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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

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8)(b) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to nine petitions.

Nuclear Liability and Compensation ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-20, An Act respecting civil liability and compensation for damage in case of a nuclear incident.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Public AccountsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the following reports of the Standing Committee of Public Accounts: the sixth report on Public Accounts of Canada, 2008; and the seventh report on chapter four of the first nations child and family services program, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, of the May 2008 report of the Auditor General of Canada.

In accordance with Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to each of these reports.

Energy Efficiency ActRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Energy Efficiency Act, be read the first time.

(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Income TrustsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present another income trust petition on behalf of Mrs. Jan Pickering of Nova Scotia who remembers that the Prime Minister made a commitment to accountability when he said that the greatest fraud was a promise not kept.

The petitioners remind the Prime Minister that he promised never to tax income trusts but that he broke that promise by imposing a 31.5% tax, which permanently wiped out over $25 billion of the hard-earned retirement savings of over two million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners, therefore, call upon the Conservative minority government to: first, admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions; second, apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by this broken promise, particularly seniors; and finally, repeal the punitive 31.5% tax on tax on income trusts.

Canada Post Corporation ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present four petitions from Ontario and one from Quebec supporting Bill C-458, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (library materials).

Fuel PricesPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present the following petition signed by hundreds of constituents across Ontario.

In this particular instance, the petition calls upon the Government of Canada to recognize the effect that high fuel prices are having on the economy, particularly as it relates to affordability.

The petitioners ask for the reinstatement of the office of petroleum price information, which was abolished by the government in 2006, as the energy market information service which, like the U.S. Energy Information Agency, would produce weekly reports to all Canadians on energy supply and demand, inventory and storage information.

The petitioners also call upon this Parliament to begin hearings into the energy sector to determine how the government can foster competition and provide transparency to the energy market and to eliminate the monopolistic efficiency-as-defence clause of the Competition Act.

These petitions were collected and signed well before the Suncor-Petro-Canada merger.

Animal WelfarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition with several hundred signatures calling upon the federal government to support a universal declaration on animal welfare.

This declaration is one that is circulating at the international level. Members from my riding and other parts of the country press upon the Government of Canada to seek that declaration and to support it.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

March 24th, 2009 / 10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 15 could be made an order for return, the return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 15Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

With respect to religious freedom around the world: (a) will the government recognize that religious persecution is an international crisis affecting many religious groups in the world; (b) will the government develop an automatic array of interventions that may be imposed by Canada against foreign governments, such as Iraq, that may support religious persecution or fail to prevent it; and (c) what steps is the government prepared to take to improve measures for refugees who have suffered religious persecution?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Alleged Misleading Information —Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Malpeque on March 5, 2009, concerning information disseminated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I would like to thank the member for having raised this matter.

In raising this issue, the member alleged that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans misused the privileges of her office in allowing the dissemination of misleading information for partisan purposes on her department's letterhead and website under the name of a Conservative senator. The member contended that the actions of the minister, the department and the member of the other place compromised his privileges as a member of Parliament.

The member for Malpeque explained that a press release by the senator was issued with the department's letterhead on its website. He also indicated that the senator was not an official spokesperson for the department. The press release concerning the seal hunt was critical of a member of the other place, the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Party and, according to the member, distorted the position of the Liberal leader and the Liberal Party.

The member argued that it was the responsibility of the minister to ensure that media resources were used only for departmental purposes and that she had failed to do so. He quoted at length from the communications policy of the Government of Canada, illustrating how the news release had violated that policy. He further argued that, as a consequence of the minister's allowing the department's letterhead and website to be used in a partisan way by someone with no departmental affiliation, his privileges as a member had been violated.

The release of a departmental communiqué that is critical of members of the Senate and of the House is extremely unusual and is a serious matter that causes me considerable concern.

However, while the member may well be right that it is the responsibility of ministers to adhere to the government’s communication policy, it is not within my purview to judge whether the minister did or not follow that policy. In the present case, my only role is to ascertain whether the actions of the minister and the department have violated the hon. member’s privileges.

In the past, Speakers have been called upon to rule on questions of privilege relating to actions taken by government departments that have affected the privilege of members, for example, government advertising anticipating decisions of the House. In rare cases, such actions have been viewed as obstruction.

More often than not, however, as noted in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, on pages 91 and 92:

“—rulings have focused on whether or not the parliamentary duties of the Member were directly involved. While frequently noting that Members raising such matters might have legitimate complaints, Speakers have regularly concluded that Members have not been prevented from performing their parliamentary duties”.

In the current matter, I do not think that the member has demonstrated a link to his parliamentary duties. Likewise, it has not been demonstrated that the events described have had an undesirable effect on the reputation of the House of Commons. For those reasons, I cannot find that the member's ability to perform his work has been obstructed and, therefore, I cannot find a prima facie question of privilege.

I wish to thank the hon. member for his vigilance. In raising the matter, he has drawn public attention to a serious situation that needed to be remedied. His views have been heeded from media reports and, on examination of the website of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, it appears that the offending communiqué has been removed and the departmental officials have apologized.

No doubt ministers and their officials have taken cognizance of these unfortunate events and will ensure that nothing like this happens again.

I thank the House for its attention to this important matter.

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

moved:

That, due to the extraordinary nature of the spending authority proposed in Treasury Board Vote 35 in the Main Estimates for 2009-2010, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, by April 3rd, 2009, a list of the departments and programs which are likely to require access to this extraordinary authority; and

on each occasion that the government uses Vote 35, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, within one sitting day of each such use, a report disclosing:

(a) the name and location of each project to which the funding is being provided (including the federal electoral district in which it is located),

(b) the amount of federal funding,

(c) the department and program under which the federal funding is being provided, and

(d) what each project is intended to achieve in fighting the recession, and why it requires recourse to Vote 35 rather than any other source of funds; and

that each such report shall be posted on a publicly accessible government website, and referred immediately to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Auditor General.

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending March 26, 2009, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply of bills.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bills be distributed now?

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this opposition day motion. The burden of my argument is that the request we are making to the government is so utterly reasonable that any decision by the government not to accede to this request will be seen by all reasonable people to be utterly unreasonable.

It is reasonable because, with regard to this $3 billion fund, all we are asking from the government is that it provide a modicum of accountability to the people of Canada. It could do so at absolutely no cost in terms of any significant resources required and no cost in terms of any delay in getting the money out the door.

It is quite reasonable to ask the government for some transparency and accountability, especially since there would be no delay in terms of spending the money needed to boost the economy.

Let me begin first by explaining what it is we are asking for. The government has asked, through the estimates, to have this special $3 billion fund under the so-called Treasury Board vote 35. These funds would be spendable over the period April to June of this year. Liberals do not have any objection to that in principle because we acknowledge the urgency of getting money out the door. The problem is the government will not tell Canadians what the money is to be spent on.

In the estimates there is the statement that the funds will be used “to supplement other appropriations” as well as to provide for budget initiatives. In other words, as written, it is a blank cheque because the funds can be used for purposes stated in the budget and to supplement other appropriations, in other words, anything under the sun. This is what we deem to be unacceptable. Canadians should be informed as to at least the general nature of these expenditures rather than delivering a blank cheque to the government.

The Liberal request comes in two parts. First, we want the government to provide to Parliament and Canadians a simple list of the programs and departments that will be covered by the $3 billion by April 3. This is hardly an onerous request because I have actually seen such a list in a private briefing received from Treasury Board officials. The list already exists, so I see no reason why the government should hesitate to provide that list to Parliament and to the people of this country.

The second thing we are asking is that the government table after-the-fact reports, and I stress the term after-the-fact reports, on spending projects. This involves no delay because it is after the fact and it involves no significant additional work because all of the work would have been done, in any event, to obtain the Treasury Board approvals. All we are asking is for the government to provide a list of programs and departments, which it already has, there is no cost involved, and an after-the-fact report on spending projects which the government would have in its hands, in any event.

Let me quote some Conservatives who wax eloquent on the subject of accountability and should agree with us in the Liberal Party when all we are demanding is a modicum of accountability.

The then Treasury Board president in 2006 said, “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”.

The same minister in April 2006 said, “Canadians said loudly and clearly that they wanted an open, honest and accountable government. They want their taxpayer dollars spent wisely and well”.

This statement was made in the Conservative Party election platform in 2006:

Governments cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances.

Therefore, when we on the Liberal side ask simply that the government provide a list that it already has as to which departments the $3 billion will be coming from, we are not asking too much. It is entirely consistent with the stated views of the Conservative Party.

I saved my best quote for the end because this is a quote from the Auditor General of Canada on March 23, 2009, which addresses the very issue that is before us today. She stated:

It’s not unreasonable. $3 billion is a fair bit of money and they must have ideas, even in broad strokes, how that money will flow between April and June. I must say that I don’t buy the argument that they can’t tell them something — maybe not the detail of, say, what festival, or how much, but they could at least say where the money is going, whether it’s (to) infrastructure or festivals.

That was stated by the Auditor General of Canada. We are not even asking for festivals and infrastructure. In the list, we are simply asking for the amounts of money by program and department, and an after-the-fact accounting of where that money goes.

Imagine the now Prime Minister in his role as leader of the opposition if the shoe were on the other foot and if a Liberal government were to have the temerity and the lack of accountability to propose a $3 billion blank cheque, or slush fund some might call it, without indicating to Parliament or to Canadians any idea at all of how a putative Liberal government would spend that money. I contend that the Prime Minister would have had an absolute hissy fit at the very notion that such a blank cheque should be delivered to a Liberal government, but now seems to want it delivered to his own government.

The need for accountability is compounded by the fact that the government has shown itself to be untrustworthy. I refer to the information we have had for some time now that in terms of infrastructure projects a disproportionate amount of infrastructure projects ended up in Conservative ridings. An even more egregious case which was reported only yesterday by David Akin of Canwest News that with regard to the program new horizons for seniors, since February 17, distributions of approximately $20,000 per case were made in 33 ridings. It is difficult to believe this is the case, but according to Mr. Akin, of those 33 ridings, 32 were held by Conservatives. I would contend it goes beyond any reasonable statistical probabilities that this was a purely random event; 32 out of 33 is a very high fraction.

I think that the government has only one defence against the proposal we are making today, and that is that the money must go out the door quickly because Canada's economy is in crisis and it is imperative that there be no delays.

On this we are 100% in agreement. It is we who have said for months that the Conservatives' delay in bringing forward a decent budget was delaying infrastructure projects, shovel ready projects, and if they acted earlier many more thousands of Canadians would now be employed.

We rushed this budget through at lightning speed, notwithstanding its inadequacies, because we recognized that the top priority had to be to get the money out the door. We have agreed as well, in terms of us putting the government on probation, that one of the things we will be watching like hawks is whether it does indeed get the money out the door because we all know its record, for example in infrastructure, has been dismal, getting less than 20¢ on the dollar out of the door in terms of every dollar it has announced.

We also know that the Business Development Bank of Canada committed to billions of dollars of much needed business credit lending but has yet to get any money out the door or even to have something that could be described as a plan.

It is the Liberals on this side, as much as anyone on the government's side or any other party, who have been seized with the urgency of fast action to get money out the door, but the point is that the modicum of accountability that we are proposing will not delay this money by one nanosecond.

Let me just repeat that, in case somebody on the other side has missed the point. The first thing we are asking for is a list, which already exists and which I have seen with my own eyes. All the government has to do is produce that list of proposed expenditures by department and by program by April 3, so clearly that will cause no delay. The other thing we are asking for, after the moneys have been approved, is a reporting to Parliament of what those projects are.

The idea that it cannot do this because of the urgency of getting money out the door is an argument that has no foundation whatsoever. To put it differently, the Conservative government should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. It should be able to both provide to Canadians at least a broad explanation of how it proposes to spend taxpayers' money and it should be able to get that money out the door expeditiously.

Canadians should not be asked to choose either accountability or rapid fiscal stimulus. Canadians should be entitled to both. In terms of the specifics of our motion, I have demonstrated very clearly that there is no choice required. There is no trade-off here. It is entirely possible and extremely simple both to get the money out the door quickly and to do so in a reasonably accountable fashion.

My last point is this. What is the reasonable person, the non-partisan person, to conclude if the government says no to this ultra-reasonable request by the Liberal Party of Canada? A reasonable person would have no choice but to conclude that the government must have some ulterior motive because if it is able to provide this accountability at no cost in terms of delay, at no cost in terms of the resources of the public service, then what would be the reason to say no?

I can honestly think of no reason to say no unless the government has some agenda to use this $3 billion for purposes not stated in the budget, for purposes of a Conservative riding-directed strategy of the kind described by David Akin in the case of new horizons for seniors, or of the kind documented by infrastructure expenses.

I conclude by saying to the government that what we have asked of it today is so eminently reasonable, so modest, so appropriate, so costless to do, that if the government refuses to do this, a reasonable person would have no alternative but to conclude that the government has something to hide.

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, this motion is fairly worthwhile given the very unusual situation where we are being asked to accept that the Conservative government be given a $3 billion discretionary fund that it could spend in a highly partisan way.

In our experience, this type of thing went on when the Liberals were in power, and some of the money was spent on the sponsorship scandal.

Does my colleague not believe that by accepting that the government have this $3 billion vote to spend as part of this budget, we could find ourselves in a situation where there is not much accountability, which is what happened previously in a scandal that made the news around the world?

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with most of what my colleague said, especially in light of this government's behaviour and the fact that 32 of the 33 ridings that have received money are Conservative ridings, which can hardly be a coincidence. That is why we put forward this motion. Canadians have the right to know in general terms how this government plans to spend money. It is not very difficult. All we are asking for in advance is a list of the major programs of the departments that will be doing the spending. The government would have until April 3 to provide this information. We believe that this is quite a reasonable request, and I hope the government will agree to it.

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, what is really concerning is we have a finance minister who barely two months ago stood up in the House and said that he had a surplus. Before that, he said that if there was going to be a recession it would have already happened and that we missed this recession.

Now we are not only $30 billion in the hole but we are being asked for an extra $3 billion unaccountable slush fund that the government should be able to spend however it wants, how quickly it wants and under whatever circumstances. We see no pattern with the government of any form of accountability on a long list of pork-barrel projects.

As parliamentarians how can we sit back and entertain this kind of $3 billion slush fund without accountability when we know what the result is going to be six months or a year down the road with the Conservative government?

Opposition Motion--Vote 35 in Main Estimates 2009-10Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Liberal Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could expand on my colleague's list of the government's silly statements, contradictory statements, all over the map statements. The member may recall that two months ago the Prime Minister very irresponsibly spoke of Canada heading into depression. More recently he has lurched to the other extreme and talked in Pollyanna terms about Canada snapping out of recession before anyone else. He has gone from one extreme to the other. It is not so much optimism or pessimism; it is all over the map. It leads us to the position where I do not think anyone can believe what he says any more on the state of the economy.

In terms of the member's question as to why we would pass the budget, notwithstanding its many inadequacies which are too numerous to mention, I would remind him that Canada is in a state of economic crisis right now. Jobs are falling by the tens and hundreds of thousands. Had we joined the NDP in voting down the government over the budget, we would be in an election now. We would have delayed the flow of billions of dollars by several months.

While the NDP is free to act irresponsibly without consequence, we in the Liberal Party have to understand that we have to also take account of the state of the economy and the needs of the unemployed people. It was our conclusion that it would not have been responsible to cause an election, to cause a delay of months in getting the money out the door even though the budget left much to be desired.