Mr. Dennis Mills (Toronto—Danforth, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the budget implementation bill. In my remarks today, I want to deal with accountability of budget dollars and the whole issue of value for taxpayers' money. I think that when Canadians hear about our budget process and the large numbers that go through for various government programs and services, as important as all those program dollars are, it is really important for Canadians to understand that we have a system of accountability for those budget dollars, a system of verifying value for taxpayers' money.
I want to refer to something I said in the House about a year ago:
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by acknowledging the work done by the member for St. Albert as the chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. I have watched his work over the last few years and it is an extraordinary piece of government accountability that he organizes through his committee experience.
Over the last 10 weeks I have had the great privilege of sitting on the public accounts committee, where we are in the process of responding to the Auditor General's report on the whole issue of government-wide audit of sponsorship, advertising and public opinion research.
I believe that most Canadians, and in fact 90% of Canadians, have an understanding, because of misinformed or improperly written journalistic stories, that $100 million of taxpayer money was stolen. In fact, a few weeks ago in our committee, one of the members said repeatedly that Canadians want to know who stole the $100 million. When Canadians hear that on a repeated basis through radio talk shows, through television, and when they see it in print articles, it immediately fractures the trust in the House of Commons. It immediately fractures and breaks the trust in all of us who have been dedicated to public service.
Part of my remarks this morning will be an attempt to try to put on the record during the budget implementation speech some facts that are extremely relevant for Canadians to know in terms of value for money. It is so important, because if we do not have a system of trust with Canadians, then in future times when we decide we need to use government advertising and government communication systems to educate Canadians on the very things we are passing in the House of Commons, we are going to end up creating such a gap between what is going on in the House and where the public is.
I want to first of all clear up something, because it is in fairness to the Auditor General. Again, a few years ago in the House I stood and asked that the Auditor General's budget be quadrupled, because I did not think that $1 million a year per department for audit fees was really sufficient. If we do not have sufficient resources to really do a job thoroughly, in the end we all suffer.
I do not want anyone to take my remarks in any way, shape or form as being critical of the Auditor General because I have always supported Ms. Fraser. However, I want to illustrate where misperception can cause great frustration for all of us as parliamentarians.
I want to begin by reading into the record that Ms. Fraser said yesterday that she had never, ever said that $100 million was stolen. I think most Canadians saw that on television last night and it was reported in some press this morning. The point I want to illustrate in my remarks today is that the system of doing the audit on the whole sponsorship file is something that I personally believe needs review.
We all know that over the last five years, for the period that the Auditor General did her analysis, there were 1,986 special events or projects all across Canada. I stress across Canada because initially the press reports were that $100 million went to Quebec Liberal-friendly ad agencies. That is a dangerous thing when it is factually not correct. The reality is that about $65 million went into projects in Quebec over the five years but the balance, approximately $30 million, went to agencies outside of Quebec, to agencies in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia and Ontario.
This is a key point for all Canadians to realize. I have been very concerned about the fact that this was becoming a Quebec-centred mistake. The reality is that the program was to serve all of Canada. It was to serve every region of our country.
The second point is very important for Canadians to understand. This goes back to the work in public accounts on accountability and value for taxpayers' money. I refer to a letter that was delivered to the committee on April 26, signed by Sheila Fraser, Auditor General, wherein she identified the 53 special events that formed the basis of her formulation or judgment on the entire 1,986 events.
Paragraph 3.60 of her report states:
Most of the 53 files in our audit sample contained no assessment of the project's merits or even any criteria for assessing merit. No file contained the rationale supporting the decision to sponsor the event. Furthermore, in 64% of the files we reviewed, there was no information about the event organizers, no description of the project, and no discussion of the visibility the Government of Canada would achieve by sponsoring the event.
The Auditor General, using that criteria, has judged certain events, and I am going to name a few of them, where there was no assessment of the projects' merits or no discussion of visibility. These are some samples: the Pan Am games; the Bluenose , which went to 38 cities in Atlantic Canada and even through the Great Lakes; the Molson Indy in Vancouver; the Montreal Canadiens hockey club; the Rimouski minor hockey tournament; the Nagano winter Olympics.
Just think, there was no assessment of the projects' merits or visibility of the Government of Canada. I say humbly that all of Canada saw all of those events. We all know those events happened. I personally question why in the audit process we would not double check and make sure that the Pan Am games happened, that the Olympic games happened. If one would check, it would be pretty obvious that these things happened.
I want to give a very specific example about Rimouski because I was the one responsible on that particular project. I was the chair of the House of Commons committee on sport at the time. The member from Rimouski approached me about a small minor league tournament in the member's riding. I appealed on behalf of the member for a $10,000 sponsorship in the Bloc Quebecois member's riding. The event happened and it was widely reported.
Under paragraph 3.60 it says there was no assessment of the project's merits or no discussion of the visibility. With respect and humility, I have to ask myself, is this a fair analysis? I am not saying that there were not other projects where maybe we did not get that, but to extrapolate from 53 projects when all 1,986 were in the same category I think is something that needs to be reviewed.
Paragraph 3.69 of the Auditor General's report states:
There was little evidence that any communications agency had analyzed the results of sponsored events in our sample.... There was no post mortem report and therefore no evidence that the government had obtained the visibility that it paid for.
I have difficulty with this because one of the projects that was identified in the Auditor General's list of 53 was the team Canada China project.
Canadians should know that Vickers & Benson, an award winning agency from English Canada, received a little over $9 million, almost 10% of the total fees and production costs, to produce 30 28-minute specials that went on television all over China. Those 30 28-minute shows talked about doing business with Canada, the cultural assets of Canada, tourism in Canada, and on and on. A third party did a post mortem. It was reported in committee two weeks ago by the chairman of the board of the agency, Mr. Hayter, again from Toronto, that the value added on that investment of $9 million was $51.5 million. However, it is one of the clouded programs; it is one of the stained programs.
Under paragraph 3.60 it was no in terms of assessment of the project's merits, but the auditor said yes in paragraph 3.69 that the post mortem was there. I would go one step further and say this is an example where the value plus, the net gain to Canadian taxpayers, was in excess of $40 million on that one project.
I want to give an example of another project. I have the reports in my hand. They were listed as well. It is 17th on the Auditor General's list of the 53 out of 1,986 projects she reviewed. It is the post mortem and economic impact analysis and has to do with the Government of Canada and the Molson's Indy in Vancouver.
The report analyzes every bit of GST and PST. It is the most sophisticated breakdown of taxes: initial, direct, indirect, business, property, personal. Again, the value in excess of the investment is 10 to 1. When we are dealing with Canadian taxpayers' money and we are talking about budget implementation, I believe that when projects are being evaluated, if there is a value plus or a value added, especially if it is an incredible amount, it should not be put into a file where there is a cloud over it.
For the Molson Indy in Vancouver, which is a car race, under paragraph 3.60, it says that no, there was no assessment of the project's merits. It says that there was no rationale supporting the decision to sponsor the event, no discussion of the visibility the Government of Canada achieved by sponsoring the event. On the Molson Indy in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, the Government of Canada's presence is not only national, it is international. It goes to literally hundreds of countries.
It was no on the assessment of the merits but it was yes, the auditors did in fact see the post mortem. Even though the auditors saw the post mortem and the value added was there, Canadians feel that the project was stained.
We have a very difficult challenge here on a good day of building trust with Canadians. It is really important that when things take off in the media that are not factually correct, even if it is unpopular, even if it means we have to go against the wind in terms of public opinion, it is our responsibility to get to the facts and the truth and not just piggyback on a whole tirade of factually incorrect statements.
In the books and records on some of these files, 53 files in fact, the Auditor General said that in 49% of our files, there was no post mortem. I am not suggesting for a second that we cannot keep better books and records on this file, but it is the idea that we leave with Canadians. And thank God for the Auditor General who came in yesterday and corrected statements that were being made and articles that were being written that $100 million was stolen. It is the duty of all members when they are working on value for taxpayers' money that they do not just go with the lemmings, but that they stand up and get to the facts, that they get to the truth.
Therefore, I move:
That the question be now put.
I want to end my remarks by saying that in no way, shape or form am I questioning that those files were not up to speed, but we also have a duty to get to the bottom of this file, as we have been doing so well in the public accounts committee. Where there is value for money, we should also acknowledge that. Those files that are stained, that is the work for the RCMP.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Budget Implementation Act, 2004