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

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair (Mr. Robert Kitchen (Souris—Moose Mountain, CPC)) Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 23 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. Just so that everyone is aware, this meeting is in public. There was a little confusion about one of the reports, but this first hour will be in public.

The committee is meeting today from 3:30 to 5:30. In the first hour, we will hear from TBS officials in public about the documents submitted pursuant to the committee’s order of Wednesday, March 10. During the second hour the committee will go in camera to discuss committee business.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind all participants in this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.

To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much the way it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either the floor, English or French.

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Excuse me, Mr. Chair.

3:40 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Paul Cardegna

Madame Vignola has her hand up.

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Unfortunately, we have no interpretation in French.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

I didn't get any translation.

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

We have no interpretation in French at the moment.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

We will suspend while we figure out the technical difficulties.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

Thank you, Mr. Clerk.

Thank you, everybody, for bearing with us while we resolved these issues.

Thank you, Mr. Purves and Mr. Ermuth, for staying with us during this time. I appreciate that.

I will continue from where we were. Very quickly, as I indicated, before you speak, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak you may click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.

To raise a point of order during the meeting, committee members should ensure that their microphone is unmuted and say “Point of order” to get the chair's attention.

In order to ensure social distancing in the committee room, if you need to speak privately with the clerk or the analyst during the meeting, please email them through the committee email address. For those people who are participating in the committee room, please note that masks are required unless seated and when physical distancing is not possible.

I will now invite the witnesses to make their opening statements.

Mr. Purves, thank you very much.

4:25 p.m.

Glenn Purves Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon to you and committee members. It is a pleasure to be back today in the earliest slot possible, and I'm happy to be joined by Roger Ermuth, assistant comptroller general, from our Office of the Comptroller General.

I'll be brief in my remarks because this is an opportunity to receive feedback from the committee regarding our response to the committee's March 10 motion and to answer any questions members may have. We look forward to receiving members' feedback and to be in a position to best meet the needs of the committee.

In terms of context, with the unprecedented impact COVID-19 has had on Canadians, Parliament has prioritized measures that respond to the crisis. Funding for COVID-19 priorities was presented within the three supplementary estimates tabled for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Taken together, those estimates presented $159.5 billion in planned spending authorities for organizations across the Government of Canada related to COVID-19 measures.

It is important to note that these estimates are “up to” authorities that have been provided to address, on an urgent basis, the uncertainty in which these measures were brought forward within the context of the pandemic. To further explain planned COVID-19-related spending, additional information was presented in the supplementary estimates, including, for example, a detailed listing of COVID-19 legislation in part 1, an online annex with additional information on planned COVID-19 expenditures and how this correlates with the fall economic statement for 2020, including all of the authorities together in one easy access panel for GC InfoBase.

Reporting on actual government expenditures is typically done through three means: on a monthly basis through the Department of Finance's “Fiscal Monitor”, on a quarterly basis in the quarterly financial reports by departments, and annually through the annual financial report in the public accounts, supported by departmental results reports.

Given the extraordinary context of the pandemic, TBS reached out to the organizations to gather spending data related to COVID-19 on a monthly basis.

The committee's motion on March 10 asked TBS to provide all monthly COVID-19 expenditure reports and spending data from departments.

At TBS our focus is primarily on COVID-19 spending that falls within planned authorities as outlined in the estimates. The ability to effectively track COVID-19 expenditures varies greatly by measure and by organization, and these amounts are estimates that have not been audited.

As of January 31, 2021, federal organizations reported total estimated expenditures of $123.1 billion for the measures announced in the government's COVID-19 economic response plan to fall within the planned authorities presented in the estimates.

In that same time frame, departments and agencies are also reporting additional estimated expenditures of $2.4 billion related to COVID-19 measures, including salaries and overtime for additional hires, and employees reassigned to support COVID-19 initiatives and operational expenditures, including the acquisition of personal protective equipment and supplies.

For the most part, these estimated expenditures are against existing funding in departmental reference levels that have been redirected to address COVID-19 activities.

Importantly, they only include the cash payments that have been made to suppliers for goods and services or for grants and contributions to recipients. They do not represent the implementation status or results achieved from measures, and organizations are responsible for determining how best to identify the appropriate estimated expenditures and are best placed to provide explanations of the amounts and corresponding activities.

The final expenditures for the 2020-21 fiscal year will be reported in the public accounts, which are expected to be tabled in the fall. The purpose in presenting these estimated expenditures by measure and on a consolidated year-to-date basis is to enable members to compare them with the spending authorities listed on GC InfoBase. It also allows members to compare announced measures as part of the fall economic statement in 2020.

The format provides the information by organization to enable parliamentarians to ask questions and seek explanations from organizations responsible for delivering these measures.

As per the committee's request, we will be reporting on a monthly basis going forward. In line with the comptroller general's covering note that accompanied the department's response to the motion, we welcome this opportunity to discuss the feedback on the content and the format of the reports going forward.

With that, we're very pleased to hear the views of committee members.

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

Thank you, Mr. Purves.

We'll now go to questioning, starting with Mr. McCauley for six minutes.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Purves, thanks for joining us. Sorry for the long wait, but technology being what it is....

You are familiar with the memo that came out March 20, 2020.

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

Correct. Yes, I am.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Right. I just want to read it into the record. It says very clearly the following:

The worldwide situation related to [COVID] is evolving rapidly, and in light of this, the Office of the Comptroller General was asked to initiate...new reporting requirement[s] to capture associated expenditure costs.

This reporting requirement is effective for this fiscal year 2019-20 and into 2020-21...critical to understand the whole of government costs related to the response to COVID-19.

Now, attached to that also came an Excel file, which was sent out to every department breaking down incremental [Technical difficulty—Editor] operations, purchases, travel, grants and contributions.

It was pretty clear that this was the information we were looking for. The comptroller general has been receiving that. Your department has been receiving that every single month since March 2020. Why was it that this committee was not provided with that [Technical difficulty—Editor]?

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

Mr. McCauley, we're absolutely committed to financial transparency, as you know.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

No, I don't know that.

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

In terms of the response, we wanted to balance three things. We wanted to make sure that we achieved transparency, we were doing it in a way that was clear and useful for the committee, and it was in a timely fashion. From our standpoint—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Let me just interrupt you there. You talk about transparency. It's very clear your department has this information that we requested. It doesn't take a lot of information. Your department has that information. This committee asked for it, and yet you decided, for usefulness, to give us only top-line numbers not broken down.

That is not at all useful for this committee or for parliamentarians, and neither is it transparent. This information is available. I actually referenced it in my motion and when we discussed this in committee, and yet you decided not to present that to committee.

Further, you're saying, well, a month from now we'll start providing that. You have this information. We've asked for it. Why will you not provide it to this committee, to parliamentarians and to Canadians to see the detailed spending?

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

Mr. McCauley, the purpose of our being here.... This is the first hour we could be here from your motion. We wanted to ensure that we not only appeared before the 23rd, but also appeared able to deliver any incremental information that you and the committee would be seeking. From that standpoint, the secretariat would be happy to put together the building-block spending data that goes into the year-to-date information that's included in these reports. We'd be very pleased to put that together. We just need—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Let me ask you—

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

—some runway for the translation to ensure that we're providing [Technical difficulty—Editor].

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

[Technical difficulty—Editor] something [Technical difficulty—Editor] not this most recent one but the one after, that was closest to this motion being put forward. I'd like a simple yes or no on this. Did you make fun of this committee, and me specifically, with the comment that if they ask for this information, maybe we'll give them a screenshot of the data? Is that true?

4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

I do not recall ever making fun of this committee or making any reference—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Did you make that statement that if they ask for this information again, we'll just give them a screenshot of the data?

April 12th, 2021 / 4:30 p.m.

Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat

Glenn Purves

No, I don't recall ever making a comment about providing—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

What if I told you that I heard from two different people that you [Technical difficulty—Editor]? Would you deny it?