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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member takes the issue of parliamentary review very seriously, and I appreciate that. I appreciate his comments as well.

The fact of the matter is the whole point of my speech was to argue that there are measures in place already through Treasury Board, through Parliament, in terms of reviewing what will be spent of the $3 billion. They are in place already. We do not need additional measures put in place, as prescribed in the motion. In my view and in the view of the government, this would simply delay the funding getting out the door.

The official opposition supported the budget. The official opposition should therefore support the money getting out the door to ensure that the budget is implemented.

The main point of my speech was that there are enough measures in place to ensure that our government will be accountable to Parliament and to Canadians for all of the money that will be spent of the $3 billion fund.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to compliment the member for Edmonton—Leduc on his speech. He is doing a great job on behalf of the government as the chair of the finance committee.

One of the points raised by the member for Mississauga South was the issue of accountability, which I think is a great issue to raise in the House and to want to ensure. The member for Mississauga South seems to want to ensure that there are accountability measures, which I believe are ensured.

The Liberal Party called on the government to move as quickly as possible on the budget. Then there was a call from the Liberal Party not to move on the budget and not to produce the $3 billion in stimulus that we are trying to move out.

I would like to get some clarification from the member. Exactly what are those measures that build in the accountability necessary to get this expenditure out the door?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly thank my colleague from St. Catharines for his question and all his work here in the House of Commons.

I would say quite honestly the actions of the Liberal Party with respect to the budget and with respect to the implementation are somewhat contradictory.

The Liberals were supportive of the budget, which I certainly appreciated, but the fact of the matter is they have to support the implementation of the budget as well if they want to see the measures in the budget take effect and have a positive effect.

My colleague asked about the accountability measures. This was the main point I was trying to make.

In terms of any money from the $3 billion fund, first of all, programs or projects must be economic action plan initiatives included in budget 2009 and passed by Parliament.

Second, funds can only be allocated between April 1 and June 30, 2009.

Third, appropriate checks and balances are in place. Every initiative funded from this vote requires Treasury Board approval. Existing policy requirements on accountability and reporting must be met.

Fourth, reporting on the use of funds will be done in supplementary estimates and in quarterly reports to Parliament on the economic action plan, something that the official opposition asked for specifically in its amendments to the budget.

The accountability measures are in place to deal with the special fund, and I encourage members on the opposition side to recognize this and vote against the motion.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the House to speak to the hon. member's motion before us.

I must admit, though, that while I am typically very pleased to have an opportunity to speak in the chamber, today is quite a different story.

Today I rise with sadness at the hon. member's resolve to do his utmost to prevent the government from getting stimulus money to those who need it most.

While he continues to throw up roadblocks, I have to wonder if the hon. member is really not aware of the effect of his efforts on Canadians, Canadians who are trying to pull together enough money to make their monthly mortgage payments so they do not lose their homes, Canadians who may have to go to food banks because they do not have enough money to put food on the table themselves, Canadians who have asked their elected representatives to stop their political posturing and to protect them in their time of need.

Our government consulted widely with Canadians on what action to take. The result is an economic action plan to inject $40 billion into the economy over the next two years. This plan, tabled as part of the earliest budget in history, is designed to jump-start growth, to sustain the recovery, and to help Canadians in these difficult times.

In fact, it has been praised by the International Monetary Fund. In a recent report, they called it “large, timely, and well targeted”. They said our immediate focus should be on implementing the budget to mobilize spending.

We are acting through all available means to protect our economy and to protect Canadians affected by the downturn. That includes the tax system, the employment insurance program, direct spending by federal and provincial governments, lending by crown corporations, and partnerships with the private sector.

Only 42 days after the plan was presented, we had done all we could to make the plan fully operational by April 1. This is six to twelve months ahead of the usual budget timeframe.

Why are we so focused on putting this plan to work so quickly? It is because our plan is designed to boost the economy when it is needed the most: now and over the next 24 months.

What have we done to lay the foundation for the implementation of this plan? Virtually all cabinet policy approvals are expected to be in place by the end of this month. We are ready to roll out $12 billion in spending on roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure. We introduced the recently passed Budget Implementation Act, which includes $7.6 billion in spending authorities and seeks parliamentary approval of $2.4 billion in tax reductions for 2009-10.

We have tabled the 2009-10 main estimates, which include a new central vote. This vote will enable Treasury Board ministers to allocate up to $3 billion in funding directly to departments. These funds are for immediate cash requirements directly related to measures in the economic action plan. Every single eligible program or project must be approved by the Treasury Board. This funding is only until formal supplementary estimates for these initiatives have received the usual parliamentary approval.

This vote will be used to fund specific economic action plan measures such as building roads, fixing bridges, and providing skills training for those Canadians hit hardest by this global recession.

As a result of this approach, by April 1, we would have authority to proceed with providing about $20 billion in budget measures. This would represent close to 90% of the stimulus contained in the economic action plan for 2009-10.

Therefore, it saddens me to know that much of this work will be for naught if the hon. member has his way.

It also saddens me to know that despite the fact that our non-partisan public service has been working non-stop, day and night, to get this money flowing quickly, the hon. member continues to play partisan politics.

My constituents have made it clear that they want politicians to stop playing political games and get to work on their behalf. I suspect that all hon. members are hearing the same refrain from residents in their ridings. I suspect that is why the leader of the official opposition instructed his colleagues in the other House to pass the Budget Implementation Act after his party dragged its feet as long as it could.

Members know too well that none of the spending measures contained in the economic action plan can proceed without parliamentary approval. The Budget Implementation Act has finally been passed. To move forward with more stimulus measures, we must now pass the estimates. So what does the hon. member do? He throws up roadblocks to getting this money out to support Canadians hardest hit by the economic downturn. He throws up roadblocks to helping communities and businesses to adjust and grow in these extraordinary times. Instead, as we are cutting bureaucratic red tape, he wants to add more in the name of accountability.

We are the government that introduced the Federal Accountability Act as its first piece of legislation coming into office. The hon. member refers to the Auditor General. It was our Federal Accountability Act that strengthened the power of the Auditor General so she can more effectively hold the government to account for its use of taxpayer dollars.

Canadians want to be confident that the Government of Canada is working in their best interests. They expect elected officials and public servants to manage their tax dollars wisely, and they expect us to uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct.

Is the hon. member really telling Canadians that our hard-working civil servants operate without any or the right controls in place? Does the hon. member think that Canadians want to have daily reports of every penny spent by their government?

We had no problem when the Liberal Party suggested reports every three months, so we said yes, but the hon. member cannot take yes for an answer. Now he is not satisfied with reports every three months. Now he wants daily reports.

Does the hon. member think the reports he wants just spring out of thin air? Does he not realize what a paper burden that will be?

Why does he want to divert our civil servants from examining projects, making sure of matching funds, getting the paperwork done and cutting the cheques? That is what Canadians want. They surely do not want our civil servants bogged down in redundant daily reports simply because the hon. member cannot wait until June.

One moment the hon. member says he knows the importance of speedy stimulus spending. The next moment he wants to bog down the process with extra paperwork. How shameless. How sad.

Our Federal Accountability Act provided Canadians with the open and honest government they deserve, one that acts responsibly, rewards integrity, and demonstrates accountability. That is the approach we live every day. It is the same approach that we are taking to these economic stimulus measures.

I stand today in this House and ask my hon. colleagues to reject this motion, and I call upon them to stop serving partisan interests and instead start serving those who elected us to this place.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the word might be “hubris”. The word might be “arrogance”. Whatever it is, the member opposite gets up in his place and says it is shameless and sad that members of the opposition want to know how the Government of Canada is going to spend $3 billion. I do not think it is shameless and sad to want to know that. I think the people of Canada, in his riding and in my riding and all the ridings, want to know how that money is to be spent.

First, the Conservatives hide behind the skirt that it will all have to go through Treasury Board. All money spent by governments in Canada have to comply with Treasury Board guidelines. Big deal. That is defence number one gone.

Second, he says that it is a burden for the civil servants. We are not attacking the civil servants; we are attacking the hidden agenda of the Conservative government that will spend $3 billion on friendly projects and have the audacity not to tell the opposition parties and the Canadian public what it is spending the money on.

Finally, by way of a question, if it is as simple as looking in the economic action plan and saying everything must come out of that plan, why can the member over there not stand in his place and tell us what specific expenditures in the economic action plan the $3 billion is made up of? Will he do it now, or will he be shameless and sad and avoid the question?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I read today that some Liberals are calling their April 30 convention the Seinfeld convention because there is no leadership contest, no presidential election, and limited policy debate. It is a convention about nothing.

Today, courtesy of the Liberals, we are being treated to the Seinfeld motion. There is no substance, point, and content to it. It is a motion about nothing.

Of course, we cannot list the stimulus programs before they have been arranged. Once these projects have been funded, they will be reported in the June supplementary estimates in just three short months. This is sensibly doing first things first.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, some of the members opposite are probably reflecting on the horrible sponsorship scandal of the previous Liberal government, which saw hundreds of millions of Canadian taxpayers' dollars stolen and put toward Liberal Party use.

With respect to this particular motion, I wonder if the hon. member might once again reflect on some of the accountability measures already put into the stimulus funding.

Is the hon. member prepared, as I am, to work with the Liberal provincial government in Ontario and his municipal counterparts to make sure the stimulus funding goes out the door, and meets local, provincial, as well as federal needs to get people back to work, to build bridges and roads and maintain sewer systems? I wonder if the hon. member may comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely correct that it is critical to strike the right balance between delivering economic stimulus measures quickly and having appropriate due diligence.

Canadians will have ample opportunity to learn about how this money is spent. First, there will be regular reporting to Parliament. Second, there will be reports from the Auditor General, who will audit the spending. Third, every initiative requires Treasury Board approval. Fourth, every existing policy requirement on accountability in reporting must be met.

Each department has independent audit committees and chief financial officers looking at these things. There will be reporting of the funds used in the supplementary estimates and quarterly reports to Parliament on the economic action plan.

We have also launched a comprehensive new website, www.actionplan.gc.ca, which details our plans and gives information about specific initiatives and projects as they are announced.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the entire budget were presented to the House as a dollar figure, but the government could not quite tell members what it would be spent on, Parliament could not discharge its responsibilities at all. This is an extraordinary amount of money. The motion asks for disclosure of the spending as it happens. It is a very simple request, so that at least Parliament can have some discretion to review.

I ask the hon. member this. Why is the Conservative Party opposed to accountability?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have made it abundantly clear that the only issue we are spending a day talking about is when the accountability and reporting is going to occur, whether it has to be instantaneous or can occur in the usual course with the supplementary estimates. Quite frankly, I think that process is more than adequate.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Mississauga South.

The government, and more specifically the Prime Minister, is providing Canadians with a great example of how opinions can so easily change, depending on which side of the House we sit. Let me share with my fellow members what I discovered in doing a little digging into the Prime Minister's past positions. This is a quote from October 6, 2004, when the Prime Minister served as leader of the opposition:

We will remind the government at every turn that the money of Canadians is not the government's money to...hide. What it did before the election, what it did during the election and what it has done since the election will be exposed by the official opposition because that is our job and responsibility.

He also stated:

--collaboration is a two way street and all opposition parties expect the government to be more forthcoming than it has been up to now.

Today, as he sits in government, however, the Prime Minister has dramatically changed his tune. Just a few weeks ago, he told The Canadian Press:

Rather than trying to throw up roadblocks, they [referring to the opposition] need to get out of the way and let that money flow.

I have one simple question for the Prime Minister, and the government as a whole. How can the principles of transparency, openness and co-operation be so important back then when today the same positions are considered obstacles?

We understand how important it is to get moneys out to communities. In my riding of Newton—North Delta, I am well aware of many projects that have been forwarded for funding consideration from both the city of Surrey and the corporation of Delta.

It is federal funds that will spur great economic opportunity and activity, and provide much needed stimulus to the local economy. And at the end of the day, creating jobs is what this whole debate is all about.

I get it. In fact, we all get it. Every member of this House, regardless of what party they belong to, knows of people who are losing their incomes, who are having their savings and retirement nest eggs decimated, and who are very scared for the future of their families and their businesses.

However, at the same time, we have an obligation to spend taxpayers' hard-earned dollars in the most effective and responsible way possible.

In fact, this has supposedly been one of the core beliefs of the government. It was not that long ago when it campaigned on that old forgotten ideal: accountability.

We have seen the government's hypocrisy in action on this front. The latest outrage is the allocation of funding through the new horizons for seniors program. Out of 32 ridings where this money has gone, 31 are Conservative ridings. And now the government wonders why we are so insistent on checking the books.

We can clearly see how a $3 billion slush fund can be used for the Conservatives' political purposes, though of course the government does not see the benefit in the opposition asking questions. The government would rather us sit here silently and vote in favour of spending, with absolutely no plan in place or any principles of accountability to Canadians.

Well, I am here today to say that this is not acceptable.

Does the government feel as though it can use the excuse of tough economic times to justify unilateral action on spending?

Canadians have a right to know where their tax dollars are going. It does not matter what the circumstances are. If the government is unwilling to provide a detailed account of what is happening with taxpayers' money, something is wrong.

Which departments will have access to these funds? What are the criteria for the projects receiving these funds? What kind of information will the public receive both before and after these moneys go out the door? Finally, what does the government have to hide?

If the Prime Minister can assure the House that this $3 billion will not be used to fund Conservative MPs' pet projects or applied to the ridings that the Conservative Party is attempting to target in the next election, then why can Canadians not be given full disclosure? Like I said, something just does not add up.

Either one supports accountability and transparency or one does not. That position should never change whether one sits on the government side of the House or on the opposition side. Either one is going to use the funds responsibly or try to hide the real purpose, which amounts to political payoffs.

These are not complicated questions and like the Prime Minister used to say when he actually cared about providing Canadians with real answers, government expenditures must be “exposed by the official opposition because that is our job and responsibility”. Those are the Prime Minister's words and either he was sincere back in 2004 or he is showing his true colours now. However, one thing is for sure, the two positions are opposite to each other and cannot go together.

To conclude, I want to appeal to the common sense of the government. It should realize that no matter what part of the country one represents and no matter how bad economic times get, there is one thing that remains constant throughout. That is that taxpayers' hard-earned money is not ours to spend freely and that basic reporting principles that include a plan and rationale are fundamental principles of a democratic society.

The Conservative Party's website identifies the following as two of its founding principles: fiscal accountability and a belief that a responsible government must be fiscally prudent. I challenge my counterparts in the government to live up to these basic expectations not only because it is what their party is founded upon but also because it is what Canadians deserve.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. member would agree with me that getting money out the door to provinces and municipalities so that they can attack the infrastructure needs and deficits they have had over many years of ineffective Liberal governments is now a priority.

I wonder if he might also comment on some of the differences between the accountability measures built into the stimulus funding and the lack of accountability that was built into the Liberal sponsorship scandal that saw hundreds of millions of dollars redirected from Canadian taxpayers to help fund Liberal Party policies.

I wonder if he might specifically inform the House on his actions with respect to accountability in that time period and help me understand some of the differences between our accountability measures, which were elegantly talked about by the member for Kitchener Centre, and some of the measures that were in place during the sponsorship scandal.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham and I both were not here when this unfortunate situation with the sponsorship funds occurred. There is not a single Canadian or member of Parliament in the House who supports that kind of accountability, but I can comment on the accountability of the Prime Minister and the government.

When it comes to their record, we simply cannot trust the Prime Minister and the hon. member's party to spend money effectively without proper oversight. They probably want to flow these $3 billion to Conservative ridings because if we look at the past record, money went to 31 out of 32 Conservative ridings.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague and seat mate from Newton—North Delta is a trained engineer and very hard working man.

Does it make sense if we are to build a bridge, that we do not show people the plans? Does it make sense that if we to put together a great big meal, that we not have a recipe or show anyone who cooks the meal the recipe? Therefore, does it make any sense to the good people of Newton—North Delta, to the people of downtown Surrey, who want projects done and completed, to say that we will spend $3 billion, but we will not tell them how we will spend it and that we will keep it and give favours to our friends? Does that make any sense to the member? Is that the proper way to administer $3 billion of taxpayer money?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member, my seat mate, who has always been of great help when there have been issues. He played a key role in Mulroney and Schreiber issue, when all of sudden $300,000 were gone. That is the Conservative record. The hon. member is well aware how the money is hidden by the Conservative members.

The member is absolutely right. The way the Conservatives are handling the $3 billion is for one hidden purpose only. It is to help their Conservative friends get re-elected or elected. That is why they are shirking away from the accountability and transparency principle in which they so-call believe.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Conservative Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to let the hon. member know that I announced a project, along with the Liberal member of the provincial parliament, in my riding of Oak Ridges—Markham. She explained how excited she was to work with the federal government to bring forward a project that was desperately needed in the riding.

The member talked about some of the New Horizons funding. Which one of the programs, seniors for seniors, or memories to music, or senior social support services, or Mississauga Chinese elder abuse prevention program, or the Gateway JOY (Just Older Youth) Seniors Volunteer Network, or the Happy Seniors for a Happy Community, or Seniors Kitchen and Social Club and so on spread throughout Mississauga in particular, does he not approve of and which one would he like to get rid of, because he obviously does not support seniors in Ontario?

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, my record on supporting seniors is very clear. In fact, when it comes to the member reading off his BlackBerry, I can tell the House that I do not have a problem supporting any of those projects. I have a problem—

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, Culture; the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, The Economy.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have spent the day listening to the debate and I am disappointed to hear that the government will not support a motion which calls for openness, transparency and accountability for all Canadians. That is very telling. A number of government members talked about things other than the motion before the House only because they did not want to give their opinion on whether what was asked in the motion was not only reasonable, but whether it was the responsibility and in fact the duty of parliamentarians to exercise due diligence and scrutinize proposed spending of taxpayer dollars. It is our job.

In this instance we have a $3 billion amount which is labelled “unmarked funds” proposed to be used for a variety of purposes. In the section that describes this amount of money in Treasury Board vote 35, it refers to budget implementation initiatives subject to approval by the Treasury Board between the period of April 1 and June 30”. In other words, Treasury Board will authorize the expenditure of certain moneys, $3 billion, in the first quarter of the upcoming fiscal year.

It goes on to say “to supplement other appropriations and to provide any appropriate Ministers with appropriations for initiatives announced in the Budget of January 27, 2009”. It basically says that it can be spent on anything, whether it is in the budget and announced to Canadians what the intent was, or some other purpose to which the government may decide to apply it.

What the vote is really saying is “trust us”. The government wants $3 billion and at some point in time it will disclose where it was spent, but it will not tell us right now. How can Parliament exercise its responsibilities and its duties to scrutinize the proposed spending of taxpayer dollars if it does not know what it is? However, we understand there will be some matters that come up that may very well not be able to be identified specifically as to the precise location, the name of the project, the size of the project and other details.

The motion does not ask for pre-disclosure. It simply asks for disclosure when the funds are being used. That is when all is known. It is simply asks the government to publish a report which advises parliamentarians and Canadians on what the moneys were spent. That is the gist of the motion. When the money is spent, we would like to know what it is because the government did not tell us during the process of the estimates or identified it in the budget. This could be almost anything.

The Conservatives are going to vote against this. Why? Because Conservatives have to do it anyway when the supplementary estimates come in next June. However, that is after all the money has been spent. If Parliament has a problem, or concern or question about expenditures of some of the $3 billion, when will members get a chance to do this? They will not get a chance until June and even then, depending on what goes on in the House, the House may rise for the summer by the time other things are done and all of a sudden it will be next fall. Therefore, the motion asks for accountability, openness and transparency.

The Treasury Board officials commented on vote 35. They indicated that it ran contrary to the principles of accountability and responsibilities of parliamentarians. In fact, House of Commons Standing Order 80(1) clearly states:

All aids and supplies granted to the Sovereign by the Parliament of Canada are the sole gift of the House of Commons, and all bills for granting such aids and supplies ought to begin with the House, as it is the undoubted right of the House to direct, limit, and appoint in all such bills, the ends, purposes, considerations, conditions, limitations and qualifications of such grants, which are not alterable by the Senate.

Even in our own Standing Orders, it says that if Parliament is to discharge its responsibilities, it needs to have this information. The government has moved forward with this $3 billion in unmarked funds and it will tell us sometime three months down the road what it was for. There has to be a compromise here and this motion proposes that compromise. It says that as the money flows out, we want to know what it was spent on, what the project name was, the amount and the department or program under which it was operated.

If the motion is simply asking for openness, transparency and accountability, why is the government saying that it is going to vote against it? It is bizarre. If someone gets a bee in his or her bonnet and all of a sudden another party decides to vote no along with the government, what happens? All of a sudden we do not have any money flowing because we are going to an election. That is what it really means. Ultimately, it is like playing chicken.

The government showed us that side of its strategy in the budget. The budget did not just have budget information in it; it had a number of other non-budgetary items in it. Why? Why did it include the Competition Act? Why did it attack pay equity for women? Why did it attack the Navigable Waters Act? It took a lot of time to do that and the government threw that in there. Why? Because if members objected to those things, they would defeat the whole budget and they would not defeat the whole budget because Canadians needed the stimulus.

Therefore, the government has us. We have to pass the things it wants without the normal parliamentary scrutiny.

The government's economic statement last November, in which it forecasted four years of surplus and no recession, was disastrous. All of a sudden, between the first week of November and when it tabled the budget in January, there was an international economic crisis that was not seen in November. It happened instantaneously in each one of those countries. It was not gradual. There were not any signs. It was as if somebody flipped the switch and all of a sudden we had a crisis.

Something is wrong here. It is a matter of trust. When the former Treasury Board president, who is now responsible for infrastructure, was pressed for an explanation as to why the government continued to refuse to give Parliament the specifics, he told the opposition members that the matter fundamentally amounted to trust. He was honest with us and he was honest with the committee. He said that they either had confidence in the government or they did not.

This response has lead us to conclude that neither the minister nor the government appear to have a clue as to where the money will go. Instead, they suggest that the government is getting set to improvise with billions of taxpayer dollars. It is flying by the seat of its pants with $3 billion of taxpayer money. This motion says that we need to have some accountability. We will give the authority to go ahead and pass the estimates, but we want to know what the money is spent on as it goes out. We do not want to wait until June. It is our responsibility and our duty, and the government should support the motion.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, the motion we are speaking to today in the House of Commons is important because one of the things we know over the last several years is that Canadians have lost trust in their government.

Many of us know about the Gomery inquiry and the corporate sponsorship scandal. Subsequently, we have had other issues that have certainly raised concerns around whether Canadians can trust how money is spent in this country.

I want to point out to the House that the motion tabled today is very similar to the one the member for Outremont had proposed over a week ago. It speaks to the fact that members, certainly on this side of the House, have some serious concerns about the government having access to a $3 billion slush fund that it can distribute, although it claims that there is an accountability measure attached to it.

The sad fact is that often it will come to light many months after the money is out the door. It is like closing the barn door after the horse has already escaped.

The motion before the House is simply putting into place some measures. When we look at the wording, it says, “...the programs which are likely to require access to this extraordinary authority”. What the House is asking for is some oversight, which seems to be a perfectly reasonable request, in my view.

One of our responsibilities as parliamentarians, which we should never abdicate, is that money cannot be spent before it is approved by Parliament. As parliamentarians, we need to be able to go back to our communities with some assurance that the money the Canadian government is putting out will actually be spent in a way that Canadians can track and can see the deliverables on it. That just seems like a reasonable plan.

I am sure most Canadians have tuned into why we are discussing an economic stimulus package and why we are discussing accountability but I want to put a couple of things on record.

Every day in many of our communities we hear stories from people who have lost their jobs. In my riding, it is forestry workers. When I was in my riding last week doing my constituency work, I ran into a number of forestry workers who told me that their employment insurance was running out or that they did not qualify for employment insurance or the kinds of training programs being offered. One forestry worker said that he was offered retraining as a long distance truck driver. He is in his fifties and does not have the experience. He wondered where he would find work as a long distance truck driver.

We are seeing the direct and immediate impact of the loss of employment in our communities, whether it is forestry, manufacturing or shipbuilding. We are hearing those stories from our community members each day we are in our ridings.

Much of this is not new information. We have seen deep-rooted problems with poverty in this country for a long time. I want to point to Campaign 2000. Many members in the House are aware that in 1989 Ed Broadbent proposed a motion, which was passed by Parliament, to end child poverty by the year 2000.

In November 2008, before the Conservatives acknowledged that we actually had an economic problem in this country, when Campaign 2000 tabled its latest report card on progress, it reported that one in nine children in Canada still lived in poverty when measured after income taxes. That amounts to 760,000 children and their families who are currently living in poverty.

B.C. continues to report the highest provincial child poverty rate in Canada. If we listen to the current B.C. Liberal government, it says that up until recently the economy was doing very well, thanks very much, and so were people from B.C., but we know that whether it is health care workers, forestry workers, shipyard workers or children and their families, people in British Columbia have been suffering for a lengthy period of time and it has only been made worse by this current economic downturn.

I want to talk about housing. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that there was some money for housing in this current budget but none of us should think that will actually amount to a national housing strategy.

I often hear the Conservatives say that New Democrats are always criticizing but do not propose anything. That is absolutely false. We have been calling for a national housing strategy ever since I was elected to this House in 2004.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 24th, 2009 / 4:40 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

And before.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

And before. I am very proud to say that New Democrats rewrote the Liberal budget in 2005 and made sure there was money specifically earmarked for housing.

I want to briefly refer to the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, in a report he wrote in 2007. Lest we think that this current housing crisis is manufactured as a result of the economic downturn, he pointed out that in his visits across his country he was hearing about hundreds of people who had died because they were homeless. He went on to talk about the fact that in its most recent periodic review of Canada's compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations uses strong language to label housing, homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency. This was in 2007 when we were supposedly in these booming economic times. We can only imagine what is happening in our communities now.

As people lose their jobs, as people are one paycheque away from poverty and as income-assisted rolls soar, people are losing their houses right now as I speak in this House. This economic stimulus package was an opportunity to do some innovative, creative things and actually contribute to a national housing strategy. What we could have seen were some green retrofits. What we could have seen was taking some existing housing and retrofitting it so it was suitable for people who needed access to affordable housing. There were many opportunities lost in this current package. I know that New Democrats had positive solutions to propose to address some of these issues.

One of the reasons we are having this discussion about accountability is that we have seen over recent history any number of good reasons not to trust the Conservatives in terms of being able to track the money and talk about the results.

During a recent internal audit of the post-secondary education program by Indian and Northern Affairs, it became clear that the government did not know where the money was going or what results it was getting from it. These are not figures that came from outside of the government itself.

One of the objectives of the audit was to provide assurance on the adequacy and effectiveness of the management control of the program. It seems like a good goal. I will not read the whole report, but when it came to conclusions, it gave some recommendations for the government. It stated:

Re-assess, in conjunction with the Transfer Payments and Financial Policy Directorate, the funding authorities in use and the reporting needs of the Program, taking into consideration the department’s obligation to account for the use of Program funds and the intended purposes of these funding authorities.

It goes on to to say that the government needs to improve the relevance and integrity of performance data being captured.

When we start looking at some of that information, I becomes clear that the government actually has difficulty in accounting for how some money is being spent. There are many other examples.

Canadians want to know that their government and parliamentarians are acting on behalf of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast, not just Canadians in Conservative ridings.

An article in today's National Post regarding a program called the new horizons for seniors program, states:

The government has announced 32 grants for seniors' groups since Feb. 17, and only one went to an organization located in a riding not held by a Conservative MP.

We have a minority Conservative government that received less than half the votes in Canada. The Conservatives and all members in this House must ensure that all Canadians have access to these funds, not just people in Conservative ridings. That is a fundamental piece of fairness.

I come from a province that, sadly, about eight years ago had an opposition that was reduced to two members. There were 77 Liberal members and 2 New Democrats but, of course, New Democrats have recovered that ground. However, what we saw in that case was a government that had just over 50% of the vote and yet took 90-odd per cent of the seats. What happened in that case was an undermining of the democratic process. Decisions were made that rolled back collective agreements, increased class sizes and made cuts to health care.

I would argue that no matter if one is in a government with the bulk of the seats or, as in this case, a minority government, one has a responsibility to all Canadians, not just to one's own Conservative riding.

When Parliament asks for a list of the likely projects, it seems to be a fair and reasonable oversight process to ensure that all Canadians have access to these very important projects that could provide economic stimulus.

The Minister of the Environment has said that the government will circumvent some of the environmental assessment projects. I am sure Canadians will be very interested to see the kinds of projects that are likely to come forward. If the government is going to abdicate its responsibility around environmental assessment, at least community members can start looking at where there may be impacts.

In an article in the Globe and Mail on March 21 it refers to the fact that effective immediately and for the next two years numerous types of projects will not require federal environmental assessments in certain circumstances. These include the construction and remodelling of community buildings, water treatment and distribution systems, transit, road construction and waste management projects.

I do not know about other areas of the country but when we start talking about road construction, we know there are all kinds of potential impacts on watersheds. In my own community of Somenos Marsh, which is on a major highway, any major development that happens in the area will directly impact on the health and viability of Somenos Marsh. We would expect there to be a full environmental assessment. It is a valuable, fragile ecosystem. Despite the serious economic downturn we are in, we know that Canadians still care about where they live, the air they breathe and the quality of their water. They do not want to see the environmental assessment process stripped away. However, when we talk about the transparency and accountability of these projects, it is no wonder Canadians are questioning whether they can trust the government to spend the money on behalf of all Canadians.

I, as a grandmother, do not want to see my grandchildren inherit an unhealthy planet because we failed to do the right things in times of economic downturns.

The Caledon Institute put together a paper called “The Red-Ink Budget” in February 2009 which raised a couple of points about wise decisions on how money could be spent. The report states:

With respect to leveraging of funds from other levels of government, it is not reasonable to include the full ‘leverage’ effect as part of the Budget’s overall fiscal stimulus because it is not at all clear that the provinces and territories can and will actually spend more than they had intended.

When the government put together the stimulus package, it made some claims about the impact of the stimulus and yet we have independent institutes questioning the premise of some of its logic. This is under the economic and fiscal policy part of the report.

Later on in the report, it refers to some additional skepticism. It reads:

We are also skeptical about the capacity of the federal government to get much of the infrastructure and housing money out the door.... This requirement is especially problematic due to the demand for cost-sharing and the assumed federal engagement in picking and choosing projects. This will require negotiation and creative paper work (for provinces and territories to make up stories about incremental spending). Moreover the rush to spend will not necessarily encourage great wisdom in the choice of projects... Both the present and the previous governments failed to undertake adequate or, more accurately, any, contingency planning for the ‘lean years’ during the ‘fat years’ – a failure which will now impede our capacity to recover from the current recession and to spend our infrastructure funds wisely.

I think we would be hard-pressed to find any Canadian who would say that we should shovel the money out the door, that they do not care what the project is or what the consequences will be for their community and the environment.

This is an opportunity to ensure that projects will contribute to the overall health and well-being of our country and communities, both now and in the future. It is an opportunity to ensure the environment is protected, that jobs are created for the future and that we are doing some of the green initiatives that the New Democrats have proposed.

The Caledon Institute's report refers to spending money wisely. I have heard members say that we do not want to see a road built to nowhere or a bridge that goes halfway across a body of water. We want to ensure those projects are integrated into the plans of the community and make sense in terms of job creation, education, and the environment.

I know a couple of people have mentioned the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I want to touch on a couple of points the FCM has raised. This has certainly been mentioned in the House. It talks about use of the gas tax model, that it is fast, tested and accountable.

Of course, New Democrats have said that consistently, that the gas tax model is already in place, it works well, and we know that we can get money out through that process.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, in this particular publication, states that:

The most efficient and effective federal funding program is the [gas tax fund], which empowers communities to start work quickly on clearly established infrastructure priorities.

Members will notice that it says “clearly established infrastructure priorities”.

It says:

The GTF flows money to cities and communities on a per capita basis. Municipalities must then invest these dollars in accordance with clear eligibility criteria, guided by established, federally-approved capital investment plans.

It goes on also to talk about what is of particular interest in my riding, and I know other members here have small communities, the fact that smaller communities must not be ignored and that there must be funding set aside for smaller communities, and communities must be protected.

So in terms of tabling a list of likely projects, it would enable us in the House to see if there is that good balance between large urban centres and smaller communities.

I know there has been some work done around this, but for smaller communities, if we just simply look at per capita funding, the city of Duncan, for example, has 5,000 people, yet it has some major road infrastructure that has an impact on every other community in the area. So there must be some sort of set-aside that recognizes the integration of these communities, but they also must have access to the funding to recognize the fact that simply a per capita formula will not do it. Again, tabling of the likely projects will allow us as parliamentarians to assess that and will allow the Canadian public to assess it.

I know other members have raised this, but our neighbours to the south have somehow or other figured out that accountability and transparency is a good thing. In a memo written on February 9 that went out to the heads of departments and agencies, there are a couple of key points that talk specifically about that accountability and transparency.

It stated:

We are asking the American people to trust their government with an unprecedented level of funding to address the economic emergency. In return, we must prove to them that their dollars are being invested in initiatives and strategies that make a difference in their communities and across the country.

It seems to me that the Americans have it. They understand that there is a partnership around this.

We as parliamentarians can approve spending, or not, but then there must be a partnership with the public around how that money is spent.

The Americans have a website, which I am sure others have spoken about, but I want to re-emphasize this because there are a couple of really key goals. On the website, www.recovery.gov, they say the funding “must be subject to unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability”.

We are actually asking Canadians to shoulder a debt. We are asking Canadians, to some extent, to do it in good faith, because although we may have talked about the potential economic stimulus and how it is going to benefit our communities, we are really asking them to take it on faith that the money that is being spent will actually make a difference in our communities.

The other part of that partnership then must be these unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability. It must go above and beyond anything we normally have asked of our government, and it would seem to me that the principles outlined in www.recovery.gov seem reasonable. These principles are that:

Recovery funds are awarded and distributed in a prompt, fair, and reasonable manner;

The recipients and uses of all recovery funds are transparent to the public, and that the public benefits of these funds are reported clearly, accurately, and in a timely manner;

Recovery funds are used for authorized purposes and every step is taken to prevent instances of fraud, waste, error, and abuse;

It states further:

Programs meet specific goals and targets, and contribute to improved performance on broad economic indicators.

If the United States, which has a significantly larger population than Canada, can do this, surely we in Canada can figure this out.

I would urge members of this House to support this motion, and I would urge the government to take some lessons from what has happened with the Obama government and some of the initiatives it has proposed.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member just went to great lengths to compare what she believes the United States is doing right, and she somehow seems to indicate that we should be replicating that particular process.

I wonder if the hon. member has been watching the United States news over the last number of weeks. Certainly we have seen this whole discussion about the debacle that the United States found itself in, having permitted through the processes these things that she calls unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency. Under this program that she has talked about all the merits of, through this program that the Obama administration put forward to the American people, these huge compensation packages were given to AIG.

While she talks about accountability, while she talks about transparency, she likens it to the program that we see south of the border, yet we see the most ridiculous, unprecedented, problematic process the United States has seen in a long time with these multi-million dollar compensation packages given to some of the people who caused what we are seeing as one of the biggest financial disasters in world history.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are two separate issues we are talking about here. One is the accountability for Canadian parliamentarians, to be able to say to the Canadian public that this money has been spent in an accountable, transparent process, that money can be tracked, that it is going to contribute to the overall good and health and welfare of our communities, that the projects fall in line with the community priorities and targets, have been well thought out and well planned, and are strategic in nature.

I would argue that some of what I talked about in this recovery is accountability initiatives that I am asking the Government of Canada, the parliamentarians, to take on.

When we talk about AIG and the outrageous compensation that went to executives, I would argue that in part there are some mechanisms in Canada with our banking system and our financial sector that have prevented that kind of process from happening, but we have not been immune.

The member talked about AIG, but I did not hear him talking about the hidden sub-prime mortgages in Canada and the impact of that on people losing their homes right now. I think we need to look at the mistakes that have been made, like AIG, and learn from them so that we do not repeat those kinds of initiatives in Canada.

Again, what I am saying is that www.recovery.gov has some good principles that would be helpful in terms of us setting up some mechanisms in Canada to ensure that the public can engage in this process.

Opposition Motion—Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-2010Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, following on the question from the member for Peace River, I wonder if the member agrees with me or thinks it is possible that this really is about three initials, whether it is AIG or CPC.

Giving money, $3 billion in this case, without strings is very much like a bailout given to a company and having it do what it will with it, which we are now seeing with approbation by the United States and by all the world, the bailout of AIG resulting in bonuses to their executives.

Does she see an analogy here that we are letting the CPC, that is the government, spend $3 billion without any conditions whatsoever? Who will it bail out? Who will it compensate, unjustly perhaps, all the members who hold CPC ridings?