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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was land.

Last in Parliament October 2000, as Reform MP for Prince Albert (Saskatchewan)

Won his last election, in 1997, with 38% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply April 4th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for sharing his time. It should be noted that all speakers from the Alliance party will be sharing their time from now on.

It was interesting to hear my colleague talk about being accountable. He lived in a small town that took five minutes to walk across. I lived in a town so small that if I looked out one window of the house I was on the east side of town and if I looked out the other window I was on the west side of town. People were really accountable there.

We are in the opening days of the 21st century. This is a century which has been characterized as the information age, yet we are in the House talking about how to get information out of the government.

People would think that rather than being in the information age we were in the days prior to the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, for all the response we see to access to information requests and audits which are meant to be released as a matter of policy.

To quote from the 1998-99 annual report of the information commissioner:

As early as 1986, the Justice Committee reviewed the operation of the access law and unanimously recommended wholesale changes to strengthen it and keep it current with technological changes. No government since has had the motivation to implement the suggested changes and address, through law, the persistence of a culture of secrecy in the federal bureaucracy.

That was written in 1986 and quoted by the information commissioner in the 1998-99 report.

Nothing has changed. The official opposition currently has 29 requests for information filed with human resources development which are overdue. Of those 29 HRD requests, 8 are for departmental audits, which are supposed to be public information.

As I said earlier, this is the new millennium, the information age. The government's response times are prehistoric. They are stone age. There is no information forthcoming from the government.

Quoting from the same report of the information commissioner, this statement is still relevant today: “Frustration over weaknesses in the law has recently spilled over to members of parliament from all stripes in the House of Commons”.

That is why we are here today having this debate in the House. No one, not members of political parties, nor people in the news media, nor private citizens, nor researchers should have to request departmental audits under the Access to Information Act, and yet we find that it has become necessary to make such requests.

Even more unconscionable is the fact that the department is defying treasury board directives which require compliance within 30 days of acknowledging the request.

We only have to read the treasury board's words in a letter of decision dated May 26, 1999, which has been referred to before. Let us put it on the record again, so that anyone interested knows what was said:

To simplify the process for acquiring copies of reports, and to deliver on the government's commitment for more openness, the policy requires that departments make the final version of review reports, including internal audit and evaluation reports... accessible to the public, without requiring a formal access request.

Those are fine words, but actions speak louder than words, as the hon. member for Elk Island stated. If the government had lived up to its stated ideals, this supply day motion aimed at ordering the government to open up its information processes would not be necessary.

The public is probably at home asking themselves why there is a log-jam in responding to requests for information from the government. They are asking, are there legitimate reasons of national security? Or, are there problems with protecting vulnerable persons from exposure? Only if we subscribe to the view that it is in the national interest to protect ministers from public scrutiny, or if there are questions about the management of taxpayer dollars that might embarrass the government. All of the legitimate issues could be dealt with in an expeditious manner.

On March 20 the information commissioner testified before the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development. In his testimony he stated the reasons for this huge backlog at HRDC. I quote from his testimony:

With respect to the audit reports, there has been a slowdown, but the slowdown is government-wide, and the reason for that is that as a result of the HRDC experience...all audits now go through an additional process by Treasury Board and the Privy Council. What has happened is that Treasury Board and the Privy Council Office want to know what audits have been requested, whether they contain bad news, and what the official media line will be.

This is a regressive attitude for the government to take. It is not in the people's interest to have government manage bad news to avoid accounting for it. Ottawa is spin city for this Liberal administration when it comes to the release of information vital to holding it responsible for its actions. The current attitude has always been a major concern of the information commissioner.

In his recent testimony the information commissioner added “The communication concerns of the government are allowed to take precedence over the public's right to timely access to information”.

Despite ongoing concerns by the commissioner, it appears that HRDC had a fair track record when it came to the release of public information until recently. Now it is because of HRDC's intransigence that we are debating the issue.

Someone from another planet may not know why this is so, but in case there are other aliens who are listening, other than federal Liberals who have not figured it out, it can be summed up in three words: billion dollar boondoggle. That is the reason. That is a lot of taxpayer money and it is in question. Every time another audit or response to an ATI request is released there is more bad news for the government.

Being true to their roots, the Liberals are engaging in spin sessions to manage the message, when what they should be doing is reviewing the need for the programs and how to properly manage and account for them.

Information is crucial to accountability. If this government wanted to be truly accountable it would welcome scrutiny to improve its stewardship of the public credit card. And it is a credit card, because we do not have any money in the bank.

The information commissioner has rightly stated that the right of access is one of the cornerstones of our democratic process and one of the best tools available to ensure responsible government.

If the Liberals agree with that statement—and I bet they do privately, never mind what they do publicly—they should cast their ballot in favour of the supply day motion proposed by the Canadian Alliance in the name of the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill.

It should be stated again that this is no trivial matter which is under consideration today. We could consider the list of outstanding audits and ATIs filed by the official opposition to get an idea of it. Human resources development is late in replying to five departmental audits which should be public information according to treasury board guidelines. All five are 45 days overdue.

There are outstanding ATI requests with agriculture and agri-food, and Canada Customs and Revenue, which asked for a 30 day extension on March 9, I suppose for the purpose of figuring out how to respond to the bad news included within the response.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation requested an undefined extension due to third party consultations. We do not need much imagination to figure out who the third party was. Citizenship and immigration asked for a 90 day extension. Then there is fisheries and oceans. Some audits received 30 day extensions requested for others. Then there is the National Capital Commission.

When the members opposite talk about open and accountable government, they certainly are not looking at the facts, they are looking at the spin. That is not acceptable.

I am not sure which report of the auditor general it was in, but there was an interesting quote. I cannot remember how it went, but it concerned a Tammany Hall organizer from the United States, and we all know what that is about. He said something like “If you don't have to speak, grunt. If you don't have to grunt, nod. If you don't have to nod, wink”. I am not saying that is an exact quote, but that is the exact meaning. That has been the attitude of the government when it comes to releasing information. A wink and a nod is all we get, along with a few promises and the questions “Why don't you believe us? Why don't you like us?” The answer is obvious.

Petitions March 31st, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present petitions bearing the signatures of more than 1,000 people from my riding and elsewhere in Saskatchewan who wish to draw the attention of the government to the importance of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

They note that the government has invoked time allocation on Bill C-23 and will not allow a free vote on this fundamental issue.

They therefore call on the government to withdraw Bill C-23, affirm the opposite sex definition of marriage in law and affirm its uniqueness.

Income Tax Act March 30th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like a ruling from the Chair on the relevance of talking about the child tax benefit when we are talking about a tax break for mechanic's tools. Could the member possibly be a little more relevant to the topic at hand?

Taxation March 30th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, on Monday evening I spoke with a young man from my riding on a recurring issue. This young man like so many others is caught in the jaws of the divorce industry.

He has children and until now was able to claim equivalent to spouse on his income tax while they were separated. Now his wife is suing for divorce and custody of the children and the forces are arrayed against him. He will lose the tax exemption at the same time his wife seeks additional support. Parents may divorce each other but they cannot divorce their responsibility for their children.

But consider this injustice. While this young man's children will receive only a marginal increase in support, the Minister of Finance will reach deep into his pocket and take out almost $2,000 in additional taxes.

This is not an isolated instance; it happens all too often and it is a national disgrace. The government must act now for the good of children of divorce and both of their parents.

Employment Insurance March 23rd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the parliamentary secretary, one would think that the government did not have any money when it comes down to the high rate that is charged to businesses and workers for these much reduced benefits. The government is pleading poverty where it need not. It could use some of that extra money it is taking to study the thing.

I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on this important issue. Although we may not agree on the solution to ensuring that seasonal workers have incomes adequate to meet their needs and aspirations, I do appreciate the concerns that motivated my colleague for Acadie—Bathurst to make this motion.

The hon. member stated in his speech that his motion was meant to achieve two objectives. The first is to reform employment insurance and the second is to stimulate proposals to diversify Canada's seasonal economy. Both objectives are laudable in and of themselves, but the text of his motion calls for the immediate restoration of employment insurance benefits to seasonal workers. I believe that the effect of his motion, if adopted, would be to stifle any efforts to find solutions to the structural problems currently forcing many workers into the seasonal economy.

Neither workers nor the companies that have benefited from easy access to EI would have the will to make any effort to search for constructive solutions to the problem. There would be neither any pressure nor any incentive to make the changes he wants to see.

The hon. member rightly points out that most seasonal workers are not in favour of the seasonal nature of their jobs. Nevertheless saying it does not address the problem. There are businesses that by their very nature are seasonal. The obvious ones are in forestry, agriculture, tourism, fishing and construction. Some of these sectors pay their workers very well and those who choose to work in them are able to bridge the gaps in their employment. I have personally spoken to some people in that category. Other sectors are not able to pay enough to enable workers to make ends meet when there is a break in their employment and I have also spoken to many people in that category. The problem is not simple, but in fact extremely complex.

There are many factors that contribute to the seasonal economy. An abundance of seasonal jobs could be an indicator of a sector of the economy in decline or it could equally indicate an emerging sector of the economy. Take for instance just two examples.

A local economic development authority may decide it wants to focus on tourism which is actually an emerging sector in my hometown. At first the emphasis was on the things it knew. Sport fishing, for instance, is a summer activity that the community has built on over a number of years and guided hunting is a fall activity in the same way. These were sufficient to maintain a small hospitality sector that was subject to seasonal employment variations. In recent years, through the development of cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails, the sector has expanded its infrastructure and extended the seasons in which work is available. This has had a positive effect on the local economy and of course the employment picture. These innovations, while possible, would not have been driven by business or employment considerations in an environment that failed to reward creative solutions to the problems facing businesses in the region.

Returning employment insurance to its previous function in the seasonal economy would act as a reverse incentive to the search for ways to build and diversify local economies.

There are many factors that are considered by businesses when they decide where to locate or when to expand. Among them are location, transportation, amenities, infrastructure, educational and cultural opportunities, recreation and housing.

The other factors businesses consider are the incentives such as government subsidies and grants. Employment insurance for many years has been a tool of government to subsidize businesses, allowing them to reduce their workforces in times of reduced economic activities and to recall them when prospects improve. This has enabled businesses to avoid making long term commitments to their workers and encouraged workers to stay in depressed areas of Canada and in uneconomic sectors of the economy that are dependent on government for their survival.

In my previous life I was a businessman and I have firsthand knowledge of these matters. A part time worker of mine who was, by the way, one of the best workers I ever had, finally left to take full time employment in another part of Canada and in a different sector of the economy. He is happy with the change even though it meant major changes in his life. He is one of those people who wanted full time work but could not get it where he was geographically located, nor in a sector in which he wanted to work.

One of the reasons this loyal employee and friend left was due to changes in the EI program. One of these changes relates to the rule that differentiates between frequent and infrequent recipients of benefits under the EI program. Sometimes this works, but frequently it fails to produce the intended results.

As HRDC's 1998 EI Monitoring and Assessment Report stated:

Communities with high levels of seasonal employment were more likely to have industries that showed declining benefits levels.

This report was published three years after implementation of the changes. The data used in its production would have been collected well before that. Before considering any other changes to the program it would be wise for the government to initiate further studies to see if there have been significant shifts in behaviour and attitude since then. It is a well known fact that there is always considerable resistance to change and that consistent monitoring and explanation of programs is vital to the success of any initiative.

However, with respect to what I have just said, a 1999 assessment of the program tabled in the House yesterday has confirmed that EI clients in Atlantic Canada and other parts of Canada are continuing to use EI benefits to supplement their incomes on a regular basis.

Other than what I just stated, there are other good reasons for not making the changes proposed by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst. The most dramatic, and I would argue the most unwarranted, change would be to make EI into a wage subsidy program again rather than maintaining it as an insurance program.

Employment insurance should have as its primary goal protection against involuntary temporary job loss. Any other purpose militates against the program acting in accordance with insurance principles.

My colleague, the hon. member from Wanuskewin, has identified many of the problems and has suggested some solutions to the problems facing workers and government in implementing changes to the system. I want to restate and emphasize one of them.

Some industries have a pattern of laying off workers at the same time each year. This takes advantage of EI as surely as a worker who manages his work time in order to take maximum advantage of the program. He suggests that differential premiums imposed on such companies would be one method of motivating companies to change their work patterns.

To lay the entire burden of the changes solely on the workforce is to address only half of the problem. I do not know whether such a scheme would be advisable or if it would work, but it certainly deserves a look.

One other change the government could and should make is to reduce the unconscionably high rates of employment insurance premiums charged that really bear no relation to the benefits to either workers or businesses. This tax on business chokes off the entrepreneurial spirit that creates the good jobs which will withstand seasonal variations and have a strong demand throughout the year.

I believe that the evidence points to the need to do a thorough review of aspects of employment insurance, with particular emphasis on the intensity rule.

I will be supporting the motion as amended, although it would have been far preferable to have the matter referred to the appropriate standing committee for study and recommendation.

I would rather have seen included in the NDP amendment a call for immediate action so that it would not depend on the leisure time that the minister might decide to devote to it at some point in the future.

It needs to be dealt with, and I thank the House for the opportunity to address this very important issue.

Points Of Order March 16th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I rise on two points of orders which both relate to things that took place during Oral Question Period today.

Earlier the hon. member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore was chastised by you for using a prop in the House of Commons. Following that, a question was posed by the member for Mississauga South to the justice minister who basically advertised a book he had written so that all could see it and it would be on camera.

Given that the debate today on a point of order evolves around a perception of a lack of impartiality displayed by the Speaker, I think that also should have received a rebuke.

Second, in the last number of days the Speaker has disallowed several questions posed by the official opposition on the grounds that they were irrelevant to government policy. Today, the member for Brampton Centre questioned the finance minister on the implications of the Alberta tax move toward a single rate tax and never made any connection to government policy.

Neither the questioner nor the answerer, and I use the term loosely, made any effort. This appears to be an abuse of the time allotted to members for asking questions of national import of the government. That question should have been disallowed and we should have moved directly to the next questioner so we could get on with holding the government accountable for the use of taxpayer money.

First Nations Ombudsman Act February 25th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-222, the first nations ombudsman bill, was proposed by my seatmate and friend, the hon. member for Wild Rose. I would like to thank and congratulate him for this initiative.

I was listening as the parliamentary secretary passed judgment on the bill and I have a couple of comments to make before I start into the main part of my speech.

He said that the Indian Act is incongruent with this proposal. That may well be, but the minister, I understand, wants the standing committee to look at amendments to the Indian Act and, of course, we can always make amendments to accommodate this proposal.

When I travelled with the Indian affairs committee, I spoke to a chief who told me how their traditional electoral practices worked. I will explain this process so that people can hear about the kinds of things that can happen when we go traditional.

When all the candidates for a particular office, let us say the chief, get into a large room they are all sent into different corners. While they are waiting there, all the voters gather in the middle of the large room and begin moving toward their various candidates. One can well imagine the intimidation one would feel. This is not to say that anyone is being intimidated, but members can just imagine how lonely we would feel all alone in a corner and then finding out that our jobs had been on the line. There is no secrecy in a situation like that. If someone had found that his or her job or some benefits he or she had accrued as a member of the band were lost as a result of this process, he or she may want to bring that to the attention of an ombudsman.

The parliamentary secretary said “stay out of the courts”. In response to that, I must say that his government is so frequently in the courts with different bands and first nations that it is almost impossible to write it all down. We know there are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of claims pending against the government.

If there are flaws, we accept that. There is probably no piece of legislation the Liberals have ever introduced that has been perfect. What do we do when we get a bill? We pass it and send it to a committee for review. We could invite the band leadership to the committee to pass judgment, give their advice on how to improve it or just tell us what they think. Why would we kill it here? The initiative did not come from the House. It came from the grassroots people.

Reports of mismanagement are downplayed but they come from across Canada. I was reading newspaper reports last year about east coast chiefs and councillors holding and doling out high paying jobs. Judge Reilly in Alberta caused an uproar when he slammed the Indian leadership for problems that contributed to a number of suicides on the Samson Cree Nation Reserve at Hobbema. Nothing was happening until he issued his report.

The Squamish band members in B.C. have asked the RCMP to investigate band finances. They have appealed to Indian affairs for help and were told that the department was only a funding agency, that it was not an investigative body, which is true. It is only a funding agency but it is also supposed to be a legislative agency.

Last year the National Post ran an entire series of articles detailing the squalor and corruption on some reserves and the helplessness of band members to effect change. The need for such an officer became apparent to participants at grassroots meetings of aboriginals sponsored by the Reform MPs in the summer of 1998 and 1999. I was there and I would not have believed it if I had not seen it.

These meetings were held across Canada with a significant cross section of people attending. The idea of an aboriginal ombudsman came out of those meetings. One of its strongest supporters was Leona Freed who has emerged as the leader of a new group called First Nations Accountability Coalition. These people are calling for this, not us because we think we have all the solutions. We think that the people who are affected by legislation might also have some solutions.

Participants at these meetings charged band leadership with questionable allocation of band funds: refusals to conduct forensic audits when requested; jobs changing hands after band elections; nepotism, favouritism, cronyism; housing allocations to families and friends of chiefs and councillors; band leaders flying high on expense accounts, going all over the world to meetings and whatever; third world living conditions on wealthy reserves; misuse of dedicated funds meant for training, health, housing and land purchases; and any number of things. The government denies all of this, but from time to time it has to admit the facts in individual cases. However, it refuses to see a cause and effect relationship or to believe that anything can be done to improve the situation.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs has been of little or no use. Letters written in confidence to the minister have fallen into the wrong hands. What has been done? Allegation co-ordinators have been established to help with the work of co-ordinating allegations made, but they have no teeth, no authority to act and no investigative powers. What use they are is up in the air.

In 1997 several elders, led by Greg Twoyoungmen from Alberta, came to Ottawa to meet with the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to talk about the problems on their reserves. What did they get from the minister? They got a closed door. The minister would not meet with them. The only people who would meet with them were the Reform Party critic and deputy critic for Indian affairs. Much of what we hear came from there as well.

Who do these people turn to when all the doors are closed? The department of Indian affairs sends people back to their reserve leaders. The RCMP need significant proof before they can move. They cannot go to the courts for lengthy and expensive court battles on a civil basis because they simply do not have the funds available to them.

It was the grassroots Indians themselves who proposed the office of aboriginal ombudsman as an independent watchdog. They are convinced that an ombudsman will enable band members to exercise oversight into the affairs of bands in a way that is out of their grasp right now.

One of the better parts of this proposal is that the ombudsman would not serve at the pleasure of bands but would serve a fixed term of five years and not more than two terms. The ombudsman's pay cheque would not come from a band so his or her independence would be assured and he or she could not be called into question. The ombudsman would get assistance from the Chief Electoral Officer when needed to help settle disputes and would report to parliament annually.

The need for such legislation is clear. The bill is worthy of support by members of the House. I encourage every member to vote in favour of it, send it to committee and let the first nations leadership meet with the committee and give their views on it.

It would be a mistake to let some of the assertions from the other parties that have opposed this legislation, that what the Reform Party is saying is that all band membership is illegal and that is why this is needed, to go unanswered. That is not so. For the times it does, it hurts individuals. Many bands conduct their affairs in an open and businesslike way. They have nothing to fear from any legislation that is designed to protect individuals. Individuals are often hurt by that type of thing.

The critic for the Bloc characterized Indians as different from other people, that they sit around in circles and talk. When three or four people come to my office, we sit in a circle around my coffee table and we have a ceremonial drink. We call it coffee. We are pretty much alike when it comes to that type of thing. We gather in a circle, face one another and hash out the problems.

That is not the issue at all. The issue is protection of individual people who run afoul of a large bureaucratic organization that has economic, political and judicial power on its side. The people need an aboriginal ombudsman to protect them.

Human Resources Development February 25th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, the government is sending its top bureaucrats, including those from HRDC, to the all-inclusive P.A. Douglas seminar in Banff. On the agenda in between the wining and dining are such riveting topics as “How to Say Goodbye”, our wish for the minister.

How can the minister justify this expense? What will HRDC bureaucrats be learning, how to say goodbye to more taxpayers' dollars?

Indian Affairs February 23rd, 2000

Mr. Speaker, for years now the government has been engaging in a dangerous game. It has been referring to Indian bands as first nations, Nisga'a now have a form of citizenship, they talk about self-government as though it was self-evident.

Furthermore, the government has been enacting legislation that abdicates federal authority and responsibility to band governments without corresponding guarantees of accountability.

Now the Liberals are considering another misguided policy proposal. This week in Great Falls, Montana, Canadian and American Indians began to push for an Indian only border crossing between Alberta and Montana.

This raises concerns about the sovereignty of Canada and its ability to police its own border with all that that implies.

It is past time for the government to uphold the sovereignty and authority of Canada. Canadian Indians are citizens of this country with all of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. They are citizens of no other nation. It is time to move ahead with one law for all Canadians.

National Flag Of Canada Day February 15th, 2000

Mr. Speaker, today is flag day and so it is appropriate to make the following statement on behalf of some of my constituents. During the winter break I held a series of farm meetings in my riding. At one of them I was presented with a worn Canadian flag and the following letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage:

We are no longer proud Canadians and therefore are returning our Canadian flag. Yes, the fabric is quite tattered. Normally we replace our flag as soon as it begins to fray, but we kept it flying as a grim reminder of how tattered the social fabric of the farm economy is here in Saskatchewan. We beg you to take action to preserve the family farm.

Respectfully yours, Leonard and Yvonne Nakonechny and Family. Foxford, Saskatchewan.

The flag was presented to me on the understanding that I would present it to the minister. With her permission I will make the presentation to her in the lobby following question period.