Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from the Bloc who has laid out many of the reasons why his party has chosen not to support the motion. I hope to at least touch upon some of the reasons why we in the Conservative Party similarly will not support a motion which, for all intents and purposes, will shut down debate on a plethora of government bills that touch on a number of very important subject matters.
It is the principle behind the use of the closure motion that really leads us to the point of saying there is no way, it is absolutely impossible, that we could support what the government has done. In less than one calendar week the government has already invoked a closure motion to use the guillotine, to bring down the curtain on meaningful debate in the House of Commons on a number of bills.
The procedure the government is using to go about doing this is not uncommon. The speed with which the government has acted in this fashion in bringing about closure is a true signal as to how the Prime Minister and the government are going to treat the so-called democratic deficit that the Prime Minister has had a revelation on in discovering that a democratic deficit exists in the country.
I am amazed the Prime Minister has gone about one of the most remarkable historical conversions perhaps ever seen in this country's political history. Upon leaving the cabinet, he suddenly discovered after nine years, as part of the government, there was a democratic deficit in the country, that members of Parliament did not have enough power, that the backbench was suffering from an emasculation, that backbenchers were unable to participate in such a way that they could have input into decision making and that they were not empowered in the House of Commons or in committees. The people themselves, through members of Parliament, were therefore not being heard.
These were the grandiose words of the Prime Minister. This was the grand plan and he was going to address it by coming out with a democratic plan to address the deficit. Here we are. We fast forward to today's date and see the Prime Minister using the same ham-handed tactics of his predecessor, using closure to shut down debate in the House of Commons.
Let me quote the Prime Minister in December of 2002. He stated:
My position on parliamentary reform is that closure should be the exception, not the rule.
It took him six days to use this closure tactic. Today, in not less than a calendar week, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the Prime Minister, has come about with this crass political move to shut down debate in the House of Commons.
What element of this legislation is most important to the Prime Minister? What is the defining piece of legislation in this grouping? It is called the early election bill. It allows the Prime Minister to call an early election. Why? It is very much linked to the revelations that came from the Auditor General's report today.
It is no coincidence that on the very day the Auditor General's report comes out we see the government invoking closure. I know I am not to use props in the House, but it is no coincidence that on the cover page of this document is written November. The document was available to the government in October of 2003. It had it in its possession then. The Prime Minister had to be aware.
There has been speculation for months about the contents of the Auditor General's report. The government knew that this was a damning indictment of how these sponsorship programs and grants were being operated by the Department of Public Works and by other elements of the government. It knew that the last Auditor General's report similarly castigated the government for its activities and the way in which it was not accountable, the way in which it had been spending taxpayer money, the way in which in many cases criminal investigations were commenced into the dealings of the government and its departments, the way in which money had been funneled and the transgressions of various ministers and departments.
Sadly, this has been a recurring theme of the government of mismanagement, of corrupt practices, of faulty accounting, of the way in which the government has been spending the money and then losing track of that money, unable to account for it.
The report itself is riddled with examples. Some of the most troubling examples that I can point to involve the RCMP itself, money that was allotted for the RCMP for various programs for its 125th anniversary and how that money was spent in an inappropriate way.
The difficulty I have with this, where the RCMP is in many ways implicated by the Auditor General's findings, is how can Canadians, how can our institution of Parliament turn to it and have it investigate some of these dalliances, some of this activity where it has been tainted. We are not talking about a small amount of money. We are talking about $250 million that was touched upon by these sponsorships.
Let me be clear. What is happening in this motion, in this use of closure, is an attempt to stifle the debate, to shut it down, to sideline it, to distract, to detract away from the opposition's job to be diligent in asking questions.
We saw it in the House of Commons today. The Prime Minister said that he did not know what was happening. Imagine that. The minister of finance, who was also doubling as the vice-chair of the Treasury Board, the man who wrote the cheques, the man on the frontlines, the chief gate keeper, the man who was specifically tasked with safeguarding taxpayer money did not know this money was being spent in such an inappropriate way.
That is simply not acceptable. He was complicit or complacent about how these programs were operating. He had a responsibility, an obligation and a commitment to the Canadian people, which he is now shirking by suggesting he did not know.
As we saw today, simply announcing that there will be a commission to look into this, just as there will be a public inquiry to look into the Arar case, will in effect put these issues aside until after the election, again avoiding the accountability that is so sorely lacking in the government's record.
We have seen so much of this over the years, whether it be the ballooning and inflating costs of the gun registry, which again the Prime Minister, as finance minister, continued to fund. It went from $2 million to $200 million, to now over $1 billion, and that department is still asking for more money. The government has resorted back to the same old saw that this is public protection, that this is all about public safety and gun control as opposed to the registry system. It is the nuances and the misinformation that comes from the government that is really an attempt to cover the tracks, to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians as to what it is actually doing.
The Auditor General is tasked with an extremely important role, but so are we in the opposition. This information now has laid bare the government's actions, has laid bare the way in which it has misappropriated, misspent and misinformed Canadians about how that money was being doled out, not for well-intentioned purposes that were going to benefit Canadian society at large, not to cure cancer, not to help the ailing fishery, not to put money into the military or somehow bring about a general improvement in the state and the welfare of the country.
So much of this money went to Liberal friendly advertising firms. Therefore this omnipresent political element bears commentary. It is this partisan element that is all about perpetrating the government's hold on power and perpetrating the power that exists in the Prime Minister's Office.
This is what it all comes down to. The Prime Minister, whose predecessor had concentrated all that power, is now tasked with somehow devolving that. That should really be his task. That should really be the focus of addressing the democratic deficit.
I wish I could say that I have some confidence that will happen, even to be objective which is difficult for a partisan to be. It would be my hope that he would follow through on this commitment, but surely the six days that we have had in this Prime Minister's exposure in the House of Common in his new reign of power does little to bolster the confidence of Canadians or members of the House of Commons that this is truly his intent, that he will somehow devolve some of this power and truly empower the House of Commons, particularly when we see closure used, when we see efforts to sideline these important disclosures of evidence about what has taken place in government spending.
That very much undermines the spirit of addressing the democratic deficit. It makes the gulf even wider and brings about further cynicism; a greater degree of cynicism we have not seen in the country.
I do not know what it will take to get the attention of the government. This report goes even further than the previous report which talked about how Parliament was kept in the dark and every rule in the book was broken. This is worse. This is a more scathing report than the last one. There was time to do something about it.
To suggest that the Prime Minister acted quickly is an absolute falsehood. The Prime Minister reacted. He was not proactive in doing something about what the Auditor General had pointed out. If he were, a plan would have been laid out immediately upon returning. What we are seeing is a catch up and an attempt to wash this away.
If the Prime Minister wants to know who is responsible for this, he just has to look in the mirror. He does not need to look at some disgraced diplomat who is now being brought home and paraded in front of the cameras as the person responsible for all of this. He does bear some responsibility, but the Prime Minister himself, as finance minister, on Treasury Board, in cabinet, a Quebec minister, had to oversee much of what took place.
The closure motion is really a byline. It is really a subplot to the main issue here, the main issue being one of true accountability, of truth in government, of responsibility to the people of Canada. The Prime Minister promised change. We have seen no change and actually no indication of change. We have seen the same practices. The man himself voted 83 times in favour of the use of closure or time allocation during the life of his government.
Let me be very clear. This is not a new government. This is a government seeking a fourth mandate. It can change the paint on the ship of state and put the first mate at the wheel, but it is the same government. The Prime Minister was part and parcel of every decision that was taken by the government. He stood on his hind legs today and said that he had ordered replacement helicopters. He cancelled the helicopters with a stroke of a pen over a decade ago. It was Prime Minister Chrétien at the time who uttered these famous words, “I'll take my pen. I will write, 'Zero helicopters'”. It was the pen of the current Prime Minister.
The prime minister of the day made the promise to get rid of the GST and it was embraced by the finance minister, the member for LaSalle--Émard. Now he is in a position to do that. I am reminded by my colleague from New Brunswick that they were going to renegotiate free trade. That did not happen.
The Liberals were going to do Parliament and public life differently. I will give them that. They are doing it worse. They have lowered the bar of accountability. They have lowered the ethics. Members do not have to take this information just from me. They only need to listen to some of the senior civil servants and to the commentary that is coming out now. Former supporters of the Liberal government are appalled and aghast at what they have seen.
This is one issue that continues to trouble me. Young people in the country are becoming so turned off, so tuned out by what is happening in this place. This government has caused a whole generation of Canadians to feel disenfranchised and decoupled from the system. The lowest voter turnout in our country's history was during the last election.
What are we doing? What message is being sent today? We are rushing headlong into another election to catch the opposition perhaps in an unprepared state, or to somehow gloss over what is in these reports, or what has happened in terms of the way the government has conducted itself. Another good example that we have seen in terms of how the RCMP and the government operate has come to light.
Many of us recall the case of the BDC bank president who was called by the former prime minister, who was informed that there was a person in the prime minister's riding who wanted a loan. The BDC president was pressured into giving that loan. There were all sorts of terrible interventions and indiscretions and members of the prime minister's office being dispersed out to clean up and whitewash and sanitize files at the BDC office. All of this was discussed in a Quebec courtroom. Much of the commentary of the judge is absolutely heart-wrenching when we consider the interference and the level of government corruption.
Yet we see nothing; we see no accountability coming about. We saw the former president of the BDC have his home invaded by the police and have computers seized, a jackboot reaction by the RCMP, similar, I am quick to add, to the type of storm-trooping we saw into the home of Juliet O'Neill, an Ottawa Citizen reporter who was similarly targeted and intimidated.
It is shocking behaviour in a free and democratic country that we could have our state police, our national police force, being used as an instrument of intimidation. We need inquiries into such action. We need change. We need accountability.
We need a cleansing of government. It is like that old Greek story of the flushing out of the Augean stables, one of the Herculean tasks. That is what has to happen. It is not going to happen in a piecemeal approach of the Prime Minister trying to give out little, tiny changes and tweaking committees and allowing for the occasional free vote. We know that even that grandiose promise has gone by the wayside.
The government House leader now says there will be no free vote on the gun registration because that is going to be a matter of confidence. If that is the approach, then there will be no free votes, period. As far as confidence is concerned, the actions of the government has caused Canadians' confidence to be shattered.
I lament the fact that this government and this Prime Minister have not only missed an historic opportunity but have further ingrained cynicism and a sense of despondency and a sense of disgust and dismay when one looks at the actions, when one looks at this closure motion brought about in such haste. I know some of the members opposite who used to grace the benches of the opposition, but they were pulled in. They were promised something. They were given a little piece of cheese or something that would curry favour and bring them in.
This is a “rush to the election” tactic. There is no debate. There are no answers in question period. There is no accountability. I dare say there is fading hope that anything is going to come about from the government that will restore any of these important elements: mainly, accountability, a sense of responsibility, and a sense among the general public that Parliament is actually working in their favour and that when something happens there will be consequences.
I worked in the criminal justice system. When people were caught lying, breaking the law, or taking things that belonged to someone else, there was punishment. There were consequences. That seems to be what is missing. That seems to be one of the threads of continuity that runs through the Auditor General's report. No one felt they would be accountable, and they felt that if they were caught, nothing would happen.
In fact, in the case of the current ambassador to Denmark, he was rewarded for his indiscretions. He was actually given a posting in a foreign country. What did Denmark do to deserve that?
How on earth can anyone square the appointment of a person who is at the very core of this rot and corruption? How can anyone square his being given a posting? Even if the Prime Minister--taking him at his word--says he is bringing home this ambassador, this disgraced individual, if it had been known in November that he was standing accused of being so complicit in everything that happened, we could have saved the taxpayers at least the salary of this individual instead of leaving him to linger in Denmark and avoid this type of accountability. He now has to come home, face the music and face a parliamentary committee, and perhaps face a criminal investigation.
Again, this is the type of thing that shakes the very foundations of this place, this great bastion of democracy. The building blocks seem to be pretty shaky when we look at the actions of the Prime Minister today, when we look at his evasive attempts to tell Canadians he did not know. That is not good enough. The House leader as well has defended his actions. Members of Parliament got up and tried to somehow suggest that this is just routine business. Nonsense. This is sliding very quickly farther and farther off the tracks.
We have an opportunity to actually restore some credibility to this place. I cannot remember the last time I saw a member of the government get up and actually say that in hindsight, with the benefit of this information, having now seen the bigger picture, maybe we should have done it differently.
Maybe we should have. I heard from some members before they got into cabinet that maybe we should re-examine the gun registry. The fact is that it has been inflated a thousand times more than we actually expected it to cost. It is somewhat like the example of the Prime Minister's original disclosure of how much money was received by the CSL company being in the range of $137,000. Upon further examination, it went up to $161 million.
Let me say that again: from $137,000 to $161 million. Is that just an accounting error? Are Canadians expected to believe that it was just an administrative error? Absolutely not. That to me smacks of some kind of ruse, a sad joke that is being perpetrated on Canadians. That is cold, hard cash that people work hard for every day, that they pay to the government, that is collected in taxes and that is being doled out to a millionaire.
Let us be clear. The Prime Minister was simultaneously the chief tax collector as minister of finance while he was the chief tax avoider in this country. That, to me, is irreconcilable. Yet the ruse continues. We know that the tax loopholes are still there, still open and still benefiting the Prime Minister's company and his family.
What do we do about it? Not only do we have to continue to press the government on its actions, but we in the Conservative Party of Canada have to pose an alternative. We have to show a better way. We have to earn the trust and the confidence of Canadians. We have to prove to them that we would do it better, that we would do it in a more accountable way, and that we have a plan that would work for Canada.
In this Parliament, since the House was prorogued in a peremptory way by the previous prime minister, we are very early seeing debate closed down in the same fashion by the current Prime Minister, but we remain committed to serving the country through this place, and I know you do as well, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.