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Standing Committee on Finance



Tuesday, April 9, 2019

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]



     We shall call the meeting to order to resume our debate on the motion by Francesco Sorbara and the amendment by Gérard Deltell. For any members new to this, we're on the amendment to extend the hours for the minister from 3:30 to 6:30.
    Who was the last member who spoke? Was it Mr. Richards?
    Next on my list is Mr. Sorbara. We're on the amendment to point 7, to extend the Minister of Finance's hearing.
    The floor is yours, Francesco.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair. Welcome back, everyone.
    I'll point to remarks made by the members on the opposite aisle in discussing the amendment on hand, and some of the suggestions for a time allotment from 3:30 to 6:30 versus the current 3:30 to 5. My colleagues and I have entertained and discussed that, Chair. We could accommodate that request.
    Okay. Next on my list is Mr. Richards again, and then Mr. Poilievre.
    You'll pass, for the moment.
    Mr. Poilievre.
    There are three things we're seeking, Chair. One is that the minister be here for three hours, which I gather the government delegation has accepted. The second is that his opening remarks be limited to 10 minutes. The third is that we have licence to ask him about any matters related to his work as finance minister. Those are the only three things that we ask for. They seem pretty reasonable, and not out of line with what typically happens at a committee.
    Given that this is a budget bill with 350 pages of content, and that this is perhaps the only time the minister will appear before this committee, I can't see any justification for not allowing that kind of openness under any subject for the entire session. I'll leave it at that for now. If members want to further litigate any of those three, I'm happy to do it. If they can offer those things, we can offer quick passage of the motion without any additional changes, and proceed from there.
    Does anybody else wants to speak?
    Mr. Poilievre, you and I chatted, and you're saying, “any matters related to his work as finance minister”. It was my opinion that if the minister goes broad in his opening remarks, what I've tried to do in the past is to allow the questions to be broad. If the minister just sticks to the BIA, then the discussion would be pretty well limited to the BIA and, in essence, the budget as well.
    Go ahead.
    I think you've just said that during his appearance, we can talk about other things than the BIA, as long as the minister wants to. That's the effect of the rule you're setting. You're saying that if he goes outside of the boundaries of the BIA, then we all can as well, but if he decides he wants to stay within the boundaries of the BIA, then we all must do likewise. I don't understand why a minister gets to decide the boundaries of a discussion. Why don't we just agree that if it deals with his work as finance minister, we as members of the finance committee can ask him about it?
    Mr. Fragiskatos.
    I'm amused by the comments by my colleague, who talks about the boundaries of the discussion. It seems to me that in his view, the opposition is going to set the boundaries of discussion. I think this committee should come to a collective view on that.
    When the minister comes here, I'm sure he'll talk about the budget. I want to ask him about the budget, because my constituents are asking me about it, not about grandiose economic theories or the role of the finance minister in general, but on something quite specific—the 2019 budget that has been presented, which we'll hopefully now examine if the opposition wants to be serious. What my colleague is proposing, I'm afraid, is not serious.


     Mr. Sorbara.
    Thanks for the intervention by my colleague. You know, committees are the masters of their domains. I've been on this committee since we were elected as a majority government. I've really enjoyed it and we are the masters of our domain. When the minister has come to speak to us, we've all asked him questions. Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Deltell and Ms. Raitt, when she was here, asked questions, tough questions. We are going to be looking at the subject matter of Bill C-97. I'm sure Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Richards and Mr. Kmiec will want to ask tough questions and they'll be afforded that opportunity.
    In response to my colleague, I was going to say my friend, Mr. Poilievre, that within the three-hour time slot from 3:30 to 6:30, you've asked for the minister to keep his remarks within 10 minutes. I don't think that's something extraordinary. I think the purview is that we are speaking to Bill C-97, which touches upon fiscal policy. It touches upon a thing. It's not a huge bill, and no pun was intended by the comment, but a document that's important to Canadians and to our government. Of course, it is important to this committee to study it, to bring witnesses forth and to commence that process. I think it behooves all of us as parliamentarians to do that.
    Mr. Poilievre, I'm very accommodating and I think the committee is accommodating on where members are in terms of the three hours and the 10 minutes. I think it's obviously the chair's role to decide what's in order in any committee to be discussed. If we stray too far, then I think it behooves us to point that out, and it also behooves you folks to point that out on your side. I think we can be accommodating and meet on that.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    Mr. Poilievre.
    I was just laughing here to myself. I remember that when Ralph Goodale was minister, we weren't going to limit him to 10 minutes.
    Right, Pierre?
    I'm not sure that kind of limitation would hold with Minister Goodale.
    No, but our friend Mr. Fragiskatos says that we will decide collectively as a committee what people will say, and collectivism is the ideology over there. However, the problem with collectively deciding what is acceptable to say is that it inherently limits freedom of speech. You have a majority who vote on what the minority can say. To borrow an earlier-used expression, that's like giving a group of people who have one interest the authority to decide what the minority with another interest can do and say. That inherently limits our freedom to act on behalf of the people who elected us.
    No, there's nothing democratic about saying that we have more votes than you do so we're going to ban you from saying the things we don't want you to say. That's effectively what our colleague is suggesting. If you doubt the literalism with which I'm speaking, you just need to go back and look at the footage of the chairman slamming his gavel and then shutting down a meeting because he didn't want me to say what I wanted to say.
    It literally is using a majority to shut down free speech. When a minister appears, it is not unusual for members to ask questions about matters other than a given bill or motion before a committee. You'll notice that when I made my original request, it was for us to be able to ask the minister about anything related to his work as Minister of Finance. I'm not interested in asking about his personal matters or his commercial dealings as a private citizen. I'm not interested in anything unrelated to the job he does as minister, for which we all agree he's accountable to Parliament.
    That's it. Frankly, the good news is that it will be televised. If members of the public think we're asking questions that are not pertinent to their interests, we will be judged accordingly in October.


     Before I go to Mr. Fergus, I will say that I do think it is fair for committee members to be able to raise questions relative to the minister's portfolio when a minister is before committee. I think we're fine with that.
    Go ahead, Mr. Fergus.


    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I'll make this quick.
    Mr. Chair, parliamentary convention holds that, when a minister appears before a committee, it is to address the issue on the agenda. We are talking about the Minister of Finance, who has appeared before the committee many times. I don't believe he has ever even declined an invitation by the committee, but I digress.
    When a committee studies a bill and reviews its provisions, government and opposition members alike have the opportunity to ask a minister questions, as they would with any witness. In all cases, however, the questions must relate to the subject in hand.
    Mr. Chair, you've always been very open-minded. In the past, when the minister went off topic, you've always given committee members the leeway to do the same. However, when the minister's comments pertain to the topic on the agenda, the questions put to the minister should as well, as parliamentary convention dictates.
    Thank you.


    Mr. Rankin.
    I'm not sure that there really is a conflict on the table. I understand from your recent comment that you're saying that a certain amount of latitude, insofar as the minister speaks about matters qua as Minister of Finance, will be accepted. It's your job to police this. I know that when we are in the House of Commons, the Speaker allows people—to a degree I find rather shocking, frankly—to speak very much outside the four corners of the bill that's at issue. Questions of relevance are rarely, if ever, addressed by the chair.
    Given your commitment that you accept that a minister can come and talk about ministerial responsibilities, and given what Mr. Poilievre said, that he is not going to talk about personal matters but merely things concerning his work as finance minister, I don't understand that we have a real conflict on the table. I would suggest that we are ad idem.
    I would agree.
    Go ahead, Pierre.
    All we're looking for, to put an end to this, is just wording that says, “or any matters related to the minister's work as finance minister”. That's it. Then it will be clear in the motion that we can ask about any matters related to his work as finance minister.
    I know that Ms. Rudd is really distressed by the thought that we might ask him about his work as finance minister, but just stop and ask yourself—
    —a question: How can you possibly be worried about our asking the minister questions about his work as finance minister? What is it that you worry will happen, that is so dangerous, if we ask him about his work as finance minister? Explain what the problem is here.
    I'd be happy to.
    I have Mr. Kmiec on the list first, and then you, Ms. Rudd.
    I'm hoping we can end this discussion after that, because I think I've already said that questions that relate to the minister's portfolio are fine, and that's basically saying the same thing.


    Let's just put it in writing then.
    Mr. Kmiec.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair. I guess I missed a thrilling morning when this was being debated.
    In anticipation of this meeting, I looked at the previous motion that was passed last year. As you'll remember, eventually that motion hamstrung the committee when the issues of DPAs came up on one really late night. Then we had a lot more questions, and a lot of members around the table weren't happy. I had a kids' school group that was coming through. Late at night I went to speak to someone, and when I returned this was on the table.
    I know that we're at this point again. We're dealing with a programming motion. It is slightly different. One thing I'll mention is that nothing in here says that any of this has to be televised. I would like to see that as part of this motion. In actuality, the word “televised” doesn't even appear in this motion.
     Basically the reason we don't include that in our motions is that the standard procedure is that the finance committee—somewhere in the general motions, I think it says—is to be televised, unless there are—
    Another motion is passed.
    —ministers before other committees and all the television rooms are taken up with that.
    Okay, fantastic.
    It's televised unless there are ministers before too many other committees on the same day.
    Okay, well, I would hope that when the minister appears before this committee—
    Oh, it will be.
    Is that part of this motion?
    I don't think you need it in this motion. Look, it's understood.
    But even if it's the belt and suspenders?
    No? We can't...? You're worried now; you don't want it televised.
    No, we want it televised.
    Okay, this is going to have to be a lot longer conversation.
    That's where you lose a lot of good will, when you exaggerate.
    What I'm saying is that it'll be televised.
    Put it in writing, my friend.
    No question.
    Ms. Rudd. No, sorry—
    I haven't finished my speaking time. It was just the first point I was trying to make.
    All right. Go ahead.
    Don't worry, I will keep it short. I'm not into marathons today.
    My next point was going to be that the budget is the minister's seminal work. This is what he or she prepares for the entire year. There are really very few other substantive pieces of legislation that are as long, as thick, as detailed as the budget. We're basically proposing to review the budget document over a one-month period, so we should be able to ask the minister all questions related to his portfolio. That should be in the motion, because if you look through this document, you see that it deals everything all across government. Every department is touched in some way. There are national park boundaries being amended in the budget. That was in a Calgary Herald article. I don't really know that that has anything to do with the budget, but it's in there.
    Last year it was DPAs. The years before that it was sneaking in the same formula on equalization. There's always something in there, so as long as we can have that wording in the actual motion, I would feel much better seeing it on paper. I know that during debates or the disagreements that we have later on, we will then refer to motions when we try to stay germane to the subject being debated, or to raising a point of order at committee on the subject matter to bring us either back to order, or to have you, Mr. Chair, make a ruling. I would like as much as possible to see it in here.
     I know there have been some conversations about having the minister for longer, which is great, but perhaps we can agree in writing to have him before the committee and that the subject matter be everything related to his department. I have questions about how Crown corporations are doing business and any directions that he may or may not have given either through his office or through the deputy minister's office. I'm interested. I'm interested in B-20 mortgages. The first chapter in the budget deals with housing, so that's great. I'm going to ask a lot of questions related to it, but I'm going to go beyond just the measures strictly in the budget, because they influence other policy initiatives across government, so I may want to know what the interactions are between them.
    I'm just giving you an example of where I might go down a rabbit hole during questions and answers of the minister.
    As my colleague Mr. Poilievre said, I don't get that opportunity all that often before committee to ask detailed questions of a minister. I think the last minister who appeared before the committee was Minister Lebouthillier in December. I know that it was a really tight vote to ensure that she could appear and explain her department's performance discussed in an Auditor General's report.
    That's what I feel. If we're committed to it and there's agreement on both sides, why not just put it in the motion? These motions happen every single year. It's a programming motion. Previous governments have done it. I'm not accusing you of doing something new. I'm just saying that it's happened every single year for awhile now, as far as I can remember anyway, going back through previous committees and what they've done. To me, just put it in here. Make it as detailed as possible. Future members who come after us will then use these programming motions in the future, and as long as it's good text and everybody can agree to it, everyone coming after us can make small edits like we're trying to do today. I don't think it's all that different to ask that we make sure that we put it in the motion. As a result, you can defend yourselves when you do go down those rabbit holes, searching for the answers that our constituents have sent us here to look for.
    The budget is the work of the finance minister. I know people say it's an all-of-government approach, but it is the finance minister's responsibility. His name appears in this document. It was tabled by him this time around, so we should be able to ask about everything related to his portfolio and the work he does, because this is the one opportunity when we'll get to do that.


    There was an opportunity: four days of debate in the House.
    Ms. Rudd.
     Thank you.
    I came to this place almost four years ago, coming from a background of having to work with people in business, and I came with an expectation—
     Mr. Poilievre is reading his phone and not listening to the answer to the question he asked me.
    I came expecting respectful debate. When I saw the behaviour and the complete disrespect for the Minister of Finance in the House when he stood up to read the budget, I question the motivation of Mr. Poilievre and the members on that side as to whether these comments and these requests are designed for respectful debate, real questions, or whether they are intended to have another, frankly, disgusting performance like the one we saw that day.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    Mr. Sorbara.
    As we continue this discussion—it's what our committee is about, and we need a robust discussion—I'll go first to Mr. Kmiec. I have a great deal of respect for him on many levels. I have worked with him on a number of things.
    Tom, if I can call you that, look; I agree that we need to ask questions on the housing market. Your passion for B-20 and so forth and mortgages and stuff, I follow quite closely, and I applaud you. You'll have that opportunity if you're the member on the other side when the minister comes, which is great. There's nothing at all in this motion right now that's going to prevent you from doing that. There was mention in the budget with regard to our initiatives to make housing more affordable for literally tens of thousands of Canadian families—and over a three-year period, it's hundreds of thousands of families—so you'll be able to ask those tough questions, for sure. I'm with you on that. I think, if I were in your shoes, I would do the same thing.
    With regard to Mr. Poilievre, the discussion today has centred upon your request to have the minister here in attendance for three hours, which would be an extra hour and a half from what we originally suggested. We understand that. We've chatted about it. We, on this side of the aisle, have agreed on that. You've also asked about limiting the introductory remarks to 10 minutes. We can understand that. This is a budget. It touches millions of lives in Canada—37 million of them, to be exact. It is something important that we need to discuss with Canadians. We're going to do that both with witnesses and with the minister.
    The final request—and when I really think about this, Pierre, I think about setting precedence. We have a committee chair whose job it is to run the committee, and we have members on both sides whose job it is to ask questions and also point out points of order and so forth. I think on the level of setting precedence, this is one precedent about which I feel uncomfortable.
    We've had a good discussion, and I think, Pierre, we can work from here.
    Mr. Poilievre, go ahead.
     I asked questions about the finance minister at a previous committee meeting. I thought it was unprecedented that the chair slammed the gavel and shut down the whole thing. You can understand why I'm sensitive about the possibility that our one chance to ask questions of the finance minister will effectively be shut down the instant the minister gets a question he's not comfortable with.
    I have no doubt that he and his staff have complained to the chair of the committee before about the fact that his previous appearances have gone very badly for him, but it's not a self-esteem factory. It's not our job here to make the minister feel good about himself; it's our job to ask the tough questions that taxpayers demand be answered.
    We're considering a very sweeping motion right here. It has a time frame by which the higher bill will be reported back, whether we vote on it or not, whether we agree to let that happen or not. We're effectively giving you licence to send the bill back to the House by a pre-set date, guaranteeing what you're looking for, and all we're asking for in exchange is that we have the minister here for a free and open set of questions for a three-hour period. That's it.
    It's not a precedent, Frank. I'm sorry; it's pretty customary. We have a thin-skinned minister who's terrified of committees because he's become an Internet sensation because of his previous performances here.
    I'm sorry, my constitutional obligation is to hold him accountable and to ask him questions that he's not comfortable answering. The fact that he doesn't want certain questions asked about his job is not my problem. My job is to hold him accountable, and when opposition MPs stop doing that job, pity the poor country we call Canada, because it's not going to be a nice place to live. The job of the opposition is to ask these questions, and we are not going to agree to a motion like this until such time as we have a guarantee that we're going to be able to ask them.
    I'm not going to show up here on the day the minister appears and have the chair pull out his gavel and start banging away because he hears something that he knows the minister is going to be angry about. We're going to keep talking this out until such time as we get a very modest demand honoured, that we have free and open debate related to the minister's role as a minister for three hours on television. That's it.


    Mr. Poilievre, I think that's what I said about questions that relate to the minister's portfolio.
    I'll go back for a minute to the time I gavelled that the committee meeting adjourn. I think you have a different interpretation of that than I do. The fact of the matter was that there was a point of order from this side of the House, and I went to that point of order and you kept pushing your mike button when I tried to go to that point of order on that side. I said, “Enough of this. That's it.” The meeting was suspended and then adjourned. That's history.
    As I've said here, we're on the amendment to meet from 3:30 to 6:30. I think we need to vote on that amendment. I've said very clearly—it's on the record—that in my chairing the meeting, questions that relate to the minister's portfolio are wide open. That's the way I think the meetings should be with a minister of finance. When ministers are here, questions related to their portfolio have been allowed most of the time. That's the way it operates.
    If I may, I think that's very reasonable. All I'm asking is that we put that in the motion so it's clear, and we're done.
    Is it not enough to have it on the record?
    I'm telling you as chair it's on the record that questions related to the minister's portfolio will be allowed. It's a pretty broad portfolio,
    Does that portfolio include matters that were in previous budgets?
    The BIA we're looking at here builds on previous budgets, so yes, you have to be able to deal with budgets on top of budgets and what we have done as a government, which I think the minister is probably pretty proud of. I would think he'd want to lay out those points.
    I've clearly stated on the record that questions related to the minister's portfolio are fair. I won't allow disorderly conduct like what happened at the other meeting, and that was between you and me and a point of order on this side. You can't re-till old ground.
    Are we ready to move to deal with 3:30 to 6:30, and what I've said?
    I have Mr.—
    Go ahead.


     In conclusion, I could propose an amendment to the motion, particularly to paragraph 7, that “the Committee invite the Minister of Finance to appear on Bill C-97 and matters related to his portfolio on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, from 3:30 to 6:30, with opening remarks not to exceed 10 minutes, in an appearance that will be televised”.
    We have an amendment to an amendment, really, but I think we've agreed on those points. If you want to deal with it in writing and see where it goes, we can—
    You basically agreed to all this already, so I don't understand what we're arguing over.
    Because we're on the amendment, on the original speaking list I had Mr. Fragiskatos and Mr. Richards. On the new list on the amendment, I have Mr. Rankin.
    That's a summary of what I've heard here, so I would support that amendment.
    Mr. Richards is first, and then Mr. Kmiec is on the second list.
     This is on the amendment, guys.
    Mr. Fragiskatos.
    This is on the amendment that was just proposed?
    We'll go to you first, Mr. Fragiskatos, then Mr. Richards, then Mr. Kmiec, and then whoever else.
    It's a short comment.
    My colleague questioned your fairness. I'll speak for myself, and I know you can defend yourself, Mr. Chair. You've conducted yourself with only fairness in this committee. In fact, just last week, you called my question out of order because it strayed from the topic, and in fact, it did. I raise that only to say that you don't have any biases and have never exhibited biases on this committee.
    My colleague—who's not at the table now, but I'll put it on the record anyway—says that it's customary for the minister to come in for three hours. We've actually gone quite far here in compromising to say that the minister ought to come in for three hours.
    I don't recall at any point, when Mr. Oliver was.... I'll talk recent history. I don't recall Mr. Oliver testifying for three hours. I don't recall the late honourable Jim Flaherty testifying for three hours. In fact, I took a moment to look at the minutes of previous finance committee meetings, specifically on the BIA under the Harper government. This finance ministers, both Oliver and the late Jim Flaherty, testified for an hour.
    We've gone quite far here to compromise, so I think it's quite unreasonable when my colleague says that we have not gone far enough. I think we have gone quite far. I think that merits being put on the record, so that's why I wanted to speak.
    Thank you, Mr. Fragiskatos.
    Mr. Richards.
     Some of you will know this and others may not. In my previous career, before I got into politics, I was in real estate. I helped folks sell and buy homes. This reminds me, actually, of some of the situations I found myself in, in those circumstances. Sometimes what you'd get is that someone would say, “I know we have a contract here that says X, Y, and Z, and this is the price of the home and this is the closing date, and all the conditions that go with that, but you know what? Don't worry about that. Yes, we'll get the walls painted for you, or, yes, we'll leave some of the furniture, or whatever the case might be.” They'd say, we don't need to throw that in the contract, though. It will just be an agreement between us. For obvious reasons, I wouldn't accept those kinds of things. This reminds me of those same situations.
     Mr. Poilievre has made a suggestion. It's been said a couple of times on both sides, but I will point out that this is a fairly significant compromise by the opposition, I would argue, because we're letting the government have exactly what it wants, which is to limit the amount of time there is for consideration and debate and amendments or anything else related to the budget. In return, the expectation is that there be three hours for the minister to come here to be held accountable for any matters related to his finance portfolio, and that his opening remarks limited to 10 minutes and that the meeting be televised.
    What we're hearing, essentially, for the most part, is yes, we agree to all of that, but we don't want to put it in writing. Whenever I have someone tell me they agree with me and they're willing to give me something, but they don't want to put it in writing, I have to question the motivation for not being willing to put it in writing? If it's okay and you're agreeing that you're going to allow it, why not just put it in writing? What's the harm? As I say, it hearkens me back to my days in real estate, when somebody would say, “Yes, no, no, don't worry. We'll leave the freezer. We don't want to put it in the contract—let's not do that—but we'll leave it, we promise.”
    You never want to doubt someone's sincerity, and I'm not saying I do, but why not put it in writing then? What's the problem here? I just feel that we're in a spot where it's almost like there's disagreement for the sake of disagreement, or something like that. I wish we could end that. If that's what everyone's saying is—


    On a point of order, Mr. Fergus.
    Mr. Chair, I am wondering if we could suspend for five minutes. I think there are some discussions that are going on. I'm wondering if we'd just take a five-minute break to continue those discussions.
    Are members amenable to that?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Chair: Okay. We shall suspend for five minutes.



    We shall reconvene.
    Go ahead, Pierre.
    Mr. Chair, I believe you are a man of your word. I've known you for a long time. I've never once known you to violate your word, and so I take you at your word today that we will be allowed to question the minister, not just on the BIA but also on his broader finance portfolio. I give you my word that my questions will focus exclusively on his work as a finance minister, not on anything unrelated to that job.
    As a result, I am prepared to withdraw my earlier amendment and propose a different one.
    (Amendment withdrawn)
    Hon. Pierre Poilievre: With my new amendment, paragraph 7 would be transformed to read:
the Committee invite the Minister of Finance to appear on Bill C-97 on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and that his opening statement be limited to ten minutes, and that the meeting be televised;
    It's not a problem. Is everyone okay with that?
    (Amendment agreed to)
    (Motion as amended agreed to)
    The Chair: We have one other motion.
    Go ahead, Mr. Sorbara.
    Has the second motion been distributed?
    It was earlier, I think.
    It's the motion on farming out certain portions of the budget implementation act to other committees. We need to give them time to deal with it if we're going that way.
    Can I ask a question?
    Can the government members confirm that every part of the bill will be treated by at least one committee?
    Well, it will be by either us or somebody else.
    Absolutely, yes. That's perfectly fine.
    It farms out certain sections of the bill to the transport, infrastructure and communities committee.
    Do you want to name the committees it farms it out to?
    It's in the motion, I think.
    Are you fine with that, Pierre?
    Yes, that's fine. I have the motion now.
    Are you okay with the motion?
    Do you want to list the committees it farms parts of the BIA out to? I think we'd better have that on the record.
    I'll read four.
    You don't need to go through the divisions, just the committees we are transferring parts to.
    Thank you, Chair.
    We are transferring parts to the transport, infrastructure and communities committee; the public safety and national security committee; the citizenship and immigration committee; and the indigenous and northern affairs committee.
    The finance committee will be dealing with anything that isn't transferred to another committee, just so we're clear on that.
    Are we agreed on the motion?
    (Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
    The Chair: With that, the meeting is adjourned.
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