Evidence of meeting #38 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was port.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Claude Benoit  President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.
  • Gerry Weiner  Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

You told us you have full confidence in the CEO, she has an impeccable record and a very extensive network that she operates within, and she does a very good job for your corporation. You've also said that you would probably have some questions about approving the trip that was approved prior to your coming on as chair of the board. You've also told us that in 2009-10 some strict guidelines were put in place for travel over 1,000 kilometres.

I realize the position is difficult, but on something like the trip Madame Benoît took, how do you separate the business and pleasure sides of it?

12:40 p.m.

Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Gerry Weiner

Mr. Chair, when I was appointed to be a member of this board, I considered it with a great deal of excitement, because it was a chance, in an important chapter in my life, to help understand and help in the development of a jewel in Montreal.

I've watched over the last three years how we've improved the brand. We've had new ideas and creativity and new blockbuster exhibitions that have brought hundreds of thousands of people who never were aware before. These exhibitions are now travelling Canada, and even the world, bringing additional revenue back to us. I've watched just a whole host of activity that's increased the usage of the grounds and has made it more important.

Another idea is that we make it even more important by making it an even more important destination as the playground of Montreal.

All of that took place under the watchful eye of Madame Benoît. Before my appointment as a member of the board, I had never met Madame Benoît. So I come to this quite open.

I work with four other professional board members. They are very highly qualified, very experienced people. I'm honoured to be with them. They dedicate themselves, day to day, trying to do the best for the people of Montreal, Quebec, and Canada.

You walk a fine line. I accepted this mandate because I thought I could be of benefit. I travel the world. I get a broader understanding of what people look for when they come to Canada, because my regular daytime job is inviting people to come to Canada. I can tell you that the quality of life, the security of the port, and the excitement we've created all add enormously to the economy and to the feeling about Montreal, Quebec, and Canada. I have to give her some of that credit. It was under her watch.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Weiner, I'm not casting any aspersions on the job any of you have done as far as bringing attention and progress to the Port of Montreal, because by all reports you have turned things around, and things are progressing well. It is a gem. We've heard that from our members who are from Quebec as well.

How do you separate going to find these things you're going to use in the Port of Montreal—the programming and the facilities you're going to bring there—from a pleasure trip? Can you? Is it all business? Is there a differentiation?

12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

That was your last question. I will give Mr. Weiner a chance to respond.

12:40 p.m.

Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Gerry Weiner

Mr. Chairman, I'm very tight with any of my expenditures, as my wife and family will tell you. Every line of the budget brought forward is observed very carefully. When we've had to deliver cuts, both in structure and administrative costs, we've been prepared to do it. We've managed and helped supervise that it be done very effectively.

The specifics of any trip have to be examined for the benefits. There's a 100-page report, which I have not read, to be honest. But I've watched the results of some of the activities now taking place. There's a worldwide interface. You're a member of an association. You meet people who bring other activity. Madame Benoît has quite an international reputation. She has connections that are invariably impossible to even gauge. You sit here in the year 2012 and you have a product that is exciting.

I even believe that from this crisis there will be new opportunity, because far more people know that the Old Port has this very exciting program than ever did before. I want to welcome everybody to see the Star Wars exhibition this summer and some of the movies in the IMAX theatre. Come and walk with me on those parkways.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Thank you, but your time is up.

It is now over to Mr. Angus.

May 10th, 2012 / 12:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Weiner, for coming. I guess at the beginning, just to be very clear here, there's never been a question about Madame Benoît's ability to do her job. And nobody has ever suggested that they don't like Star Wars.

The question here is your sense of outrage over being brought here for questions about how spending decisions are being made. That's why we're here. That's what this issue is about.

We have an Auditor General investigation. We see numerous media reports about lack of controls, lack of planning, lack of oversight, and the fact that we had a guy who wasn't even qualified signing off on all your financial reports. It raises questions.

When I see trips to Mont Tremblant and I see fancy duck lunches, that's going to raise red flags.

I want to ask you this specifically. The CEO decides to go on a one-month vacation to the South Seas. She goes to whom and says she's going on a trip and how do we carve up the receipts?

Don't tell me that it was decided by everybody that we really needed her to go to the South Seas and that we had to get her on that cruise. She decided to go on the trip. More power to her if she wants to go on a trip. But it happened on the Old Port of Montreal's watch, and people signed off on it, because she was part of the club.

How does that happen? And how are you to come here and say that you're outraged over being questioned? Because I'll tell you, the taxpayers back home are pretty outraged that they see this kind of little old boys' club.

12:45 p.m.

Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Gerry Weiner

Monsieur le président, Mr. Chair, I am not outraged at being here. I'm thrilled to be here. I have nothing but the warmest of feelings to be able to come before colleagues and former colleagues. My outrage is at the insinuations and partial truths in some newspaper articles. I learned self-examination before cross-examination a long time ago. Let's continue the presumption of innocence, and I take it that there's been a response.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

We're asking about the decision. How was the decision made to get a 30-day trip to the South Seas and decide to carve 10 days of it off and stick it with the taxpayers? Who made that decision, besides herself? Who signed off?

12:45 p.m.

Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Gerry Weiner

Mr. Chair, at that time, the président du conseil discussed it with Madame Benoit, who decided that the trip should be done. The result is that she did 10 or 12 days of work and had some vacation the rest of the time, which she's accounted for in a 100-page report.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

But you haven't read the report.

12:45 p.m.

Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Gerry Weiner

I established a guideline—

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

You haven't read the report, right?

12:45 p.m.

Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Gerry Weiner

I've not seen the report.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

You're chair of the board. We heard a nine-page PowerPoint and you say there's a 100-page report, which you haven't read, but you assume it's going to be good. I guess it's this question of assumptions—the assumption that the chief guy signing off on your finances is qualified when he's not; it's assumed that she's doing this work; it's assumed that it's a good report, but you haven't even read it. This is the question. I want to focus on why we have this lack of sense of control at the Port of Montreal.

Mr. Weiner, when you were chosen, your predecessor, Bernard Roy, denounced your appointment because he said it was strictly a political appointment, that independent appointments at the board were a fiction. So how are we to trust that you're going to clean up this place?