Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on the occasion of the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
With yesterday's disclosure by the Auditor General of the sponsorship scandal, we can see that there is a huge contradiction between the PM's desire to spend tax dollars wisely and reality.
The purpose of my speech therefore is to focus on these contradictions, in order to show the public in Quebec and in Canada that the present government is nothing more than a carbon copy of the Chrétien government.
On page 5 of the printed Speech from the Throne, we read the following statement:
To this end, the Government is launching an ongoing process of expenditure review, overseen by a new Committee of Cabinet. This will ensure that spending reflects priorities and that every tax dollar is invested with care to achieve results for Canadians.
Allow me to tell you that, as a longstanding member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, I find this statement by the Prime Minister particularly offensive. The specific purpose of that committee is to scrutinize government spending in order to ensure that the taxpayers' dollars are properly invested, within a democratic process in which all official parties of this House are represented.
Moreover, the committee works in close cooperation with the Office of the Auditor General of Canada to, once again, ensure that the government does not get away with wasting taxpayers' money, as was the case, among others, in the infamous sponsorship scandal.
Mr. Speaker, I should point out that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. He will, of course, support the numerous points that I am raising regarding this throne speech.
The Prime Minister wants to eliminate the democratic deficit in this House and give more powers to MPs. Yet, he intends to set up a very partisan cabinet committee, without any opposition members sitting on it. This is some contradiction. Where is the democracy in this process? Where is the transparency in this new committee?
We have yet to see whether the new Liberal cross-bencher, the member for Châteauguay, who made some interesting discoveries in the government's extravagant spending, particularly in the sponsorship scandal, will expose other financial scandals. I doubt it.
It is interesting to read in the throne speech that Canadians expect the government to use their taxes wisely and want to have the assurance that public funds, which means their money, will be used properly.
If the past is any indication of the future, Quebeckers and Canadians are justified in not trusting the new Prime Minister to make proper use of their taxes. Let me explain why.
First, as regards the sponsorship scandal, which is probably one of the worst cases of corruption and waste in the history of Canadian politics, the new Prime Minister has the nerve to tell us that he did not know anything about it. Let me point out some facts.
The new Prime Minister was the Minister of Finance and Vice-President of the Treasury Board for most of the time that the sponsorship program was in existence. He is the one who signed the cheques that were used to increase the federal government's visibility all across Quebec.
Yet, he never condemned this abuse of public funds for the sake of Canadian unity and for the benefit of the Liberal Party of Canada and its friends.
The Prime Minister now has the nerve to tell the public that he did not know about it, particularly now that these same Liberals are taking cover behind a public inquiry to try to save face before the upcoming election.
If the current Prime Minister had really wanted to act quickly, he would have arranged for the Auditor General's report to be tabled in November, as scheduled, and not during the February session.
Without waiting for the report of the Auditor General, he could have called a public inquiry two months ago, right after he took office. But no, he preferred to buy time.
The fact that he is calling a public inquiry at the last minute is evidence that he is putting the election first, and transparency second.
It has been the trademark of the federal Liberals ever since I was elected here, in 1997. The rest of my colleagues have witnessed what has happened since 1993.
Quebeckers will probably be voting in three months time without realizing the scope of the scam created by the government. They have the fortitude to tell us that each tax dollar will be carefully reinvested, when the Prime Minister and some of his ministers are neck deep in financial scandals like the sponsorship program. It is absolute hypocrisy. Where the Prime Minister is concerned, what we have seen is what we will get.
Let me give you another good example of bad faith that can be found in the throne speech. My political party, the Bloc Quebecois, set up a special committee, the Léonard Committee, to examine federal programs. The committee has decided to review the expenditures of federal departments since 1997-1998, a reference year for the last two mandates of the former finance minister, now Prime Minister.
What we have found out is that the government has completely lost control over government expenditures for the entire period ending in 2002-2003. Over a five-year period, expenditures have gone up by 39%, compared to 9.6% for the inflation rate.
Is that what you would call making good use of taxpayers' money? In comparison, spending in Quebec and Ontario increased by 20% and 19.7% respectively. While the provinces were tightening their belts, the federal government was living it up in Ottawa.
A closer look at federal spending reveals multiple cases of excessive spending on the part of the government during the time when the administration of our country's finances was the responsibility of the current Prime Minister. For example, the government payroll increased by 41%; that of legal services by 141%; that of the federal Department of Health, which does not deliver any services to the public, by 78%; and that of CIDA by 132%.
As finance minister, the new Prime Minister acted deliberately in favouring federal administrative spending over services to the public. And he is the one who just told us, in the Speech from the Throne, that the money of Quebec and Canadian taxpayers must be put to good use.
And yet, had Ottawa increased its spending at the same rate as Quebec and Ontario did, the federal government would have extra fiscal manoeuvrability that would total, and listen carefully to this figure, $5.7 billion a year.
It is a fiscal effort that the Prime Minister refused to make when he was finance minister, preferring to spend freely while making drastic cuts in transfer payments to Quebec and the provinces, particularly in the areas of health and education. Now he wants to call the shots in these two areas that are strictly under provincial jurisdiction by giving out money while controlling its use through national standards.
If the current Prime Minister was not competent as finance minister, believe me, the past will be an indication of what the future holds.
However, the Bloc Quebecois committee is not the only one that has discovered this explosion in government spending. During the same period, the Office of the Auditor General gave repeated warnings about the fact that spending was getting out of control. As member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, I have seen numerous examples of expenditures that were both unjustified and unjustifiable to the public. Our friends opposite can hardly accuse the Bloc Quebecois of producing a partisan document when the Auditor General has come to practically the same conclusions as we have.
I come back to this famous committee. What will this new cabinet committee on government spending be all about? Just like the foundations, it will escape all parliamentary control. This committee will not give a real picture of government spending.
Instead of trusting democratic institutions like the Standing Committee on Public Accounts or the office of the Auditor General, which reports to Parliament, the Prime Minister would rather trust a partisan committee to make sure every tax dollar is wisely spent. Is this a way to erase the democratic deficit? I have my doubts.
Now a word on the throne speech. Besides broad philosophical statements, there is hardly anything concrete, and certainly nothing on rural and regional development. Not a word either on the two big crises affecting the regions: softwood lumber and mad cow disease.
I still have much more to say, but my time is running out. To conclude, let me say that tomorrow, I am going back to work on the public accounts standing committee. Together with my colleagues in the opposition, I will do everything I can to demonstrate beyond any doubt that the Liberal Party of Canada, the Prime Minister included, is responsible for the sponsorship scandal.