Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate. We are having a very critical discussion for several reasons. One reason is that the stimulus package coming out quickly and efficiently is very important to Canadians. It is very important to changing the climate of concern and fear about what the economic future holds.
So is accountability very important to Canadians. We are spending tax dollars that are harder and harder to find at a time of economic downturn. Each of those dollars is precious. These are not government dollars, they are not Conservative dollars, they are taxpayer dollars. They need to be respected and treated as such. There needs to be accountability and reporting on these funds. That is the intent of the Liberal Party motion.
The motion calls on the government to provide information about the departments and programs which are likely to require access to this extraordinary authority of an additional $3 billion and to report on how and where these dollars are being spent.
This is a very reasonable motion. As the critic for finance mentioned a number of times in his speech, the motion calls on government to take actions that will not delay the spending and will not cost additional dollars. In fact, the Obama administration is doing just this kind of transparency.
The Obama administration has set up a website, www.recovery.gov, that will track every dollar of federal economic stimulus spending. Approximately $27 billion in infrastructure spending has been announced. The website breaks down how much will be available to the various states, which projects, et cetera. This is possible to do and I am mystified by the resistance that has been put up by the Conservative government.
Three billion dollars is a vast sum of money. It would build 12,000 affordable housing units even in an expensive area like metro Vancouver. That is a huge program and taxpayers deserve to know what is being planned for these funds.
There is really no policy or practical reason to reject this motion. The President of the Treasury Board claims that there is no reason to support the motion because “the economic action plan initiatives is what this money will be spent on”. In fact, that is not necessarily correct.
In the language of vote 35, which outlines how these funds would be used, it says that they would be used to enact programs announced in the budget, but also gives the government flexibility to supplement other appropriations outside of budget 2009. Further, no list of programs was given in this vote to outline how this money would be spent. In fact, it is the blank cheque that it is accused of being, and the defence is inaccurate.
I will read a quote about the importance of accountability from a practical and policy perspective. It states, “To instill confidence, the government must be open and it must be more accountable. It must ensure that Canadians and parliamentarians have the right controls in place and it must provide them with the information they need to judge its performance”. That is what the Liberal motion calls for: no more, no less. That quote is by the former president of the Treasury Board, on April 25, 2006. We are calling on our Conservative colleagues to act on their very own rhetoric in this matter.
The motion will not slow down the provision of stimulus funds and it will not cost more. The list exists that we have asked be provided to Canadians. That list has been seen by the Liberal critic for finance and it should be made available. There is no reason why it should not be provided.
On March 3, the Prime Minister claimed that he had consulted the Auditor General on this matter. I have a little advice for our Prime Minister. Consultation actually involves listening to what the person has to say and incorporating her advice. The Auditor General has said that it is not unreasonable that there be accountability for these funds. Three billion dollars is a fair bit of money and the government must have ideas, even in broad strokes, about how that money will flow between April and June. I do not buy the argument that it cannot tell the opposition members something.
The Prime Minister has claimed to have consulted the Auditor General and then completely ignoring her advice and response on the matter. That leads to this question. Why not support this motion and provide this transparency? Why hide rather than provide the transparency that their own members have called for?
I can only think there must be one of two reasons. Either there is a hidden agenda that the Conservative government would like to obscure from the Canadian public and opposition, or its record of fiscal and financial incompetence has been so stunning and consistently incompetent that it feels the need to hide and obscure this spending from the public and opposition for fear of a continuation of that incompetence.
Let us test out the hypothesis of which of those two it is. Is it a hidden agenda, or is it a fear of the government's r own incompetence? When it comes to incompetence, there has been an unbroken track record of failure on the economic front by the Conservative government.
This is a government that, despite all its claims to fiscal prudence, cut the Liberal surpluses that were provided to it, during a time when the economy was just fine, with record spending and ill-advised GST cuts. It essentially spent the cupboard bare so that when the difficult times came, we were already in recession.
This is a government that in September claimed that Canada was effectively immune from the downturn and denied the reality that we saw all around us, from the United States to countries right around the globe. This is a Prime Minister who, in fact, when the downturn did come and the stock markets crashed in Canada, advised investors that it was a good time to invest. I presume he did not take his own advice because that would have been very costly to his own portfolio.
This is a government that projected ongoing surpluses as recently as the end of November, at a time when the government was already well into deficit. What could the Conservative government do in the face of all of this failure and economic mismanagement? It shut down Parliament for almost two months, leaving Canadians hung out to dry for any action, stimulus and spending. There is a record of incompetence, so that could be why the government is resisting the motion.
However, perhaps it could be because of the hidden agenda. Perhaps it could be that there is an agenda of partisan advantage. Again, we have seen that throughout the government's record and time in office. The Conservative record of secrecy has been quite stunning. Here is a report from the privacy commissioner, Mr. Marleau. In his recent summary of the previous year's activity, he asserts:
Our analysis has confirmed what Canadians have been hearing and experiencing for a while now, when trying to obtain government-held information...There are major delays, particularly with extensions, with some institutions routinely taking months to respond to information requests. Canadians expect and deserve far greater efficiency and accountability from their government.
That is what we are calling for: efficiency and accountability. Mr. Marleau goes on to say:
The poor performance shown by institutions is symptomatic of a major information management crisis throughout government.
These gaps are clearly indicative of a lack of leadership at the highest levels of government...As the organisation responsible for ensuring policy compliance, the Treasury Board Secretariat has yet to exercise the high-profile and forceful leadership which is required in the area of access to information.
Essentially, in his diplomatic way, the Information Commissioner is saying that from the Prime Minister on down there is an absence of transparency and a lack of provision of information.
This supports my hypothesis that it could be the hidden agenda, as opposed to the incompetence, which is leading the government members to resist the simple provision of information being asked of them. This is a group playing politics with the money of the taxpayers of Canada. The members need to stop that now. They need to provide information on their spending and not ask for a blank cheque when they have no credibility and—