Evidence of meeting #39 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

9:05 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I think so, because it's not an actual motion to go in camera, which clearly is not debatable. This is a motion to stay in public. We discussed it last time. I think it's in order.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Does that interfere with the previous speakers list that was established?

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

If the motion is in order, I'd like to speak to it.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I have a motion from Mr. Allen. I'm going to deal with that motion and then I will get to you. I didn't state earlier that we were doing the two-minute, because we did that for the special meeting. I'm just following where things take us.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

I understood that you have a speakers rotation that you have established.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I do, but in accepting his speaking spot, Mr. Allen availed himself of the right to move a motion during his comments, which he did, and which I've accepted. Therefore, I'm going to take a separate speakers list on that motion. When that motion is dealt with, if it's still in order, then I'll continue the rotation that I had outlined at the beginning.

Mr. Ravignat, you have the floor. Mr. Byrne, you are next on the list.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for your welcome to the committee. It's a pleasure to be here, but I can't say it's a pleasure to see how the committee functions at the beginning of it. I've sat on some committees with my dear colleague on the other side, Mr. Shipley. This throwing up of hands at the beginning to determine pecking order is definitely not pervasive, at least in the committees that I've been in. I regret that's the situation.

I'd like to speak to the motion to stay in public. Frankly, this is the largest military procurement contract in Canadian history. It's clear that there are issues with the procurement process between Public Works, Treasury Board, and National Defence. It's crucial for us as parliamentarians and crucial for Canadians to know what went on and who will be called to this committee and for what reasons. I might add that I think it is the responsibility of the committee and it's the privilege of parliamentarians to call the witnesses that they would like to hear, not assistant deputy ministers or other members of the public service.

I'd like to support the motion of my colleague. There are people we could hear from, such as Colonel Dave Burt, Craig Morris, Winslow Wheeler, and of course, Philippe Lagassé. These are people who I think would be very helpful in looking at the procurement process and cleaning it up, so we can go forward with a clean procurement process in the future that respects the taxpayer.

Thank you.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you. Is there any further discussion?

Mr. Byrne, you have the floor.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I believe it is absolutely essential that this committee stay in public for the determination of our forward business, our witness list and other matters of agenda related to our study of chapter 2, “Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets”, from the 2012 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada.

It's said that the sausage that comes out of a grinder is determined by the quality of the meat that is put in it. If you want to grind sausages here, you have to have the best quality cuts of beef. I think that if we deny certain witnesses an opportunity to appear, then we do a grave injustice. If we are seen to deny certain witnesses the capacity to appear, then we have done a grave injustice and that is apparently what is at hand here. There is an attempt to prevent the sausage from being viewed as it's made.

I believe there was a British parliamentarian who said that laws and sausages should never be seen while they're being made, but this is an example where I think that axiom does not hold true. If we're going to get to a proper result here then the public needs to know that this process was transparent, that it was done openly, and there were no hidden agendas.

We had a meeting last Thursday where we had an opportunity to hash through all this. That opportunity was, however, denied, and we're back to square one.

The resulting perception here may very easily be that there is something serious to cover up if the government feels the need to hold these sessions in private. I think that perception is very valid because quite frankly if the selection of witnesses needs to be done in private and if there is an objective or a motivation to prevent certain witnesses from appearing, and that could only be achieved through holding the meeting in secret because having it in public would be too embarrassing and damaging to the government, then quite frankly I think the government already has something to explain. It already requires an explanation to the public, to Canadian taxpayers, and to Parliament as to why there is the need to hold these meetings in secret.

We proposed a witness list that was available to all committee members last week, and in actual fact was available to all committee members as of April 3, the day the Auditor General of Canada tabled his report on the F-35. Those witnesses include not only senior officials within the government, such as the chief of the air staff and deputy ministers of Industry Canada and Public Works, but also others, because as I highlighted, the committee was not to be limited to this particular list but to include them with the understanding that others would be added to the list by other parties and other members of the committee.

But what came forward on Thursday was two statements by the government. One is that members of Parliament should never, ever, feel as though they have a right to predetermine which witnesses should appear before a committee, because that is not in good form, that shows a contempt for other committee members by actually suggesting other witnesses to appear before us in a motion, and is completely contrary to the conduct of this committee and others, when in fact we already know that it is normal practice for the government to include witnesses in their motions for studies. They did so at finance just some time ago regarding the F-35. They actually included specific witnesses in the motion to study the F-35 at the finance committee.

The second thing the government referred to on Thursday, which I found quite compelling, is that deputy ministers should decide which officials accompany them at the table. It's outrageous for members of the committee to suggest who should appear before the committee. We're just elected officials. We're just members. We're just the 13-odd who make up this committee. However, according to the government, deputy ministers have the full right to decide on behalf of our parliamentary committee who will sit before us as witnesses, who will testify before us as witnesses. That's contempt.

Quite frankly, I think that, given the fact that deputy ministers have a vested interest in the outcome of our hearings and what's said at our hearings, I don't think we can necessarily rely on them to act in Parliament's best interest when it comes to hearing about this particular issue. I think the committee should have the latitude to be able to decide this for ourselves. I think that individual members should have the right to be able to bring forward witnesses today. The Liberal Party of Canada has put together a very comprehensive list, but it is not a complete list, and we did so knowing that other members would want to have additional names put on this list.

Mr. Chair, in addition to that, the Liberal Party of Canada has also, as you are aware, tabled a motion for the production of documents. This is another motion that we should be hearing today. My motion, which was submitted on April 17, I believe, reads:

That, pursuant to Standing Orders 108(1)(a) and 108(3)(g) and Chapter 2, Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets, of the Spring 2012 Report of the Auditor General of Canada, the Committee send for the following documents, in electronic form, from the Department of National Defence and the Department of Public Works and Government Services: • The document that confirms the validity of the Statement of Operational Requirement. • The actual statement of Operational Requirement. • The full life-cycle cost analysis. • The Statement of Work and Performance Specification (Acquisition and in-service support). • The Bid Evaluation criteria. • The Treasury Board submission for the F-35. • The requisition form for goods and services sent to Public Works and Government Services Canada from National Defence. • The questionnaires explaining the decision to proceed with a sole-source process for this acquisition. • The cost analysis for the infrastructure modification to operate the F-35. • The risk analysis produced by National Defence and Public Works and Government Services for the acquisition of the F-35. • The cost analysis to keep the actual CF-18 operational until 2023. • The cost analysis for the phasing out of the CF-18. • The option analysis for the replacement of the CF-18; and That these documents be submitted to the Committee within the five calendar days following the adoption of this motion.

That's another motion that I hope we'll be able to deal with today, and that the government responds favourably to, because what everyone needs to know, including the media who may be assembled in this room, is in the sausage maker.

If we do go in camera, what everyone needs to understand, including the government, is that whatever goes into the sausage maker, and we know what's going into it—the Liberal Party of Canada has produced a list of witnesses, we produced a set of documents that we wish to have made for reference to the committee—even if we go in camera, if that is not the result at the end of the in camera meeting, everyone needs to know that it's by order of the Conservative government and their use and abuse of their majority status on this government oversight committee that prevented that from happening. So the result is already known.

The value of going in camera is quite limited at this time because it has already been decided and understood that if you prevent any of those results from being achieved, you will be the cause of preventing that from happening. So whether it's in camera or out of camera, I won't say it doesn't matter because it does, but there's no confusion here as to what happened. Quite frankly, Mr. Chair, that is something the government will have to deal with itself.

I hope everyone is playing a banjo that's in tune. We had an opportunity on Thursday to do this. We still seem to be in conflict. Sometimes democracy is not a gentle sport and it takes a little bit of pushing and shoving. It's the way our democracy works sometimes. It has been effective. You don't have to get hostile. I don't think anyone on Thursday was getting hostile. But I had a point I needed to make and I think I made it. At the end of the day, because we did not resolve the issues on Thursday, we're back here again. I guess our banjos collectively are still very much out of tune.

I hope we won't forfeit the rest of the morning. Let's get this done. Let's get it done in public. For a public accounts committee to do anything less is quite frankly contemptuous. The nature of the decision here has already been established, and if there's a change in the agenda or end product it will be the Conservatives that cause that change. So there's no mystery here as to what's about to occur.

I hope the government will concede that it's far more valuable to them to do this in public. If they have made a decision that the testimony of the witnesses who have been proposed by the Liberal Party of Canada will be far more embarrassing to the government than the humiliation they're causing themselves right now by forcing this process to go in private, in secret, I think Canadians will make up their minds that there's a scandal brewing here, and there's serious potential for corruption to occur and continue to occur. At this time the cover-up seems just as bad as the crime itself.

So I hope the government will simply have these meetings in public where they belong, so that Canadians can judge whether or not there is indeed a cover-up going on.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Merci.

Madam Blanchette-Lamothe, you have the floor.

April 24th, 2012 / 9:20 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you very much.

I would like to join you in welcoming my colleague Mr. Ravignat. I am very much looking forward to working with him on this committee.

I would like to add something to the motion tabled by Mr. Allen. The Conservatives have clearly indicated their intention to call witnesses, such as the Auditor General, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and deputy ministers, but we have heard nothing more. On this side of the room, we think it is relevant to invite officials who are involved in the F-35 file at various levels and to have non-partisan experts appear.

I think the deputy ministers and the ministers tend not to provide very clear answers to the questions that are put to them. Instead, they provide rather neutral or impartial answers, which is why it is also important to invite people who would be non-partisan.

If anyone on this committee does not see the point of inviting experts or officials to study the F-35 file, I hope they will say so publicly and explain why they feel it wouldn't be a good idea to invite these kinds of witness.

I think it is important that this be done publicly. People have the right to know why certain witnesses are invited to appear and to know who is opposed to the appearance of certain witnesses. This is a sensitive issue that is raising a lot of questions and generating a lot of interest. Canadians have the right to know why the file is being studied the way it is. I think we need to win back the trust of Canadians.

We are talking about a file where there has been a lack of transparency. In fact, information has not been given to the right people at the right time. This is a process that is repeated every year. If we want to regain the public's trust, I think the least we can do is to show that we are studying the matter seriously and doing it transparently. That is why I want to adopt the motion so that we can discuss it publicly and determine who we will invite to study this file.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Merci.

The floor is open for further debate. Last call. Hearing none, I'll put the matter to a vote.

May I point out to those who are watching that this is why who gets the floor first matters. It's not a question of your getting the first chance to make a quote that the media will pick up on, it's that once you have the floor, you have the right to move motions that are in order. That way, you can control the floor and control the debate. Whoever gets the floor first has the opportunity to put that forward, and that member has control while his or her motion is on the floor. That's why it matters. It's not pecking order; it's that political dynamic.

That was a minor uncalled for civics lesson. I will now move us to the vote. Let's do a recorded vote so that these things aren't in doubt.

(Motion negatived: nays 7; yeas 4)

I declare the motion defeated by a vote of seven to four.

Moving back to our speakers list, Mr. Byrne, you have the floor.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

We're talking about planning now. I proposed earlier that the following witness list be included in our study of chapter 2, “Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets”, of the spring 2012 report of the Auditor General of Canada, and:

that the witness list include, but not be limited to: • Michael Ferguson, Auditor General of Canada; • Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer; • Dan Ross, Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel), National Defence; • LGen J.P.A. Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff, National Defence; • Michael J. Slack, F-35 Project Manager, Director of Continental Materiel Cooperation, National Defence; • Col D.C. Burt, Director, New Generation Fighter Capability, National Defence; • Tom Ring, Assistant Deputy Minister, Acquisitions Branch, Public Works and Government Services Canada; • Johanne Provencher, Director General, Defence and Major Projects Directorate, Public Works and Government Services Canada; • Richard Dicerni, Deputy Minister, Industry Canada; • Craig Morris, Deputy Director, F-35 Industrial Participation, Industry Canada....

Also, Mr. Chair, more recently I added François Guimont, deputy minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Mr. Chair, could I make a motion, please, to ratify these witnesses to appear before our committee?

9:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

This involves a notice of motion, so let me check.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Chair, may I....