct internal audits? In private enterprise, if a company president did that, he would be fired right then and there. The chair of the board of directors would arrive in his private jet from Toronto or New York, and he would be immediately fired.

Internal audits are used to ensure that the rules are followed and that funds are properly spent. That is the purpose of an internal audit, before calling on external auditors. Remember that 90% of all departments neglected to conduct internal audits.

The Auditor General also pointed out that the Department of National Defence bought a communications system for $174 million, without having the funds to use it.

All these examples show that the opposition members are right to stay on top of things and to fight what we consider unjust. The government must prove to us that we are misinformed or wrong when we raise issues found in the Auditor General's reports.

Again, I praise the honesty and the integrity not only of the Auditor General, but of all the members of her team. They are all people whose integrity cannot be questioned.

Even though I know that I still have some time left, I will conclude by saying a few words about the Groupaction case. The Auditor General also agreed with the Bloc Quebecois in this case when she asked the RCMP to launch an investigation into three identical reports produced by Groupaction. These three reports cost half a million dollars each, that is $500,000 apiece for photocopies.

So we are talking here about $1.5 million worth of photocopies. That is what it boils down to. It is $1.5 million of taxpayers' money. When they get their pay cheques on Thursday, people who work from 8 to 4 at the factory will say, “Do we ever pay a lot of taxes; it is ridiculous”.

The Auditor General agreed with us on that; she asked the RCMP to investigate. The position of the Bloc Quebecois on the Groupaction case is clear. We are calling for a public inquiry to clarify this whole issue.

The government refuses to order a public inquiry because it knows full well that the contents of such a report could taint its management record. And if one looks more closely at the background of certain friends of the government, such as Chuck Guité and Pierre Tremblay, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, one can see that these people have always been close to the Liberals.

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4:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we go to questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, Social Programs; the hon. member for Acadie--Bathurst, Employment Insurance; and the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, Health.

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4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dick Harris Canadian Alliance Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague from the Bloc on his most enlightening presentation. I would like to ask him about the legacy of corruption that has gone on in the Liberal government since 1993.

However, first I want to zero in on the gun control registry. When the program was started Canadians were told that it would cost $2 million net after the revenue came in and expenses were calculated. Then we found that it would cost somewhere around $85 million. At the end of the day, to date we have spent, that is recorded, about $700 million and it will go to $1 billion according to the Auditor General over that, and could be more.

All this time, the Department of Justice was moving money around within the department and concealing the absolute travesty that was going on with the firearms program, concealing just how bad it was, and how it had miscalculated and mismanaged the program. This would get someone in the private sector thrown in jail.

Does the member from the Bloc agree that if people in the private sector had been doing the books and cooking them the way the government has, would they indeed not be equated with common thieves and simply thrown in jail for their efforts?