Evidence of meeting #12 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was charity.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ian Shugart  Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office
Gina Wilson  Deputy Minister, Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Department of Canadian Heritage
Benoît Robidoux  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development
Mary Dawson  As an Individual

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

How is it possible?

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, that's your time. Thank you.

Mr. Shugart, during the questions that were asked today, there were two pieces of information that were brought up and that I believe you will get back to this committee. One is information regarding whether or not the money has been paid back from WE and, two is as to whether or not you were at the briefing meeting on May 8. If you could get back to the committee with that information, it would be much appreciated. Thank you.

2:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Happily.

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Shugart, thank you so much for giving us your time today. We hope that you have a good rest of your day.

With that, we're suspended.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'll ask everyone to take their seats. We will get started. Thank you.

Minister Chagger, welcome.

2:35 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalMinister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth

Thank you, Chair.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

As you're aware, a motion was passed by this committee on July 22:

That, pursuant to Standing Orders 108(3)(h), the Committee review the safeguards which are in place to avoid and prevent conflicts of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, granting, contribution and other expenditure policies;

Minister Chagger, you've been asked to present to this committee and to answer any questions that come from the members today in regard to the motion that I just read aloud. Minister Chagger, in just a moment I will give you 10 minutes for opening remarks, and then the members around the table will have an opportunity to ask you questions.

I would ask that we all remain conscious of time. For the first round, each person will be given six minutes to ask their questions. As time approaches its end, I will try to signal to you, but inevitably I may have to cut you off. I'm not meaning to be rude, but we do have to run an efficient meeting.

Minister Chagger, I will give you the floor for 10 minutes.

Yes, Mr. Poilievre.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

On a point of order, the Conservatives would ask that the minister swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Thank you.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister Chagger, are you willing to swear an oath?

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Yes, and I have one here with me, so I can read that into the record.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I, Bardish Chagger, do solemnly swear that the testimony I am about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Minister Chagger.

Mr. Angus.

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

On a point of order, I don't want to interrupt the minister, but at Finance the rules are we're going with COVID rules so that we're not being rude to each other. I don't want to be seen talking over the minister while she's speaking. Are we going to have the same protocol of shorter questions, shorter answers, and parity on time? Because she's on a screen, it's much harder to maintain that balance. Would you maintain that here?

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, I cede your point.

Minister Chagger, I would ask that you try to honour that, that your answers be about the same length of time as the question asked of you. Thank you.

With that, we'll allow you to proceed with your comments.

August 11th, 2020 / 2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, members of the committee, Canadians, I appreciate your inviting me today to appear before you. With me is my senior associate deputy minister, Gina Wilson. I will refer to her as my deputy.

We are here, as requested, to provide you with information on the safeguards that have been put in place within the federal government to avoid, mitigate and prevent conflicts of interest. These safeguards apply to the federal government policies on procurement, contracting, grants and contributions, and all other federal spending policies.

I would like to begin by pointing out that the Government of Canada is committed to open and transparent governance. What I mean by that is a government that gives all Canadians broad access to its data and information. Since 2014, the directive on open government has promoted transparency and accountability across all departments.

As Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, I received a very clear mandate letter from the Prime Minister. That letter is available publicly online. It states that, like all of my cabinet colleagues, I am committed to building a government that is transparent, honest and accountable to Canadians; upholds the highest ethical standards; pays close attention to the management of public funds; and exercises the utmost care and prudence in this regard. These values guide me every day in my work. That's true for me, it's true for my colleagues, and I hope we would agree that it is even true for my departmental officials. All the ministers received these guidelines in our mandate letters, and we are all subject to the same laws.

Whatever our role, there are mechanisms in place to guide us. All members of Parliament must comply with the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries must also abide by the regulations and measures set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Our staff must also meet the high standard of probity and integrity as set out in the “policies for ministers' offices”.

It's in this context that I'm fulfilling the mandate I have been given and that I am passionate about: namely, to build a more open, diverse and inclusive country where all Canadians have an equal opportunity to succeed.

My responsibilities also include policies and programs in support of LGBTQ2 people and youth. It's a broad mandate that involves working with several ministers and departments, particularly Employment and Social Development Canada, Canadian Heritage, Women and Gender Equality Canada, Health Canada, Public Safety Canada and Justice Canada.

Public servants in all these departments are also bound by strict rules of integrity. They must all comply with the public service values and ethics code for the public sector. The public servants at Employment and Social Development Canada who support me through, among other things, the Canada Service Corps program. are governed by this code as are all the staff at Canadian Heritage who support me in the delivery of programs to promote multiculturalism and fight racism. They all receive training in this area. As well, employees involved in the delivery of transfer payment programs receive additional training to help them identify and deal with potential conflicts of interest. It's also important to note that all Canadian individuals and organizations applying for funding are required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest at the time of application.

The distribution of financial support is governed by the Financial Administration Act and the federal government, as a whole, is governed by the oversight and accountability procedures of the Treasury Board Secretariat. Without naming them all, I would like to single out the policy on financial management, the policy on transfer payments, and the policy on results, evaluation and internal audit.

Unlike how the Conservatives are choosing to portray this, the policy on transfer payments, in particular, allows the government to ensure that these payments are managed in a manner that respects sound stewardship and the highest level of integrity, transparency and accountability. Government programs also have terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board Secretariat. The anti-racism action plan, for instance, includes terms and conditions to ensure that all organizations have equal access to funding. In this particular case, we are required to publish the program guidelines at least six weeks before the application deadline. There are also guidelines for communicating clearly with funding applicants.

Allow me to touch briefly on a few points that I am sure will be of interest to the committee.

The first is risk management. The Financial Administration Act helps us strike an appropriate balance between the high-risk decisions, which require input from senior management, and those that are more operational. Risk-based decision-making models allow us to assess the risks associated with, among other things, the funding applicant and the activities being considered for funding. They reduce program delivery costs, alleviate the administrative burden and reduce the time it takes to notify recipients.

The second is conflict of interest. I've already touched on the subject, and I'm coming back to it because it's important. Mechanisms are in place in all departments to prevent the risk of bias or conflict of interest. At Canadian Heritage, for example, the decision to approve a grant or contribution is never made by a single individual. In addition to regular internal assessments, they can call on peer reviews or reviews by internal or external committees. Government employees can also work with the office of values and ethics to address any apparent or potential conflict of interest situation. There are requirements to disclose the involvement of former public servants who are subject to the conflict of interest and post-employment guidelines.

The third is internal controls. In addition to government controls such as the policy on government security, several departments have internal control frameworks that outline financial management roles and responsibilities. These frameworks are designed to provide reasonable assurance that public resources are used prudently and that financial management processes are effective and efficient.

The fourth is transparency and accountability. Via the open government portal at Canada.ca, all Canadians can view grants and contributions that have been awarded. Canadians can also consult the various departmental websites for information on those departments' plans, outcomes, costs incurred, contracts awarded, consultations and evaluations undertaken, and a wealth of other information about government and public sector representatives. Mandate letters and transition materials are also freely accessible.

As stated in the Clerk of the Privy Council's 26th annual report, the public service of Canada has received “clean, unqualified audits” for two decades. It tied with the United Kingdom for first place on the 2018 open data barometer and is recognized internationally as one of the most effective public services. I would like to acknowledge and appreciate their work.

I would like to conclude with a concrete example that illustrates the rationale behind all these measures and safeguards.

Last May, in response to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada adopted a series of measures to support individuals and organizations in many sectors of our economy. For my part, I insisted that my programs be adapted, whether by streamlining processes or speeding up payments, in order to support organizations that advance multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion and opportunities for youth in Canada. Thanks to the rigorous mechanisms that frame our actions, we've been able to respond quickly and effectively to the pressing needs of Canadians, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we have a lot more work to do.

We have adapted to the situation without compromising our rigour, and together we are continuing to build a government that is open and transparent to all Canadians.

Madam Chair, members of the committee, I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your questions. I've tried to keep my comments brief so that we can answer as many questions as possible.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you so much, Minister Chagger.

We will begin with our six-minute round. Mr. Barrett, the floor is yours to begin.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Thank you, Minister.

We just heard testimony from the Clerk of the Privy Council that you were given authority to sign as a minister for ESDC by order in council. Can you tell us on what date that OIC was issued?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I recall the OIC being issued in March to give me jurisdiction within the department, within ESDC as well as Canadian Heritage, which fall under my mandate as Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Minister, have you, with the exception of the CSSG contribution agreement, used that signing authority as allowed by that OIC for any other program?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, through my responsibilities I also have three secretariats within Canadian Heritage. Numerous grants and contributions have been awarded through multiculturalism and others. I can refer to my deputy if you would like any concrete examples.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

No, it's not for those, Minister, thank you, but with respect to ESDC, which was my question. Have you used it with respect to ESDC?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I just want to make sure that I do provide all the information. I know that the Canada Service Corps is under my responsibilities, so I just don't know if any have been renewed since I became minister in 2019.

I can get back to the committee if you would like.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

I appreciate that.

How much money did the Government of Canada pay to the WE organization for the CSSG? We've heard a lot of different numbers, so I'm looking for the final number.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

We announced $9 billion of programs for students on April 22. When it comes to the Canada student service grant, the contribution agreement was, I believe, $543 million. As documents have been requested, they have been provided to committee members at finance, and we can ensure that they are available.