These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Public Accounts Committee Investigation

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, in 1991, in the so-called Al-Mashat affair, the precedent was established that a minister of the crown could choose to appear before a standing committee of the House to give testimony regarding events with which that minister had been involved in a previous cabinet portfolio.

My question is for the Minister of Industry. In principle, should an invitation occur, would he agree to follow that precedent and agree to appear before the public accounts committee's investigation of the firearms registry?

Hon. Don Boudria (Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it does not take a parliamentary expert to know that is grossly out of order.

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, if it would not take a parliamentary expert to know that then we have heard from the right person. May I redirect the question to the Prime Minister.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Speaker: Order, please. The Chair is having trouble hearing the person who has the floor. Whether it is the right person or not, I am not sure, but I know who I have to hear and it is the right hon. member. I missed a good part of the first question because of something else and I am having trouble hearing because of all the noise in the Chamber. I would appreciate some assistance from hon. members so we can hear the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Right Hon. Joe Clark: Mr. Speaker, let me redirect my question to the Prime Minister, who does have authority in these matters.

Bearing in mind the Al-Mashat precedent, and in the event that the current Minister of Industry is invited to appear before a public accounts investigation of the firearms registry, would the Prime Minister instruct the minister to appear and to testify?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, first, talking about people who do not know how to count, I remember very well in December 1979 when the leader of the fifth party could not count his own members in the House.

Second, I do not think he would be very keen to re-open the Al-Mashat affair.

Third, I just want to say that the Minister of Justice is handling the file very well. The gun registry program is very important for the Canadian people because of the safety in the cities and in the homes of all the nations. We have had some problems with it and--

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, last week the Auditor General's report did not tell us what are the big costs still to come in the gun registry, namely, enforcement costs, court costs, economic costs, and annual maintenance costs.

Parliament and the public have been misled for seven years. Will the minister now come clean and tell us how much it will cost to complete the registry and how much it will cost to maintain it?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is clear in my mind and it is clear from the Auditor General's report as well that all the numbers have been reported and all the numbers have been approved by Parliament.

If we look at the recommendations of the Auditor General, which we have accepted, the question is the consolidated report that we have to table. The question is the way we should be accountable and to what extent we have to be accountable. We will answer those recommendations. On this side of the House we will be transparent. We will keep proceeding with the gun registry because we believe in public--

The Speaker: The hon. member for Yorkton--Melville.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, that answer is irrelevant. I have to conclude that the minister does not know the answer.

Last week the Ontario Police Association said that the $1 billion that has been wasted on the gun registry would have been better invested in front line policing.

Today's newspaper reports that the minister's claimed drop in firearms deaths predated the gun registry by a decade. Also, the 20-year-old gun licensing system that was supposedly producing these results cost less than half of the present system to operate.

How much will it cost to register all the guns and--

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Justice.

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, safety is not irrelevant to us. We believe in safety. We will proceed with the program. It is a good program. We are starting to see the benefits of the program as a society as well.

I have said that I have accepted the recommendations. We will fix the problems.