Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today in this House to state my position on this motion requesting that the second report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, presented to the House on June 7, 2006, be concurred in.
This second report was presented by the committee chair. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the committee considered the matter of the acquisition of significant property by the Government of Canada.
A motion agreed to by the majority at that particular committee meeting states, and I quote:
That the committee reports to the House that it recommends that the acquisition by purchase or lease of any significant property, such as the former JDS Uniphase campus in Ottawa, by the Government of Canada for use by its departments and agencies be the result of a competitive public call for tender process.
Naturally, the rationale for this motion agreed to at committee was to draw attention to this question and to ensure that the House of Commons could make a decision regarding potential actions of the Conservative government. Let me explain.
We learned a few weeks ago that the Government of Canada, through the Department of Public Works and Government Services, was seriously considering leasing the former JDS Uniphase complex at 3000 Merivale Road in Ottawa on a long-term basis to use as the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
We know that JDS Uniphase decided to sell this building a few years ago. The company had formerly been headquartered in Ottawa, but had decided to move its operations primarily to the United States. This property therefore became vacant. It was strongly recommended that JDS Uniphase sell this complex, and the market expected that it would. The company put the complex on the market for roughly $30 million.
We know that at the time, the Government of Canada was approached about purchasing the building without a public tendering process. It was even suggested that the building be used as the new headquarters of the Department of National Defence. However, the government at the time refused this transaction because it was unsolicited and a public tendering process had not been held.
Some time later, JDS Uniphase managed to sell this complex to Minto Developments for, we are told, about $30 million, the original asking price.
Minto Developments subsequently made a proposal to the Government of Canada, again unsolicited and without a public tendering process, that the complex be used by one of its departments or agencies.
This would have had to be a transaction without competitive bidding. It was not obviously a good transaction, financially healthy for the Government of Canada, especially because there was no public tendering. Other developers did not have an opportunity to submit competitive prices or propose other locations.
We have been hearing for a few weeks that the Conservative government was holding discussions with Minto Developments. A lobbyist with close Conservative ties was even said to have taken part in these discussions in one way or another, directly or indirectly.
After that, the Conservative government supposedly decided to seriously consider the transaction. Rumours are that the government is very interested in this transaction, even though there is no public tendering. It is quite difficult, therefore, for the House of Commons and the people of Canada to ensure that this transaction is a good one financially for Canadian taxpayers.
Rumours are that the transaction is worth more than $600,000, payable by the Government of Canada over 25 years. In other words, it is apparently a lease with an option to purchase upon expiry. The total cost for Canadian taxpayers is apparently over $600 million, even $625 million.
The reason why we asked the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates to look into this matter was precisely because no one so far, especially among the opposition parties, is convinced that this is a good deal for providing space for about 10,000 public servants.
The government seems to be clinging very stubbornly to this transaction. Members will recall the parliamentary secretary to the minister stating categorically in this House that there was no transaction and no agreement on the building.
At the same time, the minister was saying in the other house that there had been negotiations and even a letter of understanding signed by the Government of Canada and Minto Developments. It is not right for us to discover that there were negotiations—and apparently still are—the minister knows about them, while in this House the parliamentary secretary is telling us—playing on words and not necessarily using the exact terms in the letters of agreement—that there is no transaction, we can sleep in peace, there is nothing to fear, we can merrily dream on, and all is well, thank you very much. But that is not the reality.
This leads me in the debate to speak about the details of a government policy that has been in effect for several years. Under this policy, employment with the Government of Canada is supposed to be spread across the greater national capital region. In fact, 75% of the jobs should be in Ontario and 25% in Quebec.
This policy refers to jobs which are directly or indirectly related to the federal government. To give you an example of indirect jobs, the jobs at crown corporations such as the CBC or Canada Post are indirect Government of Canada jobs.
The Parliamentary Secretary was just recently given a candid and honest briefing by employees of the Department of Public Works. They presented him with statistics which clearly demonstrated that the current split was actually 77% or 78% on the Ontario side and 22% or 23% on the Quebec side. Those are not exactly the figures contained in this Government of Canada policy.
If all Government of Canada jobs, direct and indirect, were correctly compiled, I believe that the current split is around 82% on the Ontario side and 18% on the Quebec side.
If the JDS Uniphase Minto Development transaction were to go through, it appears that this complex would be assigned to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. That would mean that all kinds of space on the Ontario side, now occupied by the RCMP, would become vacant. So there is reason to believe that the Government of Canada would prefer to fill up this free space on the Ontario side before creating space on the Quebec side.
In that sort of situation, considering that the JDS Uniphase Minto Development complex could accommodate around 10,000 employees, the percentage or proportion becomes very different. For then, on the Quebec side, the number of jobs in the federal public service, in agencies and corporations related to the Government of Canada, would fall below 15%. So it would rise above 85% on the Ontario side. This is totally unacceptable and contrary to the Government of Canada policy which stipulates that the rates have to be 75% on the Ontario side and 25% on the Quebec side.
Long-time members of this House will surely recall a very similar situation which occurred mainly in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, the Government of Canada had decided to install Transport Canada in a new complex, a new building. The Conservative government of the time issued a call for public tenders, and it was very clearly established that the three bids most favourable to the Government of Canada were for properties located on the Quebec side of the national capital region.
You will recall that the Conservative government did not want Transport Canada to move to the Quebec side. The Prime Minister of the time, the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, and his government therefore bypassed the bids that were made and the whole tendering system in place. I know of what I speak because I received confirmation of it: certain promoters and contractors spent over a million dollars to prepare those tenders.
Those were the winning bids, right? Wrong! The Conservative government of the day decided that it should not go to the Quebec side, but should stay in downtown Ottawa. So the government signed agreements to renovate Mr. Campeau's building, Place de Ville.
Mr. Speaker, I see you are smiling. No doubt you remember because you were here at the time.
The Government of Canada ended up spending more money retrofitting Place de Ville to bring it up to the federal government's standards than it would have spent to get a brand new complex on the Quebec side. The Conservative government of the day decided to keep it in downtown Ottawa. This time, the government did not issue a public tender. It did not invite developers and entrepreneurs in the region—neither in Quebec nor in Ontario, the entire national capital region—to submit bids. It took a shortcut. It is now in the process of deciding about buying Minto Developments' old JDS Uniphase campus. This is unacceptable.
With respect to distributing jobs on the Ontario and Quebec sides of the river, the minister and his parliamentary secretary—a tip of the hat to them—have acknowledged that the 75:25 policy exists and that at some as-yet-undetermined point in the future, the government will do its best to comply with it. The minister stated that reaching that goal would be costly because the government would have to lease or buy new buildings in Gatineau for new employees. I strongly believe that a strategy should be implemented immediately to fill this gap. It should come as no surprise to the members that I think this precludes buying or leasing the old JDS Uniphase building or campus from Minto Developments.
My hon. colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, who is listening, will be tempted to say that the previous government, my government, did not manage to achieve the 75:25 ratio. He is right. However, our government made a very laudable effort. New buildings were leased on our side of the river, the Quebec side, in the former city of Gatineau, on boulevard de la Cité, and what used to be called Hull, at Crémazie and Montcalm streets. However, in recent years, jobs seem to have been moving to the Ontario side. The first example that comes to mind is Canada Revenue Agency, formerly located in the Fontaine building, in Gatineau, in the old Hull sector. More than 600 employees were moved from the Quebec side to the Ontario side, to Ottawa. Those people who live on the Quebec side of the National Capital Region—you are familiar with the city, Mr. Speaker, having lived here long enough—must now commute to Billings Bridge in Ottawa, or worse, to the west end.
Furthermore, the Conservative government is not considering the intentions of the City of Ottawa, which seems to believe that there should be a greater balance between the east end and the west end of the city. Currently, the west end is favoured.
Since I am being signalled that my time is nearly up, in conclusion, I would ask this House to approve the report tabled by the Chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The report clearly tells the government that it must use the public tender process before it enters into any purchase or lease contracts for major spaces.