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Evidence of meeting #33 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 projects.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ronnie Campbell  Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
David Enns  Deputy Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat
Rick Stewart  Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Liaison Secretariat for Macroeconomic Policy, Privy Council Office
Taki Sarantakis  Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada
Natasha Rascanin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Operations Branch, Infrastructure Canada
Robert Dunlop  Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Innovation Sector, Department of Industry
Douglas Nevison  General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Elisha Ram  Director, Microeconomic Policy Analysis, Department of Finance
John Affleck  Principal, Office of the Auditor General of Canada
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Joann Garbig

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Next time we'll go to Mr. Aspin after we're done.

The first question I have is for the Office of the Auditor General. In the course of your review, do you believe that the programs you audited were successful in achieving their intended purpose? Also, did the government get what it paid for?

10:15 a.m.

Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Ronnie Campbell

Thank you.

The government was certainly successful, I think, in meeting its objective of getting the money into the projects on a timely basis. They were also successful in ensuring that the projects within the economic action plan met the stated eligibility requirements. The broader question as to whether the government got the maximum impact out of the $47 billion will be assessed by government officials and reported at a later date.

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

Finally, in a previous meeting of the public accounts committee, the interim AG said: “For the three specific programs we audited, the government was diligent in monitoring the progress of projects and their spending.” Can you elaborate on what the interim AG meant by that?

10:15 a.m.

Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Ronnie Campbell

Certainly.

In our first audit we raised a concern about “construction-ready”, about the fact that the government quite understandably was relying on other parties to state that projects were ready to go. We raised the risk that some weren't, and there could be delays. So the government in all of those programs undertook timely monitoring, good reporting, and in many cases, when projects appeared to be slipping, they took corrective action. In some cases they took the money and put it into other projects that could be completed in time.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Nevison, you mentioned in your earlier comment the significant number of progress reports that have been completed, and of course Mr. Dunlop certainly identified the cooperation from all of the other parties involved, the provinces, municipalities, and private sector. So my question, Mr. Nevison, is given the multiple jurisdictions, have you had any challenges whatsoever in monitoring the reports of the other partners in this number of projects?

10:15 a.m.

General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance

Douglas Nevison

In terms of the reports to Canadians, that's more of a macro look at the economic action plan, and we relied on departments in Ottawa to work with their partners on the specific projects under their jurisdictions. So from our perspective, that cooperation worked very well. No concerns ever reached my table, but as I said, that was a bit higher up. I don't know if others can comment on that or not.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

I have one other quick question on infrastructure.

Mr. Sarantakis, you had mentioned in excess of 4,500 projects, rather significant just with infrastructure. I made it a point to personally monitor and visit every project in my riding a number of times. I felt that was our responsibility as members of Parliament, and I expect most of my colleagues either did the same or should have.

Of the thousands of projects, there are obviously a few that did not meet every criterion at the end for completion date. Could you put this into perspective? How many would not have been able to meet the final deadline that was imposed upon them? What was the percentage? Can you give us a ballpark figure, so I know what we're talking about? Are we talking about thousands here, or tens or hundreds? Give us a guesstimate.

10:20 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch, Infrastructure Canada

Taki Sarantakis

We're still in the process of finalizing the numbers, as we noted before, but of the some 4,000 ISF projects, at this point it looks like just a very relative handful of projects did not meet the deadline.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Fine. Thank you very kindly.

That's it, Mr. Chair.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

Now over to the official opposition, Mr. Allen and Monsieur Dubé. They're splitting their time.

Mr. Allen, you have the floor.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Nevison, I just want to clear up in my head the piece about the reports you did last time. I think I was in the committee when you were here a year and a half ago or so, and we talked about these particular reports you had done, the macro reports talking about job numbers. I believe at the time you said that it was difficult to quantify, that it was hard pulling that information together and that it wasn't wholly accurate.

I think that's what you're saying to me again today, in the sense that you've changed the modelling, so we're looking at perhaps more than just counting the projects, because that might have been hard, but what the spins are.

The difficulty of that for me, sir--and I think the Auditor General speaks to that--is that sense that these were specific projects. Some of them were very large. So some sense of knowing exactly what we get out of that is really important.

From your perspective, do you think there's a way, or will there be an opportunity for you and your department, obviously--I don't mean you personally, Mr. Nevison--to try to find a way to give us an accurate piece on how many jobs were created? We hear these numbers that get bandied around. I heard you say again this morning 200,000 and 210,000. The government continually says 600,000. Those two numbers don't come close, so that's not a rounding error.

I'll allow you to go there, because I do have to split my time.

10:20 a.m.

General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance

Douglas Nevison

Thank you.

Maybe I'll take that last point first. The 610,000 is the actual number of jobs that have been created since the trough of the recession in July 2009.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

I hate to cut you off, but I know that.

10:20 a.m.

General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance

Douglas Nevison

But the 220,000, as I said, is basically an assessment of what the economic action plan, the spending and the tax reductions, based on our model would produce in terms of jobs created or jobs maintained. That methodology has been consistent through the entire process, from budget 2009 through budget 2010, and as I mentioned in the last report to Canadians.

I wasn't the one at the testimony the last time you discussed this. But the difficulty that was mentioned was in terms of this issue of bottom-up jobs estimates versus top-down. I would make the point that the methodology from the macro perspective, in terms of the overall impact, has been consistent throughout the process.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Mr. Dubé.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Thank you very much.

We are talking about the famous report that we would like the government to present to follow up on the program objectives. This has brought another question to mind. Should the OAG also follow up?

I have to politely disagree with what Mr. Shipley said because there are many small projects, and the machine cannot be evaluated without the evaluation of its various components.

In this regard, Mr. Campbell indicated at the outset that when discussing the objectives attained or the overall assessment, a problem was noted with one program in particular. Therefore, it is important to really evaluate all the different programs. Some were successful, whereas others had problems.

With that in mind, would you agree that there should be follow-up, once it is all behind us, in order to truly assess the different projects or to carry out a detailed audit?

10:20 a.m.

Assistant Auditor General, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Ronnie Campbell

Thank you.

I'll just point out that there have been three things the Office of the Auditor General has done to date on this. One was laying out our expectations and our criteria to the government in advance of the audit. The second was undertaking the first audit of the economic action plan to be able to comment on how the overall program was designed. The third was to complete the audit we've just done, which was done when the majority of the projects were completed.

The fourth thing that has to come is what committee members are asking from the government. What we've recommended from the government is a credible assessment of the extent to which that variety of tools helped the Canadian economy. Once that's done, we will look at all the other things we have to do, take the members' comments into account, and determine, among the list of many other things on our plate, whether at that time there would be value in doing a follow-up.

Thank you.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

We'll go to Mr. Aspin. You have the floor, sir.

March 13th, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for appearing before the committee. It's indeed a pleasure to have such a team as yours. In my opinion, this is a real success story.

As my colleague Mrs. Bateman has indicated, to have such a cross-ministerial initiative is incredible within the time period. The results are incredible: 600,000 jobs; number one in the world in terms of economic recovery. I realize my colleagues across the road want more detail. That will probably come, as you've indicated, Mr. Campbell. I'm looking forward to that. On first blush, I think Canadians across the country should be very pleased at your results.

As Mr. Dreeshen has already indicated, I'm a member of the parliamentary post-secondary education caucus as well. I’ve travelled on a couple of trips to look at the various good results of the KIP program. The universities and colleges have indicated to us what a great program that was, and you've indicated in your remarks the good results from the program.

Mr. Dunlop, is there some indication that there will be a recommendation forthcoming, that possibly we can direct our future efforts for some of this funding? Because not all of the needs, as you can appreciate, and you know far better than I, were accommodated during that program. As knowledge and innovation are key to our future growth potential, is there some mechanism in place to further encourage the government to invest in this type of activity?

10:25 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Innovation Sector, Department of Industry

Robert Dunlop

Thank you for the question.

All I can really say is that the government was very clear from the beginning that this was a temporary program we were asked to administer. If others wish to make that suggestion to the government, it's really not for us in the public service to make those kinds of recommendations. I know they have been receiving representations from universities, colleges, and others.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Someone mentioned that some programs were designed after the American experience in the recovery program in the States. Is there analysis available or will there be an analysis available on how we did relative to them?

10:25 a.m.

General Director, Economic and Fiscal Policy Branch, Department of Finance

Douglas Nevison

When I mentioned the U.S. experience with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it wasn't necessarily from a design perspective in terms of how our particular programs were designed vis-à-vis similar programs in the United States. It was more in terms of the macroeconomic assessment of jobs and economic impact. In that case, they followed roughly the same approach.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you, Mr. Aspin.

Mr. Byrne, there are a couple of minutes left. You're welcome to it.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Concerning the follow-up report itself, does the government feel that any of the expectations of the Auditor General concerning the reporting structure, the content, are too onerous? Is there anything the government has concerns about, whether it can meet the expectations as outlined by the Office of the Auditor General?