Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the debate on our motion with regard to the Auditor General. I would like to thank my colleague from Medicine Hat, our finance critic, for bringing this subject forward.
It is a very important topic. It is timely in the sense that the Auditor General has again come out and recommended that foundations be put under her purview in terms of auditing. It is also important to tell the House that it is not only the current Auditor General who has made that recommendation.
When the former finance minister, now the Prime Minister, brought this practice into being in 1997, we had a different auditor general. That auditor general, Mr. Desautels, also was very concerned about the practice. I think his concerns have been borne out.
We have seen the corporate sector struggle through some pretty bad accounting practices. I am not sure how the government of the land can lecture the corporate sector on cleaning up their corporate governance, corporate malfeasance, when we have the same kind of practices from our own government. I suggest the government tries to get things off the books for political purposes.
Of over $9 billion that has been set aside for these foundations, only $1.3 billion has been spent. This means there is $7.7 billion sitting in bank accounts or investments by those foundations. The bottom line is the foundations did not need that $7.7 billion at all. Why is that important? It is important because this is basically the tax money of Canadians. It is revenue that went into these foundations which has not been used. The money is sitting there gathering interest.
What does that mean to the average person? It could mean a substantial tax cut, or it was overtaxation during that period of time of $7.7 billion. It is fairly significant, considering that the Liberals brag about their tax cut in 2000 of $100 billion, although the real numbers are more like $40 billion. However, when we stack up that almost $8 billion against the $40 billion, it would be a significant tax cut.
Yesterday the Auditor General was at the health committee. I was sitting in committee for one of my colleagues. I normally sit on the finance committee. Yesterday the health committee was reviewing the federal government's administered drug program for aboriginal people, the RCMP and the different groups that fall under that purview.
I had the opportunity to ask her questions about why she thought it was important for foundations to be brought under her mandate. She said that it was for the purpose of parliamentarians. The Auditor General is an officer of this House. It also is for Canadians. My analysis of what she said is that in many cases, although there are internal audits done in organizations, the audits are fairly narrow in scope and they do not always uncover some of the problems.
I do not think I have ever seen an Auditor General's report that has been tabled in the House in the almost 12 years I have been here that did not identify some problems in practices with this federal government's administration. The hope is those practices will be corrected, and in many cases they are.
I suggest that if the Auditor General had not identified them, if the credibility of her office was not out there and she did not raise this in a public manner, then they may not have been addressed. In many cases she has to go back and review it, and some of those changes have still not been made.
The office of the Auditor General does Canadians a great service and it should be extended to the business of the foundations.
If we wanted to go to the really hypothetical, we could say why do not pre-fund all departments? That is basically what we are doing with the foundations. However, it is not allowed under the rules of Parliament. It was not allowed up until 1997 when the foundations were brought into being by the current Prime Minister. Then exceptions were made for the foundations. Therefore, if the principle is good enough for ordinary day to today operations in the department, then it is good enough for the foundations as well. I cannot see any harm in having the Auditor General look at these foundations.
One member raised the point that she was not aware of any problems. Looking from the outside, how could anyone see any problems? How could anyone see any problems with the sponsorship scandal? We did not know that some of the agencies even existed. They were hidden from Parliament. Therefore, it is important that the Auditor General has that ability to look at it
My colleague from Medicine Hat talked about the prebudget hearings, which both he and I sat in for almost two months in the fall and into early December. Hundreds of Canadians and Canadian organizations came before our committee to tell us what their priorities were. Many of them identified the problems with predicting budgets and budget surpluses, and rightfully so. I think for the last seven years the government has underestimated the budget surpluses by almost $95 billion.
I talked about credibility. The credibility of the government is at stake in these kinds of operations. These Canadians told us that they did not want this practice to continue. They wanted parliamentarians to be better informed about the fiscal numbers. In fact, we discussed that with them. My colleague raised the issue that the finance committee took direction from the House, from the throne speech amendments, that we set up an independent fiscal forecasting process that was responsible to the finance committee. In fact, I will be going over at eleven o'clock to hear the committee's first report, and hope to have questions for it.
What we would have from the fiscal forecasting committee would be a timely analysis of what Canada's fiscal situation would be on a quarterly basis so Canadians, through their parliamentarians, would have a better idea of the current fiscal status of the country. Whether it is surpluses, deficits or whatever, we need to know that because pertinent policy decisions need to be made. Perhaps the finance department has had it in the past but parliamentarians certainly have not, with the exception of the fiscal update in November of last year.
My understanding is that even since November, there have been substantial changes to those numbers. Therefore, if we have that on a timely basis, it would keep us better informed in the same way the Auditor General's auditing reports on foundations could keep us better informed. We could find out whether these foundations were following their mandates.
I think it is a natural flow. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is unnatural that we would exempt the foundations from the Auditor General's scrutiny. I am not sure why the government did that, although it is now clear that there is $7.7 billion in the banks accounts or investments of foundations that would normally have shown up as larger surpluses than we even had.
It is important to get hold of this. We think the government probably will embark on further endeavours with these foundations or trusts that will not be answerable to the Auditor General. She will not have a chance to look at their books, and that does not serve Canadians very well.
I have great faith in the Auditor General's department. The department does us proud. We hopefully can have better use of taxpayer money. Every time a dollar is wasted, it is a dollar of taxpayer money that could be left in their pockets or better spent in some other way.
It is all about that. Canadians are one of the highest taxed countries anywhere in the industrial world. If we can save some dollars by having less government misspending, that is important. We need the department to fully look at all the books of the operations of the Government of Canada, including the foundations. If there are further trusts or foundations anticipated in the budget tomorrow, I hope the House will vote to give the Auditor General the ability to audit these organizations.