February 24, 2004

PC

Greg Thompson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Greg Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, last week I asked a question of the minister of ACOA in regard to past behaviour in his department by the former minister responsible for ACOA. I want to acknowledge that the minister himself is in the House tonight to respond to this, which is probably a first for the House of Commons. I am really pleased to see the minister here.

I do want to point out that the question which I directed to the present minister last week has nothing to do with his watch. We will watch the minister very carefully and if he messes up we will take him to task, but the question was directed at the former minister.

In fact the former minister is the member for Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte. I go back to some questionable funding that occurred on his watch as minister responsible for ACOA last year. It was so bad that I refer to it as being pork-barrelling. I think that word is parliamentary, Mr. Speaker. The minister at that time was using ACOA as his own personal treasury to support himself and his riding at the expense of other members of Parliament, including his Liberal colleagues.

This question arose in terms of his pork-barrelling, taking advantage and abusing his role as minister, because of complaints that came from Liberal members of Parliament. We entered into the debate as well, but I will just read one headline out of the Halifax Daily News . This goes back to last November. The headline reads, “MPs angry ACOA minister's riding gets bulk of Nfld. employment funds”.

I will quote one paragraph in that article which really sums up the argument I made the other day. I am demanding that the present minister conduct an audit of the past behaviour of the previous minister. In other words, I am asking the minister to do an internal review of ACOA to find out how a minister of the Crown could abuse an agency like ACOA and run roughshod over the board of directors to feather his own nest.

One paragraph of the article which appeared in the Halifax Daily News last November states:

Liberal and Conservative legislators from the province are furious that the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency is doling out millions of dollars in federal employment funds and rural community works projects to his riding of Humber--St. Barbe--Baie Verte.

He did it to the point where 50% of all of the funding went to the former minister's riding. I know the new minister has been around this place a long time. He came here at the same time as you and I did, Mr. Speaker, in the class of '88. We are asking the new minister of ACOA to take a serious look at how this abuse of that agency could take place on the previous minister's watch.

In addition, I have requested that the Auditor General look at that same file and see whether or not she and her department can find out how a minister of the Crown would be allowed to abuse an agency like ACOA.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Open Government Act
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LIB

Joe McGuire

Liberal

Hon. Joe McGuire (Minister of Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency we strive to invest taxpayers' money with great care and due diligence. Our commitment to the funds allocated through the short term adjustment initiative was no different.

The projects submitted and evaluated under this program had to meet defined criteria to be considered, and the projects approved met those requirements.

That is why when the Auditor General was asked by the hon. member's colleague from Gander—Grand Falls to look at this initiative, she declined to do an audit.

As the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest knows and has stated in the House, the short term adjustment initiative program for affected fishers and fish plant workers is not and has not been the subject of a special audit from the Auditor General. All ACOA programs, including this one, undergo an internal audit.

Results of this audit will be found on our website and the hon. member is welcome to join other Canadians in reviewing the results of any of our audits at his leisure.

This program is an example of communities working hard to create opportunities during a difficult time. The important numbers now speak for themselves. ACOA designed this program to address 1,200 short term opportunities. Instead, the initiative to date has created some 2,700 opportunities for employment, bringing jobs to families in need and bringing new investments to communities in need of hope.

They are communities such as the historic Labrador town of Red Bay, which is enhancing its tourist potential and developing a venue for small scale manufacturing enterprises thanks to this program.

The town of Channel-Port-aux-Basques will upgrade its railway heritage centre and the Bruce II Sports Complex thanks to this program.

The Banting Historical Trust in Musgrave Harbour honours the legacy and memory of Dr. Frederick Banting, who died with others in a plane crash there in 1941. This centre will build on its interpretation facilities of that event, along with the unique natural history of the area, thanks to this program.

The historic community of Moreton's Harbour will improve its town museum to better serve the growing number of visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador.

As anyone listening will hear, Newfoundland and Labrador's history is also playing an integral part in its future.

Through the short term adjustment initiative we are alleviating this economic setback while building a stronger tourism product for the province as a whole.

Our goal with these and all ACOA programs is to meet the demands of our communities in Atlantic Canada. The greatest demand for this program came from northwestern Newfoundland, which had the largest share of communities impacted through the closure of the cod fishery.

The government does not design programs to meet financial targets; it designs them with people in mind. The government believes in helping those most in need and those affected by economic challenges.

This program was not in the end about dollars and cents. We did our due diligence and we followed our guidelines, but our real goal, one we achieved, was to bring opportunity where there was disappointment and hope where there was no hope.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Open Government Act
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PC

Greg Thompson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Greg Thompson

Mr. Speaker, for the record, the Conservative Party and I support ACOA and the good work that ACOA has done.

Unfortunately, the actions of the previous minister tarnish that agency. In fact, an article ran in the Montreal Gazette at about the same time as the article that I quoted from the Halifax Herald . The article in the Montreal Gazette states, “Atlantic agency is a useless boondoggle”.

That is what happens when ministers take advantage, overstep their authority and monopolize the funding for their own riding. It simply is not right.

We believe in funding and we believe in fair funding. We believe in funding for all the ridings in Newfoundland, not just one riding.

What we are asking for is a thorough public audit so we know. Let us not leave it just to the minister and the agency and pretend that everything is okay. We want to know how this type of behaviour on behalf of a minister is allowed to happen without any consequences.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Open Government Act
Permalink
LIB

Joe McGuire

Liberal

Hon. Joe McGuire

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is entitled to his opinion, but I do not think his opinion will stand up on a fact based analysis.

This program was created as a humane response to the end of a traditional fishery. We were acutely aware of the impact of the cod closure. We responded with a planned, meaningful program to bring development with long term benefits to communities in transition.

Let me close by saying that the Government of Canada takes its responsibilities seriously for all citizens. When communities such as those in Newfoundland and Labrador face challenging times, they know the Government of Canada will be there to support them, much as we have supported western farmers in the BSE crisis and much as we supported those who lost their homes in last summer's devastating fires in Kelowna.

We have a responsibility to help our citizens. That is what we did. It was the right thing to do and I know the hon. member agrees with this principle.

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Open Government Act
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 7:41 p.m.)

Topic:   Adjournment Proceedings
Subtopic:   Open Government Act
Permalink

February 24, 2004