Evidence of meeting #38 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 witnesses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

In fact, we didn't get any notice of it, but I thought maybe the clerk might have been able to confirm whether anything had come through that office.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

It didn't come through our offices, no.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you, sir.

What it is right now...clearly Mr. Byrne has put out a list. In fact, our parliamentary secretary said we would want to have many of those people, so contrary to what he's saying, that we wouldn't want those people, or why would we not...that's about today's discussion, about how we select.

I've been on the committee before, and in terms of fairness—and I look across to Mr. Allen—we always want to put a list forward from all parties.

Nobody said today was a planning meeting. We didn't get the courtesy of that notice.

I would suggest to my parliamentary secretary that I would support this motion. In fact, we might add a friendly amendment to help satisfy Mr. Allen, that actually we could bring witnesses forward on the 24th. That starts to establish the date when we want to move forward, because really it indicates that we don't want to hold this thing up, contrary to what has been said earlier; we want to move forward on it because we want clarification on this study that the Auditor General has brought forward on the F-35s.

I would add that a friendly amendment could follow to determine the witness list, an agenda for the study to begin with the witnesses on Thursday, April 26. That would be a friendly amendment, which would help the NDP with their concern that the Conservative Party is saying it wants to do something but actually is not saying when. We actually have said we want to, and we'll put the date in place so that they know when we want to start. Then we can go back, Mr. Chair, to having the planning meeting, as this thing should be laid out, and have the fulsome discussion about the number of people we should be bringing forward and look at the list.

Thank you very much.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Very good. Thank you, Mr. Shipley.

I am, of course, in the hands of the majority of the committee. However, from a practical point of view, it would be very difficult to pull in all the people we would need for the 24th.

You did make reference to the 26th, which I would say is doable, if everybody helped out and massaged their schedules. That is doable, but the 24th, I want to advise members, would be difficult. I'm just worried that we would set it up and it would fail. The 26th, though, will work.

Staying with those who have not yet had a chance to speak the first time before I go to a second-time speakers list, Mr. Kramp, and then Monsieur Dubé.

Mr. Kramp, you have the floor, sir.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to make a couple of points that I think are important.

A planning meeting is not just deciding we're going to call some witnesses. It's not that simple. A lot goes into that planning meeting. We have to decide not only the list of witnesses we would like to have but in what order we would like them to appear. Would we have them there to corroborate testimony? Would we have them there to potentially oppose testimony? Would we have people from the Auditor General's office at the same time as we would have people from DND? Would we give each of them their time to move forward separately?

There are a lot of issues that can play out here that should be before this committee for some serious deliberation in order to get the answers and responses we need. That's why, quite frankly, a planning meeting is important. Let's get at it; that's the point. We need to get at it immediately. If there are other issues that are on our calendar right now, I as a government member would be willing to take those issues and put them on the back seat right now in order to expedite this. Certainly the opposition members want it and certainly the government members want it, so let's just get to it that way.

Let's do it and do it right. Let's not bastardize the process. Quite frankly, when we do that we're not going to get the results we need. Let's do it the way it should be done--effectively, professionally. Moving forward, we will deal with this study in a comprehensive manner. I'm very confident with that.

I will leave that with the committee for their thoughts.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you.

If I can, in the interest of moving things along, Mr. Aspin will follow Monsieur Dubé. I will mention that we've now had two of the three caucuses indicate publicly, if I understood correctly, that they're prepared to support this motion that would let us get to the substantive motion.

I look to Monsieur Dubé to see if he is in a position to offer up the position of the NDP. That would mean all three caucuses are onside, which means there really isn't a good reason to belabour this debate. We can then move on to the new debate.

With that, Monsieur Dubé, you have the floor, sir.

April 19th, 2012 / 2:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

That's exactly what I was going to say. As Mr. Allen said so eloquently earlier, our position is quite clear. An emergency meeting was called, and I think we need to proceed quickly. Everyone is constantly stating how important this file is, so let's go, let's get to work.

This is the first emergency meeting I have been to, but if I understand correctly, if we propose amendments—as we intend to do in an effort to speed things up—we must be able to discuss those amendments, to see whether there is any negotiating to be done. I think we need to adopt this first motion, which would enable us to discuss the substantive issue, as you mentioned.

We are prepared to support this motion. We must determine whether the government is going to be open-minded and support our amendments so we can finally get down to the real business at hand. This is pressing work; and that is why we are here.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Merci.

Again, colleagues, I point out the obvious. It would appear that there is likely a majority support for this motion. People still have the right to take the floor and speak their mind--that's your right--but I am asking people to keep in mind that the purpose of the meeting is to actually get somewhere.

Mr. Aspin, you have the floor, sir.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As Mr. Saxton has indicated, the government is prepared to move on and have this study. It welcomes this study. By his remarks and the motion he has indicated and other colleagues have indicated that a great number, if not all, of the witnesses Mr. Byrne has proposed are going to be on it.

I'm at a loss, Mr. Chair. I'm a new member here, and I just don't know what Mr. Byrne is doing. I don't understand it. It seems to me there's a lot of game-playing going on here. Let's just move on.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I agree in moving on. Let's stay focused and try not to personalize things.

I have second-time speakers. Is it really necessary? Let me push a little.

Mr. Saxton, do you want the floor? You have the right to it.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

I would like the floor if you're ready for me.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I don't have a choice. Yes, I'm ready. Go ahead.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I want to address a couple of the issues that have been brought up by my colleagues. The first one was by Mr. Shipley, and that was his suggestion that a friendly amendment be made to my motion indicating that Thursday, April 26, could be the first day of witnesses. I think it was actually Mr. Allen who had originally suggested that, because at least that way we've got a date to work with.

I'd just like to say that I would be willing to accept that friendly amendment to my motion, should the committee decide to go that route.

I'd also just like to say, for Mr. Byrne's satisfaction.... And I certainly hope Mr. Byrne would reconsider what he said earlier about not voting for my motion; I certainly would like it to be unanimous, and would be delighted if he could come on board. I would like to assure him that the witnesses the government would certainly be happy to bring forward to support would be the Auditor General, of course, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, deputy ministers, and whoever the deputy ministers would like to bring along; it's their decision.

Having said that, I certainly hope that Mr. Byrne would reconsider my motion. Let's move ahead in the spirit of cooperation the public accounts committee has been used to in the past, in previous Parliaments.

We have made a lot of progress and we have done a lot of good work in this committee, as Mr. Kramp and Mr. Christopherson, who are the deans of this committee, can attest. I've been on this committee I think longer than most. So I certainly hope we can move forward in the spirit of cooperation to get this done properly. It certainly would be nice to have a unanimous vote on my motion. I may be too optimistic in that regard, but it certainly would be nice. The government would like to move on, so that we can get going, as I stated earlier.

Thank you.

2:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you.

Before I go to Mr. Byrne, because I'm assuming he'll want his second crack, and then I'll push again to try to get a vote, just to keep us clear, because this is all very technical and easily confusing, Mr. Saxton, your motion, if passed, would have us meet on Tuesday to do the planning. That would definitely not be enough time to hold a hearing on the 26th. It's only two days.

The other way to go is to do the witness list today. Now, I realize that normally that's a lot of work, but I'm hearing a fair bit of agreement. I really am. We've got an hour and 15 minutes on the schedule. If we agree that we're going to attempt to hold at least the first hearings on the chapter next Thursday--and there may be more--it behoves us not to pass the motion exactly the way it's written, because I just don't think we can get all the players there within 48 hours. I think the Auditor General would move mountains, of course—this is his committee—but there are other players, deputy ministers, who have serious commitments, and they can't move them that quickly. All it takes is one of the main principals, and we don't have the kind of meeting we want.

So it seems to me that we've got two choices to make. We can agree today, at the very least, on a preliminary list of who would come next Thursday. That would suggest that there would probably be a second meeting. That would be the easiest thing to do today, to use Mr. Byrne's motion as the base of what the witness list would look like and begin talking about it and come to agreement, at least in terms of initial witnesses, even the most obvious: the Auditor General, the Deputy Minister of Defence, the Deputy Minister of Public Works. There are two or three that are obvious. If we could come to that much agreement, then we can thrash out the balance of Mr. Byrne's list, those that the NDP may want to consider, and the government may have members that are not in Mr. Byrne's list, or they may ask that some people come off that list. But that discussion we could have on Tuesday to further plan for hearings, while still putting in motion an initial hearing on Thursday.

Just keep in mind that passing Mr. Saxton's motion for a planning meeting on the 24th would all but end our discussion today, because it puts off the discussion of the witness list until next Tuesday, which means we likely could not hold a hearing on Thursday. Whereas if we could agree on two or three principals today, we could have a public hearing on Thursday and still have a meeting on Tuesday to determine the balance of the witness list.

I leave that with members. I'm just trying to help keep things clear, because this does get kind of technical.

Mr. Byrne, you have the floor, sir.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I kind of assumed that the more the government talked about their position the more they'd expose about their position. I think we've seen the light as to exactly where the government stands on a major issue.

It has been suggested that it is outrageous for a member of this committee to come before the committee with a selection of proposals for who could appear as witnesses on a particular topic, that it's outrageous to include those names in a motion--how dare he suggest that he's got all the answers when we're not involved in this? Well, that was never the intent. It was clearly never the intent when I said that it would not be limited to the following witnesses.

What I find really interesting, Mr. Chair, is if it's so outrageous that somebody dictates to this committee who the witnesses are going to be, why did Mr. Saxton just say that they'll accept the Auditor General, they'll accept Kevin Page, and they'll accept deputy ministers, but it will be deputy ministers who decide who joins them to appear before this committee? So this committee won't decide which officials appear before us; it will be the deputy ministers' prerogative, and the committee has no right to establish which officials below the deputy minister level should appear before us. So it's outrageous that a member of the committee could actually suggest who the witnesses will be, yet the government are prepared and have actually decided that they're going to delegate who the witnesses will be to deputy ministers. That's rather a self-aggrandizing sort of position to take.

It clearly leads to deputy ministers having the capacity to prevent testimony from being presented before us. I personally would like to hear from Colonel D.C. Burt, director of new-generation fighter capability at the Department of National Defence; Michael J. Slack, the F-35 project manager; Lieutenant-General Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff. But you know what--we'll let the deputy minister decide that.

With that, Mr. Chair, we have exposed exactly where the government is going with this.

Let's just have a vote.