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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.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

With regard to your expenses from the trip, you determined that a portion of that trip—a 29-day trip to New Zealand and Australia—was business, and part of that trip was done on a cruise ship that you took a business expense from. Correct?

You charged part of your trip as a business expense, and part of that business expense was actually on a cruise ship.

11:40 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

The mission took place over 10 days, but spread out over 29 days of travel. Yes, I combined the mission with a vacation. One part of my vacation took place on a cruise ship, but during that cruise, I visited Auckland and Wellington, two cities in New Zealand. In that context, I took two days to visit some sites, including some very interesting ethnological and historical museums in Wellington, in New Zealand. I took those days for the mission because I had the opportunity to travel and go from one place to another. That is how it happened, and I claimed the equivalent of what it would have cost to fly there.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

So those museums had value in the report...when you submitted that report?

11:40 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

Yes, absolutely.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

How is my time?

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

You have 15 seconds left.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Carmichael Conservative Don Valley West, ON

Fifteen seconds. Thank you.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

We are now moving into the five-minute round of questions. We'll start with Mr. Angus.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Madame Benoit...for your trip to our committee.

To be frank, I guess Canadian taxpayers are frustrated. I think it would be fair to say there have been numerous allegations about mismanagement at the port and about lack of spending controls. So when we hear about duck confit for lunch and visits to Mont Tremblant, certainly people are wondering.

I'd like to ask about the idea of a South Seas cruise as part of fact finding. I've never heard that. Is that a common way to travel, in a South Seas ocean liner? I've never done that. I don't even think cabinet ministers do that.

Was that your idea?

11:40 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

The cruise was part of my vacation. I took advantage of two days of my vacation to go to places we don't regularly visit and to see comparable sites. We learned some very interesting things there. In New Zealand, for example, we see that ship passengers frequent hotels that are right beside the port of Auckland. These are very interesting sources of inspiration for the development…

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I understand it was your vacation, but you charged the taxpayer for things you visited. I think that's the question. I mean, I go on vacation a few times a year, but I don't think it's necessarily up to the taxpayer to pay, even if I am finding out wonderful things. I think that's part of a vacation.

I'd like to ask you about this larger lack of management. I understand that under your watch eight vice-presidents at the Old Port of Montreal have been fired or quit. There have been hundreds of thousands of dollars of costs to the taxpayers.

Is that true that we've lost eight so far?

11:40 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

Since I have been managing our corporation, so since 2000, there has been a team of six vice-presidents. In 12 years, there have been six vice-presidents. The vice-presidents we hire are people of quality and are very well trained. There have been four departures.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Is it true that a ninth is about to leave?

11:40 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

There have been four voluntary departures out of the eight that you mentioned, so three were let go, and one was dismissed with just cause. Of those eight, one had been employed by the corporation for 13 years and another for 9 years. It's normal. The life cycle of executives in these situations is about four or five years, and the turnover rate is quite comparable with that of other, similar undertakings.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I guess it is normal for people to come in and go out, but what's not normal is for the Auditor General to be investigating.

We have seen in media reports that there are questions of abuse of power, psychological harassment of one former senior staffer who left, and questions about financial controls.

We understand—and I really want to clarify this—that the man you hired to sign off on the financial controls had no authority to do this.

Was this a case of fraud? How is it that a man who has no academic qualifications to do the job gets hired to sign off on the finances of a crown corporation?

11:45 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

To answer your question, I'll say that we hired one person we had confidence in. We acted on the basis of that confidence. I repeat that that person had a very impressive CV with respect to the service provided at the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, at Telefilm Canada and at the Société de la Place des Arts de Montréal. These are three very credible, very well-managed Crown corporations. This person's CV showed adequate training for the two titles, CA and CMA. This person had already held two positions as a CA and CMA.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

The issue here is if you're going to be very trusting—and we're dealing with a budget of over $29 million—you could get taken to the cleaners. No offence, but this could happen. And I'm seeing other deals of $100,000 with a businessman who, according to the media, was close to Mr. Vito Rizzuto. That deal went south. There were financial dealings with Fabien Morissette; there were questions of sexual exploitation, I understand, and the Port of Montreal lost $175,000.

It goes back to your sense of trust in these operators. There was Mr. Tardif, who you trusted and he didn't have the qualifications.

Do you think it is going to help the taxpayers to have the Auditor General investigate these questions about a complete lack of financial controls at the Port of Montreal?

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Your time is up, Mr. Angus.

However, I will let Ms. Benoit answer your question.

11:45 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

Could you please ask me a specific question?

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Mr. Angus, do you have a specific question?

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

The question is, does she believe that given all these questions and dubious practices it will help us to have the Auditor General go in and find out if you do have proper financial controls in place?

11:45 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

The Auditor General has audited our financial statements every year. There was a special audit in 2004. We received excellent recommendations from the Auditor General of Canada that helped us improve our practices and to develop.

We are currently undergoing a special audit by the Auditor General of Canada. We told him, and I repeat, our books are open. I presume there will be specific reviews of the issues that have been alleged. We are ready to shed light on the false allegations, on the lies that have been told and on the exaggerations that have been made of the situation of a corporation that has given the government a balanced budget in all the years it has existed, that has made the site what it is, with 6.6 million visitors, and that has helped with downtown Montreal and with the creation of the historic area of the city of Montreal.

People can't say that we are inadequately managed.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pierre-Luc Dusseault

Thank you, Ms. Benoit.

Mr. Mayes, you have the floor for five minutes.

May 10th, 2012 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Madame Benoit, your title is president and chief executive officer. With that title, as a business person, you have responsibilities. You said earlier that you sort of operate and then you get the AG report and then you react to the AG report.

Your responsibility, actually, is to run the corporation so that when the AG comes along you've done some good things.

The one question I have is on your inspirational trips to Australia and New Zealand. Did you ever look at the business models that are operating there, such as the administrative costs to percent of revenue, or the operational costs to the cost of administration? Is there anything in your report that says anything about an analysis of how they operate and how cost-effective their operations are? To me, as a chief executive officer, that would be an important thing.

11:50 a.m.

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

Claude Benoit

My reports do not include any systematic studies of particular files. As you will see, they contain reports that comment on all the observations I made. However, once I got back to Montreal, my teams contacted the institutions that, for instance, toured the "Star Wars" exhibit. They asked how it had been organized and how it had been set up. They contacted the managers and the professionals that were responsible for that institution, for example.

The people of the Old Port of Montreal with whom I shared the part on international maritime war facilities contacted the people and researched the matter. The mission involved facility and site visits, and reconnaissance. Then, our teams took over the subjects.