These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Hiding the Cost

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister apparently admitted to his caucus that he knew of cost overruns on the gun registry for years. This is just one more piece of evidence that the government, in the words of the Auditor General, “kept Parliament in the dark” about spending on the registry.

Will the government now come clean and admit when it first became aware of the billion dollar cost overruns on the gun registry?

Hon. John Manley (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the report on spending is available through the estimates over and over. The Prime Minister has made it clear, as all of us have, that we remain committed to the gun registry.

I was looking at the statement of policy of the Canadian Alliance Party, article 31, where it says:

We are committed to keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals as a necessary part of making our communities safer.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Speaker: Order, please. The Deputy Prime Minister has the floor.

Hon. John Manley: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, it deleted that part from its statement of policy in 2002. It is gone.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Speaker: Order, please. I have to remind hon. members that Christmas is coming and Santa Claus will reward the good and the virtuous. We are hoping that everyone will be quiet today so they will be well treated when Santa appears. The hon. Leader of the Opposition has the floor.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I will remind the government that violent criminals do not register their guns.

We obviously will not get a straight answer to that question, so let me just follow up on the minister's statement this morning. He admits that the gun registry is running at minimal levels. Gun owners across the country are trying to register by the year end deadline but they cannot get through on the 1-800 number and they cannot get forms.

Will the government announce a general amnesty for gun owners who cannot register by the January deadline?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I have said many times, and I repeated it this morning, that the deadline of December 31 is still there and has to be respected. Canadians have known this for a long time ago. Two weeks ago we announced an amnesty for those who would act in good faith respecting the deadline.

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the government has been unable to respect its own deadlines. It has bungled the system. There has been no accountability for minister after minister who has screwed up the system. Now today it has announced that it will have a general amnesty for the bureaucrats who screwed this up, so why not a general amnesty for the gun owners who cannot meet the deadline?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would like to refer them to the press release which has been issued regarding the question of the deadline. The deadline remains. People were aware of that deadline a long time ago.

As well, regarding the numbers, the Auditor General has stated that all the spending was approved by Parliament. That is quite clear.

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister now admits that he was both aware of and complicit in the cover-up of the gun registry costs that are climbing to $1 billion.

Canada has a system of responsible government. That means that when something goes seriously wrong, a minister or the Prime Minister must have the courage and the honesty to accept that responsibility.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us, does the Prime Minister intend to hold any minister responsible for this $700 million mistake?

Hon. John Manley (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, what we have now is an obligation to ensure that the registry system that we committed to and that we put into place by Bill C-68 works and is up and running in the appropriate way.

Clearly, the Auditor General has had some criticisms about how the administration of the program was done. It is our obligation and our commitment to improve it.

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, the obligation is to hold accountable the minister who let $700 million and counting of Government of Canada money be wasted. This is not something the Deputy Prime Minister can shift off to officials. If responsible government means anything, it means that a minister has to carry the can.

Is it the policy of the government that no minister was awake, no minister was watching, no minister was responsible for this terrible and unacceptable waste?

Hon. John Manley (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I understand to a certain extent the hon. member's bloodlust in this, but I think what Canadians want is a gun registry. They believe that it will improve safety. It is a policy that we have advocated for and argued for over a number of years. And yes, they expect us to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. We will do that. We will see that it is done responsibly.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, rhetoric does not save lives.

This morning the justice minister in his statement said he will pull money out of other programs to fund the gun registry. Parliament demonstrated its lack of confidence in the registry by removing $72 million from the scheme last week. Now the minister will be using sleight of hand to keep it on life support.

What programs will he take the money from to fund the registry?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we have been talking about transparency. I made my statement this morning because I respect this parliament and as well, the notion of transparency. It is important as well to inform the Canadian population.

As I have said many times, we believe in that policy. The policy is working. The gun registry is up and running. Of course we will keep proceeding at low cost. As I said this morning, there is still funding in the program. Of course at one point we will have to proceed with the same cash management as departments are doing on a regular basis.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, Parliament is still being kept in the dark. The minister could not make it work when he spent $1 billion. Logic tells anyone that it will not work when it is funded at minimum levels.

Today the justice minister once again refused to extend the gun registration deadline and as a consequence will criminalize one million law-abiding Canadians. The Auditor General reports a 90% error rate in the registry. Only one-third of the guns are registered. Gun owners cannot register their guns even if they want to.

One more time, Mr. Speaker, will he please tell us how much it will cost to complete and how much will it cost to maintain?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has to understand that there is a deadline. Actually I would like to report that 70% of the guns have been registered at this point in time.

The policy works. The program is up and running as well. We will keep proceeding at low cost, as I said. This morning my statement was about transparency, telling Canadians that we are proceeding and at one point we will have to proceed with cash management. As I said, this is done on a regular basis by most of the departments.