Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this morning with my colleague, the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill.
Our subject will be the supply motion which deplores the mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars by the Department of Human Resources Development and expresses our total lack of confidence in the minister. If the motion is carried by the House, the minister would be obliged to resign.
In the course of the debate, my colleagues and others will be laying before the House the evidence that taxpayers' funds have been grossly mismanaged by the minister. In my remarks, however, I want to address violations of the principle of ministerial accountability by the Minister of Human Resources Development, violations which in themselves should oblige the resignation of the minister.
There are many definitions of the principle of ministerial accountability but one of the latest and best is contained in Erskine May's treatise on the law of privileges, proceedings and usages of parliament, the 22nd edition, 1997. It reads as follows:
...the following principles should govern the conduct of ministers of the Crown in relation to Parliament: ministers have a duty to parliament to account, and to be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and Next Step Agencies; it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest possible opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister;
As hon. members know, the handling of money through the transitional jobs fund has been suspect for years. Numerous questions have been asked concerning its administration, particularly respecting funds allocated to the Prime Minister's riding during the last session of the House.
As late as December of last year, inside and outside the House, the minister repeatedly denied that there were any problems worthy of concern. The appropriate approval processes were being followed. No moneys flowed until the approval process was completed. Nothing inappropriate was done. On and on she went denying any mismanagement and constantly affirming that all was well.
Now we discover that while the minister was making these very statements to the House, she had on her desk a departmental audit covering some 459 project files which revealed the following: 72% of the projects reviewed had no cashflow forecast; 46% had no estimate of the number of participants; 25% had no description of the activities to be supported; 25% provided no description of the characteristics of the participants; 11% did not even have a budget proposal; 11% had no description of expected results; 15% did not have an application on file from the sponsor; 8 out 10 files reviewed did not show evidence of financial monitoring; 87% of project files reviewed showed no evidence of supervision; and 97% of the files reviewed showed no evidence that anyone had checked to see if the recipient already owed money to the government.
This is overwhelming evidence of gross mismanagement of taxpayers' money. However, the fact that the minister knew these things and continually repeated and reassured the House that all was well, is an obvious violation of the minister's obligation to give accurate and truthful information to parliament. Because the minister has repeatedly violated this principle, the House should express its lack of confidence in the minister by passing the motion and she should resign.
In enforcing the principle of ministerial accountability, it is imperative that the House dig deeper into the root causes of ministerial accountability for funds spent by the human resources ministry. Here the trail leads right back to the Prime Minister himself and the use or misuse of the transitional jobs fund.
Prior to becoming Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister said in 1991:
When we form government, every minister in the cabinet...will have to take full responsibility for what is going on in his department. If there is any bungling in the department, ...the minister will have to take responsibility.
This was a statement of ministerial accountability by the Prime Minister but it has never been put into practice. The Prime Minister's ability to put it into practice has been compromised by his own conduct with respect to the use of the transitional jobs fund in his own riding.
When a transitional jobs fund grant was put into a trust fund to help a failing company in the Prime Minister's riding and someone eventually got $1.19 million from the suspect trust fund, which later proved to be illegal; when that someone was Claude Gauthier who had already purchased land from the Prime Minister's golf course and donated $10,000 to the Prime Minister's election campaign; when the business then being run by Gauthier got the money and laid off all but 62 of the original 115 employees for a net job loss of 53 jobs, all this done in the name of job creation; when Mr. Gauthier had already received a $6 million CIDA government contract; when another $11,000 got into the hands of René Fugère, a man who was under RCMP investigation for doing illegal lobbying for three other companies; when, in a memo to a department official, one of the human resources minister's staff instructed that the dollar amounts given to the two hotels in the Prime Minister's riding had to be artificially inflated to “keep the same amounts suggested by the Prime Minister during discussions with the promoters”.
When all these things happened with human resources funds in the Prime Minister's riding, and the Prime Minister excuses these things and refuses to accept any responsibility, what message does this send to other ministers, the civil service and the public at large?
If the Prime Minister can play fast and loose with taxpayers' money, allocated under inadequate financial guidelines for job creation, what is to stop other ministers or MPs from doing the same thing? What is to stop high and lower level bureaucrats from assuming that this type of conduct and handling of federal funds is perfectly acceptable behaviour?
Once that happens, when there is no example of financial accountability, responsibility or integrity at the top, the fish rots from the head down. Now the little scandal in Shawinigan has mushroomed into a billion dollar boondoggle at human resources.
The Prime Minister refuses to enforce the principle of ministerial accountability in the case of the human resources development minister. Why? Because he lacks the moral authority to do so.
It is therefore the duty of the House to enforce ministerial accountability in this case. It can do so by simply supporting the motion that is before us.