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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

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I now—

Why did we know that was going to happen? All right, I see you all have your hands up. We'll deal with it later.

I now declare this 39th meeting of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts open. Now in order, the purpose of the meeting today is to follow up on the previous meeting and the order of that meeting, that we convene today for the purposes of discussing next steps vis-à-vis chapter 2 of the 2012 report of the Auditor General.

Here's the dilemma I mentioned to you before, which we have still not resolved, and that is that there's no particular order of preference as to who gets the floor, and that has a lot to do with how this meeting will unfold.

I've raised this kind of thing before. My concern has been that it becomes a physical contest of who can get my attention first, which can be totally arbitrary and not necessarily fair if I'm looking the wrong way when somebody else's hand is up.

I have to tell you, I was pretty much looking straight ahead when I banged the gavel to call the meeting to order, and instantly, all hands went up. So I'm left with a huge dilemma in terms of where I go first because you all virtually got my attention at the same time. Everybody has the same strategy, and it's unfortunate that a determination of how a meeting will unfold is based on who can get their hand up the quickest or get the eye of the chair the quickest, and yet, that is where we are.

I think the record will show that consistently Mr. Saxton has been very good at being the first off the mark, to the point where I have noticed he was first and felt comfortable giving him the floor. That's not possible right now. Virtually, you were all at the same time. Like I said, everybody knows what we're doing here, and you managed to all do it simultaneously.

Therefore, what I'm going to do is, again, I'm going to ask each of the caucuses to please consider joining with me, even if it's just an informal start over a coffee, to come to some determination on how we do this in a way that's fair to everyone. I'm reiterating that the current process is not fair. It has a built-in unfairness to it. I don't have an obvious answer or I would have brought a recommendation. But I've done this from the beginning of my term as chair. I reach out again and ask colleagues from each of the caucuses if we could sit down and find a way where we can deal with this in an equitable fashion.

Having said that, I'm in an impossible situation in that I can only go to one person and virtually all of you put your hands up instantly at the same time. Mr. Saxton continues to put his hand up so that he knows I see him there.

As I said, I have consistently seen Mr. Saxton first, as a member of the government. Given you were all at the same time, given this is an oversight committee, I'm going to recognize Mr. Allen from the official opposition. But again, I ask colleagues to please join with me to find a process that is fairer than this, because this just doesn't work.

I am not comfortable doing this, but I have to, in order to get the meeting going.

Having said all of that, I recognize Mr. Allen first, Mr. Byrne, Mr. Saxton, in that order.

8:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

8:50 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Go ahead, Mr. Allen.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and it—

8:55 a.m.

An hon. member

[Inaudible--Editor]

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Wait a minute. Is there an allegation to be made here? I heard somebody say something about “predetermined”.

Mr. Kramp.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Yes, I just felt that, so I said it, Chair.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I appreciate you said it. I assume that it was just an emotional remark and that you're not challenging the chair, or are you?

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

I'm not challenging the chair. I just believe that was the strategy overall, from all of the opposition, and I think it's unfortunate for the chair. He knows that this meeting will very shortly get out of hand and he'll have to bear responsibility for it.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

All right. I'll take that as your comments.

All right, folks. Let's not get too twisted up in process. People are watching.

Madame Bateman.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Just on a point of clarification, sir, I did note that Mr. Allen's and Monsieur Ravignat's hands were up. I noticed our hands were up. I didn't notice Mr. Byrne's, and yet you're—

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I virtually saw a sea of hands. If Mr. Byrne's hand didn't actually.... I don't know, but that's what happens with this process. Again, I come back to—

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Yet you've given him preferential treatment.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

I just saw a sea of hands, so I'm trying to find a process that's as fair as possible.

April 24th, 2012 / 8:55 a.m.

Liberal

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

Do you mind if I clarify that, Mr. Chair?

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Sure, Mr. Byrne, jump in. Let's just show Canadians just how little this committee wants to actually focus on the job at hand.

Mr. Byrne, you take the floor and just start talking.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

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

I can assure you that my hand was up.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Very well. Unless someone wants to formally challenge the chair, which I will accept, Mr. Allen has the floor and this meeting will now proceed.

Mr. Allen, take the floor.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

I think you've hit the nail on the head. One doesn't feel compelled every meeting to rush to shoot one's hand up. It hasn't been my practice in the past. Clearly we need to find a formula.

If Mr. Saxton feels that he needs to get his hand in and speak first, that's fair. Perhaps I don't put my hand up because I don't feel the need to speak first. But somehow we do need to balance this committee so that we actually have input and so that folks are being heard and we're not simply acquiescing to the fact that someone shoots their hand up.

You illustrated that someone might have an arthritic arm and might not be able to get it up. I, like many others who played sports as a boy, actually have had two shoulder surgeries, and actually my right arm doesn't work all that well sometimes, and I can't get it up that fast.

I actually envision myself trying to do “the Horshack” from Kotter and going, “Ooh, ooh, ooh!” to get the attention, which I think would be silly, to be honest. It seems that we're kind of stuck in that mode, but I'm hopeful that we can find a way to resolve it.

It would be in everyone's interest, I think, and it would be helpful to the chair to do that. And I would hope that folks on the other side would take the opportunity to know that there may be preordained things in life, and I'm not at liberty to suggest what those preordinations are, because I just live my life the way it comes, and I leave that to those who are more spiritual than I.

I can tell you unequivocally—and I say this to my colleagues across the way—that I have never taken advantage, nor will I ever take advantage of the fact that the chair is in my caucus by going to him ahead of a meeting and asking for him to recognize me. I have never done it. I did not do it for this particular meeting. Nor would I do it at any future meeting.

My colleagues across need to understand that.

Now that I've said that, let's move forward to the business at hand, which is to, hopefully, find a way to talk about a witness list. That's what I'd like to see us do today. Obviously, I'd like to see us do it openly, in a public meeting, so that we can actually get a sense of who we should bring. I think we're in agreement.

I believe, Mr. Saxton said here last week and has said publicly that he's happy to bring the AG, which I think is appropriate. I would expect that would be a standard witness for us.

He also has said here and publicly in the press that he would be happy to bring Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. He's also said here and in public in the press that he'd be happy to bring the deputy ministers. I don't believe he's actually said from which departments yet, but I think we can work on which ones those are.

If we are accepting of all of those—and I think this side certainly is accepting of those in a general format—then I'd like to see us move to the ones that are perhaps not in that generic format.

I'd like to see folks like Alan Williams, Tom Ring, and Mr. Lessard. The reason I mention folks who are not in the departments is that here is what's in play here—and I've said this before to my colleagues, and I made sure it was on the record when the AG was here the first time. The fall report of 2010 around the helicopters looks very similar to this one. In fact, I've called it the twin.

My view is that we need to actually talk to folks beyond the department, simply because they are not just anyone but are experts in the field of procurement, because the departments have gotten it wrong twice within the span of 18 months, and they haven't learned any lessons they said they would learn.

In 2010, they agreed with the Auditor General's report. There was no disagreement. Then, in the subsequent report around the F-35s, the department disagrees with the Auditor General's report, even though it's very similar—if not identical—to the one from 2010.

We have them agreeing on the one hand, and disagreeing on the other hand. So I think it's time for us, as a committee, to take a look at what the defence department is doing and how this procurement happens. We need to make some recommendations to them that are beyond, not our mandate, but the normal things we hear from the AG, because clearly this is a department that isn't listening well.

In fact the government has decided, in my view, to take procurement away from them and set up another process. If I were in that department that would mean they didn't trust me to do it.

That being the case, I think this committee needs to do the due diligence it has always done in the past, as well as continue to look at how we can help this system get better.

So I would move a motion that we continue the planning phase—and I know my colleagues didn't want to amend their motion last week, but I'm assuming it was just because they didn't want to amend the motion. I would move that we continue the meeting and look at our respective witness lists. I'm not going to put on the table my specific list. I'll put it on the table once we've debated the motion. I'm not suggesting my motion has to be simply “Here's the list and let's do that”. I agree with the government that there should be a back and forth, and a give and take. As Mr. Kramp said last week, perhaps Mr. Allen has a name that he can put out and explain why, and he said he might agree.

I have every intention of putting some names forward and explaining why I hope the government will agree. I hope the government will not take the opportunity to say, “Let the deputy ministers make decisions as to who they should bring.” If indeed I've asked for someone else, I'm not looking for a deputy minister to give me the nod that it's okay and he's happy with my choice. I'm not interested in whether the deputy minister agrees with me or not, quite frankly. I'm only interested in getting to the bottom of the situation so that we can indeed assure Canadians that when we spend their money we're doing it wisely, and when it goes awry, as it has in this case and in others, we will help get it right.

Mr. Shipley said last week that we're all in this boat together. All of us collectively, as 308 members of Parliament, are trying to make sure the public purse is spent appropriately. We need to continue to do that, and on this side we're willing to help make that happen as a public accounts committee.

So I move, Mr. Chair, that we continue this meeting as a planning meeting to look at all available witnesses that all members want to bring forward, debate, determine a witness list, determine the number of meetings and how those meetings might be formatted—we may want to have one hour and then another hour, or two-hour segments, depending on witnesses—and that we continue the meeting in open public. That is my motion, sir.

Thank you.

9 a.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Chair, can I speak to that motion?

9 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Hang on.

The first part of the motion sounded to me like the call of this meeting. The substantive motion I heard was the public part.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

That's correct.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

So unless you wish to defend all of your motion I will accept a motion on the remaining in public part. I think the rest of it is covered by the orders of the day, but I'm open to an intervention from you on that. In the absence of that, you have a motion to stay in public and it's in order.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

I accept the chair's help, in the sense that you're absolutely right. The order of the day is quite clear. I will allow that to stand as a separate item altogether and simply allow the second part of my discussion, which was the motion to stay in public.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP David Christopherson

Very good.

I have a speakers list. Let me also welcome Mathieu Ravignat to the committee.

You're a new member of the committee, as a result of the changes in the official opposition.

Mr. Thibeault will also be joining us from the opposition whip.