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.