These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Massive Overspending

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the justice minister says the numbers are known. In his defence of the massive overspending on the firearms registry, yesterday the Ministry of Justice, his office, put out a press release stating that the projected costs for this year are $113.5 million. That forecast did not even include the extra $72 million that the justice minister asked for and received from the House in supplementary estimates two months ago.

My question is this. How can the justice minister's financial oversight be so incompetent that he does not even know about the current expenditures in his own department?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, the numbers are well known. The Auditor General recognizes that all the numbers have been approved by Parliament.

The question which is raised by the Auditor General is on the way we should report. Of course, the Department of Justice and I, as Minister of Justice, are accountable and are seen as being the single point for being accountable to Parliament. We will manage with the external audit that we have asked for. We will manage in order to make sure that we will organize the books in a manner that is supported by the Auditor General.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the numbers, he says, are well known. The truth is, the justice minister does not have a clue about how much this is costing.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, here is the Liberal legacy price tag thus far: $1 billion wasted in the HRDC grants; hundreds of millions on an ill-conceived advertising campaign; hundreds of millions lost in a helicopter cancellation; and now it is $1 billion wasted on the faulty firearms registry.

Almost 10 years ago the Prime Minister was quite prepared to play politics in cancelling the helicopter contract replacement for the aging Sea Kings. Will the Prime Minister today cancel a program for the right reasons and cancel this firearms registry fiasco?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, on this side of the House we are strongly committed to that policy. It is a valid policy. We will keep proceeding with the policy.

Having said that, of course I have some concerns after reading the report of the Auditor General. In her recommendations basically she is talking about reporting, about the way we should be accountable to Parliament. She is talking about the question of cost escalation as well, which there are reasons for, as I have explained.

We will be working hard in order to make sure that we will keep that policy and we will fix the problems.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, on that side of the House the members should be concerned.

They have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Auditor General. She has exposed the government's shell game. Evidence shows that the registry does not save lives, but it sure can waste taxpayer dollars. What is worse, the minister is about to ask the House for millions more dollars.

I know he is between a rock and a hard place, but will the Minister of Justice withdraw his request for an additional $71 million until this mess in his department has been cleaned up? Will he do that?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we have to be precise here. All numbers have been reported. They have been reported through Justice Canada or they have been reported through other ministries, but all numbers have been reported.

The question raised by the Auditor General's report and her recommendations is that Justice Canada, being the single point of accountability, should be able to table a report that is clear about all of the spending regarding the gun registration system, which we will do.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, due to the government's cost laundering, the Auditor General found it so difficult to obtain reliable information from the justice department that she called off her audit of the gun registry before it was completed. The true cost may be even worse, more than $1 billion.

The justice minister and his predecessors used to say they were completely responsible and accountable for the firearms program. Obviously accountability means nothing to the government because all three are still sitting on the front bench.

Given the scope of this financial disaster, why has the Prime Minister not fired the minister responsible?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as I said, of course we have been discussing with the Office of the Auditor General with regard to the way we should report, as well as to what extent Justice Canada should report. That has been the subject of many discussions between the two departments.

Having said that, we have accepted the recommendations. We have asked for an external audit as well. We will make sure that we fix the problems.

The difference between those members and us is that on their side, they do not believe in our policy.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, let me tell the minister about his policy.

The Auditor General reported that the gun registry has cost 500 times more than what Parliament and the public was originally promised. The RCMP has been registering handguns since 1934, but firearms homicides with handguns have doubled over the past 30 years.

Clearly, registration does not lower homicide rates. Obviously this is bad policy. Given all of this, why not just scrap the program?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, what the member just said proved that those members do not believe in safe communities. They do not believe in our policy. They do not believe in gun registration.

What we are talking about here is about values. It is about making our communities safer. Having said that, let us proceed with a quote from Mr. Vince Bevan, the chief of police from Ottawa-Carleton. He said, “Information is the lifeblood of policing. Without information about who owns and has guns, there is no way to prevent violence or effectively enforce the law. This law is a useful tool which has already begun to show its value in a number of police investigations”.