Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating my hon. colleague from Hamilton-Wentworth on the effort he has put into studying the subject of the accountability of non-profit organizations. This debate is about accountability. It should in no way be perceived as an attack on the numerous organizations that are making a real contribution to public policy.
At the same time it is appropriate to reconsider the necessity of government support for many not for profit organizations. I do not buy the argument that government funding is required to give a voice to people who would otherwise not be heard. Instead I believe the process has usurped the role of members of Parliament who are elected to speak for their constituents.
A look at the appointment diaries of MPs will demonstrate very quickly that it is not the rich and powerful who come to see us with their problems and concerns. Rather it is those who have come up against the giant bureaucracy that is modern government and have been stymied or frustrated by the experience. It is people who want a solution to their individual problems and would be unlikely to turn to another bureaucracy in the form of a not for profit organization to take up their case. That is a primary role of a member of Parliament: to act as an advocate for those who feel they do not have a voice.
On the broader question of consultation it is difficult to argue that governments do not consult. More often than not we are accused of consulting ad nauseam, to the detriment of action. Politicians are extremely conscious of the need to involve all stakeholders in any discussion of public policy. A look at the makeup of any advisory body on questions of wide interest will confirm this point. Membership is carefully structured to reflect linguistic, cultural, gender and consumer interests.
From time to time an issue will generate considerable public interest. Citizens will want to be involved in the policy process and will join with like-minded Canadians to galvanize public opinion and encourage governments to act. That kind of activity is perfectly legitimate and helpful.
The history of such grassroots activism suggests that politicians do respond. Sometimes whole new government departments are created, examples being environment and consumer affairs. However too often those departments begin to see their constituencies not as the people of Canada but as the interest groups that establish permanent organizations. Long after the public has decided that the original reasons their activism have been responded to, the not for profit organizations continue to exist as a mirror bureaucracy often supported by taxpayers. An
almost symbiotic relationship develops between the organization and the governmental body, and the natural inertia that exists in government organizations discourages change in that type of relationship.
It is only when fiscal pressures force a review of program spending that a reassessment takes place. We have reached or surpassed that point today. Government can no longer justify funding special interest groups that cannot demonstrate their legitimacy through self-sustaining financing. This is not only my view but also the view of many of my constituents who have spoken to me about what they expect to see in the budget.
For the first time in many years governments are being forced to make politically tough decisions about expenditures that have a real impact on people's lives. In the last budget we announced the closure of military bases that had contributed substantially to the welfare of whole communities. That was a tough decision but one that should have been made years ago. We are now about to ask Canadians to sacrifice even more, as we recognize that the deficit is the single overwhelming problem we face. As part of that exercise a number of government programs will be cut, resulting in significant job loss in the federal public service.
I mentioned earlier that many causes promoted by special interest groups have their own champions within government. I do not believe we should be cutting public service jobs if we are not prepared to reduce or eliminate funding to those extra governmental groups that mirror government programs and initiatives.
Another problem associated with special interest funding relates to the lack of control elected officials have over the process. Although politicians bear the brunt of public criticism and are justifiably held accountable for the expenditure of public funds, the real control of patronage rests within the bureaucracy.
Ministers cannot possibly pay close attention to every grant and contribution dispensed by their departments. Once budgets and guidelines are set, it is also seen as inappropriate for politicians to become involved in the disbursement of public money.
Public servants are sensitive to political considerations and this can lead to funding only for those organizations that are deemed politically correct. It becomes impossible to criticize such expenditures without being labelled as inappropriately biased.
The problem for members of Parliament is that it is usually not worth risking the disapprobation of powerful voices among the media and special interest groups. Taxpayers' dollars continue to be directed to organizations that may enjoy the support of only a small minority of the public.
The amount of money involved is staggering. Approximately $4 billion is directed to not for profit organizations in the form of unconditional grants. Another $3 billion takes the form of contributions for which accountability is demanded.
It should offend taxpayers that organizations which depend in any measure on public financing, no matter how noble the cause, can escape the normal accountability expected of any other private or public enterprise. This situation only invites abuse.
It should also concern Canadians that their members of Parliament have no right or ability to review how that public money is spent. Canadians are very tolerant. We are proud that so many of our fellow citizens involve themselves freely in organizations that exist to better the lives of others.
However we also believe any organization that claims to have the support of a large percentage of the population should be able to demonstrate the support with corresponding levels of membership and financial support. That is how one demonstrates legitimacy.
Unfortunately the availability of public funding for special interest groups has spawned many institutions that cannot meet that test and could not continue to exist if they were forced to depend on their membership and public appeals for support.
Again the motivation and objectives behind these groups may sound compelling, but we are living in an era of hard choices that will continue for many years to come.
My colleague from Hamilton-Wentworth has brought to our attention a number of examples of how federal grants are allocated which would, I am sure, surprise and upset many of my constituents. I would like to single out one in particular because it raises a number of questions. My colleague from Mississauga has already referred to it. Over the past 10 years the Canadian Labour Congress has received $41,370,247 from the federal government. This funding results from a 1977 labour education agreement with the government.
The CLC educational services program includes three courses on occupational safety. The subjects taught in the other 32 courses include techniques of organized labour activism, collective bargaining, grievance procedure, shop steward responsibilities, something called facing management and labour law.
I am not arguing that those are inappropriate subjects for union education. I do contend the Canadian taxpayer should not be funding the program with an average of $83,672 per person in pay and benefits for the office and teaching staff involved when we are facing cuts in other programs that will mean real hardship for many individuals.
A more troubling aspect of public funding for the CLC relates to its involvement in federal election financing. In the 1993 federal election the CLC donated $1,509,810 to the New Democratic Party. That was by far the largest contribution from any single source to a political party.
The taxpayer paid again when Elections Canada matched that contribution as provided by law dollar for dollar. Whether or not the CLC can argue it administers separate funds for education and political action, it is inappropriate for any organization that receives direct government funding to make political contributions. I would apply that rule to private industry as well.
This debate is important for a number of reasons. First, it is unlikely that many Canadians are aware of how much public money is channelled to special interest groups. Second, they should be made aware of the need for accountability by those organizations. Finally at a time of real fiscal restraint, it is important that all non-essential spending be put under the spotlight and justified.
I am pleased to support Bill C-224 and I am confident that it will have the support of a great majority of Canadians.