Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today in the House of Commons. I have been here for about six months now, and every single day, it is such a privilege and honour to be here with members of all parties. I think we are all here for the right reasons. We want to serve Canadians to the best of our ability and in the best interest of our constituents. Sometimes we have different ideas of what is best for our constituents, but I know that in our hearts, we all want to do what is right.
I rise to speak on the issue of the main estimates and the Liberal government's extraordinary use of vote 40 to circumvent parliamentary oversight and accountability. We are debating this today because of how uncommon the circumstances are surrounding these estimates. For the first time, outside of a major economic crisis, the government is using measures to spend over $7 billion with little parliamentary oversight. The Liberals are claiming that they are doing this to improve accountability and transparency, but outside of their own echo chamber, and outside of the musings of some mandarins, there is little to substantiate those claims.
For those of you watching at home, I would like to outline the importance of the main estimates and their role in the budget process. Main estimates are a tool used by the government to allocate funds from Treasury Board to various departments based upon the estimated amount of funds needed to achieve the government's policy goals. Sometimes these estimates fall short, and supplementary estimates are used to allocate further funds. This is usually done because of unforseen circumstances, such as a natural disaster or an economic catastrophe, such as the 2008 recession.
Estimates are also an essential tool for parliamentarians to hold government accountable, because they provide the means by which we measure government spending and also hold it to its commitments, should the spending go higher than estimated or should the government fall short of its commitments.
Recently, one of the most important debates regarding the main estimates has been taking place in this chamber and has also been taking place in some committees, although we have seen the government unwilling to engage in debate or even in talks about this matter at committee. I am specifically talking about vote 40.
Vote 40, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is a novel innovation by the government. A similar measure was used most recently during the 2009 recession as an extraordinary means to get critical funding out the door. At the time, in the face of a rapidly deteriorating economy, government stimulus was needed to protect jobs. The fact that this was such an extraordinary circumstance justified the use of this measure. However, it has not been used for day-to-day purposes until the current government decided to use it. Today the Liberal government, ostensibly in its effort to streamline the budget process, has decided to use this measure, but in reality, it will reduce accountability and transparency.
To get to the crux of the matter, the Liberal government is voting to allocate over $7 billion without telling Canadians or parliamentarians what that money will be spent on. In recent committee testimony, many departments that came before the committee were unable to explain what the monies they were receiving in the vote would be used for. In some cases, individual departments are being allocated hundreds of millions of dollars and cannot even explain what the plans are to spend that money.
This is not chump change. This is hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer resources that could be going toward paying down mortgages, paying for children's education, or saving for retirement.
Canadians expect that when they pay taxes, they can trust that the government will spend on things that are important to taxpayers, and most importantly, that there is transparency regarding what those things are and what the outcomes of those things will be. Canadians do not write blank cheques to the government, and they certainly do not want to give the Treasury Board Secretariat, which is a department that most Canadians know very little about, the authority to spend money without Parliament's oversight.
My constituents in Sturgeon River—Parkland, like most normal Canadians, do not want to spend their time thinking about the nuances of Treasury Board submissions or funding guidelines, but they rightfully expect me, as their member of Parliament, to care about these things on their behalf. They expect me to hold the government accountable, whether my party is in government or in opposition, to ensure that those funds are spent in a way that is measurable, transparent, and fundamentally subject to parliamentary oversight.
We cannot take this issue lightly. The actions of Parliament today set the precedent for Parliament in the future. By going down this route today, the government is opening the floodgates that will erode some of the means by which parliamentarians, and indeed Canadians, can hold their government to account.
In case some back home are wondering if this is not just something that their Conservative member of Parliament is blowing out of proportion, I want to direct them to comments made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is a non-partisan official, and whose mandate is to scrutinize the government and its actions. In regard to vote 40, in his own words he says, “With the money requested for TB Vote 40, TBS is effectively requesting that Parliament provide funding in advance of this scrutiny”.
Drawing some historical parallels, in the 17th century, the king of England, King Charles I sought to spend money without parliamentary oversight. He refused to even allow Parliament to convene when they would not give him what he wanted. It led to civil war, and as a consequence of Parliament winning that civil war, we gained the privileges in the Westminster system that we have today. One of those privileges is, chiefly, the right of oversight over government spending decisions.
What the government has labelled as reform may help the government get the money out the door faster, but it is undermining accountability and transparency in its efforts to do so, and that is not a trade-off my constituents are willing to make. It is not a trade-off I am willing to make. In fact, much of the information surrounding this spending will not be available until after the next election, effectively giving the government what many of my colleagues have called a slush fund to spend on whatever it may want before the next election, with little oversight for us as parliamentarians or for Canadians. In effect, it is going to be denying Canadians the evidence they need to render a verdict on the government until after the next election.
How are Canadians to know, especially when we are talking about deficits that were supposed to be $10 billion and are now $20 billion. Going year after year, how are we supposed to get a sense of what the value is for those monies when the government has now been setting a precedent through vote 40 to spend $7 billion without government oversight. How are Canadians supposed to have that accountability?
I also know that the Auditor General is very concerned, in a much more general manner. In a recent document and report he outlined his concerns with the government's spending plans. To paraphrase, he said that with this government the measure of success has become the amount of money spent, rather than approved outcomes. This is a damning assessment from the Auditor General that casts doubt on whether taxpayers' resources are being used in the best manner by the government. Instead, it looks like they are just trying to shovel it out the door as if it is a virtue to spend taxpayers' money, rather than spending it for the best possible result for Canadians.
In committee, my colleague, the member for Edmonton West, has been holding the government's feet to the fire to try to get some transparency over the $7 billion appropriation. The government is playing a game of ping pong with the opposition, telling them to ask departmental officials what the individual funds are allocated for. However, when those departmental officials are asked, they claim it would be preposterous for them to know what the money is going to be used for. This level of stonewalling occurring on this measure is truly astounding, and for the government to so frivolously administer taxpayer funds is truly disturbing.
It is troubling, the Orwellian Newspeak coming out of the government. When Conservatives ask how much the carbon tax will cost Canadians, the Liberals claim the information is out there, but when we ask for the information in an access to information request, they black out the document to hide the true cost to Canadians families.
Day after day we ask, and day after day they refuse to answer. We also see that the government increasingly wants to move its spending off the books, so that Canadians do not get to see how it is spent. They are trying to interfere with the Canada pension plan, our national retirement savings, to bail out the government's disastrous intervention on the Kinder Morgan pipeline, an intervention that would not be necessary at all if the government had just stood up for the energy industry and unequivocally backed the pipeline in the national interest, instead of standing back and letting the project fall apart under its watch.
The Liberals have also created this new infrastructure bank, and they are shifting resources that could have been used for infrastructure in communities to the bank, so that it reduces transparency.
Finally, to what we are talking about today, vote 40, where the Liberals claim they want to improve accountability and transparency, they are actually removing parliamentary oversight and asking taxpayers to trust that the government knows best.
My constituents demand better from the government. They demand transparency and accountability on how the Liberal government is spending their money. I look forward to spending tonight voting to hold the government accountable for its carbon tax cover-up. I look forward to the months to come, where I will continue to fight for my constituents to hold the government accountable.