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 projects.

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

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I'll now call to order this 33rd meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

Colleagues, we have one or two small matters of business to deal with. Given what's in front of us, if we wrap up our discussions with our witnesses 15 minutes early and do some committee business, would anybody have a problem with that?

Gerry.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Could you state what our committee business is, Mr. Chair?

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

The schedule.

Is there anybody else?

Okay, no problems. So we'll wrap this up 15 minutes early and then go into a business session.

With that, if there are no further interventions we'll move forward and welcome all of our guests today. There is quite an array. Welcome, all.

Ronnie, I'll ask you to start with your delegation from the AG's office. Then, whoever is most senior, if you'd take responsibility for introducing your colleagues that would be much appreciated.

Mr. Campbell.

8:50 a.m.

Ronnie Campbell Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm accompanied today by John Affleck, the principal on this audit.

March 13th, 2012 / 8:50 a.m.

David Enns Deputy Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat

David Enns, from Treasury Board Secretariat. I am here with A.J. Preece.

8:50 a.m.

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

Rick Stewart, from Privy Council Office.

8:50 a.m.

Taki Sarantakis Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Taki Sarantakis, Infrastructure Canada.

8:50 a.m.

Natasha Rascanin Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Operations Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Natasha Rascanin, Infrastructure Canada.

8:50 a.m.

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

Rob Dunlop, from Industry Canada, along with Shane Williamson, who is executive director of KIP.

8:50 a.m.

Douglas Nevison General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance

Doug Nevison, from the Department of Finance.

8:50 a.m.

Elisha Ram Director, Microeconomic Policy Analysis, Department of Finance

Elisha Ram, also from the Department of Finance.

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

All right. With that, we will begin.

Mr. Campbell, we'll begin with your opening remarks, sir.

8:50 a.m.

Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Ronnie Campbell

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to discuss chapter 1 of our report on Canada's economic action plan. I am accompanied today by John Affleck, the principal on this audit.

As you are aware, the economic action plan was launched in January 2009 in response to the global economic downturn. The plan was intended to stimulate the economy through measures that injected $47 billion in federal spending of public dollars into sectors of the economy and regions of the country in need. This is the second audit of the economic action plan carried out by our office.

Both audits examined programs largely related to infrastructure. In the first audit, tabled in October 2010, we found that the projects we tested met the eligibility criteria established by the terms and conditions of the different programs included in our audit. We also found that government departments and agencies expedited the implementation of economic action plan programs.

To speed up project approval, this department has relied on the attestations of organizations and provinces that projects were construction-ready.

At the time of our first audit we observed that some projects were not construction-ready, despite the attestations, and raised the concern that completion deadlines would not be met.

In the second audit we audited three programs that had been part of the first audit: the infrastructure stimulus fund, knowledge infrastructure program, and community adjustment fund. Together they provided stimulus funding totalling $7 billion.

We examined whether selected federal departments and agencies had monitored progress and federal spending, including whether projects were being completed as intended, had taken corrective action where necessary, and had reported monitoring information to Parliament through departmental performance reports.

We found that the federal entities monitored the progress and spending of projects, permitting them to take corrective action in a number of cases. And, despite deadline extensions, the three programs in our audit largely achieved the economic action plan objective to spend federal resources within the two-year time frame.

Departmental data we examined showed that some stimulus projects were progressing slower than expected and were at risk of missing the March 31, 2011 deadline. At the same time, the government was being pressured by municipalities, among others, to allow more time for projects to be completed.

Accordingly, the government reconsidered the deadline for selected economic action plan programs, and it announced the extension of the funding deadline to October 31, 2011 for four infrastructure programs. We found that extensions were supported by an analysis done by the Privy Council Office and the Department of Finance Canada.

Mr. Chair, many projects in both the infrastructure stimulus fund and the knowledge infrastructure program were extended. At the time of our audit, final claims and close-out reports had not yet been submitted. We believe that enough time has passed now for both Infrastructure Canada and Industry Canada to know the total federal spending and final results for these projects.

In the second audit we found that the presentation of the economic action plan performance information in departmental performance reports was fragmented. This made it difficult for parliamentarians and Canadians to obtain an overall picture of results achieved against performance expectations and public resources spent.

Mr. Chair, the significance of $47 billion in federal spending calls for transparent reporting to Parliament on overall stimulus effects. We recommended in our first audit that central agencies prepare a summary report to Parliament at the conclusion of the economic action plan that includes a detailed account of its impact on the economy. The Privy Council Office and the Department of Finance agreed.

Your committee may want to ask the Privy Council Office and the Department of Finance to elaborate on the plan and timeframe for reporting to Parliament on the delivery and economic impact of the economic action plan.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We'll be pleased to answer any questions your committee may have.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

That's very good. Thank you, Mr. Campbell.

I don't have a copy of an opening comment from anybody else. I'm assuming somebody has a response to the Auditor General's report.

8:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Taki Sarantakis

In order to leave more time for your questions, we decided not to do opening remarks. We thought the Auditor General's opening remarks covered the scope of the audit.