Mr. Speaker, this has been a somewhat barren debate to date. It reminds me of the last several months of questions to the minister in the House. I am reminded of an old fashioned phonograph needle stuck in its place on a turning disk; it is the same sound with the same absence of ideas and the absence of scope ideas. This is regrettable.
I will note as I did in the debate on February 8 that the minister was still discussing Indian affairs and making changes in the federal enacting legislation which rendered, in my view, a much sounder constitutional measure, as late as August last year. She had not been in office very long. She faced a litany of complaints which might better have been addressed to previous ministers and previous governments. I will come back to that in a moment.
I note that the minister has made interim changes which I think are constructive and helpful and are a great credit to her staff for bringing them forward. The accountability of managers is an important principle in business. It should certainly be applied to government operations that are affected with the business interests where government competes in many ways and areas where private enterprise also operates. Another change is disciplinary action, meaning personal accountability of managers where there is mismanagement, fraud or gross incompetence. The creation of a special new audit group is another change. The review of all active files is being done intensively with a checklist of contracts and requests for payment.
I commented on the intellectual poverty of the contribution of the opposition to this debate. Let us go back into history. What is the history of HRDC? I listened with interest to the contributions made by the members of the Progressive Conservative Party. Of course they created HRDC. The Lady Jane Grey of Canadian politics, the queen for six days—remember the hiccup between the Mulroney government and this government—Kim Campbell decided to give trendy new titles to new government ministries. There was a haphazard, hasty grouping and regrouping of departmental portfolios. The department of human resources was created without any real thought of a rational structuring process for the new ministry.
It is a matter of record that the new government elected in October 1993 immediately considered restructuring HRDC. However, it concluded correctly with the economy in the use of time, as we were trying to balance the budget after inheriting the $42.8 billion deficit from the Mulroney government, that our priority was to get fiscal integrity back. It was decided that it would not be a good expenditure of government time to attempt the restructuring at that stage. The moment has arrived where we must consider doing that.
Much has been made of the majority report of the HRDC standing committee. I thought they were interesting proposals. I can see no Machiavellian plan here. If my colleagues put forward proposals, I tend to say that they have a good idea or that it needs more thought. It should not be taken as government policy, but as an interesting idea which I hope the government will study.
I will put the recommendations into the record. The functions of the HRDC ministry grouped together somewhat unnaturally three different areas of policy, statutory transfers and entitlement which really is old age security, Canada pensions, labour, employment and employment insurance, and social development programs. It is elementary that special technical skills are required for each of these. It is unusual to find a complement of the skills extending all across the department. This is one of the things we have to examine in this situation.
Anybody approaching new government as we enter the 21st century would agree that we have stood still in terms of administrative law reforms and structuring for the last 40 years. With the consent and engagement of all parties the main pre-emptive concern has been with issues of national integrity, the sovereignty issue, as in Quebec. It has killed off the modernization that should have gone on with the administrative processes. I reproach the opposition parties, including the Bloc which claims to be a reform party inside Quebec, with having no new ideas on governmental structure.
One very obvious issue is the breakup of the overly large departments. It is a reality that this government and the Mulroney government let some key ministers handle what might be called four or five different portfolios. It is too big a task. The McRuer commission in Ontario some years ago attempted to approach a solution to this problem. The Hoover commission in the United States is a great model.
Simply, we should be considering issues such as a uniform administrative procedure act applying to all government departments, but especially the spending departments or those with spending responsibilities and a conseil d'état special administrative law tribunal with jurisdiction over all such ministries. There is also the principle which is well accepted in civil law of the personal liability of civil servants and managers where they engage in misconduct that could either be described as delictual in itself or gross negligence in the administration of their office. I would have thought these would be issues that an opposition party, particularly the Conservative Party, which was the mother of the human resources ministry in its present form, should have put forward to debate.
They are available now. I hope we have some debate in the forthcoming election campaign, whenever it is, on this issue. This generation of Canadians has a rendezvous once more with the constitution, not the constitution narrowly defined in sections 91 and 92 or limited to the Quebec issue, but the fundamental modernization of the administering of processes and the study and perfecting of techniques for control of relationships of governmental authority with the citizen. That is a target for reform. That is a target or challenge which opposition parties could bring to us.
I am happy to raise the issues on the government side. Put in this perspective, the majority report of the HRDC committee offers interesting suggestions but they are no more than that. The matter is open for debate, but we cannot postpone the decision any longer.