Evidence of meeting #3 for Public Safety and National Security in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was that's.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Stephen Rigby  President, President's Office, Canada Border Services Agency
  • William Elliott  Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service Canada
  • Myles Kirvan  Associate Deputy Minister, Deputy Minister's Office, Department of Public Safety

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

The $175-million figure was never generated by the government; it was actually generated by the bid committee. It was their assessment--and I guess the province was part of it--of what the cost would be. It has never been endorsed by the federal government, as I understand it.

The federal government is the lead on security. We have an integrated security unit led by the RCMP out of British Columbia, which has been doing the Olympic preparation. It has assessed what the real needs are and developed what I think is an actual security plan to meet those needs, which, as you say, are a challenge in this day and age.

The budget that is being developed reflects those very real needs. It will be significantly higher than the $175-million figure that was in the bid book. We're still in the process of negotiations with the province to come up with the final arrangements. We will have details when an announcement is ready. But you can rest assured that the figure will be significantly higher than $175 million. There will be a sharing arrangement between the province and the federal government for that.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Under the current arrangement, the province would share the bill equally with the federal government. When that amount has to be increased, will the same arrangement stand?

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

We will see what the arrangement is when we have an agreement. Right now there is no agreement, so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to predict what it will be.

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

You've already conducted a complete tour of Canada's correctional facilities. We hear a lot of rumours. A number of members, their parties' critics in this field, are looking for confirmation or denial of rumours to the effect that, for example, a new penitentiary is being built in Brossard—La Prairie, that the La Macaza facility is being expanded, that the Cowansville facility is as well or that there are going to be new facilities.

Can you confirm or deny those rumours? In general, do you think Canada's correctional facilties are adequate to hold the prisoners who will be sent there in the coming years?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I believe the committee members are familiar with the transformation report prepared by Rob Sampson for Corrections Canada. It laid out a plan that has largely been embraced by my predecessor for the long-term transformation of the corrections system.

One of the elements of it was a move toward some of these regional facilities. At this time a decision hasn't been taken on the construction of new facilities and closures of existing facilities. That's all very premature, and in the current environment you can understand why that's not imminent this week.

We have been moving on the other aspects of the transformation agenda, particularly things to do with programming, to change some of the programs available in the penitentiaries to better meet the needs of prisoners. I found it intriguing that when prisoners were in the intake process, for the first 90 days or so there was no programming for them during that assessment period. With the changing profile of prisoners, I think that was a real gap. That is an area we are moving on right now, so there will be some programming during that assessment period.

It's also important because of the way sentences are being delivered differently, with credit for time served before people get sentenced. A lot of the stays in penitentiaries are shorter than they would have been in the past, and to lose that 90-day period for programming just doesn't make sense. So that is an example of one of the elements of the transformation plan.

There are others that are being moved on, but at this point, in terms of the actual regional structures, the physical buildings and so on, we've provided some integrity money for improvements where necessary to keep things moving, but there haven't been any decisions taken on closures, new construction, or anything like at this point.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

I'm going to turn to another topic raised by the CBC, which has observed that the Canada Border Services Agency has no emergency plan in the event of a terrorist attack. I don't know whether you are aware of that information or whether you can confirm or deny it. If that is the case, can you make a commitment that that deficiency will be corrected? What will be the time frame?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

You have 45 seconds left.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

First of all, the Border Services Agency actually plays an important role in trying to prevent terrorist attacks, and we have provided them with additional resources to assist them in doing that in terms of detection technology resources and so on.

In terms of overall management for a particular terrorist event, obviously different terrorist events, different circumstances, require different plans and different responses. I'm not entirely clear what it is you're driving at in the question. From an overall perspective, the government is obviously very active on the front, whether it be CSIS in terms of monitoring the RCMP through the integrated security units, which also link with other public agencies.... The integrated security teams are very important for that kind of response and are already actively involved. For example, in northern Alberta, where we have these pipeline bombings occurring, we have again the integrated security enforcement team involved in that situation.

So there are resources, there are plans. Each response to each situation is different. We can see right now, as we're speaking, exercises underway in British Columbia, in Olympic preparations.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

At Border Services?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Does the Border Service Agency want to comment on the extent to which you are involved?

February 11th, 2009 / 4:20 p.m.

Stephen Rigby President, President's Office, Canada Border Services Agency

Yes, we are involved in all of the exercises that are proceeding right now with regard to Olympic preparation.

I can also indicate, Monsieur Ménard, that we have recently completed business continuity plans for all of our ports and headquarters locations and we will be responding completely to the issue that you just raised.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Garry Breitkreuz

Maybe we can explore that later.

Mr. Harris, for seven minutes, please.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Minister, welcome to the committee. Thank you for coming on such short notice.

Mr. Holland raised the issue with respect to the RCMP with respect to recruitment. This in not a unique problem to the RCMP. Other police forces have the same issue of retention of particularly senior officers who may be able to retire but it would be very good for the force, whether it's the RCMP or otherwise, to keep these people around because of their experience and what they can provide by way of mentoring to younger officers, etc.

One of the concerns and complaints about the fact that the increases that were negotiated with Treasury Board and put on the books last June and put in place were in part going to allow RCMP senior officers to stay, encourage them to stay for another few years, rather than giving them an incentive to leave. That's a concern there. Is the minister not concerned about this issue of retention, particularly of senior officers? And why would the government not treat them differently?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Naturally we are very concerned. I think you have put your finger on one of the important issues and challenges facing the RCMP on the human resources front.

I continue to discuss approaches with the commissioner that can be adopted and ways of working and succeeding on the retention front. There are different reasons for why that happens. In some cases pension structures and so on create advantageous situations for people to leave earlier than we might otherwise like them to. Some people see better opportunities elsewhere. We have to make sure we're competitive on that front. I think we've come some distance to close those gaps. A career in the RCMP is very attractive as an option, and we've seen recruitment, for example, increasing as a result of that. But this is an area that still needs more attention and we're continuing to focus on that.

In terms of the issue of the pay increase being kept at 1.5% for each of the next few years, I think in the circumstances that we have in the general economy at large a lot of people are pretty happy with a job that they can be in and have a 1.5% increase every year. I think the people who are serving the public understand why that kind of discipline measure is required right now. If we compare it, for example, with what we saw in Ontario with the “Rae Days” in the early 1990s—that's a solution that was obviously far more deleterious on people's lifestyles—the capping of an increase at 1.5% is a modest across-the-government measure that will assist us in ensuring we have the resources we need to meet the other challenges in the economy today.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Minister--although I have to say, the police officers in particular regard this as a breach of faith after going through the process of raising these concerns and thinking they had some solutions worked out with the department.

On another point, your department has a line on page 189 of in the supplementary estimates concerning funding for initiatives in support of the five security and prosperity partnership priorities announced by North American leaders at the 2007 summit in Montebello. The item total is $1.142 million. Could you elaborate on that for the committee in terms of an explanation of what those priorities are and what the money might be going for?