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House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senators.

Topics

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, last month I asked a question concerning advertising. I was quite concerned about the amount of money that was being spent on advertising. It is a very important issue because it has risen to over $89 million, perhaps heading skyward to $100 million. What is really important is that it has more than doubled since 2005-06.

There are many things we could be spending money on. We are talking about close to $100 million. When we look at advertising during the Olympics or the Academy Awards, these are some of the highest rating times. The highest rating times means they are times with the highest opportunity to spend money.

When we look at some of the advertising dollars being spent, of course anything over a certain level has to be evaluated. The most recent evaluation that we have details on was for the economic action plan. I support ensuring that Canadians know about some of the things we are doing, such as, anything the public needs to understand how to apply for, but many of these things deal with government programs.

One program in particular the government did a lot of advertising for that was evaluated was in regard to tax relief. It was about how the Conservative government was providing a lot of tax relief for individuals and families, but it was shown during the evaluation that the campaign was intended to increase the number of Canadians who believe that the Government of Canada was committed to doing these things for itself. It was more around the idea that the Conservatives were advertising to promote themselves rather than being information for Canadians.

The third point I want to raise is the whole issue concerning secrecy and lack of transparency. Recently, there was a request by the media to ensure that there was full disclosure of spending on advertising. A senior member of a minister's office actually blocked the information that was to be provided in response to the media request. The official determined that it was about to be released and there was a hold put on that information release by a senior member of a ministerial department.

When we take all of these things in totality, it shows a lack of transparency, a push toward ensuring that the Conservative government has a lot of advertising during prime time, not necessarily for the benefit of Canadians but more for the benefit of the Conservative Party. That was the nature of my question.

My question was really around the whole idea of how difficult it is to find out how close to $100 million are being spent. The redress to my question said it was $89 million. That is what we knew at that particular time. We see that type of money being spent on advertising and there is no money being spent on some of the areas that are critical to Canadians, like child care and home support.

Those are the kinds of programs that Canadians really care about. I know that because I conduct many round tables in my riding and have a lot of interactions with the people in my riding. They are certainly not looking for more government advertising. They are looking for more programs and assistance during what have been some of the most difficult economic times.

The nature of my question is, how are we going to ensure that we have value for money for advertising and that the advertising dollars will be spent in better ways for Canadians?

7:30 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it seems that our government's hard work on the communications front, including advertising, continues to preoccupy our hon. colleagues on the opposition benches. I can tell the House that these preoccupations are unfounded and distract all of us from the important work of building a stronger Canada.

As we all know, the economic action plan is a crucial part of our plan to help Canadians weather the global economic recession. The plan includes measures to help Canadian businesses and families, and to secure Canada's long-term prosperity.

About a year after it was launched, our economic action plan is on track and delivering results for Canadians. Overall, the government's economic action plan has contributed to the creation of over 176,000 jobs since July 2009 across the country. We have had six months of job growth. We are making real progress.

Anyone looking for more information can turn to our government's fifth report to Canadians on the economic action plan, which was tabled in the House of Commons on March 4 as part of budget 2010.

The timely reports our government has released on the economic action plan are just some of the many actions we have taken to inform Canadians about programs that are there to help them.

Government programs to help the economy cannot possibly work if no one knows about them. That is why we set out to tell Canadians and Canadian businesses what the economic action plan could and is doing for them.

We launched advertising campaigns, created a strong online presence, and travelled from coast to coast to coast to tell Canadians about the programs in place to help them through this difficult economic time.

The communications policy of the government says:

In the Canadian system of parliamentary democracy and responsible government, the government has a duty to explain its policies and decisions, and to inform the public of its priorities for the country.

The policy also says:

The public has a right to such information.

Our government takes this duty seriously.

When it comes to the economic action plan, we are proud of the communications work we have done to ensure Canadians have received timely, accurate, objective and complete information about the programs and services available to them.

Advertising has been instrumental to our efforts. We have used it to explain the programs and how to make the best use of them. This includes extremely popular programs such as the home renovation tax credit. The incredible number of Canadians who took advantage of that tax credit is proof that we got results.

All our communications work has been done in a way that respects the principles of accountability and transparency. It has been done in a way that respects the government's communications policy, and the standards and processes set out by Treasury Board.

Canadians expect elected officials and public servants to manage their tax dollars wisely. They expect us to uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct.

To instill that confidence, government must be open about what it has achieved. It must assure Canadians and parliamentarians that the right controls are in place. It must provide them with the information they need to judge its performance.

That is the approach we are proudly taking in implementing Canada's economic action plan.

7:35 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my hon. colleague speaking about the advertising program and that the ends justify the means.

I have a couple of points. He talked about the advertising program in the context of the economic action plan. The economic action plan was implemented to help Canadians get through a very difficult economic time. It was not implemented to help the Conservatives promote themselves.

When he talked about online presence, he should have mentioned that the online presence also had a link that went to the Prime Minister singing Beatles songs.

What he should have talked about is how we could either improve the advertising that we are doing, reduce the advertising that we are doing to make it more specific to programs that are essential to Canadians, and to give information to Canadians.

We should be focused on ensuring that the right amount of money is put toward informing Canadians versus advertising for the Conservative Party.

7:35 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, as any business person will tell us, communications and advertising are key to getting word out about a product. The difference is that while the Liberals sold millions of taxpayers' dollars in exchange for campaign donations, the only thing we are selling is openness, transparency and lower taxes for Canadians.

Let me close by quoting Mary Dawson, the Ethics Commissioner, who just today said:

The government itself also has an obligation to inform the public about its activities in the interests of accessibility, accountability and transparency.

As usual, we agree with the Ethics Commissioner. We are going to continue to fulfill this obligation to Canadians.

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, on April 1 in this House, I asked a question of the Minister of Finance in relation to the 8.5% Hibernia share held by the Government of Canada through the Canada Hibernia Holding Corporation and the interest that the Newfoundland and Labrador government has in the transfer to it of that share and the importance of that.

I did not get a very satisfactory answer from the minister. I am here today to provide some background as to why this is important and why it is necessary to do it. First, I will give a little bit of history on the Hibernia project. It was the first of a number of projects in the east coast oil and gas sector. It is extremely important to Newfoundland and Labrador and to Canada.

In fact, in the east coast oil and gas sector in Newfoundland and Labrador alone, the equivalent of over 40% of the Canadian requirement for light crude oil is produced in those three projects that are now operating. That is of substantial importance to Canada's oil security and clearly represents a significant role in Canada's oil and gas production in total.

That particular fact is little known, with the emphasis on western oil and gas and the overweening emphasis on the oil sands projects. It is also interesting to note that the production costs and operating costs per barrel of oil and gas on the east coast are extremely low by comparison to the operating costs of the oil sands. This is something a lot of Canadians do not know. Frankly, from our perspective, it does not receive the kind of attention we think it deserves.

The Hibernia project first started bringing in oil in 1997, but it had a bit of a precarious history. It was discovered in 1980, I believe, and first developed by the consortium, which was working along with various partners until 1992, when Gulf Canada Resources decided it would no longer continue with its 25% share of the project, putting the whole project in jeopardy.

It was a time of economic uncertainty and lower oil prices. Efforts were made to ensure that the project succeeded. I want to give credit and pay tribute to John Crosbie, the current Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, for helping make that happen. Canada decided to take a part of that share, 8.5%, and put in the money to help that project along. It paid its share of the cost of production, around $430 million.

All of that has now been repaid. The Government of Canada has received over $1 billion in dividends, starting in 2002. It is time that share was transferred to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. It has expressed a willingness to pay. It would fit in with Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil strategy. It now has a share in the Hibernia South development, the White Rose extension and the new Chevron Hebron-Ben Nevis project. It is part of its strategy and also part of the Government of Canada's strategy of divesting itself of certain assets.

It seems to me that the time is right. The province is very interested and I would like to see the federal government tell us when it is going to do this—

7:40 p.m.

Conservative

7:40 p.m.

North Vancouver B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, as indicated in media reports, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams was in Ottawa earlier this week to meet with a number of federal cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister.

Indeed, as again indicated in those media reports, this included a meeting between the finance minister and the premier where the Hibernia issue was raised. Obviously, I am not in a position to comment on those discussions. However, I can underline our government's commitment to carefully manage public finances to ensure long-term fiscal stability.

Unlike the NDP, we understand the need for fiscal responsibility and that is why we are focused on keeping spending in check. This includes rigorous expenditure review to ensure spending is as efficient and effective as possible. This also includes a comprehensive review of government entities and assets. We owe that to Canadian taxpayers.

Amazingly, a comprehensive asset review never occurred in over a decade under the previous Liberal government. Accordingly, as first announced in budget 2009, asset reviews are under way and will continue. We have laid out a clear process for the ongoing review of government assets to ensure they still perform a useful function for Canadians, the original purpose for each is still relevant, and that tax dollars are being spent wisely.

We have also committed to take into account market conditions before any possible action to ensure that the best value will be realized for Canadian taxpayers and that transactions will help generate new economic activity. Assets will not be sold if these tests are not met. This is responsible and prudent action.

As TD economist Don Drummond has noted:

[Asset] review should be a useful exercise for assessing the value of the government's holdings.... If you're not getting good value for them, or if there's a more efficient way of delivering the public service they're providing, I think you should always be looking at selling them.

Moreover, even Ontario's Liberal government is currently undertaking a similar comprehensive asset review. In the words of Ontario's Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, “We've got a responsibility to take a look at all of our assets to make sure we're getting the best bang for our buck”.

What is more, the president of the United States, Barack Obama, has likewise spoken about the need to conduct rigorous expenditure reviews. He said:

[This] is about building a smarter government that focuses on what works.

We are going to go through our federal budget...eliminating those programs we don't need and insisting that those that we do need operate in a sensible, cost-effective way.

Our Conservative government similarly believes ongoing and comprehensive reviews of how taxpayers' money is utilized, including asset review, is exactly what Canadians expect.

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, this is the same kind of non-answer that I got from the Minister of Finance on April 1, and the member talks about something entirely different.

When this Canadian contribution was made, the Newfoundland government also made considerable sacrifices in helping this project work with tax exemptions, tax reductions, a favourable royalty regime, and there was not much in royalties in Newfoundland until the price of oil rose recently.

This transfer is needed to try and redress the kind of imbalance that occurred as a result. It was never intended to be a windfall for the Government of Canada. Newfoundland is supposed to be the primary beneficiary of its offshore resources. Until recently, the Government of Canada was in fact getting 80% of all government revenues from that project and the Newfoundland government was getting 20%.

Will the government recognize that and do the right thing by transferring that share to Newfoundland and Labrador for a reasonable price?

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, Premier Williams and the finance minister met recently and the Hibernia issue was raised.

Our government, as with all assets, will continue to responsibly manage this investment in order to maximize its value to all Canadians and in accordance with the best commercial practices.

For the benefit of the member though, I will remind him how the previous Liberal government viewed Hibernia. From a 2004 National Post article, I will quote the member for Wascana, who was the then Liberal finance minister:

There's no compelling public policy reason to retain the [Hibernia] stake. It's a matter of making the appropriate commercial decision.

The [Liberal] government has looked on Petro-Canada as a sort of rainy day fund, and sees Hibernia the same way.

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 7:47 p.m.)