May 13, 2004

LIB

Stephen Owen

Liberal

Hon. Stephen Owen

Mr. Speaker, that was quite extraordinary coming from the member for North Vancouver. I would like to respond to a couple of points he made.

As I described in my comments, these processes and holding people to account is narrowing, starting with the $250 million. The overwhelming amount of that money went toward funding valuable and treasured community cultural, sporting and other events. We know there were problems with the commissions that were paid. The program has ended. We are focusing on and narrowing down where the fault may be.

That member made a wild statement about the mismanagement of public funds and yet every single reputable international institution which looks into economic issues has described Canada as being the best fiscally managed country in the world. I am talking about the WTO, the IMF and the OECD. I am also talking about distinguished international business journals such as the Wall Street Journal and The Economist . They all describe Canada as being the best fiscally managed country in the world.

A report came out just last week from IMD, the Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, that identified Canada as being the third most competitive economy in the world only surpassed by the United States. We know how competitive the States has become with a $500 billion deficit and 44 million people without health insurance. The only other country is Singapore which is about the size of the constituency of the hon. member for North Vancouver and is not particularly a democratic government. Canada stands at the forefront of the fiscal management of a democracy in the world.

Let us put that into context. We are talking about a lot of money and that is why we are taking it so seriously. That is also why the Prime Minister has said that we would get to the bottom of it, and we are. Heads of crown corporations have been fired. Processes are being followed.

Those members have said that when the Prime Minister was finance minister he should have been aware of this. Canada has a budget of $180 billion. The finance minister is responsible for setting taxes, arranging the budget, and overseeing very generally the finances of the country. The fiscal management of this country is supreme and largely because of the efforts of the current Prime Minister.

However, $180 billion a year is $500 million a day. Anybody who knows anything about the workings and administration of government knows that the finance minister does not have the responsibility nor is it his role to oversee the expenditure of that $500 million a day, let alone a program that was spending $40 million a year with proper controls that were being circumvented and which we are getting to the bottom of.

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CA

Charlie Penson

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Charlie Penson (Peace River, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I simply cannot believe the minister talking about good management. This Prime Minister when he was finance minister tried to lecture some of our business communities on corporate governance. The Auditor General said this was one of the worst examples she had ever seen. I cannot understand where he is going.

The minister raised the question of competitiveness and told us that Canada is number two, right behind the United States, in its competitive position. That was true 25 years ago but is no longer true after 25 years of Liberal government.

Canada is in 13th place in terms of competitiveness. He needs to check the OECD figures. It is absolutely not true for him to say that Canada is third. I suggest to him that Canada is about 70% as competitive as our major trading partner, the United States, and largely because of mismanagement and misdirected policies of his own government.

How can the minister stand here today and give us this kind of story that simply is not true? I ask him to check the OECD figures and set the record straight.

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LIB

Stephen Owen

Liberal

Hon. Stephen Owen

Mr. Speaker, I do not need to check the report of the International Management Development Institute. It is the most recognized judge of competitiveness in its annual report, globally.

However, let me just reflect for a moment on the management of an economy. In 1993 this government inherited a $42 billion deficit. I invite the hon. member to do some arithmetic around what $42 billion a year is on a daily basis. I suggest that $42 billion a year was about $115 million a day bleeding out of the country on an annual basis by the former Conservative government. The Liberal government had to clean up, mainly through the leadership of the current Prime Minister when he was finance minister. It is extraordinary that the member could suggest in any way the government and the Prime Minister are anything but extraordinary fiscal managers of this economy.

Mistakes happen. We are not running away from them. We will leave no stone unturned, as the Prime Minister has said. This is an unprecedented series of processes, inquiries and actions to get to the bottom of this. However, let us keep it in scale and in context.

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CA

Ken Epp

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I think the minister has missed the point. The point is that there was mismanagement and political involvement. Not only did we have a minister who was in the position that minister now holds not taking action on these abuses, it seems as if he must have also been the one who was directing those abuses. If not, the fact that he was shuffled out of cabinet, out of Parliament and out of the country and sent to Denmark is a very bizarre action.

Why would that happen, if the prime minister of the day was unaware that he was vulnerable to attack because there was something wrong going on? The fact that we have been unable to find out what this connection is, because all the people involved in it are somehow sticking together and not ratting on anyone, is despicable.

It is time that Canadians have an honest and trustworthy government, and this government is not. It is shutting down the inquiry. I would like the minister to simply stand up and say “Sorry, Canadians. We blew it”. That is the correct response.

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LIB

Stephen Owen

Liberal

Hon. Stephen Owen

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's request for sentiment, but the most sincere sentiment is action. That is why the former Ambassador to Denmark is the former Ambassador to Denmark. He was recalled from his duties. He came before the public accounts committee.

If the hon. member thinks the continuation of that committee at this stage, to the exclusion of all else, will get any further, why did the members not get the answers from him when he was before them? They have been useful in getting contradictory evidence from the head of CCSB in terms of how involved that minister was at the time. Therefore, we know there is clear evidence of political activity. That is why we are going ahead. We are finding answers, and that is all to the good.

I am certainly sorry about the fact that things go awry, but I am extremely satisfied to see that we are getting to the bottom of it and people are being held to account.

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BQ

Michel Guimond

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Guimond (Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois today on this motion presented by our colleagues in the Conservative Party of Canada. I believe it would be worthwhile to read it:

That, in the interest of transparency, the government should ensure that the work that has been done by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts into the sponsorship scandal be continued after the Prime Minister calls a general election and until the Standing Committee on Public Accounts is reconstituted in a new parliament by establishing a commission under the Inquiries Act.

The members of the Bloc Quebecois find this a worthwhile idea, but the wording will force us to vote against it. I wish to make it clear right from the start, however, that it is not out of any desire to denigrate the approach taken by that party. What the Conservative Party wants to do with this motion, in my opinion, is to allow the public to know the truth, once and for all, on the political direction involved in the sponsorship scandal.

We, the members of the Bloc Quebecois, are often seen—and this is not my opinion, but that of numerous journalists and political analysts—as belonging to a party of intellectual rigour. With respect, I would point out to my colleagues in the Conservative Party that it would have been a good thing to have worded the motion differently, and then we could have supported it.

Since the motion ends with “by establishing a commission under the Inquiries Act”, it is our impression that this is a duplication of the next step, that is the public inquiry for the Gomery Commission.

Incidentally, I would like to express our consideration for Justice Gomery. He is a well-known and respected jurist, a member of the Quebec Superior Court and has the reputation of always bringing down well-documented, thorough judgments not open to challenge by higher courts. The Bloc Quebecois has never questioned Justice Gomery's independence; we have far too much respect for the judiciary process. Moreover, the chief counsel for the commission is none other than Bernard Roy, who was chief of staff to former Prime Minister Mulroney, and is above all else a well-known and respected jurist.

The purpose of the Gomery commission—we hope, and we make the distinction between it and the criminal charges—is to find out the truth. On this point, we agree with the Conservative Party.

Having sat on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts several times myself—and I would like to congratulate my colleague from Lotbinière—L'Érable on all the work he has done—I want to point out that this week the opposition members are concluding the work of this committee with great frustration.

In fact, the current Prime Minister had promised to shed all possible light on the sponsorship scandal, since February 2004. I quote his exact words at the time, “We will find those responsible.”

I am sorry, but most of the witnesses heard were only the operatives under political direction. Here is another quotation from the Prime Minister who said, on February 12, 2004:

There had to be political direction.

I have a question for all the members of this House, and all the people watching us from the galleries or on television. I could walk out onto Wellington Street or Sparks Street and ask people whether, after 40 witnesses have been heard by the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, we really know anything about the extent of political direction. Does anyone know exactly what happened regarding taking orders from the political level?

We have heard Charles Guité. In his opening statement on April 22, he answered this very precise question:

Did the PMO and ministers provide input and decisions with respect to specific events that were sponsored and the allocation to specific firms.?

Charles Guité's answer was, “Absolutely”.

In his opening remarks, on April 22, Charles Guité confirmed that there was political direction. According to the organization chart of Public Works at the time, Charles Guité was a director. The same Charles Guité told us that the hon. member for Sudbury, who had been appointed as the minister, was not getting it, she did not understand how the game was played.

Charles Guité phoned Jean Pelletier, who, incidentally, was the chief of staff of Prime Minister Chrétien. He did not call and tell a page that the minister did not understand how things worked. My intention is not to denigrate the intelligence of pages. I am convinced they would have done a better job than she did as a minister, but that is another story.

Charles Guité phoned the chief of staff of the Prime Minister and told him that the minister was not getting it, that she did not understand the game. Pelletier said, “Come and see me, Chuck”. So he did. Guité reported that Pelletier had told him that, from now on, where sponsorship files were concerned, he should not go through the assistant deputy minister—his immediate supervisor—the deputy minister or the minister, but rather come to him, the chief of staff of Prime Minister Chrétien, directly. Is that not political direction?

I dare anyone to come and tell us that everyone is sure that there was no political direction in the sponsorship scandal. Even the current Prime Minister said there was. It is impossible to believe that there was no political direction in the sponsorship scandal.

The proceedings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts are ending, yet we know nothing. In a public statement, the Prime Minister tried to make us believe, and to make the public believe that he was not aware of any wrongdoing in the sponsorship program. The Bloc Quebecois did ask 441 questions on this very subject between May 2000 and December 2003. That is not counting the questions asked in 2004.

What was the Prime Minister doing when he was finance minister? Did he not listen to the questions? Did he turn his earpiece off?

Is it plausible, possible or credible that, when he was the Minister of Finance, from 1993 to 2002, the Prime Minister pumped $34 million annually into the Canadian unity fund, which was used to fund the sponsorship scandal? It is thanks to this same fund that Chuck Guité was able, at the beginning of the 1995 referendum campaign, to spend $8 million on Mediacom billboards all over Quebec. Absolutely all the Mediacom billboards displayed pre-referendum advertising for the No camp. We are talking about $8 million. It is Chuck Guité who, with a single telephone call, bought $8 million worth of these billboards.

Are we to believe that he made this decision alone? Are we to believe that, while shaving at home some morning, he told himself that, since the referendum would soon be held and the sovereignists were going to win it, he would spend $8 million on billboards when he got to work? Come on, no one believes that. We are not stupid. No one believes that there was no political direction.

However, the Liberal majority on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts put a lid on this affair and the hearings are now over, just as we were getting closer to finding out about the political direction. This is why the Bloc Quebecois tabled a motion before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts to hear not 82 witnesses, but 4. We restricted our list to 4 witnesses and, this week and next week—since the election has yet to be called—we could have heard Jean Carle, who played an important role in Prime Minister Chrétien's entourage; Warren Kinsella, who was David Dingwall's chief of staff when the latter was the Minister of Public Works; Jean Chrétien himself; and the current Prime Minister and member for LaSalle—Émard.

Instead, the Liberal majority on the committee decided to put an end to the committee's work. This is why we are realizing today that we do not know any more than we did about what happened.

Some questions remain unanswered. Quebeckers make requests to Bloc Quebecois members. We are here to protect the interests of Quebec. When we visit our ridings on weekends, we meet people at the shopping mall, the grocery store, the cobbler, everywhere. These people tell us to keep doing our job, which is to ask questions and be watchdogs.

Quebeckers want to know who created the sponsorship program. They want to know who refused to correct the situation despite two disturbing reports on the administration of sponsorship activities. They want to know who allowed Chuck Guité to break all the rules starting with the referendum through to his retirement in 1999. They want to know which activities were funded by the national unity fund. They want to know when the Prime Minister first knew there was a problem with the sponsorship program.

The Prime Minister tried to use what we call wilful blindness. He shut his eyes and ears, as did most of the witnesses—just as an aside—who appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The predominant theme at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts was, “I do not remember; I was not there; I do not know; ask someone else; I was not there yet; I was in the washroom when that was decided; things became unclear when we obtained information”. It is unbelievable. No one buys this.

I can tell the Liberals that we meet people on the street who say that they may not have voted for the Bloc Quebecois in the last election, but this time they cannot bring themselves to vote for thieves.

People have principles. Quebeckers know what it means to have intellectual honesty. I know, Mr. Speaker, you did not appreciate me using the word thieves, but money—

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

No, of course I did not care for the term “thieves“. However, the hon. member for Beauce wishes to raise a point of order.

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LIB

Claude Drouin

Liberal

Hon. Claude Drouin

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member may have said more than he intended to. If not, he ought to withdraw his remarks. If he has proof, let him produce it, instead of coming up with gratuitous accusations. Let him provide proof. People must not make unfounded accusations.

I believe you need to enforce the rules.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order. I wish to have the hon. member's attention.

I have been provided with an opinion which confirms my initial reaction that neither individuals nor parties may be described as thieves. Given the context in which the hon. member used that term, I believe he should withdraw his words so that we may move on.

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BQ

Michel Guimond

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Guimond

Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the term “thieves”, but I must point out that I continue to think it. You cannot police my thoughts.

Jean Lapierre, Mr. Clean himself, the new ally of the Liberal Party of Canada for Quebec, was quoted in the March 4, 2004 Journal de Montréal as saying that tainted money would not be used in the coming election campaign. If tainted money is not stolen money, then how else did it get tainted? What did Jean Lapierre mean by this?

I am pleased that the member for Beauce raised a point of order. He himself gets a mention in the Auditor General's report for a $5,000 banner given to a Cegep, on which he insisted his name be shown. His name is not mentioned, I will admit, but everyone knows the MP involved is the member for Beauce. Anyway, though it is not my intention to debate about the member for Beauce, I am sure that, if the Conservative candidate in that riding, Gilles Bernier, comes back he will have plenty to deal with. I am also sure, however, that the excellent Bloc Quebecois candidate in Beauce will be the one elected.

What Quebeckers want to know is where the money went. The Auditor General—she, not me—revealed that $100 million ended up in the pockets of firms with close ties to the Liberal Party of Canada. That is $100 million. Where did that money go? Did the six firms involved divide the $100 million among themselves? No. There is another theory: trusts have been used to fund the 2000 election and will be used to fund the 2004 election for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Quebeckers also want to know why the current Prime Minister did not act, when national policy chair Maharaj—hardly a sovereignist—wrote him in February of 2002, informing him of rumours about funds paid to advertising agencies having been used to fund the Liberal party.

In addition, Quebeckers want to know why the current Prime Minister, who was vice-chair of the Treasury Board as well as finance minister—which means that he was the one signing the cheques and pumping out the money—did not sense there were problems, in the light of certain media reports, the Bloc's 441 questions and various internal investigations? Why did he not act?

To conclude, I want to point out that we in the Bloc Quebecois will definitely not be able to support the motion of the Conservative Party as it stands. I must add, however, that we agree with the assessment of the Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which is that we are putting an end to the process before having shed light on what really happened in the sponsorship scandal, particularly with regard to the political direction of the sponsorship program.

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LIB

Claude Drouin

Liberal

Hon. Claude Drouin (Beauce, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, it is rare to hear things like this in the House. It is lucky that the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans is well insured, because uttering such imbecilities could be very bad for his health.

The Bloc is desperate. It has asked four—

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BQ

Michel Guimond

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Guimond

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I am sure you will need to turn to our knowledgeable clerks once again and ask if the word “imbecilities” is permitted in this House.

According to the dictionary, “imbecilities” are the words spoken by imbeciles. Can the member for Beauce call me an imbecile? I would just like to know, Mr. Speaker, because if the decision you make suits me, I will use it mightily in the future.

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. I believe the words “imbecile” and “imbecility” are not listed as unparliamentary language in the Standing Orders. Nevertheless, I would ask you to be generous with each other and cooperate a little in order to maintain some decorum in the House. Just be careful of the words you are using.

The hon. member for Beauce may finish his question or comment.

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LIB

Claude Drouin

Liberal

Hon. Claude Drouin

Mr. Speaker, although you are not asking me to, I withdraw my words, but that does not stop me from thinking them.

The Bloc is a little desperate and does not want to see what the government has done to shed light on the major problem in the sponsorship program.

He mentioned that their biggest accomplishment was to ask 441 questions on this matter. For the salaries we are paid here, I must say those were expensive questions, especially considering the results.

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An hon. member

But some people give any old answer.

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LIB

Claude Drouin

Liberal

Hon. Claude Drouin

What a thing to say.

Nonetheless, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts was asked to examine the matter immediately. The RCMP was asked to investigate, right off. A commission of inquiry is setting up and will begin working in the fall.

Charges have been laid. Allow me to draw a parallel. Something similar happened in the PQ Government of Quebec two or two and a half years ago. A minister had to resign over it and today he is in charge of international relations for Hydro-Quebec.

We are serious on this side of the House. We are talking about taxpayer dollars. Investigations are underway and the guilty parties will have to assume their responsibilities, as appropriate. I can assure the hon. members that the work will continue.

The hon. member talked about banners. Unfortunately, he did not—

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Beauce. The hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans.

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BQ

Michel Guimond

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Guimond

Mr. Speaker, I can understand the member for Beauce and all the frustrations he has felt since the new Prime Minister arrived. I understand that he was hurt to have been unseated as Secretary of State—Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong side. He chose sides and it was the wrong one.

I can understand his frustration. It has been a long time since we last saw him in the House, and I am happy to see him here on one of his rare visits. Still, that does not prevent—

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Come on now, really. The motion before us today concerns the sponsorship scandal and not the reactions of certain members to appointments to whatever positions, nor their personal lives.

The hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans will restrict his comments to the sponsorship scandal.

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BQ

Michel Guimond

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Guimond

Mr. Speaker, it is true, and I am pleased to hear you use the words “sponsorship scandal”. A directive went out to Liberal candidates to stop using the words “sponsorship scandal” but to talk about the “sponsorship file” instead. I am pleased to hear it from the mouth of a Speaker in whom I have great confidence. I think it is sad that he is not running again. He, himself, recognizes that there is a sponsorship scandal.

When the people of Quebec go to the polls, probably on June 28, they will have an opportunity to confirm, for the fourth consecutive time, that the Liberal Party does not deserve their confidence. This time, people will remember.

I am also happy that you said we are discussing the sponsorship scandal here, in the House of Commons. When the hon. member refers to what has happened in the Quebec National Assembly, I simply want to tell him that he was not in the right forum. We are in Ottawa here. I am not responsible for what happens in Quebec.

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May 13, 2004