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Evidence of meeting #16 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was amendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Michel Marcotte
Marc O'Sullivan  Acting Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Senior Personnel and Special Projects Secretariat, Privy Council Office

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

I call the meeting to order. We do have a quorum.

As you can see from the notice of the meeting, I have proposed that we deal with the notices of motion that are before us, starting at 9 o'clock, and that at 10 o'clock, if at all possible, we go on to a study of order in council appointments. We have two witnesses from the Privy Council Office, and we will be starting with them at about 10 o'clock.

We are now looking at motions. The first motion that came in was by Mr. Moore.

Does he have to move his own motion? He's not here.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

He's not moving it today.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Not today, okay.

Therefore, we go to the motion by Mr. Holland.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Madam Chair.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Yes.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

I just throw out this thought. If our other witnesses are here...obviously I think we're going to have an extended conversation on the motions that are coming forward--

9:10 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Excuse me, Madam Chair, I am getting a lot of interference. Can we check that so that I can clearly understand what Mr. Kramp is saying?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

I will say something. Check to see if you can hear it.

If I speak in English, does Madame Bourgeois understand clearly?

Is it OK in French?

9:10 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

It is OK now, but there was a problem before.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

If I speak in French, can you hear now? No?

Now you are hearing.

The universe is unfolding as it should. The interpreters are very proficient. Sometimes, I find the way they can translate our words so quickly is just miraculous. I am going to take advantage of this pause to thank them.

You can continue, Mr. Kramp.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Knowing that obviously we are going to have some lengthy conversation on the motions, I'm wondering, if our witnesses are ready, if we might not hear our delegation and then go to our motions--in other words, just reverse that process so that our witnesses don't end up being shortchanged.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Our witnesses have been advised that they're only to come on at 10 o'clock, so I think we should get going on the motions. If we're still going at it, then perhaps the members of the committee will consider stopping the debate on the motion at that time. But seeing as that's the way it has been programmed, I'd like to get these notices of motion done with beforehand and then we can go on to our work. If we don't finish off these notices of motion, it will be very difficult for us to know where we're going in the next week and then after. So I would prefer to get that dealt with.

Mr. Holland.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

I think the matter may be somewhat simplified. Actually I know that Daryl is probably supporting the motion, given his comments in The Hill Times. It's too bad we didn't have seconders. He may want to second the motion.

In seriousness, Madame Folco is going to be introducing an amendment that we have simply one meeting and at that meeting we have just John Baird, who himself has expressed an interest in appearing before the committee. So I expect that may simplify matters and simplify the debate.

But other than that, I think given that the witnesses were advised that we'd be dealing with this first, it makes sense.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Okay. Are you moving your motion, Mr. Holland?

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Why not? Sure.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Mr. Moore isn't here to move his, so we'll go with your motion.

Madame Folco.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I move an amendment to Mr. Holland's motion. I will read it in English.

I would like to amend Mark Holland's motion in relation to the committee's study on the light rail transit project to allow for only one additional meeting instead of two, to hear only from Minister John Baird, and so that this one additional meeting be held prior to the March break constituency weeks.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Is there any debate?

Mr. Albrecht, followed by Mr. Kramp.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Chair, this entire fiasco in terms of process is very troubling. We were very clear as a committee that this would be a one-meeting event. And here we are changing our strategy mid-course again, adding another--what are you going to call it now--special meeting? After that, will there be another extra-special meeting to delve into this?

I don't understand how we can continue to waste time on these kinds of projects when we have all kinds of important issues before this committee. We have a list here from our clerk of things we've been working on and we're not getting to them. We've wasted a lot of time going down rabbit trails.

I'm opposed to this. It's time we move on with the real work this committee was constituted to perform.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Mr. Kramp.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

With all respect to my colleague across the floor who has attempted to reincarnate Inspector Clouseau, I not only echo my colleague's concern, but I'm deeply troubled by the fact that this committee is totally off track.

If we go back, Madam Chair, to the origin of this committee, the origin of this committee was as a result of two parliamentarians who cared very, very deeply for the oversight process. That was of course one of your colleagues, Madam Catterall, and Mr. Williams.

This committee has not been around for generations. This committee was formed simply for the purpose of dealing with the suggestions on how government should run. When reports went to other committees, if something came back from the ethics committee, if something came back from the justice committee, if something came back from the other committees with recommendations as to either an impropriety or an excess of spending, or an area of trouble or concern, then this committee would evaluate that and make recommendations as to how, why, and where the government should move in order to have a better level of efficiency or accountability.

All of a sudden now, this committee has totally left that whole direction and it has simply taken on the partisan line, regardless of the issue, regardless of the interest or the topic at that time.

And this is certainly no slam on any particular member--

9:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

I did say “personally”. There is no personal condemnation.

But, Madam Chair, I think you, as chair, also have a responsibility; the responsibility is to see that the mandate of the committee is followed, and the mandate of this committee has totally blown apart. It's going in a direction that is not synonymous with its original intent.

Now, instead of being a tool for change and/or an avenue with which the government can move forward with constructive comments and constructive suggestions, this committee has been politicized and now it just becomes another witch hunt. And the witch hunt changes by the meeting, by the day.

Any statement that has been made and/or any motion that is passed should, at some particular point, then, be the focus of that. Instead, comments and/or motions mean nothing. Commitments mean nothing. We go on to the next motion, and whether it's spurious or whether it's related to the previous motion or not, it's on to another topic, another subject.

When I did speak out in public on this issue, the one issue that concerned me.... When I take a look at the number of witnesses who have come before this committee over this past three to four months, and the time and the effort from all of the witnesses, let alone the time and the effort of all the members of Parliament, let alone all the time and the effort of all of the staff, we have not put ourselves in a position to make one solid, concrete suggestion and/or motion that would lead to the betterment of government, that would lead to a better direction of government, that would lead to a greater level of accountability in the government going forward.

Now, literally, if we ever wanted to do a study, we could take a costing on how much we are costing the Ontario taxpayer and the Canadian taxpayer across this country and not putting forth anything of value. If this were a “business”, all we would have is a huge investment and no return.

I cannot imagine the Canadian population taking a look at what we're producing. What are we producing? Where are our reports? Where are our suggestions? Where is the definitive direction that says, “We have a mandate and it is (a), (b), and (c), and we are following it because we are producing this, this, and this”?

We have a number of things we started to get our teeth into, things that are very, very important. As I mentioned before, the one issue that probably has been haunting Parliament for years is the accrual accounting issue, and this committee, to its credit, dealt with it in an intermediate step. This is an issue that, if it comes forward to fruition, will mean millions and millions and millions of dollars will be affected by government decisions that should be made with more information—more current information, more adequate information, and more dedicated information. That is the direction this committee should go in if it wants to follow its additional mandate.

If we don't want to be a government oversight accountability committee, then fine, let's go on. If we want to be a condemnatory and investigative source looking at everything that's taken place in the past six months, two years, five years, or ten years, and try to affix blame, if this is a name-the-blame committee, then so be it, but then let's change the mandate of this committee, because we have gone totally away from the direction and purpose of this committee.

Once again, the motions coming before us today will deal with one issue, one-off subjects. They're certainly not dealing with the long-term recommendations that we are going to make to Parliament. Where can we go with these other than simply have another witch hunt? That's all they are. The unfortunate thing is that they are there for partisan purposes; we all realize that. And I think that all members of this committee have been guilty of that, regardless of the side they sit on, regardless of whether we're in opposition and/or in government, because we've been there—with the exception of the Bloc and the NDP. I understand the reality of sitting on the other side and wanting to throw barbs and nails, but at some particular point we have to get on with the job.

When we continue down this path, Madam Chair, we are not getting on with our job. So I make one last plea to my colleagues. Some of my colleagues will say, oh, well, are you trying to be holier than thou; excuse me, let's understand the political reality of the times and let's just get on with this, whether it's a motion to bring back a witness or.... I know we have another motion coming forward to bring back a cabinet minister again, which would be for the sixth or seventh time now. We didn't even finish questions the last time, because there were no more.

Madam Chair, we are going in so many different directions. We've had witnesses come before committee on the motion that's coming forward. Regrettably, we said that we would deviate from the original intent of this committee, and here we go ahead, against the will of the government. But I understand that the opposition controls the destiny of the committee, and they said no, no, we're going to move away from the purpose of this motion and we are going to deal with an issue that is really not in our mandate, as we want to be able to try to make some political hay of it.

So what I'm suggesting, Madam Chair, is that I'm deeply disturbed by my colleagues moving in a direction that I find counterproductive to the whole purpose of this committee. I'd like to hear from the chair on this issue, on the record, as to whether or not she believes in the original intent of this committee, and I'd like to know, Madam Chair, if we should perhaps call in either Madam Catterall and/or Mr. Williams, who put the motions before the House that brought forward the spirit and intent of this committee, to see if we can get back to the basics of what we are supposed to be doing, because here we are, going around and around the table talking about motions that don't serve the intent of the committee. That, to me, Madam Chair, is a travesty. As I mentioned before, if we were to fully investigate the cost of this, I would expect that we'd be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—hundreds of thousands of dollars—with nothing to show for it.

As a taxpayer of Canada, I would be mad as hell with the fact that we are just taking my dollars and using them for personal partisan gain and not expressing the actual will and intent of this committee.

I'd like to talk a little bit more about this, Madam Chair, but I know that a couple of my colleagues have some concerns on this as well, so I'll come back to this matter in a minute.

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Diane Marleau

Perhaps I can give you a bit of an answer.

The government operations committee has a very broad mandate. There are some limitations to what it can do, but they are defined. In the end, the committee, other than this mandate, is the master of its own destiny.

We have a motion on the floor, we are debating it, and will we go from there.

I will go to Mr. Brown next.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I agree with what Mr. Kramp was getting at. I have concerns that this motion is taking this committee away again from the business that I think we could be more effective at working towards.

We've certainly had some productive meetings studying issues that our constituents would have an interest in our examining. I look back at some of the better meetings we've had, whether on the high turnover in the federal service and the geographical distribution of those jobs, accrual accounting, or various things we've studied.

This really takes us off that map of being productive. It allows us to fall onto that slippery slope of abusing the committee for partisan purposes, and I don't think it is healthy.

The committee indulged Mr. Holland's wish to look at this, and we had a meeting. At that time, Mr. Holland never said he would want to expand this and continue to delve into it further, at a cost of potentially not studying things that are of more importance for our constituents and for the mandate of the committee.

My colleague Mr. Kramp was getting at the fact that this was not in the initial purpose for the government operations committee, and that may be the case. Even if the mandate of the committee is overly broad, it certainly shouldn't be abused. The broadness of the committee's mandate shouldn't be abused to the point where we are solely using the meetings of the committee for partisan purposes.

Every political party could do that. If we wanted, we could all make every meeting about a partisan purpose. There are certainly enough witch hunts that people could do, with every political party, that we would not be productive at all. This sets a very bad precedent—a horrible precedent.

I would suggest that it was very clear the last time we looked at this that there was nothing to look into. It was a waste of a meeting when we looked at it the first time. To waste another meeting, I would suggest, shows a lack of respect for the committee and the purpose of our all being here.

I would hope that members of this committee don't approve this motion and that we get back on track and focus on real issues.