Evidence of meeting #23 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Paul Cardegna
Glenn Purves  Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat
Roger Ermuth  Assistant Comptroller General, Financial Management Sector, Office of the Comptroller General, Treasury Board Secretariat

4:50 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

That is correct—and actually for the departmental plans and departmental results reports as well.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Let me ask you something. Why is it the Department of National Defence took out the status report on transformational and major corporate projects? It had been included before, but it's not included now.

4:50 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

I believe there was a change in the policy pertaining to it that would apply to what departments are obliged to report in the departmental plans and departmental results reports, but I think what we should do is—

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

If, for instance, I wanted an update in the departmental plans on the surface combat shipbuilding, and it's no longer there, it's no longer listed.... I'm wondering if that was a decision was made by the Treasury Board Secretariat, or is it just at the whim of departments as to what they want to report and how they want to report it?

4:50 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

No, there are often guidelines that are provided to departments on the preparation of their departmental plans and their departmental results reports.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

How would they be reporting back to Parliament? I'm going to say this through you, Mr. Chair, to be clear and on the record. I am very concerned about the opening exchange between you and Mr. McCauley and what has been available versus what has been presented to this committee.

There's been an ongoing theme with this committee where it seems like departments are unwilling to provide us with information that's readily at hand. When I look at a change in how departments [Technical difficulty—Editor], we're not talking about small line items here. We're talking about tens of billions of dollars. There's nowhere the public can go to see that. How are we supposed to report back to the public on these types of expenditures if these are not included?

4:55 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

Mr. Chair, on Mr. Green's second question pertaining to the policy, we're happy to get back to him on that point.

Again, I will state that it is absolutely the interest of the Treasury Board Secretariat to provide this committee with all of disaggregated data that is used in that March 17 report. We've no objection to that.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

And certainly not by screenshot, right? Are we going to get it in a real document?

4:55 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

Titan collects information and puts it into a database. We're able to provide all information that we collect from departments and agencies that rolls up to that March 17 report. That March 17 report is the year-to-date report, and we are happy to provide that disaggregated information.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

Thank you, Mr. Purves and Mr. Green.

We'll go to Mr. Paul-Hus for five minutes.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Purves, the information that we are currently obtaining in response to our questions casts even more doubts on the transparency. Two factors could explain that: either you do not have the organizational capacity to provide the information, or you do not want to provide the information. Along those lines, we know that a number of contracts have remained secret from the outset, and that is still the case today.

If information is not provided, or is sent out in dribs and dabs, is it because of a directive to hide information, or is it incompetence?

Those are the two possible reasons; there can't be 40 of them.

April 12th, 2021 / 4:55 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

From March 10 to March 17, we put together a report that we thought would be transparent, which would be [Technical difficulty—Editor] to be able to engage departments on the spending momentum of COVID-19, and that would be timely.

We have no issues with providing the disaggregated data attached to it. When we collect this disaggregated data, though, we [Technical difficulty—Editor] comments, so you can imagine—

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Purves, but are departments hiding information from you? You should have access to everything. If you ask for information, people are required to give it to you.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer also mentioned in his report that he did not understand the situation. In his opinion, access to information really seems to be a problem.

Let me repeat, to us, it looks like people want to hide information. Is that to cover up possible corruption? We don't know. That is why we are asking questions. We are not making accusations, but we expect to receive all the details, because anything else gives rise to major doubt.

Since I do not have a lot of time, I will move to my next question.

I have a specific question about the $159 billion in expenditures for COVID-19 support measures. That is of particular interest to us. I would like to know what part of that amount went directly to vaccines and rapid tests.

4:55 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

When you say [Technical difficulty—Editor], I heard expenditures, but those are actually the spending authorities. Were you asking about the authorities?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

In the approved budget, how much went to vaccines and rapid tests?

4:55 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

I can tell you how much has been spent according to the category of vaccines, as well as how much has been spent on medical research. It's encompassed under further support for medical research and vaccine developments. The amount is close to $2 billion as of the end of January 31, 2021.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

So an amount of $2 billion was supposedly invested in vaccines, but the total amount approved was $13 billion. We know that $1.5 billion went to COVAX, but we still do not know where the rest of the money went.

Can you send the details of those amounts to the committee, please? We don't have time here to go delving into the books.

5 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

I'd be happy to respond to the committee.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

We also received information about the money paid to Spartan Bioscience, a company that was supposed to provide rapid tests, but that failed to do so. Spartan Bioscience must now repay that money to the federal government.

Have steps been taken so that the federal government can be reimbursed?

5 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

We would be happy to follow-up with the Public Health Agency of Canada and PSPC with respect to that question, and get back to the committee.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Speaking of fraud, we know that some companies have provided personal protective equipment while others have received contracts but have not delivered the material [technical difficulties].

Have you identified all the cases of fraud? Have steps been taken to recoup the money?

5 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

That is a question that we could direct to the department of Public Services and Procurement Canada, and get back to the committee.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Paul-Hus Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

You only have two seconds. Thank you, Mr. Paul-Hus.

We'll go to Mr. Weiler for five minutes.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd like to thank our two witnesses, Mr. Purves and Mr. Ermuth, for joining our committee again here today, as well as for providing the state of spending at a truly extraordinary time, and in a very detailed manner.

There is a lot of important information in this report that will allow us to do a better job, as well as to provide transparency of spending for all Canadians during this emergency.

I do have a few questions about the nature of your reports. In your report, you explained the scope of the collection effort. Could you explain why some COVID-19 measures are not tracked by TBS and are not included in this report?