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

10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Yes.

As far as I know, the third party is the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Party is the third party.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Yes.

10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Generally speaking, one refers to the party by its name rather than by its status.

10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

It just hurt to hear you say it that way. Your point is taken. I'll shut up.

You have the floor.

May 8th, 2012 / 10 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

I just wanted to point that out, but I do appreciate the expression of concern.

I also want to pick up on the comment that the government is omnipotent at this committee. I don't dispute that. We certainly know that if Mr. Saxton has his way, Mr. Byrne's motion will never see the light of day.

The government may be omnipotent, but it's not omniscient, and that is the point of this committee. The point of this committee is to review government decisions.

While Mr. Kramp argues that there are actually six things they could be doing, including border controls, interest-bearing debt, etc., it's clear that the F-35 issue is the first among equals, or way beyond the first among equals.

Just to give listeners and viewers some scale, this decision is in the order of magnitude of replacing the entire subway system in Toronto. That's what we've been arguing about in Toronto—updating and replacing the entire subway system. That's the order of magnitude of the F-35 costing.

I'm quite open to alternate processes, etc. But from the viewpoint of the Liberal Party, to say that Mr. Byrne's motion will be automatically dead in the water if we adopt an alternate process is just a non-starter. I'm certainly open to see how that would happen.

I also need to point out that what goes around comes around. I've been on that side as well. In fact, I think I've occupied every position all the way around this table over the course of being here for 14 years. I remember when we were in government and Minister Martin used to say to me that he wasn't actually afraid of what the opposition's questions might be when he came before the finance committee. He kind of reasonably anticipated them. He worried about the government members' questions, for a whole variety of reasons.

Normally I sit on the defence committee, and when David Pratt was the chair of that committee he issued a report—this was when the Liberals were in the majority—that was highly critical of the government. Many of those recommendations were ultimately adopted by the government and have been subsequently carried on by this government.

You don't get the impression here that the government members are actually prepared to be critical, particularly in this F-35 debate. Hence there is reluctance by the Liberal Party in particular—but I dare say the NDP as well—to allow Mr. Byrne's motion and possibly others to go in camera. As you rightly say, the cone of silence will descend and Mr. Byrne's motion will never see the light of day.

Discussions on the cost analysis of the F-18, the phasing out of the F-18s, replacement of the F-18s, or infrastructure modifications of the F-35s—all of that stuff will not likely ever see the light of day, nor will the witness list that Mr. Byrne has proposed.

I'm quite interested in the wisdom of Solomon. I don't always see it here. I'm quite prepared to entertain any kind of process that allows Mr. Byrne's motion to survive and be fairly debated. I have no observations on the functioning of the committee—I haven't actually been here to see whether the committee, either in public or in camera, is functional or dysfunctional—other than the generalized observation that a subcommittee is always preferable to a debate among 12 people as to what the agenda should be.

So if you can point us, Chair, to a means by which Mr. Byrne's motion survives intact and gets a fair and full hearing, then I'm all ears.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

I'm not sure that guarantee can be arrived at, but hope springs eternal.

For the purpose of trying to move us along, the only obvious one to me—and I'll just throw this out there—is that we would actually do the rotation. We would say that, starting with a certain meeting, it's Mr. Saxton, such that when we call a committee business meeting, it's understood that the chair will recognize, in a preordained rotation, the following members.... And that will change each meeting. That's the only fair thing I can think of.

As I said, then everybody takes their lumps. So for a really high-profile meeting where the government would like to get in camera as quickly as possible, they may be lucky, in that today may be the day they get to lead off the floor, so they can move that motion and do it right away. Or it may be bad luck, and it goes over to the opposition, and they have to wait to get the floor. I'm open to other ideas. That's the only one....

That's the major downside. It's that the politics of how the day will unfold will be decided, in many ways, purely by who gets the floor first. But it would be fair, it would eliminate most of this, and I would at least have a set of rules to enforce that everybody's buying into. By virtue of that, I have to deem that to be fair.

So let me put that in front of you and ask the balance of the speakers to comment as to whether or not they like it. Also, of course, you have an opportunity to give us an even better idea, which I'd love to have if it's out there.

I have a speakers list.

Mr. Dreeshen. Are you just putting up your hand now, Earl?

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Yes.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Okay. So Mr. Dreeshen's here.

Now it's over to Mr. Saxton. Mr. Saxton had the floor. Then Mr. McKay....

Do you want the floor again?

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

I wanted to follow up on what you were saying, because it is an interesting proposition that you have put forward.

Would you do that in an order similar to the speaking order that we have for witnesses, for example? Would you follow that order? Is that your proposal?

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

It wasn't. It could be.

My proposal was more egalitarian than that. It was just that you're first today, Mr. Allen is first next week, and Mr. McKay is first the week after. Then we're back to you being first in the week after that.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

If we were to follow the speaking order, that might be something we want to consider. I invite my colleagues to....

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

So what you're suggesting is that you—or at least your caucus—have the first spot. Then we'd just tick each of those off as a week.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

We just keep on going. We just follow the speaking order.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Chair David Christopherson

Okay. There are two suggestions on the floor.

Do you still want the floor?

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

I just want to say that I'm happy to hear what my colleagues have to say on this matter, but I do want to point out that an important member of this committee is not here today, and that's Mr. Byrne. So I would hesitate to come to any conclusion in his absence, because I know he will have something to say. I presume he will have something to say on this subject—