House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.


SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have allowed the processing industry to become situated in too few hands and to become almost monopolized by too few big operators to the detriment, as the Bloc leader said this morning, to more regional development.

He talks about money that is available for new producing operations in regional areas, for smaller producers. Perhaps co-ops, owned by farmers who have some stake in that, might be a way into the future that would be more helpful and sort of inoculate us against what we have seen over the last couple of years with the closing of the border.

That is something that he might look at, although I must say, in tandem with my colleague from Timmins--James Bay, that the way the government is getting the money into the hands of people who want to set up these new production facilities is not as helpful as it could be. Loan guarantees and those kinds of approaches are not helpful to farmers who are having a difficult time getting by from one day to the next. They are looking forward to perhaps being involved in a production operation of their own.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Roger Gaudet Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for my hon. colleague from Sault Ste. Marie and concerns supply management. This may be an opportunity for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to find information to help resolve part of the dispute. We will remember that the supply management system is a Canada-wide initiative.

Take butter oil, for example. From 1997 to 2002, imports increased by 557%. Had it not been for these imports, our producers' incomes would have been more than $500 million higher.

Second, the same is true for cheese sticks. These were a source of income that did not cost the government a cent.

Third, several producers told me about a 7¢ a litre increase for farmers, but not for the industry or the retailers. These are three solutions at no cost to the government. I cannot fathom how, in the 11 years it has been in office and with the number of civil servants working for it, the government did not think about that.

I would like to hear the hon. member for Sault Ste. Marie on this.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member. I believe in supply management and we should be extending it. There are two agendas at play here in the farming community. There is the agenda of the big corporate producer, the big corporate farm, and the distributors out there. Then there is the agenda of the small farmer. Any of the small farmers I talk to, when they are sitting down and being frank, say that they like the idea of some kind of supply management, some way of ensuring that from one year to the next there will at least be a base that they can count on.

We have a problem however. We have an industry primarily driven by big operations. They are now affecting the farmers and it is highlighted because of the BSE border closing. I do not think that is healthy.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Sault Ste. Marie for his excellent speech, as usual. I also would like to thank him for sharing his time with me.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of the minister in this debate. I think it is important. I have no doubt about his sincerity. However, I think that the steps taken so far are clearly not enough in view of the present situation. This is why I commend the members of the Bloc Quebecois for moving this motion, which is extremely important.

The fact is that the mad cow crisis is having a devastating impact on whole areas of our country. I firmly believe that a majority of members in this House will support this motion when it comes to a vote

The motion raises a fundamental question which also deals with the principle on which a sound political policy is built.

Allow me to read the part of the motion which calls upon the government to:

--implement specific measures as soon as possible to help the cattle and cull cow producers who are suffering the impact of the mad cow crisis.

The House asks the government to deal with the urgency and scope of this crisis with political measures designed specifically to meet that urgency and scope. Instead of kowtowing to the Americans, the government should take specific and significant steps.

Members will recall how, in May 2003, a single case of mad cow disease turned the whole Canadian beef industry upside down.

The announcement of a single case of mad cow disease in May 2003, including the cow calf sector, sent cash receipts plunging to $5.2 billion, or 33% below the $8 billion in receipts for 2002. In a study on the repercussions of BSE on farm family incomes, Statistics Canada estimated that every $100 million in cattle sector exports would have added $80 million to Canada's GDP and created up to 3,000 jobs.

According to Statistics Canada, the result was a $2.5 billion drop in our exports, which, for the Canadian economy, meant, roughly, a $2 billion decrease in real domestic product, a $5.7 billion drop in total production, a $1 billion drop in salaries and, as we well know, a loss of some 75,000 jobs.

Those are the harsh and cruel facts.

It has been 18 months since the first and only mad cow was discovered in Canada. One has to ask what the government has done to match, in terms of solutions, the enormous problems posed by this crisis. I think it is fair to say that it has been largely to sit down and hope for the best, lobby a bunch of friends south of the border, throw in some band-aids to appease 100,000 farmers facing ruin and then hope for the gates to open.

In his recent book, A Short History of Progress , renowned historian and philosopher Ronald Wright remarks:

A telling feature of the real mad cow disaster is how long the British government did nothing except hope for the best.

This sort of hope is driving our cattle industry and our farmers literally crazy given the devastation in the communities.

With great fanfare, a temporary BSE recovery program was announced in June 2003. This program failed to help cattlemen and cattlewomen who were confronted with plummeting prices and was based on the idea that the borders would soon reopen. We know they have not.

The program encouraged farmers to slaughter their cows, which is what they did, which drove prices even further down. As prices went down, bankruptcies and suicides went up. The profits of the processors went up as well.

We then saw a series of changes to those programs trying to address the issue as it went. All of that was based on the premise that the borders would reopen soon. Since 40% of our cattle production depended on the borders, this has become a real mess.

In fact, many observers, including the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, believe that the packers, Tyson and Cargill in particular, indirectly received most of the government funding because of flaws in the program. The government program bought slaughter obligations with the funding, and the money went to the slaughter houses and the profits went to the packers.

For the larger part of 2003, the government tinkered with the program to avoid confrontation and threw in more, what I consider to be band-aids, in preparation for the 2004 election.

The government hoped for the best and largely avoided action, avoided confrontation with the U.S. federal agriculture minister, avoided concrete action for Canadian farmers to the measure of a catastrophe that the industry is facing and, of course, I believe avoided pressing the issue with George Bush during his visit to Ottawa, though he was confronted with an Alberta beef steak dinner.

The strong negotiations that are required have not been undertaken.

The appalling piecemeal approach to the Liberal agriculture policy has become crystal clear as we have seen this inaction around the BSE crisis to the measure of the catastrophe. Even though science has redeemed us again and again and indicated that our beef is safe, the American border is not fully opened to our beef products.

The federal government also chose not to pursue the NAFTA route, though the United States uses chapter 7 of NAFTA to shut down its borders. The Liberals justified this hope and wait approach in lieu of a chapter 20 challenge mainly because of the expected length of any such process, which could easily take up to seven months.

We are now 18 to 19 months after May 2003 and the border remains closed. Little progress has been made in negotiations. As we are now well past the expected seven month process of a chapter 20 challenge, does the original logic of forgoing a lengthy NAFTA challenge in favour of a negotiated settlement still stand? Of course not.

The BSE crisis, with its resultant loss of 75,000 jobs in Canada, and the impasse over softwood have clearly demonstrated our susceptibility to international trade disputes with the poor negotiation record of the government.

If the complex NAFTA trade mechanisms are unable to remedy this problem for Canadians, what can be done? What sort of precedent does this set for other bilateral and multilateral trade agreements?

If it takes another year to see some results from this government, there may be little left of our beef industry to save.

My colleagues of the Liberal Party will say that, recently, a few real decisions were made and that a few support programs were put in place. I would say that the credit should go to farmers and to the Canadian beef industry, which made their voices heard after many efforts. In practice, we have not yet seen anything that would really allow the industry to secure its future. After 15, 17 or 18 months, does the industry entertain false hope? I believe the industry to be extremely important. Concrete actions are needed.

On September 10 the hon. Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced a strategy to assist the livestock industry. The word “strategy” was finally being used. This strategy includes continuing efforts to reopen the U.S. border. However, because there has been no linkage to energy exports, for example, that strategy has not succeeded.

The strategy includes taking steps to increase the slaughter of older cows, with $66 million being injected, and measures to sustain the industry, as well as looking for expanding access to export markets for both livestock and beef products.

There may be some progress but the decisions made by the government have not matched the size and scope of the crisis in our communities across the country.

Some of the legislative elements related to this package, which have not and should be concluded, are still up in the air, including agreements with the provinces. There are clearly big gaps in the strategy that must be addressed.

The big problem that the program is not fixing at all is that there are presently 500,000 cull cows in our country.These are dairy cows that are three years old or more, that are not capable of producing milk anymore, and that must be killed.

Before the border was closed, we were exporting some 40,000 cull cows every year to the United States. Not anymore, which explains why the price of hamburger meat, for example, is so low. That is the real problem.

I totally support the motion and I hope that all the members of the House will support it also.

SupplyGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2004 / 5:10 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member a question. We know that, in the last 18 months, a cow suffering from mad cow disease has been found in Alberta. We know that Alberta is more than 5,000 km away from Quebec. We also know that the President of the Union des producteurs agricoles, Mr. Pellerin, was in favour of autonomous health regions in Canada. If that system had been in place, Quebec and a number of provinces would have been able to continue to export their beef to the United States.

I would like to hear the comments of the hon. member in this respect and his opinion about health regions, as suggested by the President of the Union des producteurs agricoles of Quebec.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. As I mentioned before, it is not a scientific issue of whether Canadian beef is safe or not. It is a political issue, a question of negotiations.

We saw that in Japan, in the same situation, the Americans were able to negotiate some access for their products to the Japanese market. I think it is a question of firm negotiations. We export products in the energy sector, for example, that make up a large part of the American energy market.

Thus, when we talk about softwood lumber or mad cow, we are also talking about negotiations. Such firm negotiations will ensure that our products have access to the U.S. I do not think it is an issue of public health or pure science, determining whether or not Canadian beef is good. We know it is good and that it should be allowed into the American market.

It is a question of the political will to go and negotiate firmly instead of giving away all our trump cards as we have been doing. That is what happens in the energy sector; we give up. It is said that Canada is the biggest energy exporter. We will give you our energy and then, please, will you do something to sort out these softwood lumber and beef export issues?

In both cases all we need is the political will to say that we are going to negotiate based on our own cards, the Canadian cards, and arrange to put an end to this crisis which, in my opinion, is a purely political one that could be resolved with firm negotiations.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario


Andy Mitchell LiberalMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Madam Speaker, the hon. member made the comment that he wanted to be assured that President Bush had been approached directly with respect to the border and BSE. I can give him that assurance, having done that personally.

In addition, he talked about the program of September 10 as being a repositioning program and said that he felt that was an appropriate route to go, if I understood him. He had some criticisms with it, which I understand, and I agree with him. However he also said that there has been no progress in respect of that. Through the work we have done with CFIA, by next week we will have two new federally regulated slaughter plants.

In terms of our set aside programs, we have seen very good recovery, not as much as we would like to see yet, but good recovery on fed cattle prices. We are seeing recovery on the feeder cattle side.

In terms of the additional markets, we have achieved success with the work we have done in Hong Kong, on the agreement with China, and the work being done and progress being made in both the Japanese and Taiwanese marketplaces. We have a managing older animals component of that program that has not been fully taken up. A lot of suggestions have been made on how we can turn that program into something that works better in terms of cull animals, and I do not disagree with that.

In terms of the September 10 program and those specific component parts, does the member have any specific recommendations on how he would like to see it approached differently so that we can get even more progress than what we are getting right now?

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation, I do not doubt the sincerity of the minister. However the government has not acted to the extent it must given the size and scope of the crisis.

I made reference in my speech to band-aids. Given what 100,000 farmers are living through and given the loss of jobs in the Canadian economy, the measures have not been to the extent they must be to match the size and scope of the crisis. We have a $9 billion surplus. We have a crisis in this industry. I believe the measures should be stronger.

Recognizing the time delays, I would be pleased to fill in the minister at another time.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, I feel a little sad having to take the floor today to speak about an issue I hoped would be settled several months ago.

I want to tell the House once again that the minister is hiding behind double talk. His reason for not going to meet the Quebec producers in Quebec City does not stand up.

The Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier riding is not far from Quebec City. Unfortunately, the agriculture and agri-food minister probably is not familiar with my region.

I will help him learn more about it. A little earlier, I called a producer in my riding whom I met several times in the past few weeks and months. His situation is desperate. He is about to lose his farm. Why? Because the minister does not do a thing to help him. That is what is going on today.

The minister will not meet farmers. He is not doing anything to help them. He is giving them ridiculously low sums of money, often in the wrong place. He has no leadership to offer.

Unfortunately, leadership is not this government's strong suit. Examples of this abound. Let me quickly give a few.

Today, even if it was somewhat off topic, we talked about the softwood lumber dispute, which, as we speak, is still not resolved. Part of the problem can be explained by the government's lack of leadership, of which this is a good example.

Let us take another example. During the U.S. President's visit, while the Prime Minister had said that they would not talk about missile defence, Mr. Bush put it on the agenda. That is known as leadership. One can support the policies of the President of the United States of America or not, but at least he is capable of showing leadership, something sorely lacking on the other side of the House.

What exactly is leadership? Today, the Government of Quebec showed some. How? We learned today that an agreement has been reached. Quebec's Minister of Agriculture, Françoise Gauthier, announced that the parties had reached an agreement on a floor price of 42 cents that would become effective, as far as we know, on December 6.

However, Quebec,s Minister of Agriculture made it clear that the agreement had to be final. Otherwise, the Government of Quebec would exercise leadership and bring in special legislation. That is an example of what an independent Quebec could do if it did not always have to contend with the federal government.

What else will this agreement in principle achieve? Producers would own 80% of slaughter capacity and this agreement states that ownership would take effect on December 20. In any event, the Quebec minister was very clear: if this transaction should fail, she promised there would be a special act to establish price, volume and an administrator. Now that is leadership.

Unfortunately, it has come to this. We cannot say this enough today; the minister is not doing anything. At least this situation is starting to get resolved for Quebec producers. We are pleased about that.

Unfortunately, this comes without federal support. Once again, this government is abandoning Quebec. It is unbelievable. Every time there is an opportunity to help Quebec, this government hides, does not take action, beats around the bush, studies the matter, comes up with a plan, has a process in development, but at the end of the day, it does nothing.

As we have mentioned many times today, producers have suffered enormous losses in the past year and a half. Initiatives by the Government of Quebec have not fully resolved the situation. Financial compensation beyond what Quebec is currently providing is needed to support our producers.

I say this in case the rumours of the past few days are true, that the border will reopen within the next six months.

Once again, this is an opportunity for the government to show some leadership. Unfortunately, judging from past experience, we can wait for a signal from the federal government for a long time, and I am certain today that no signal is coming, especially since the minister did not go to Quebec City today. Once again, he will find some excuse not to act.

He has done nothing. The government has done nothing. After a year and a half of our producers being in crisis, the government still has not found a way to convince the United States to reopen its border. If the government had been a little more proactive, we would not still be talking about this situation today. Solutions have been presented here in this House. Regionalization of agriculture sectors is one solution.

If the government had wanted to, it could have implemented that solution long ago. Again, I know I am repeating myself, but this government must understand that it lacks leadership. A single case of mad cow disease in Canada was enough to paralyze all our exports, from Vancouver to Newfoundland, from all municipalities throughout Canada and Quebec. The fact that health regions have not yet been regionalized is inexplicable.

On May 21, 2003, the president of the UPA, Mr. Laurent Pellerin, made a harsh criticism of the government when he said, and I quote:

If we were separate provinces each with its own distinct inspection system and if we had a more regional approach to product marketing systems, only one province would have to deal with this problem.

It would certainly have been a difficult situation for that province and I hope that, at the very least, the federal government could have helped this province to deal with the situation. But, again, allow me to be skeptical. The federal government has shown, in each case, how ineffective it is.

Yet, there are simple solutions. We hear about financial compensation. There is no use in trying to convince producers in Quebec that the federal government cannot help them. It had a $9.1 billion surplus last year, and if my memory serves me well, we are talking about a $8.9 billion surplus for this year. Based on past predictions by the finance minister, the amount of this year's surplus is likely to be significantly higher. I have no doubt about that.

Not only has the federal government lacked leadership on this issue, but I am also convinced that it has been an obstacle to its solution. We should not forget that the federal government has rejected requests by Minister Gauthier for a floor price. On June 15, 2004, the agriculture authority stated that it did not have the power to force Colbex-Levinoff slaughterhouse, among others, to buy cull cows from the Fédération des producteurs de bovins. At the same time, the authority acknowledged that the federation could impose a floor price on animals it was selling, but that cattle remained subject to the auction process, which means that prices could go lower than the floor price.

At the time, the UPA and Minister Gauthier had asked that the federal government use the Agricultural Products Marketing Act to set a floor price. That was a few months ago. Why did the federal government not act immediately? No, it did nothing. That is why, on November 29, Minister Gauthier stated that she did not have the federal government's consent to set a floor price for all of Canada.

Once again, the interests of the producers in Quebec were sacrificed, and that is unacceptable. This point was made many times today, and I make it again.

Yesterday, I met with producers from the UPA. I travelled to Quebec City to meet them. It did not take me 72 hours. I made it back here in plenty of time to attend and take part in the debate on our motion. Do not tell me that the minister could not have done the same. That is incredible, and terribly offensive.

Earlier, I spoke with a constituent of mine who is a farm producer. The minister should go to my riding and meet him, because this producer wants to talk, he has things to tell the minister and he is not in a very good mood. I suggested that he listen to the debate, and he is listening. Unfortunately, he could not afford the luxury of watching us on CPAC, because he had to work on his farm. I interrupted his work, but I said, “Look, this is important. The minister is in the House and he does not want to go and talk to producers in the regions. Here is an opportunity to listen to him”. His answer was, “I know, Mr. Côté, that he did not come to see us”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It being 5:32 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, December 7 at the expiry of the time provided for oral questions.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed certain bills, to which the concurrence of this House is desired.

It being 5:33 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

moved that Bill C-277, An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is always with a lot of emotion that the members participate in this part of our parliamentary life, that is the Private Members' Business.

For the benefit of the viewers I explain that while bills are generally introduced by the governing party, every day, parliamentarians exercise the privilege of introducing a private member's motion or bill. However, during their mandate or a session, individual members seldom have the opportunity to do so.

At the Bloc Québécois, we have made it a duty to introduce bills to respond to the concerns, aspirations and wishes of Canadians, after having consulted and heard what they have to say.

That is why I am very pleased today to introduce Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts), in order to allow the Auditor General to act as auditor or joint auditor, firstly, of crown corporations; secondly, of certain other bodies established by acts of Parliament to which the Government of Canada has paid at least $100 million during any period of 12 consecutive months; and, thirdly, of certain corporate entities without share capital in respect of which the Government of Canada has, either directly or through a crown corporation, the right to appoint or nominate a member of the governing body, andto which the Government of Canada has paid at least $100 million in money or in kind during any period of 12 consecutive months.

What do these legalistic and very opaque words mean? The bill is quite brief. It means that at present, as we speak, the Auditor General of whose power, credibility and relevance within the government we are all aware, whose role and mandate is to ensure that public funds are well managed, finds herself prevented from examining certain public funds, those in foundations and in five crown corporations.

To simplify and summarize: this bill gives the Auditor General the right, power and opportunity to investigate, examine and audit all public funds.

I am sure that those on the government side will say that most foundations, crown corporations and departments manage their money well. If everyone manages their money well, then they ought to agree with the Auditor General reassuring us every year that this money is well managed. Therefore, there should be no problem with this.

Which crown corporations not under the supervision of the Auditor General would become so if the bill is passed? I will name them; there are only five. Some are more special than others, but you will see they are all quite interesting.

There is Canada Post. At this moment, the Auditor General cannot examine the budget of Canada Post. We are not saying that there is no external audit; we are saying that the person doing the audit is chosen by the board of directors. That is rather unusual where public funds are concerned.

Some say that the Auditor General could look at the budgets and the management of Canada Post. She will not do so every year, but she could. After what happened with André Ouellet recently, it would be legitimate for the Auditor General to take a look at management and resource optimization within Canada Post.

Therefore, we have Canada Post, the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. We do not want her to interfere with policy and decision-making or with day-to-day operation of these bodies. All we want is for her to review the management.

I was told after the bill was introduced that two are more sensitive, and I am quite open in this regard. People who know me understand that I am open to dialogue, discussion and amendments. We would have to see. The two are the Public Service Superannuation Plan and the Canada Pension Plan.

If, after discussion in committee, it is demonstrated that they are indeed problematic—the goal being to allow the Auditor General to do her job, and not create problems for anyone—we will see what can be done.

As far as the foundations are concerned, we are talking about the ones with a budget of at least $100 million. We are not talking about just any local shore protection foundation. We do not want the Auditor General to keep an eye on everything that happens, all the time. This would be unfeasible or almost unfeasible.

We have heard that foundations have received large amounts from the federal government, but are beyond the scope of review by a truly independent external auditor.

Again, we can be told that there are external auditing mechanisms in place; however, the external auditor is named by the board of directors. This does not ensure full accountability, transparency and responsibility towards the Parliament.

I will give a few examples of foundations. Again, let me state very clearly that I am not accusing these foundations' managers of being dishonest or bad. All I am saying is that if they are, then we should let the Auditor General take a look at their books.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation received $3.6 billion for its funding. The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation received, when it was founded in 1998, $2.5 billion. Canada Health Infoway, founded in 2001, received $1.2 billion. The Genome Canada endowment foundation received some $300 million.

When they were established, these foundations received around $9 billion. Today, $7.1 billion is still beyond the scope of the Auditor General's review.

If Parliament adopts my bill, it is simply to reassure the public, which got really burned, obviously, during the sponsorship scandal. Its aim is to reassure the public that it is not only a portion of public funds that are well managed and well administered and on which the Auditor General has oversight. In fact, all public funds are subject to scrutiny by the Auditor General.

What is the idea behind this bill? It is not a result of the sponsorship scandal and it is not for strictly political reasons. The idea takes shape in three specific documents.

First, this idea is based on the report of the Auditor General, who is not a political person but an independent officer of the House. In April 2002, she tabled a report. I want to read some excerpts. The press release accompanying the April 2002 report stated, and I quote the Auditor General:

Substantial amounts of public money have been transferred to foundations. I am concerned by the limits placed on Parliament's ability to scrutinize them.

Later, she stated:

The audit found:

significant gaps and weaknesses in the design of delegated arrangements;

limits on what the Auditor General can look at, which prevents her from giving Parliament proper assurance that the use of federal funds and authorities is appropriate;

the "parking" of billions of dollars of the public's money in foundations, years before it is to flow to the intended recipients;

little recourse for the government when things go wrong; and

limited opportunity for Parliament to scrutinize these delegated arrangements.

Later in her report, the Auditor General says:

We found that the essential requirements for accountability to Parliament—credible reporting of results, effective ministerial oversight, and adequate external audit—are not being met.

Later still, she says:

With a few exceptions, Parliament's auditor should be appointed as the external auditor of existing foundations and any created in the future, to provide assurance that they are exercising sound control of the significant public resources and authorities entrusted to them.

Those are the words of the Auditor General. Later in her April 2002 report, she says:

—the essential requirements for accountability to Parliament...are not being met.

The last two excerpts from the Auditor General's report that I want to cite read as follows:

The creation of more foundations and the transfer to them of very large amounts of public money raise increasing concerns about the lack of adequate means for parliamentary scrutiny.

She goes on to say:

The auditor general should be appointed as the external auditor for foundations, with a few exceptions.

So that was back in April 2002. In accordance with parliamentary procedure as we know it, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts examined the report in April 2002, and its report was tabled in turn in May 2003. What was contained in that May 2003 report by the standing committee after its examination of the auditor general's report? There was one key recommendation which read:

That, for those foundations either created through legislation, or receiving significant federal funding--

They were talking here of $500 million, which after discussion was brought down to $100 million.

—the federal government appoint the Auditor General of Canada as external auditor of these foundations.

In response to this recommendation, the government said:

However, requiring foundations to accept the public sector type standards and operations as well as establishing the Auditor General of Canada as their auditor as identified in recommendations eight through thirteen, could undermine the independence of foundations, reduce their operational flexibility—

If the money is being properly managed, I have trouble seeing how this would reduce their operational flexibility. The government response was a bit odd.

So what we have here is a report released in 2002 and a response in 2003. Then in 2004, the auditor general said the following in connection with the public accounts:

For a number of years I have included in my audit report on the government's financial statements a discussion of my concerns about foundations. SInce 1997, the government has recorded as expenses in its financial statements $9.1 billion in transfers to several foundations—

So what she was saying is that she needed to see whether this had all been done properly. So what we have here is a report released in 2002 and a response in 2003, plus a repetition in 2004 by the auditor general that this needed to be corrected.

Being overly preoccupied with other issues, this government has neglected, forgotten or rejected its responsibilities concerning the supervisory power of the Auditor General. This is why, today, it is totally appropriate to recall these recommendations to the government party and to parliamentarians.

Following discussions with my colleagues from the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party, I know that there seems to be some support for this, and I am very pleased about that. I hope that on the Liberal side, they will show the same respect for the powers of the Auditor General and the same interest when it comes to allowing her to review the totality of public monies. I do not want to accuse anybody, I only want the books to be open.

The government talked about transparency during the election. Our citizens talk to us of cynicism toward the political world. Let us open the books more; let us ensure greater transparency; let us allow the Auditor General to take a look at what is going on in the entire government machinery; let us not hide $9 billion from the Auditor General through foundations. If we do so, we will probably increase somewhat the citizens' confidence in politics and we will ensure that all that money is well managed.

Concerning the Millennium Scholarships, let me remind you that we are in favour of their abolition. At the end of the day, we feel that departments should manage these programs but, in the very least, while these foundations are in existence, they should open theirs books to a truly independent audit. This audit should not be done par existing boards. Thus, confidence will be restored.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member has an interesting perspective. I think the objective is right, but I am not sure if the approach is correct.

In his speech the hon. member mentioned that he has concerns because the board of directors would appoint the auditors; that is directly impugning the profession of chartered accountants. They are all subject to the same professional rules of conduct and ethics. They are subject to the same practices. They are all licensed. In fact, the Auditor General herself came through the same system and will probably go back to that.

I would think that maybe the objective of the member could be achieved as simply as saying that the appointment of auditors to any crown corporations or foundations should be subject to the concurrence of the Auditor General as to which firm it is. It could be quite simple.

However, I do not think it is necessary, simply from the standpoint that the accounting profession is well recognized as a professional, licensed body of well-trained professionals who are not in the pockets of any directors. They are subject to inspections of practices, training guidelines, et cetera. I raise this from the standpoint that I am concerned about impugning the accounting profession, saying that the Auditor General is somehow better than they are, and whether she even has the time.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question. It gives me an opportunity to clarify something.

I do not want to attack the accountants in any way, shape or form. I would not want this bill to be considered as a partisan or political bill either. However, it has not been prepared in this form by the Bloc Quebecois. The Auditor General kept bringing it back for amendments.

For my colleague's benefit, I am not an accountant myself, but I would like to tell him that there is accounting being done within the foundations.

According to what the Auditor General says, the external auditors only make sure that the amounts are accurate, while the Auditor General--if I understood well--conduct a value-for-money audit, which is another form of accounting type audit, not only to make sure that the $100 million that were in the first column are still in the second one, but also to find out how the money was managed.

The external auditors, like Samson Belair/Deloitte & Touches etc., simply do not have that kind of mandate when they are asked to make an audit. It is not that they are incompetent or dishonest. It is only that they do not have this mandate. That type of responsibility lies with the Auditor general.

I have a lot of respect for Samson Bélair/Deloitte & Touche and for other accounting firms. However, we must recognize that they do not submit their reports to Parliament. They submit them to the foundation. What role do parliamentarians play in the follow up on how that money was spent? None.

During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister said he wanted to increase the power of parliamentarians. I would find it very strange to voluntarily relinquish the power to increase our supervisory rights on the foundations' budgets. It is simply because external accounting firms do not have that mandate. It is not because they are not fulfilling their duties in a correct, honest or voluntary fashion, it is because their responsibilities are different. It is the role of the Auditor General to conduct this value-for-money audit, as she suggested in 2002, and as the hon. member's party agreed to in a report of the public accounts committee, which includes Liberal members and which recommended to open the books of all the foundations for the Auditor General.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to commend and compliment my colleague and friend from Repentigny. I sit with the member on the auditing committee of the House and I know of his passion for this issue.

I find it surprising that the Liberal member talked about the fact that we might impugn the motives of the chartered accountancy firms. I think they are all grown up and understand the checks and balances required in a democracy. Not only that, if we took that particular theory and applied it here we would have never had the sponsorship scandal in front of us, because who would dare impugn the motives of a minister of the Crown? This is all about checks and balances.

I was particularly intrigued by subclause 2(3), which talks about the fact that the Auditor General can determine himself or herself whether anything further needs to be done, perhaps an initial review. I would ask the member if he has had any occasion to come across a circumstance where the Auditor General would not be sent in because it is not in the best interests of Canadians.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, indeed, the Auditor General protects the best interests of Canadians. However, if we read clause 2(3), we can see that she may also act as joint auditor, which means that if the work has been done, she can simply approve it.

However, my feeling—and I hope I am totally wrong—is that when a bill is presented by the Bloc Québécois, the governing party does not look at it, does not read it. They immediately think, “If this bill is presented by the crypto-separatists, it must be bad”.

I hope I am wrong on this. I am convinced that the hon. member is intellectually above thinking that because a bill comes from the Bloc Québécois it is automatically bad.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Sudbury Ontario


Diane Marleau LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-277, the private member's bill put forward by the member for Repentigny.

Bill C-277 proposes amendments to the Auditor General Act that would enable the Auditor General of Canada to act as auditor or joint auditor for all federal crown corporations and a variety of independent, not for profit organizations.

I will focus my comments on the proposal to expand the Auditor General's mandate to include not for profit organizations. However, before speaking on this, I would like to comment on the proposals relative to crown corporations.

In principle, I am very supportive of the Auditor General's oversight of all federal government entities such as crown corporations. After all, these organizations are owned and controlled by the federal government and are part of the federal government. It seems reasonable to me that Parliament's auditor should be eligible to act as their auditor or joint auditor.

Although the government agrees in principle with fostering more transparency to ensure that public funds are used as intended, we still do not believe that an amendment to the Auditor General Act is the best way to achieve this objective.

The government is examining amendments to the Financial Administration Act as it relates to Crown corporations. It is very likely that these tools will be more effective to ensure transparency and achieve the objectives of this bill concerning Crown corporations.

Now, with respect to the proposal for the Auditor General of Canada to act as auditor or joint auditor for private, not for profit entities, I would like to express my concern that such an expansion of the Auditor General's mandate could be seen as an intrusion on the independence of these organizations.

These organizations are independent of government. Unlike crown corporations, they are neither owned nor controlled by the government. They have their own members and boards of directors.

As members know, not for profit corporations and the voluntary sector are essential to Canadian life and the economy. Their independence is fundamental. I believe a key element of this independence is their ability to choose their own auditor. Without this, I believe many Canadians would be reluctant to work or volunteer in such organizations.

The bill proposes a $100 million threshold in federal assistance in any 12 consecutive months above which the Auditor General would act as auditor or joint auditor. This appears to be a very arbitrary number and I believe would be extremely difficult and disruptive to apply. It would exclude organizations that receive just below this threshold even if they receive such annual funding every year.

However, it would include an organization one year and not the next year if the $100,000 million threshold is not reached. This would be very disruptive to these organizations, as they would be required to change their external auditor to suit the varying levels of payments. As members know, the external auditor role is fundamental to any organization and there needs to be stability in their appointment.

Several not-for-profit organizations rely on the revenues of public sector organizations, whether they are from federal, provincial or municipal governments. It is precisely because governments recognize the importance of these organizations that they support them.

Governments are consistent in providing assistance to these organizations, and a significant element is an adequate government and a specific audit regime. The appointment of their own external auditor general is one of their fundamental rights.

I should also point out that the bill simply refers to payments in excess of $100 million. As such, it covers all forms of payment, whether they be grants, contributions, payments for goods and services or lending activity. Some of these organizations could involve other levels of government and often do in their assistance or governance. It would certainly not be appropriate to impose Parliament's auditor on these organizations and risk alienating other governments in Canada.

It is very uncertain just how many organizations the bill would impact. In addition, while there would be additional costs to expand the Auditor General's mandate and accept such engagements, it is uncertain what the total of these costs might be.

Another aspect to consider is that the House is currently considering new legislation introduced by the Minister of Industry governing federal not for profit organizations. This proposed legislation would replace parts II and III of the Canada Corporations Act with a leading edge, modern corporate governance framework for these organizations.

It proposes to strengthen corporate governance and accountability rules so that not for profit corporations have the necessary tools to meet the challenges of the future. I believe this private member's bill may be congruent with the intent and spirit of the proposed Canada not-for-profit corporations act.

Putting aside the question of expanding the Auditor General's mandate to enable her to accept appointments as external auditor for such not for profit organizations, I do believe that Parliament needs to be comfortable with the governance, accountability and oversight regime with respect to the use of federal assistance no matter who receives this assistance and no matter what the amount.

However, there are many ways to achieve this that better respect the independence of these organizations.

Through existing policy frameworks and contractual arrangements with recipients of federal funds, the government should be able to ensure effective governance and oversight. Many of these regimes provide for performance reporting, audits, evaluations and other forms of oversight. If there is a need to explore ways to make these regimes more effective, then I would certainly be supportive of such.

An area in particular where the government has shown significant progress is not-for-profit organizations, sometimes known as “foundations”, which receive financial assistance directly. By being responsible in the use of public funds, the government is committed to keep the promises stated in the 2003 budget and reiterated in the 2004 budget. All these statements were made to demonstrate sound management.

Funding agreements are entered into between the foundations and the government through the responsible minister providing the funding to the specific foundation. The funding agreements are approved by Treasury Board and cover areas such as the purpose of the federal assistance to the foundation, reporting, audit and accountability requirements regarding the use of this funding, prudent investment vehicles for the endowment funding, and the expected results to be achieved from the specific foundation investment.

As with all not for profit organizations, officers and staff handle the day to day operations of each foundation appointed by the board of directors. The board is made up of individuals appointed under the governing charter. The federal government may appoint some directors, but in all such cases these would be in the minority. The foundation's membership appoints independent auditors to audit the financial statements, which must be prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. The government can undertake compliance audits to ensure that the terms and conditions of funding agreements have been respected.

I understand that the Auditor General Act already provides the Auditor General the power to inquire into and report on any organization receiving financial aid from the government. The expansion of the Auditor General's mandate as proposed by this bill could be seen as intruding on the independence of not for profit corporations in Canada.

That being said, there may be additional oversight measures that can be undertaken which would not be as intrusive, and I understand these are currently being explored.

The Auditor General does not need to be appointed external auditor for these organizations in order to provide additional oversight over the use of federal assistance.

In conclusion, I support the principle of expanding the role of the Auditor General as auditor or joint auditor of crown corporations on the understanding that the mechanism to put this into effect be examined. However, I oppose the provisions of the bill that deal with not for profit organizations.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment my colleague from the Bloc Québecois for Bill C-277. There is no question that his heart is in the right place and in the right area. I am glad to see that the member speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party is going along with the idea that, yes, we need more accountability in this place.

I also support the intention of where Bill C-277 wants to go. Perhaps when it gets to committee it will have to be amended but I support the intent. What we need to talk about here at second reading concerns the sponsorship scandal and what happened when the Auditor General pointed out that the government had received little or no value for $100 million. We know that crown corporations were involved. For example, Canada Post was exempt by legislation from being audited by the Auditor General.

We know that Canada Post was very much into the sponsorship scandal and working with the advertising agencies and so on and so forth. After that it turns out that the president, CEO and chairman of the board was getting expenses reimbursed without any documentation. Then we found out that the audit committee had not been doing its job. We really need to know what is going on over there.

Canada Post is a crown corporation that has a monopoly in this country to deliver mail. Nobody else is allowed to do it. Canada Post is going to put the prices up again. I know the minister says that it is less than the cost of inflation. However we have no idea if that organization is being run efficiently and effectively. We have no value for money audits coming from the auditors of Canada Post. We have no capacity in this place to examine what the auditors are doing. We cannot bring them in and ask them to give us some real facts so we can see what is going on down there.

The bill is a good idea. When we take a look at the foundations, as was pointed out, they had about $7 billion sitting in their bank accounts which we had given them to do good work in society, the health innovation foundation, the scholarship foundation and so on. These were things that we approved in this House thinking that the money would be spent for the benefit of Canada and Canadians.

What happened? Canada Post put it in the bank as if it was its own money. Guess what? It pretty well was its own money. When we dealt with this issue at the public accounts committee the deputy comptroller general told us that they could not even get the money back. If the government decided to wind up the foundations and say that was it, that they did not want any more of this, then where do members think the money would go? It would not come back to us. It would be divided among the recipients who already received money from the foundation.

It may have changed since then. After we rapped the knuckles of the government at the public accounts committee, it decided it would see if it could make some changes. However it found out that it had no capacity to impose any change on these foundations unless it gave them more money.

We must remember that Canada Post had $7 billion in the bank. How much more did it need? We had to give it more so we could change the agreement. This is the nonsensical type of stuff that needs to be stopped. Therefore it is important for the Auditor General to go where she needs to go in the Government of Canada.

It is the old checks and balances thing. If people think the Auditor General will be showing up at their door, then we know they are going to suck it in and get it done right.

What about the privacy commissioner? He thought he was too small, with only an $11 million office budget. He did not think the Auditor General would come knocking on his door because he was just small potatoes. Then, of course, when it all started to unravel and fall apart, the Auditor General did go in and then we found that there were illegalities going on over there. They were spending money that was not even authorized by this place.

I stood up on a point of order and I said that the office had to be fixed and that we needed that money back. Unfortunately, and a disappointment to me and everyone else in this House I am sure, the government thought of every eventuality. In the event that the government spends money that is not authorized by this place, and it is fundamental to our democracy that we authorize it before it spends it, the line in the Financial Administration Act says that is okay and that we should not worry about it. The government can put a note in the public accounts when it is tabled saying that it is okay.

It did not even require a supplementary estimate to come into this House to be debated. It just had a little line saying that we should not worry, that we should be happy and that it was okay; it was illegal but it was okay: the sponsorship program, the foundations, Canada Post.

What about VIA Rail and the Business Development Bank? They were both wrapped up in the sponsorship scandal too. Why can we not take a look at them and do value for money auditing?

The intent of the bill is honourable and good and we do need to support it. As I say, it may need some tweaking in committee.

The other thing I wanted to mention has to do with federal-provincial relationships. The government is entering into a number of relationships on such things as the child care policy, the child benefit and so on. The federal government and a provincial government get together and deliver a program but nobody has the capacity to audit the whole program. The Auditor General of Canada may be able to look at one half and the provincial Auditor General can take a look at the other half, but they cannot talk to each other and audit the whole program because that is against the law and they adhere to the law. Even though other departments do not adhere to the law, they do. Therefore we cannot get a combined report auditing the whole program. We need to be able to do that. It makes eminent sense, I would say, to be able to do that.

It is interesting that when they negotiate these agreements, they always seem to forget to negotiate the accountability section. It just kind of drops off at the end and is not there. It is time we, just by default, ensure that it is there. In that way Canadians can expect the program will be audited. Canadians can expect a report saying that it is fine or it is otherwise. If it is otherwise, then we take the appropriate action and do what we have to do and start inquiries and spend $40 million, whatever it is we are spending over at the Gomery inquiry, plus the RCMP investigation and so on and so forth. It is called accountability and it does not matter what it costs. Accountability is what keeps people honest and it is what promotes honesty and integrity. The more we have of that, the better off we are.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in support of the bill put forward by the hon. member for Repentigny. It is important that he brought the bill forward today because Bill C-277 really touches the heart of why we are here. We are in this place to manage the finances of our federal government effectively and to make sure that taxpayers across this country, all Canadians, are aware that their money is being managed effectively.

I also congratulate the member for Repentigny because Bill C-277 is similar to a motion that I brought forward in the House on November 1:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should appoint the Auditor General as the external auditor of foundations, with a few exceptions, and ensure that adequate mechanisms are in place for a broad scope audit of all delegated arrangements.

The motion that I brought forward in the House is similar to the bill that thankfully the member for Repentigny has brought forward today. It is extremely important. His bill goes beyond the scope of my motion and deals with crown corporations and foundations in an effective way.

We know very well that this is a fundamental issue. It is an issue because the Auditor General has flagged it, as we know. She said, “Substantial amounts of public money have been transferred to foundations”. In her press release in 2002, which I will come back to as part of her report a bit later on, the Auditor General mentioned that she was “concerned by the limits placed on Parliament's ability to scrutinize them”. She has raised this question of foundations.

She also mentioned in her 2002 report that her audit found: “significant gaps and weaknesses in the design of delegated arrangements”; that there were “limits on what the Auditor General can look at”, which prevents the Office of the Auditor General from giving Parliament proper assurance that the use of federal funds and authorities was appropriate; that the “parking of billions of dollars of the public's money in foundations, years before it is to flow to the intended recipients” was something that occurred systematically.

Her report also indicated that there was “little recourse” for the government when things went wrong and unfortunately also “limited opportunity for Parliament to scrutinize these delegated arrangements”.

Very clearly the Auditor General has flagged the issue of foundations and, in a broader sense, crown corporation moneys that are paid by Canadians across the country and are set aside and outside her scrutiny. We know with a great deal of assurance that Canadians support the Office of the Auditor General and the task she takes on with ardour and professionalism to make sure we know that the money being spent through the federal government is being spent effectively.

I was very happy to learn this week that the efforts of the opposition parties in three corners of the House to fight to eliminate the withholding of $11.5 million in funding for next year for the Office of the Auditor General has been successful. That is another sign that this four-cornered House with four parties working together can help to resolve issues. It is unfortunate that the government chose to withhold that funding. Fortunately, due to opposition pressure, that funding is now being allocated to the Office of the Auditor General. Fortunately now she is not forced to lay off 85 of her employees. It was unfortunate that the government did not confirm this earlier, but again, opposition pressure made a difference.

We have talked about financial mismanagement. There are a lot of examples. We could talk about the $9.1 billion that is dropped into unaccountable foundations. Very fortunately, Bill C-277 would help us to start address that important issue. There is also the $46 billion employment insurance surplus, which we have talked about and which literally was made on the backs of workers and communities across the country.

We also know that the Liberal government consistently underestimates the budget balance. That is a total of $86 billion. Also, other speakers have referred to the sponsorship scandal, which is in the order of $250 million.

On the one hand, we have seen the mismanagement of funds from hard-working Canadian taxpayers across the country, funds that are being paid to the federal government in order to ensure that we build a better quality of life for all of us. On the other hand, we are seeing a situation in my area, for example, where homelessness has tripled.

Child poverty is not being reduced but is actually increasing. It is shameful that this is happening at a time when there is a budget surplus. In my community St. Mary's Hospital was closed this year, a hospital that was important and badly needed. Due to federal government cutbacks and bad decisions by the provincial government, we have seen the closure of that hospital.

We talk about the EI surplus and at the same time there is unemployment. Families are having a hard time making things meet because the social safety net is no longer there. There is growing child poverty and yet we have a surplus and there are corporate tax cuts.

We see this dysfunction between resources that should be available to all Canadians and how those funds are allocated. That is why I welcome the measure by the member of Parliament for Repentigny, to start to address that so that we know what is happening with every dollar that Canadians pay to the federal government.

Earlier I made reference to the 2002 report. I would like to come back to that for a moment. It is the issue around the financial accountability of some of these foundations. The 2002 Report of the Auditor General made reference to a number of these foundations and made reference as well to whether or not there was the overseeing of these foundations through the House and the Office of the Auditor General.

For example, on Genome Canada, the Auditor General mentioned in the 2002 report that there was no ministerial direction and action. There was no departmental audit and evaluation.

For the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, there was no reporting of expected performance to Parliament. There was no reporting of performance results to Parliament, no reporting of audited financial statements to Parliament, no reporting of evaluation results to Parliament, no strategic monitoring, and again, no ministerial direction and action and no departmental audit and evaluation.

For the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology there was no ministerial direction and action.

For the Green Municipal Investment Fund and the Green Municipal Enabling Fund, there was no reporting of expected performance to Parliament, no reporting of audited financial statements to Parliament, no reporting of evaluation results to Parliament, and no ministerial direction and action.

For Canada Health Infoway Inc. there was no reporting of expected performance to Parliament, no reporting of performance results to Parliament, no reporting of audited financial statements to Parliament, no strategic monitoring, no ministerial direction and action, and no departmental audit and evaluation.

These are issues that have been raised, thankfully by the Office of the Auditor General. Clearly, as one of the other members mentioned, accountability and good financial management are extremely important to all Canadians, to all taxpayers, and should be important to all parliamentarians. We welcome Bill C-277 because it effectively starts to address the issue of lack of oversight.

In conclusion, thanks to the hon. member for Repentigny, we have a bill that will begin to address all these problems that exist outside of government initiatives and that are currently being assessed by the Office of the Auditor General.

Indeed, in adopting this bill, we will increase the Parliament's scope for action as well as financial accountability, which is so important to Canadians.

I fully support this bill and I know we will have the opportunity to improve it at committee.

I salute the hon. member for Repentigny for this initiative and hope all the members of the House will support it.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am a new member, and, as such, it is with emotion that I stood the first few times, but I am very happy today to support Bill C-277, which was tabled by my colleague from Repentigny. In fact, this bill is meant to lower the unfortunate level of public cynicism towards politicians.

We have before us a government that pretends to promote transparency. We have before us a Prime Minister who pretends to be a champion in the fight against the democratic deficit. We have before us a finance minister who says it is respectful to provide faultless management. I am happy that Bill C-277 gives the government an opportunity to practice what it preaches.

This bill will give back to the House and to the members of Parliament some control over the management of funds, which had been removed from the scrutiny of Parliament, something that started back in 1997, when the Prime Minister, then Minister of Finance, began to hide billions of dollars in different foundations. That way, he could remove these funds from public debate and distort his real manoeuvring room. Huge sums of money were involved.

I was making a quick calculation this afternoon. An amount of $9.1 billion was transferred within a number of foundations. If you add to that the $9.1 billion surplus for last year and the estimated $8.9 billion for the current year, we have a total amount of more than $25 billion that has been concealed from public debate in this House.

A government member was talking a moment ago about the work done by external auditors within the framework of their duties. I must say that my colleague from Repentigny has quite aptly explained the difference. I would still like to come back to that aspect.

Let me give you a few quick examples of the difference between the work of an external auditor and the work the Auditor General could do when it comes to the auditing of foundations.

In 1997, the Canada Foundation for Innovation has received a subsidy of $3.651 billion. As of 31 March 2004, that foundation still held $3.122 million. This means that, over a seven-year period, that foundation only spent 14 % of its budget.

Of course, an external auditor will look at the figures, examine everything and, at the end, I suppose, conclude that effectively, according to generally accepted standards in external accounting and audit, all the figures are correct. On the other hand, the Auditor General, in such a case, could make recommendations. She could tell the government that is not normal for a foundation after seven years to have spent only 14% of the budget allocated to it by the government.

The same goes for the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. As we know, the Bloc has opposed this foundation specifically because it was impinging on Quebec's jurisdiction. The scenario is somewhat similar. Only 20 % of the budget allocated to the foundation was spent since 1998. That is 20 % in six years. We can ask ourselves why the finance minister of the time, who is now Prime Minister, wanted so much to allocate these funds to the foundations since, clearly, they were not ready to hand out the necessary sums.

However, there is worse still, and this is incredible. In 2001, $350 million was allocated to The Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology. Today, as of March 31, 2004, this foundation still has $347 million on hand.

Listen to this next one, because it is truly mind-boggling. In 2001, Canada Health Infoway got $1.2 billion in financing from the federal government.

On March 31, 2004, the foundation had $1,202 billion. Not only did it not spend the money obtained from the federal government, but it made even more money.

In the mean time, incredible needs have been mentioned since the return of the House. There are people living in extreme poverty in Canada and in Quebec. I will not go back over the opposition day of the Bloc Québécois. I think that we have demonstrated that the federal government is not doing its job.

All this to say that Bill C-277 introduced by my colleague from Repentigny, gives to the government an opportunity to act where, until now, it has only talked. I sincerely hope that the government members will support the effort by my colleague in the committee as well as in the House, so that Bill C-277 may be passed. This is really important.

Also, we must not forget that these foundations established by the government are not subject to the Access to Information Act. There must be a specific provision in their financing agreement for the members of Parliament to be allowed to use the Access to Information Act and find out what is really going on within these foundations.

It has been mentioned that the Auditor General did an excellent job in the last few years. I said earlier that foundations cannot be scrutinized by members of Parliament. Actually, in April 2002—this is quite a while ago, and we again return to the lack of leadership in the government—the Auditor General wrote in her report called “Placing the Public's Money Beyond Parliament's Reach” that, in her opinion, the information provided to parliamentarians about the foundations “is not adequate for parliamentary scrutiny”. She concluded that “the foundations had been placed beyond the reach of effective ministerial oversight and parliamentary scrutiny”.

Knowing that, is it surprising that those who do not get the chance to listen to our proceedings daily tend to be cynical? I wish more people in Quebec and Canada could follow our proceedings as regularly as possible, because I hope, somewhat naively I suppose, that they would view the politicians with less cynicism. But their cynical view of the government and its party would increase immensely. Maybe the government would then really work in the best interest of the people instead of wasting its time in different ways and failing to resolve problems.

I hope the House will pass Bill C-277.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to simply make the point with regard to the debate that I hope this bill gets to committee.

There is a point about external auditors. When they report on financial statements, the auditor's report is two paragraphs long. It is not the same kind of report that we are accustomed to seeing from the Auditor General. The Auditor General's reports are more in the line of value for money. They look at specific activities on the broad range and whether or not objectives have been met. That is the difference.

To the extent that the bill is dealing with assigning external auditors, it could very well be that the facility that should be sought is for the Auditor General to have access to do special audits with special activities. The Auditor General does not even audit every department every year; it is on a selective, orderly and transparent basis.

It has been a very interesting discussion. I think everybody agrees with the objectives. How this would happen is something that should be discussed in committee so that we can have a good bill.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Auditor General ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to return to a discussion I raised in question period, regarding the closure of the border to the Canadian cattle and ruminant industries. The discussion revolved around what the government proposed to do with the Americans to get the border open and what types of trade actions they would pursue.

As we know, in the last couple of weeks, since I raised that question in the House, some advances have made in the renegotiation of the opening of the border by the President of the United States, and developing regulation through the OMB.

I want to ask the government and the Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food to lay out for us what the government's plans are. We know from the announcement the President made in the press conference that the Americans are only looking at cattle under 30 months of age. Therefore, there are still some trade violations as it applies to the areas of other ruminants, those being sheep, bison and elk. Those concerns still exist, as well as what we will do with the mature animals and the trade that they used to enjoy.

We also realize the OMB process can become politicized. At some point down the road, there will be a stage in the next set period of time laid out by the President of having the regulations approved by the house of representatives and the senate. What the government's involvement will be in that process? Also, what is the government prepared to do in the event that the whole process becomes derailed? It could be thrown off for political purposes or because other animals could be to have BSE, on either side of the border.

Could the parliamentary secretary lay out for the industry and for us House what trade rules will be implemented and what the backup plan will be?

Auditor General ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that he has said in the last couple of weeks some advances have been made. All too often in the House there is little recognition for the good work of the minister and the government. I appreciate that the member has recognized this.

It is important to say that, yes, we have made every effort to reopen the border. The minister has said a number of times that we have made over 150 representations on behalf of not only cattle. It is important to mention the cattle and beef sectors. However, exporters of other animals and meat are affected by the border closure as well, such as the sheep, goat, bison and the sectors. We need to work strenuously in their interests as well.

Specifically on the member's question, we will continue to assess all the options available to us. We do not think that initiating a trade dispute at this time would be the best way to proceed. As the member himself admitted, we are making reasonable progress. We certainly want border opened quickly, if at all possible.

It was a great advance when on November 20 President Bush advised the Prime Minister that the United States rule had moved from the United States department of agriculture to the office of management and budget. That development is significant because it means we now have a timeline for the rule being implemented and borders being reopened to live animals. It remains, however, premature to speculate on the scope of the United States rule and what animals and products it will provide access from Canada as the rule will not be published until the OMB has completed its study.

From the government's perspective, we will continue to keep the pressure on the United States. The issue is mentioned at every meeting, including the meetings when President Bush was here. The minister brought the issue forward strenuously, as did the international trade minister. We are looking at it optimistically.

As well, we continue to work around the world to try to import our cattle and beef products elsewhere. We continue to increase our slaughter capacity in our country so that at the end of the day we do the best we can, as the Government of Canada, for Canadian cattle producers and producers of other ruminant animals.

Auditor General ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, it does not address the whole issue of the other animals that are still shut out of the U.S. market. We know from what the President has said that the U.S. is only looking at animals under 30 months of age in the cattle industry. Therefore, the other sectors still have to be addressed.

The Charlottetown Guardian reported last week that the parliamentary secretary was urging the federal government to retaliate against protectionist American laws that violated trade agreements and applauded Ottawa's decision to tell Washington it would respond in kind to trade measures that violated world trade organization agreements.

There is no question that some violations are happening. I just want to ensure that the parliamentary secretary is committed to ensuring that we proceed with taking the course of law in the event that things do not happen the way we want them to.