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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE

COMITÉ PERMANENT DES FINANCES

EVIDENCE

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Tuesday, May 2, 2000

• 1541

[English]

The Chair (Mr. Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan—King—Aurora, Lib.)): I'd like to call the meeting to order. Pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) and the order of reference of Tuesday, February 29, 2000, we are resuming consideration of the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001. Votes 1, 5, L10, and 15 under Finance are referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

Before we begin, there was a point that was raised by Mr. Brison, which I will entertain.

Mr. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, PC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

There were discussions today between the government House leader and the Minister of Finance relative to the minister's appearance before the Standing Committee on Finance to discuss the estimates. The minister has said he will appear before the committee to discuss the estimates. I just became aware that the discussions occurred earlier today. I would suggest that prior to voting on these estimates, the minister appear before the committee to discuss the estimates, as is consistent with procedure.

The Chair: Mr. Cullen.

Mr. Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Lib.): Mr. Chairman, I'm not aware of any such discussions. In fact, the minister asked me to appear in front of the committee on his behalf, which I did this morning.

Mr. Scott Brison: I'm emphatic that the discussions occurred today. The government House leader approached the Minister of Finance asking him to consider appearing before the committee and the minister agreed. Therefore, can we table this until there is a confirmation of that?

Mr. Roy Cullen: I can make a quick call. I have been in discussion with the minister and the minister's office on this issue for the last couple of weeks. I very much doubt that's going to happen and I think to delay.... I can make a quick call if that would—

Mr. Scott Brison: Either to the government House leader or to the minister.

The Chair: Hold on. I have to take your word for whatever's going on. Unless it's told to me or to the committee, it's absolutely meaningless.

What I know for certain is that Mr. Cullen, who is the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Finance, appeared in front of the committee this morning on behalf of the minister. Of that I am certain because I was here and I saw him. Also, Mr. Cullen did contact myself and the clerk to say that in fact he would be representing the minister. Logic would lead me to believe that Mr. Cullen, being the parliamentary secretary, didn't one day get up and decide to go and appear on behalf of the Minister of Finance. I don't think that's the way things work around here.

This is my opinion on this particular issue. I'm just going to go ahead with the votes. If anybody, whether it's the House leader or the minister, is having their own conversations, well, that's fine and dandy, but they're not very valid unless they're brought to the committee. It's just that simple.

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Mr. Scott Brison: Mr. Chairman, I have no interest in fabricating.

The Chair: No, absolutely not.

Mr. Scott Brison: I'm just wondering if it would be possible to confirm that with respect to Mr. Cullen but also to the minister's....

The Chair: The fundamental question I have is what was Mr. Cullen doing in front of the committee this morning? Mr. Cullen, were you representing the minister or did you just decide you were going to be minister for a day?

Mr. Roy Cullen: I didn't just decide that I was going to come here; I came here on behalf of the minister. This was discussed—

The Chair: Did he know about that?

Mr. Roy Cullen: Absolutely. In fact, I talked to him briefly at 3 o'clock today and it was not mentioned. I'm not disputing that you had a conversation with the House leader and maybe the minister was there, but I think this has been discussed quite at length with the minister.

I think you're absolutely right, Mr. Chairman; we should proceed with the....

Mr. Scott Brison: Mr. Chairman, with respect, a phone call could confirm and validate that in fact it's the minister's intention to appear before the committee to discuss the estimates.

Mr. Roy Cullen: Mr. Chairman, on reflection, to track down the minister where he is at this particular moment—

Mr. Scott Brison: Or the House leader.

Mr. Roy Cullen: —may not be very fruitful. I can say categorically that I was asked to represent the minister at the committee this morning.

Mr. Nick Discepola (Vaudreuil—Soulanges, Lib.): For the estimates?

Mr. Roy Cullen: Yes, for the estimates, which I did. As I said, I talked with the minister briefly at 3 o'clock. I think we should proceed with this.

Mr. Paul Forseth (New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, Canadian Alliance): Just pertaining to that, perhaps there could be an alternate discussion beyond that just to see if we can get the minister to come but at another time. This is not directly tied to this vote, but it's always good to have the minister come and be more specific on minutiae rather than the generalities of budget and what goes on in the House. Ministers should be coming to their appropriate committees at least once a year. Perhaps as a commitment, you could explore with the minister the idea of having him come at a later time.

Mr. Roy Cullen: Yes, I could do that.

I went through the Hansard transcript from when the minister was here, I think two years ago. I don't know why.... I'm not suggesting that the reason he didn't come here was because of what happened at that meeting, but I read the transcript, and frankly, if the Canadian taxpayer got anything out of that meeting, they'd have to be pulling at straws. It was a very antagonistic meeting and nothing was really accomplished. So I would think for me to take it up with the minister....

I don't know why he couldn't make it this morning; it was a scheduling issue. If you want to take it up again, I think you want to be able to assure him that there would be a certain amount of decorum at the committee. If you read the transcript from two years ago when he came for the estimates, it just went back and forth from partisan rhetoric to insults. It was really not very productive.

Mr. Paul Forseth: I would just discuss in generalities the issue of committees. The ministers who are generally associated with those committees come to those committees to discuss estimates. As a principle I think we should—

The Chair: The committee is the master of its own destiny and can control itself.

Mr. Scott Brison: May I just nip this in the bud? I'd like to move that the committee ask the minister to appear before the committee to discuss the estimates before we actually vote on the estimates and that we table the voting until later.

The Chair: It's kind of a redundant motion because the minister was invited already. We already have a motion that covers that. It was approved and the minister was invited.

Mr. Scott Brison: May I move that motion? It can be voted down if individual members of the committee do not agree with it. I would like to move that the minister be invited at this—

The Chair: We have another challenge here. We don't have quorum so we can't entertain your motion, but once we do get quorum we will.

Mr. Scott Brison: Okay. I would move that the committee ask the minister to appear before it to discuss the estimates prior to our voting on these estimates.

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The Chair: Can I just comment on that. If I were to read your motion in the record, it would imply to me as a reader—let's say the Canadian public is reading that motion—that the committee did not previously invite the minister to appear in front of the committee to discuss the main estimates. That's not the case at all.

Mr. Scott Brison: The committee didn't invite the minister on May 2. My motion of May 2 would be that the committee invite the minister to appear before the committee to—

The Chair: Are you saying that the minister be reinvited?

Mr. Scott Brison: That the minister be—

The Chair: Because he was already invited.

Mr. Scott Brison: Okay, then be invited again to appear before the committee. We can add a word if you'd like. I have no difficulty with that.

The Chair: But it is a significant point.

Mr. Scott Brison: I move that the minister be invited for the second time to appear before the finance committee to discuss the estimates prior to our voting on the estimates.

Mr. Nick Discepola: We had a quorum when we started.

An hon. member: It's up to the discretion of the chair. The chair can choose to see if the quorum still exists.

The Chair: The chair's not blind, though, and can count at least up to nine. After 10 it gets a little bit difficult.

Mr. Nick Discepola: We've done that in other committees.

Mr. Paul Forseth: Don't confess that.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair: So we have this motion that Mr. Brison would like to invite the Minister of Finance to appear in front of this committee to discuss the estimates.

Mr. Marceau, you'll probably recall that we already have invited the minister, and that is the reason Mr. Cullen was here this morning representing the minister, just so we're clear on what we're doing here.

So we are once again inviting the minister. I think the point has been well raised. I think we'll just move to a vote.

(Motion negatived)

The Chair: Now we'll go back to consideration of vote 1.

FINANCE DEPARTMENT

    Economic, Social and Financial Policies Program

    Vote 1—Operating expenditures ...... $75,022,000

The Chair: Shall vote 1, less the amount of $18,755,000 voted in interim supply, carry?

(Vote 1 agreed to)

    Vote 5—Grants and contributions ...... $330,000,000

The Chair: Shall vote 5, less the amount of $82,500,000 voted in interim supply, carry?

(Vote 5 agreed to)

    Vote L10—Issuance and payment of demand notes to the International Development Association ...... $1

(Vote L10 agreed to)

    Vote 15—Transfer Payments to the Territorial Governments ...... $1,479,000,000

The Chair: Shall vote 15, less the amount of $862,750,000 voted in supply, carry?

(Vote 15 agreed to)

The Chair: Shall I report the estimates to the House?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

The Chair: Thank you. That deals with the estimates.

Now we have the budget submission. We have to go back to the committee that deals with the budgets on our prebudget and also the expenses we'll incur for the whole round table discussions on various subject matter. You have the budget submission where it shows a total of $215,575. Does everybody have that?

Some hon. members: Yes.

The Chair: Then there's the comparative table of travel budgets, one with points and one with full-fare economy.

Also there's the cost breakdown to bring all the PBC witnesses to Ottawa, which is based on the costs for the 1999 PBC. Now, the reason we have this is to tell you that if at any point in time people think it's cheaper to bring witnesses to Ottawa for hearings, we just want you to know that it would cost the Canadian taxpayer $645,591.10. Meanwhile, to do a full-fare economy trip for members of the committee, it would cost $492,150.

Also we have to vote on the budget of $215,575 for the various studies of bills, round table hearings, and prebudget consultation. So these are the three items we have to deal with.

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Mr. Roy Cullen: Sorry, Mr. Chairman.

The Chair: Yes?

Mr. Roy Cullen: Did I hear you say it's $65,000 if we brought the witnesses here?

The Chair: No, it's $645,000, almost $646,000.

So it seems to me, from a taxpayer's point of view, it's probably more expensive for this committee and the Government of Canada to bring people here. Also, it denies the committee the opportunity to meet with Canadians in their own regions. I don't know if I'm being biased here, but I don't think it's a very good idea that we stay here in Ottawa. This was only brought up to illustrate to you the difference. We've already decided we're going to travel, so it's not even an option, quite frankly.

Can we approve these two budgets, then, the $215,575, which would be known as the operational budget, and the other one for the prebudget consultation?

Mr. Roy Cullen: I so move.

The Chair: Do we have a motion?

We basically approve these two budgets. We will go with the full economy fare on the travel and obviously with $215,575 for the operational budget.

(Motion agreed to)

The Chair: Thank you.

The meeting is adjourned.