POSTED AT 4:41 PM EDT Tuesday, December 3
Auditor cites gun registry as 'inexcusable failure'
By DARREN YOURK
Globe and Mail Update
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser took aim at the Liberal's billion-dollar federal gun registry Tuesday, citing it as a glaring example of the government's "inexcusable failure" to account for how it spends Canadians' tax dollars.
Ms. Fraser, in her report tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons, singled out the lack of information provided to Parliament about the Canadian Firearms Program as an example of how miscommunication undermines Parliament's ability performance.
"The issue here is not gun control. And it's not even astronomical cost overruns, although those are serious," says Ms. Fraser. "What's really inexcusable is that Parliament was in the dark."
Instead of the $85-million cost originally determined by then-justice minister Allan Rock in 1995 for full implementation, the price tag on the registry is now expected to reach $1-billion by 2004.
The Auditor-General's report says Parliament had no opportunity to scrutinize the program's cost because the department's performance report made no mention of increased costs, and the additional spending was approved largely through supplementary estimates rather than through main appropriations.
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon faced the brunt of attacks during Question Period Tuesday as MPs from all four opposition parties jumped on the gun registry blunder.
Mr. Cauchon was quick to say that he "totally accepts the recommendations," and to admit that his department "can do better" but Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark said that was not good enough.
"The Minister can't simply say 'I'm sorry'," Mr. Clark said, demanding to know who authorized the "deliberate withholding of information from Parliament" of the fact that the registry cost the government an additional $700-million above what Ottawa estimated.
Mr. Cauchon said that he accepted the fact that Ms. Fraser disagreed with his department's reporting method but said he did not hide the estimates.
"It doesnt mean that the numbers weren't reported. They were reported through Justice Canada through the main estimates or supplementary estimates."
Mr. Cauchon defended the registrys costs, saying that it was a complex program.
He said costs had to be adjusted following the consultation process. Some provinces have opted out of the gun registry, he said, adding costs, and new technology also increased the overhead.
Mr. Cauchon defended the program itself, saying that while it was more costly than the government anticipated, it has saved lives by reducing the number of firearms available on the black market due to break-ins, reducing the use of guns and reducing heat-of-the-moment use.
After Question Period Mr. Cauchon said the Justice Department has already launched an external audit into the gun registry to satisfy some of the Auditor-Generals concerns.
When asked whether he would listen to Mr. Clarks suggestion that "heads should roll" in Justice Canada, Mr. Cauchon replied that "if you look at the report, theres no wrongdoing."