Public Accounts Committee on Nov. 2nd, 2011
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
The Chair David Christopherson
I call this 12th meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts to order. I would ask our friends in the media, with the cameras, to conclude their filming.
I have given permission for a couple of still cameras to remain for a minute or two because of the kind of shot wanted. Apparently that's not unusual. They assure me they will be just a moment or two.
Before we go to our guests, I will tell you that the steering committee met today, and it's agreed so far, subject to the approval of the committee, that at 5:15 we will conclude this hearing. If everything goes the way it should, we should have come very close to exhausting the speakers list. But it's accepted and recommended by the steering committee unanimously that, regardless of where we are in the rotation, at 5:15 we will conclude and move to an order of the day, which will be to deal with Mr. Saxton's notice of motion.
There's a further commitment—I want to put all the cards on the table—that we will conclude a vote on the matter of Mr. Saxton's motion before we rise.
That's our goal between now and....
I'm looking for a nodding of heads from the steering committee that this is what we agreed to.
Now I ask the general committee, do you support the recommendation of the steering committee?
Some hon. members
The Chair David Christopherson
Hearing no opposition, that is carried and so ordered.
So at 5:15 we have an order of the day to move to Mr. Saxton's motion.
With that, I'll go to the main business of the day.
First of all, welcome, Minister Baird and Minister Clement. Welcome to our committee. We are pleased to have you here.
We will be proceeding in our usual fashion, which is, first, to offer both of you an opportunity for opening remarks. Following that, we will move into rotation in our usual fashion, and people will have their five minutes.
You have the floor now, if you wish to make an opening remark.
Minister Clement, do you wish to go first?
Tony Clement President of the Treasury Board
Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. I will indeed.
The Chair David Christopherson
Tony Clement Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON
Let me thank you, of course, and through you thank the members of this committee.
It is indeed a pleasure to be here today, and in particular to address the events and decisions surrounding the 2010 G-8 summit and my role therein.
With the indulgence of the members, I'd like to rewind the clock a little bit and take us all back to just over three years ago, to June 2008. At that time the Government of Canada proudly announced that a world-class leadership event would be held in Canada in the Muskoka region.
An enormous amount of work went into preparing for that event. Many departments took part and the planning was done jointly by the federal, provincial and municipal governments. International authorities were also involved.
Ultimately, preparations for the 2010 G-8 summit involved a two-year process. The outcome was an event that has been praised internationally as a model for how future summits can engage with local communities. It was a summit that produced, amongst other things, the internationally acclaimed Muskoka initiative on maternal and newborn health, as well as an opportunity to showcase to the world our country's economic strength and unparalleled natural beauty.
There was, of course, a strong interest on the part of local mayors, municipal officials, businesses, artists, students, and other citizens to find a way to play a coordinated role in this important event. This led to the founding of what was then known as the local area leadership group, which held its first meeting on September 12, 2008.
Now, this group was set up primarily as a way of providing community leaders and others an opportunity to be briefed by government officials on developments that would affect the community throughout the G-8 planning process.
This leadership group also enabled the community leaders to dialogue and exchange ideas about the best ways to meet their community's needs during this incredibly important event.
I want to stress this, though: this was not, however, a decision-making body, and never behaved in that capacity.
Every municipality in the region was represented at the table, and every one of those meetings was followed by a press conference with local media as a way of engaging the public on progress being made on summit planning.
Now, several months after the first local meeting, on February 6, 2009, I announced on behalf of the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure the creation of the G-8 infrastructure fund, which had been funded in the January 27 budget of that year.
Local mayors and officials were of course keen to take part in the G-8 infrastructure program. They began drafting proposals for a wide variety of projects. In all, municipalities in the region came up with 242 different ideas for G-8 projects.
Now, since there were far too many project ideas for available funds, and since some of the ideas clearly fell outside federal jurisdiction, I then proposed to the mayors a simple, straightforward process through which they could focus on the project proposals that really mattered to them and the region. I suggested that they, amongst themselves and with their councils, identify their top priorities and, based on their own judgment, weed out those proposals they considered to be of low need or outside federal jurisdiction.
Since other mayors didn't want to submit proposals via the Huntsville mayor, I offered my constituency office in Huntsville as a depository where proposals could be dropped off and from there forwarded to federal officials.
These suggestions received a positive reception by the mayors and community leaders, and they worked cooperatively to identify their top priorities. Essentially, each mayor reviewed the proposals for his or her area and brought forward only those they considered a priority.
Most of these focused on improvements to enhance tourism, something the mayors felt was important given the international attention that, through the G-8 summit, would provide millions upon millions of dollars' worth of free publicity and resulting economic encouragement to the region.
Ultimately 33 projects were sent to Infrastructure Canada for review. Infrastructure Canada officials, operating independently, engaged their due diligence process on the 33 proposals put forward, and advised the Minister of Infrastructure which projects were eligible for funding.
In the end, a total of 32 G-8 legacy projects were approved. A public announcement for each funded project was held with media and the general public present.
As the members of this committee know, in order to maximize accountability to taxpayers, our government consulted the Auditor General at the time and proactively asked her to look not only at the expenses of the G8 summit, but also at those of the G20 summit.
The Auditor General fully investigated the G-8 fund and confirmed that every penny spent is accounted for, and has also clearly stated that there is no reason for any further audit of the fund.
In fact, just recently, the interim Auditor General, while testifying before this parliamentary committee, reaffirmed this position.
In her report however, the then Auditor General did make recommendations to improve the administrative processes. This includes the process I outlined just a couple of minutes ago, in which I asked local municipal officials to prioritize their own project submissions.
I can assure you that I have taken the Auditor General's recommendations with regard to the administration of the intake process very seriously, and I certainly accept her conclusions.
In hindsight, it may have been better for infrastructure officials to review all 242 initial proposals and not simply encourage the local mayors to collaborate and focus their requests in the interests of efficiency and time. It is worth reiterating, however, that every penny of the G-8 infrastructure fund was accounted for. The Auditor General's report is clear on this.
I have spoken at length about these issues in public already, including at the House of Commons government operations committee on June 20. In fact, members, since January 1, 2010, a total of 53 witnesses have appeared before two House of Commons standing committees on the G-8 legacy fund and the G-20 leaders summits. In all, House committees have spent 39 hours hearing testimony and discussing this topic. Today's meeting will bring this total to 41 hours.
Today I am hopeful that with me, with of course my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and with the gathered federal officials here at the table we can finally put an end to the assertions contending that the review process undertaken was in any way unethical, and members can then move on to their reviews of other government operations pertaining to the rest of a large $280-billion federal budget.
I thank you.
The Chair David Christopherson
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
I wouldn't miss it.
John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
He said he wouldn't miss it, for the record.
He wishes Deepak was here; don't we all. Deepak is representing the Government of Canada at a very important meeting abroad.
The G-8 legacy fund helped an already beautiful part of Canada put its best face forward to the world. There were going to be literally 4,000 members of the media beaming pictures of this summit and the Muskoka region to every corner of the globe in blanket coverage. There were also thousands of delegates, thousands of diplomats, who would share their own impressions by word of mouth. Some stayed up to 100 kilometres away from the summit site. This was a huge opportunity. This was a huge undertaking.
Large international summits like this generally require significant infrastructure investments. Our government in February 2009 announced this fund to Canadians. Up to $50 million was available.
Ultimately, my office and departmental officials presented me with a list of public infrastructure projects that I approved. These 32 projects met the criteria of the program. These included the effective and secure hosting of the G-8, beautification of the region, and a lasting legacy for local communities.
As minister, I presented estimates to Parliament, and I am accountable for those estimates. When I arrived at the department, I was hearing concern from all sides that federal infrastructure approvals were taking far too long. They were mired in red tape. My mission was to get things moving, and, with this fund, time was of the essence.
The Building Canada fund was a seven-year program. Stimulus programs ran for two. With G-8 projects, though, we had approximately 15 months from start to finish.
Officials recommended, and I as minister accepted that advice, that we use an existing fund rather than create an entirely new one so that we could move quickly. The border infrastructure fund was topped up.
I am pleased to say that the 32 projects were delivered on time and millions under budget.
I would like to underline one point. I said the border infrastructure fund was an existing fund that was topped up. In other words, money that was designed for border infrastructure was not diverted from improvements to border security or mobility. It was merely a delivery mechanism.
The projects came in under budget, every penny was accounted for, and each of the projects continues to serve the public as it was intended. I'm told that this has been done in terms of parliamentary appropriations for more than 100 years.
I would also reiterate, Mr. Chair, the buck stops with me. The projects presented to me met all of the eligibility criteria for the program. I made the decisions, I am responsible, and I am accountable.
Let me also say that public servants at Infrastructure Canada did an absolutely outstanding job when the Canadian economy needed the federal government the most. They applied professional oversight and expertise to the thousands of project applications to help create jobs, hope, and opportunity at a time of global recession.
If our government had not acted to create more than 23,000 stimulus projects across the country, the great global recession may well have had great depression effects.
The Auditor General in her report made a number of observations about ways to be more open and more accountable to Canadians. I fully accept those comments, and the government agrees.
In hindsight, the estimates could have included a line regarding the top-up of this fund. I stand by my decisions, which were informed by the best possible advice. I was and remain accountable.
I'm open to providing responses to questions over the areas with which I was responsible.
The Chair David Christopherson
Very good. Thank you, Minister.
Before we begin, there's been an oversight on my part. I would ask Mr. Dicerni and the other guests to please introduce themselves.
Richard Dicerni Deputy Minister, Department of Industry
My name is Richard Dicerni. I'm Deputy Minister in the Department of Industry.
Michelle d'Auray Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat
I'm Michelle d'Auray, the secretary of the Treasury Board.
Yaprak Baltacioglu Deputy Minister, Department of Transport
I'm Yaprak Baltacioglu, infrastructure and transport Deputy Minister.
November 2nd, 2011 / 3:45 p.m.
John Forster Associate Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Canada, Department of Transport
I'm John Forster, Associate Deputy Minister, infrastructure.