Evidence of meeting #43 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 going.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to speak to the steering committee first, and Mr. Ravignat's comment that it was the Conservative colleagues who put an end to that committee. We may have put an end to it by vote, but it was the makeup of the committee and the lack of productivity of the committee that put an end to the committee.

The committee was a complete waste of time. It was non-functional. I would suggest that the way we're doing it now has been more functional than the subcommittee, although only marginally so.

I would also like to state that I'm not impressed, Mr. Chair, that you would choose not to accept motions, that once again you would choose to first give the floor to the opposition, which is what you did before, but that's okay. I guess that's your prerogative. But what I would like to know is what is the authority of the chair? Do we have something in writing that speaks to the job description of the chair and the authority of the chair?

9:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Please.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

No, I'm quite serious, Mr. Chair.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Come on, don't start that nonsense.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I'm quite serious, Mr. Chair.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

That's what worries me.

May 8th, 2012 / 9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

You speak to being non-partisan. A chair is to run a meeting and to chair a meeting, and I accept that. But on several occasions you have had last say to witnesses and you have had your say in an extremely partisan way to witnesses who have been up there. We can check the record on that. You have lambasted some witnesses as your last say as a chair. Quite frankly, I don't feel that's appropriate.

That being said, back to Mr. Allen's point, nobody has accused anybody of approaching the chair. I think there was a statement made on our side last time that the meeting was pre-arranged. What that statement meant, I think, was that when Mr. Christopherson came in, he automatically selected the opposition to speak first. So it wasn't necessarily pre-arranged with the opposition; it was pre-arranged in Mr. Christopherson's mind, which I suppose is his prerogative as chair. I think that's where that statement came from, but nobody has accused anybody of any type of collaboration, and I don't believe that's happened.

I do have respect for you, Mr. Christopherson. You do a really good job as chair, and I like you as an individual. I'm simply not pleased with the way things have happened today. The issue seems to be one of who gets the floor first. I think that's really what it boils down to. Once we determine that, maybe we can move forward.

There's been some discussion about doing it in a rotating manner. Maybe that's the way to do it. I don't know. Do we need a motion in order for that to happen, that we do that at each meeting on a rotating basis as to who gets the floor first? I don't really have the answer.

Those are my comments, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you.

Mr. McKay spoke once already, so he's on the secondary list. Are there any other first-time speakers?

Mr. Dreeshan, you have the floor, sir.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

There are only a couple of things I want to bring up as we speak about the rotational basis. If you're looking at it and saying that we'll rotationally set it up so that if there happens to be committee business, the government side will automatically get it, but if it happens to be anything else, the opposition side will get it, I am sure we would start to see another conflict taking place with that.

This new ruling that you have for today, that you won't take any motions but we will talk this out--and it's great we're doing that--means that we listen to the commentary from the other side and everything they would have typically put into a motion that would have been presented here, with the political spin and so on that they have to it, and it then gets put on the table.

You know, they speak about the F-35s and concerns and issues. We've been entirely open with everything that has taken place here. Nevertheless, they got the opportunity to take another stab at it here in public.

Getting back to the discussion about the subcommittee, it lost its way when some people reneged on deals they had made. That's something we should talk about in camera at some point, not here. There are a lot of things that make it necessary for us to be able to discuss the operational aspects of the committee, but those are some of the issues that I have.

Again, back to the last meeting, Mr. Byrne hadn't even put up his hand, but he was recognized. The response might be, “Well, I thought I saw him put up his hand.“ You know, these are the kinds of things that cause issue with those of us who have come here to try to make this particular committee work the best way it possibly can. When we see those sorts of things, that's when we get the extra frustration that comes along.

I will leave it at that.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Very good. Thank you, Mr. Dreeshen.

May I just comment again, very briefly? There is a difference between equal and fair. That's why they stagger the starting point in foot races. The person on the inside track has less distance to travel, so that's offset. So equal is not always fair.

When the government says equal, it means that the opposition may get to speak, but then before you go to the third party, you should go back to the government, because that's how we do a lot of our rotation, back this way. The element of fairness is such that when the government gets the floor, often it's to move in camera. Since it always wins that motion, it means the third party is denied any opportunity to have anything to say in public.

I hear what you're saying, Mr. Dreeshen, but the world doesn't collapse when things from this meeting are made public. In camera is meant to be a tool to allow us to work together more congenially, without the cameras, without worrying about saying something that's going to generate a headline. But it does not necessarily mean that things that would otherwise be said in public are damaging somehow and therefore they need to be kept under wraps.

I hear the government. Mr. Kramp, in particular, has emphasized this: going from the opposition, then before going to the third party, going back to the government. But I don't see that as being fair. It may be equal in terms of the strength of the seats you have, but it's not fair.

Remember, this is an oversight committee. The opposition members, quite frankly, are usually the ones who are the aggressors and the government members are the ones who are often on the defensive—not always; sometimes the government will agree with things. That's why I went that way. It wasn't for any particular fairness to the Liberals or any kind of game; it was a recognition that once the government got the floor, it could be the end of the meeting in public. So the official opposition would have got to say something, the government would have got to say something, but the third party would have been shut down.

Maybe I'm overly sensitive to the concerns of the third and fourth parties because I was over there for so long. I was in the fourth party, and I was the only one, as many of you remember. I remember those slights. But I also remember how fair many previous chairs were. We know there's an exception, but prior to that, there was a real element of fairness, and I always appreciated that. It didn't deny the majority the right to make a decision. It didn't deny the government its rights, but it did make me feel as if my presence at least mattered, and that I had an opportunity to express a point of view from the fourth party.

So Mr. Dreeshen, with respect, that's why I do it. It's not a deliberate intent to favour the opposition over the government. I'm trying to provide an element of fairness, in recognition of the overwhelmingly omnipotent power of the government once they have the floor, because they can guarantee that any motion they move will carry. The opposition does not have that luxury.

The last thing I would say is the public accounts committee is not a committee where government members are usually feeling good all the time. It's a rough position to be in. It's an important role, but it's not an easy one. I can appreciate that from time to time you feel the pressure and feel the heat, but that is the nature of this committee.

All right, I'll go on now to Madame Blanchette-Lamothe as a first-time speaker, and then over to Mr. Kramp for a second time.

Madame.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you.

I will be very quick. I have to react when I hear Mr. Hayes' comments. As I see it, accusing the chair of not being impartial is unacceptable in this case. The chair of the committee has been mentioning for some time that he is not comfortable with the way things are being done. So you cannot accuse him now of taking sides and making partisan choices, just because he has given the opposition the floor on a tricky matter.

If he had not opened this debate well in advance and if he had not drawn our attention to the matter, perhaps our thoughts might be different. But the chair has been trying to lead this debate on what would be agreeable for a long time. In my opinion, comments like those made by Mr. Hayes are unacceptable. I am pleased that finally we are having this discussion on the way we should proceed in the future.

That is all I wanted to say.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Merci beaucoup.

Monsieur Kramp, you have the floor, sir.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I have just a few comments, some of them from the benefit of hindsight.

Like the chair, I've sat in opposition on this committee. I've sat on this committee with minority status and I'm sitting on this committee now in a majority status. One of the problems we have is that we operate without a subcommittee. There are pros and cons with all of that. My preference has been to see a subcommittee work effectively and efficiently. It streamlines our work here and eliminates a lot of the problems that come forward.

The disturbing part of all this—and I say this with all honesty—is that we started off this committee with a subcommittee. Though I may be taken to task for stating this, the opposition filibustered the subcommittee. I couldn't believe it. We were trying to come to decisions, and we had complete blockage and obfuscation at the subcommittee, which rendered the subcommittee useless. It disturbed me a great deal sitting there as a member on the subcommittee, trying to come to some form of agreement.

Mr. Allen recognized my frustration at that point, because we had to move forward. Unfortunately, we were not able to do so. This was not just one occasion. I've never seen this before in Parliament, not being able to move forward at a subcommittee. I don't know if it was a strategy, and I'm not going to suggest it was, or if it was just individuals with a peculiar focus and a set direction. But it's the first time since I've been in Parliament that a subcommittee was rendered useless. I thought it was tragic, and I believed we would feel the implications of it down the road. Well, here we are now.

I support the government on this position. The government did not play a role in it. We did not play a role in blocking that subcommittee. Unfortunately, the opposition did, and it should take responsibility for it.

I was deeply discouraged. Now here we are, going through the same thing that we could have handled effectively at subcommittee. But the purpose was to take any decisions or potential sensitivities or anything where we could find the hair in between and just refuse to do it. They wanted everything to be totally out of camera so they could make more political points. Once that happens, then you really start to lose trust in being able to work together. That is where this all started, and I say that with all honesty.

Maybe I'll respond to Mr. McKay's assertion. I respect Mr. McKay as a member in good standing, of long standing, a member with a solid reputation here on the Hill. However, Mr. McKay was probably not aware of how the priority of the F-35 study was progressing.

There were six chapters. If the government had wished to use the weight of its majority, it would not have had to study the F-35 first. We could have moved the priority. We could be talking about the F-35 six months from now instead of today. But it was a government initiative, and we recognized some realities and some government concerns. So we decided to make this a priority. We agreed and made the motion to advance the study and make it a priority. That was done in good faith.

There might have been some people even within the government, at different levels, who might not have appreciated that. But the committee made that deliberation fairly and honestly, knowing that the opposition was not going to object to the study. It was a clear statement of fact. There was certainly no obfuscation on behalf of the government in moving forward on the F-35s. We have more than cooperated in advancing this as a priority.

We moved out of camera last time. As Mr. Allen has said, we expected to be in camera on this. Quite frankly, so did I. My personal preference was to be in camera, simply to maintain the consistency of our process. But then a number of people said no, let's make an exception to demonstrate good faith. Quite frankly, some people could misconstrue that as an opportunity to play to the media.

Let's just deal in good faith. Let's move forward. Let's see how it works. Can we effectively do this? Of course, what happened right off the bat? There was complete politicization of the process. Complete. We saw what happened at this committee. I don't have to remind my colleagues of what took place at this committee and how we became effectively neutered through the entire meeting. We simply, once again, had another filibuster, and away we went again. We just were not effective.

It didn't work, unfortunately. I wish it had worked.

If Mr. Ravignat and I have a difference of opinion, by golly, let's have it, with no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We move forward. We have some different thoughts. We bring motions. I would love to get back to that. But right now, we've moved this committee, regretfully, into a procedural process rather than an investigation-of-facts process. It's to the detriment of Canada and to the detriment, I think, of the parties involved at the committee level.

I'm disappointed. I don't know how we're going to get over this, Chair, I really don't, because the genie's out of the bottle on this. Everybody wants to move forward on this for their own political purposes. The opposition simply wants to grab hold of this chain and keep yanking it until there's no more life left in the chain. I understand that. The government, obviously, will at some point want to say fine, we have other business, so let's move on. I think we all recognize those realities.

I'm just suggesting to my colleagues that as we move forward, we all take a little deeper breath on an issue like this. And when the floor is given, hopefully there will be a clear indication of why. If it's to go in camera, obviously, there's a reason for that. But I would hope that once we are in camera, the discussion as to why could maybe take place. If at some particular point either the government or the opposition has a great deal of difficulty with that, then let's see if we can talk our way through it and get it resolved.

Chair, I would deeply love to have this committee get back on track. I really would. I have worked on this committee for eight years.

It's certainly no reflection on the chair. As I mentioned, I believe that your decision on this was wrong, but that's fine. That's just a difference of opinion, and we're entitled to that. If I didn't say that, I wouldn't be honest with the chair.

I would hope that we would move forward. I'm not going to belabour the point now. Denying the government an opportunity, in the chair's description of fairness, I think, quite frankly, isn't fair. It isn't fair, as I said in my comment earlier, to say to the government that because you have the majority, we'll listen to the opposition and let them talk, and if they want to make a motion, it's the same thing; we know you want to go in camera, supposedly, so by the time it comes to you, we're just going to hold you off.

It really makes things a challenge for the effective operation of this committee.

I will make a last point, Chair. I don't know what the precedent is for this. The chair might be totally right in his statement. I don't know. Right off the bat, the chair said that when you have the floor, there will be no motions. Is that the way it works? Does the chair have that latitude and luxury to say that if I have the floor now, I'm prohibited from making a motion? I've never heard of that before. If it is within the rights of the chair to dictate that, if the chair did that simply to try to move this meeting forward and have a pre-meeting before the meeting so that it wouldn't complicate this situation, fine. I can appreciate that. My concern, of course, is what kind of precedent that sets. Is it a process we follow, or is this an exception to the rule to sort of speed up our process?

I don't know. If the chair could at some point—maybe not now, because he might not have the answer—provide some clarification on that.... And it doesn't have to be publicly; it can be privately. It's not my role to try to put anybody on the spot here or make things difficult for someone, but I think we do have to have some clear rules moving forward, and I would certainly appreciate some clarification at an appropriate time on that.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Thank you very much, Mr. Kramp.

Let me just say that as the first vice-chair of the committee, Mr. Kramp, you've always been right up front. You play hardball politics; that's why you've been returned so many times. But there's no question about your fairness and your integrity. I take what you say seriously, and I appreciate the thought you put into your comments, as tough as they are.

We'll move along now.

Oh, by the way, if I can, you were right on the second observation. I was trying to find something other than just boom, boom, boom. Canadians aren't comfortable with that, especially with this committee. If they get a sense that somebody's just driving things, dictating, whether they think it's me or the government or anybody.... That's what I'm trying to avoid here; you're absolutely right.

I was taking a little bit of licence with the chair, but if somebody had called me on a point of order and said I couldn't give the floor to somebody and deny them the right to make a motion, then I would have had to make a ruling, and I probably would have had to say they're right and I wouldn't do that. But I do have the right to put a suggestion out there, and if no one does complain, then by inference there has been unanimous agreement to do that, and we move along. Again, I was doing it as an interim step prior to that impossible situation where everybody wants the floor at once but not everyone can get it.

Let me offer again--especially based on the positive aspects, Mr. Kramp, of what you were saying--to representatives of each of the caucuses that I will gladly convene publicly or privately a meeting to kick around some ideas so that we can have a solution. I agree, the solution we have now doesn't work very well. But you will recall, I said from the beginning that it didn't work, and that no matter how I ruled and how I approached it, someone was going to be upset, and that was a given.

I'd much rather be enforcing rules everybody has agreed to. It makes my job a whole lot easier. It's when we get into this uncertain area.... And yes, some of it is the lack of a steering committee. I won't get into the politics of why and what happened, but the absence of an effective steering committee does hurt the work of this committee. In the past, when we had that committee and it was functioning the way it should, we did work better. That doesn't mean we still didn't have our moments, but for the most part it worked a lot more efficiently. We don't have that. That's a fact. So that's partly also why we're sort of lurching around here without as clear a focus as I think everyone would like.

Madame Bateman, first-time speaker.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to comment on some points that my colleagues on both sides of the table have raised.

First, Ms. Blanchette-Lamothe used the word “accuse” to describe Mr. Hayes' comments. I feel that the word is a little strong. Personally, I heard a comment on the process, but I heard no accusation. We have heard a full commentary. I congratulate you, Mr. Chair. I also heard Mr. Hayes compliment you on your work. So we have to find some balance. We also have to choose our words a little more carefully.

Second, Mr. Chair, I heard you say that you were concerned by the small third party and its ability to speak here. As you know, Mr. Chair, I am very proud to be here and I am very serious about the work we do for all Canadians. The third party has used time at this committee. Perhaps you could check whether the time the third party has used here constitutes a form of obstruction. There is certainly a lot of time wasting, if not actual filibustering. That is also part of your responsibilities in terms of the process that our committee follows.

Thank you.