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

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

So we were able to operate as a really successful team on this—great teamwork by all involved.

Thank you very much.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you very much.

Madame Blanchette-Lamothe, you have the floor.

March 13th, 2012 / 9:15 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank all our guests for being here. It is very much appreciated. I wish to congratulate you on your work. In general, the report is very positive. I wanted to point that out before asking questions.

In his introduction, Mr. Campbell mentioned that it may be pertinent to determine progress being made by departments in preparing their reports and when they believe they will be able to present their reports to the committee or to the Office of the Auditor General. I would like to give our witnesses an opportunity to tell us where they are on this.

9:15 a.m.

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

Douglas Nevison

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I may have misunderstood the question, but if you're talking about reports to Canadians, as mentioned by Mr. Campbell, the government has committed to doing a final report on the economic impact of Canada's economic action plan. Once we had all the relevant information available for the four infrastructure programs that were extended to the end of October 2011, provincial partners had until the end of January to provide their final claims. It's my understanding that we have that information and we now have to verify it. Once those numbers are ready to go, the government will be in a position to determine when they will publish that final report they're committed to.

The final spending numbers will be available in the fall of 2012 for those four projects under the typical public accounts process.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you very much.

Mr. Campbell, in its December 2010 report on the same matter, the committee made the following recommendation:

That in its second audit of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the Office of the Auditor General consider examining whether funds were spent with due regard to economy and efficiency.

Why did the Office of the Auditor General decide not to examine whether funds were spent with due regard to economy and efficiency? Why not follow up on this recommendation?

9:15 a.m.

Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Ronnie Campbell

We began to undertake a series of audits. In March 2009 the Auditor General wrote to the Secretary of Treasury Board outlining what we thought were the key issues public servants had to be concerned about, and they were the key issues we audited. So we started that process at that time. We did the first audit, followed through, and have now completed the second one.

The economic action plan was an enormous undertaking, with tens of thousands of projects. We felt that we could get the best leverage for Parliament by giving some assurance on how well they designed the program in the beginning, to make sure they met the issue of timeliness. I think it's important to recall that when the economic action plan was conceived, timeliness was the primary issue. There was a concern that if government were to stimulate the economy, they had to do it at the right time. If they were too late, there were concerns it wouldn't have the same effect. So that's the path we followed.

In addition, many of those projects were proposed by provinces and municipalities, and many of them were paid on a cost-sharing basis. The federal government didn't pay the whole amount. So there was a bit of sharing the risk, where the provinces, municipalities, and federal government each put in one-third.

In order to have the economic action plan launched in a timely fashion, the federal government had to find a way to rely on the provinces and municipalities to identify what was important to them. So that's what they did. But the key objective of the economic action plan was timely stimulus. Each province has an auditor general, and I believe they're doing some work in this area as well, so perhaps they'll get into more of the details.

Thank you.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Very good, thank you.

Your time has expired, Madame. Merci.

We'll go over to Mr. Shipley. You have the floor, sir.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all the witnesses.

It sort of amazes me that we talked about a plan where there were 35 federal department agencies, many programs that were developed through this, and it would seem to me that since 2009 there have been more than 600,000 jobs created. If you look to industrialized countries, I'm not so sure there are any that can actually say that, where they've come above where they were at the start of the recession.

I want to go back to the comment about how we evaluate this on a project-by-project basis. I'm going to be honest with you that I hope we don't. I'll give you an example. Whether it was in my riding in Lambton—Kent—Middlesex or others, you might have a transportation infrastructure program that actually created jobs at that time within our community, within the industry of the construction, to develop that. But we are now continuing to move ahead with trade agreements with countries, which means we're developing an infrastructure that will continue to grow, to use the development of our county's infrastructure, our commodities, and our primary resources. Those actual job creations are not just the one time to develop that, but actually it is a continuum that will create jobs, because that project is done, because we are developing trade, because of a number of things that are good for our community. So I guess my comment would be that I really hope we don't spend a lot of time trying to pinhole the projects, but let's look at this in a bigger context. Even though this was a temporary infusion in cooperation with provinces and territories and in fact municipalities, it was a temporary infusion that gives a global perspective for Canada that has been very successful.

I wouldn't mind asking Industry Canada just to follow up on those comments, because we did work with provinces and territories and municipalities. I'm wondering just how this was accomplished. Canada is a big place with different views, but it got accomplished for an end purpose, and I'm wondering if you can touch on that, either Mr. Dunlop from the Department of Industry or Mr. Sarantakis from Infrastructure Canada.

9:20 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Taki Sarantakis

Thank you.

With respect to your comment, I think it's very important, because it's not just the initial jobs that were created during the course of the construction period. That was obviously the impetus for the programs and the impetus for the economic action plan writ large. But as you note, those jobs actually created infrastructure projects. In our case, at Infrastructure Canada, there were some 6,500 infrastructure projects that were financed under the economic action plan that will continue to create jobs into the future, whether they're roads, waste water plants, recreational facilities, highways, or broadband. These are the types of projects that we hope will help improve Canada's competitiveness and Canada's productivity over time.

While we're very proud of the front end, we think also there's a back-end story to be told over time, which is about the effects of those projects on Canada's economy.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

I don't know if anybody in the Department of Industry, Mr. Dunlop, had anything to say. Or do you just agree?

9:20 a.m.

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

Robert Dunlop

I would add a little bit, Mr. Chair.

Obviously building the capacity of universities and colleges has a tremendous potential impact in the future. Mr. Kramp mentioned Capilano University as an example of that.

The areas that KIP supported included repair and maintenance, which maybe doesn't get the credit it deserves. We've had a number of institutions that are looking at significant reductions in their energy costs going forward, at a time when their provincial funding may be affected. That allows them to keep their activities going at a time when otherwise they would have to cut back on the education that happens.

The other areas we supported were building the teaching capacity of the universities and colleges—and there's no need to elaborate on the impact of that—as well as research capacity.

We're doing our best now that the final reports are coming in to measure those impacts, so that we'll have a good record of the overall impact of the $2 billion investment the people of Canada made through the federal government, but also the $5 billion investment that was made in total in KIP projects.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Sarantakis, I have one more quick question.

The economic action plan had guiding principles: that it was timely, targeted, and temporary. I think it's important that Canadians understand why that was important. I'm wondering if you could just make some quick comments, because the chair is indicating that I'm almost out of time.

9:25 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Taki Sarantakis

Sure. As we talked about at the beginning, the stimulus that was required in the Canadian economy was required right away, certainly to have economic activity generated as quickly as possible. Otherwise we would have been in a situation like a lot of the other G-8 countries, and the recession would have been deeper than it was.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you very much.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you.

Over to the Honourable Gerry Byrne. You have the floor, sir.