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

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

All right. Well, we'll have to leave it at that.

Thank you, all.

Mr. Hayes, you have the floor, sir.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The knowledge infrastructure program was great for Sault Ste. Marie. We got a new wing for Sault College. The federal government normally isn't responsible for education; we got a new health services wing, and Algoma University got a Biosciences and Technology Convergence Centre. At both institutions, their registration is up at least 15%. I would suggest that the future impact in terms of job creation is there. The benefits of colleges and universities to a community are well known.

As well, my small community of Sault Ste. Marie, a northern Ontario community, was really happy to be eligible for the community adjustment fund. I can read the criteria for the community adjustment fund:

...support activities such as community transition plans that fostered economic development, science and technology initiatives, and other short-term measures promoting economic diversification. Funding targeted communities that had fewer than 250,000 residents, had suffered major layoffs, and lacked alternative employment opportunities or had experienced a year-over-year increase of 20 percent or more in Employment Insurance claimants.

The primary objective was to maintain existing jobs. What were some of the alternative objectives? We understand the primary objective, but there must have been other objectives within that fund.

I don't know who would best answer that question.

9:55 a.m.

Director, Microeconomic Policy Analysis, Department of Finance

Elisha Ram

Perhaps I can answer that question, or at least give you some perspectives on it.

As you mentioned, the broad objective for the community adjustment fund was to target smaller communities that were facing particular economic difficulties due to the economic recession. The intent was to have a program that could be delivered at the regional or the community level and have a lot of flexibility built into it so that communities could see that only the best-suited projects were supported.

There was no desire to create a program that would dictate to communities what they should be pursuing as their economic objectives. It was more intended to make sure that there was a reasonably flexible tool focused on those communities so that the project would be supported as one that the community themselves saw as worth pursuing in order to meet the economic objectives.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Would you state, then, by its very nature of the way it was established, that the objectives of job creation would naturally be met because these were initiatives that were community-driven? Would that be a fair statement?

9:55 a.m.

Director, Microeconomic Policy Analysis, Department of Finance

Elisha Ram

I think that is a fair statement. Clearly job creation was an objective, the primary objective; it's just that the program was designed to make sure that at the community level there would be a priority placed on the kind of project that would be most pertinent to that community in terms of job creation or job retention.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Now, these programs were administered through regional development agencies. My experience with regional development agencies is that their role is economic development resulting in job growth. I would think that they have the tools available naturally, through what they already do, and that it would be fairly easy, I would think, to actually measure the end result of job creation when that time comes.

Do you have any concerns that you won't be able to measure the job impact of the community adjustment fund?

9:55 a.m.

Director, Microeconomic Policy Analysis, Department of Finance

Elisha Ram

I think there clearly was an emphasis placed in the way that the overall Canadian economic action plan proceeded to be able to measure what the outcomes were in terms of job creation as well as broad economic impact.

To the extent that there is a difference with the community adjustment fund.... As you mentioned, it was delivered by the regional development agencies, compared to most of the other programs, which were delivered by a single department or agency. There is potentially more variety in how the regional entities go about their business. They understand the region in which they operate.

The sheer diversity of projects that were pursued for that program potentially made it more difficult to have standard measurements, in terms of whether a community action plan or a community economic transition plan would have an impact with the direct job creation relative to some of the other projects that were pursued for that initiative.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Campbell, you said the design would need to be changed to measure the job creation component. There is a part of me that looks at the fact that these are administered through development agencies and they're really not short term. Generally, when you look at economic development it is a sort of long-term thing.

I'm just wondering, even had the design allowed for it, wouldn't it be premature to analyze the job creation until these projects were actually under way for a certain length of time? I don't know if that's a fair statement.

10 a.m.

Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Ronnie Campbell

Mr. Chair, I'm going to ask Mr. Affleck if he could please answer that one.

March 13th, 2012 / 10 a.m.

John Affleck Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

The community adjustment fund, as you know, was set up temporarily, and the regional development agencies do this as part of their regular business. In terms of the contribution agreements that we examined, the reason we commented on them was because all of them had performance indicators in there related to the number of jobs created or maintained.

The issue that we found was a lack of standardization. The regional development agencies collected this information in a variety of ways, and in one case stopped collecting it altogether. So at the end of the day it made it very difficult to roll it up.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Okay. That's it, Mr. Hayes. Sorry. In fact we're quite a bit over, actually a minute and a half, for the record. But that's all right; it was interesting questioning.

Madame Blanchette-Lamothe, you have the floor.

10 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am going to go with the same questions Mr. Hayes just asked.

Mr. Nevison, you spoke about how the data was collected with respect to the job creation objective. You were rather positive with regard to the data collection.

I would like to know if, like the OAG, you are of the opinion that we cannot rely on the job data because different means were used to collect it.

10 a.m.

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

Douglas Nevison

Thank you.

We agree that because of the diverse projects and proponents, it's very challenging to get consistent project-level data across that board. As I mentioned, even if you were able to get that completely consistent across 20,000-something projects, there still is a missing element in terms of job impact. That was the reason.

We weren't saying that the bottom-up job state isn't helpful; that obviously is important. But in terms of assessing the overall impact of the economic action plan on the economy and jobs, we believe the model-based approach we used was the appropriate way to go. As I mentioned, that has been validated by other private sector economists in other countries.

10 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I am sorry, but that is not clear. Do you believe, yes or no, that we cannot rely on the date to determine if the job creation objective was met?

10 a.m.

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

Douglas Nevison

As I said, even if it was consistent, it wouldn't be an appropriate measure of the job impact. But as the Office of the Auditor General has noted, there were consistency problems across projects.

I think that would be expected across such a wide range of project proponents. That's the reason we had to take a different approach in terms of assessing the overall impact.