That, in the opinion of this House, the Liberal government has and continues to nurture a culture of corruption through the abuse of its influence and the use of public funds for personal benefit and to benefit friends, family and the Liberal Party of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be dividing my time today with the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.
For those who are not familiar with the parliamentary process, this is a day when the official opposition gets to put forward an issue to debate. This is a fairly significant issue.
I want to start by asking, why does the sponsorship scandal matter?
I have received a number of letters over the last week. I want to put some of the statements on the record.
R.G.G. in Victoria, B.C. wrote: “If the Prime Minister were caught in a bank robbery he would claim he was innocent, as he was only driving the getaway car”.
S.M. in Toronto wrote: “The fleecing of Canada, I am absolutely disgusted by what appears to be fraud perpetrated on the Canadian people with a view to coating the pockets of loyal allies of the Liberal government, if not the Liberal Party itself”.
C.T. wrote: “The consensus of my senior citizens group who meet most mornings for coffee in order to discuss the political highlights of the day in order to solve the problems of the world, a modest goal, strongly believe that an election should not be held, at least until a first interim report is issued in order to be able to vote intelligently. Anything less would be undemocratic”.
Someone in my own riding, E. and H.D. in High River wrote: “Private citizens get jail and public restitution. As a heavily taxed Canadian with less write-offs than members of Parliament, I request a cash penalty given to members who are responsible for their poor judgment while entrusted in their portfolios. I'll vote all right. I can hardly wait for the opportunity”.
B. and N.C. from Priddis wrote: “Outrage. This is inexcusable and we trust persons will be prosecuted. The average Canadian would be behind bars”.
Those just reflect a little bit of what the public is saying to me.
Let me quickly summarize this scandal. The sum of $250 million was spent on increasing the visibility of the federal government in Quebec. This of course followed the near loss to the separatists on the Quebec referendum. The sum of $100 million plus of taxpayers' money went to commissions and fees. The companies implicated were Liberal-friendly ad agencies and some big crown corporations, such as VIA Rail and the BDC.
As we pass the BDC I cannot help but mention the fine president of the BDC, François Beaudoin, who has been exonerated publicly for the excoriation that he received at the hands of the Liberal administration. I cannot believe that a man had that fortitude to stand up before that onslaught. François Beaudoin does down in my books as a hero in Canada.
I have been asked if this is their way of doing things in Quebec. The answer is no. This is the way the Liberal Party of Canada does things.
Let us take the example of the possible leadership scandal in British Columbia, where there are allegations concerning the use of narcodollars, or using drug money to buy membership cards. Such is a party's tradition gone adrift.
Why is the Auditor General so credible on this subject? I looked back on the way the Auditor General reported on the firearms scandal. Suddenly, the public paid great attention to that. Our member for Yorkton—Melville had been saying exactly the same thing for months, years in fact. The Auditor General came out and suddenly the figures were credible.
This is because she is non-partisan. She does not have an axe to grind, as politicians do. She backs up everything she says with irrefutable facts. She is cool, calm and collected in her delivery and quite frankly, the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser, is in my view another Canadian heroine.
What excuses have been offered for this wilful ignorance? Wilful ignorance is no excuse under the Criminal Code of Canada.
First, this scam was carried out by a small band of rogues in the civil service. It was pointing directly at individuals who, in my view, have never, ever been found guilty. Second, the rogues surely must have had some political direction; however, there was no suggestion where that direction might have come from, just innuendo. Third, political direction could have come from Alfonso Gagliano and other ministers yet unnamed. Finally, it was directed at the ex-Prime Minister himself.
Whenever I hear a litany of excuses and the excuses change day by day, I am inclined to doubt the truth of any of them.
How has this played out in the media? Here are some headlines to consider, some are fairly gentle and some not so gentle: “Liberals scramble to contain the scandal”; “Prime Minister must have known”; “Report blasts Ottawa cronyism in the contract scandal”; “Blatant egregious arrogance”; “Your money, their friends”; “Prime Minister blames rogue staff”; “Prime Minister says Chrétien rivalry kept him in the dark”. Here is one that I think is very important: “Eight in 10 Canadians say the Prime Minister knew more”.
An editorial from the Ottawa Sun stated:
An abuse of power, tens of millions of tax dollars diverted to secret bank accounts concealed with forged invoices and laundered through politically-connected businesses. A veil of strict secrecy protects the activities from the eyes of the public.
And when the jig is up and the fraud is exposed everybody claims to know nothing or blames some secret cabal of shadowy operatives in the bureaucracy.
That is describing the Government of Canada. What a disgusting thing to have to say.
There is an alternative to the corrupt culture we have just had exposed by the Auditor General: a competent cabinet untouched by scandal; a new generation with fresh ideas; a party that treats taxpayers' money as a sacred trust; a party that puts health care as a top priority, spending dollars for that instead of siphoning off funds for their friends; and a party that would help hepatitis C victims of tainted blood instead of wasting money on worthless projects and scandals.
That alternative is the Conservative Party of Canada.
Hon. Reg Alcock (President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the opposition has brought forward this question today because for the first time we will actually have a substantive debate on this issue.
We have time to lay out our positions and look at what our solutions would be.
I listened to the member speak and took some notes. He said people were angry. I agree with him. I am angry. I have no question about that, they should be angry.
He said that this program was designed to increase the visibility of the Liberal Party in Quebec. That is not true. This program was designed to increase the visibility of Canada. The program is not what is at issue. What is at issue is the management of the program and the mismanagement of the program.
He then said that the Auditor General is credible. I agree that the Auditor General is exceptionally credible. I have spent a great deal of time with the Auditor General over the last few years since she was appointed and before that talking about issues of public management. I will have a few quotes from the Auditor General because if she is credible on her concerns then surely she is credible on the other things that she said. He cannot have it both ways.
He then ended by quoting headlines, headlines that were drawn from statements that he and his colleagues have met, but I did not hear in the entire speech a single suggestion on how we improve public management.
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the leader of the official opposition on his remarks.
He referenced in his speech the case involving François Beaudoin, the former president of the BDC, who was absolutely vilified by the government because he had the audacity to stand up and challenge the Prime Minister's assertion that there was a golf course and hotel in his riding so badly in need of public money. We know that it turned into a complete fiasco of taxpayers' money. He had the personal indignity of being dragged through the courts. He has been completely vindicated according to the hon. member.
I wonder if the member would go further in suggesting, for example, that Michel Vennat, who currently remains the president of the BDC should be suspended from that position? He was absolutely discredited by a Quebec Superior Court judge in his testimony that was given against Mr. Beaudoin and suggesting that he was very complicit in this vilification of the man who he replaced and yet remains on the public purse, remains drawing a salary just as we saw Alfonso Gagliano do when he was fingered by the Auditor General.
Could the public be spared further indignity by paying the salary of a man who was involved in this scandal from the get-go?
Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat hesitant to go down the road of tarring individuals in this chamber where I do have immunity. However, I will report, and this comes from court documents, that these individuals who attacked François Beaudoin did it in such a vicious way as to put his very career at risk. This was a fine honest banker, a man who simply said that he did not believe that the loan relating to the former Prime Minister's business dealings was a fair thing for the taxpayers of Canada.
This individual, who my colleague mentioned, wrote two separate letters to RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli, one asking the federal police to investigate Beaudoin for “misappropriation of bank property during his tenure”, and the other accusing him of being the source of the forged Grand-Mère document leaked to the National Post .
The court case that has taken years has now completely exonerated this man. The individual who made these allegations was called a liar in court. I am sorry to report that here in the House but the real issue here is, where did the charges come from? Where was the coordination between that individual and the Prime Minister's Office when it came to bringing out the communications strategy? I believe that Canadians will look upon this individual, as I said before, as a hero.
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, like many Canadians, when I reflect on the Auditor General's report, it is more with sadness than anger that we have this discussion in the House of Commons today.
The motion brought forward by the official opposition is meant to focus attention on what has happened with other people's money.
Is there anything more embarrassing for Canadians than seeing their Prime Minister sitting in penance before the altar of father Rex Murphy, as we saw on the weekend? What a spectacle of shame. What a hair shirt the Prime Minister was wearing. The Itchy and Scratchy show could not be more painful than that performance.
The cross-country cross-examination of our Prime Minister must go down as one of the greatest embarrassments we have ever seen in the country by a prime minister, an actor who was trying to portray himself as blameless in this entire affair. It reminds me of the old Platters' tune, and I know my colleague from St. John's will recall this, the Great Pretender .
The Prime Minister expressed feigned indignation and anger at what had happened. “Mad as hell” is our Prime Minister; mad that he got caught.
It is far too soon for the Prime Minister to speak of matters of ultimate destination. The list of Liberal offences is much longer than the confessional we saw occurring before father Murphy.
The Prime Minister forgot to mention that he sat in the cabinet room during the entire Shawinigate raid on the funds of the Business Development Bank.
He sat silently while the cabinet Orders in Council were passed shutting down the Somalia inquiry, which is reason for concern given these current public inquiries.
He sat silently while an Order in Council was passed appointing Alfonso Gagliano to represent Canada in our diplomatic corps, something that the Pope himself was not prepared to bless, yet the Prime Minister seemed to be completely oblivious to what was happening.
He sat silently while the government squandered millions on a politically motivated RCMP witch hunt of a former prime minister, which cost the country millions.
Silently he sat, while the HRDC program unaccountably ran up billions.
He sat silently while an ethics counsellor facilitated a venetian blind trust that let him play peekaboo with his own private corporate interests. He wrote that particular element of the red book, that infamous red-faced document that now still sits on the table as a reminder to Canadians what the promises of this government are worth.
Why did he do not more? The man who owns so many boats appears to be unprepared to rock any boats. Why did he do that? Clearly, self-interest, the lust for the brass ring; his precious, the Liberal leadership. That seems to be the reason that he sat silently while so much happened under his nose.
His advisers have told him he needs to get the story out. They fear he is not being given sufficient time in question period. I know I cannot reference the fact that he sat silently through much of question period last week.
Let me remind the Prime Minister that the floor is open to his ilk in this debate. He can come before the House at any time. He has unlimited time to use in the House of Commons. How on earth could he possibly have missed what was going on in his home province, in his department, in his country, for over a decade? That is impossible to accept.
Before he went to father Murphy's confessional on the Rock, the Prime Minister went into the Liberal caucus meeting last Tuesday to tell them the game plan. Since that meeting, the stream of gutter language that has spewed from the mouths of otherwise temperate Liberal members has been truly remarkable.
The game plan is for the Prime Minister to go out across the country and say that he is mad as hell. That mantra will be repeated from the charlatan in the movie Network . The Prime Minister's spin doctors forgot to tell him the full line, and that is that the people of Canada, after 10 years of Liberal government, are also mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more.
What is the anatomy of this Liberal corruption?
We are here today essentially to dissect that anatomy. This is no small task. The Auditor General's report examines the government's sponsorship program, but, as the Auditor General herself has said, her mandate is not to include an indepth examination of the criminal intent.
Let me be clear, as the Prime Minister himself is so prone to say, what Canadians need to understand is that something went terribly wrong and that the Liberal government is responsible and should now be held to account.
Summing up her report, Sheila Fraser said that we needed to ask two important questions. Who authorized the payments and who benefited? We know who did not benefit: hard-working Canadians who every year, in trust, send their hard-earned taxpayer money to Ottawa for distribution to programs from which they should benefit. We know well connected Liberals assured the funnelling of taxpayer dollars to Liberal-friendly ad firms, and I would say that Canadians know the reason why.
I do not subscribe to the Prime Minister's line that he acted decisively or in a timely fashion. The document was available to the government in October of 2003. It had it in its possession since that time. The Prime Minister had to be aware.
There has been much speculation for months about the content of the Auditor General's report. The government knew that it would be a damning indictment of how these sponsorship programs and grants were being operated by the Department of Public Works and by other elements of the government.
There has been a string of public works ministers, Ralphy, Curly and Moe, and they have all bungled the file. I knew that the last Auditor General's report would be stinging and would castigate the government for its activities in the way it was not accountable, in the way it was spending taxpayer money, in the way it kept Parliament in the dark and in the way it “broke every rule in the book”, according to her. Yet these transgressions outlined in this report are worse by the ministers in the various departments audited.
Sadly, the recurring theme of the government has been mismanagement, corrupt practices, faulty accounting and missing documentation. This is the way in which the government has been spending money, losing track of that money, trying to cover it up and then saying that it is not to blame.
The report itself is riddled with numerous examples. Some of the most troubling that I would point to involve the RCMP itself, money that was allotted for the RCMP's various programs for its 125th anniversary that should have been a source of pride for Canadians. One of our longstanding, principled institutions has been sullied and tainted by the Liberal government. That money was spent in an inappropriate way and put in a bank account that was deemed to be highly inappropriate by the Auditor General herself.
What is happening on the Prime Minister's now frequent talk show circuit? It is an attempt to stifle the debate, to take it away from the average Canadian. The opposition's job is to be diligent, to ask questions, to come to this place and to speak for Canadians. We saw it in the House of Commons last week. We saw it on Cross Country Checkup .
The Prime Minister said that he did not know what was happening. Imagine, the minister of finance, doubling as the vice-chair of the Treasury Board, the man who wrote the cheques, the man on the frontlines, the gatekeeper, the man who was specifically tasked with safeguarding the money of Canadians did not know how the money was being spent. This is simply not acceptable. He was complicit or complacent about how these programs were operating. He had a responsibility, an obligation and a commitment to the Canadian people, which he is now shirking.
As we saw last week, simply announcing that there will be a commission to look into this, just as there was a public inquiry into the Arar case, will in effect put these issues to one side until after an election. Make no bones about it, the object here is to call an early election, to try to bury this and to try to put it behind him as quickly as possible.
The Canadian people who phoned in to Rex Murphy's show were not impressed. They urged the Prime Minister in the strongest possible terms not to do so. I suspect that the CBC callers' board was lit up like a pinball machine and they could have gone on for another eight hours given the time constraints.
It has been over year. Other references have been made to the ballooning costs of the gun registry. The minister now responsible is a minister who had operational control over that budget for many years as well. To see her sit here in righteous indignation and throw barbs back at the opposition is again a little hard to take. Those who are concerned about this and want to get to the bottom of it should start at the top. Those who are quick to point the finger at bureaucrats, as was pointed out by my colleague, should look in the mirror when they looking for those responsible.
The Auditor General has been tasked with an important role, but so are we. We in the Conservative Party intend to be diligent and we intend to be vigorous in our examination of the government, both at the committee level and here in the House of Commons. More important, we intend to pose to the Canadian people an alternative: a government in waiting, a government that would do things better, cleaner, more effectively and with more responsibility to those who send us to this place.
Mr. Guy St-Julien (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely to the two previous speakers. I would like to make a comment and ask two questions.
I find bizarre the attitude to this motion attacking all members. I warn the hon. member that I was a member of Parliament in the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. I know how the machine works. I spent nine years and two months with the Conservatives in this place.
You say that you are a new Conservative Party, but that means nothing. When you attack all members of this House on—
Mr. Speaker, you are an excellent referee. We know about your experience in the national hockey league. You are clearly demonstrating your skills today.
My comment is the following. I recall that, under the Progressive Conservatives, I was the only member in the House of Commons to do so. The Progressive Conservative Party, the NDP and all opposition members disagreed with my disclosing all my expenditures as an MP.
If all members' expenditures are published every year in a report entitled, Members' Office and Travel Expenses, it is thanks to me. This way, people have a clear picture. Look at the history of the House of Commons to find out how I went about it.
Coming back to my comment. We have, in the House of Commons, a registry of foreign travel by sponsors, promoters and Canada.
The Conservative member for St. Albert, Alberta, has been on television in recent months, expressing outrage at the spending by all chiefs of staff on this side of the House. Moreover, there is no reporting concerning this spending. Only names are listed.
After investigation, we can see that the member for St. Albert in the new Conservative Party has travelled the world. We are talking about expensive travel, with business class fares at $6,400. He even travelled to receive a sponsorship. He who got a sponsorship is now denouncing sponsorships. That is one sponsorship from promoters.
I travelled only once in 15 years and 10 months. It was in 1986. I travelled with my wife, and our trip cost the Canadian government all of $4,302.
My question is the following. Will this new Conservative Party of Canada, as it is called today, produce by the end of the day all the expenditures of their members, from the PC Party and the Alliance, who have travelled with promoters around the world, at a cost of millions of dollars?
Also, could we be presented with comprehensive reports on all sponsorships under the program in question, by electoral district and by member, and on how it was distributed?
I look forward to receiving an answer by this evening.
Mr. Speaker, without being too derogatory or dismissive, that is probably one of the most inane questions I have ever heard. Of course our expenditures are logged here in the House of Commons, just as those of all members of Parliament are. We are not getting on a $100 million jet as members of the government are.
The member opposite should be fully aware that we are not talking about expenditures of members of Parliament or even members of the government. We are talking about massive, colossal waste by government departments, mainly public works. The sum is astronomical.
Two hundred and fifty million dollars would have paid the salary for eight years for 556 police officers. It would have bought over 8,000 police cruisers. Two hundred and fifty million dollars would have paid for between 100 and 200 installed MRI machines in the country. It would have paid the salaries of over 196 full time nurses, at a salary of $50,000 for the next 25 years, according to StatsCan.
There would have been 30,000 full time university students studying at an undergraduate level with that kind of money. It could have gone toward their tuitions. Every university student in the province of Nova Scotia could have been given a bursary toward their education, amounting to over $8,000, with that kind of money.
Two hundred and fifty million dollars would pay for more than two years of construction, rehabilitation and maintenance for the province of Nova Scotia's highway network. Nova Scotia will pay $106 million toward construction and rehabilitation just next year alone.
Those are the kinds of priorities that could have benefited from that kind of money, and what has it gone to? It has gone to Liberal-friendly firms for political gain, for partisan perpetration of power, to hold on to that grip with unbelievable ferocity.
Hon. Reg Alcock (President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry I did not get a chance to ask the member a question. I noted his use of Itchy, Scratchy, Ralphy, Curly and Moe, but I did not hear any substantive contribution to the solution to the problem.
I did hear him suggest that the Prime Minister was hiding from the Canadian public by going on TV for two hours and taking questions. The Prime Minister has been absolutely forthright in meeting with citizens on this question because he has absolutely nothing to fear from the truth. That is exactly the point that the Prime Minister has been making over and over again, and Canadians are listening.
I do want to talk a bit about what has gone on, how we have arrived at the point we are at and what we will do about it. It is important to put this debate into context.
I just came from an hour with the public accounts committee where I heard questions from all sides. It was a very healthy discussion. Members are seized with the issue and want to do a good job on it.
We have members from all sides of the House, such as the member for Winnipeg Centre who worked very carefully on the whistleblowing legislation and the member from New Westminster, British Columbia who was my vice-chair on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, who take this stuff very seriously.
When I met with the committee earlier today one of the central questions concerned the changes to modern comptrollership that lie underneath some of the problems we are facing here.
I want to first characterize the debate in this way. If we want to look to who is responsible for a big part of this problem, we need look no further than the House. We need look no further than the members on all sides of the House. Let me go through this.
We collectively represent all Canadians in the management of a corporation that has roughly 450,000 members who deliver services to 2,600 lines of business. It is an enormously large complex which in this year had about $183 billion in annual expenditures and about $170 billion in the days that this took place. It should be pointed out also that the $250 million is a four year figure, or about $62 million on average annually.
The Auditor General is worried about $100 million, not all of which she claims has been misspent. She said she could not figure that out. She has identified very serious improprieties and problems but the actual number may tend to be quite a bit smaller. Let me put that into context. The actual amount is roughly two one-thousands of a per cent of the total operation under management by the government at any point in time. It is a very small program.
We know about the billion dollar boondoggle in HRDC which turned out to be a question about whether there was value for $65,000. When we got through the heat and it came down to the end of the day we found that $65,000 was unaccounted for, not $1 billion.
The member talked about the gun registry and a cost of $2 billion. In reality, the gun registry has cost a little under $100 million a year from the time it was put in place. The audited figure is about $814 million to date. That includes the developmental costs. I have been quite critical of some of the developmental costs because I do think there are problems with governments bringing in large systems and it was evidenced here. I will not run around sharing with members the “I told you so” stories, but I am more than willing to talk about that at any particular point in time.
The reality is that we are getting to the point where we have a service that will cost us $60 million to $68 million a year to operate and it will deliver substantive positive protection to Canadians. That is why the national chiefs of police have said that they do not want it taken out, that they want it managed efficiently and effectively. We want that also and we are delivering on that.
The point in these debates, if we are to do justice to the role that we play here in the House, is to bring these debates down to a substantive base. We have to start paying attention.
It is a former clerk of the House who makes the point that the House is ignoring 50% of its constitutional responsibilities and that is oversight.
I have to say that I have spent time listening to the statements of members opposite and I have not heard a lot of them over the years talk about wanting more time on estimates, that they want to get in there and do estimates or that they must pay attention to this.
No. They want to cruise around in the hot atmosphere of the 30 second debate in question period. However that is not the place to have a debate about the improvement in the public service.
I absolutely reject the assertion that there is a culture of corruption in the public service. It is absolutely untrue. As it happens in any operation and any profession, people do sometimes go wrong. It is a fact. We do need systems to correct that. However to tar the entire public service is simply unacceptable.
How did we get here? I have researched, studied, worked on and spoken about this in the House for years. A transformation is taking place right now in public management and it is taking place all around the world. The new information and communication technologies, which have so transformed our economy, have created huge pressure on public management.
In a world where we have the death of time and distance, we need decisions like this but modern systems cannot act that fast. The House does not act that fast. One of the things that has contributed to the loss of status of the House of Commons has been its failure to figure out how it functions in the world, the world that our citizens function in, that is making decisions at the rate of speed of the snap of a finger. They are not taking months and weeks to respond.
What we did over the years, rather than confront that, was give up the review of estimates in 1969 when we said that they could be deemed. When we brought in time allocation in 1972 it was because we wanted to get things through the House more quickly.
We hand things over the Auditor General. I like the Auditor General. I know her well and I have spent a lot of time with her. I have spent time with the previous auditor general. I am interested in these issues and I have been for years. However there is a question here. The House contains members from all over our nation, members who have been sent here by citizens from all over our nation. The House should be deciding the value questions for Canada. Unfortunately, we give that up to others so that we can deal with Itchy and Scratchy.
We have to take back that ground. I do not believe there is a lot of ideological difference between that side of the House and this side of the House when it comes to good management. I do not believe there is a strong difference of opinion in how we deliver public services, or that we want it more or less than the others.
I have experienced what I consider to be the very best kind of activity in the House which is when members get out of the glare of the camera and sit down together.
I can tell members that some of the stuff that took place during the investigation of the privacy commissioner's office was absolutely astounding. Members from all parties got together and collaborated on how we would ask questions. They were outraged at the actions of certain professionals who should have known better, et cetera. It was a collective effort, with every single party working together to resolve an important problem in public management. We can do it.
I believe the public accounts committee can get there. I think the democratic deficit will be reduced by the public accounts committee taking this seriously and delivering a quality piece of work back to the House. I have some faith. The chair and I have disagreed at times on style. I think he does make a mistake when he comes into the House and joins in the question period debate when he is trying to manage the more sober debate in that committee, and I have told him that. However, overall I believe the chair and the members of that committee are committed to doing a quality piece of work and I have told them that I will support them every step of the way.
How did we get into this situation? Since the world is moving faster, large organizations have adapted to that by delegating more and more of the service responsibility close to the people who are receiving service. They did that for good reasons and for positive reasons.
Yesterday I said that the actual change began under the Kim Campbell government. I do not say that to absolve responsibility. I believe we would have made the same decision. I do not believe that Kim Campbell knew about it nor understood it. I think it was a management decision within the public service. However it was done because there was a belief that this had to be done to get better quality service. The motivation was a good one.
What they did not do is extend the communication systems the same way. How information is handled and managed in the government is very threatening to governments. This is a problem with which industrialized countries around the world are struggling. I have visited a number of them. I have talked with them. I have done research and I have read this stuff.
On some fronts Canada is actually doing better than most of the world and in others about the same as the rest of the world. A lot of money has been wasted on IT projects all over the world. It is quite freely written about, because there is a problem as we try to reframe the information infrastructure.
Members of the House and Canadians want greater transparency. How we do that in this world is very complex and we, frankly, have avoided it. We delegated responsibility for action and, in doing that, we took out the then comptrollership program.
The comptrollers program was a second line of access to oversee. The problem in only having one line of access is if the person above us is breaking the rules, then we have a problem. Where do we go? We saw that in the interviewing of witnesses from the privacy commissioner's office. Public servants were saying that they knew what went on was wrong, that they told their superior it was wrong but that he told them he was a deputy head, that he had the right to make that decision and that they should go away. They were stuck because they felt there was no place else to go.
Our whistleblowing regime is inadequate. That was identified very clearly in our study. In fact, the subcommittee, chaired by the member for Winnipeg Centre and one of the Liberal members, wrote a report on how we can improve whistleblowing legislation. The report was taken seriously by the previous president of the Treasury Board, the current Minister of Industry, who had some work done on that and it will be coming before the House. We will put that before the Standing Committee on Government Operations after first reading to allow members of the House to craft legislation to provide us with the best legislative base in the world for protecting our public servants when they want to deal with wrongdoing. However we must do more.
Let me talk about what we will do. The day I was sworn in, December 12, I was handed a letter from the Prime Minister, a letter that went to all ministers. It said in part that from the foundations of the government will be enhanced transparency, accountability and financial responsibility.
In my mandate I received a very specific set of instructions from the Prime Minister. In the first part of my mandate he said “You, Mr. President of the Treasury Board, are responsible for ensuring that we have transparency, accountability and financial responsibility and you will put in place a system of modern comptrollership so we have secondary access and oversight in every single government department. We will replace what was taken out in 1993 but we will do it responsibly and we will do it in a way that respects modern public management”.
He also created a cabinet committee called the expenditure review committee, which I chair, and which has as its core mandate the modernization of the public service. It will put in place a system of delivering public services that will be the best in the world. Our public servants have the right to hold their heads up high and to feel proud of the work they are doing. We will do everything we can to support that.
He also looked at Treasury Board and said that Treasury Board had become fat and lazy. This has no reference to the president. He said that instead of its oversight roles, it gave up a lot of those and was now operating programs and delivering services. That is not what Treasury Board is supposed to do. Treasury Board is supposed to be the accountability function within government. He stripped all of that out. He gave some of it to PWGSE and some to the Privy Council and said “You, Mr. President of the Treasury Board, will focus on oversight and management improvement”. He gave me oversight over all of the spending and over the regulations. I have administrative law and I have the finances. We are working hard to build up the team.
I am a little bit disappointed by some of the comments I have heard coming across the floor about some of the administration over there. The secretary of the Treasury Board was put in place in that organization a couple of years ago to clean up this mess. He has done an absolutely marvellous job of that in a difficult time when he did not have leadership that really wanted to go there.
I have quotes here from the Auditor General. If members want to talk about the credibility of the Auditor General, then they should quote the Auditor General when she talks about the very important work that has been done by the secretary of Treasury Board and by public servants throughout government to correct these problems and to address them. She is quite laudatory, frankly. It is just cheap debate that comes across the floor, the Ralphy, Curly and Moe variety.
It was the current Minister of Finance, when he was in charge of this department, who put in place a series of controls and management methods that the Auditor General specifically references as substantial and needed improvements. It is he who led this improvement. It was the former House leader, when he was in the position of minister, who brought in the auditor in the first place. It was his action that brought the auditor's attention to this file.
So I am sorry, but I just do not accept that kind of cheap, foolish debate on the floor here.
In addition, there was a statement made in the committee that somehow, on December 12, I also had access to this report and knew about it. I want to say that this is absolutely untrue. This report is an embargoed report by the Auditor General. The Auditor General's report was brought to me about three weeks ago; it will now be the fourth week that I have had this report.
I can tell members that when I read this report the anger of some individuals in this country was trivial compared to mine. I believe strongly in public management. I have worked all my life in public service in one form or another and to see people who have so little respect for their responsibilities saddens me beyond belief. That is not what we need from anyone. People like that should be sought out and punished in whatever way it takes. We need to send a clear message that that kind of behaviour is not acceptable.
I had the report for three weeks. I was not allowed, because I had it on a confidential basis, to take action until such time as it was tabled in the House. That would have been contemptuous of Parliament, frankly, to act on information that had not yet been laid before the House, but I was given access to the Auditor General. She and I had several meetings on this. I met with staff and I met with others. I looked at possible solutions. I prepared some advice for the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister at the end of the day had a decision to make. It is an old and new decision, right? Does he want to act like politicians who come into the House and say, “Let's have a political debate and you'll say this and we'll say that”? Then, at the end of the day, everybody is so confused that they say, “A pox on both your houses”.
But this Prime Minister said no. There were people who said, “My goodness, don't call a public inquiry. That's going to cause all sorts of problems. That's going to go all over the place”. The Prime Minister said, “Absolutely not. We need to get to the bottom of this, wherever it goes. The Canadian people need to understand what the bottom line is here, what has happened, and we want to understand it”.
But it is difficult, and this is one of the differences; the opposition calls for an inquiry a day. The reality is that for most of the administrative practices when there are problems I am sure the House is capable of dealing with them and I certainly know that I am. But in matters such as that of Maher Arar, where issues of secrecy and national security are involved, we want to be a little careful about that. We want to get to the bottom of it, but we have to respect that environment because it is a very complex and difficult one.
In matters where it may touch upon colleagues of ours, colleagues of mine--it may, I do not know for sure, that is for the inquiry to decide--then I do not think I should be the one investigating. I think the Prime Minister's decision was exactly the right one: hand it off to an independent, wide-open process, no holds barred, and let them go wherever they wish to go, because the Prime Minister has absolutely nothing to fear from the truth. Not only that, he wants the truth out.
It was a ridiculous statement that he is hiding from the Canadian public on TV, that he is hiding from the Canadian public by going around to talk shows, listening to people and making himself available to answer these questions. The political pundits are saying, “No, you don't do that. You manage this”. Nonsense. What the Prime Minister is doing is saying, “I have nothing to fear. I'm out there”.
Let me end with this. There is work that the House has to do. I am launching a review of the Financial Administration Act, which is the backbone of public administration. I am going to come to the House and ask members to be involved in that.
I am announcing a review of crown governance. We have problems in those crown corporations that I will be reporting on shortly, but we are going to review crown governance. I will ask members of the House to get engaged with us, to put their ideas on the table and show us how to improve this. I will show them. I say to them, Mr. Speaker, “I will show you mine and you show me yours”.
There is a bigger question--and we are going to put whistleblowing legislation--and it is the question that the auditor poses in chapter 2. It is a question that she and I have debated a lot and it is a question, frankly, that she says is the important question we have to answer. We just do not have an easy answer, because it is not an easy question.
We can put in place all the laws we want. For example, we have laws against stealing cars and people still steal cars. We can put all the laws in place, but what we have to do is deal with this question of ethics and integrity. We have to deal with the relationship between politicians and public servants.
This is a piece of research for which I am going to bring in the best minds in this country. I am going to invite members, our unions, and our employees, and I am going to invite Canadians, and we are going to put down some guidelines, a simple set of rules that talks about what it is to live a life of honour, because that is what our public service can deliver and that is what Canadians need.
Mr. Speaker, the last 30 seconds of that 20 minute speech was interesting because the minister did start to put forward a couple of ideas. It would have been nice to actually hear the details rather than just hearing him say it is a review, because that is all we have heard from these Liberals since they got in hot water.
It is interesting that today the minister blamed the House; the problem is this House. Yesterday it was Kim Campbell, that dang Kim Campbell, boy, she basically has been running things over there for the last 10 years and we just did not notice that the problem was actually of her creation.
I can give us a couple of other ideas that the minister could consider. For example, I do not know why he did not speak up when Gagliano was appointed to the cabinet originally and the RCMP recommended that he not be approved for cabinet. Do we remember that?
What happened on the front benches then? They all came together and said,“Guess what, this guy does not meet the smell test”.
This is the truth, folks. The RCMP said he should not be in cabinet, they put him in cabinet anyway, the Liberals backed off 100%, and guess what? He is in disgrace today and the Liberals are in disgrace too. What a shame.
It started over there. The smell started there. He could have stopped this probably at that moment, because we create a culture with those kinds of appointments. Then they appointed the former minister, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, to clean up the mess. It was not long before he was up to his eyeballs in alligators and then he was gone. They then appointed the finance minister of today to come in and clean up the mess. Now they have appointed another minister and they have spokesmen over there to try to deflect this. It is just a sickness that goes through the system.
The minister should not be surprised that we cannot debate with him how to overcome this culture of corruption that is part of the Liberal system. I just do not know how we can debate it other than to say it is just plain wrong and it should be gone.
These days in Quebec, the most popular television show is Les Bougon . A “bougon” is someone who cheats the system whenever they can.
In yesterday's Le Journal de Montréal , the headlines read, “Les vrais Bougon”. A couple was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay back $26,000. This is for a small-time “bougon”. How much time will the Prime Minister's “bougons” get for millions of dollars?
I wonder if the new Liberal Party slogan is, “We are 'les Bougon'”. Quebeckers understand this slogan, because the Liberals are corrupt and they have created a culture of corruption. A change of government is needed. That is the only way to resolve the problem.
Mr. Speaker, let me first correct something the member said. I expressly said in my remarks that my comments about what occurred under Kim Campbell would have occurred under us, that it was a policy management trend at the time. I do not hold her accountable. As I said, I suspect that she did not even know what was going on, not because she was not paying attention but because normally politicians do not pay attention to some of these management issues. It was done on the management side. I do not think there is a lot to dispute about that.
I just wonder what value we serve to Canadians when we stand up here over and over again and smear people without putting any facts on the table. If the member has something that he thinks is substantive, that proves his charge of corruption--that is the word he used--then I think he has an obligation to put it on the table. He has the inquiry. He can do it here. He speaks here within privilege, but if he has substantive--