These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Gun Registry Shell Game

Mr. Rick Borotsik (Brandon—Souris, PC): Mr. Speaker, there has never been a worse example of fiscal sleight of hand, a gun registry shell game, than yesterday's supplementary estimates providing $59 million for the gun registry and another $14 million accessed through Treasury Board contingency, again for the gun registry.

The Minister of Justice probably does not know the answer, but in the off chance that he does, could he tell us exactly how much money was given to the gun registry is yesterday's supplementary estimates?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is important to see that the hon. member cannot even read.

If we look at the supplementary estimates that were tabled yesterday, essentially we are talking about $59 million for this fiscal year. It is clear in the document that I have with me, which was tabled yesterday by the President of the Treasury Board.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, the government was forced to withdraw $72 million for the firearms registry last December. The minister is now asking for $172 million. Would the minister please explain why the House should provide him with the funding that Parliament, including his own colleagues, has already rejected?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the member should get in touch with those organizations that decided to speak out over the past few days and weeks supporting the notion of gun control. She should also have a look at the statistics since the time we decided to proceed with that wonderful policy. As well, she should have a look at the plan of action that we tabled last Friday.

It is clear in my mind that there is strong support from the Canadian population. It is also clear that we are going in the right direction.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, a fouled up list of duck hunters does nothing to protect Canadians.

The government is determined to throw good money after bad. This is $18 million more than the minister was originally planning to spend in the 2002-03 report on plans and priorities.

The minister is unable to tell Canadians how much this program is going to cost because he does not know himself. Why should Canadian taxpayers be on the hook for the minister's incompetence?

Hon. Martin Cauchon (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, let us have a look at the statistics. We see for example that 9,000 licences have been revoked or refused with our system. We see that the number of lost or missing firearms has declined by 68% from 1997 to 2001. We see that the number of stolen firearms has also decreased by 35% for the same period of time.

Of course when one's colleague sends out a press release saying that gun control will result in more crime, more injuries and more deaths, one cannot support common sense.

Mr. John Williams (St. Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege to charge the Minister of Justice with contempt in regard to his release of material to the media that was intended for Parliament.

Yesterday, the President of the Treasury Board tabled the main estimates in the House. The estimates reported that the government was seeking more funds to keep the firearms registry running.

Despite the urging of the Auditor General, the government has failed to provide a proper accounting of the program, a program that the Auditor General considers a major crown project. Apart from an $18 million item under Department of Justice, contributions to provinces and territories, there is no mention of any other funding for the firearms registry in the estimates.

However some cost estimates and details not mentioned in the estimates were revealed yesterday in a government news release. The release reads:

Firearms Program Funding 2003-04 (Main Estimates)

Treasury Board material on the Main Estimates mentions $74 million for the Canadian Firearms Centre. What is this for?

It goes on to say that:

The $74 million is part of the $113 million sought in the Main Estimates for the Canadian Firearms Program. These funds are needed to operate and administer the firearms program for fiscal year 2003-04.

The $113 million figure is arrived at by adding the $74 million to the A-base estimate for the program ($35 million, which was included within the Department's Main Estimates figures for the 2003-04, tabled last year). The $113M includes employee benefits and accommodation costs.

I am not sure what the A-base is. The news release goes on to detail how it was spent.

The $113M consists of the following major elements: $21.5M to the “Alternative Service Delivery”; $8M to operate the Miramichi facility (costs for the Quebec processing site are included in provincial contributions); $16M in contributions to provinces that are administering the program (eg. Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, etc.); $11.3M to administer the program in opt-out jurisdictions; $4.6M for NWEST; $16M in other contributions to federal partners involved in the program; $14.4M for maintenance of the current Electronic Data Processing system and current business operations; and $9.2M for program administration.

The NWEST may be the Northwest Territories but I am not sure. The news release then goes on to provide details of the $74 million. The latter half of the release concerns itself with program funding of $59 million for 2002-03 supplementary estimates.

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Minister of Justice, reported to the National Post that the more detailed breakdown contained in the news release would be tabled in Parliament in late March. Mr. Murphy is admitting that the information in the news release is intended for Parliament and that Parliament will be provided with the information later.

Later in March would mean that the detailed information in the news release would be provided to Parliament when the reports on plans and priorities, or part IIIs of the main estimates, are tabled in the House as required under our rules. As you are also aware, Mr. Speaker, those reports are intended for the House.

The Minister of Justice has decided to release this information to the media one month ahead of providing it to Parliament. His spokesman has made the link between the information in the news release and information intended for Parliament in an interview with Bill Curry of the National Post.

I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to a question of privilege that was raised by the member for Provencher on March 14, 2001. His question of privilege was in regard to the Department of Justice briefing the media on Bill C-15 prior to its tabling in the House.

On March 19, 2001 the Speaker ruled on the matter and stated:

In preparing legislation, the government may wish to hold extensive consultations and such consultations may be held entirely at the government's discretion. However, with respect to material to be placed before parliament, the House must take precedence.

We had another case on October 15, 2001. The opposition House leader raised a question of privilege with regard to Bill C-36. The National Post had reported the contents of Bill C-36 and indicated that it was briefed by officials from the Department of Justice. The article published on October 13, 2001 entitled “New bill to pin down terrorism” described the bill in detail and quoted officials from the department.

The Speaker ruled that the case of Bill C-36 was similar to Bill C-15 and that there had been a breach of privileges of the House and the matter was sent to committee.

I would argue that the reports on the plans and priorities are material placed before Parliament and like legislation, if they are to be released, the House must take precedence.

The supply process deserves the same respect, integrity and protection as the legislative process. I would argue even more so than legislation because the estimates are the fundamental reason that Parliament exists.

The minister's attempt to appropriate money through a news release is an affront to Parliament.

In addition to that, Mr. Speaker, supplementary estimates (B) 2002-03 for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2003. were also tabled by the President of the Treasury Board yesterday. On page 82, the Canadian firearms program will receive another $59,447,000. In addition to that it also has with an asterisk, “Incremental funding to address operational requirements, Vote 1, at $16,436,000”. At the bottom the asterisk states:

Funds in the amount of $14,098,739 were advanced from the Treasury Board Contingencies Vote to provide temporary funding for this program.

If I go back to the 2002-03 main estimates, part I and II, the government expenditure plan in main estimates at page 1-54, for the vote 5 of the government contingencies for the Treasury Board it states:

Subject to the approval of the Treasury Board, to supplement other appropriations for paylist and other requirements and to provide for miscellaneous minor and unforeseen expenses not otherwise provided for, including awards under the Public Servants Inventions Act and authority to re-use any sums allotted for non-paylist requirements and repaid to this appropriation from other appropriations.

Note the word “unforeseen”.

We do know that the Minister of Justice has been telling us that he has been funding the firearms program through cash management after the government withdrew a request for $72 million last December.

I am raising this point with you, Mr. Speaker, at the earliest opportunity because supplementary estimates (B) were only tabled in the House yesterday. I have not been able to verify whether that $15 million was for the Canadian firearms program as the $72 million was in December 2002.

If we find that this money actually was used for the firearms program to replace the money that the government did not request in December 2002, it was not unforeseen. It was to replace a request that was withdrawn which is a significant difference. Unforeseen we can understand; to replace a request that the government withdrew from the floor of this House, for reasons we do not know, cannot under any circumstances be classified as unforeseen.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will find that the Minister of Justice is in contempt of the House for the total disregard for the historic and constitutional role of the House in financial matters and the business of supply. If you agree and if you do so rule, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Hon. Don Boudria (Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I think some of the applause is a little premature. Some of these accusations are getting more than a little overstated in the House.

I want to go back to the statement made by the Auditor General, an officer of Parliament, some time ago. The opinion of the Auditor General, at least on that point, was that it was not specifically identified in the main estimates, although funding for the firearms program had been in the supplementary estimates at the time. I do not think anyone can allege that the information is not in the estimates. It is quite clearly there. No one could make an allegation otherwise.

The second point I want to raise is the statement that the minister somehow gave information to the media that was not otherwise available to the House. For the minister to have talking points, further elaboration on any point within a minister's department, whether it is the staffing of my office, or whether it is another minister's programs anywhere, is quite normal. The minister and his staff would have further explanation to further enlighten those who want to ask questions.

Similarly, ministers have briefing books in the House of Commons when opposition members ask questions about a particular item so they can give other information about the item in question. That is not abnormal in itself, although it perhaps shocks the hon. member from Edmonton, and I can understand her shock, given that she will not have a riding anymore.

The hon. member raised an item, and I believe he was serious, contrary to the member from Edmonton, which I believe is on page 82 of the supplementary estimates B. It is in regard to the asterisk portion which refers to funds in the amount of $14,098,739, I believe. I see the hon. member nodding. These funds were used for drug prosecution and aboriginal litigation.

I hope that any suggestion that the minister had used these funds improperly will be rectified by those who made the accusations. To make these accusations against the minister just because one does not know better is not justification for doing so.

Finally, I will carefully review Hansard and I would like to come back tomorrow, or possibly the President of the Treasury Board would return to the House tomorrow, to further elaborate on what I just said. Meanwhile, maybe someone can prepare the necessary apologies to the Minister of Justice.

Mr. Loyola Hearn (St. John's West, PC): Mr. Speaker, I would just like to say a few brief words to the question of privilege with which I agree. The government tabled supplementary estimates at the time when it knew there would be no time to examine them in committee, perhaps one 90 minute meeting.

This delay and the promised statement further impedes the House and the committees by holding back information during the time meant for the procedure of committee scrutiny. This is another example of keeping the House in the dark, just what the Auditor General said was the cardinal sin of the government.

Yesterday I complained about alterations to the budget being made outside the House. A budget was presented but the Prime Minister went out and said, no, that was not what it was, that it was something else. This is more of the same conduct.

This proves that the words of the Minister of Finance about accountability to Parliament are just words and not actions. We are left with the words of the former minister of finance who said that there was a democratic deficit in Parliament.

The Speaker: The Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has asked that the matter be deferred so that further submissions can be made in response to the hon. member for St. Albert on his very elaborate question of privilege, which I sense is two different points really. I managed to get thoroughly confused on the second one. I found it difficult because figures were being bandied about by both sides and I did not have all the books in front of me.

Obviously this will take a little time to sort out but we will hear from others either tomorrow or on Monday, and the Chair will then take the matter under thorough advisement and get back to the House in due course, as is usual in circumstances of this kind.

The Chair has notice of a point of order from the hon. member for Mississauga Centre.