Mr. Speaker, before commenting on today's motion, I also want to express my gratitude for your contribution to the House. I wish you the best of luck wherever life takes you.
It is a sad day in many ways. This is possibly the second last day of the third session of the 37th Parliament. We know if that is the case and if an election is called shortly, we will see many of our colleagues in this place leave for other undertakings. It is a day filled with emotion and sadness, as well as anticipation.
About an hour ago our colleague from the New Democratic Party, the member for Dartmouth, left this chamber for the very last time. It causes us all grief because we are losing a very close colleague who has played a very important role in the House, and we will miss her a great deal. On behalf of all my colleagues, not only in the New Democratic Party but all parties in the House, we treasure and value the work of the member for Dartmouth and others who are leaving. We wish her and others well wherever life takes them.
This is also a time to convey a few messages of thanks to those who have supported this institution. I would like to thank the staff at the table, the Clerk and all officers in the House, as well as the pages who have served us so well and so faithfully over the last number of months. Again, on behalf of my colleagues, I thank them all for serving this chamber.
Finally, and this gets me to the debate and the motion at hand, the public accounts committee has been working diligently since February 12 on the whole matter of the sponsorship file. It has been a gruelling couple of months. We have had a very difficult challenge before us, with hundreds of witnesses from which to choose. We have had very difficult testimony to understand and some difficult decisions to make. Our work is not done, and that is the precise point of this motion.
However, the work of the public accounts committee was made possible also because of some very hard-working staff. I want to mention the two clerks who have helped us through thick and thin, Elizabeth Kingston and Jeremy LeBlanc, for their great service. As well, I want to say a special thanks to the researcher from the Library of Parliament, Brian O'Neal who gave our committee incredible support, research materials and advice throughout this process. I know, as we meet here in this chamber, the work continues down the hall at public accounts. It is thanks to those hard-working servants of this place that we can do our jobs.
Finally, on that point, since we often get partisan in debates, before I head down that path, my thanks to the chair of the public accounts committee who has served public accounts diligently and has tried to bring all parties and all sides together throughout this difficult pursuit of the truth, vis-à-vis the sponsorship file. Of course, thanks to all the members who have served on this committee. We have had some tough moments and some harsh words for one another, but we are all interested in one thing and that is the pursuit of justice and the search for truth in this difficult chapter in the history of this place, the sponsorship file.
I would like now to address the motion at hand. Although it is a very difficult motion to support, since it requires members of our committee to continue sitting right through an election period, I want to offer my support to the motion. I want to offer my support on behalf of my colleagues because it addresses our feelings about the absolute need to continue the work of the public accounts committee on the sponsorship file and to state publicly that our work is not done. We have not reached the truth and we are not close to seeing our work done. That is the point of the motion.
We have dealt with a lot of manoeuvrings by members on the government's side over the last number of days to bring our work to an end, to draw conclusions that do not exist and to create the facade of solving a very difficult issue as we head into a pre-election period.
We cannot allow this issue to become a political football in the next election. We cannot create any grist for the election mill. We have to do whatever we can to ensure Canadians that all of us in the House from all parties have not found the truth, that we have not reached the end of this journey and that our work will continue. It will continue in the next Parliament. It will continue in terms of the independent judicial inquiry. Obviously it will continue in terms of the RCMP investigation.
The debate today is important. We are speaking about an issue of faith and trust in the democratic process. Whatever we do in this place around the sponsorship file is critical for restoring the faith of Canadians in our democratic process. If we do not do that, if we fail to stop this hemorrhaging, this growing cynicism in politics, in politicians, in government and in democratic institutions, we will have lost more than we could ever imagine.
Today's debate is really about the Liberal Party. Dare I say it, it really is about the Liberal Party's fortunes versus the public good. It is about how well the Liberals can put a good face on a bad situation leading into an imminent federal election rather than about restoring the faith of Canadians in our democratic institutions and government.
The words today will be strong and this debate will be vigorous. Parliamentarians in this place feel that this is central to our work as members of Parliament and to our fundamental obligation to uphold and strengthen our democratic institutions.
We on this side of the House find that this scandalous mess with which we are dealing and the fact that we cannot seem to find our way out of it comes down to Liberal arrogance. It is about Liberals identifying their partisan interests as the interests of the nation. That is the magnet, the hidden force that pulls all the disparate pieces of the sponsorship scandal together, and it is certainly the guiding theme to the Prime Minister's clampdown on the public accounts committee investigation.
It is the same arrogance that blinded the Liberals to the true impact of the scandal and their actions now in bullying the committee to produce a report, a report of which the sole purpose is to be used as ammunition in the election campaign about to be called.
New Democrats have carefully evaluated the evidence presented to the committee to date. We believe, as I think is the case for other opposition parties, an interim report would be premature. I do not think it would be misrepresenting any views in the House, at least when it comes to the opposition benches, to actually say that the search for the truth has not neared the end or even the beginning of the end.
What is really important is that the impact of the sponsorship scandal on Canadians' perception of government has been severe and the responsibility of the committee to restore public confidence in Parliament is considerable. This is not a time for half measures or half truths.
It is particularly disturbing, at such a time, to pursue a course that could be perceived by the public as an attempt by the government to pre-empt the committee reaching a legitimate conclusion for partisan political purposes. That is the essence of our concern with the present set of developments that have occurred and why we support this motion.
Let me go back to that theme of democracy for a moment. As I said earlier, democratic government is based on trust. There is no question that we are losing that trust in part because of repeated corruption scandals.
Even before the Auditor General reported, polls showed only 14% of Canadians trusted politicians. We know that those in the business of selling cars rank higher at 19%. We had a challenge to begin with, and the way we handle this affair matters.
Fewer people today see participation in parliamentary electoral democracy as meaningful to them. They show this, as we all know, by their sinking voter turnout in elections. Just at a time when we are all recognizing the need to restore people's faith in democracy, to increase voter participation in federal elections, we are dealing with a scandal for which Canadians see very little responsible action on the part of this place.
The taint of corruption discourages people from participating at all levels in the political system. It robs democracy of its lifeblood. We know what that does. It leaves the door open to those who would rather have important decisions made in boardrooms instead of Parliament and who want to reduce government, its controls and the vital role it plays in ensuring that all Canadians have an equal chance to participate in our economy.
What makes this situation even worse is that it is not unique. Canadians do not just look at the federal government and see a blip, an exception in the sponsorship scandal. It has become a pattern under the Liberals, where the exception has become the rule.
I probably do not need to take the time of the House to go through that list of scandals, the litany of wrongdoings that have emerged during this last 10 years of Liberal rule. Let me quickly summarize them.
Remember HRDC, the Human Resources Development Canada scandal. Remember Shawinigate. Remember the other auberge incident that cost the former minister of public works his job. Remember the former minister of defence resigning over channeling a contract to a friend. Remember the Gagliano affairs. Remember the manipulation of the parliamentary estimates to hide the fiasco of gun registry mismanagement. Remember the unity fund. And remember, and this one I want to dwell on for a moment, the Health Canada Virginia Fontaine scandal.
The similarities are so great when it comes to the sponsorship scandal and the Virginia Fontaine scandal. In both cases we are dealing with alleged wrongdoing at the highest levels in the bureaucracy. We are talking about not inadequate rules, but rules being broken. We are talking about those who have responsibility, whether at the ministerial or deputy ministerial level, ignoring their responsibility for oversight, for ensuring that rules and regulations are followed and that good management practices exist.
In the case of the Virginia Fontaine addiction centre scandal, already some 30 charges of criminal wrongdoing have been handed down to some nine individuals and the list will grow. We are talking about millions of dollars, not some small sum, but a huge sum of money that has been robbed from the public treasury and more significantly, taken away from meeting the very desperate needs of health care in first nations communities.
In both cases, the Health Canada Virginia Fontaine addiction treatment centre and the sponsorship scandal, we are talking about audits being done and audits being ignored. It is interesting that with the sponsorship file and the Health Canada file audits were done in 1996 pointing to serious wrongdoing. If only those early warning signals had been listened to; if only those who had responsibility had not ignored their responsibilities; if only there had not been an attempt to cover over the seriousness of the findings of those audits, maybe we would not be here today talking about this tremendous abuse of public funds, and as a consequence, the loss of public confidence in Parliament and in government.