This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

Evidence of meeting #12 for Public Accounts in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was clement.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Richard Dicerni  Deputy Minister, Department of Industry
Michelle d'Auray  Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat
Yaprak Baltacioglu  Deputy Minister, Department of Transport
John Forster  Associate Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Canada, Department of Transport

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Where is it?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

—for me to answer, if you keep talking over my answer, sir. So—

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Well, do you have it?

3:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

You have the floor. Answer the question, Minister.

Go ahead.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Again, the trail is very clear. The municipalities prioritized the projects. They delivered those prioritized projects to the constituency office, who then in turn, without additional review or alteration, transmitted them ultimately to the Department of Transport and Infrastructure Canada, where the responsible minister would make the decision.

All of that documentation on those 33 was, as I understand it, shared with the Auditor General. I would like to make that point clear.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

I'm sorry; time has expired.

Mr. Kramp, you have the floor.

November 2nd, 2011 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I certainly welcome our guests here today.

First, to Madam Baltacioglu, Minister Baird has been very clear in his statement today and all through this last period of time. He's made the point that he approved the projects on the infrastructure on the recommendation of Minister Clement. He approved on the recommendation of Minister Clement.

From your perspective, is that how the professional civil service understood this process?

3:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Transport

Yaprak Baltacioglu

Those words do matter in the selection process. Minister Clement, as he outlined in his opening remarks, working with the local communities and the leadership, identified priority projects for funding consideration. These identified priority projects were given to Infrastructure Canada. Infrastructure Canada did an assessment of these projects against the terms and conditions of the program, and we did provide advice to Minister Baird for his approval of the 32 projects and also for him to sign the contribution agreements. Minister Baird signed the contribution agreements and any other documentation that's required, as the minister legally responsible for the fund.

Minister Clement, as the recommending minister, has also signed documents, but his involvement from our perspective was symbolic. In our view, these things were approved according to the procedures.

Following that, the documents were sent to the various proponents, and they signed. Following that, the involvement of the ministers ended there, and we ended up administering the program. We communicated with the proponents in terms of their bills and how to pay them, etc.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Thanks. It's obviously very clear that this was a documented process, and it's interesting that unfortunately the official opposition would misrepresent that reality.

Actually, Mr. Angus made a very good point--

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Could I just interrupt?

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Yes, Minister.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Conservative Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

As the Minister of Infrastructure Canada, I was the only one who had the legal authority to approve projects. By all means, projects were selected by my colleague, identified, recommended, but he did not have any approval process; only I, as Minister of Infrastructure, had that authority.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Fine. Thank you very much.

I sat in on the meeting, back on October 5, when we had John Wiersema here as interim Auditor General. At that particular point, I questioned some of the differences between contribution agreements and grants. I can recall at that point during the testimony here, he suggested the contribution agreements are a significantly more onerous process than you would just simply say for grants.

Mr. Baird and/or infrastructure officials, could you just be a bit more clear and perhaps separate the difference for us between a contribution agreement...and why that was the process that was then used for the G-8 legacy fund?

4 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Transport

Yaprak Baltacioglu

Mr. Forster is going to answer.

4 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Canada, Department of Transport

John Forster

All of our infrastructure programs are done through contribution agreements. An agreement is signed between the Government of Canada—in this case Minister Baird—and the recipient, in these cases the various towns, municipalities, and, in one case, the Province of Ontario.

The agreement lays out the terms and conditions under which the money will flow. It includes how claims will be submitted and how bills will be paid. It includes audit provisions. It includes what information is required to conclude the project, communications protocols, etc. It imposes conditions on the recipients that they have to meet in order to receive the funding.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

So would it be a fair statement to say that these are all added accountabilities that are part of the contribution agreement that actually is part of the process that was used in this entire venture, and that really is one of the prime reasons that every cent is accounted for?

4 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Canada, Department of Transport

John Forster

Yes, that's correct. We do not provide money in advance. We only reimburse costs incurred, so as the towns build their project, they submit claims to the department. We review the claims carefully to make sure all the costs are eligible according to the terms and conditions of the program as approved by Treasury Board prior to issuing payment. Then we have a number of requirements for closing out the projects before they receive their final payment.

4 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I'm sorry, but the time has expired. Thanks, Mr. Kramp.

Monsieur Boulerice, you have the floor, sir.

4 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Baird and Mr. Clement, thank you for joining us today.

I must mention the fact that, since last June, we would have liked you to have risen from your seats in the House to answer our questions. There was some contempt or disdain toward Parliament and with respect to the right of the elected members to obtain answers from the government.

We have here what is probably the biggest scandal since the sponsorship scandal. All the elements of a shady process are here. The Auditor General told us that she had never seen anything like it and that all the rules had been broken. You managed to implement an opaque, parallel process to distribute $50 million in your constituency. The Auditor General first told us that there were no documents or minutes, that we didn't know what happened and that no senior public servants were present. Access to information requests made by the NDP showed us that the story was a little different, in the end: senior public servants were present, but they were subsequently concealed. Through these access to information requests, we also learned plenty of interesting things about certain emails. I'll come back to that.

Mr. Clement, your spokesperson in the House just stated that he was the only one responsible for approving projects. I have in my hands a document dated October 21, 2009 that bears Mr. Baird's signature.

It's an agreement for G-8 summit projects,

and bears the signature of the mayor of Huntsville, as well as yours. Does that not contradict the version of the facts presented by Mr. Baird? You also signed the document.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I thank you for the question, Monsieur Boulerice.

As Minister Baird indicated, he had the decision-making authority to decide which projects would get funded, as the then Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

I referred projects, and my mayors, through me, referred their prioritized projects. My role was to make sure that the mayors got their priorities right, in their view, because they were closest to the ground, and to transmit or submit them to the deciding minister, who was not me; it was Minister Baird.

I've already gone over that ground. It is not right to say that--

4 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Okay. Thank you, Mr. Clement.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

--the civil servants were covering up, as they were not at all. The civil servants who were involved in local meetings had no decision-making authority on projects. I want to make that clear.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Clement, we're going to look at a bit of history.

Do you know about the great darkness? It's a rather unpleasant period in Quebec's history. Mr. Maurice Duplessis was premier of the province at that time. Everything took place outside the system. Contracts were distributed to friends directly in the offices. Today, we see that similar forms that were not designed by the Government of Canada, but by you, are sent directly to your office to distribute contracts. This is similar to the processes we have unfortunately seen in the past and that were not an indication of the sound management of public funds.

Why use a method that increases the cynicism of Canadians toward politicians and that created confusion about the integrity and sound management of finances?

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Certainly you're entitled to your opinion, but let me make two corrections.

First, this form was designed by the Town of Huntsville. It was not designed by me.

Secondly, I'd like to quote from the interim Auditor General at this committee on October 5, where he says:

...this is not the same as the sponsorship program. In this particular case, as I indicated in response to earlier questions, it is clear that the government received the goods and services it paid for. It got what it paid for.

I want to put that on the record again, to defend the interim Auditor General and the Office of the Auditor General, that your characterization is incorrect.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Clement. I'm still not reassured, but you also have the right to your opinion.

The emails that the NDP were able to obtain revealed some interesting things about your exchanges with the mayor of Hunstville. Allow me to read from certain passages that I'll translate into French.

On December 12, 2008, you wrote to the mayor of Huntsville and told him not to talk to the media until you had spoken and had agreed on your message. That's what this email says.

Then, on May 5, 2009, the mayor of Huntsville wrote to you and said that he thought the story of the University of Waterloo should be used as a cover to mitigate any negative reaction, as you had discussed during the foundation stone laying ceremony. Your response to that email was "Thank you."

What did you have to hide? Why did you have to agree in advance to speak with the media and use a story to try to cover another, which was perhaps more detrimental for you?