Employment and Social Development—Lapsed Funding for Programs

Hon. Jim Munson: My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As leader, you are aware that the CBC, through Access to Information, has reported a shortfall of $97.1 million to 16 programs with Employment and Social Development Canada. As you know, this money has not been spent as promised and is back in the pockets of the government. This is the largest lapse since 2008.

Youth Employment and Literacy and Essential Skills both had shortfalls in spending at time when Canadians are looking for full-time work and youth are waiting to enter the job market. The most disturbing for me is the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, which failed to receive one quarter of its $38.8 million budget. It is upsetting, Mr. Leader, because I constantly hear from Canadian families who live with disabilities basically begging for more help, more resources and better opportunities. They need this funding.

Mr. Leader, can you explain why this funding was returned to the government’s bank account instead of helping Canadians with disabilities? Why wasn’t this money spent on people with disabilities who so desperately need it?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): As you know, our government is in the habit of spending available funds wisely. Your criticism pertains to a program where there was money left over from what was budgeted. However, we have to remember that that money is taxpayers’ money. When the government decides to allocate money to projects that help Canadians, that money may not all be spent in the same year, so it goes back into the fund. It is entirely appropriate to proceed in that way rather than create useless expenses and bureaucracy, which is what a certain Liberal government was in the habit of doing.

[English]

Senator Munson: Oh, my! We’re talking about today. We’re not talking about the past. This money was promised and should have been spent during this period. It is the biggest lapse in seven or eight years. These folks were expecting this money.

I know you can’t answer today, but I want to know exactly which programs have been delayed. I would like to know the criteria to participate in these programs and the exact number of approved and denied applications for these under the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities. If you can’t answer that today, could you answer soon?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Senator, as you know, budgets and funds allocated to a program have to be used for that program. When funds are not used, it is to be expected — and it is appropriate — that they return to the consolidated revenue fund. That is what we do every year, and I believe it is a good practice.

I know that you don’t like talking about the past, which probably dredges up bad memories. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember bad practices of the past in case you should decide to try them again.

[English]

Senator Munson: Mr. Leader, the rate of youth unemployment is more than double that of adult unemployment; and 50 per cent of persons with a disability are unemployed. You said something about wasting money moments ago — why spend money on different programs? You also said that it is a natural thing for money to go back into the government bank. I don’t think it is a natural thing. Your government made important funding commitments in the recent budget for employment programs targeted at persons with disabilities. I want to praise you for that. That’s a good thing. But failing to follow through on those pledges is not acceptable. Employing persons with disabilities, as you would know, or should know, builds a stronger economy. We’re talking about an investment in people, Mr. Leader. Wouldn’t you agree?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Honourable senators, our government is in the habit of spending money wisely. As far as young people are concerned, we have paid out over $500,000 in apprenticeship loans and grants to young Canadians.

I sincerely believe that you should support our Economic Action Plan, which will improve trade and training and reduce taxes. With this plan, we will create jobs and lower taxes instead of creating them — the Trudeau tax — and returning to deficit spending, then cutting services to the public in order to make up the projected $2 billion shortfall of the first Trudeau era.

[English]

Senator Munson: I have a further supplementary, honourable senators.

You have to watch the fine print these days; you talk about spending money wisely and then there’s spending money in a partisan way. When we tried to watch the hockey game last night something got in the way because there was, as you mentioned, this action plan and these happy Canadians running around and doing all these wonderful, happy Canadian things. You say this is not partisan politics, two or three months before the election, but you’re spending taxpayers’ money on that kind of advertising. Then, at the very bottom of the screen, when you’re really anxious to get back to the hockey game, which is really relevant, are the words “pending parliamentary approval.”

Is that being honest with the Canadian people?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: I imagine that you watched the hockey game on CBC, since it is free. I watched the game, too, and I must admit that I was rather disappointed with the outcome. I did not set my recorder to filter the ads, senator. I think it is important to inform Canadians about the programs that are available to them — especially those that help reduce taxes — so that they can take advantage of all the services and tax benefits they are entitled to and keep more money in their pockets. It is their money.