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.

12:20 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

Madame Benoit has been there since 2004, I believe. I think it has been 12 years.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

She said it was 2002.

12:20 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

I'm sorry.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Regarding the trip in question, to Australia, were you in your position when that trip was taken?

12:20 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

I was not, sir.

Mr. Chair, I was not.

May 10th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Okay, thank you very much.

So for what we're discussing—and, by the way, I do think it speaks to judgment. I appreciate that you think your board has absolute confidence in Madame Benoit. I don't know her that well. I only just met her today, but she hired an accountant who didn't have a licence who was signing off on audited financial reports on your behalf. I see a lot of expenses that are certainly questionable. They are certainly questionable.

The question isn't whether or not they were reported. The question isn't whether or not they appeared in the audited statements. The question is whether or not they're appropriate, especially given a time of fiscal restraint. When Canadians see expenses for meetings at Mont Tremblant when there are boardrooms at the Old Port of Montreal, and when they see a taxpayer-sponsored trip to Australia, when frankly, most of the information.... I'll be very shocked when I receive these reports if there is a piece of information in them that I couldn't get from Google sitting in the chair I'm in right now. I'll be shocked.

The question is, are they appropriate? I would like your opinion as to whether or not a taxpayer-funded trip to Australia for information that you could get off Google, since there was no official meeting set up—and she said she set up no official meetings. She went on a cruise ship and went to see museums. I've gone on a cruise ship and gone to see museums. I paid for it, and I was happy to do so.

I'd like to know whether you think those expenditures are appropriate. Is it appropriate that the Canadian taxpayer is paying for that?

12:20 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

Mr. Chairman, I'm a small, simple pharmacist in the town called Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec. When I first opened, nobody came in, so I understand the value of a dollar. I still try to manage people's money the same way I would if it were my own.

If you're asking me whether I would approve trips now, that's a question I can answer, because that's a relevant question. And if you examine even the meetings that took place at Mont Tremblant prior to my getting there.... The last one took place in the city, almost on the grounds. That was in 2010, I believe.

Let me address the Australian trip.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Weiner, if I could, I'd just like to say you may not have been here a while, but you're not rusty. You're not giving me the answer I'm looking for. It's pretty simple: yes or no. I respect very much your background and the fact that you've worked hard to get to where you are. I appreciate that, absolutely.

The only question is this: is it appropriate? You said you would answer the question. You said you could answer as to whether you would approve. Yes or no, would you approve this kind of trip? Do you see it as appropriate?

12:20 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

I have seen it as appropriate for what I determined was the result of the meeting, which was the development of the urban beach. There was a further understanding of how Star Wars can work as an international exhibition. And I think when you're looking at a riverfront activity that has been branded, you have to keep on improving the brand and going to places like Australia, getting first-hand knowledge. I wasn't privy to the quality of meetings or who the meetings were being held with, but to get an overview with the results of what might have taken place, I liked what I saw.

This doesn't mean that today, in view of the restraint, in view of all that I know, I would approve it. I would not.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Okay. I appreciate that. You have to understand, though, that when organizations and the media and so forth look into these things, what they're questioning is the appropriateness of those expenditures. When they come out and say, “We have to question these expenditures”, they're questioning the appropriateness. I'm not sure it's a hatchet job, and I'm not sure that you've demonstrated.... To be quite clear, I don't think this has been a model of efficiency.

You used the term “model”. I hope this isn't the model. I hope this isn't the model that you want to continue to see going forward, because you started out wondering if there was ever going to be a dollar coming into the pharmacy, and among everyday Canadians there are a lot of people like you. They're not eating duck confit at Mont Tremblant. They're not going on 10-day cruises and being able to bill a bunch of it off because they're going to see some museums and might tweet about it. They don't have these benefits, but they're paying the freight, and they don't see it as appropriate.

I hope you'll look at things through that lens in the future, sir.

12:25 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

As I said, in 2010 or 2009 we established very strict guidelines for travel over 1,000 kilometres. Other expenditures that are within the operational budget and operational expenses are reviewed very carefully before the budget is approved. We have an audit committee that goes over it line by line, and believe me, we've been clear in understanding the period of restraint from when it began and all the necessary cuts have been made. The structure has been thinned down, and we continue to examine all aspects of what we do to make sure it can't be delivered more efficiently.

Going back, at that time it did not require a formal authorization. Today it would. You know how I feel going forward.

12:25 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Del Mastro, your time is up.

Your turn, Mr. Coderre.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Weiner, I did not ask you to take an oath because you are an honourable man and I hope you are going to remain so when you answer these questions. As former ministers and members of the Privy Council, we understand each other.

12:25 p.m.

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

Gerry Weiner

Thank you very much.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

You may have been a pharmacist, but you are also a Conservative. Therefore, you are partisan. You have made financial contributions to campaigns, and there is nothing wrong with that. People do that. But you received a present in January 2009. You were appointed chairman of the Old Port of Montréal Corporation. One month previously, did you or did you not attend a cocktail buffet with your former assistant Léo Housakos?