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 chair.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

April 19th, 2012 / 2:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I now declare this special meeting of the public accounts committee in order.

I would ask the media to please excuse us and allow us to get on with our business.

Notwithstanding that the media has just left, I do remind members that this is televised. Everyone still has an opportunity to follow the proceedings.

You'll notice that we had a quick little meeting just before we started. I met with the three caucus leaders to talk about how we begin.

I'll set the stage by reading the rules that brought us to this point, and then put before you a suggested way to proceed.

I remind colleagues that this meeting has been convened pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), which reads as follows:

Within five days of the receipt, by the clerk of a standing committee, of a request signed by any four members of the said committee, the Chair of the said committee shall convene such a meeting provided that forty-eight hours' notice is given of the meeting.

That, everyone is in agreement, took place. We have followed all the rules.

For the purposes of this section, the reasons for convening such a meeting shall be stated in the request.

I'll read the wording of the letter that was signed by the four members who triggered this. It relates to what I just said, that the reason for convening such a meeting shall be stated in the request, and it is as such:

Pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), I the undersigned

—in this case, I have Monsieur Dubé's copy in my hand—

request that the Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts convene a meeting in order to study Chapter 2—Replacing Canada's Fighter Jets, of the 2012 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada.

Four members of the committee requested that a meeting be convened to discuss their request to undertake a study of chapter 2.

O'Brien and Bosc state in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 1084:

In considering the request, the committee decides whether or not it wishes to take up the requested subject matter. There is no obligation on the committee to conclude debate. If it decides to consider the matter, it may do so as and when it wishes.

The reason I'm doing this is that we all know there are at least two notices of motion before us that are applicable to this matter. What I need members to understand is that unlike a regular meeting, those motions are not stacked up, sort of waiting to be brought in. They can be brought in—any matter of business can be dealt with—but only on a motion, and then a majority vote.

So this is not a race to see whose motion gets in front of us first, at least not at the get-go. That's why I held that meeting. You can see the rules are very loose. I've never been comfortable with this notion, when things are really serious and a lot of the politics of the meeting gets determined by who gets the floor first, that the fair way is for the chair to recognize the first person they see. I have always found that patently unfair, because it means that anyone with arthritis loses, or that a chair who happens to glance the other way sees one hand when another hand was up sooner.

I mean, I've done it, and I'll do it, because that's the only thing we have, but you know my discomfort with that as a fair way to decide who gets the floor first. I've even suggested to this committee that I'd like to convene some quiet meetings to talk about how we would find a fair rule to deal with that. But we don't have that right now, so in trying to prevent a rush of who was first and then a big fight about “My hand was up first, theirs was second”, I've asked the principals, the three leaders of the three caucuses, if we could find agreement on how to open. We have.

The agreement is that we will allow Mr. Saxton first, then Mr. Allen, and then Mr. Byrne to each have two minutes. During that time there will be no motions put. It is strictly an opportunity for them to give their thoughts on behalf of their caucus as to how they think we should proceed, or anything else they want to talk about.

You have two minutes. Hopefully at the end of that we'll have some idea of where we want to go; otherwise it will be back to whoever gets the floor first can talk or move motions, and we'll take it from there.

Is everybody in agreement with proceeding in that fashion?

Mr. Saxton.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

I have one question. Having been privy to the meeting outside, you did not say that we could not introduce motions during our two minutes.

2:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Yes, I did.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

We discussed that we would have two minutes to talk about whatever we wanted to talk about and then it would go to the next person for two minutes and then the next person for two minutes.

2:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

No.

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

That was my understanding. There was no agreement on whether or not motions would be introduced.

2:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

No. Doing that would not have gotten us any further, because whoever had the floor first in that rotation would have won the race to see who gets their hand up. The whole idea was to avoid that, if we can, and offer up some thoughts as to how we might proceed.

I said very clearly that there would be no motions, and that's the reason why. It would completely negate the whole purpose. So no motions. It's an opportunity: state your case. You know why we're here. You all know the rules. We've had an agreement, and that agreement has been adopted by this committee.

I will now start with Mr. Saxton. Please do not violate the agreement. Do not move a motion.

You have two minutes, sir, to say what you wish. You could indicate your intention to move motions, fair game, but a motion moved during these two minutes will not be recognized by the chair.

Having said that, Mr. Saxton, you have the floor.

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to speak on this subject.

I'd like to begin by saying that the government welcomes the opportunity to study the spring 2012 report of the Auditor General, beginning with chapter 2, “Replacing Canada's Fighter Jets”. We also welcome the opportunity to interview witnesses on this subject, witnesses to be decided by this committee. I assume those witnesses will include the Auditor General and also the Parliamentary Budget Officer, deputy ministers, and whoever they decide to bring. We look forward to moving ahead on this as quickly as possible.

We recognize that there are two motions before the committee and that those two motions are similar, except that one of those motions, by the opposition, wants to tell the rest of the committee who those witnesses should be. This is unorthodox. It is not the practice of this committee. It is the committee that decides who those witnesses are.

So we look forward to moving ahead. We do agree that this should be the first chapter that we study, that we study it in depth, and that the committee comes up with the witnesses to be called in.

In that regard, I call upon Mr. Byrne, who has put forward the other motion, to consider retracting that motion and agreeing to the motion that I put forward, which is essentially the same as Mr. Byrne's, recognizing that there are 12 members of this committee and that all 12 members should have a say in who the witnesses are. It is not one member who dictates to the other 11 who those witnesses should be. Based on that, Mr. Chair, I ask my colleague Mr. Byrne to consider withdrawing his motion and accepting my motion, which is very similar to his except it allows everybody to have input into who the witnesses are.

Thank you.

2:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Very good. Thank you, Mr. Saxton.

Mr. Allen, for two minutes.

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I'm hoping we can find common ground somewhere. Our role as New Democrats is certainly going to be to try to broker conflicting motions, dueling motions. It reminds one of being a kid in the schoolyard and the two new kids show up with two new soccer balls and they keep saying “We're not playing soccer unless it's with my ball”. I'm hoping we'll just actually play soccer.

Let's actually get the witness list together. Let's move expeditiously. That's what the Canadian public expects of us. This back and forth between whether it be Mr. Byrne's motion or Mr. Saxton's motion, at the end of the day what this committee needs to resolve on a go-forward basis is we need a schedule. We need an expeditious schedule. We need to do it quickly, and we need to get a fulsome witness list.

I hear my colleague Mr. Saxton saying that's what they want. Then we need to actually do that so that we can go forward and study this chapter in depth and make sure we are answering the things that need to be answered. Those are the things we intend to do at this meeting. I hope we will come out with a conclusion all of us can agree on at the end of this meeting.

2:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you, Mr. Allen.

Mr. Byrne, for two minutes, sir.

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, colleagues, for assembling here during what would normally be a constituency week.

The Liberal Party of Canada and I felt very strongly, and I know that Canadians feel very strongly, that this is a very serious issue. It's top of mind with many Canadians because there are difficult choices being made in the lives of individual Canadians—choices that reflect the fact that the government is presenting that we have a crisis in old age security and we have a crisis in funding programs and services.

Yet the Auditor General of Canada has found that there is a crisis in the accounting and the acquisition of the F-35 fighter jet process. On April 3, some weeks ago, Mr. Chair, I tabled a motion to call on this committee to actually engage in an immediate study. We presented certain witnesses. I want to be very clear: the list of witnesses that has been proposed in this motion is not exhaustive or all-inclusive. Specifically, my motion says “but not be limited to”.

The ten witnesses that are proposed within my motion are not an exclusive list. It is not Gerry Byrne or the Liberal Party of Canada determining who will appear as witnesses to this committee. In fact, given the fact that we've all had a little bit of a break and we've come back refreshed, I'm confident that the Conservative Party of Canada hasn't wasted their time and come here today without a witness list to propose. I am certainly amenable, and I know that other colleagues are, to a friendly amendment to add to this witness list.

Mr. Chair, one thing that Canadians will not abide is stalling and dragging feet. This is a serious issue. We are in a planning session right now. Let's get to approving a witness list, and let's get on with hearings right now. I hope they didn't come empty-handed.

2:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you.

Before we go any further, I want to extend to anyone else an opportunity to have their say. We heard from the caucus leaders, which is an informal position. Therefore, I want to afford every caucus member an opportunity to take their two minutes, if they wish, with the same rules.

Mr. Kramp.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Chair, you may recall that at previous meetings the Conservative Party of Canada and all of the members of the opposition have wanted to move forward with this. We have suggested a motion, and discussed and brought forward the actual process to go forward. We asked for a planning session, expeditiously, and that this would be on April 24. We all knew that, and we were all prepared to go with that. We're not prepared to unilaterally dictate a witness list. Just as Mr. Byrne has a list of people he would like—and I respect that—so does each and every other member here.

To strengthen Mr. Saxton's point, this is a committee that has historically worked in a non-partisan mode. This is a committee that historically has been able to bring forward facts, deal with facts, and deal with a good quality and quantity of witnesses that can directly contribute to the successful evolution of this examination and study.

We need to work with that. We need to talk about it back and forth, and deliberate. As an example, if Mr. Allen were to bring forward someone and I had no idea who this individual was and if he were to extol their virtues and demonstrate to this committee why that individual should be here as a witness, I would most certainly be willing to say, “Fine, you've made your point. You have a very good point”, and we would acquiesce to that. That goes for each and every individual here.

But to just unilaterally say we're doing this person, this person, this person, and this person.... It's not a procedure that this committee has ever followed, not in the history of the eight years that I've been working with the committee. We've always worked at a planning session to state the schedule and witnesses, and to come up with an approximation of how many hearings would be necessary to deal with this. That's what we need, Chair.

2:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

The floor is still open for a two-minute speaking spot.

Hearing none, Mr. Saxton.