Mr. Speaker, my point of order concerns the failure of the Minister of Finance to rise in the House to deliver a statement on amendments or changes to the budget. I will be brief. I could have risen on a question of privilege and put forward an argument that a contempt had taken place. I believe that it has but I would rather not divide the House.
On February 18 the Minister of Finance delivered a budget to the House. At great expense to the people of Canada, documents were prepared and the media was locked up and briefed. The minister rose in the House and spoke for over an hour. That statement to the House of Commons stands as the budgetary policy of the government. The government, as I know only too well, stands or falls on the budget and it does so by vote in the House of Commons. The budget and its approval are central to the survival of government.
The House is now engaged in four days of debate on the budget. Last evening the House voted on the first of a number of amendments concerning the budgetary policy of government. That debate is a prelude to the important decision that will be taken when the House decides by vote whether it approves of the budgetary policy of government. This decision is vital.
Marleau and Montpetit, on page 753, states that concurrence in any Ways and Means motions “may not be proposed until the Ways and Means proceeding on the Budget itself is completed”. That is another way of saying that the House must vote to approve the budgetary policy of government before the government can ask the House to approve its tax measures. Therefore the decision to accept or reject a budget is one of the core decisions we take.
The problem is that in this House we do not know with any certainty what that policy is. Nor do we know what provisions are in the budget.
The Minister of Finance made his speech in the House of Commons. Then according to media reports last weekend, the Prime Minister contradicted the Minister of Finance concerning Olympic funding and policy. The Prime Minister did so outside the House of Commons. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Finance has seen fit to acquaint the House with any changes to what the Minister of Finance said on February 18.
The House is left in the odious position of having the minister tell the House one thing, having the minister table documents that say one thing, and now we are told in the media that what was said in the House and what was tabled in the House is no longer applicable.
Three hundred and one members of the House of Commons are in the process of debating and voting on the budget that is being altered by the Prime Minister's whim and off the cuff imperious comments to the media.
The government owes it to the House, if it has any sense of accountability to Parliament, any sense of transparency, any sense of respect for the members of the House, particularly those silent souls who say that they support the government, to tell the House, in the House, what changes are being made to the budget. All of us need to know.
Changes have taken place in past budgets. I recall the infamous budget presented by the Hon. Allan J. MacEachen in 1981. Changes were made in that budget and the changes were announced in the House of Commons. Perhaps the government House leader will argue his procedural doctrine is superior to that of Mr. MacEachen but if he does, I think he will be alone in that contention. Mr. MacEachen knew that announcements were to be made in front of one's peers in the House of Commons.
I could also site the budget changes of Walter Gordon, but I need not burden the House.
In conclusion, the people of Canada send all of us here to treat their business seriously. If the government has decided, for whatever reason, to alter the statements of policy and intention as stated in the House on February 18, we need to know the details before we vote on the budget and we need these facts to be stated in the House by a minister rising under statements or in debate. It is simply not acceptable for the Minister of Finance to present a budget and then have the Prime Minister tell the media “Oh, we really didn't mean that”.
I began by stating that I felt this was contempt of the House. I doubt that members opposite would vote to support that premise. However I do invite members opposite to look to themselves and remind themselves that they were elected to the House of Commons by the people of Canada and that they must demand, in the name of accountability and probity of the public business, that the Minister of Finance inform the House just what changes have been made in the budget since it was tabled on February 18.
The House is entitled to know what the policy is before we vote. At the moment the Minister of Finance has said one thing here and the Prime Minister has, apparently, contradicted him outside the House.