Evidence of meeting #38 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was old.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claude Benoit  President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.
Gerry Weiner  Chairman of the Board, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

11:20 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

That falls under my duties. I am responsible for conducting interviews and selecting candidates. I then submit the nominations to our audit committee for approval and, obviously, also to our board of directors.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Okay. Very good.

So Mr. Richard Tardif was hired as vice-president of finance, and I understand he signed off on your audited statements every year between 2006 and 2011. He was subsequently charged in September 2011 with practising illegally as a chartered accountant and was fined $15,000.

Why didn't you undertake some due diligence to actually ensure that your chartered accountant was in fact licensed?

11:20 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

When we hired him, we looked at the results of Richard Tardif in similar positions. We were convinced he was the best candidate. After all, Richard Tardif had worked as an accountant for the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, for Telefilm Canada, which is a major Canadian crown corporation, and for the Société de la Place des Arts, which is a major Quebec crown corporation. So we did not feel we needed to verify his accounting designations.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Well, if I were operating a delivery company, I'd probably want to make sure people driving my cars had a driver's licence. If I were operating a crown corporation with some $44 million in expenditures, I'd probably want to make sure that my accountant had a licence to operate as an accountant, because I had specific reporting responsibilities to the Government of Canada and to the people of Canada.

We had an individual signing off on audited financial statements who was not licensed to do so. Do you feel that's a problem? Frankly, it speaks to the validity of your reporting.

11:20 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

Our accounts and our financial statements are audited by the Auditor General of Canada. The role of our accountant, or financial officer, has to do with management. The executive provides the statements in the annual reports. From that point of view, I agree that it is important to check accounting titles. We have renewed this practice and we are constantly renewing it. In this case, unfortunately, we relied on the candidate’s good reputation and the references we received. We relied on his good will and we trusted him.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Thank you.

To me it seems a little sloppy. I think to most people it would seem sloppy, and it may be, frankly, an example of a recurring pattern.

You indicated that management has been an example of ongoing improvement since 2004, that you budget responsibly, and that you try to stay as economically independent as possible. But when I look at your operating statements, frankly, I see an operation that, for every dollar it brings in, spends $2.50. That's not very independent.

We have an organization, deemed to be a crown corporation—and I think this is what really bothers Canadians and this is why this is a story—that reports to the government and has an accountant who is not licensed, who has signed off on a month-long trip to Australia for its chief executive officer, and that is spending $2.50 for every dollar it takes in. The taxpayers are paying for this operation.

To be clear, you went to the board first with a plan and said, “I want to go to Australia to have a look at how their ports are doing business.” Is that correct?

11:20 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

The purpose of the trip was to go see the development of similar ferry terminals, because we are working on a ferry terminal project. I was also going to see urban spaces and landscaping, as well as recreational boating facilities, because we had a project to renew our facilities. We also wanted to see interpretation facilities that house the port heritage, as well as an exhibit that we were planning to bring home. In addition , we wanted to look at signage projects and a ferris wheel, because we were studying the possibility of a project like that. It really was a justified trip.

It is normal for someone in a position such as mine to be able to go see other facilities, to see how those facilities are organized and to bring lessons back to their own company.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Okay. I would assume—it is rumoured—that after you spent a month in Australia, you put together a 100-page report that you presented to the executive board of the port. Unfortunately, nobody else has seen that. I know the minister has requested it, but it has not been provided. I would like to request that you provide—how quickly could you provide that report to this committee? Could we have it tomorrow? I would assume if it has already been completed, it would just be a matter of sending it. I'd like to see if any work of any value was done.

I didn't know the Government of Canada was looking at building a ferris wheel. Did you know, Mr. Boulerice, we were thinking of building a ferris wheel? I didn't know we were looking at that.

Could I have the report?

11:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

First, I would like to make it clear that we submit a business plan to the government every year, in which all the projects that we plan to develop or implement are listed and described. So the government is aware of all our projects, through our business plan.

Second, seven reports, not just one, were produced as a result of this mission. Those seven reports were presented to my entire team to inspire the designers and the people responsible for the construction and planning. They were also shared with the Montreal Port Authority so that they could take a look at similar facilities. It is not the Old Port of Montréal Corporation, but the authority that manages the ferry terminal. I have already sent the reports to the office of the assistant deputy minister and I would be happy to forward them to the committee if you think it is appropriate. They know about them. They have read them and had time to become familiar with them.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

A point of order, Mr. Chairman.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Del Mastro on a point of order.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Could you please make a request that we receive these seven reports as soon as possible? My understanding is that the minister's office is not in possession of these reports, but I'm sure everyone would like to be inspired by them.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

I understand your request and I hope to be able to obtain the reports through the clerk. We will then be able to send them to the members of the committee as soon as possible.

I will now give the floor to Mr. Coderre for seven minutes.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

If the assistant deputy minister has those reports, he will have to speak to his minister. If they already have them, there is no reason to start tarnishing reputations for nothing.

Ms. Benoit, do you think that those mind-boggling expenses have made you vulnerable to criticism? If you had to do it all over again, perhaps the retreats should have been done differently. Instead of going to see the ferris wheel in New Zealand, you could have crossed the river and go see Terres des Hommes or La Ronde. Do you think that you sort of set yourself up for criticism?

11:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

I feel that it is crucial for me and my colleagues to look for inspiration elsewhere and to establish connections and networks. That is how we have managed to sell exhibits to other Canadian institutions.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Ms. Benoit, I understand that. But I don’t have much time and, as you can see, I am the only one here from my party. I might be worth two or three members, but I am alone. I only have seven minutes.

Do you think you set yourself up for criticism with that, yes or no? I will ask other questions afterwards.

11:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

I reported the expenses to our board of directors and the expenses were signed off by my chairs. Mr. Coderre, I will concede that we have been going through a period of major restraint since 2010.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

So it seems.

11:25 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

This mission took place in 2008-2009. Since 2010, the government has asked us to keep our budget in check. So we have cut our expenses significantly and we have restructured our staff considerably. In fact, we have reduced our staff by 10%. We have taken responsible action in order to be able to balance our budget, given the government subsidy.

I would also like to clarify that the subsidy from the Canadian government essentially goes towards maintaining free access to our site of 40 hectares. Actually, 60% of the 40 hectares are public parks, green spaces, open spaces with access to the shore.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Okay. I understand that, Ms. Benoit.

I also understand that all the expenses you incurred were approved by the board of directors either beforehand or afterwards. Everything you did was approved by Gerry Weiner, former Conservative minister, friend of Leo Housakos and the current chairman of your board. Is that correct?

11:30 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

From 2007 to 2009, I submitted my travel and mission projects to Bernard Roy, who was the chairman of the board at the time.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Bernard Roy is the other one who keeps complaining because he was squeezed out.

May 10th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.

Claude Benoit

Bernard Roy had the authority to approve my expenses. The Hon. Gerry Weiner has approved them since 2009. The board of directors does not see my expenses. In terms of managing travel expenses, our policy is based on good practices and it follows the standards of the Treasury Board. We are actively putting this policy into practice.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

So everything was approved?

11:30 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Old Port of Montréal Corporation Inc.