House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was office.

Topics

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

If it is a different point of order. I am not going to hear more argument on the same point. I have indicated it is for the committee.

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is different from the standpoint that this does not refer to the committee. It refers to a statement the member made in the House, this chamber, yesterday, in which he described my behaviour as being offensive. That is disrespectful--

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It may be, but the dispute between the members here is relating to what is going on in the committee. That is what we are hearing. The matter should be resolved there. As I say, if it cannot be, the committee can do a report and we will deal with that in the House. As far as I am concerned, that is that.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is rising on a point of order.

Information Contained in Ten Percenter
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it has come to my attention this morning that a ten percenter has been sent by our caucus into the riding of the member for Yukon that contained incorrect information about the member's voting record. This was clearly an error. It should not have happened. Therefore, I would like to apologize to the member and to his constituents.

For the record, unlike the majority of his fellow Liberal caucus members, the member for Yukon did vote against an opposition motion in April that called to maintain the long gun registry and end the amnesty, and two weeks ago he voted in favour of private member's Bill C-391 that would end the long gun registry.

To be fair, it can be confusing to determine which Liberal members support the registry and which do not. After all, it was the Liberal Party that invented the wasteful long gun registry, and it is the same Liberal Party today that is fighting to keep it in existence.

In any case, I encourage the member and those opposition colleagues from all parties who support Bill C-391 to continue to do so through the committee process.

Finally, I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight, and once again apologize to the member.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

November 18th, 2009 / 3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing 34, I have the honour to present to the House reports from the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association concerning three visits: one, a bilateral visit to Cyprus and Malta; two, the 40th conference of the British Isles; and three, the 34th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Regional Conference in Guyana.

Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a report from the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics concerning the government response to the 11th report of the committee.

This has to do with a matter in which the committee had done a report and received a response from the Minister of Justice, which the committee was unsatisfied with and wanted to express its displeasure and disappointment with the response from the Minister of Justice to its 11th report, and to recommend to the government that it introduce into the House no later than March 30, 2010 a new access to information act that would reflect the committee's proceedings and recommendations, and furthermore, that the minister be invited to reappear before the committee before November 30, 2009.

Veterans Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The committee has considered Bill C-201, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (deletion of deduction from annuity), and reports it with amendments.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 24th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Pursuant to Standing Order 91.1(2), this report contains the list of items added to the order of precedence as a result of the replenishment that took place on Tuesday, November 2, 2009 under private members' business, that should not be designated non-votable.

Procedure and House Affairs
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Pursuant to Standing Order 91.1(2) this report is deemed concurred in.

Fisheries and Oceans
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rodney Weston Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant Standing Order 108(2), I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in relation to the amendments to the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization convention.

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, I move that the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, presented on Wednesday, June 17, be concurred in.

I rise here today to draw the attention of the House to the danger facing small and medium-sized businesses that sell their goods and services to the federal government.

This danger was explained in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, which was tabled in the House in June 2009.

Federal government procurement is big business in Canada. The government buys approximately $14 billion worth of goods and services each year from thousands of suppliers. More than three-quarters of these suppliers are small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, in Canada and Quebec, and they are also the main driving force of our economy.

SMEs account for 45% of gross domestic product, which is crucial to the country's economic growth, 60% of all jobs in the economy and 75% of net employment growth. That is significant.

Thus, small and medium-sized businesses are a crucial part of the economic fabric of Quebec and Canada, and they play an extremely important role in federal government procurement, since they accounted for 65% of all procurement transactions in 2007 and 2008.

In committee, what started with a study on the bundling of information technology contracts quickly became a study on how small and medium enterprises try to access federal procurement.

We know that small and medium enterprises want to do business with the federal government for a number of reasons. We were very impressed by the desire they showed to do business with the federal government, but we were also struck by the challenges they talked about having to overcome, in order to do business with the government.

A few years ago, to help SMEs, the government implemented a system, an electronic tendering service, that posts government contract opportunities to potential bidders. This service is called MERX, and it is used by SMEs.

Over the next few minutes, I will speak about two things: one is the bundling of information technology contracts, which led us to examine a much broader subject, my second topic; how small and medium enterprises access the federal procurement process.

Until now, small and medium enterprises received between 65% and 70% of the value of federal government contracts for professional information technology services. The total value of the contracts awarded by the federal government for this type of service was very recently estimated at more than $600 million a year. It is SMEs that provide these services.

SMEs won the vast majority of these contracts because they were able to meet the needs of the federal government; they had the abilities and the knowledge; and their overall costs were relatively low.

They are flexible as well. They can adapt easily to what is asked of them and their solutions are very innovative.

The government has tried in the past to bundle several contracts and develop large IT projects. For the most part, the contracts failed to deliver on expectations, went over budget and became unmanageable. The Secure Channel project is a good example of going over budget.

When the government contracted for services in small, manageable projects, those projects succeeded 99.9% of the time.

The shortcomings of the large bundles contracts were made clear in reports from the Auditor General and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The Auditor General of Canada even raised a red flag and said that we should review contracts of this kind because they did not necessarily provide much of an advantage.

Despite this red flag and the Auditor General's reluctance about bundled contracts, this government's new bright idea is to award even bigger contracts.

In our opinion, the government intends to bundle IT professional services together in order to issue four basic contracts, each valued at roughly $1 billion annually. That is quite something. Four $1 billion contracts annually is $4 billion a year. Over what period? We do not know. There was talk of 20, 15 or 12 years, and then they came back to 15 years. It is up in the air. Why would they do this? It seems they want to save money.

Most services included in the large contracts the government would award are provided by small and medium enterprises. A manager of technology strategies at Treasury Board told the industry, on January 15, 2009, that he was not sure of the savings potential of these large contracts. He presumed that they would save approximately 20% but he did not provide any figures to back his claim. He planned to do some tests, but he did not know what the savings would be.

No business case has been prepared and that is very serious. It means that the contract tendering process of Public Works and Government Services Canada is being completely changed. Contracts currently awarded to small and medium enterprises are being awarded to very large companies, without knowing exactly what the result will be. That is serious.

In other words, the government hopes to bundle information technology contracts because this will supposedly result in savings. I repeat that this is a supposition, as no business case has been prepared. The supposed savings would be achieved to the detriment of SMEs because they do not have the capacity to bid on megacontracts.

The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates studied the issue at the request of a number of small and medium enterprises from various sectors. They sent us letters stating that something was happening at Public Works and Government Services Canada. That is how learned of these bundled contracts.

We must add that this will also lead to a lack of competition because these megacontracts will be awarded to one, two or three large companies. In the case of information technology, it may be Bell, Telus, or CGI. There are three or four major companies that could carry out these bundled contracts worth $1 billion per year. The committee members are quite certain that this will increase the cost to taxpayers.

At present, when a request for proposals is issued all companies, including SMEs, can participate. They know that one significant factor is quality, of course, but so are project costs. Bids are close. Bidders compete, which reduces the cost to the taxpayer.

By excluding all small and medium enterprises from the tendering process, the government will give two or three major information technology companies the ability to dictate all prices. In the past, this type of situation has always made prices go up instead of down. It is a matter of supply and demand.

What worries us most now is whether SMEs have access to federal government contracts. For example, in the government enterprise network service initiative I have been talking about, it is very clear that small and medium enterprises will be excluded from the process and will be relegated to subcontracting.

Committee members were told not to worry, that small and medium enterprises will still be able to operate. But what about the big companies, the big box corporations, the multinationals? The committee was told that the big multinational corporations did not necessarily have the competencies that small and medium enterprises have. As a result, they will recruit and steal employees from the small and medium enterprises by making promises of better working conditions, better salaries and better contracts. The SME that was raided will then have to shut down, since it can no longer offer the service. Inevitably, the owner will beg for a job from the multinational, where he will often be hired as cheap labour. This was demonstrated and spoken about in committee. I thought it was important for my colleagues in the House to be aware of what happens when these megacontracts are awarded.

If we had seen a business case, as the Auditor General of Canada requested, perhaps the members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates—of which I am a member—might have a better understanding of what is behind this. They might have a better idea of the real reason Public Works and Government Services Canada is awarding these megacontracts and weakening small and medium enterprises in Quebec and Canada. Unfortunately, we do not have any numbers. They did not give us anything. They testified before the committee and gave very vague answers to our questions.

I believe that the situation is extremely serious, especially since the Minister of Public Works told us not to worry when he testified before the committee. He said that everything would be fine. I think that he may not have known all about the issue at that point. I do not believe he deliberately or knowingly meant to deceive us. In my opinion, he was not aware of what was going on, because he told us that there would never be megacontracts for professional services.

Yet this past summer, Public Works and Government Services Canada issued solicitations of interest and qualification, continued going ahead with these megacontracts and even changed the terminology. There is no longer any reference to “professional services”. The term “managed services” is used now, to fool people.

We want the minister to be aware of this. If he did not act deliberately, then he may, perhaps, have been deceived, but I wonder.

The study by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates began with the specific issue of how information technology contracts were handled, but went on to examine a much broader subject—access by small and medium enterprises to the federal procurement process—and culminated in the report we are discussing today, which is entitled “In Pursuit of Balance: Assisting Small and Medium Enterprises in Accessing Federal Procurement”.

The seventh report of the committee suggests the following:

The federal government must ensure that due consideration is given to small and medium enterprises when considering the bundling of contracts and standing offers.

There were a lot of recommendations. The committee worked very hard on this report and asked Public Works and Government Services Canada to be fair and honest, to explain the situation to us and to help our small and medium enterprises.

Two recommendations in particular appeared in the report. The first reads as follows:

Provide ample opportunity for SME consultation about contracts that are to be bundled.

So far, they have not been given that opportunity. At the very least, the government should ask them what they think. And once it asks them, it needs to take actually their thoughts into account. We realized that it was not taking these ideas into account.

The second reads as follows:

Require any department or agency who wishes to put a bundled contract up for tender to submit a business case justifying the need for bundling that responds to the Treasury Board Secretariat’s definition of business case and as requested by the Office of the Auditor General in its November 2006 report.

They have definitions. Unfortunately, Public Works and Government Services Canada has not done this. It tends to proceed haphazardly. The Auditor General asked for this in her 2006 report. Bundling contracts is not a new issue. We have been talking about it for some time now.

In its response to the report, the government called the definition of contract consolidation anecdotal and claimed that it does not really happen. But it also said that its definition of contract consolidation would be finalized by 2011. It was very evasive in response to the explicit request for business cases and more or less avoided the issue.

Is that because government officials are tired of dealing with small contracts and would rather hand everything over to multinationals so that they do not have to manage it themselves? There may be other factors at play. Maybe some individuals have insinuated themselves into the federal government and have lobbied for megacontracts. Members of the committee have to look into that possibility as well. This is about justice and honesty.

I mentioned four other contracts. The committee examined the free-standing office furniture contract. People complained about it. That was exactly the same thing.

Today, I would like to draw the House's attention to what is currently going on with federal government procurement in terms of the small and medium enterprises that are the cornerstone of the Canadian economy and the Quebec economy. They are the ones who keep the economy running. Yes, there are big multinational corporations, but we need small companies too. Right now, the government is committing a kind of genocide with respect to our small and medium enterprises because the SMEs no longer have or will no longer have access to federal government contracts.

Beyond a protectionist policy, that is not even—

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. Questions and comments. The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's speech.

I would like to ask her if the committee examined the following specific issue, either in its report or elsewhere. By calling for more contracts for small and medium-sized businesses, considering that the government seems to grant a lot more contracts to large firms, did the committee examine whether this would not result in the government giving out a lot more contracts under $25,000? Those contracts can often be put out according to the rules, without invitations to tender.

That is something I have observed in the past in my work with the Public Accounts Committee. I was wondering if this was taken into account in the committee's recommendations.

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Madam Speaker, in response to my colleague I would say that the committee members do not necessarily want more going out to small and medium-sized businesses. What the committee wants is for the interests of small and medium-sized businesses to be taken into account when megacontracts are being awarded.

Before a megacontract is awarded, perhaps government officials could look at this issue and consider how many small and medium-sized businesses receive government contracts and rely on them for their survival. How many small and medium-sized businesses will go under if megacontracts are awarded? Will that be viable? This is what we are wondering.

Regarding contracts under $25,000, I must admit we did not examine this aspect, since that was not our role. Such contracts can indeed be awarded by the Department of Public Works. I believe the committee put its trust in the fact that there are other parties that can assess the value of the contracts awarded.

What is important about this is knowing, when an IT contract is awarded to Bell Canada or Telus, for example, how many employees of small and medium-sized businesses will lose their jobs? That is what is important.

Government Operations and Estimates
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my fellow member of the government operations committee, my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville, Quebec, not only for the speech she has made and the points she very ably outlined for us today, but for the dedication and commitment she has shown on that committee in the interests of small and medium size enterprises in this country and the people who are seeking to take part in the opportunities created by government procurement. She has shown dedication in ensuring that Canadian enterprises have at least fair access to these opportunities.

I would like to know her views on the report we made jointly. Perhaps she would care to expand on the information regarding the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises as it compares to evidence we heard on the American office for small and medium size enterprises. I notice there was a distinct difference between the two operations, and perhaps she could enlighten the House as to some of those differences.