These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Bungled Estimates

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Mr. Speaker, on June 12, 1991, the Prime Minister said:

...every minister in the cabinet that I will be presiding over will have to take full responsibility...If there is any bungling in the department...The minister will have to take the responsibility.

Which minister will take the full responsibility for the $700 million bungling on the gun registry? Will it be the current Minister of Industry, who started the scheme, or the current Minister of Health, who hid the costs from Parliament, or the present Minister of Justice, or will the Prime Minister himself take responsibility, and, Sir, what will the penalty be?

Right Hon. Jean Chrétien (Prime Minister, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Justice, who is handling the file at this time, is a very competent minister and he is doing what is needed at this moment.

Obviously the Auditor General indicated very clearly to us that we have some problems with this program and we are taking the steps to correct them.

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC): Then, Mr. Speaker, my next question is for the chairman of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Will the chair seek agreement of the committee to conduct early public hearings on the report of the Auditor General concerning the overspending on the gun registry and the failure to report that overspending to Parliament?

In addition to hearing from the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice, will the committee seek evidence from the current Ministers of Industry and Health, who are directly involved in these cost overruns, and from the member for LaSalle—Émard, who on at least five occasions as a member of the Treasury Board had an opportunity to put an end to this billion dollar fiasco?

Mr. John Williams (St. Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the right hon. member for his question.

I will say that I will place this question before the public accounts committee and if there is agreement from the Liberals as well as this side we will be glad to hold these investigations and table a report on what we find.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): We will all sleep easy tonight, Mr. Speaker.

We know that Liberal largesse extends to the firearms registry. Evidence links the firearms contracts to the government's friends in Groupaction.

One blatant example involves Gilles-André Gosselin billing over $625,000 for 3,673 hours of work, a mathematical impossibility in the same calendar year.

Will the Minister of Justice request the RCMP to extend its investigation into the advertising contracts awarded as part of this firearms fiasco?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, this particular matter is at this moment the subject of a time verification audit to determine the exact facts.

Depending on the results of that audit the appropriate action will be taken, either of the direct recovery of funds that were overbilled or a reference to the police if that is appropriate.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, the minister must be in a time warp if he does not see the need for an RCMP investigation.

We know from the feigned wide-eyed innocence of the member for LaSalle—Émard that all the spending on the firearms registry should be frozen until this mess in the justice department has been cleaned up. He said that this weekend. He also claims in a Janus faced position that it is the same position as the Minister of Justice.

Will the Minister of Justice confirm that it is his government's position that all the spending will be frozen on the registry, and if not, why not?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the member has read the report from the Auditor General, as I have. We have accepted all the recommendations.

Last week I said that there are problems that we recognize and we want to fix them. I announced last week that we have frozen all major spending in the program, which we have done.

We have legislative responsibilities. We are running the program at minimum cost, but of course we will respect our responsibilities.

Having said that, we are all saying the same thing. We want to proceed with the registry. We want to make sure that we offer Canadians a safer society.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it is getting even worse. I have in front of me a report from a former Liberal justice minister, Ron Basford, saying that in 1976 there were 10 million guns in Canada with a quarter of a million guns being added to that stock every year. That means there are 16 million guns in Canada today and only one-third of them have been registered; $1 billion and only one-third of the firearms have been registered. The firearms fiasco is becoming an even bigger boondoggle.

I ask again, how much will it cost to complete the registry?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, about the costs, let us be clear. If we read the report of the Auditor General, she mentioned that all spending was approved by Parliament. We came back to Parliament and reported through the main estimates and through the supplementary estimates. As I said, if we read the program carefully, all of the numbers have been reported through Justice Canada and all partners involved in the program delivery.

The question now between the Auditor General and the Department of Justice is to what extent we should report. We are working on that. We will report to Canadians because we believe in transparency.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the cover-up continues. The government has not answered the question. Listen to this.

The Auditor General reports that about 90% of licence and registration applications contain errors. The RCMP says that there are so many errors in the gun registry that criminals could be issued firearms licences. This Goliath of a gun registry has been dealt a mortal blow and now the Liberals have put it on life support. Why do they not just pull the plug?

How much more is it going to cost taxpayers?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, we have said many times that the gun registry is indeed a very effective tool. Police forces access the registry online 1,500 times a day.

The member is raising a question about the quality of the data. The RCMP is fully aware of that and has been working on that question. When we are talking about the quality of the data, it is a question of technology. They are working on that.

The difference is that on this side of the House we believe in safety. We will proceed with the registry. Yes, there are problems. We will fix it.