First I'd like to say welcome to everyone here. I've been on finance committee before. It looks like a very good group we'll be working with.
In terms of quorum, within the context of the minority Parliament I have no problem with the four members, but what I would suggest is that we make it to include at least two members from the government and at least two members of the opposition.
What that means, when we have four parties, is that there's a significant majority of the parties around the table. It's a small tweak, but I think, in a minority Parliament context, appropriate for this committee. I'm not suggesting changing the quorum minimum of four, just stating that it be two members of the government and two members of the opposition.
Are there any other motions from the regular motions we've had before?
We had before—and it's on the list that the clerk distributed—the PBO and economic and fiscal outlook. We always have the Parliamentary Budget Officer in. They have written a letter to the clerk of the committee asking that the particular motion that we passed at previous finance meetings be changed somewhat to what is in the red, right?
Does somebody want to take a moment to look at that, at what we've had previously and what the Parliamentary Budget Officer is moving we adopt in this Parliament, and if so, could we have somebody move it?
Mr. Julian, it's in the long form and in the red. Okay, you haven't received that part. It's in the letter.
The clerk has the letter. I've seen it; you haven't. What we can do is set this aside and, at a future meeting after you receive a copy of the letter, go to any other motions that may be required. This one deals with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and by tradition we have the Bank of Canada and others in as well, so we could deal with that at a later date.
Is there anything else on the agenda?
There is nothing else on it, but could I just take a moment? The House, when it convened for this Parliament, tabled an order that pre-budget consultations would have to be completed by February 28. For new members of the committee, the finance committee is mandated by Parliament to hold pre-budget hearings prior to the tabling of a budget.
Normally it's a fairly extensive but reasonably simple procedure. The the committee clerk normally sends out a press release in May or June with a theme that we're proposing, asking that submissions from the public be in by a specific date, usually around the middle of August. We'll get anywhere up to 500 submissions, as a committee, during that time period.
Following that, when Parliament reconvenes, normally in September, the committee will hold some hearings in Ottawa and across the country as well. I think the last time we held hearings across the country we heard from roughly 300 witnesses in 10 cities, so there is a combination of hearings in Ottawa and across the country.
Then the analysts, from that, prepare a report after some discussion. The report comes back to us; we debate the report and we discuss recommendations. Each party puts forward its own recommendations and we table a finance committee pre-budget hearings report in December, as a rule, so it's available to the minister and the department for their consideration.
Each party, of course, based on its proportion in the House, is asked to put forward a list of witnesses. Based on priority usually the subcommittee determines those witnesses.
This time, because we're now into the end of January, and the second week of February is a break week, we are in a fairly tight time squeeze to hold at least decent hearings and hear what the public has to say and give the analysts time to draft a report, and give us to be able to table that report by February 28, which Parliament has already deemed has to be done.
In 2016 as a committee we basically wrote a letter and informed the minister of the topics we had heard testimony on, and sent copies of the minutes, I believe, with that letter. Following that, we drafted a report with recommendations as quickly as we could.
That's what we're up against. If we're to go down that road, there are a couple of things we need to do. We would have to hold extensive hearings next week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The last time around, I think we heard roughly 24 witnesses a day for four days and running, and then concluded the witness segment. That gave the analysts time to go through that.
We already have 261 submissions that came in prior to August. They were put forward in anticipation of pre-budget hearings this fall, but this committee would have to move a motion to bring that evidence forward from the last Parliament as evidence for pre-budget hearings, if we are to consider it in this Parliament. If I could put it this way, if we're going to do pre-budget hearings directly, we would probably need a motion to bring forward those submissions to be considered by the committee. I think a number of members have received them.
We've already approached the department. They would be willing to come in for a meeting tomorrow. I know some members would have difficulty with that because of previous commitments they've made. Nonetheless, the department would be willing to come in tomorrow and brief us on where they're at.
Each party, if they could, would have to have their witness lists to us by Friday morning so that the clerk could invite those witnesses for next week. As well, we would have to have the , I would think, for an hour next week.
The floor is open for discussion. That just gives you some background on what's before us in the immediate term. After getting that out of the way, we could then sit down as a committee and determine what we collectively believe we need to do as a committee going forward, and what studies we want to undertake.
Peter, I have you and then Sean. Mr. Julian, then Mr. Fraser.
I've just had a few informal conversations with some of our colleagues. I think, given the advice of the analysts on the time constraints that we're under, we're probably just going to have to sit longer days than normal, probably in the range of six-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and jam-pack in as many witnesses as we can, and also consider what written submissions may come in. We'll trust the analysts to do their best job to respect the appropriate proportion of witnesses from each party.
Obviously it's not ideal, but given the timing of the election, I don't really see another choice.
I don't know if that requires a formal motion, Mr. Chair. I'll take your advice on that point.
I think we can go by agreement, if that's possible and agreeable.
Figuring out the numbers, I think, is a fair suggestion. Monday it might be difficult to get enough witnesses to go for the six hours because they're not going to have much notice. They're going to be called on Friday—although there are a lot of national organizations in the city and we do video conferencing as well.
The breakdown, just going by proportion, would be for the Liberals to propose 46 witnesses, the Conservatives 36, the Bloc 10 and the NDP eight. I would suggest that every party perhaps propose 10 more than what they've been allocated, because there will be a number who refuse or can't do it during the time frame.
As we establish lists of proposed witnesses, we'll find in some cases that all four parties will have the same witness, so we'll need at least 10 more than the number you have been allocated.
Could you forward those to the clerk? By Thursday night would be best, or by Friday morning if necessary, but put them in priority order. Who do you see as your first priority, second, and on down the line through your list? That makes it easier for the analysts and the clerk to work with.
As I said earlier, the department would be willing to come tomorrow, but I understand a number of people would have difficulty being here in our meeting tomorrow afternoon because of other plans.
What are your thoughts on that? We could go with the Finance officials as the first witnesses on Monday. It would be fair to everyone, maybe, but I am a little worried we might not get all the witnesses we want on Monday, anyway.
What time should we start on Monday? The House opens at 11. We could start at 11 and go for a couple of hours, and then from 3:30 to 6:30 in the afternoon would be normal.
Just give us your thoughts and we can come to some kind of an agreement.
The other thing Mr. Fraser mentioned was the submissions. Normally we don't reopen submissions. I know there are some out there. If we reopen submissions, we'll probably get 500 now that we're back in Parliament again. I know—and we always run into this—that some things change by the time the deadline comes in August. They submit submissions by August 15 and then by the time we get around to meeting them in September or October, some things have changed and they change their submissions. The ones that have already submitted will be given first priority in any event, so as witnesses they could tell us what differences they want to massage in their submission.
McLeod says that's nothing.
No, we understand. I think we're easy. What's the most accommodating? If you want to go from 3:30 till eight o'clock, that's fine too. We're here to do a job, and we'll have to get it done next week.
Are people okay with, say, 3:30 till eight o'clock on Monday? Okay?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Then we'll leave it up to the clerk to find two slots of time on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, two slots of three hours each. It's nice to go three hours, have a break and go to QP.
On Monday we're proposing 3:30 in the afternoon until eight o'clock at night, and then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday two slots of three hours. One would be 3:30 till 6:30.
We could start in the morning. What time do committees normally start in the morning?
The Clerk: At 8:45 or 11 o'clock. I have 11 until QP.
The Chair: Okay: 11 until QP is fine.
Is that okay?
Some people who are on QP who want to praise the government will want to leave for a while, no doubt, because they'll have questions—right, Pierre?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
On the witness list, if parties could submit at least their first 10 by Thursday evening at six and the remainder of their witnesses by six o'clock on Friday, that would be fine. If we had 40 proposed witnesses by six o'clock on Thursday evening, it would be much easier for you, right?
A voice: Yes.
The Chair: Could we do it that way, and then have the remainder in to the clerk by six on Friday?
Where we are is to have suggested witnesses, 10 from each party, by six o'clock on Thursday, with the remainder by six o'clock on Friday. Liberals should be proposing in the range of 60 to 65, Conservatives roughly 50, the Bloc roughly 20 and the NDP 18, just to give some ease to the clerk.
We will meet on Monday from 3:30 until eight, and on Tuesday from 11 to two and 3:30 to 6:30, on Wednesday from 3:30 to eight, and on Thursday from 11 to two and 3:30 to 6:30.
The clerk will have to forward the submissions to members as soon as possible. They will go onto this committee's web page.
Mr. Julian, go ahead, and then we'll adjourn.