Evidence of meeting #32 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 cisco.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paul Glover  President, Shared Services Canada
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Paul Cardegna
Marc Brouillard  Acting Chief Information Officer of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

I call the meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 32 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The committee is meeting today at 4:15 p.m., Ottawa time, to hear from the Minister of Digital Government and officials on the main estimates 2021-22.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind all participants at this meeting that screenshots or taking photos of your screen are not permitted.

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

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you are not speaking, your mike should be muted. To raise a point of order during the meeting, committee members should ensure their microphone is unmuted and say “point of order” to get the chair's attention.

The clerk and the analysts are participating in the meeting virtually today, so if you need to speak with them during the meeting, please email them through the committee email address. The clerk can also be reached on his mobile phone.

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 would now invite the Minister of Digital Government to make her opening statement.

4:15 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalMinister of Digital Government

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's a pleasure to join everyone here today. I was hearing the comments about the rain in Saskatchewan and thinking that we need that in British Columbia. We really don't want the fire risk hazard to be as high as it is.

I'd like to acknowledge that I'm joining you from my home in Vancouver on the unceded territories of the Musqueam nation.

I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me here to discuss the 2021 main estimates and the 2021-22 departmental plan for the digital government portfolio.

I'm pleased to be joined today by Marc Brouillard, acting chief information officer of Canada; Karen Cahill, assistant secretary and CFO; Paul Glover, president of Shared Services Canada; and Samantha Hazen, ADM and chief financial officer, Shared Services Canada.

Of course, after my remarks, we'll be happy to answer any questions members have.

As the minister responsible for the government's digital transformation, part of my mandate is to work with ministerial colleagues and provide federal public servants with the tools and strategies they need to design and deliver the services that Canadians expect in the digital era, services that are secure, reliable and easy to access.

We are focused on four areas. First is modernizing how the government replaces, builds and manages major IT systems. Second is improving the service delivery experience for Canadians. Third is coordinating government digital operations through collaborative platforms, tools and secure data sharing. Finally, we are removing organizational barriers to change by training and recruiting public servants with digital skills, diverse perspectives and other initiatives.

Work in these four areas advances my mandate to transform Canadians' experiences with Government of Canada services. While there's still much work ahead, we're making important progress. The investments we're discussing here today will play a major part in updating our systems and rolling out better and more powerful tools so that we can improve Canadians' access to trusted digital services.

In terms of the estimates and the main estimates, SSC is seeking additional funding to provide modern, reliable and secure IT infrastructure in support of government priorities and the digital delivery of programs and services to Canadians. This new funding includes $93.2 million for enabling digital services to Canadians by optimizing the efficiency and performance of IT systems throughout government. We're also looking for new funding of $37.3 million for IT modernization initiatives that will leverage the cloud and consolidate email, data centres and network systems.

Also, $36.5 million is being requested for the cost of core IT services, including funding to support new full-time staff and partner initiatives; $13.5 million for secure video conferencing; $6.7 million to support IT services, infrastructure and our direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and $14.1 million to enhance the integrity of Canada's borders and asylum system as well as respecting newly signed collective agreements and making federal government workplaces more accessible.

We're also seeking $282,000 for the Treasury Board Secretariat to contribute to the Open Government Partnership, a leading global forum for advancing open government around the world.

With regard to the Shared Services Canada 2021-22 departmental plan, our digital government teams will work with departments on several important initiatives. For example, we're continuing to modernize government IT with new iterative methods to plan, procure and manage mission-critical legacy systems. Our SSC data centre closure program is making great progress towards the goal of modernization and has closed 335 legacy data centres to date, of which 143 have been closed since 2019 alone.

We're improving service by ensuring that public-facing digital platforms are consistent across the government and designed for the person or organization using them, such as with Sign In Canada.

We're continuing to implement a modern strategic enterprise management approach to IT operations, like supplying a portfolio of tools to public servants based on job profiles and practical needs and leveraging Office 365 as an example of that.

We're identifying and tackling long-standing barriers to digital innovation that are typical of our traditional siloed processes, and we're working with organizations like Technation's digital marketplace, which helps us access the innovation of more tech SMEs. In taking an enterprise approach, Shared Services Canada is working to solidify network capacity and security, equip and empower employees to collaborate and support partners in the design and delivery of their digital service offerings to Canadians.

From responding effectively in times of crisis to delivering benefits to low-income Canadians to timely service from Service Canada, digital capacity underpins our ability to deliver on every priority and policy the government implements.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd be pleased to take questions from the committee.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

Thank you, Minister.

With that, we will now start our questioning.

We will start with Ms. Harder for six minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, thank you so much for being with us today. I believe this is my first opportunity to have a conversation with you directly or to ask questions, and I very much appreciate this chance.

In your mandate letter, which I've read in full a few times now, you're instructed to—and I'll quote it directly—“Fully implement lessons learned from previous information technology project challenges and failures, particularly around sunk costs and major multi-year contracts.”

The federal government in recent years has awarded internal contracts to technology company Cisco with high frequency. I don't think this is news to you, of course. It has made the national media. This is part of what some observers are calling “a pattern of dependency by Ottawa on a single network provider that has all but shut out competing bids.”

Are you worried about lack of competition when it comes to Shared Services Canada and procuring IT equipment?

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thank you for that question.

I can assure the member that integrity and fairness in procurement is a top priority for me. We have a very collaborative process with industry, and SSC is working closely with key stakeholders to ensure that businesses can easily access and bid for government contracts. I am happy to ask Deputy Glover from SSC to provide more detail about the contract in question.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, thank you. That won't be necessary. I've had the opportunity to ask Mr. Glover questions on a few occasions now. With it being your department, I was hoping that you could answer this question with regard to procurement and whether or not the fully competitive process is in fact followed.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I'm happy to let the member know that neither I nor my staff are involved in any specific procurements, so—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, thank you.

I understand that you're probably not involved in the day-to-day in terms of signing off on what gets procured, but as the minister, you are responsible for putting systems and procedures in place. I'm curious if you've talked to your lead management team—of course, including Mr. Glover—with regard to what that procurement process looks like and making sure that it's fair to anyone who would wish to bid.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I am very committed to our having a fair procurement system in SSC, and we have such a system. I also recognize that there are the occasional times when there is a need to have equipment that's interoperable with existing equipment.

I'd like to bring the member's attention to a statement by Technation, which works with the suppliers to the IT industry. They say, “Shared Services Canada has been a key government leader in working with Technation specifically in breaking down barriers to procurement. This includes leading an Agile Procurement pilot aimed at increasing the inclusion of SMEs, and a new initiative, ScaleUp that will target minority-led companies in government contract opportunities. We have also worked very closely together to assist SSC in resolving issues to its network strategy and related procurement practices.”

I think the industry representatives are aware of the good work that SSC is doing and support that.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

When the same company keeps getting the bids, does that sound like a competitive process to you?

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I think I already explained to the member that we are very committed to having a competitive process in any procurement where that is practical, and there are the occasional situations where the existing equipment requires a particular brand of replacement.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

It's interesting, though, because I'm not actually even talking about where you're acquiring new equipment for already existing systems. I'm actually talking about the establishment of new centres. Cisco is still getting the majority of contracts. I find that interesting, and I find it especially interesting when the interoperability was tested and the report found that Juniper Networks and Arista Networks were both cleared for procurement in 2019.

Maybe you could just shed light on any contracts that have been awarded to Juniper and Arista in the last, let's say, two years.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thanks. As I mentioned to Member Harder, I will not be commenting on any individual procurements. We have systems and processes in place—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

I'm not asking you to give the details. I'm just wondering if you've procured any contracts with these two companies.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I'm happy to have Deputy Glover answer that question.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Minister, I was really hoping you would understand your file and be able to engage with me directly.

4:25 p.m.

Paul Glover President, Shared Services Canada

Mr. Chair, I'm happy to answer the member's question. With respect to—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Chair, I would prefer to have my question directed at the minister. If she's not able to answer, I'll just ask another question.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

As I mentioned MP Harder, individual procurements are not something that I'm involved in. I can say that we have a clear set of processes to ensure the integrity of our procurement system, and we're working every day to figure out innovative ways to bring SMEs into our procurements. We work with associations of Black, BIPOC, indigenous and women-led businesses so that we can understand their areas of strength and interest and we can make sure that our procurement is as diverse as possible.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

That's wonderful, but could you perhaps provide us—

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Robert Gordon Kitchen

Thank you, Ms. Harder.

We'll now go to Mr. MacKinnon for six minutes.

May 26th, 2021 / 4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon Liberal Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to welcome the minister and the representatives of Treasury Board Secretariat and Shared Services Canada.

To begin, I would like to recognize the incredible efforts that have been made by Shared Services Canada during the pandemic to offer public servants flexibility by giving them the opportunity to telework.

Everyone is grateful for all the efforts that those employees have made, as have you, Minister. They have performed a remarkable feat. We were afraid at the beginning, but we have witnessed quite an achievement. We also thank all the people who are working so hard to make sure that their colleagues have access to services.

My first question is for you, Minister, and relates to the pandemic.

I would like to know your personal thoughts. Has the pandemic accelerated our efforts regarding the digital transformation in the Government of Canada? If so, in what way?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thanks so much for the question, but especially thank you for the shout-out to the public servants of Canada who indeed did respond very quickly and effectively to provide updated tools and systems for the public servants who were at the front lines providing services.

We have learned a number of things from this pandemic period. One is the importance of working across government in a platform approach, which then is a challenge because, of course, historically departments have been in their own silos and doing their own work to provide the IT systems [Technical difficulty—Editor] to their officials to provide their services. We're finding that we can avoid a lot of duplication by looking at a government-wide approach to systems and connectivity. Where that is especially important is in security, because more and more that's an area that is sophisticated and challenging. We are utterly committed to providing secure data for Canadians.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon Liberal Gatineau, QC

Thank you very much, Minister.

I am glad to know that you are continuing to consider this issue.

Regarding supply, strictly speaking, we saw somewhat rigid supply strategies under the previous government that imposed requirements and were not flexible, I would say.

Could you tell us about this concept of flexible supply? What does it represent to you, and how could we apply it more widely?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thanks for that question.

Agile is certainly a transformation of the way we do procurement. Rather than have multi-year plans to do a major procurement, with a lot of holdups along the way while securing funds through Treasury Board, agile procurement is really working with the vendor community very collaboratively to ask them to provide solutions to a problem the government has, rather than going to them and saying, “Here's what we want to buy. Bid on that.”

Agile procurement is something, as the Auditor General has noted, where we've really moved a long way in that direction. It means we do pieces. We bite off a piece, we learn from it and then we tackle the next piece. We're not locked into a train of activity that was planned years before, which may be out of date by the time a large procurement is finally completed.

Agile procurement is certainly what we're doing with our replacement of the Phoenix pay system, working towards an HR-to-pay system that will serve public servants very well. Agile is a key fundamental of it.