June 6, 2000

LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 10 petitions.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Government Response To Petitions
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LIB

Don Boudria

Liberal

Hon. Don Boudria (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among House leaders, and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That, at the ordinary time of daily adjournment on Tuesday, June 6, 2000, proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38 shall be taken up, but, at the conclusion of such proceedings, the motion to adjourn shall be deemed to have been withdrawn and, notwithstanding any standing order, the House shall continue to sit for the purposes of considering the third reading stage of Bill C-11, an act to authorize the divestiture of the assets of, and to dissolve, the Cape Breton Development Corporation, to amend the Cape Breton Development Corporation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, provided that during this consideration the Chair shall not receive any dilatory motions, quorum calls or requests for unanimous consent and that, when no member rises to speak, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the bill shall be deemed to have been put, a division thereon requested and deferred to the time of expiry of the time for consideration of Government Orders on Wednesday, June 7, 2000.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Business Of The House
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the terms of the motion as presented by the government House leader. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Business Of The House
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Business Of The House
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NDP

Bill Blaikie

New Democratic Party

Mr. Bill Blaikie (Winnipeg—Transcona, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to present petitions which were presented to a number of Manitoba MPs on April 20 at Minto Armouries in the regimental museum of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. These signatures were gathered by the St. Andrew's Society of Winnipeg. A number of other Manitoba MPs over this day and the following few days may well be presenting similar petitions.

The petitioners ask parliament to reject the Department of National Defence plans to abolish the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada or to amalgamate it with another militia regiment.

They believe that Manitoba's only highland kilted regiment must be retained as an important symbol of the province's great Scottish heritage. The Camerons are extremely useful to all citizens of Manitoba. Beside their excellent record in war and peace keeping missions, they protect Manitobans on the home front in events like the great floods of 1950 and 1997.

They also believe that a strong militia is the base on which capable national defence is built. Therefore, any necessary cuts in government spending should be done in other ways.

I might note that today is a particularly appropriate day to present such a petition. This is the 56th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, the anniversary of D-Day. It was during the Normandy campaign that many Cameron Highlanders returned to Europe to seek the liberation of their comrades who had been captured in the Dieppe raid on August 19, 1942.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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PC

Rick Borotsik

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC)

Mr. Speaker, I too rise, as did the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona, to present a petition on behalf of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders.

The 42-page petition contains 2,684 signatures. Again, as was most eloquently noted by the member for Winnipeg—Transcona, the Department of National Defence currently is looking at ways of rationalizing its defence budget. We are saying that the militia regiment in particular is not one of those area in which the Department of National Defence should be looking. I speak with some knowledge having a CFB in my constituency, as well as the 26 Field Regiment.

On the bottom part of this petition, it does say quite succinctly that a strong militia is the base on which capable national defence is built. Therefore, any necessary cuts in government spending should be done in other fashions. I support that and table the petition before the House.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Guy St-Julien

Liberal

Mr. Guy St-Julien (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege of presenting two petitions.

The first relates to the excessively high gasoline prices. This petition is from the René Goyette “L'essence, c'est essentiel” team.

Since it is impossible for Canadian consumers to take any action to protect themselves from rising gasoline prices, these petitioners from Rimouski, Victoriaville, Sainte-Hélène-de-Chester, Arthabaska, Pointe-au-Père, Saint-Donat, Châteauguay, Terrebonne and Laval, are calling upon parliament to adopt a resolution to thwart the world oil cartels and thus reduce exorbitantly high crude oil prices.

The second petition comes from the René Goyette “L'essence, c'est essentiel” team in Montreal, and also addresses the excessively high price of gasoline.

Petitioners are from Saint-Basile-le-Grand, Magog, Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Saint-Gabriel, Chambly, Sainte-Julie and Mont-Saint-Hilaire.

Since it is impossible for Canadian consumers to take any action to protect themselves from rising gasoline prices, these petitioners are calling upon parliament to adopt a resolution to thwart the world oil cartels and thus reduce exorbitantly high crude oil prices.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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BQ

Jean-Guy Chrétien

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Jean-Guy Chrétien (Frontenac—Mégantic, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table two petitions. The first was given to me by people who wish to support rural postal carriers.

The petitioners are asking that subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act be withdrawn because it deprives these rural carriers of their right to collectively negotiate their working conditions.

Several of those who signed live in my riding and I support them completely in their efforts to make it possible for rural carriers to negotiate an acceptable contract so that they are not working for less than minimum wage, as some of them are now doing.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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BQ

Jean-Guy Chrétien

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Jean-Guy Chrétien (Frontenac—Mégantic, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, the second petition has to do with the importation of MOX fuel, Russian plutonium.

This could cause serious, irreversible harm to Canadians, and especially Quebecers, because, as is well known, the route used is the St. Lawrence River. If an accident were to happen, we would hold this government responsible.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Peter Adams

Liberal

Mr. Peter Adams (Peterborough, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present three more petitions from citizens of the Peterborough area and, in fact, from across Canada who support the development in Canada of a bio-artificial kidney. This brings the number of signatures to well over 10,000 on petitions which I have presented to the House on this subject. This petition was started by Ken Sharp, who lives in my riding.

The petitioners point out that more than 18,000 Canadians suffer from end-stage kidney disease and that, although kidney dialysis and kidney transplants help and they are important life saving treatments, there are difficulties with providing sufficient dialysis service and difficulties in providing sufficient organs for transplantation. Therefore, the petitioners call upon parliament to support research toward an alternative to kidney dialysis and kidney transplants, and that is the bio-artificial kidney.

Research is being conducted at various places in the United States and the petitioners call upon parliament to work in support of research toward the bio-artificial kidney which will eventually eliminate the need for both dialysis and transplantation for those suffering from kidney disease.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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NDP

Dennis Gruending

New Democratic Party

Mr. Dennis Gruending (Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition signed by approximately 375 people, consisting of 25 pages, regarding Bill C-33, the species at risk act, which is before the House at this time.

The petitioners ask that the bill be strengthened and they make the following suggestions. A legal listing of species should be done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC. Politicians should not make this decision. Habitat protection should be automatic. When the provinces fail to provide protection for species at risk, the federal power to step in must be mandatory and not discretionary as outlined at the moment in Bill C-33. Finally, they ask for a guarantee of available and adequate funding to support stewardship options, which of course are attempts to protect habitat for animals and plants.

The petitioners are really saying that they have looked at Bill C-33 and it is not adequate. I mention in passing that our NDP caucus also feels that the bill as it exists is not adequate and we fully agree with the petitioners.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to present a petition signed by 300 petitioners of the Vancouver area who want to draw attention to a very desperate situation on the Island of Ambon in Indonesia where there has been continuous violence since January 1999 between Muslim and Christian groups.

The petitioners draw attention to the loss of life, the damage to property and to civil society, and the fact that the Indonesian army and police force have not acted in a responsible manner, thus aggravating and perpetuating the clashes between these groups.

The petitioners call on parliament to appeal to the Indonesian government to protect its citizens without regard to their religion and ethnicity and to bring justice to those who have perpetuated the atrocities in Ambon.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, Canadian Alliance)

moved:

That this House call for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into the mismanagement of grants and contributions in the Department of Human Resources Development, and into any attempts to control the disclosure of this mismanagement to the public.

Mr. Speaker, I am not entirely happy that this motion had to be brought forward today. I would have hoped after all these weeks that the government would have been able to provide clear and satisfactory answers to the very difficult and troubling situation in the human resources department, the largest department of government. The department handles huge amounts of public money, up to $60 billion a year. It handles by far the most public money of any department. It is a department which is more focused than almost any other on meeting the needs of Canadians in theory and in principle, but unfortunately not in deed.

Our motion today calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the mismanagement of grants and contributions by this department and also, unfortunately and sadly, attempts to control the disclosure of this mismanagement to the public.

We first called for an independent inquiry on February 8 in a letter from the Leader of the Official Opposition to the Auditor General of Canada. Since then there have been repeated calls from the opposition and the public for an independent inquiry, as very troubling discrepancies and lack of full disclosure continued to surface.

There are three reasons we believe an independent inquiry is necessary. The first reason is that enormous public interests are at stake. The grants and contributions program in HRDC spends over $3 billion a year. That is $3 billion which is hard earned by Canadians and taken from their pockets by the government. That is $3 billion which could be spent on a variety of initiatives that are of importance to Canadians, including health care, but this money is not spent on those types of things. That $3 billion really represents the tip of the iceberg because almost every other government department has grants and contributions spending totalling over $13 billion each and every year. That is $13 billion which is not available to Canadians for other priorities.

This is not a small matter when it comes to the public interest. An independent inquiry is very necessary if the public interest is not being well served by the grants and contributions management and programs.

The second reason we believe there needs to be an independent inquiry is to restore trust in parliament and in the institutions of government.

Even the Liberal surveys are now showing that government mismanagement of public money is looming large in the public concern. There has been a serious and troubling erosion of the public's trust and confidence in the way their money, their affairs and their interests are being managed and looked after by the government, and, by extension, all of us in the House of Commons who were elected to serve the public, to manage their affairs and to act in their best interests. The public is clearly questioning, and rightly so, whether their interests are being protected, cared for and looked after. They have a right to have their questions laid to rest.

The third reason we believe an independent inquiry is needed is because there is a long and unfortunately growing list of fundamental unanswered questions and discrepancies without full disclosure of relevant information. To be blunt, there is an information management strategy on the part of government to withhold, to cover and to keep full information and full disclosure about the situation not only from members of the House, but the public. There have been many examples and instances of that.

I could give a very full and comprehensive history of what has happened in HRDC. Unfortunately, my time does not allow it. However, my colleagues and others in the opposition will be bringing forward many of those concerns today.

In the time I have, I would like to focus on the withholding of very basic information about the mismanagement of grants and contributions in HRDC and why that is so troubling. I would like to emphasize that the audit which uncovered this terrible situation had the most damning rundown of statistics about the lack of controls and safeguards on the spending of public money in that department.

To name two figures: in 80% of the projects files there was no financial tracking of public money released into the hands of grant recipients; in 87% of the files there was no supervision of the projects. Any auditor or any common sense person would tell us that when there is no oversight, no controls, no safeguards, no supervision of the way money is spent, the potential and the actual likelihood of fraud, abuse and misspending is very high. There have been many instances which have come to light, in spite of the choke hold the government has placed on access to information requests and other documents, to show that this is in fact what happened.

This audit has not been a new phenomenon. On June 14 the interim audit results were presented to the department.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Did the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill indicate that she was splitting her time? I do not recall. If so, I need to give her a two minute warning.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Diane Ablonczy

I am in fact splitting my time with the member for Kelowna.

This audit first came to light on June 14. Although it was an interim result, it was obviously very explosive. The deputy minister herself wrote to the minister some weeks later saying that since the interim audit results were released in June there had been very vigorous efforts to come up with some kind of a plan to deal with this. That has been confirmed by the deputy minister herself.

On June 14 the time bomb started ticking. By July 14, a month later, there was a proposed action plan. On July 19 briefing notes were e-mailed to all HRDC managers. On July 27 and 28 there was a two day meeting of 40 top HRDC officials.

The present minister was sworn in on August 3. On August 9 she asked for a briefing but she said, and I commend her for this, “I do not want to know all about the nuts and bolts of this department. I want to know what the hot issues are, what balls are in the air, what the key difficulties are”. That was on August 9. She claims in spite of that she knew nothing about this audit until November 17. She waited for two further months before she breathed a word of this to the public and did so only two days after we put in an access request for this audit.

This circumstance alone demonstrates to members of parliament and to the public that there is a culture and attitude of cover-up, of hiding, of denying problems and of whitewashing that cannot be allowed to stand. I urge members of the House for the sake of the public and for the sake of the integrity of our system and our parliament to support this motion to establish an independent inquiry into this matter.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Paul Crête

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to take up too much of question and comment period because I would prefer to hear what the hon. member has to say. I know that she has extensive experience on the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, on which I have also sat for a number of years.

What I find interesting in this whole situation is that, since the crisis first hit, there has been one piece of evidence after another of the need to get to the bottom of things. I am not saying that everything that has been done is deserving of criticism, but there is no doubt that we must get to the bottom of this, because the Canadian public has completely lost faith in the present and previous ministers and in the process itself.

Could the member enlighten us a bit on what she thinks of the fact that, after engaging in a partisan spending operation, the government is now carrying out a cover-up operation designed—this is the only reason I can see—to get ready for the next election. This strikes me as a very bad decision, given public opinion.

Could the hon. member please elaborate on this?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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REF

Diane Ablonczy

Reform

Mrs. Diane Ablonczy

Mr. Speaker, one of the very interesting circumstances is the unity of the four opposition parties in this whole matter. This matter is not one in which partisanship has played a big role. It is one in which reasonable, thoughtful and professional representatives of the people have grown increasingly uneasy, then alarmed, and then outraged at the non-answers in dealing with the HRDC grants and contributions audit file.

I could go on for at least an hour on the unanswered questions, the instances where the minister's story has changed, the times where undated documents have come forward out of thin air when the minister has been in a tight corner unable to explain some of the dealings with public money that took place under her watch.

One instance is the Modes Conili grant where three-quarters of a million dollars was given at the behest of a Liberal member. That Liberal member then got $7,000 for her election war chest. That three-quarters of a million dollars created not one new job. It was simply given to a company which hired all the workers from another company. It was the most transparent shift of workers from company A to company B greased with three-quarters of a million of our dollars.

When the minister was asked about it, she went through four stages. She asked what we were complaining about, that people are working. Then when it came out that no new jobs were created, that it was simply a shift of workers, she said, “I did not say that jobs were created. I just said people had applied and they were working”. Then it came out that this had been questioned and that an internal investigation had been done. The minister then said, “Oh well, the investigation said that there was no problem with this”, but then she refused to release the documents of the investigation to the House. If the documents cleared the situation, why were the documents never tabled? They were hidden. They have been withheld to this day. Then finally the minister said, “The RCMP have been called in. Now there is going to be an investigation”.

That is only one instance of the outrageous lack of transparency and credibility the minister has shown.

This is my opinion only but I believe the best way to get to the bottom of this is by an all party committee of the House, the same number of members of parliament from each party, delegated to look into this matter with full authority to look at any and all documents they consider relevant. I suggest that it be MPs because we are accountable to the people of Canada. This is what we have been hired to do, to look after their interests. The same number from each party would mean that no party would dominate, partisanship would not carry the day. It would be done right in the public eye because we are in the public eye. The sooner we get on with that job, the better.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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June 6, 2000