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Evidence of meeting #43 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was summit.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bernard Côté  As an Individual

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Like a lot of people, obviously, you can understand that I had to work during those days. That's moreover why the federal government—and we are not ashamed of that—funded a program called Experience Canada, which was somewhat derided by a number of our colleagues.

The fact nevertheless remains that it promoted the country at a cost of roughly $20 per person who visited the site.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Minister.

Mr. Warkentin, eight minutes.

December 9th, 2010 / 8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ministers, for being here this morning. We appreciate your coming to our committee, and coming this early.

Minister Cannon, Canada, as part of the G-8, has a responsibility to host the G-8 from time to time. Obviously, we as a country have taken this responsibility seriously. We undertook to host the G-8 and later on the G-20, which is something I don't think Canadians expected we would host. And I'm not sure the government had expected to host the G-20 in conjunction with the G-8. As a matter of fact, we've heard at this committee that this was entirely unprecedented, that Canada really took on a project that had never been done in the world's history, quite frankly, where these two summits would come together to be hosted in a single country at a single point in time.

I'm wondering if you could run through the timeframes as they relate to the decision or the willingness of Canada to host the G-8, and then the corresponding responsibility we took on to hold the G-20 in addition to that, and maybe some of the logistical questions that needed to be resolved as a result of the additional responsibility.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Thank you, colleague, for that question.

I did mention in my opening remarks how important it was and the privilege Canada has had playing host to both the G-8 and G-20.

Indeed, the preparations began well before the event took place, or a number of events. I mentioned, for instance, that the G-8 and the G-20 were preceded by a number of meetings held by, of course...the G-20 sherpa meetings, the G-8 sherpa meetings. And for those who do not understand what the sherpa designation means, this is the Prime Minister's special representative. As they build on the consensus and they come to decisions that are taken, the sherpas do a lot of the groundwork. They do meet around the world. Indeed, this is the process that's in place internationally.

But if we look, colleague, at the outcome.... Let my give you an example of the maternal health, the Muskoka initiative, which is one of the important initiatives that are a part of the millennium development goals. This initiative that Canada pushed, with the support of the Secretary General of the United Nations and also with the support of a lot of the world leaders, required preparation.

I, personally, remember going to Toronto and meeting with a number of representatives from African countries who did indeed participate in the G-8. I met with a number of people from the financial community as well as from the business community. I went as well to the African Union meeting and addressed NEPAD to talk to them about our preliminary agenda and to get their feedback.

While all of this of course takes place, we hosted the planet here for the G-20 pretty well. A lot of the world leaders were here. Decisions that were made do impact a lot of our economies. I think we should be extremely proud of what took place, not only from the G-8's perspective with the Muskoka initiative but also from the perspective of the G-20 decisions that were taken on a going forward basis. I think that Canada and Canadians can be extremely proud of how we managed that and of how the Prime Minister was able to come out and show his leadership on a number of these economic issues, which, as you know, impact all Canadians as well as all industrialized countries around the globe.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Thank you.

So far every witness who has come to our committee who was involved in the G-8 and G-20 has talked about their budget. We have asked every one of them to describe what they undertook and how their budget came in, and every single witness has told us they've come in under budget.

Obviously, we've heard the rhetoric from the opposition change. At one point they were talking about extravagant numbers, which have significantly been reduced. As the numbers and the final costs of the summit have come in, their expectations have been blown away.

I think it demonstrates the responsibility of the respective partners in putting together this summit. While there were the resources to get the job done, every single department thus far and every single partner seems to have come in under budget, at least from what we've heard thus far.

I wonder whether either of you ministers would comment on the expectation, in terms of the cost. There was talk about this being a $1.5 billion summit. So far, at least, we haven't heard a total number at this committee of final costs, but we're hearing that everybody is coming in under budget.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

If you don't mind, colleague, I'll take just a little time to answer that question.

We deliberately chose to be transparent. This is the government's decision, to be transparent, and to indeed put all the costs forward. Every penny that was spent will be accounted for, but we will also make it transparent. That is our legacy, and that is indeed our political creed with the Canadian public.

In terms of the costing, my officials, as I mentioned before for our budget at DFAIT.... We had budgeted $180 million to be able to host them. We have recently reported, as of October 28, that $122,661,986.92 has been spent. We are looking at a variance of $57,522,013. That is what we expect as of October 28 in terms of the expenses.

There will still be some more bills expected to come in. We expect our surplus at the end of this whole exercise to probably be in the vicinity of between $35 million and $40 million.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I would just answer that in the legacy fund, as was announced in the budget, there was some $50 million allocated. About $45.7 million, and I say “about” because there are still a few bills—municipalities have an opportunity, until the end of December, to get the rest of their final bills in. It will be around $45.7 million.

Just as an example, we signed a contribution agreement for $3.5 million for improvements to the Jack Garland Airport. They ended up spending $3.1 million. This is the kind of work that went on throughout the Muskoka region. Where allocations were made, I think municipal partners did a good job of contracting and overseeing the work that had to be done—and of course had to be done before the summit took place—and in this case came in under budget. Many of the cases came in under the amount of the contribution agreements.

So people weren't running up the bills; they were in fact keeping them in line. In some cases, such as this.... This is a good example of keeping it substantially under budget but still getting the job done, which is what we asked of them.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Ministers. Thank you, Mr. Warkentin.

Mr. Martin, you have eight minutes, please.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to both of the ministers for being here today. It gives me the opportunity on behalf of a lot of Canadians to tell you to your face that we think the two-day G-8/G-20 was a phenomenal waste of time and money, nothing but a rhetorical jamboree for leaders to come here. In fact, we missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how our country might tighten our belt and put on the leanest, meanest summit ever, to send out the signal that the era of wretched excess is over, the wretched excess that led us into this catastrophic economic time that we're in.

It's not only a phenomenal waste of money at the worst possible time for the country. I argue that the only lasting legacy out of this might be a couple of new gazebos for Landslide Tony out in his riding, and that the most lasting legacy is changing the image of Toronto the Good into something like that of Watts or the Detroit riots or Kent State, because the only thing people remember now about your billion-dollar gabfest is the image of protesters getting their heads split open by armed officers in a most egregious fashion. That's what they're seeing night after night on the national news.

You know, $50 million.... You come to us today with a straight face and tell us that you're proud that you didn't spend the whole $50 million, sprinkling it around to beautify the Muskoka region. It's arguably the most beautiful region in this part of the world already. It didn't need another gazebo. Tony needed a gazebo; Muskoka did not.

I know that you've done your homework to come here and put on the best face possible for what I think was a phenomenal waste of time, energy, money, resources, reputation, and image. What is it going to cost us in terms of PR to bring back the image people used to have of Toronto?

I see that burning police car that nobody bothered to put any fire retardant on for hours and hours. I don't see you, Minister, shaking hands with world leaders. That was gone in a heartbeat. The rest of it is still lingering like a bad taste in people's mouths.

I guess I want to ask specifically about the reasoning and the logic behind what you, Minister Strahl, say are 16 communities.

I asked a question of Bryce Conrad specifically: to itemize the towns and communities that enjoyed some of Tony's grand largesse. They only had 10 communities; you have 16. I don't understand.

The question I put to Bryce Conrad was what other infrastructure or Building Canada fund money, etc., Tony's riding got in that same period of time. They claimed they couldn't answer that question. Perhaps you, as Minister of Infrastructure, could shed some light on this.

How much Building Canada fund money, Communities Component top-up, recreational trails program, and infrastructure stimulus money did Tony receive, above and beyond the $50 million of unmatched money that went into his riding?

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Just briefly to respond to your opening remarks—and I imagine the Minister of Foreign Affairs may want to respond—frankly, to use your logic about things being very costly and about how we shouldn't do it, we wouldn't even participate in the United Nations if it were just a matter of not wanting to spend money.

We do things—and I think the foreign affairs minister will respond to this—because we have an obligation to host the G-8; we have an obligation and the honour to host the G-20. When we did it, as the University of Toronto study showed, there were huge benefits to the Toronto area and some $320 million in benefits to the Muskoka area. The benefits for the Toronto hotel association are clear; the tourism association is delighted with the impact. So I don't buy your overall argument.

On the number of towns and projects, you mentioned that there is a difference between the number of projects and the number of towns. Some towns had more than one project, but towns throughout the area—I have the list of them here and could read them out—benefited from projects that they proposed. There were initiatives passed in council meetings. This mayors' council, which was really the local area leadership group, came together regularly to set those priorities, and those priorities were funded.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

But Minister, the optics of that don't please me either. You know, here's Tony with his cheque book saying, “How much do you want? How much do you want? How much do you want?” A guy who wins his riding by 46 votes all of a sudden has a goodie bag of $50 million to spread around the riding.

But can I ask one simple question? Did we look at the cheapest possible option? Why didn't we put it on a military base? The Kapyong Barracks in downtown Winnipeg have 400 heated houses that we keep empty and heated so they don't go skunky on us. There are other military bases across the country that could be easily secured and have accommodation and parade halls and mess arenas where you can accommodate huge numbers of people. This was not the cheapest option, even though we're in the worst economic crisis that we've faced in decades.

Why did you throw aside all of the cheaper options to host this thing if we couldn't get out of hosting it altogether?

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

I can respond.

I'm sorry that certainly, colleague, you feel that way. I, for myself—and I think I speak on behalf of my colleagues—was extremely pleased by the work that Canada put forward—

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

You're about the only one, sir.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

—particularly in terms of maternal health. That got a great deal of support, not only among the recipient countries but obviously between members of the world community, that Canada is doing its part to be able to be accountable in terms of commitments taken at the G-8. We brought in a new accountability mechanism. Surely, colleague, you should congratulate us on that, but probably you don't have it in you to do so this morning—

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Can you imagine what Randy White would say if he was still sitting? He would be wearing a Mexican sombrero—

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Mr. Martin, please let the minister answer.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

I think that doubling our aid to Africa, being able to step up and work with other economies around the world to be able to get us out of the recession, to call upon countries to put forward stimulus packages to be able to well manage the debt as well as the deficit in the years to come--I don't think that is time wasted. I think, indeed, it's extremely important to do it.

Now I know that your party, colleague, is a party of protectionists. I know that your party would not deal with the outside world, that we would all be enclosed here around borders that are there. But you, unfortunately, colleague, are going to have to open the window and see exactly what's happening in the rest of the world. We're pleased and happy—

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

I believe in balanced budgets and not squandering the nation's precious finite resources—

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

—to be able to go forward and make sure that when we look at the economic circumstances around the world, we're in a position to be able to exhibit our leadership—

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Minister, could you finish your statement? Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

—and that I think is exactly what we have to do.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Thank you, Minister Cannon.

Thank you, Mr. Martin.

Madame Coady, five minutes.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady Liberal St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Thank you very much.

Just a couple of points.

First of all, on transparency, you said you were trying to be transparent, yet it took this committee several occasions, several different motions, to compel you to allow us to have the information we needed.

On the second point, I don't think this borders just on extravagant; it goes close to being obscene. Let me share with you some of these numbers here. We talked a little earlier about gifts. You spent $17,955 on gift bowls; $2,500 on eight blankets; there was $30,000 on G-8 aluminum pens, handcrafted pens, red acrylic pens; there was close to $20,000 spent on 24 place settings; there was $12,000 spent on tablecloths. These are at a resort that hosts weddings.

My question to the minister is, how could you justify all these expenditures at a time of fiscal restraint, when you're asking Canadians to tighten their belts, when we're having to cut back?

I'm listening to the Minister of Finance over and over.... But I'm going to ask one specific question, if I may, and this is on the $20,000 ice sculpture that was used during the G-20, I believe it was, in Toronto—$20,000 for an ice sculpture. How is that relevant in a time of fiscal restraint, when you have countries all over the world coming here to discuss the situation in the world, which is really very, very challenging in terms of the economy? How could you justify spending that kind of money on those kinds of items?

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John McKay

Minister Strahl.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I think Minister Cannon may want to respond to that.

In response to Mr. Martin's comments earlier, I just want to say that we've tabled with the clerk more details on the individual economic action plan numbers that were asked for at the last meeting.

Minister Cannon.