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Evidence of meeting #38 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 witnesses.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Joann Garbig

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

If I can, in the interest of moving things along, Mr. Aspin will follow Monsieur Dubé. I will mention that we've now had two of the three caucuses indicate publicly, if I understood correctly, that they're prepared to support this motion that would let us get to the substantive motion.

I look to Monsieur Dubé to see if he is in a position to offer up the position of the NDP. That would mean all three caucuses are onside, which means there really isn't a good reason to belabour this debate. We can then move on to the new debate.

With that, Monsieur Dubé, you have the floor, sir.

April 19th, 2012 / 2:40 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

That's exactly what I was going to say. As Mr. Allen said so eloquently earlier, our position is quite clear. An emergency meeting was called, and I think we need to proceed quickly. Everyone is constantly stating how important this file is, so let's go, let's get to work.

This is the first emergency meeting I have been to, but if I understand correctly, if we propose amendments—as we intend to do in an effort to speed things up—we must be able to discuss those amendments, to see whether there is any negotiating to be done. I think we need to adopt this first motion, which would enable us to discuss the substantive issue, as you mentioned.

We are prepared to support this motion. We must determine whether the government is going to be open-minded and support our amendments so we can finally get down to the real business at hand. This is pressing work; and that is why we are here.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Merci.

Again, colleagues, I point out the obvious. It would appear that there is likely a majority support for this motion. People still have the right to take the floor and speak their mind--that's your right--but I am asking people to keep in mind that the purpose of the meeting is to actually get somewhere.

Mr. Aspin, you have the floor, sir.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Aspin Conservative Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As Mr. Saxton has indicated, the government is prepared to move on and have this study. It welcomes this study. By his remarks and the motion he has indicated and other colleagues have indicated that a great number, if not all, of the witnesses Mr. Byrne has proposed are going to be on it.

I'm at a loss, Mr. Chair. I'm a new member here, and I just don't know what Mr. Byrne is doing. I don't understand it. It seems to me there's a lot of game-playing going on here. Let's just move on.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I agree in moving on. Let's stay focused and try not to personalize things.

I have second-time speakers. Is it really necessary? Let me push a little.

Mr. Saxton, do you want the floor? You have the right to it.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

I would like the floor if you're ready for me.

2:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I don't have a choice. Yes, I'm ready. Go ahead.

2:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First of all, I want to address a couple of the issues that have been brought up by my colleagues. The first one was by Mr. Shipley, and that was his suggestion that a friendly amendment be made to my motion indicating that Thursday, April 26, could be the first day of witnesses. I think it was actually Mr. Allen who had originally suggested that, because at least that way we've got a date to work with.

I'd just like to say that I would be willing to accept that friendly amendment to my motion, should the committee decide to go that route.

I'd also just like to say, for Mr. Byrne's satisfaction.... And I certainly hope Mr. Byrne would reconsider what he said earlier about not voting for my motion; I certainly would like it to be unanimous, and would be delighted if he could come on board. I would like to assure him that the witnesses the government would certainly be happy to bring forward to support would be the Auditor General, of course, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, deputy ministers, and whoever the deputy ministers would like to bring along; it's their decision.

Having said that, I certainly hope that Mr. Byrne would reconsider my motion. Let's move ahead in the spirit of cooperation the public accounts committee has been used to in the past, in previous Parliaments.

We have made a lot of progress and we have done a lot of good work in this committee, as Mr. Kramp and Mr. Christopherson, who are the deans of this committee, can attest. I've been on this committee I think longer than most. So I certainly hope we can move forward in the spirit of cooperation to get this done properly. It certainly would be nice to have a unanimous vote on my motion. I may be too optimistic in that regard, but it certainly would be nice. The government would like to move on, so that we can get going, as I stated earlier.

Thank you.

2:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

Before I go to Mr. Byrne, because I'm assuming he'll want his second crack, and then I'll push again to try to get a vote, just to keep us clear, because this is all very technical and easily confusing, Mr. Saxton, your motion, if passed, would have us meet on Tuesday to do the planning. That would definitely not be enough time to hold a hearing on the 26th. It's only two days.

The other way to go is to do the witness list today. Now, I realize that normally that's a lot of work, but I'm hearing a fair bit of agreement. I really am. We've got an hour and 15 minutes on the schedule. If we agree that we're going to attempt to hold at least the first hearings on the chapter next Thursday--and there may be more--it behoves us not to pass the motion exactly the way it's written, because I just don't think we can get all the players there within 48 hours. I think the Auditor General would move mountains, of course—this is his committee—but there are other players, deputy ministers, who have serious commitments, and they can't move them that quickly. All it takes is one of the main principals, and we don't have the kind of meeting we want.

So it seems to me that we've got two choices to make. We can agree today, at the very least, on a preliminary list of who would come next Thursday. That would suggest that there would probably be a second meeting. That would be the easiest thing to do today, to use Mr. Byrne's motion as the base of what the witness list would look like and begin talking about it and come to agreement, at least in terms of initial witnesses, even the most obvious: the Auditor General, the Deputy Minister of Defence, the Deputy Minister of Public Works. There are two or three that are obvious. If we could come to that much agreement, then we can thrash out the balance of Mr. Byrne's list, those that the NDP may want to consider, and the government may have members that are not in Mr. Byrne's list, or they may ask that some people come off that list. But that discussion we could have on Tuesday to further plan for hearings, while still putting in motion an initial hearing on Thursday.

Just keep in mind that passing Mr. Saxton's motion for a planning meeting on the 24th would all but end our discussion today, because it puts off the discussion of the witness list until next Tuesday, which means we likely could not hold a hearing on Thursday. Whereas if we could agree on two or three principals today, we could have a public hearing on Thursday and still have a meeting on Tuesday to determine the balance of the witness list.

I leave that with members. I'm just trying to help keep things clear, because this does get kind of technical.

Mr. Byrne, you have the floor, sir.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I kind of assumed that the more the government talked about their position the more they'd expose about their position. I think we've seen the light as to exactly where the government stands on a major issue.

It has been suggested that it is outrageous for a member of this committee to come before the committee with a selection of proposals for who could appear as witnesses on a particular topic, that it's outrageous to include those names in a motion--how dare he suggest that he's got all the answers when we're not involved in this? Well, that was never the intent. It was clearly never the intent when I said that it would not be limited to the following witnesses.

What I find really interesting, Mr. Chair, is if it's so outrageous that somebody dictates to this committee who the witnesses are going to be, why did Mr. Saxton just say that they'll accept the Auditor General, they'll accept Kevin Page, and they'll accept deputy ministers, but it will be deputy ministers who decide who joins them to appear before this committee? So this committee won't decide which officials appear before us; it will be the deputy ministers' prerogative, and the committee has no right to establish which officials below the deputy minister level should appear before us. So it's outrageous that a member of the committee could actually suggest who the witnesses will be, yet the government are prepared and have actually decided that they're going to delegate who the witnesses will be to deputy ministers. That's rather a self-aggrandizing sort of position to take.

It clearly leads to deputy ministers having the capacity to prevent testimony from being presented before us. I personally would like to hear from Colonel D.C. Burt, director of new-generation fighter capability at the Department of National Defence; Michael J. Slack, the F-35 project manager; Lieutenant-General Deschamps, Chief of the Air Staff. But you know what--we'll let the deputy minister decide that.

With that, Mr. Chair, we have exposed exactly where the government is going with this.

Let's just have a vote.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you, Mr. Byrne.

Mr. Saxton, you have the floor.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think it's important that we put this motion to a vote.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Okay.

Monsieur Dubé.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

All I want to say is that we are still discussing the motion that, once adopted, will allow us to deal with Mr. Saxton's motion. That is what we are trying to do: we want to be able to at least propose amendments, so we can carry on with the work. Everyone is trying to figure out which motion is the best, when we aren't even there yet. We must deal with this motion: that is what we are saying, loud and clear.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Very good.

In the absence of any further speakers, the debate has collapsed.

Mr. Allen, you have the floor.

2:50 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

It's just for a point of clarification, Mr. Chair.

I'm sure you're going to tell us exactly what we're voting on. This is a motion to entertain Mr. Saxton's motion, so that folks aren't confused, because then we can actually go back and debate the motion, which we sort of did anyway, but no doubt we're about to do it again to some degree. I want to be comfortable knowing that this first vote is simply to accept the fact that we're going to entertain the motion that Mr. Saxton has presented to us, and then hopefully they'll move, technically--and correctly so--the amendments we've proposed that Mr. Shipley has brought forward.

Am I correct in assuming that's the order we're going to go in?

2:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

You are correct in assuming that I will make it very clear what we're going to vote on just before we do.

Are there any other speakers?

Given the speakers list has exhausted, I will now move this committee to a vote. Debate is now concluded.

The motion is now on whether or not the majority of this committee agree that Mr. Saxton's motion, which he has read into the record, would indeed be placed before the committee and would be properly before us as our next item of business. Is everybody clear? It would seem that we are.

I am going to ask for a recorded vote so that it's crystal-clear every step of the way. Therefore, without further ado I will ask the clerk to take a roll call vote of the motion by Mr. Saxton.

(Motion agreed to: yeas 10; nays 1)

2:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

We will now move to the order of that motion, which is Mr. Saxton's motion, which I believe, Madam Clerk, when he read it just now, replicated verbatim the original motion we received.

The motion been circulated.

I'll go to you on a point. Are you looking for a point, or do you want the floor?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

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

I would like to—

2:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Okay, you're the second speaker, then.

Where we are right now is in front of you. This motion by Mr. Saxton, in printed form and in both languages, is now duly before this committee.

May I apologize to Mr. Kellway? I should have recognized you, sir, as a guest to this committee. I apologize. We welcome you today.

I'm doing it because people may wonder why you weren't voting. Of course, people who aren't permanent members of the committee don't vote, but all colleagues are entitled to attend meetings if they wish. Given that you're one of the critics for the F-35, it's understandable why you're here. Again, I apologize for not welcoming you sooner, but welcome today.

With that, we are on the motion. I'm ready to go to the first speakers.

Mr. Saxton, you have the floor, sir.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

What I would like to do at this point is refresh everybody's memory, since it's been almost an hour since I read this last time. I would like to reread my motion, including the friendly amendment by Mr. Shipley. That part's a work in progress.

It reads as follows:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Standing Committee on Public Accounts begin a study of the Spring 2012 Report of the Auditor General, beginning with Chapter 2 (Replacing Canada's Fighter Jets), and that the Committee hold a planning session at the meeting of April 24, 2012, to determine the witness list and agenda for the study, and that when the study is complete the Committee report its finding to the House of Commons.

In addition, I would like to include Mr. Shipley's friendly amendment, which is that the study will begin on Thursday, April 26.

Mr. Chair, I am confident that the witnesses will be ready on April 26. I know you have some concerns about it.

2:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I'm just concerned that if the planning session is on Tuesday, we couldn't have them there by Thursday. You still think they can be.

Fair enough. Go ahead.

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

I do. I understand your concern and I recognize your concern, but I do believe we will have enough witnesses to make it a worthwhile meeting on April 26. It's consistent with Mr. Allen's suggestion to have a date to get started so that it's not hanging out there and we know exactly what we're shooting towards.

I would add that the analyst can add the wording he chooses, but I accept that friendly amendment in my motion. I would like to now put this motion before the committee for a vote.

2:55 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

All right.

Technically a friendly amendment basically means that you accept a change that someone suggested and everybody else is okay with it and we don't need to have a separate debate on it. If there's any disagreement at all, then it has to be a formal amendment motion.

You were looking for language, though, were you not?

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

No; I just wanted the analyst to figure out where to insert the wording for April 26 as the date to begin our study on the report.