I call the meeting to order.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, welcome, Minister Paradis—
to the government operations committee.
I note that two out of the three people who are to be defenestrated are here on this committee, which means that by next Thursday this committee will be much lighter and their spouses will now recognize them as spouses.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would also like to thank committee members for this opportunity to meet with you today. I am very grateful to finally have the chance to present the facts and set the record straight regarding allegations made about me in recent weeks.
For almost five years now, it has been my honour and privilege, as a federal member of Parliament, to represent the people living in the riding of Mégantic—L'Érable, people who are humble, proud and honest, honourable people, starting with my grandfather who was a police officer and my father who is a lawyer — two men who taught me that integrity is a value that has no price, that cannot be bought or negotiated, a value that is taught and that I, in turn, am trying to instill in my three young children.
Since 2008, I have also had the honour and privilege of serving in the federal Cabinet, first as Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada and currently as Minister of Natural Resources. These are responsibilities that I have always taken, and continue to take, very seriously.
If we are together today, it is to look at the awarding of contracts for the renovation of the Parliament buildings by Public Works and Government Services Canada. It is to ascertain whether, yes or no, anyone who participated in a cocktail party fundraiser benefited personally from my presence there. It is to determine whether, yes or no, there was political interference in the awarding of federal contracts when I was Minister of Public Works and Government Services. To all these questions, I have been and continue to be absolutely categoric: the answer is no. No one benefited personally from my presence or their presence at a cocktail party fundraiser. No firm benefited from my presence or their presence, through a representative, at a cocktail party fundraiser. And, at no time did I exert any political pressure with respect to the awarding of government contracts, period.
Let me be perfectly clear: at no time whatsoever did I benefit from the fundraiser. At no time did any individual or firm who attended benefit from my presence or their presence at the fundraiser.
What I did do, as the Minister of Public Works, was to ensure that the procurement of contracts was done in a fair and transparent manner. It's a record that the non-partisan officials I worked with at the Department of Public Works have repeatedly confirmed before this committee, and it's a record that I'm proud of.
Let's take the example of renovation work on the West Block, on Parliament Hill: the chronology of events speaks for itself.
In 2007, Public Works and Government Services Canada launched a call for tenders for repairs to be made to the North Tower of the West Block. In May, 2008, one of the bidding companies, LM Sauvé, was awarded the contract. On June 25, 2008, I was appointed Minister of Public Works and Government Services. In April, 2009, when I was still the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, LM Sauvé lost its contract.
In other words, LM Sauvé was awarded the contract before I became Minister and lost it while I was Minister. It is as simple and clear as that. Never did I take advantage of my role as Minister of Public Works and Government Services to direct the process in a way that would benefit Mr. Sauvé's company.
Credible key witnesses who appeared before me could not have been clearer. Mr. Pierre-Marc Mongeau, Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Parliamentary Precinct Branch at the Department of Public Works and Government Services, made the following statement in front of this committee on October 26: “There was no political interference from the minister's office for the entire duration of the project.”
Mr. Tom Ring, Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Acquisitions Branch at the Department of Public Works and Government Services said the following: “There has not been any indication that anyone tried to influence the pre-qualification criteria or the process itself.”
Mr. Jacques Leclerc, Senior Director, Real Property Contracting Directorate, Department of Public Works and Government Services, added this: “You have to understand that, for very big contracts, even the minister does not have the authority to make the decision. He has to ask Treasury Board. There is an administrative structure that allows the authority delegated to our department also to be further delegated to other levels of activity.”
The facts are clear. As Minister of Public Works and Government Services, I always made a point of ensuring that the bidding process was carried out in a fair, open and transparent manner. That is a record that has been confirmed by impartial departmental officials I have been lucky enough to work with, and it is a record that I am proud of.
I look forward to taking your questions and discussing this matter with you today. I wish to thank you for giving me the chance to appear before you to do so.
I would be happy to take questions now.
No, that's not true. I'm telling you, that isn't true.
Ms. Diane Bourgeois: That isn't true?
Hon. Christian Paradis: We had a general conversation that lasted about 10 minutes. Right at the beginning, he talked about the fact that he had had problems with a bidding process. I had to listen to some of what he was saying initially, in order to see what it was about. However, when I realized that he wanted to talk about a contract, I refused to do so and referred him to officials.
There was no discussion about that process. After that, the discussion turned to more general matters and lasted, at most, about 10 minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
To begin with, I would like to thank the minister for taking the time to meet with us. We know that ministers all have very heavy schedules and that they have to make a huge effort to find some time. So, the committee appreciates your being here. I also want to thank the members opposite for agreeing to start 15 minutes earlier.
You mentioned that the committee's goal was to examine the awarding of government contracts by Public Works and Government Services Canada for the renovation of the West Block. I think people would do well to remember that, because, unfortunately, some of our colleagues seem to have forgotten. We are at the point where we are using the committee's time and resources to talk about a stolen coat. It seems to me that things are going off the rails in this committee.
Minister, what was your role in the awarding of contracts to renovate the West Block?
Please take note, Mr. Gourde, that....
An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor]
The Chair: A point of order here.
Hon. Denis Coderre: Yes.
The Chair: Thank you.
Hon. Denis Coderre: My pleasure.
The Chair: I would just note that Mr. Coderre is not a witness this morning, Monsieur Gourde.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Chair: Please continue.
But you see, we don't really know how much money was raised, because shortly thereafter, the Conservative riding association of Bourassa was deregistered by Elections Canada for failing to report income and revenue. So we have no idea. We know that they donated $500 or $1,000 up front, but we don't know what kind of shakedown went on, because this thing was organized by a guy who was a shakedown expert.
This Gilles Varin, this small-time hood Gilles Varin, is a serial shakedown artist. He has been charged, tried, and convicted of just that modus operandi: shaking down contractors. If you want the largesse, you know, the benefits of government contracts, you're going to kick back, and that's how it's done.
That's how Mr. Sauvé says he got his name. Mr. Sauvé testified, under oath, on a stack of Bibles, that he got that contract because he paid the right people, and he assumed that the money Mr. Varin was getting from him was used to bribe people in Public Works to get him on that list.
How do you explain this? They arranged this lunch meeting. Pichet appears out of nowhere. All of a sudden they're moved to a separate table where they say, oh, yeah, you want this job; you're going to get this job.
All of a sudden--bingo, bango, bongo--a guy who should never even have been on the pre-qualified list not only pre-qualifies but wins the contract, beating out the best contractors in North America by a huge factor.
I mean, it just stinks to high heaven, from any commercial point of view.
You pay this guy $140,000. He sets up meetings with well-connected, high-ranking political operators, and all of a sudden you get the job. That's what he understood had to happen, so he paid the price and he got it. As soon as he stops paying the guy, his project starts getting sabotaged--so he testifies under oath: eight weeks to get electrical hookup so he could start, and 10 to 15 different nuisance things start happening to him. He says he couldn't do the job reasonably because he stopped paying this.... Instead of paying the 3%, he only paid half of that; they cut him off halfway through.
Somebody's getting paid off in your department, under your watch, to get access to these jobs.
First of all, I found it very strange; it was an event with not even 40 people there. The restaurant was closed for that private event. I could not believe my coat was stolen.
I waited some days, and I asked to have a coat...through my staff. After that, when I saw there was nothing, I said, look, if that kind of thing happened in my riding....
I will continue in French.
If something like that had occurred in my riding, I would have been so embarrassed that I would have arranged to provide compensation to the minister. Where I'm from, we are proud people and it's embarrassing when things like that happen.
At the same time, I also wanted to pressure the organizers to get moving on this. I had my coat stolen, and yet no one was doing anything about it. When I saw that it wasn't working and that we were just going in circles, I decided to turn the page and forget about the coat.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. We appreciate your testimony this morning.
Today, it's another day, and it's a day that has characterized the general trend that we've seen in this committee. That's where the opposition, where they haven't been able to bring any facts to the table, go on these fishing expeditions and make all kinds of allegations, of which there is no general proof or any facts that would indicate that there are any problems within your purview or the conduct that you've undertaken.
Mr. Martin brought forward all kinds of allegations. He repeated a number of allegations that Mr. Sauvé had brought to this committee, but I think it's important that we recall the testimony of Mr. Sauvé, that in fact he said that there was no proof. He had made several allegations, but in his allegations there was absolutely no proof of those, and he couldn't provide any documents that would prove any of the allegations that he brought forward.
What we did learn was that in fact Mr. Sauvé was a bad general manager. He talked about his overruns, in terms of the cost of the St. James church. He talked about being let go from the Montreal city hall project. He also talked about not being able to get power hooked up at the West Block facility, as well as not managing to get latrines put up at the West Block project.
So I think, Minister, it's clear that Mr. Sauvé was not in a position to undertake the work that he had been given. Obviously his company's reputation preceded him, and when he took over, things started to fall apart. Unfortunately for him, things haven't turned out so well.
Minister, I do want to speak to the fact that the contract was taken away from LM Sauvé. I'm wondering what your involvement was in the removal of that contract. Obviously, we've heard why it was removed, but now I'm wondering if you could describe your involvement in the removal of that contract.
No. When I saw him, he told me that he had a contract at the fundraiser, and I told him, “Good for you”. The discussion was quite short.
He seems now to be not happy about that. This is what I heard from the last testimony.
This is funny, because at the beginning here, the supposition here is that there was.... Now people ask if there was a kickback or whatever. Mr. Sauvé said publicly, at the beginning, when he had this contract, that it was free of political interference.
He came here, under oath, saying that now there was political interference.
Then after that, with that coat story, he said he was almost being extorted.
That thing is just nonsense. It's nonsense.
The question here, I think, is this: was there any political interference? And from the very beginning in all of those stories, all of the facts demonstrate that there was no political interference in any contracts.
Well, let me speak to the merits of this motion, Mr. Chairman.
We've been trying to get the information about the actual costs of the OPP in the G-8 and G-20 summit meetings for weeks and weeks—in fact, months. I think there was an effort made to keep those figures secret until such time as the byelection was held in Vaughan. I don't think anybody has to mince any words over this.
Now our fear--and I think it's valid—is that those numbers may be made available to the government, but there's no obligation or duty on the part of the government to release them to the general public. They might sit on that report for weeks, months, years.
The public has a right to know, and it should be within the context of the present study we have under way; therefore, I think we should deal with this smartly and quickly and get those figures by December 1, so that we can deal with them before the Christmas break.
As I stated on a number of occasions, both in committee and outside of committee, it strikes me that what the opposition are doing and have continuously done is try to label the Ontario Provincial Police as a corrupt force, somehow colluding with the government or with a former member of Parliament, Mr. Bevilacqua, and a whole host of other people to try to mislead the Parliament of Canada. That's obviously something the premise of which I could never support. I think the OPP are a spectacular force who do extraordinary work.
I know that on occasion the opposition members will come here and try to wrap themselves in the cloak of saying, no, this is not what they're saying at all, but then their actions are different. I noticed in I don't know which paper on the weekend that the member across said: “I'm concerned about what they're still hiding”, in reference to some of the release of information by the OPP.
That strikes me as additional evidence that the opposition here is simply trying to say that the Ontario Provincial Police are more a political force than they are a force of policing across the province of Ontario who have done extraordinarily good work.
I think they're also trying to tie in the fact that, somehow, the former Ontario Liberal Minister of Public Safety and Security is also somehow a part of this alleged big conspiracy effort, which includes, of course, the OPP and the former Liberal member of Parliament for Vaughan.
The entire premise of all of this, the direction the opposition is going in, is an insult to the people of Ontario, an insult to the Ontario Provincial Police, an insult to the former Liberal member of Parliament for Vaughan. It has more to do with perhaps Liberal infighting than it has with good work here at the committee.
But I suspect that's one of the reasons they don't have the courage to have a GTA member or an Ontario member come to ask for this information: they know that what they're doing is basically slinging mud at an incredible force. By virtue of that, a person who recently has been a....
Of course, I send my congratulations to the new member-elect for Vaughan. He is a 40-year veteran of policing across Ontario, with the Toronto police force, my force in York Region, and the OPP.
If that's what they want to do, why don't they just be honest about it?
Say what you say in the media: that you think the Ontario Provincial Police is corrupt; that you think the Liberal Minister of Public Safety was corrupt; and that you think that somehow the former Liberal member of Parliament was involved in a massive conspiracy to help win a byelection that undoubtedly you're upset about, because you held the seat for 22 years under massive majorities and we were able to win that one, and I know that's disappointing to the Liberal Party.
Why don't you be honest about what you're trying to do?
We've heard a lot of nonsense from Mr. Calandra about what conspiracy theories people might infer from the fact that we want to move a motion that has to do with what the government will receive tomorrow—the government, not the OPP. The government tomorrow will receive the report we're talking about, and the real question is, will the government sit on it for five months? If not, then why are the Conservatives here so opposed to this committee and the public seeing this document?
Mr. Chairman, I think Mr. Martin made the point very well that the government could sit on this information for the next five months without our seeing it. It seems reasonable to me that we are seeking to have that information at the same time as the government gets it.
What would be so wrong with that? What is it that the Conservatives are so afraid of?
I think it's regrettable that we have such inflammatory remarks at this committee. There's no discussion of anyone's being corrupt; there's no insult to the people of Ontario. We are merely asking for our fiduciary responsibility for information with regard to spending on the G-8 and G-20, of which we've received information from other departments and other divisions, such as the Toronto police department.
There have been some challenges with getting information from the Ontario police department for whatever reasons—perhaps legitimate, or not so much; I don't know. All we are continuing to ask, for this committee, is for more information, so that we can make informed discussions during a period of study into the spending of the G-8 and G-20. It's nothing more than that: to ask for legitimate information that the government will have as of tomorrow and that should be in the hands of this committee so that we can ask the proper questions.
This is a tremendous amount of spending, and I think we have a responsibility. We have a fiduciary responsibility to the people of Canada. I find my colleague's remarks somewhat inappropriate in that there's no more intent than to ask for information that we legitimately require to have in order to do a proper job.
I'll sum it up this way.
Again what you see is the opposition saying one thing here and then another thing when they get out in public.
||Thursday, Regan said through a spokesperson: “It's still not good enough. I'm concerned about what they are still hiding....”
That, to me, is indicative of somebody who's suggesting that the Ontario Provincial Police are trying to hide something. Of course, as somebody who's extraordinarily proud of my force, a force that was deemed to have information prepared by December 1, I would never support a motion the basis of which is trying to suggest that one of the most credible and professional forces in the country is somehow corrupt.
Again, if the opposition would simply be honest with what it is they're trying to allege, that would be one thing. But it's quite clear that what they're trying to say here is that the OPP is trying to hide something and that in so doing they are a corrupt force.
It's a shame that the Liberal Party can't, just once, stand with our men and women in law enforcement. They have to continuously try to score extraordinarily cheap political points by accusing the force of corruption simply because they lost a byelection in Vaughan, which they had held for 22 years.
It's a pretty sad day when a police force is brought into a political fight.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We heard, during testimony previously, from Mr. Glouberman. He said that he, and I guess Ms. Gersovitz, prepared “a list of our concerns on that bid”. He was referring to the Sauvé bid.
Mr. Glouberman, by the way, also said, talking about the nature of the cocktail that he went to, the following:
||...I also saw it as an opportunity to meet with the minister and impress upon him the importance of the project and that the project remains a priority within the government.
So he was there also to talk about business and about contracts and so forth, as we see from his testimony.
But the key point for me is this. I move that we ask the Department of Public Works to provide us with the list that was prepared by Mr. Glouberman and his associate, which he referred to in testimony: his list of concerns in relation to the bid of Mr. Sauvé.
I think it is, actually; we actually dealt with....
I'm satisfied that the motion is properly before the committee.
Is there any debate or discussion?
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Oh, boy, we're down to two minutes to talk about all of the hard work our analyst, Édison Roy-César, has done. This was on the study with respect to budget freezes.
I don't really expect that we'll get into any substantive discussion, colleagues, but the analyst and the clerk and your chair do need some guidance as to how we're going to proceed.
I suppose we should go back in camera; I appreciate that.
[Proceedings continue in camera]