Question to Senator Peter Harder, Government Representative in the Senate, on the government’s intention to create a department to spend millions of taxpayer dollars without scrutiny or accountability.
Hon. Larry W. Smith (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, my question today is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Canadian media reported recently that the Prime Minister said the following: “We will take note of the recommendations they make, but on the issues of the budget, it’s a well-established fact the Senate defers on money bills, on budget bills particularly, to the legitimacy of the House of Commons. The work of the upper chamber consists in correcting bills that have shortcomings, which is done fairly frequently under the current government.”
The Prime Minister has a short memory. The government’s consumer protection framework was pulled out of the last budget this past December because the government failed to do its homework. Budget bill or not, as parliamentarians we are here to stand up for the individual rights of taxpayers and demand transparency and accountability.
Since we have the right to correct legislation, Division 20 of Bill C-44, which enacts the “Invest in Canada Act,” authorizes the spending of millions of dollars of taxpayer money yet wants to be able to spend it without the scrutiny of the Auditor General, the Treasury Board or even journalists through access to information.
Senator Harder, why has the government created a department that would operate in secrecy?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. Clearly, this is a matter that has been and will be again before this chamber. It is the view of the government that the proposed infrastructure bank has exactly the right governance structure to it, and it is one on which we will have further debate and I’m sure appropriate division.
Senator Smith: Sir, why would the government create a new government bureaucracy with a clause that removes it from public scrutiny by making it exempt from access to information? Why would with the same bureaucracy be exempt from the Financial Administration Act and the public service employment standards?
Senator Harder: As the minister made clear before our committee, and indeed in the other place, it is the view of the Government of Canada that this is entirely the appropriate machinery of government to be attached to this endeavour.