Evidence of meeting #33 for Public Accounts in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was economic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Ronnie Campbell  Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
  • David Enns  Deputy Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat
  • Rick Stewart  Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Liaison Secretariat for Macroeconomic Policy, Privy Council Office
  • Taki Sarantakis  Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada
  • Natasha Rascanin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Operations Branch, Infrastructure Canada
  • Robert Dunlop  Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Innovation Sector, Department of Industry
  • Douglas Nevison  General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Elisha Ram  Director, Microeconomic Policy Analysis, Department of Finance
  • John Affleck  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
  • Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Joann Garbig

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Okay. It has been the practice, though, even if that's all you said to provide some opening remarks so we have a balanced starting point. We're very straightforward folks; we like things nice and simple and straight.

In the future--and please pass this on to your colleagues--there is an expectation of at least some cursory remarks; usually it's in depth, but if not, at the very least, we'd appreciate some kind of presentation. We'll let it go this time, but I don't think it's right that we have all these folks and there's not one comment from the government side of things.

All right, that being the way it is, we will begin a rotation. Unless there's an intervention, we will begin with Mr. Saxton.

You have the floor, sir.

March 13th, 2012 / 8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks to all our witnesses for being here this morning.

Canada's economic action plan was an enormous undertaking, as was mentioned, $47 billion worth of projects, over 20,000 projects, some have said as many as 26,000 projects across the country. It was unprecedented in size and scope, at least in peacetime Canada, and thousands of jobs were created in the process as well as thousands of projects, which will benefit Canadians for generations to come.

My first question is to the Treasury Board. Can you explain how Treasury Board prepared for this enormous undertaking, especially when it came to approvals of funding for these projects?

8:55 a.m.

Deputy Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat

David Enns

Thank you.

Treasury Board, in consultation with our central agency colleagues, investigated the possibility of seeking both policy and Treasury Board approvals roughly at the same time to expedite the approval process.

We took a risk-based approach and speeded up our approvals process, working with the departments as they prepared the submissions.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

How did you feel about the planning? Was it sufficient to accomplish what you needed to accomplish?

8:55 a.m.

Deputy Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat

David Enns

We were happy with the results. Again, it was confirmed in the audit of the Auditor General that the appropriate measures had been taken. While it was onerous for the people working in the central agencies to do that, we felt it was successful.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

My next question is for Infrastructure Canada. How did your department prepare for the delivery of all of these significant projects?

8:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Taki Sarantakis

As our colleague from Treasury Board noted, first and foremost there was an expedited approval process, so the memorandum to cabinet and the Treasury Board submission were done very rapidly. I think that was in large part due to the tremendous cooperation we had from our colleagues at the Department of Finance, who very much worked with us in a collaborative way so that when the budget was presented in January 2009 we had a very good idea of what was going to be in the budget, and we could produce our materials very quickly. That was the bulk of our preparation.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

The knowledge infrastructure program has received a lot of very positive attention. I can say that for my riding in North Vancouver the new film centre at Capilano University is a significant addition to the community. Not only did it create a significant number of jobs during the construction phase, but it is also poised to become one of the premier places to study film in Canada. We expect that the next James Camerons of this world will hopefully come from North Vancouver as a result of this project.

The knowledge infrastructure program was such a huge success. Can you explain to us how you prepared for that program.

8:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Innovation Sector, Department of Industry

Robert Dunlop

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We had our unique challenges at Industry Canada, in that we had never run an infrastructure program before, so we had some basic set-up to do that others didn't. We got tremendous support from Infrastructure Canada, which took us through some of the unique requirements of running an infrastructure program. As the Auditor General noted, we also reached outside and hired expertise in monitoring construction activities and that kind of thing, which we didn't have internally. We also depended on our regional staff to follow individual projects and report back, as well as the engineering company that we had engaged.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

How did you monitor those projects as they were being constructed?

9 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Innovation Sector, Department of Industry

Robert Dunlop

In the case of KIP, the knowledge infrastructure program, where we had partnerships with the provinces and territories, we depended on their reports, which we had monitored by the outside expertise in engineering as well, so we received reports from both.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

My next question is for Privy Council and finance department officials. The government decided to extend the deadline for applications for some of the programs. Can you comment on the type of analysis that went into making that decision?

9 a.m.

Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Liaison Secretariat for Macroeconomic Policy, Privy Council Office

Rick Stewart

Thank you for the question.

As you can appreciate, the Privy Council Office has a coordination role in working with departments and also plays an advisory role, both to the Prime Minister and in support of cabinet decision-making.

In the context of the economic action plan implementation, we had a regular process of receiving updated information from the project delivery departments, or those departments responsible for delivering the programs, and we had, working with our finance department colleagues, a process of regular monitoring of the progress in those projects, with a view to being able to assess the progress being achieved and to assess the completion prospects, if I can put it that way, and assess the likelihood of projects being able to be completed by the deadline. So it was on the basis of very detailed information that was provided by the program managing departments that we assessed that progress and provided an assessment to the government of the progress being achieved, and an assessment of prospects around potential deadline extensions.

9 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you. Your time has expired.

Moving now to monsieur Dubé, you have the floor, sir.

9 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the witnesses appearing this morning.

Program administration has an accounting aspect and a performance evaluation aspect. The auditor's report indicated that, with respect to the economic action plan, the design of this program did not allow for proper assessment of the main objective, which was job creation.

Given the importance of this objective in the recession, could you tell us more about the problems encountered and indicate why no measures were in place? What was missing in the design of the program?