These comments are direct quotations from the Hansard documents.

Waste and Corruption

Mr. Stephen Harper (Leader of the Opposition, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, there may be a new Liberal leader but we have the same old policies of waste and corruption. I refer to the government's supplementary estimates that it has just tabled, calling for yet another $10 million to go to the firearms registry. This is after wasting a billion dollars and promising no more money would be spent until the program is fixed.

Why, with the new Liberal leader, is the government wasting more money on the firearms registry when it has not even fixed the problems and it has wasted a billion dollars?

Hon. Wayne Easter (Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I addressed this question yesterday. However I would think the hon. Leader of the Opposition would be at least a little more forthright. If we turn to the estimates on this money, it says:

This amount represents the operating budget carry forward for Justice designated for the Canadian Firearms Centre.

Not one more cent has been allocated in the supplementary estimates than was previously announced when we put the action plan in place.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, yesterday, the Solicitor General misled the House. He said there was no new money for the gun registry, but the supplementary estimates show a new appropriation of $10 million.

Can the Solicitor General explain why he misled the House yesterday?

The Speaker: The hon. member is treading very close to the line and he knows that is contrary to our practice. If he wants to ask a question for clarification, he can ask it. But to suggest that members are misleading the House I think is unnecessary during question period.

The hon. Solicitor General.

Hon. Wayne Easter (Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite with that kind of remark is trying to mislead Canadians on what the gun control program cost. That is what he is trying to do.

I quoted to the Leader of the Opposition earlier from the estimates that on page 88 the amount represents the operating budget carried forward for justice designated to the Canadian Firearms Centre. That is what it represents. There is not a cent of new money mentioned in this document because we established the targets and we are going to meet them.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I ask you and all Canadians to read page 22 and then find out who is telling the truth.

Eight provinces refused to prosecute for gun registry offences. Two-thirds of Canadians do not support this billion dollar boondoggle. Even the justice department found 90 major problems in its most recent evaluation.

Last week the government refused to answer this question, so I will ask the minister once again, how much will it cost to fully implement the gun registry, including fixing all of those 90 problems, and how much will it cost to maintain it?

Hon. Wayne Easter (Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I would ask the hon. member to go back to the beginning of my response to his first question. Those remarks still stand.

If he would read the most recent evaluation, and read it appropriately, he would see that the evaluation was done back last spring. We announced an action plan after that. We are on target in terms of the announcement in the action plan. We brought efficiencies into the system and we will continue to bring efficiencies into the system. We are continuing to register firearms every day.

Mr. Inky Mark (Dauphin—Swan River, PC): Mr. Speaker, an access to information request revealed that between April 14 and June 30 no full time and no part time employees of the Department of Justice were working on the Canadian firearms program. The same applies to the Solicitor General.

If no one in either the justice department or the Solicitor General's office is paying attention to the gun registry, who exactly is in charge of this bottomless money pit?

Hon. Wayne Easter (Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, first it is not a bottomless money pit. We said in the beginning that yes, there have been some problems in the past. The Minister of Justice and I in an announcement in the spring announced an action plan of which we would bring those costs under control.

The gun registry has been transferred to the Department of the Solicitor General. We have in fact brought the costs under control and that is what the estimates are now showing. The costs are under control and we are not spending a penny more than was targeted.

The Speaker: The Chair has notice of two questions of privilege, one from the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, whom we will hear first.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Solicitor General misled this House and impeded my ability to function as a member of Parliament.

Yesterday the President of the Treasury Board tabled supplementary estimates (A) in this House. On pages 13 and 88 of the supplementary estimates it is stated, “Canadian Firearms Program New Appropriation $10,000,000”.

Later in the day in response to a question during question period, the Solicitor General said, and I am quoting from page 7705 of Hansard:

We are not, through these supplementary estimates, asking Parliament for one more cent for the firearms program. Not one more cent. The money is not new money. The money was approved by Parliament and the money is within the spending targets that we announced earlier.

If the Solicitor General is right, then the supplementary estimates are wrong. If the Solicitor General is right, then Parliament is going to be voting for the same money twice. This cannot possibly be.

Page 22 of the supplementary estimates (A) clearly states, and I quote:

Vote 7a

Canadian Firearms Centre--Operating expenditures--To authorize the transfer of $84,840,694 from Justice Vote 1, Appropriation Act No. 2, 2003-2004 for the purposes of this Vote and to provide a further amount of ...$10,000,000.

I repeat, “to provide a further amount of $10,000,000”. Do the words “further amount” not mean new money?

The Solicitor General's statement yesterday put in question the status of a particular item in the estimates. That status, as the minister described it, would prevent members from proceeding in what I would consider the normal process for considering the supplementary estimates.

Its status has a significant impact on my role as a member of Parliament. All members of the House need to know if they can treat this item as a typical item in the supplementary estimates, namely, whether or not members can (a) reduce this amount at committee, (b) oppose the item on the last allotted day in the supply period and (c) include it as the subject matter of a supply motion in the context of “new money”.

On page 733 of Marleau and Montpetit it is stated:

Supplementary Estimates often include what are known as “one dollar items”, which seek an alteration in the existing allocation of funds as authorized in the Main Estimates. The purpose of a dollar item is not to seek new or additional money, but rather to spend money already authorized for a different purpose. Since “estimates” are budgetary items, they must have a dollar value...the “one dollar” is merely a symbolic amount.

Vote 8a on page 88 of the supplementary estimates is a symbolic dollar amount. Vote 7a, Canadian Firearms Centre operating expenditures, is not a symbolic one dollar amount, but a $10 million amount. When the Solicitor General said the $10 million was “not new money”, he misled me, every member of this House, the media and the general public.

The Speaker will recall that we went through the same song and dance last year when the supplementary estimates were tabled. No one, not even you or your staff, Mr. Speaker, could figure out how much we had voted on in the 2002-03 main estimates. Even Treasury Board officials had to ask the justice department.

But this year is different. When the main estimates were tabled on March 27, 2003, we were assured that they included the entire $113.1 million annual budget for the Canadian firearms program. This as the total program spending was approved by Parliament when the main estimates were approved in June. The Solicitor General's statement that it is “not new money” defies common sense, because it means that we would now have to vote for another $10 million that we already voted for last June.

Finally, if the Solicitor General's interpretation of the supplementary estimates is correct, how many of the other 24 “new appropriations” totalling $5.5 billion fall into the same category? Is the $10 million for the firearms program the only one that is not “new money”?

In the 17th century, the pre-eminent English judge Sir Edward Coke described the House as the general inquisitors of the realm. Ever since then it has become customary to refer to the House as “the grand inquest of the nation”.

Page 697 of Marleau and Montpetit describes the direct control of national finance as the “great task of modern parliamentary government”. On page 225 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, he describes contempt as “an offence against the authority or dignity of the House”.

An attempt to fool members into believing that the $10 million in vote 7a is not new and therefore subject to scrutiny or reduction is an affront to the dignity of the House and disrespectful to its role as “the grand inquest of the nation” and its so-called “great task” of controlling the public purse.

To perform these fundamental functions the House has always insisted on accurate and truthful information. That is why the making of misleading statements in the House must be treated as contempt.

Yesterday the Solicitor General clearly misled the House.

I am prepared to move the appropriate motion should the Speaker rule that the matter is a prima facie case of privilege.

Hon. Don Boudria (Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the hon. member I believe knows or should know perfectly well that the accusation he is making against the minister in question is totally invalid. He may have, by mistake, he and his leader, asked for the information at the beginning of question period without knowing better. That is it, people do that from time to time around here, but after, he was corrected, and rightfully so, by the minister and informed of the content of page 88 of the supplementary estimates, which describes quite well that the dollar is the mechanism by which the transfer is made from one department to another and does not involve additional funds. It involves the funding in question to be transferred from one minister to another, but not additional funding to be put in. The explanatory note is there for everyone to see.

Additionally, if the member wants to question the minister insofar as is it a good idea for this particular minister to administer versus another minister, if that is what he wants to do, that is why the estimates are referred to committee: so that these kinds of questions can be asked. Now that is a different proposition altogether. But to state that the transferring of responsibility from one minister to another, the parallel one dollar amount that actually gives effect to it in the supplementary estimates is wrong, is simply inaccurate.

Finally, imagine the reverse situation. Had we published the supplementary estimates today, transferred the responsibility fully as we did and chosen not to make this transfer, this same MP would be standing up and saying, “Wait a minute, the estimates are wrong. You transferred that responsibility and you failed to put it in the estimates”. The hon. member cannot have it both ways.

In any case, I am quite willing to return to the House with additional information if the Speaker chooses to delay his ruling in that regard. The information we have is that we have used the most transparent method in order to transfer the funding in question from one department to another but at the same time not adding, as the minister, the Solicitor General in this case, has indicated to the House today, other than the one dollar symbolic amount, which gives effect to the transaction.

Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC): Mr. Speaker, as usual that is about as clear as mud from the government House leader. We have before us the supplementary estimates that state in clear English new expenditures, of which that column contains the amount of $10 million.

On a number of occasions, Mr. Speaker, you have requested that any issues related in particular to procedural aspects of a supply bill be brought forward immediately, which is what is happening here, but I direct your attention to page 88. On that page, under the Solicitor General, relating to the infamous and disgraced gun registry and the Canadian Firearms Centre, it states uncategorically that the House is being asked to approve a new appropriation of $10 million for vote 7a and a further amount of $1 under item 8a. These amounts are clearly described as new appropriations under the estimates that have been recommended to the House by the Governor General.

Also on the same page there is a column labelled “transfer”. This is to transfer existing spending authority within the government, which is what the government House leader is talking about. But clearly, by listing the $10 million as a new appropriation rather than a transfer there is no existing authority for this transfer to take place in expenditures. The House is being asked for new authority.

I turn now to the “Proposed Schedule 1” of the appropriation bill found at page 22 of the supplementary estimates. There we find listed under the Canadian Firearms Centre vote 7a an amount of $10 million and, under vote 8a, an amount of $1, again, listed at page 22 as new appropriations.

I direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to what the previous member has referred to: the Solicitor General's response in question period yesterday, September 23, to a question raised by the member for Dauphin--Swan River. The Solicitor General stated:

We are not, through these supplementary estimates, asking Parliament for one more cent for the firearms program. Not one more cent. The money is not new money. The money was approved by Parliament--

Mr. Speaker, I could argue semantics, that at the very least the government is asking for one new dollar, but the crux of the matter is that $10 million is being asked for under “new appropriation”. The Governor General's demand is very clear. The words are very clear: “new appropriation”. The Solicitor General says the money is not new. The estimates and the proposed supply bill call it new. They do not call it a transfer. They call it a new appropriation.

In conclusion, if the Solicitor General is correct and there is no request for new money, the supplementary estimates are incorrect.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, and it stemmed from the report of the Auditor General concerning the lack of truthfulness and frankness in Parliament, the general incompetence of the government surrounding the billion dollar gun registry. The Auditor General warned us that facts were being hidden from Parliament; that Parliament was in fact being kept in the dark. We now have before us estimates calling for a new appropriation of $10 million and the Solicitor General telling the House it is not new. If that is the case, this should be listed as a transfer item.

I invite the Chair to examine the record and the schedule with an eye to the impropriety of the new appropriation as opposed to a transfer item.

Mr. John Williams (St. Albert, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, I would also like to quote from Marleau and Montpetit at page 732 under “Supplementary Estimates”. It states:

Should the amounts voted under the Main Estimates prove insufficient, or should new funding or a reallocation of funds between Votes or programs be required during a fiscal year, the government may ask Parliament to approve additional expenditures set out in Supplementary Estimates.

“Approve additional expenditures”, Mr. Speaker, and we have heard numerous references to the word “new”. Last week the government proposed a new definition of the word “marriage” and I think we may be trying to find another definition of the word “new” if this is not new money that is going to be allocated by Parliament.

The Auditor General pointed out last year that with the gun registry this government has obfuscated in every way it can by using the supplementary estimates rather than the main estimates to fund the gun registry. Now we find that it is disallowing its own words in the supplementary estimates.

Mr. Speaker, you have to stand up and defend this House and rule that the minister has--

The Speaker: I appreciate the advice of the hon. member.

It is getting a little repetitious, I think, on the issue before the House. The government House leader in his submission has indicated that he was prepared to examine this matter further and get back to the House with more detail should the Speaker consider it necessary. The Speaker does consider it necessary in the circumstances.

I would appreciate hearing further from the government House leader to clarify what I can only regard as confusing words in the supplementary estimates, which have given rise to some confusion in the House. I look forward to hearing from him further at which time the Chair will give a ruling on this matter.