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37th PARLIAMENT, 3rd SESSION

Standing Committee on Finance


EVIDENCE

CONTENTS

Tuesday, March 9, 2004




º 1640
V         The Chair (Mr. Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Lib.))
V         Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, CPC)
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.)
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault
V         Mr. Rahim Jaffer
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Rahim Jaffer
V         The Chair
V         The Chair
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Massimo Pacetti
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Massimo Pacetti
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Massimo Pacetti
V         Mr. Rahim Jaffer

º 1645
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault
V         The Chair
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd (Durham, Lib.)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Blayne Haggart (Committee Researcher)
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault
V         The Chair
V         The Chair
V         Hon. John McKay (Scarborough East, Lib.)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, CPC)
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd

» 1700
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         The Chair
V         Hon. Robert Thibault
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, CPC)
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Sophia Leung (Vancouver Kingsway, Lib.)
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         Ms. Sophia Leung

» 1705
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         Hon. John McKay

» 1710
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Monte Solberg

» 1715
V         The Chair
V         Hon. John McKay
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         Mr. Monte Solberg
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         Mr. Monte Solberg
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Massimo Pacetti

» 1720
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         The Chair
V         Mr. David Pelletier (Immediate Past President, Canadian Institute of Actuaries)

» 1725
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         Mr. David Pelletier
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Alex Shepherd
V         Mr. David Pelletier

» 1730
V         The Chair
V         The Chair
V         The Chair
V         Mrs. Diane Ablonczy
V         The Chair










CANADA

Standing Committee on Finance


NUMBER 008 
l
3rd SESSION 
l
37th PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

º  +(1640)  

[English]

+

    The Chair (Mr. Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Lib.)): Order, please.

    We will proceed now to clause-by-clause of Bill C-21. We're also hoping to get to clause-by-clause of Bill C-421. We will have bells around 5:15, so if we don't get to Bill C-421 we will do Bill C-421 tomorrow.

    Are we all assembled for clause-by-clause consideration?

    Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 25, 2004, we're dealing with Bill C-21, an act to amend the customs tariff.

    Yes, Mr. Jaffer.

+-

    Mr. Rahim Jaffer (Edmonton—Strathcona, CPC): If I could, Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order. I would like to propose a motion in regard to what we heard today. We're going to deal with clause-by-clause, and all members of the committee support the bill. But with regard to the remission orders that were raised--I'm not sure how to word it, and maybe I can get some advice from the committee--what I was going to recommend is that maybe we propose a motion that this committee recommend to the government to study the issue of remission orders on the textile industry, as raised by this committee.

    I don't know if that's the way to deal with it or how we should include it in there, but is that the best way to go about it?

+-

    The Chair: That would work.

    Mr. Thibault.

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault (West Nova, Lib.): I'm in full agreement with the member, but he is mentioning the remission order. I think another item we heard was the duty on textiles, input into the garment industry. We might want to include those two elements within that same--

+-

    The Chair: Is that not the same thing?

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault: No, they're two completely different elements.

+-

    Mr. Rahim Jaffer: The difference, I think, would be in the extension. I think mine is focusing on the extension. If we're passing this now, if we are going to be going through an agreement on this bill, then the issue that would have to be dealt with directly, from what I think the witnesses were saying, is the extension of the remission orders on those particular products.

    The issue of the textiles, on reducing the tariffs, from what I understand would be a separate issue. I think that would have to be studied later, and hopefully we'll get cooperation from the Department of Finance on it.

+-

    The Chair: Yes, Mr. Thibault.

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault: It's my understanding that they are two separate issues. Both of them are separate from this bill, unless I'm wrong. But I don't think the remission orders are attached to this bill either.

+-

    The Chair: No.

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault: But I'm supportive of the terms. I think both elements should be referred.

+-

    The Chair: Maybe if we could--

+-

    Mr. Rahim Jaffer: I was just going to say, one thing that struck me was that if we do go ahead with this bill and the extensions are made, if there are not immediate extensions on the remission order, it puts those industries at a disadvantage. So by just including the issue of the remission order for now, at least it deals with it in correlation. If this bill is going to be passed, that issue gets dealt with.

    Then maybe what we could do is go on the issue of the tariffs overall, because it's something that I think is significant that maybe needs to be put in place, although I'm open to feedback from the committee of how to deal with that. Because I think their concern was that if this bill goes through without the extension of the remission orders to deal with it right away, they're going to be put at a disadvantage, if I understand it correctly.

+-

    The Chair: Could I make a suggestion to the committee? Perhaps we could do clause-by-clause of the bill now, and then after that we could consider whether there's support in the committee to write up a report like that. But we need to be very clear on what elements we would want to support and not, and then we could get the researchers to write up such a report for consideration at our next meeting.

    Could we now proceed to clause-by-clause?

    (Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to)

+-

    The Chair: Shall the title carry?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill to the House?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you. We have a bill.

    Mr. Pacetti, you were wanting to comment on the idea of a follow-on report, as well.

+-

    Mr. Massimo Pacetti (Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, Lib.): I'm just agreeing. I think it may help us. If there's an urgency to this whole aspect, perhaps the fact that we do put an amendment or whatever needs to be put on this may help the situation, instead of dragging our feet on it.

+-

    The Chair: To clarify that, Mr. Pacetti, in terms of reporting the bill, I'm advised that if we report the bill now the bill will be reported without amendment, but there's nothing to stop this committee from writing a follow-on report, as soon as we would like and as soon as we have a consensus and agreement, to follow on after the bill is reported. But it would be a separate report.

+-

    Mr. Massimo Pacetti: I think I understand that, but then there's no commitment that there is going to be a response in time for the matter to be resolved.

+-

    The Chair: If you're talking about the budget, I mean....

+-

    Mr. Massimo Pacetti: No, I'm not saying the budget, but even the commissioner--

+-

    The Chair: No. I think the timing is before next year. They need some action.

+-

    Mr. Massimo Pacetti: Yes.

+-

    Mr. Rahim Jaffer: Mr. Chairman, in that study that we propose would be added on, as you suggest, is there a way the committee can at the same time make a recommendation on that particular issue? Because I think that's the only way we may get some action on it. I think there may need to be two motions, according to what Mr. Thibault said, where we would make a recommendation to study the issue of remission orders. In fact, perhaps the committee suggests that we would agree with an extension of that particular program as well, given the plight of the industry.

    On the second issue, perhaps we need to propose a motion to study that overall tariff regime as it applies to that particular industry and to make a suggestion after that. Because that, I think, is going to take a little more time. But at least put on a recommendation that this should be addressed immediately as this bill is being passed.

º  +-(1645)  

+-

    The Chair: Is there general...?

    Mr. Thibault.

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault: I think that would be agreeable. If I understood the chair correctly, we would ask staff to prepare a report on the extension of remission orders and on the elimination of duties on all textiles for input in the government industry, and that would create the base for discussion at this committee. We could hear witnesses and send it to the proper department, to the House actually--report it to the House.

+-

    The Chair: Yes, to the House.

    I would like to clarify this. On the report that we would write, given the timeliness or the urgency, I thought what we were saying is that the committee would agree, with some consensus, on a report that would be drafted by the researchers, approved by the committee, and then sent forthwith to the House. It may require some further work later, but at least we'd get a report to the House forthwith.

    Is that a consensus?

    An hon. member: Yes.

+-

    The Chair: Okay.

    Mr. Shepherd.

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd (Durham, Lib.): I have a point of clarification. The report you're talking about deals exclusively with remission orders. There is a possibility of two reports, the report on remission orders, which we can presumably expedite, and then there's the second one to deal with the general tariff that may require more witnesses and so forth. We're willing to proceed with the issue of the remission order, pending some other kind of negative aspect from our research people.

+-

    The Chair: I think that was the essence of what Mr. Jaffer said. If there is a consensus on that point of the research, do you have enough to go on to write up a report?

+-

    Mr. Blayne Haggart (Committee Researcher): I think so, yes.

+-

    The Chair: So the remission would be dealt with forthwith, and then we would flag the tariff question as something that needs some attention but needs some further study, something along those lines. The researcher could prepare something, and we'll consider that at our next meeting.

    Is that agreed?

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault: That's agreed. The question on the tariffs will be coming forthwith.

+-

    The Chair: Okay, thank you very much.

    We do have time to deal with the clause-by-clause of Bill C-421, Mrs. Ablonczy's bill.

    We'll adjourn for five minutes while we have Mrs. Ablonczy join us.

º  +-(1647)  


º  +-(1655)  

+-

    The Chair: Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, February, 2, 2004, we're here to consider Bill C-421, an Act respecting the establishment of the Office of the Chief Actuary of Canada and to amend other acts in consequence thereof. This is for clause-by-clause consideration.

    We're able to group the clauses, unless there's any discussion.

    Mr. McKay.

+-

    Hon. John McKay (Scarborough East, Lib.): Before we go to clause-by-clause, I would be interested in having a generalized debate at the table on the merits of the overall idea of the bill. The clauses, to my mind, aren't the issue. The issue is, do the people at this committee want a chief actuary to be an independent person reporting to Parliament, taken out from under the umbrella of OFSI? I think that point needs to be debated. The member made a very able presentation yesterday, there were some questions asked, but we never really got round to discussing the merits of the bill as a proposition.

+-

    The Chair: Is there agreement that we need more discussion on the bill before we go to clause-by-clause? Are there any takers, if that is the case?

    Mr. Shepherd.

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: To reiterate the issue I brought up yesterday, I would be interested to know how this thing is visualized. We talk about having budgets and plans. Would it be unreasonable to ask somebody for a presentation of what the budget of this actuarial office would be, some kind of projection of the funds that it would take to operate? That's a concern I have. With all due respect, I look at the Privacy Commissioner and others with mushrooming budgets. We think we, as parliamentarians, control them, but we don't. That aspect of this bothers me. We're sitting here talking about how we're going to create this office, but there isn't anybody sitting here with a budget saying how much this is going to cost. After all, we're the finance committee, I think we'd ask.

+-

    The Chair: Ms. Ablonczy, do you have any comment on that?

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: I guess, with all due respect, we have control after the fact. We're asking ourselves here to create the office in the first place, so the office is going to be created by the process of the legislation. It would seem to me that a logical question to ask is if that happens, is it simply the cost this thing incurred while it was under OSFI, or because it's now an independent agency do we anticipate it's going to cost more?

+-

    Mr. Monte Solberg (Medicine Hat, CPC): Or less. It may be less than it costs today.

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: That's fair enough, but we don't know that.

»  +-(1700)  

+-

    The Chair: Okay, hang on. We can have a free-flowing discussion, but we have to have a bit or order.

    Mr. Shepherd--and I know Mr. Thibault wants to get into the discussion as well.

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: I'm just saying, with all due respect, we're great as legislators at creating these new bodies, but we're not very good at oversight of how much this thing is going to cost.

+-

    The Chair: Mr. Thibault.

+-

    Hon. Robert Thibault: Well, at the end of the day I think if you create the office, the budget will be presented to Parliament and it is going to be difficult for Parliament to vote down the budget.

    I think the debate is whether the office is worthwhile or not. Do we need that office? I don't think there is any MP or member of Parliament who is going to want to challenge an officer of Parliament on his budget or is going to want to get into those details. At that level it's going to be very difficult. We don't do it with the Auditor General. We don't do it with any other officer

    I'm not sure that we need this office. I'm not sure that it's a good idea. That being said, this is a private member's bill. I can't support it, but I can support bringing it to a vote of Parliament. Let Parliament decide. If we're going to be creating an office of Parliament, we're going to be making that suggestion to Parliament.

    I certainly don't intend to exercise any pressure personally to stop it at this level. I'll be voting against it in the House because I don't know that this office is necessary or that it adds value. However, as I said earlier, it is a private member's bill. It is an officer of Parliament. I think it should go forward to Parliament. When we get to the clauses, it creates a little bit of difficulty for me, because when you have clauses like that on how you create the budget, I have a whole lot of difficulty seeing 301 people negotiating on how many paperclips should be in that office. You know, if you create it, then you finance it. If it's worthwhile for a dollar, it's worthwhile for $10.

+-

    The Chair: Ms. Ablonczy.

+-

    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy (Calgary—Nose Hill, CPC): If I might respond, those are excellent points. With respect to the first one, Mr. Shepherd's point, the Office of the Chief Actuary already exists, so we would be able to know what the budget is for that office. There would also be some savings by consolidating the operations of the Chief Actuary of Canada, because now this individual would have oversight for social insurance programs. The office, for example, that right now looks after the EI fund would be consolidated into this one, so there would actually be some savings there.

    With respect to Mr. Thibault's point, there's good news and bad news there, right? The good news is you want to see it come to a vote, and the bad news is you might not be able to support it. The thing I would point out to you is that the House does not do things by a committee of 301, generally speaking. It has House committees to deal with these matters. The committee to deal with the budget of any officer of Parliament is the government operations committee.

    We saw how effective that committee is, Mr. Chairman, because of course they were able to rein in one of the officers of Parliament--

+-

    The Chair: Yes.

+-

    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: --quite recently whose budget was not properly being controlled. So I think Parliament has set up some new and very good processes for dealing with the matter of costs. I think initially the costs would actually go down for actuarial work on behalf of the government. If it starts to expand beyond reasonable bounds, we have very good mechanisms to deal with that.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you.

    Ms. Leung.

+-

    Ms. Sophia Leung (Vancouver Kingsway, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

    I'd like to know a little more about the terms of reference of the chief actuary. Would that person be selected and appointed by Parliament or by a committee? What is this person's goal? Could it be a little more clearly defined for me?

+-

    The Chair: Ms. Ablonczy.

+-

    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: I refer the committee to subclause 4(1). This would be a cabinet appointment, but it would be made upon a resolution of the Senate and the House of Commons. So Parliament itself would have input into the ratification of the person in this office.

+-

    Ms. Sophia Leung: Then they would report to Parliament annually?

»  +-(1705)  

+-

    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: Yes, that's correct. The relevant clauses are clause 9, whereby the officer would report annually to the House of Commons, and subclause 10(1), whereby the chief actuary could make a special report on any matter of pressing importance or urgency.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you.

    Mr. Shepherd. Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. McKay was waiting. I forgot. Can I come back to you later, Mr. Shepherd?

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: Certainly, Mr. Chair.

+-

    Hon. John McKay: If I may, I'll speak to three points.

    The first point has to do with need. I listened fairly carefully to the evidence yesterday, which was actually my first exposure to the bill, and the thought that crossed my mind was, well, where's the harm we're trying to redress here? It's not as if there isn't a chief actuary in the operation of the government; there is a chief actuary in the operation of the government. Presently the chief actuary operates under OSFI, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

    As far as I understand, it provides a pretty respectable service to the people of Canada. Currently we are the only country, certainly in the G-7 and possible in the OECD, that has an actuarially sound pension plan through to the year 2075, so it would appear to me that actuary is doing the job. I understand there were some difficulties with Mr. Dussault a few years ago, and I am frankly in no position to understand whether that was a personality issue or a disagreement among people.

    The second issue has to do with the concern I have about the Government of Canada speaking with one voice when it comes to dealing with other levels of government. If in fact you had a parliamentary actuary and you had a government actuary--how shall we say--not necessarily agreeing on how matters could be projected and analyzed, it would seem to me that would possibly create a negotiating difficulty for the Government of Canada when it came to settling how much money is supposed to be set aside in reserves and things of this nature.

    The third point I got out of the testimony yesterday was that there are many different ways in which actuaries can honestly disagree. This is far more art than it is science. I appreciate that it has a certain purity of numbers, but the interpretation of those numbers is based upon quite a number of presumptions. We had an example of the Conference Board yesterday projecting forward that we were going to end up--and I've forgotten over what number of years--with something like an $80 billion surplus, and as the Minister of Finance pointed out, well, if you changed the GDP by one point, suddenly you're in an $8 billion deficit. Now, those numbers may not be exactly correct, but they give you a feel for how well-informed, capable, intelligent people can quite easily disagree.

    The fourth point has to do with the cost, and presently there is some cost saving by virtue of the folding of the chief actuary position into the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions.

    Those would be my concerns. To me, you need to have a demonstrable need that needs to be rectified. Two, you may pick up a situation where you're going to have a split between what Parliament's actuary says and what the government's actuary says. Third, I don't think there's a cost saving; it's probably a cost enhancement.

    So those are the concerns, and our experience with officers of Parliament has not been universally satisfactory, the example being Mr. Radwanski. That was not a very satisfactory experience for any of us on either side of the House with respect to that officer of Parliament.

    I end with this notion: beware of what you wish for, because you might possibly get it.

»  +-(1710)  

+-

    The Chair: Thank you, Mr. McKay.

    I have two more speakers, and I just wanted to mention that the bells are going to ring at 5:15, around now. If we go down this path--which has been quite refreshing, actually, discussing a bill--and if we don't get to the clause-by-clause today, we'll be going to the clause-by-clause tomorrow at 3:30. I'm in the hands of the committee.

    I have Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Solberg.

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: First of all, I have great respect for the work you've done on this bill. I understand how difficult this is, because I've tried it myself a few times. But your reference to the Privacy Commissioner was not a healthy one. I served on that committee, and I can tell you that the discovery of the so-called misspending of Mr. Radwanski by Parliament was totally accidental. I don't think it had anything to do with the oversight of Parliament whatsoever. It was an add-on to an investigation we were doing and had absolutely nothing to do with the financial management of that office. This gives you a clear indication of how the so-called oversight of Parliament, when it comes to financial concerns, really works.

    I guess I would feel a lot more comfortable--after all, the chief actuary was the one who was commenting on financial performance in government, etc.--if somebody had come to the table with a budget for how much this was going to cost.

    I hear what you're saying about the future, but I think we're acting on creating something today and we don't know what it's going to cost the Canadian taxpayers. I think it's our duty as taxpayers to know that.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Shepherd.

    Mr. Solberg is next, and then Ms. Ablonczy to wrap it up. If we have time we'll do clause-by-clause. Otherwise, we'll do clause-by-clause tomorrow.

    Mr. Solberg.

+-

    Mr. Monte Solberg: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

    I just have to say that I'm very disappointed to see what's happening right now, which is fairly obvious to me. We're sitting down to do clause-by-clause on a bill that members of the House of Commons agreed, on the face of it, was something that should go to committee and deserved some study. I think a lot of people intuitively sensed that it was correct because of the potential for somebody in the position of actuary to be pressured by a political party. I'm not talking about this government; it could be any government.

    Now, all of a sudden, people who in some cases weren't here for some of the debate we heard yesterday are being basically told by my friend the parliamentary secretary--who I respect--that this is something the department doesn't want. I just really regret that, because I think there is a spirit in the House of Commons today where members on all sides want to see private members' bills succeed. I know my friend the chairman has a very worthy bill that is in the Senate today. We talked about it today, and I told him I supported that bill to deal with user fees, because it advances the public good.

    The arguments I'm hearing today are, frankly, bogus arguments. These are just excuses to toe the government line. In the end, the government will do whatever it wants to do, but it strikes a blow to the roots and branches of the spirit of what we're trying to do, which is redemocratize the House of Commons. As the highest possible chamber of democracy in the country, it should be one that we expect to be democratic. Unfortunately, I see today that this is going to become a partisan issue again, and it's very disappointing.

»  +-(1715)  

+-

    The Chair: Thank you.

    Mr. McKay is next, and then Ms. Wasylycia-Leis, Mr. Shepherd, and Ms. Ablonczy. Then we'll see what happens after that.

+-

    Hon. John McKay: Let me respond to Mr. Solberg.

    My mandate is to reflect the views of my minister, and I think I've done that. My mandate is not to tell government members how to vote. So on this side of the table, members will vote as they see fit to vote. When Mr. Thibault raises objections, I haven't told him to raise those objections. It's the same with Mr. Shepherd. These are independent members raising questions about the efficacy of this bill.

    With greatest respect, I think these are far from bogus arguments; these are legitimate arguments. Mr. Shepherd makes a fairly valid point that we don't even know how much this is going to cost, and we're going to vote on it. You may reject all my arguments as bogus, but I don't think the arguments that have been put forward have been anything other than substantive. So I profoundly disagree with you, Monte.

+-

    The Chair: Thank you, Mr. McKay.

    Ms. Wasylycia-Leis.

+-

    Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North Centre, NDP): Well, I too want to express my disappointment with the process, given the optimism I had yesterday that this bill, which got this far after receiving some support from members on the government side, would maybe see the light of day. But what we in fact have in this committee, it seems, is a typical set-up. Government members are called in, when push comes to shove, to do what the leader has ordered them to do. And what has changed in terms of free votes, and a new role for the committee, and a more democratic functioning in this place...? I think we should express our concerns about that.

    Actually, Mr. Chairperson, I would like to give a notice of motion for us to do as a committee what many other committees have done, and that is to remove John McKay--with all due respect to him--as a member of the committee, since he is parliamentary secretary. That way we would have free rein and a full debate unencumbered by the minister's representative at the table.

+-

    The Chair: Okay.

    Mr. Shepherd, and then Mr. Pacetti.

+-

    Mr. Alex Shepherd: First of all, I want to say that I find the comments--from both members, actually--terribly offensive. You either believe in democracy or you don't. You're telling me that because I am concerned about the cost of this bill...which you should be. That's your job. It's the finance committee. It's your job to be concerned about the taxpayers' money involved in the cost of creating this new office.

    One of the private member's bills that I did have, and that never went anywhere, was to do just that, to have every new piece of legislation costed when brought in. That doesn't sound like an unreasonable approach to me, especially from the chief actuary.

    So you're telling me that you find my position offensive and partisan because I'm asking that question? It seems to me that it's your job.

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    Mr. Monte Solberg: We're here discussing clause-by-clause, and all of a sudden people have these last-minute objections. To me--

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    Mr. Alex Shepherd: Last-minute?

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    Mr. Monte Solberg: Yes, last-minute. We're here to do clause-by-clause--

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    Mr. Alex Shepherd: That was an objection I'd raised--

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    The Chair: Order, order.

    Listen, in the spirit of collegiality within the House of Commons, I perhaps.... Technically, we should have gone straight into clause-by-clause, but I had thought it might be a meaningful thing, since we had a bit of time, to actually discuss the bill. But I really think we should....

    Ms. Ablonczy, perhaps you could wrap up, and then I think we should go into clause-by-clause, because that's what we're here for.

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    Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: On a point of order, Mr. Chair, with all due respect to Alex Shepherd, no one on this side of the House has suggested that we shouldn't consider the cost factor in terms of this bill. What we're saying is that we've been through that portion of the process of the bill where that concern should have been raised.

    Furthermore, there should have been some active participation by the government members in terms of helping us deal with that particular problem.

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    The Chair: That's not really a point of order, Ms. Wasylycia-Leis, that's debate.

    Mr. Pacetti, please.

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    Mr. Massimo Pacetti: I just want to commend you for starting here by asking if we had any points. I voted for the bill in the House. It was a private member's bill. And I am going to support John, who said “It's up to you guys.”

    So I'm going to support it, but I have a couple of questions, and you guys are taking up time so that now I can't ask the questions. You guys are like babies. We're allowed to vote. It's an open vote. Come on; it doesn't make sense.

»  +-(1720)  

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    The Chair: Ms. Ablonczy, if you want to wrap up, we'll go into clause-by-clause. I think we might all be surprised by the outcome. So rather than poison the den....

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    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: I'm shocked, Mr. Chairman.

    No, I know this is an important matter.

    First of all, just to address the points quickly, on John's point, what harm are we addressing, it's an excellent point. We have to have a reason to do things. I thought I was quite eloquent yesterday on that point, but I'm certainly prepared to be eloquent again today.

    The bottom line is that at this point in time confidence in the operations of government is under attack; it's under some question. As parliamentarians we have an opportunity with this bill to redress that concern by increasing the openness, the transparency, and the accountability of the way important issues for Canadians are handled by putting in this independent chief actuary. It would demonstrate our commitment. I think that's a very important harm to redress.

    We know, of course, that there has been a question raised about the independence of the Chief Actuary of Canada, both by the former Chief Actuary of Canada, who was here yesterday, and by an independent committee, an oversight committee of auditors who suggested, as one of their recommendations, that the chief actuary be given greater independence.

    So this is not something that is not recognized. It is recognized that there needs to be greater independence. The public is asking for greater independence, greater oversight, and greater accountability, and we need to provide that.

    Secondly, with respect to speaking with one voice when we deal with the provinces, if by speaking with one voice we mean that the government decides what information should be put forward to the provinces, surely we cannot be arguing that. If the provinces and the federal government are to reach consensus, surely it must be on the basis of the best, most objective, and most widely available information possible.

    If there's any question on the part of the provinces as to the independence of the information that's coming forward upon which negotiations are based, surely that could only hurt. It couldn't help to send an impression that somehow the government has to retain control over the information that's given to the provinces in negotiations. That couldn't possibly be helpful.

    The chief actuary is not speaking on policy; he's speaking on information: “This is the information you need to design this program. How you use that information is up to you, federal government, and up to you, provinces.” So I don't think that argument would be helpful.

    I'm going to ask Mr. Pelletier to talk about art versus science and the degree to which there can be reasonable disagreement in different actuarial projections, but I would simply say this: you get the brightest and the best, and you trust them. If you keep second guessing everybody you never get to any kind of information on the table that you're going to use.

    With respect to the cost, I'll simply say once again we already have a cost for the chief actuary. That's not going to change. We would save costs by bringing some of the operations together. With respect to the Privacy Commissioner, don't forget that the Privacy Commissioner's spending was not overseen by Parliament. It was not in the hands of Parliament--that was the problem.

    This bill makes the spending of the Office of the Chief Actuary directly accountable to Parliament. It's not overseen by the Treasury Board or some executive arm of government; it's in our hands. So this bill actually alleviates the problem you're raising, Mr. Shepherd, rather than exacerbating it.

    Perhaps Mr. Pelletier could add some points, Mr. Chairman.

    Thank you.

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    The Chair: Mr. Pelletier, and then I'm going to suggest we go to clause-by-clause.

    Please introduce yourself again, Mr. Pelletier.

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    Mr. David Pelletier (Immediate Past President, Canadian Institute of Actuaries): I was here yesterday, but some of you were not here.

    My name is Dave Pelletier. I'm the immediate past president of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.

    Responding to one point that I think Mr. McKay or Mr. Shepherd--I've forgotten now--raised, about the fact that actuaries can disagree and that small differences in assumptions can make major differences in result, you're very right, whichever one of you made that point--I think it was Mr. McKay. It's amazing. In fact, I used the example yesterday of where a small difference in an assumption made a huge difference in a result.

    In my view, that argues even more strongly for the true independence of the actuary, because if an actuary is truly independent he is far more unfettered in his choice of assumptions. Where someone is reporting within a government bureaucracy, inevitably there's some tendency for influence on the choice of assumptions. Where one is totally unfettered in the choice of assumptions you're going to get a better, more logical result.

    So if anything, the large sensitivity of results to choice of actuarial assumptions argues that much more for a true independence of the chief actuary.

»  +-(1725)  

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    The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Pelletier, Ms. Ablonczy, and members of the committee.

    I would like to proceed to clause-by-clause, if that's acceptable.

    (Clauses 2 to 7 inclusive agreed to on division)

    (On clause 8--Duty to provide advice, etc)

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    Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: I didn't bring an amendment. I have a concern I'd like some clarification on, so I can be satisfied that any problems won't be forthcoming as a result of clause 2.

    My concern is that fee-for-service work by the chief actuary could actually be a conflict in terms of time commitments and contracts he or she would participate in, and perhaps be exclusive to certain groups that had the ability to pay.

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    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: That's an excellent point. I refer you to clause 6 of the bill, which says “The Chief Actuary shall not...engage in any other employment for reward”. In other words, the work under clause 8 that the chief actuary would do for a fee would simply go back into the general revenue account. It would be earnings by the government, so to speak, but it would make sure that people didn't just make calls on the chief actuary's time and expect pro bono work by somebody who was an expert. The government would obviously charge for that work, and the public treasury would benefit.

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    Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: If a public interest group didn't have money but had a challenge, a test case, would it be possible for such a group to call on the chief actuary to consider taking that up without a fee, as part of that clause?

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    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: Yes. Again, the fee would be determined by the chief actuary under subclause 8(2). If the chief actuary felt that it wouldn't be appropriate to charge a fee or a large fee, one wouldn't be charged.

    Mr. Pelletier has an addition to that.

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    Mr. David Pelletier: I can comment on that in the experience of other countries with a similar position. In the U.K., for example, the chief actuary's office works for several of the equivalent of crown corporations for a fee that is paid by those crown corporations. That is one example of what is done there. That office also does work for some other governments around the world, and they charge a fee for that kind of work.

    This is meant to provide the chief actuary with the opportunity to work for other government corporations in Canada or abroad, if it followed the same example as the U.K.

    In the U.S., the office of the actuary working in the medicare area does work for the states as well as Congress, and so on. All that is done for free rather than for a fee.

    It's helpful to have this fee construct, in fact, because it automatically helps allocate resources. If everything is done for free, then there's a risk that he's overburdened with requests for work.

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    The Chair: Ms. Wasylycia-Leis, is that sufficient on that point?

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    Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis: Yes. As I said, I don't have an amendment, so I think I'll let it go. I'll agree to this clause as well.

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    The Chair: Okay.

    Mr. Shepherd is next on clause 8.

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    Mr. Alex Shepherd: I just want to ask one little question. What is the state of the art? You mentioned the U.K. Is that an independent office?

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    Mr. David Pelletier: No. The government actuary's office in the U.K. reports through to the Minister of Finance. My understanding is that the government actuary in the U.K. is independent of the Department of Finance, but he does report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to use the U.K. expression. He lays his reports directly in Parliament in the same way as the chief actuary does here, but he has a reporting relationship to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It's not quite the same model as envisioned here.

»  -(1730)  

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    The Chair: Thank you very much.

    (Clause 8 agreed to)

    (Clauses 9 to 26 inclusive agreed to on division)

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    The Chair: Shall the short title carry?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    The Chair: Shall the title carry?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill to the House?

    Some hon. members: Agreed.

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    The Chair: Good. Thank you very much.

    Congratulations, Ms. Ablonczy. Thank you to the witnesses.

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    Mrs. Diane Ablonczy: It was a very good discussion.

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    The Chair: Thank you.

    The meeting is adjourned.