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

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Yes, and it would be incredibly valuable for this committee to have access to that information.

9:35 a.m.

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

Douglas Nevison

As I mentioned, the methodology was laid out in both budget 2009 and an annex in budget 2010. It's all there.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

It's all there? That's fantastic.

I also want to ask a question that is perhaps for Treasury Board or PCO, but who knows, maybe it's for all of you. There were comments made about how public servants work together.

Mr. Dunlop, you commented on your colleagues in the provinces. You commented on merging two functions.

You're here representing results-based management. I'm just fascinated—this is for whichever one of you wants to leap in on this—with lessons learned and how this project, which made a difference to all Canadians, will actually make a difference to the public service of Canada in terms of their service to Canadians and their capacity to better serve and perhaps more effectively and efficiently serve.

That's fantastic. Thank you.

9:35 a.m.

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

Rick Stewart

Thank you.

Perhaps I'll start first with some comments and then turn it over to my colleagues at the Treasury Board.

In terms of this kind of cross-ministry collaboration, I think we as public servants would say that we endeavour on an ongoing continual basis to ensure that effective coordination, integration, and collaborative work does take place in the discharge of all the business that we do on behalf of the Government of Canada. In the circumstances of the economic action plan, I think there were some unique features that perhaps brought that behind-the-scenes work into a kind of public spotlight, as it were.

My colleague mentioned the fact that during a crisis there's focused attention, and certainly that was the case. There was an urgent need to act, and to act in a concerted and collaborative way, with a clear objective of what we were trying to achieve. A crisis does focus attention, and it captured senior attention in order to achieve the objectives that we were after, so there was that focused prioritization in the context of a crisis.

Among some of the other lessons learned that came out of this, I think, was that one of the things that allowed us to move quickly—perhaps more quickly than what people traditionally view as being the case and the way that business rolls forward—is that we placed a heavy emphasis on using the existing tools and programs that we had, because we knew they worked, we knew what the risks associated with various tools and instruments were, and we had accountability mechanisms already in place for managing those programs.

Rather than reinventing the wheel or starting from scratch, the fact that we were able to use existing mechanisms that we understood well, and where partnerships were well established, was an added feature that allowed us to move more quickly. That in and of itself allowed us, I think, in the context of cabinet management, to consider similar projects in a more omnibus approach than perhaps is typically the case when we have new programs that need to be more fully examined and considered.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you. That takes us well over our time, but I think that was very helpful, Mr. Stewart.

Thank you, Madam Bateman. I appreciate that.

We'll now move to Mr. Allen. You now have the floor.

March 13th, 2012 / 9:40 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to back to Mr. Stewart.

Your colleague across the way—I believe it was Mr. Nevison—said that he didn't have a date for the suggestion by the Auditor General about when this next report would get done. Your department has also been named as agreeing with that.

Have you given any thought to an approximate date? We're hearing about approximate jobs created in the economic action plan. Do we now have an approximate date as to when we think it's going to get done, other than a report in the fall of 2012? Because if it's going to be 2012 to report it in, look at that report, and then do something else.... My arithmetic's not that bad: we're looking at the spring of 2013, which would be almost two years after the end of the 90% completion rate of your projects.

9:40 a.m.

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

Rick Stewart

Thank you.

I guess my comment on it is that I think we have been completely transparent in our indication that our role is to support the government in its ability to publicly report to Canadians on the results of this action plan. I think that as bureaucrats it is not our prerogative to commit the government to a specific date. But what we are committed to is ensuring that the government has the information available: that we do a full assessment of the information coming in now that the projects are completed to ensure that we have an accurate judgment and assessment of the true costs entailed in this program. And we will do our utmost to support the government in reporting this information to Canadians at a specific date of its choosing.

I would note, as my colleague from the Department of Finance has already mentioned, that the government has already issued several reports to Canadians. I would further note that it has been a feature of past budgets to include updates on the progress being achieved in this program through the budget delivery process. In terms of a specific date, that is a date for the government yet to conclusively identify.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Based on that comment, I look forward to something in the March 29 budget that tells me what happened last year to 90%.

Mr. Nevison, you said there were seven reports in total and the last one was in January 2011. Is that right?

9:40 a.m.

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

Douglas Nevison

The last report to Canadians, but the 2011 budget also had some updates. The last official report to Canadians was in January 2011.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

I'm talking specifically about the reports. I understand about the budget, sir.

Those are basically coming at us, albeit Canadians can read them. There is a good number of Canadians who do read the budget reports, I'm sure, but obviously the actual reports would be....

Since we were doing quarterly reports up until January 2011, and 90% of the projects ended at the end of March 2011, we didn't see any other quarterly reports coming after that, albeit the program continued until October 2011. In my humble opinion, it would have been helpful and prudent to continue to do the quarterly reports. Is there a sense of why we did not do them any more?

9:40 a.m.

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

Douglas Nevison

We got away from referring to them as quarterly reports. My understanding was that the obligation for a quarterly was within the first year of the program. I'm not an expert on what the parliamentary motion was in terms of the report, but my understanding was that the quarterly was only for the first year.

As I mentioned, there were seven, so they obviously went beyond the first four. The January 2011 report, given that most of the projects were done in March 2011, was the last one, with up to the end of December 2010 information.

As I mentioned, in the June 2011 budget there was a summary table on the EAP results that matched exactly what was in the reports to Canadians. The information was being conveyed through other vehicles. For example, the Fiscal Monitor showed what the spending impact was.

In terms of your question, part of the lag that we've seen has just reflected the fact that for the most part the action plan was done at March 31, 2011. As I mentioned, there were reports in the budget subsequently. There was also reporting on spending in the public accounts in October 2011.

Because there were really only the four infrastructure programs that were being extended, the decision was to wait until the four extensions ran their course and we had sufficient data to do a final report. As I mentioned, the commitment is there to do it, and once that information has been verified, as my colleague mentioned, the government will be in a position to make that decision.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you. Time has expired.

Moving along, Mr. Byrne has the floor.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to follow up on some comments made by Mr. Shipley, and his perspective on not applying a rigorous evaluation on a project-by-project basis. Not everybody on this committee would agree with that particular approach, especially since that was not the original design or intent of the program.

One of the questions I asked.... I tried to blend in a question about the G-8 legacy infrastructure fund. Mr. Campbell, you'll understand that the majority on this committee decided not to call back the Office of the Auditor General to hear specific testimony on the G-8 legacy infrastructure fund. One of the things we're always concerned about is whether the specific lessons of that particular initiative were learned. We would like to know whether other things could have been blended in through the economic action plan that would not necessarily have met the criteria.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Mr. Kramp.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I understand the direction Mr. Byrne wants to go in, and that's his prerogative, but we have our witnesses here and we're discussing the economic action plan. That is the report of the Auditor General. It would only be pertinent to keep our remarks to the issue that is at hand before us, and certainly within the scope and expertise of the people who have been brought here for that purpose.

Thank you.