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Evidence of meeting #39 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

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

I just have to understand this, because I've seen this happen at another committee. Someone takes the words of a colleague, a parliamentarian, and changes them, and then the parliamentarian whose words have been artfully rearranged has no recourse. I don't understand that.

If this committee is going to function.... I would like to understand the process and how we respect each other, because this is the second occasion when I have seen someone impugn the intent of the words that were used by a colleague, and I want to understand.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Sure. I appreciate the point of order.

Quite frankly, and I know it's hard to believe, but sometimes members say things that other members may not necessarily agree is exactly accurate. You can correct that in debate, but it's not a point of order to stop someone from talking, even if they are, as you say, artfully changing things. There are lines, and that's why there's great discretion on the part of the chair.

If someone has twisted someone's quote to the point that they were then accused of saying something unparliamentary, in the past tense, that would be stopped, because you can't do it at the time and you can't do it going backwards. You cannot speak in an unparliamentary fashion.

However, you, and all of us, have the right to be wrong when we have the floor. That can include facts that could be wrong and quotes that could be wrong. That is why everyone is given an opportunity to have their say, so that you can take the floor and then say, “I disagree with that, and I want to set the record straight”. You have that opportunity in debate. But it is not for me to be ruling on the accuracy of members' comments. It is only if they step out of line.

At this point, I have heard nothing from Mr. Byrne that would suggest that Mr. Kramp was being unparliamentary. Mr. Kramp disagrees with the way it's being characterized. Mr. Kramp, like you, will be given an opportunity to have the floor to refute that, if you wish. But it is a point of debate, not a point of order.

Does that help?

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Yes. Thank you very much.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

You're very welcome.

Mr. Byrne, you may continue, sir.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

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

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

What aids us in this discussion, this debate, is the transcript of Thursday's meeting—it was held in public—as well as the video of Thursday's meeting. Those who may be interested can simply reference Mr. Kramp's comments generally supporting the concept of limiting panels with the rationale that it is important to hear from all witnesses. Let the transcript and the video speak for itself in that regard, Mr. Chair.

With regard to the witnesses, it is very important. I am disturbed by the government's assertion by the parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for the Treasury Board that deputy ministers should decide who accompanies them at the table. In other words, the discretion of the committee to conduct an inquiry into this matter would be limited by the best interests of the deputy ministers of the department. Quite frankly, Mr. Chair, that is not in keeping with a public accounts committee's conduct of business.

We should have the capacity, and it should not be overruled by the majority—the Conservative majority, in this case—to limit witnesses and to have those witnesses appear at a parliamentary inquiry. Those witnesses should not be limited by the deputy minister who has a vested interest in what is said and recorded in testimony at this committee, which then may become the substance of our report.

Obviously, a deputy minister would not necessarily want a subordinate appearing before a committee who may contradict the minister, or himself as deputy minister, or anyone else in the department. I think it would be fair to assume that if any subordinate of a deputy minister has the capacity to contradict anybody within the chain of command, and the deputy minister has the right to prevent them from appearing—as has been suggested by the parliamentary secretary—they won't be appearing and we won't hear their testimony.

Mr. Chair, I hope we can get on with this and that this will be the first rung of witnesses we can hear from.

It has been reported in some media sources that Thursday's meeting was not all that productive. I think it was, because it was in public and we discovered some very important points throughout the entire exercise about the way the government is going to handle this.

There was great value achieved simply by knowing the government intends to prevent subordinates of deputy ministers from appearing before this committee unless they endorse and support the position of the deputy minister and the minister.

We now know the general opinion of members expressed on Thursday is that we should have witnesses appearing in panels, but the numbers within those panels be limited so that we can get fair access and a fair opportunity to hear from and question each and every witness. Now it appears that the government's position is changing on that.

When the director of communications in the Prime Minister's Office said to the Canadian public on behalf of the Prime Minister of Canada that these meetings will be held in public and that officials will be allowed to attend, we now know that was a lie. The government's position is, “Let's put these meetings in secret and let's deny the opportunity for officials to attend.” That is, quite frankly, contemptible.

Mr. Chair, I've said all I need to say. I hope the government will live up to its word. The spokesperson for the Prime Minister of Canada said these meetings will be held in public and that officials will be allowed to attend, and that there will be no effort on the part of the government to stifle or stymie these officials or the work of the committee by forcing it to be in secret.

Hold to those statements. Allow this committee to be held in public and for committee members, not deputy ministers, to decide who the witnesses will be and for the majority of the committee to allow witnesses who were nominated by the opposition.

This is a government oversight committee, after all.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you, Mr. Byrne.

Mr. Allen, you have the floor, sir.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think we all want to get a witness list done, and I know the other side does as well. Mr. Byrne has stated that he is amenable to additions to his list. So I move an amendment to add the following to his list: Mr. Robert Fonberg, Mr. Alan Williams, Mr. P. Lessard—

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Do you have titles, Mr. Allen? You don't have to.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Robert Fonberg is the Deputy Minister of National Defence. He was appointed on October 1, 2007. Mr. Alan Williams is the former assistant deputy minister for materiel. Mr. P. Lessard was a core member of the senior review board of the next generation fighter capability project. Mr.Tom Ring is the assistant deputy minister, acquisitions branch, Public Works and Government Services Canada.

If there's an overlap I'll simply strike the name.

Josée Touchette is the assistant deputy minister at the Department of National Defence. Winslow Wheeler is from the Center for Defense Information in Washington. Philippe Lagassé is a University of Ottawa military procurement expert.

I will leave it at that.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Mr. Tom Ring is already contained in the main motion, so are you willing to pull that out and clean it up?

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Sure.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

That amendment is in order. I will accept it.

You have the floor and may speak to it further, if you wish.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

No. I said I would be brief and I intend to be. Those are my suggestions to add to the list. They are folks that we would call. If the government wants me to explain why, I would be happy to. But I think we want to get this list done and start moving forward with the actual hearings, so we can get work done.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Thank you.

I advise members that technically we are debating the amendment.

With that in mind, Monsieur Ravignat, you have the floor.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Okay.

I am obviously in favour of this amendment. I think it is important that witnesses help us carry out a study that focuses on all angles of this issue. It is not just a question of the government's official history, presented by senior officials, but also of hearing from independent experts, who have a voice, who may provide suggestions, recommendations and, as a result, contribute significantly to improving the procurement process for military contracts.

Clearly, there's a problem. Whether we're talking about tanks, which was a recent issue, or, of course, F-35s, the entire process needs to be reviewed. So it's absolutely necessary to find witnesses who are not necessarily part of the upper echelons of the public service, who have an independent voice and who also have experience in procurement.

That's why I think the list as amended by my colleague Mr. Allen creates this balance between officials and experts. For example, Mr. Lagassé from the University of Ottawa will add a scientific angle to the issue. My Liberal colleague suggested Colonel David Burke, who is directly connected with this idea of fighter jets. Also mentioned was Mr. Fonberg, who was Deputy Minister of National Defence last October. I think it's clear that this list improves on Mr. Byrne's list. It would enable us to do a more thorough study.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Merci. I have no further speakers.

The floor is open for debate. This is the third and final call for debate. Hearing none, I'll put the matter to the committee. Let's again keep it nice and clean. We'll do a roll call vote on the amendment. Does anybody need it read out or are we good? I see we're nodding that we're good.

(Amendment negatived: nays 7; yeas 4)

Thank you. I declare the motion defeated on a vote of seven to four. The motion to amend is defeated.

We are now on the main motion as originally put unamended.

Mr. Ravignat, you have the floor again. I have you on my speakers list. You don't have to speak, you're just on my list.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

I'll pass.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Very good.

Is there further debate on the main motion? It's the last call for debate on the main motion. Hearing none, we'll put the motion to the committee and again we'll do a formal roll call vote.

(Motion negatived: nays 7; yeas 4)

Thank you. I declare the motion defeated on a vote of seven to four.

Moving on to our speakers list, Mr. Saxton, you have the floor, sir.

April 24th, 2012 / 9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the opportunity to speak today. Thank you again.

First of all, I want to remind colleagues that we passed a motion last Thursday to have witnesses come this Thursday. If we're going to make that happen, we have to get going.

I would now like to move a motion of my own, and it is that the committee invite the deputy ministers from Public Works, National Defence, and Industry Canada, and the secretary to the Treasury Board, and that they bring any necessary officials with them to appear this Thursday. I certainly hope that the opposition will now get down to business and put the political games behind them, so that we can get going and actually have a productive meeting this Thursday, and so we can have this study continue.

Thank you.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Do you have that by any chance in writing?

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Yes, I do.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Okay, that's helpful. I'm assuming that the Auditor General is part of that.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

We're just talking about this Thursday, Mr. Chair.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I know, but answer my question. Was that an oversight, or did you deliberately not include the Auditor General?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

It's fully our intention to have the Auditor General come to committee to testify. This is simply for this Thursday so that we have enough people to begin the study as soon as possible this Thursday.