Mr. Speaker, the Auditor General of Canada gives Canadians and members of Parliament objective information to help them examine the government's activities and hold it to account. The Liberal government believes the role of the Auditor General is vital. In fact, in 1994 we amended the Auditor General Act to increase the number of reports from a single annual report to four reports annually.
What does all that mean? I believe it means exactly this. In my other life I am an active farmer, a chicken farmer. Every year I sit down with my accountant to look at how my business is progressing, improvements that I should be making to my business and what taxes I am going to pay. It is efficient running of my business. Why? I am not an accountant. I trained as a millwright. Therefore I get someone to look at that for me and to make my business more efficient.
That is exactly what the Auditor General does for the Government of Canada. She looks at how the government runs and operates. She looks at whether the government is effectively spending the money the way it should and whether its programs are efficient or if there is a better way to make government work better.
In addition to strengthening the role of the Auditor General, this government has had a track record of responding in a timely, effective manner to her findings. When the media often focuses on the negative aspects of the Auditor General's report, there are also good news stories. In fact the Auditor General herself said in 2001 that examples of good management sometimes got lost in the glare of publicity that surrounded the bad examples.
The government does about $130 billion in business a year. That is a lot of money. Government is big business. It is in our best interest not only as a government but as the managers for Canada to ensure that we do it the best way possible.
The Auditor General recently praised Industry Canada for making significant improvements to the small business financing program.
Very simply, we look at what the Auditor General has to say about how we operate the government and the country. If she has made specific recommendations for improvements on how we operate, we have responded.
Here are some of the highlights in response to the 2002 report of the Auditor General. These are some things the government has done in response to her recommendations on how to make government operate better.
In her September 2002 report the Auditor General commented that the federal government provided only limited information on its intended total contribution to the provinces and the territories for the future funding of health care. In budget 2003 the federal government responded to this concern by announcing its intention to separate the Canada health and social transfer into the Canada health transfer and Canada social transfer. This will result in a clear accounting of the amount of funding the federal government provides the provinces to help them administer their public health insurance programs.
Quite frankly this has been an irritant for me as a member of Parliament from Ontario because we transfer cash to the provinces for health care but we also give the provinces tax points and we get absolutely no recognition for that at all. I do not feel that is fair. This is something that the provinces asked for back in, I believe, 1995. They said that it would be a more efficient accounting and would a better way of doing things. Now they are now using it against the federal government by not giving us any credit for those tax points. I have said many times in caucus that if they will not give us recognition for them, then we should take them back and give them a cash transfer. That way we will at least get recognition.
The other thing I want to see within the health care situation is better accountability. We know there were some examples last year where high tech money that was supposed to be spent on MRIs and CAT scans was spent on lawnmowers instead. I am a life member of the Association of Kinsmen. If hospitals need lawnmowers, I would tell them to go to the local service club and we will help raise money for that, but do not spend high tech money on low tech problems.
The second is the sponsorship program. In March 2002 the Auditor General was asked by the former minister of public works to review three contracts awarded between 1996 and 1999 to Groupaction. That report was immediately referred to the RCMP, and the cases are under investigation.
On May 26, 2002 the Minister of Public Works imposed a moratorium on the sponsorship program. We were responding. An interim sponsorship program was announced on June 3, 2002 which eliminated the use of external communications agencies.
Finally, on December 17, 2002, the minister announced a new sponsorship program for the 2003-04 fiscal year. That is guided by four key principles: value for money, with which I agree as we want to get the best value for the money spent; stewardship, with which I also agree; flexibility; and finally, transparency. Those I believe are four key pillars with which the opposition and every member in the House would have to agree.
Last but not least, as we have heard here today, is the Canadian firearms program. The government has taken immediate measures to address all the recommendations in the Auditor General's report on the firearms program. Specifically we have introduced Bill C-10A that would cut costs, improve program administration, streamline the process and increase ease of use.
Further on this, on February 21 the Minister of Justice introduced the government's action plan for changes to the management of Canada's gun control program. The plan is the government's blueprint for improving the program's services, transparency and accountability. Clearly we have responded to many of the concerns expressed by the Auditor General and the evidence is before us.