That Vote 1, in the amount of $58,169,816, under PARLIAMENT — The Senate — Program expenditures, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, reform of the Senate has been debated in the House of Commons and around kitchen tables in homes across the country since shortly after the Fathers of Confederation met to decide how Canada would be governed. All of us here today who have the privilege to take our seats in Canada's House of Commons, representing our constituents and voting on decisions that will make our country stronger, should think about them and give them our thanks. I know there were those who said it could not be done, or many said it should not be done, but there were enough who could see past the challenges and were willing to stake out bold policy challenges to create Canada.
We are still a young country, but if the Fathers of Confederation could see us now they would be proud. They would see that their bold efforts against the status quo have led to a strong stable nation, which is the envy of the world, and a beacon of peace, security and economic prosperity. However, what they would also see is a country that has changed since the soot-filled candlelit debates that the first MPs would have had in the House of Commons. Things have changed. Canada has changed. However, our Senate has not changed.
Throughout our history, there have been those on the side of reforming the Senate and those who have wanted to protect the status quo. It disappoints me to say that the protectors of the Senate have most often won that day. I do not know why, and I am not sure if Canadians know why either. When the only Senate reform measure we can point to throughout our nation's history is a reduction from lifetime appointments to a maximum term of 45 years, members can appreciate the difficulties that Senate reformers have faced. For me, it only gives me more resolve to take the first steps to reform the Senate. It is the right thing to do, and it is what Canadians want us to do.
The status quo in the Senate is not acceptable. We have heard from Canadians that they want the Senate to change. Our government recognizes that the Senate as it stands today must either change or, like the upper Houses of our provinces, vanish. Canadians know that the Conservative Party is the only one that has a real plan to make the changes that are so desperately needed. Senate reform is fundamental to our party. It is at our core. Our government has long believed that the Senate's status quo is unacceptable and therefore it must change in order to reach its full potential as an accountable and democratic institution.
The alternative is the continuation of a situation where senators are appointed for long terms without any democratic mandate. We have said “enough”, and Canadians are with us in saying no to the status quo in the Senate. It is our government that has put forward proposals to elect senators and to limit their term to nine years, as well as measures to ensure tough spending oversight. These measures would immediately increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of our upper chamber. They would drag the Senate into the 21st century. Our proposals would deliver meaningful change within Parliament's authority to act now. Our new measures would make the upper chamber more accountable, more legitimate and more democratic.
Term limits in the Senate would also work hand in hand with our efforts to make government more representative. When senators have to be replaced every nine years, we would not have a representative body that looks like Canada did fifty years ago. These are the most recent of the practical changes that we propose in order to make our democratic institutions serve Canadians better.
However, change cannot come slowly enough for the Liberals and the New Democrats. Through nearly 20 hours of debate, over 7 days, we have heard opposition member after opposition member tell us why reforming the Senate was not possible. This is despite the fact that our government has received a strong mandate from Canadians to reform the Senate and, in fact, already have hard-working elected senators representing their provinces in the Senate.
All we learned from those seven days of debate was that the NDP and the Liberals would use any tactic to maintain the status quo and to block the reform that Canadians have been demanding.
We believe that encouraging provinces to elect senators and setting nine-year term limits are both reasonable measures that can be enacted within Parliament's authority. We have a plan. We have meaningful legislation. We have the support of Canadians.
What we did not have was an opposition who shared our urgent belief that Senate reform is critically necessary and immediately possible. Let us be clear. Our reforms are reasonable and achievable, and they lead us on the path to further reforms. The Prime Minister has been clear. The Senate must be reformed or it must be abolished.
While we are committed to debating the merits of Senate reform and specific proposals in actual legislation, the NDP and the Liberals are committed to telling us why they think our actions are unconstitutional. It is not that they have a plan themselves. They did not have a plan and they still do not have a plan. We are the only party with a plan.
To prove our commitment to either fixing or ridding ourselves of the Senate, we decided to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for an opinion on Parliament's authority to make these meaningful changes. For the first time in a generation, we asked the Supreme Court's opinion on what is required to reform the Senate and what is required to abolish the Senate. The aim in seeking a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada is to accelerate the pace of Senate reform and to lay the foundation for further reform to the Senate. It sends a strong signal to Canadians that we are ready to move forward, confident in the legitimacy and strength of our reforms.
The questions referred to the Supreme Court reflect the government's position that meaningful change to the Senate can be achieved within Parliament's authority. As I have said before, the Senate must reform or vanish. The questions asked of the Supreme Court seek legal certainty on the constitutional amending procedure for term limits for senators, democratic selection of senate nominees, net worth and property qualifications for senators, and abolition of the Senate. We are eagerly waiting the Supreme Court's opinion on these important issues. We said we would reform the Senate, and we will deliver.
Until the Supreme Court returns its opinion, we will continue to bring forward measures to strengthen the accountability of senators to taxpayers, including when the Senate adopted eleven tough new accountability rules governing travel and expenses that were put forward last week by Conservative senators. These strong new measures will improve accountability and prevent abuse.
We said we would fix the Senate's rules governing travel and expenses, and we delivered. Yesterday the Leader of the Government in the Senate introduced a motion asking the Auditor General of Canada to conduct a comprehensive audit of Senate expenses. These are strong measures that will protect taxpayers, and I outlined these improvements earlier today.
I spoke earlier about the protectors of the Senate, those who want the status quo; those who say it should not be done or it cannot be done. While we have been moving Senate reform forward with meaningful proposals, a reference to seek clarity from the Supreme Court and a tough new accountability rules, the Liberal leader and his party have once again staked the claim as the champion of the status quo in the Senate.
The Liberals go so far as to demand that the Senate remain unelected and unaccountable because it is an advantage for Quebec. This has come after 13 years of inaction, where the Liberal Party took every opportunity to protect the Senate from any and all reform. Actually, it is probably closer to a hundred years. The Liberals have abused the Senate in its current form for the past three generations.
I can see why the Liberals are attracted to the status quo, but they certainly had an option. In all their years in office, they could have taken the initiative to correct the Senate. They could have admitted that it was wrong for Canada and Canadians, and tackled this democratic deficit. They had an option to stand up, but they chose to say yes to the old attitudes and the entrenched entitlements of the Liberal Party. It is time for the Liberal Party to stop protecting the status quo and to support our efforts for a more accountable, democratic, and representative upper house.
The Conservative plan to reform the Senate is clear and real. Our government wants to see changes in the Senate. The Liberals only seem to want it to remain the same. While the Liberals continue to stake out and vigorously defend the position of the status quo, the opportunistic NDP has shown, once more, that there is no plan too risky for it.
While Conservative members have been squarely focused on what matters to Canadians, jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, the NDP has decided to advance a gimmicky proposal to unilaterally defund the Senate.
To really appreciate the NDP's logic, I think it is worth reviewing the statements made by the NDP's senior treasury board critic, the member for Pontiac, just yesterday. When asked about the constitutional requirement to have the Senate pass legislation, he said:
There's no reason why the Senate can't do its job without funds. It's not an issue of constitutionality.
Listening to the NDP say that the Constitution is no big deal is also concerning. Canadians are learning every day how risky the NDP and its ideas really are. To him the upper chamber is rotten to the core, as the member has stated, casting a very wide net. The member for Pontiac is even willing to strip the jobs of some 400 Senate employees, who have absolutely nothing to do with recent events in the Senate.
To the NDP, it seems that the end always justifies the means. Better yet, when the member opposite was called out by his interviewer for being heavy-handed, he said that employees and senators could do some volunteer work. He expects our Senate employees to come to work but not get paid. Ask the member for Toronto Centre how that went for them.
The NDP knows that its motion is a gimmick and it will not work. Canadians are more than smart enough to see through the NDP's opportunism. It should trouble Canadians that the NDP has chosen to debate this gimmick that it knows will not work instead of important issues like job creation and economic growth. However, we should perhaps not be surprised that the NDP does not want to talk about the risky tax plan.
Our government's priorities are unchanged. The economy remains our top priority. Our Conservative government is focused on what matters to Canadians: jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. We are proud of our record. Thanks to Canada's economic action plan, under our watch Canada has created over 900,000 net new jobs since the depths of the global recession. That is the best job creation record in the G7.
However, we can see where the NDP's priorities are. It could have chosen to use its debate time today on the important economic issues that Canadians continue to care about, such as, indexing tax fund payments to better support job-creating infrastructure in municipalities right across the country, reforming the temporary foreign worker program to ensure Canadians are given the first crack at available jobs, expanding tax relief for home care services to better meet the health care needs of Canadians, and removing tariffs on important imports of baby clothing and certain sports and athletic equipment.
While we are focused on growing the Canadian economy and jobs in the face of ongoing global economic challenges, the NDP keeps pushing job-killing carbon taxes and picking constitutional fights.
Canadians know full well that the NDP's claim that it wants to abolish the Senate is nothing more than a gimmick. The NDP has never brought forward a serious proposal, and Canadians know that it has no intention of ever doing so. They know its position is unrealistic and that the NDP is making it up as it goes along.
I am surprised that the NDP chose to debate its real record on the Senate today. Here are the facts.
In 2008, the NDP worked out a deal to appoint its own senators when it conspired with the Liberals and the Bloc to form a coalition.
The Leader of the Opposition has claimed to support abolition, yet introduced a bill to give the Senate more powers.
The NDP democratic reform critic, the member for Toronto—Danforth, provided further proof of the NDP's lack of sincerity when he said that the NDP is open to any kind of reasonable Senate reform.
On March 4, 2013, the NDP brought forward a motion calling on the government to consult with the provinces and territories on the steps necessary to abolish the Senate.
Two weeks ago, the NDP launched a website and said it would start a discussion with the provinces on whether there was support, as required by the Constitution, for abolition.
In January of this last year, the leader of the NDP said that abolition of the Senate would be a profound constitutional change and that his party and country had other priorities before opening up a constitutional debate.
The NDP record on Senate reform can be summed up in four points.
First, it claims it will abolish the place.
Second, the NDP repeatedly acknowledges that it does not have the constitutionally required support to actually abolish the Senate.
Third, it obstructs every government effort to bring accountability and transparency to a reformed Senate.
Fourth, it proposes gimmicky motions that it knows will not work.
The NDP has frequently admitted that it needs the support of the provinces and territories to abolish the Senate, support that it knows it does not have.
The NDP's grand consultation with Canadians and the provinces was announced just two weeks ago. Is that grand consultation finished already? Did it take just two weeks? Did the NDP members even talk to anyone? Perhaps they have abandoned that consultation because they did not hear what they wanted to hear. We can only guess, as it took so little time.
Whatever the reason, it shows that the NDP is just not serious when it talks about the Senate. It does not matter whether it is talking about consultations or funding or anything else; it is just not serious. That is why it has never put forward a legitimate plan to reform the Senate.
We must then ask ourselves this simple question: is the status quo good enough?
It is clear that while there may be different approaches to solving the problem, we know that the status quo is not in the interests of Canadians. Our government believes that Senate reform is needed now. Canadians deserve better.
In closing, we are the only party with a real plan to reform the Senate. My constituents tell me that they want change. Canadians want change.
Mr. Speaker, to start, I would like to read an excerpt from the Library of Parliament's legislative summary of Bill C-51. I think that this excerpt provides a good summary of the purpose of the federal witness protection program.
Protecting witnesses against intimidation, violence or retaliation is crucial to maintaining the rule of law. The experts agree that without effective measures to protect vulnerable witnesses and their families, many would be reluctant to cooperate with the authorities.
The federal witness protection program is a key tool in the fight against organized crime. When a person testifies about the activities of a group with which he was once associated, some members of that group may hold it against him. The program is therefore an effective tool in the fight against organized crime.
I would also like to commend the police and peace officers who work in the witness protection program. They do extremely dangerous and difficult work. These police officers often have to live a shadowy existence and lead parallel lives. A witness told us that he sometimes had to rent an apartment for himself because he could not work from his own home where his family lived. He had to stay away from his family to do his work. We must therefore commend these peace officers who are doing a great service for Canadians and our society.
This bill will allow us to expand the witness protection program and make it more effective in the fight against terrorism. It does not seem as though anyone mentioned this in the speeches that I heard. To date, witnesses of terrorist acts or potential terrorist acts do not benefit from the protection offered by this program. We therefore expanded the scope of the program, which is a good thing.
It is important that the federal witness protection program be as efficient as possible in terms of streamlining and expediting the process of admission to the program.
Some provinces and municipalities also operate witness protection programs, so it is not just the federal RCMP. These provincial and municipal programs must co-operate with the federal government in order to have witnesses' identities changed, for example. Those programs would have to deal with Passport Canada and perhaps Human Resources and Skills Development Canada to get social insurance numbers changed and so on and so forth.
Up until this point, the problem has been that if a provincial program identified a witness it wanted protected, it would have to not only accept that the individual should be protected, meaning that the person would essentially be applying to the provincial or municipal program, but that if the person was admitted, the provincial or municipal program would then have to go to the RCMP and ask for admission to the federal witness protection program. Only once the admission was accepted would the paperwork get done that would allow the person to assume a new identity and a new personal history, if one may put it that way.
As a result of this bill, that would not be the case anymore. There would be designated provincial and municipal witness protection programs, and once the witness would be accepted in that designated program, that witness would not have to apply to the RCMP federal program. He or she would simply be able to get the paperwork done by having been admitted to the provincial and municipal program. This is a step forward. This is a step toward making the system more timely, because in these matters we know that time is of the essence.
Speaking of time, the bill would also extend the period during which a potential candidate for the witness protection program can receive emergency protection. It is a very difficult decision to decide to go into the witness protection program. It requires a lot of thought and consultation with family members and so on. Up until now, candidates for witness protection could get some kind of witness protection for 90 days while they made up their mind about whether they wanted to go through with this major step. Now, as a result of Bill C-51, people would have the possibility of a 90-day extension, which would take the emergency protection to a maximum of 180 days. That is a very practical change.
As I said before, the bill modernizes witness protection to assist in the fight against terrorism. The fight against terrorism is an ongoing process of updating the relevant public security tools at our disposal in order to adapt them to the needs of this not-so-new yet ever-evolving challenge.
Witness protection is one area where changes were recommended most notably by the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. The commission found that the federal witness protection program “is not fully attuned to the needs of sources and witnesses in terrorism investigations and prosecutions”. The report concluded that CSIS, for example, should have access to programs to protect vulnerable witnesses and sources. The report also concluded that the federal witness protection program is too rigid and is based on the assumption that most sources and witnesses have criminal backgrounds.
In a terrorism case, it would be very likely that a witness would not have a criminal background and as a result would not be admissible to the program and would therefore essentially be discouraged from handing over information that could stop a terrorist incident. It is very important that the concept of witness protection be broadened to include not necessarily people who were involved in a crime but people who were witnesses to, say, a terrorist plot. That was the recommendation by the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. That was the second recommendation.
It is interesting to point out that the bill passed a report stage vote 200 and some votes to none. It obviously is clear that all parties in the House support strengthening the witness protection program.
I should also mention that there were no amendments adopted at committee. That says something as well. It says that this is a non-controversial bill, that it is more of an administrative or procedural enhancement kind of bill. It was quite obvious what needed to be done, and it has been done.
Again, this points to the fact that this is really a technical matter, and I am not sure that it really warrants the kind of partisan debate that we have witnessed so far this afternoon, but so be it.
There are other changes that have been recommended to the witness protection program that are not in the bill, but that we were told the government would implement outside of the bill. There are three particular improvements that have been recommended to the witness protection program: one, separating investigations and decisions about admission to the federal witness protection program; two, offering legal counsel to those negotiating entry into the program; and three, offering psychological assessments to program candidates.
In 2008, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recommended that a clear operational distinction be made between the investigations and prosecutions function of law enforcement on the one hand, and the decision-making function for admitting a candidate to the federal witness protection program on the other, making “it plain [to the candidate for witness protection] that protection is not a reward for cooperating with the authorities”.
Until now, basically it was the same group within the RCMP that was providing protection, but also making the decision about whether the witness should be admitted to the program. One can understand that would put certain individuals in the RCMP in a bit of a contradictory situation or a potential conflict of interest situation. Therefore, it was recommended by the House of Commons committee in 2008 that a separate department be created to make the decision about whether somebody should be admitted to the witness protection program, separate from the RCMP whose main function and concern would be to provide protection. That was not done. A separate agency was not created, but we got assurances from the minister and the government that these two functions would from now on be separate within the RCMP, and that is a very good thing.
The second item was not in the bill but it is germane obviously to the witness protection program going forward. Negotiating entry into the program is a complex matter, as is negotiating a contract with the RCMP for witness protection. Therefore, the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, in 2008, recommended offering candidates the aid of legal counsel during the signing of protection contracts to increase the likelihood of fair and equitable negotiations. Again that is not in the law, but something the government has committed to do.
On the third item, as I mentioned, entering a witness protection program is not an easy decision. It is not easy to live the rest of one's days under a new name, identity and personal history. In recognition of these pressures, which can lead some people who enter the federal witness protection program to voluntarily terminate their participation in the program down the road, the government would now apparently be offering candidates for the program psychological assessments to determine if they are likely to remain in a program over the long term. This would be a very constructive change and new way of doing things that would reduce the likelihood that someone would enter the program and then leave it. It is worth noting that the provision of psychological assessments was a recommendation of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security when it did its review of the witness protection program in 2008.
There has been talk about how the program may need additional funding. It is true, the RCMP did say that lack of funding would never lead them to refuse a candidate for witness protection and I believe that. However, the funding issue is not really about that. It is a little more complex and it bears mentioning.
We did have one witness who came to the committee and spoke to the funding issue. Micki Ruth, of the Canadian Association of Police Boards, appearing before the committee, highlighted the fact that the RCMP can charge back to municipal police forces the costs of witness protection. To quote Ms. Ruth:
Currently, when a municipality does make use of a provincial witness protection program and the crime is federal in nature or involves drugs, then the RCMP takes over and charges the local police services the full cost, which is an expense that many services cannot afford.
We know this, and it was mentioned previously by the hon. member from Portage la Prairie, that the committee on public safety is conducting a study on the rising costs of policing in order to determine how we can contain those costs. We can see that police forces around the country are cash strapped. It would be a concern to them that they would bring someone into the federal witness protection program because the crime involves a federal crime and then find that they are going to have to pay for putting that person into the witness protection program. That might discourage a local police force from pursuing the option of seeking the co-operation of a witness under the understanding that that person would enter the witness protection program. Cost becomes a factor.
It is not right to say that cost is not at all a factor in the matter of witness protection. In fact, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in 2012, also noted that one of the difficulties associated with the federal witness protection program is a lack of resources. It recommended that the federal government allocate dedicated resources to managing the federal witness protection program. We have three reports that have been recommending changes to the witness protection program.
Regarding the comments from the member for Pontiac that it is so obvious that there were improvements to be made in the legislation and wondering why these improvements were not made right away, that is not how it works in the House. We have to study the situation and that can take time. Out of those studies that call witnesses to appear and provide expert opinion we develop recommendations for change. That is what has happened with witness protection.
There have been three committees that provided input into what kinds of changes are needed to the program: the House of Commons public safety committee in 2008, the committee on justice and human rights in 2012, and the Major inquiry in the Air India bombing. These changes are rooted in careful study and that is what makes it a good bill. That is probably why there is no dissent on the bill. Everyone here today voted for it at report stage.
There are some issues that I would have liked to touch on if I had had more time. There is probably a need for the government to look at another aspect of witness protection, which is not the witness protection program narrowly defined. In other words, there are some people who do not want to go into the program, who do not need to go into the program, but they need to testify and they are going to be intimidated. We need to find better ways to allow people to testify in court proceedings where their anonymity can be ensured. This is something the government needs to look at.
There are ways that anonymity can be partially protected. People can testify on closed-circuit television, behind a screen and with their voice changed through synthesizing processes, but we are told that more needs to be done to really make sure that criminal elements do not discover who these people are who are testifying.
We have exhausted our time at this point, but perhaps the hon. member for Crowfoot will have another opportunity to weigh in on that.
The hon. member for Pontiac.
The hon. member for Pontiac will be splitting his time.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the motion by the member for Pontiac asking for action to be taken to address the missing, remarkably, $3.1 billion.
Canadians expect their government to be good public administrators of the public purse. They expect their elected representatives, regardless of party affiliation, to carefully scrutinize spending and to hold the government accountable. Canadians expect responsible and sound fiscal management. In turn, Canadian taxpayers expect their government to use their money to provide the critical services we all rely upon.
In every circumstance, it is unthinkable that a government would be irresponsible in tracking and reporting 100% of its spending. This is all the more the case when it involves the commitment to spend $12.9 billion on public security and anti-terrorism. I feel confident in saying that Canadian taxpayers share the concerns raised by the Auditor General in his spring 2013 audit report regarding $3.1 billion of that amount not yet accounted for. This will, in all likelihood, be of concern to Canadians, as the very services they rely upon are hindered by the cuts to front-line services, including pensions and the tracking of tax fraud, for example. This is particularly galling when the government is asking Canadians to do more with less.
Some have suggested metaphorically that the Conservatives could take another look between the sofa cushions to find the misplaced $3.1 billion. All joking aside, the failure to account for this amount of taxpayers' money is a very serious matter. Contrary to what the government has alleged, the Auditor General has expressed concerns.
First, this is what he and the Assistant Auditor General had to say at the public accounts committee a week back, after determining that $3.1 billion was missing between 2001 and 2009. When asked what happened in 2010, he advised, “Our audit only went up in this time period and at the end of this time period this method of reporting was stopped”.
The Assistant Auditor General then added that “the Treasury Board Secretariat has stopped collecting data from the departments in terms of the annual reports and are in the process of putting together another framework that they hope to have in place by, I think, some time in 2014”.
That is an incredible gap in accountability.
In the text of the Auditor General's report, he stated, at point 8.24:
In 2010, the Treasury Board approved the Secretariat’s request to end the government-wide reporting requirements on Initiative spending. The last reports entered into the database are those related to the 2008–09 fiscal year. The Secretariat stated that it would develop a new mechanism for managing and collecting performance information on the Public Security Initiatives. At the time of the audit, a project was in the pilot stage, but a new mechanism was not yet in place.
That is not terribly reassuring.
Treasury Board has allowed a gap of four years in tracking spending by departments, and in such a serious and important area. The President of the Treasury Board has tried to pass the buck to the departments, saying that it is their duty to report, and besides, reports can be found in the public accounts. Perhaps he could show Canadians where, since neither we nor the Auditor General can find the $3.1 billion reported as spent or for what purpose. He has alleged that the Auditor General found no fault in the monitoring and reporting of this total committed $12.9 billion for public security spending. Yet the Auditor General's report is quite clear. The Auditor General did find problems. Let me share this quote from his news release on his report. He stated:
The Treasury Board Secretariat was required to prepare summary reports for Treasury Board. The audit found that these reports were not provided. Though the Secretariat was the only department collecting detailed performance information on public security investments, it did not use this information to generate a government-wide perspective of PSAT spending and results, nor did any other federal department or agency. In the absence of any sort of overall monitoring and reporting, information to explain the difference of $3.1 billion between the funding allocated to departments and agencies and the amount reported spent was not available.
He further stated:
We believe that the government missed an opportunity to use the information it collected to generate a picture of spending and results under the Public Security and Anti-Terrorism Initiative across departments.
He then added:
The government recognizes that it needs to improve the way it reports financial and non-financial information for future government-wide initiatives.
Why is the apparent loss somewhere, possibly, of these billions an issue? As my colleagues have mentioned, there are many ways these moneys could have been spent to benefit Canadians and protect our security.
There is no suggestion that addressing terrorism or ensuring national security is not important. It is important, as elected officials, that we are responsible for ensuring that once dollars are committed for that purpose, they are used for that purpose.
The government does have the power to redirect budget allocations, which they regularly do through supplementary estimates. However, there is no evidence that this has occurred in this instance.
Even more troubling is the apparent lack of policy supporting revenue sources. For instance, perhaps thought could be given to reversing the staffing cuts to the Canada Revenue Agency. As my colleague has raised numerous times in the House, we have been seriously concerned that there is $29 billion missing in uncollected taxes. Just a fraction of the missing $3.1 billion could restore the Conservatives' cuts to that agency.
We are reassured that finally, after our raising this concern several weeks in a row, the minister has agreed to restore some dollars to the agency. We are not totally sure yet whether the Conservatives have restored the audit and compliance staff. Certainly it is an important matter. Where is the action and accountability on that?
The Conservatives do not seem to be worried about money that slips through the cracks. They are more interested in cutting from programs that support the vulnerable in our society. For example, my colleague from Laval—Les Îles has brought forward Bill C-480, which would allow seniors to withdraw money from their RRSPs to advance pay their funeral expenses. The government claws that back from the GIS payments. We are talking about seniors who are living on the poverty line. That is why they need to receive a GIS. We have been proposing that at a mere $132,000, all seniors would be covered.
The government shows very little concern when it says that it is only $3.1 billion. We are very concerned about the lack of tracking of the spending of this money in the same way we are concerned that it gives short shrift to the potential for revenue generation, such as collecting taxes that have not been paid and putting proper charges on those who exploit our resources.
One area we are particularly concerned about is aboriginal affairs. In thinking that it would increase accountability, the government decided to pick on two segments of our society. They are picking on unions and first nations by telling them that they have to be more accountable and report over and over again to be accountable for every cent they spend. Yet here is the government saying that it is only $3.1 billion and it is not a big deal. We might eventually find it if we pore through the public accounts.
There just seems to be an incredible degree of hypocrisy. Nowhere is that hypocrisy greater than when we come to youth.
Every member of Parliament has the privilege of taking a look at what the government will allocate for summer jobs. I have to say that it was painful this year, because more than half of those Canadians who offered jobs to students were turned down, and the government cannot be bothered to find $3.1 billion. It broke my heart to sign off on a report saying which groups would get student jobs, and all these fantastic organizations that would like to hire students, such as aboriginal organizations, the University of Alberta, and I could go on, would not. That is a whole lot of students in my riding who will not get summer employment and may not be able to continue their education.
Just in closing, I find this issue absolutely critical to our job as members of Parliament. All of us in this House, whatever our partisan affiliation, are elected to hold the government accountable for spending. I expect the Conservative members to be equally astonished and upset with the apparent lack of care and attention to $3.1 billion.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Timmins—James Bay for sharing his time with me.
The member's last comment was that the Conservative Party said it was horizontal. The last time I checked, if somebody is horizontal, that person is actually asleep; however, if someone loses $3.1 billion, that person must not be asleep but comatose, because if the person was just asleep and woke up and rolled over, the money might be found under the mattress. In this particular case the government cannot find the money at all; it does not know where it is.
The government says it just lost track of it; it is not really lost. The Conservatives need to find themselves a good bloodhound. Maybe they could find the track and find where they lost it, because they have clearly misplaced it.
When we talk about that type of money and the size of the Government of Canada, we have to ask ourselves if it is a rounding error. Because the government spends billions of dollars, it might be a rounding error, but that is not the case here. Here we have slightly less than $13 billion, of which the government lost $3.1 billion. The government has simply lost track of it. If we do the quick math, that is about 24%. If a business lost track of 24% of its product, it would go bankrupt, yet the Conservative government says it is okay; the money just went places.
The Conservatives relied on the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General went through a list of possibilities with government departments and said, “The funding may have lapsed without being spent. It may have been spent on PSAT activities and reported as part of ongoing programs. It may have been carried forward and spent on programs not related to PSAT.”
The interesting part about those three statements is that there are two common words in every one of those statements, and those words are “may have”. The government does not know, and the Auditor General did not know either. He had no idea. This was purely a “perhaps”.
Let me posit another “perhaps”. Perhaps the government did spend it somewhere else and does not want to tell us. The Conservatives cannot tell us that they did not, even though they continue to say that nothing was misspent because the Auditor General said so. No, the Auditor General said they might have done something; the Auditor General did not say they definitely did something.
The problem is that it is open. We do not know what they did with it because they cannot find it. If they could find it, they could tell us what they did with it, but they cannot find it, so they cannot tell us. How do we know that they did not misspend it?
When I asked the President of the Treasury Board the other day about it, he did not know either. He could not tell me where he put it. He does not know. He says he believes the money is in the public accounts. Oddly enough, the Auditor General disagrees. He says the money is not there. The President of the Treasury Board needs to go back and take a look.
My good friend from Pontiac has moved this motion to do just that. Let us find out where that $3.1 billion actually went.
The Conservatives said they would account for every penny. That being the case, I would look to my young colleagues, the pages, to do the numbers for me. If we take $3.1 billion and multiply it by 100 pennies, how many pennies have the Conservatives lost? We are now talking about a number that would probably be best presented with a digit behind the 10, since we would probably have to do it to the fifteenth power or whatever.
I may not be a mathematician, but I am a Scotsman by birth and I count every penny and I tend not to lose them. Perhaps that is why we need to become government in 2015: so we can count the pennies. We will not lose them, unlike the Conservative government, which has taken $3.1 billion and literally lost it.
A number of things are happening with this issue. What is PSAT? Canadians deserve to know. Is it some sort of department that does not really matter to people a lot and is not that important? Is it one of those things that just happens and does not affect Canadians in general?
Let us see what PSAT is.
According to the Auditor General, the PSAT department has five initiatives, and he outlined them in his report.
The first initiative is keeping terrorists out of Canada while keeping Canadians safe. I would say that has an effect on Canadians.
After September 11, 2001, we knew what we needed to do and we allocated money to do it. It was the previous government that started it.
The second item is “deterring, preventing, detecting, prosecuting and/or removing terrorists”.
The third is “facilitating Canada-U.S. relations”. Canada and the U.S. share one of the biggest unguarded borders in the world. We have an obligation to our partner and friend across the 49th parallel. For me, where I live, it is across the Niagara River. I know that where you are, Mr. Speaker, it is across the Detroit River. We are very close. We can literally see our friends across the way.
The fourth item is “facilitating international initiatives”. The fifth is “protecting our infrastructure and improving emergency planning”.
Funding of $13 billion was provided to protect Canadians against terrorists, to ensure terrorists were not in our country, to deport them if we needed to, to protect vital infrastructure, and to show our intentions to our common friend across the way, with whom we have been at peace for over 100 years, one would think that we would be saying to them that we spent every last nickel and penny to make sure it happened.
However, what do we have? We have is a Conservative government that says that it kind of wanted to do that, but kind of lost track of $3.1 billion. To our friends across the way to the south, the Conservatives say they are not sure if they did, while to Canadians they say they are not sure if they did all the safe things that they were going to do because they did not spend the money—perhaps. They may have, but the problem is that now they cannot tell us.
To me, not being able to track the money is on a par with the possibility that things may have been left undone in protecting Canadians against terrorists because the Conservatives do not know what they did with the money. That is a critically important piece. That is an answer the government has not been able to give, because the Conservatives do not know if they did or did not spend the money. Which parts of that security that should have been done did they perhaps not do? I qualify it very specifically with the word “perhaps” when I say that “perhaps” it was left undone and Canadians were less secure than they might have been if the Conservatives had spent the money in the first place.
That is a question the government members cannot answer because they cannot answer to where that $3.1 billion is. The Treasury Board Secretariat has not been able to do that.
When I was reading through chapter 8 of the Auditor General's report, I found it fascinating that the department was given $2.75 million, a relatively small amount, to build a reporting system so it could track the $13 billion. The amount of $2.75 million is a relatively small number, but it is a big number for Canadians. For the average Canadian, $2.75 million is a lot of money. The department had almost $3 million to figure out what it did with the $13 billion; it spent the $3 million, and then it lost $3 billion. There is an example of government incompetence for us.
If the Conservatives are spending money to devise a system to track a system that is spending money and then they lose the money, in a math class they get an F, an unadulterated F for failure, pure and simple. It is not even an issue of not doing the right thing, of not doing the things against terrorists that they said they would do, because they do not know if they did them.
It is also about their saying they could count, and they cannot. Then they want to tell us it is there, that we should not worry, that they will find it, maybe, because they might have put it somewhere.
Let me just say this. If they cannot find it for us now, in 2015 we will look for it, we will find it and we will tell Canadians what the Conservatives did or did not do with it. Then we will actually ensure Canadians are safe. We will spend the appropriate amount of money that needs to be spent to ensure Canadians are not under threat by terrorists, to ensure they are safe and to ensure that infrastructure is looked after, unlike our friends across the way, who lost track of $3.1 billion and think it is okay.
I say to my friends across the way that it is not okay. You failed Canadians miserably when you lost the money. You lost track of it. You do not know where it went and you cannot defend it. It is a lot of money. Unfortunately, you have lost track of it. You need to come clean and tell Canadians where it went.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this matter.
The subject, of course, concerns the missing $3.1 billion. Why are we here today? Among the many troubling revelations in the Auditor General's spring report was a rotten Easter egg in the form of a $3.1 billion hole in the government's public security and anti-terrorism spending. It turns out the Treasury Board Secretariat simply cannot find the money. Notwithstanding the opposition members' statements to the contrary, it is abundantly clear from the report that they cannot locate that $3.1 billion.
It is not surprising coming from this President of the Treasury Board. Simple details like the term “border infrastructure” can mean gazebos in his riding. Or what about $5 billion in budget cuts announced last year? We still do not know where those cuts are, which is why the former parliamentary budget officer had to take the government to court.
What is worrying is that this audit only covered public security and anti-terrorism funding. We have no information on other government programs. We have no idea what other programs and services that middle-class families rely on are not getting the funding the government says they are.
In the Auditor General's report, the Treasury Board provided three possible explanations for where the missing billions were: one, the money lapsed, in other words was not spent; two, it was spent on public safety and anti-terrorism, but was not properly recorded; or three, it was carried forward and spent on non-public safety and anti-terrorism programs.
Those are mathematically what the options must be. It was not spent, it was spent on public security or it was spent on things other than public security. The government simply has no way of knowing which of those three options was the more prevalent. They all stem from the same problem: the TBS tracking process for those funds was not developed enough to keep track of everything.
However, it was a tracking system. I was completely blown away to read in the report at paragraph 8.24 that:
In 2010, the Treasury Board approved the Secretariat’s request to end the government-wide reporting requirements on Initiative spending. The last reports entered into the database are those related to the 2008–09 fiscal year. The Secretariat stated that it would develop a new mechanism for managing and collecting performance information on the Public Security Initiatives. At the time of the audit, a project was in the pilot stage, but a new mechanism was not yet in place.
This is deeply concerning. It would appear the Treasury Board now has no system at all to monitor public safety and anti-terrorism spending. We have actually regressed. The Treasury Board promises to have a new system in place by March 2014, nearly a year from now and four years from when it killed the original system. Whatever the flaws of the old system, certainly it must have been better than nothing. Or perhaps it was not, but right now what it has had for three years is nothing in terms of monitoring those public expenditures on security.
I turn now to the response we have had from the government on this matter. The President of the Treasury Board has repeatedly told this House that all the money is accounted for and can be found in the public accounts for the years 2001 to 2009. This is a laughable response. Every financial transaction is “recorded” in the public accounts to some extent. What we do not have is any details in terms of where that money is in the public accounts. We know it is in the public accounts, but we do not know where in the public accounts, so in that sense it is truly missing.
The minister's response did not provide us with any information, nor does it do anything to calm the concerns of Canadians that the current government simply cannot keep track of its own money. That is why I have asked the Conservatives, in a written question, to detail where in the public accounts these funds can be found. I eagerly look forward to their reply.
As I said previously, we do not know if there is a systemic problem with other categories of expenses. The Auditor General only examined public safety and anti-terrorism funding. Again, we do not know if other funding destined for services for middle-class Canadians may not also be missing.
I also want to share my concerns about the NDP's reaction to this matter. The NDP motion we are debating today demonstrates a curious lack of understanding about the role and powers of the Auditor General.
The Liberals support publishing the information related to this audit so that Parliament and Canadians can examine it for themselves. However, the portion with respect to turning the data over to the Auditor General is interesting, as he already has that power. He certainly would have looked at all the relevant information. We do not need a motion to ask him to get the information to which he is already entitled.
Subsection 13(1) of the Auditor General Act states:
Except as provided by any other Act of Parliament that expressly refers to this subsection, the Auditor General is entitled to free access at all convenient times to information that relates to the fulfilment of his or her responsibilities and he or she is also entitled to require and receive from members of the federal public administration any information, reports and explanations that he or she considers necessary for that purpose.
The law is perfectly clear on this matter. The Auditor General would not have had to contend with security matters either, as subsections 13(2) and 13(3) also grant the Auditor General access to secret materials as long as his staff take the oaths required of public servants handling such information.
Therefore, it is fair to say that access to the required information was not a problem for the Auditor General. The problem was that the information did not exist.
This is also a question of resources. I would contend that if that money could have been found, then the Treasury Board would have found it during its consultations with the Auditor General on this report. No government wants the Auditor General to tell the public that we have lost $3.1 billion. It is the worst-case scenario. I imagine many Treasury Board officials worked late hours trying to find the missing money. I have no doubt that if it could have been located, it would have been, and the Auditor General's office would have been shown exactly where it was. It is purely a case of self-interest. I imagine the government and the public servants worked very hard to find the missing money, and did not, because the information did not exist.
That said, of course we are in no way opposed to giving the Auditor General more resources. If his office thinks that more resources would help answer this question, then let us provide more resources.
The Liberals support this motion because more transparency is good. The Auditor General has raised serious concerns about the systems used to track government expenditures, and Canadians deserve to see how it is done so that they can judge the government's track record.
Before I move on to the next portion of my remarks, I want to comment on the general tone of the NDP's response to this matter.
Good government is about solutions. However, we do not see many solutions emanating from the NDP. I find this particularly surprising, considering how plainly obvious the solution to this problem is. Perhaps it is simply easier to point fingers and try to score political points. I was dismayed to see the member for Pontiac ignore an obvious solution proposed by the committee we are both members of. The solution is to change how the government appropriates money.
The government operations and estimates committee held a wide-ranging and in-depth study on the process of supply. We heard from experts inside and outside the government, including former parliamentarians, the Auditor General, a former clerk of the House, other governments and the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Our committee made numerous recommendations, some of which the government has endorsed, others not so much.
However, the most important recommendation that was made was to transition the estimates from their current vote structure to a program-based structure. Our current vote structure is archaic and cannot keep up with the size and scope of 21st century government. Its failings are well known.
Most departments have three votes: operating, which means paying for public servants and hydro bills; capital, for acquisitions; and grants and contributions, the funds that are handed out to Canadians.
If a department wants to transfer money inside its vote, it only needs the approval of the Treasury Board, not Parliament. It only has to tell us if it wants to switch money between the votes, such as as fire a public servant and buy a new ministerial limo.
The best example of this problem may be the G8 legacy fund debacle. As a consequence of the confusion with our current system, parliamentarians thought that when they approved the supply bill, they were authorizing money specifically for the border infrastructure fund. That was not the case.
In fact, Parliament approved a single massive pot of money for infrastructure construction; the only condition was that the money be spent on infrastructure. That is why the Treasury Board was able to create a new program, the G8 legacy fund, and provide it with funding by taking money from the border infrastructure program. The Conservatives did not have to tell Parliament they were doing this, since the money all came from the same large pot that Parliament had approved for infrastructure. However, if Parliament had to approve spending by programs rather than in the current way, this would have been impossible, and we would also have been able to track public security spending.
Therefore, our primary proposition is to amend the NDP motion to include a solution to the problem, and the evident solution so that this will never happen in the future is to do the estimates according to programs rather than according to the current archaic system.
I would like to read my proposed amendment.
I move, seconded by the member for Bourassa, that the motion be amended by adding the following: “And that, in order to avoid losing funds in the future, the House requests that the government take all actions necessary to transition to program-based appropriations according to the timeline provided to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.”
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the motion before us today.
I would first like to thank my hon. colleague from Red Deer for the great work that he does on the public accounts committee. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Pontiac for bringing this issue forward and for the opportunity to talk about our government's strong record in cracking down on crime.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify the Auditor General's statements on this chapter. I was at committee. He confirmed that this money was not lost and that he found no reasons to make him believe money was misspent.
Since our first day in office in 2006, our government made a firm commitment to Canadians that would make their safety and security a key priority. Chief among our efforts includes moving forward with measures to address the threat of terrorism very seriously. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and Canada is certainly not immune. Several hundred Canadians have been killed or injured in terrorist incidents in the past several decades. We can all recall tragic events like the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182. In the past decade, our world and the way we view it has changed since September 11, 2001, when terrorist acts took place in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania and claimed thousands of lives, including 24 Canadians.
We also clearly recall recent attempts to blow up airliners, such as the failed underwear and shoe bombers' plots in 2009. Most recently, the Boston Marathon bombings have again reminded us that we are not immune to terrorism. The memory of the victims of terrorism and the pain of their families strengthen our resolve to fight criminals and terrorists at home and abroad and to stand up proudly for the principles that bind us: freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Our goal is to continue to build the resilience of our society and all communities to all forms of violent coercion. Since first coming to power, our government has taken decisive action to address the evolving threat of terrorism, both within and beyond Canadian borders, through legislative changes, targeted programming, criminal investigations and other initiatives.
As security threats are borderless, particularly threats to our cyber networks and critical infrastructure, in 2010 we launched Canada's cyber security strategy and the national strategy and action plan for critical infrastructure. Through our beyond the border action plan signed with the United States, we have strengthened aviation, marine and rail security in Canada, including our more rigorous screening for port and airport employees, enhancements to technology and improved security procedures.
We have improved information sharing among the agencies involved in detecting terrorist financing. We have listed terrorist entities under the Criminal Code to send a strong message that Canada will not condone any kind of terrorist activity. We have passed the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which allows victims of terrorism to sue listed foreign states for committing an act of terrorism or for supporting listed entities under the Criminal Code. Hitting these entities in their bank accounts and pocketbooks helps prevent and deter them from carrying out further acts of terror.
Countering terrorism and securing Canada is a shared responsibility that involves many organizations from all levels of government: law enforcement, border services and private-sector and international partners. While terrorism remains a threat, it is one that we are better able to deal with as a result of greater collaboration and partnerships.
Given the global reach of terrorism today, addressing the threat requires universal co-operation. We stand firm with our allies against the threat of terrorism. By combining resources and aligning our focus on a common set of priorities with our international partners, we are in a better position to target the threats to our safety and security.
These priorities are clearly laid out in Canada's counterterrorism strategy, a comprehensive strategy introduced in 2012 that outlines our efforts to prevent individuals from turning to terrorism, detect terrorists and their activities, deny terrorists the means and opportunities to attack and respond in a rapid and proportionate manner. It speaks frankly about the terrorist threats we face at home and abroad and the importance of strong partnerships and collaboration among government, security agencies, law enforcement and community groups, among others, and it underscores Canada's contribution to the global efforts to counter the terrorist threat.
We have made great progress in meeting our commitments under the three previously mentioned strategies, and we will continue to put forward a clear focus on combatting terrorism and countering violent extremism.
At the same time, we have no plans to stop our work to strengthen our justice system and keep Canadians safe through a number of robust measures. We will continue to take action on crime, as we have done since we came to power. We have toughened sentencing and bail provisions for serious gun crimes. We have strengthened the sentencing and monitoring of dangerous, high-risk offenders. We have ensured that murderers connected to organized crime will be treated automatically as first-degree murderers, and we have imposed mandatory jail time for drive-by or reckless shootings. Our government has ended sentence discounts for multiple murders and it has passed legislation to abolish the faint hope clause, which allowed early parole for murderers. We have delivered legislation that limits credit for time served in pre-sentence custody.
I am very proud to note that our government has passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have made sure that the Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether or not granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. I am equally proud to note that our government has passed legislation to strengthen the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank so that all persons convicted of sex offences are registered.
All in all, our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities and in countering terrorism. We will continue to do more. With each of these measures, we have kept one goal at the forefront: to keep Canadians and their families safe. We have done all these things, and more, while ensuring that we are using Canadian taxpayers' dollars prudently.
Indeed, we have taken great strides to leverage partnerships across governments, with law enforcement and security agencies, and with our international partners. By combining resources, and aligning our focus on a common set of priorities with our international partners, we are in a better position to target the threats to our safety and national security.
Law-abiding Canadians expect to live in a country where they do not have to worry when they go to bed at night. They expect, and rightfully so, to live in a country where their government is working with its allies to create a strong and robust national security system that is ready to prevent, detect and respond to any type of emergency. They want to know that their streets are safe and that their children are protected against predators.
This is the commitment that our government has made and it is one that it has kept.
Today's opposition motion is not concerned about the well-being of Canadians. Instead, it is focused on manufacturing a crisis where the Auditor General himself has clearly said there is none.
Order, please. I draw the attention of the member for Pontiac that his comments are to be made to the Chair, not to other members of the House.
The electoral district of Pontiac (Quebec) has a population of 99,589 with 79,149 registered voters and 233 polling divisions.
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