Colleagues, I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 12 of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
Before we start I'd like to announce that there will be no meeting this coming Monday, Victoria Day, May 18, but we will have a meeting next Friday, May 22, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
As well, our whips have gotten together and they have agreed upon a schedule for the following week, that's the week of May 25. The next meeting of that week will start at 5 p.m. Eastern Time and last until 7 p.m. Eastern Time. An email was sent to all of you about that. As you know, that is a change in the calendar. Our normal meetings on Mondays are from two until four, and this will be from five to seven, so I ask you to please make sure you adjust your calendars accordingly.
On Friday, May 29 we will go back to our regular meeting time of 11 a.m., and that meeting will last from 11 a.m. to 1p.m.
The committee has already chosen witnesses for the meetings of May 22 and May 25, but I would like to take 15 minutes at the end of this meeting to discuss future witnesses and overall committee business.
For the benefit of our witnesses who will be providing testimony today, I would ask, as I have to other witnesses in the past few meetings, that if you are to speak, or at least start speaking in one official language, continue if possible and conclude your remarks in the same official language, rather than switching between English and French. If you can continue in one of the two official languages only, that would be of great assistance to our interpreters.
Similarly, during questions from committee members, if committee members start their questions in English, I would hope you could have a response and conclude your remarks in English, so there would be no switching back and forth. We've unfortunately have had some very significant technical difficulties when speakers have tried to alternate between the two official languages.
Colleagues, again as has been normal these last few meetings, we're starting a little late, so therefore I would like to suggest that once again for our rounds of questioning there be five minutes in the opening round, four minutes in the secondary round, and then two minutes for the conclusion. Hopefully in that manner we will be able to get through two complete rounds of questions before we break for committee business.
With those brief opening remarks completed, I call upon Mr. Matthews to please deliver his opening statement.
One of the problems is that traditionally when this has been done, we've adopted a motion to append the speaking note to the evidence. This is for the benefit of the reader who doesn't have the benefit of receiving the document.
Unfortunately, the order adopted by the House on April 12 prohibits us from doing that. We can't consider that motion because the House has significantly limited the motions that can be considered by the committee.
The only other option I could see is that we could take the speaking notes and post them on the committee's website, at which point if the committee wants to, or if the chair instructs the witnesses, we could go straight to questions. However, the reader would not have the benefit of being able to hear the comments of the witnesses before the questioning starts.
It's at your discretion, Mr. Chair, how you wish to proceed with this, but a motion that we would normally append it to the evidence, it would appear, cannot be considered by the committee under the current context.
I was doing some quick editing as the discussion was happening, so I will aim for the five minute or less approach to allow the maximum time for questions.
Mr. Chair, good morning. Thank you for having us back here today to support the committee’s continued study of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With me, as usual, is Ms. Arianne Reza, our assistant deputy minister of procurement. We are pleased to be here with our colleagues from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Our two organizations have been working very closely together during this crisis, with PSPC focusing on buying the personal protective equipment and medical supplies needed by health care professionals on the front lines.
At our last appearance here on April 24, we underscored the competitive, challenging environment for procurements on the global stage. That environment is one that we continue to operate in and, although it has changed to a certain extent, it continues to be challenging.
I will talk about our progress in a moment, but first let me speak to some of the challenges we continue to face.
As this committee well knows, most of the supplies in the world that we are seeking are manufactured in China. This means that we continue to receive product from unfamiliar suppliers, supply chains are strained and there are significant logistical issues that we continue to work through.
In China, on the ground, our supplies are steadily coming into our warehouse with more regularity. We are seeing the same regularity with cargo flights coming into Canada. In total, we are now up to 27 flights. As a rough order of magnitude, we are basically dealing with one flight a day. That's the essential rhythm we have hit right now, and we continue to build capacity on this front.
In the last week, we have seen a surge of materials arriving at our warehouse in China. To help with this surge, we contracted with UPS for additional temporary logistical supports on the ground in China with air cargo operations. This approach was instrumental in getting additional flights out of China during a very busy and difficult time.
Recently, we have also tried out a second airport in China. The initial flights from that second airport were successful, so it gives us an additional option going forward in using another airport in addition to Shanghai.
Mr. Chair, we have also been working with the Public Health Agency of Canada on developing an overall logistics solution to deal with large international shipments arriving by both sea and air, as well as domestic shipments arriving by vehicle. On May 4, we sent out an invitation to suppliers to submit an expression of interest to help us in this endeavour. That same day, we sent out a request for proposal for additional logistics supports at airports in China to increase our capacity in that supply chain.
Mr. Chair, when you look at the volume of supplies coming in now, you see that the vast majority have met Canadian requirements. However, as you know, we have had some issues with some products that did not meet agreed-upon standards. Notably, we received an order of approximately 11 million KN95 masks from one supplier, and about eight million of those masks did not meet the performance standards for the grade of that mask. We have since suspended all further shipments of these types of masks from that supplier. While many of these masks are fine for other uses, I want to reconfirm to this committee that none of these were distributed for medical use. As my colleagues from the Public Health Agency of Canada will tell you, only when products are deemed effective and safe are they distributed to the front lines.
Mr. Chair, I should also touch on what we're doing in domestic procurements. Since we last met, our department has finalized a long-term agreement with Medicom of Pointe-Claire, Quebec for the domestic production of 20 million N95 respirators and 24 million surgical masks a year over the next 10 years. A contract has been signed for 15 million face shields to be made by Sterling Industries out of Ontario, and we have a contract with Hewlett Packard to make over a half a million more. We have signed a new contract with Logistik Unicorp, a manufacturer out of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and it is supplying us with more than 11 million medical gowns.
When it comes to testing for COVID-19, we have reached an agreement with a New Brunswick company, LuminUltra, to produce enough reagents, the critical chemical in testing, for about 500,000 tests per week right through March.
These are just a few recent examples.
Mr. Chair, in closing, this is a massive effort for the departments and we continue to shift resources to meet the needs of procurement for our front-line health care workers. We're mitigating the risks as best we can, learning lessons and making adjustments as we go. We are committed to continuing to work with our colleagues at the Public Health Agency of Canada and all of our partners to secure the necessary supplies.
Mr. Chair, because you wanted us to wrap up quickly, I'll leave it there. I look forward to your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for inviting the Public Health Agency of Canada here today.
My name is Sally Thornton. I'm the vice-president of the health security infrastructure branch at the agency. I am joined by Éric Dagenais, who recently joined us from Innovation Science and Economic Development to lend a hand with the COVID response, and Steven Guercio, the executive director of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
I understand that you have invited us here today to talk specifically to Canada's national emergency strategic stockpile, or, as we call it, the NESS, and the work we've been doing to procure personal protective equipment, or PPE, and make it available to provinces and territories.
I'll give a bit of background on the NESS, which is a bit of a misnomer, to help you understand its history.
As you know, public health is a shared responsibility of multiple levels of government. There is a clear federal role, but a fundamental principle in emergency management is that provincial, territorial and local governments are reasonably prepared for the most common emergencies.
The NESS is the federal government's health emergency stockpile. It plays two important roles: It provides a surge capacity to provinces and territories when their own resources have been exhausted, and it's the sole provider of certain assets required for public health emergencies. Think, for example, of costly and rarely used vaccines or antidotes.
It was created in 1952 initially in response to a threat of nuclear attack, and it was for civil defence purposes. It has changed since that time. Acquisitions have moved from beds, hospital units and blood donations to a point where we support all the purchases for mass evacuations and for responding to national disasters, including things like kits for setting up reception centres for displaced individuals.
Since 2001, as a result of terrorist attacks, SARS and H1N1, the role has changed to focus more on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. We began to move away from beds and blankets and increased our holdings of antiviral medications, a key treatment in response to viral outbreaks. The role of the NESS in terms of procurement has also evolved, as it has the potential for outsourcing, purchasing and distributing. It's a clearing house and it really set us up well for a response in this pandemic.
Basically, the NESS was structured to prepare for low-probability high-impact events, like terrorist attacks and major national disasters, and arrange for a continued availability of pharmaceuticals, equipment and medical supplies that are rare or difficult to obtain. It's a niche role in stockpiling certain rare high-value assets.
To respond to COVID, we mobilized the procurement abilities we have in the NESS, working with our provinces and territories and very closely with Public Services and Procurement Canada and Health Canada, to procure supplies primarily for front-line health care workers. We have worked closely with a range of partners, we've ramped up our internal capacity and we've been deploying NESS equipment and supplies.
I would like to hand it over to my colleague Éric Dagenais. He can provide you an overview of our PPE procurement and distribution work in the context of the response to COVID-19.
Okay, Mr. Chair. I will endeavour to do that.
Thank you to my colleague Sally Thornton for the overview. I'll take just a few moments to outline the Public Health Agency's role in the Government of Canada's strategy.
As COVID-19 cases began to spread outside of China, global demand for PPE and other medical supplies increased to unprecedented levels. In response to that, the Public Health Agency initiated a dialogue with provinces and territories in January, analyzed existing stockpiles and assessed anticipated pressure. In March Canada initiated a collective buying power. We went to international markets together with the provinces to source bulk procurement for PPE, medical supplies and equipment.
After that, it soon became clear that we needed to buy, transport, test and deliver more PPE than we ever had before, and that a whole-of-government approach was needed to bolster the Public Health Agency's existing expertise and efforts. This level of massive PPE procurement and distribution required innovative procurement from Public Services and Procurement Canada, and investment in Canadian domestic capacity as led by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Companies such as Bauer, Canada Goose, Irving and CAE retooled to make everything from face shields to ventilators. We are also supported by expedited regulatory approvals facilitated by our colleagues at Health Canada and by the large-scale logistical expertise from the Canadian Armed Forces.
At this moment, I want to thank Colonel Poudrier and his team, who showed up here maybe six weeks ago. They have been absolutely instrumental in our efforts on the logistics side. I very much thank Colonel Poudrier and his team. On that, I should mention that many public servants from across departments, including me, joined the Public Health Agency to support the response during this pandemic.
In terms of quality verification, you may have questions on this, so I'll talk about it a bit. The Public Health Agency has started to receive deliveries of domestic and international supplies. The intense level of global competition means that we're engaged with new suppliers and manufacturers. This is a reality that other countries are facing. As a result, as PPE arrives, and sometimes before it arrives, the Public Health Agency conducts an assessment to confirm that it meets the specifications for health care settings for COVID-19 response.
Our top priority in these efforts is the health and safety of our front-line health care workers. To that end, we undertake, along with support from Health Canada and the National Research Council, rigorous technical assessment to procure PPE that will meet the Government of Canada's technical specifications for health care settings. Upon receipt, the process for verification varies, depending on the medical device. [Technical difficulty—Editor] to verify for defects in design and construction [Technical difficulty—Editor]
I'd like to welcome the officials from both departments. Thank you very much for the great work that you have been doing, given the challenges we are facing.
Let me start with Ms. Thornton and PHAC.
Ms. Thornton, in your opening remarks, you talked about how the agency has evolved, how the NESS has evolved over the past while, and where the focus is. With regard to PHAC's mandate, two of the core mandates stood out to me. One was “prevent and control infectious diseases”, and the other was “prepare for and respond to public health emergencies”.
Can you quickly shed light on how you monitor these infectious diseases that are being spread internationally, as well as domestically?
My first question is for you, Ms. Thornton and Mr. Dagenais. I would like to come back to the millions of masks that were thrown out when the warehouse in Regina closed, since I'm having a hard time understanding how that could have happened.
I know that your role is to send the provinces what they need at their request. I worked for a number of businesses that had warehouses. When we made a purchase, we had to follow up based on the date of the purchase and the expiry date of the product. We had to make absolutely sure that the product was used before it expired.
Does Canada, your agency, have a plan? If so, why was that plan not followed in the case of those nine million masks?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Thornton noted in her opening remarks that the national emergency strategic stockpile supply evolved from the 2003 SARS outbreak to the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, which necessitated a shift in its role, but then in her further comments, she said that it's the sole provider of certain assets that are required for rare public emergencies.
In 2008, a Senate committee concluded that the previous Conservative government had underfunded and mismanaged our emergency stockpile. The report at the time was provocatively entitled “Emergency Preparedness in Canada: How the fine arts of bafflegab and procrastination hobble the people who will be to save you when things get really bad”.
I heard some of the responses to Ms. Vignola, but I'm unwilling to accept that 20% of what we have in terms of our surge demand.... If understand correctly, there have been 11 million N95 masks purchased to date, and 20% of those were thrown out last year, as reported last month, because they had passed the limit for their use of five years. So you were literally sitting on the stockpile.
To Ms. Thornton, these are not just products. These are literally people's lives, so I'm wondering what is being done. I know that hindsight is 20/20, but what is being done to ensure that the policies and procedures in place, which would have had that stockpile prepared and procured in Regina, is replenished and redistributed in a meaningful way, looking forward to what's going to come and what will likely be the second wave of this?
If I may just repeat, we do have an inventory management system in place. It deals with the purchase and the expiration, and we look to find good use for product prior to expiration. If it is well after expiration, we would not distribute anything that might impose risk or cause risk to the end-user.
It's interesting, though, on the NESS and its role, to think about it in terms of our overall budget and mandate. The operational budget and mandate for the NESS has been about $3 million a year. Compare that with some of the procurement that we are doing now, which is in the billions, but also the incremental investments that we've made in the NESS over the last 10 years have been for very specific purposes, things like smallpox or Ebola vaccines.
On a go-forward basis, I think we are establishing a good process, not just for the national emergency strategic stockpile, but for a national system whereby we work with provinces and territories, which ultimately are accountable for maintaining stockpiles within their respective jurisdictions, to have greater transparency about what each party has and the burn rate—
I would like to thank all of the witnesses.
I know first-hand, it must be said, what an incredible effort at organization has been made by the folks at PSPC, and I know, second-hand, by the folks at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
I think that Canadians are and will continue to be well served by those teams and those public servants. That is worth mentioning. I thank you all for your hard work. I know that it is a 24/7 job, so I thank you very much.
Mr. Matthews, let me ask, pursuant to the questions of Mr. McCauley and just to clean something up really quickly, are we still actively searching for sources of the N95 supply?
Does anyone from PHAC want to comment on that? If not, I'll move on.
Let me segue from that because Mr. McCauley was also interested in domestic sources. I think one of the emerging success stories in the absolutely sombre nature of this pandemic has been the efforts to stand up a domestic supply of PPE and other innovations.
Mr. Matthews, I want to ask you about working with departments like ISED and with the Public Health Agency. We've been able to secure LOIs and, in some cases, contracts with many domestic suppliers.
Can you tell me about how that process works? How would we go about identifying potential domestic suppliers of PPE, for example, and what are the procurement steps that would ultimately be involved in getting material?
The question did highlight that we are indeed working with colleagues at ISED to identify potential domestic capacity. That could be either a new stand-up facility, or retooling of an existing factory to manufacture something different. ISED beats the bushes to basically identify potential companies that are interested and capable of delivering to the Government of Canada.
To date we have issued about 44 or 45 LOIs with ISED, and they have turned into 24 contracts. In some cases you can issue an LOI and that's as far as it goes, but you enter into discussions with the intent of hopefully reaching a contract. There are still about seven in active discussions of those 44 LOIs.
First up, you would have seen domestic supplies start in hand sanitizers. There are some great success stories there. Face shields followed very quickly after that. What's coming next are gowns, and they've started to arrive. Ventilators and masks will be next up, with some swabs as well. It's been evolving, and certainly there are early successes, as I mentioned, on face shields and hand sanitizers, and on the gowns that are now starting to arrive as well.
Perhaps I'll start and then go over to my colleague to talk about what has happened with Quebec, in particular.
Just to be clear, those masks that expired were purchased in 2009. They expired five years afterwards, in 2014, and they were destroyed in 2019, well before we had any inkling that this would be coming upon us. What we have done is to retain some other expired stock much more recently.
Health Canada, in an emergency, can often actually give you the authority to use expired materials. They still have to be subjected to a verification to make sure they do not pose any risk to the end-user. For anything that we did have, as well, we talked to our provinces and territories that also had expired stock. Where we were able to get the authority from Health Canada to use expired product, subject to a visual inspection, we did.
To begin with, I would disagree with the closing part of your argument. I actually believe that NESS was managed according to its mandate and its funding.
Having said that, on a go-forward basis, there are many lessons that we have been learning that we have begun to implement. I suspect that the management not just of the national emergency strategic stockpile but also of the federal-provincial-territorial discussions, arrangements and understanding of what is out there broadly will change dramatically.
We are working closely through logistic advisory committees and a number of deputy and ministerial forums to identify needs, burn rates, not just for the immediate...but also for ongoing business as economies open and, potentially, preparation for a second wave. That is a completely different order of business than we've had in the past and we are laying some very good groundwork in getting the information that we need, as well the provinces' relationships.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would just start off the top by responding to that last comment by saying that to leave a stockpile of supplies five years past its expiry date in a warehouse, to me, is the very definition of mismanagement.
I'm going to turn some of my comments over to PSPC.
We have been advised that PSPC has established agreements with Canadian companies, which are obviously stepping up to support Canada's efforts. We were given a list. It's not a limited list: there were 12 companies on that list.
Can you tell me how many of the Canadian companies that we've contracted with have been given 10-year contracts similar to Medicom's?
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with MP Weiler.
I have one follow-up question for Madam Thornton.
You indicated in a response to a question that one of our colleagues raised today.... You took exception by saying that your department or the NESS operated within its mandate and within its funding. We've heard over the last few hours about how the mandate of the NESS has changed and how you've responded.
You also mentioned that the budget for the NESS is about $3 million. With the new evolving mandate—and you responded by saying how it's evolving—do you have the sufficient funding to be able to not only get us through this, but also position us for our future?
After the answer, I'll yield the rest of the time to Mr. Weiler.
The government, writ large, has been very good about making sure that we have the appropriate funding to do what needs to be done. The Public Health Agency of Canada is relying on a number of different partners to do so, including the Canadian Armed Forces and other folks from within the federal family who are joining us on assignment.
We're a relatively small organization of about 2,000 people for the whole agency, and within the NESS, it really is, originally, 18 people and an operational budget of $3 million. We were not structured to do something of this magnitude. We do now have the capacity. It's been borrowed, and it will be funded. I also suspect that, as a result of this, both the mandate and the funding of the NESS will be informed by the process, and what our expectations are, going forward, will be changed radically.
I would flag, though, that it's not just within the federal family in terms of the national emergency strategic stockpile. It's the system. It's the working with our provinces and territories, understanding what's happened in the jurisdictions, understanding their needs and determining who is respectively responsible, who will purchase, and where things will be stockpiled. So, I think there's a much greater oversight, monitoring and management role. At the end of the day, I suspect that the purchasing and the stockpiling will rest with provinces and local governments where it's probably best positioned.
That's a great question, Mr. Chair.
That is part of the discussion. It's one thing to say you can manufacture in Canada, but it's another thing to say you can get the raw materials to manufacture in Canada. There's the capability and the raw materials, and the companies need both at their disposal to succeed in their endeavour.
When you look at gowns, the material necessary to make gowns is in really short supply. Health Canada, knowing that, actually approved two additional types of materials that are used and are now approved for gown making. The Canadian gown-manufacturing industry that has stood up is largely relying on these two new types of materials.
The other one that's popped up is a chemical that's necessary for a reagent, and so essential for the testing process. Initially it was in short supply, but we managed to bring some over from China. Now we have some Canadian manufacturing happening of a reagent as well. So you're seeing these types of things pop up. You can't have a discussion about manufacturing in Canada without talking about where the supplies are coming from.
My questions are for Mr. Matthews.
The written copy of your speech indicates that a call was made to suppliers on May 4. Just before that, you talked about motor carriers.
Did the May 4 call pertain to motor carriers?
Was it not possible to know before May 4 that there would be a need for additional carriers? I would like to determine whether your department was thinking ahead.
Finally, to date, how many responses have you received to your request for proposals?
I have a couple of points.
We often use a request for interest to gauge industry interest in terms of its ability to respond, so that was sent out. Then we went to the next step, which is a formal request for proposal. That proposal has now closed. We have had responses, which we are now evaluating. I believe we've had around five submissions, which we will go through and assess, and then we'll go through the normal procurement process and award a contract soon thereafter.
The reason for the actual work, itself, is that we, effectively, have hit a point where one plane per day coming out of China requires an awful lot of logistical supports. We can forecast a surge of materiel coming into our warehouse in China, and we're planning to make sure that we have adequate supports for goods to flow out of the warehouse onto planes and into Canada. To deal with that surge, we have temporarily put in a five-flight contract with UPS, which is very successful in upping the goods coming out. Then we decided that we should, maybe, put something more permanent in place in case there will be more surges to deal with.
I thank you for the question.
Mr. Chair, we do have an inventory management system. On the items that were five years past expiry, there would have been no demand for those products or they would have been used prior. On a go-forward basis, though, I do think that this whole episode, the pandemic, will inform not just how the federal government approaches our national emergency strategic stockpile but also our relationship and engagement with the provinces and territories.
There has been a significant increase in transparency. When we did our first call-out, provinces and territories largely had distribution systems within their own organizations and could not tell us right off the top what they had in their stockpiles, what they needed and what their burn rates were. Through this, we've actually all learned about the use of PPE, and not just for the health system; we're beginning, collectively, to also learn about that outside of the health system.
I think it's going to be very different in terms of management and collaboration with the provinces and territories, and ultimately in terms of some principles around stockpiling. We're beginning to identify not just for the next wave, but what would be appropriate as a matter of course. Is it a six-week burn rate? Is it a one-week burn rate? Also, where and who should actually have those stockpiles?
I think it'll be very different. I'm not sure how different it'll be from the actual federal stockpile, but probably a great deal different from the federal collaboration with our provinces and territories.
There are a couple of things I would share on this front. You're already seeing a live rethink. It's clear that a high percentage of the PPE that is in demand comes from outside the country and particularly out of China, so you saw a country that was the main supplier for a lot of countries being pressed in terms of its manufacturing capability.
You've already seen the domestic stand-up starts in Canada. I've mentioned hand sanitizer, face shields, gowns, ventilators and masks to come. In that group of domestic suppliers and manufacturers, I think you will see a core doing this on a temporary basis, just until things come back to normal, and others making it a more permanent endeavour. I would say the rethink has already started, because you're seeing some of this capacity that will stay with us.
Hence, and we've talked about it a few times already, there's the 10-year deal with Medicom for masks. That's because there's a desire to have an ongoing presence for Canadian-supplied masks for the future, not just to get us through this.
We will reconvene. Thank you, colleagues.
We have about 15 minutes left. I want to deal with future witnesses and future meetings. As you know, next week we do not have a meeting on Monday because of Victoria Day. We will have a meeting on Friday, May 22, and the , will be with us at that time.
I'm going to ask Raphaëlle in just a moment to go forward with the proposed witness lists for the remaining meetings, but first I have a comment.
Taking a look at the meetings yet to come, I notice that there are a number of witnesses committee members have suggested who have provided testimony at other standing committees, and that's fine. I'm just hoping we can avoid duplication of testimony. If witnesses who have appeared at the finance committee or at other committees are coming to testify before us, as long as they are providing new testimony, that's great, but I would hate to think that we would be just rehashing the same old testimony that has been heard before.
That's my only comment on that matter.
Raphaëlle, could you please give us a little update on some of the witnesses and some of the meetings on your work plan that are yet to come before we adjourn Parliament for the summer?
The committee has approved the ninth meeting, which will be on May 25, on cybersecurity. After that, in the work plan that Ryan and I have proposed, there would be a 10th meeting on the oversight of government activities.
I want to point out to members that both the PBO and the interim auditor general appeared before FINA this week, this past Tuesday. However, a new AG has been appointed this week.
Then for the 11th meeting, we have representatives from the Government of Alberta and also a non-profit organization. The 12th meeting would be on industry groups. The last meeting we have proposed would be the 13th, and it would be on procurement and benefits, with two ministers, and .
Colleagues, I believe you have all received copies of the proposed work plan from Raphaëlle. I will invite commentary now if you think we're missing a witness or if there are some witnesses we do not need to hear from because of duplication.
Steve, I'm not sure if you have information on this or not, but we will officially be reconvened in Parliament on May 25. I'm not sure if there's any thought being given to whether or not Parliament will continue until the end of our normal scheduled parliamentary calendar or if there are any amendments to that calendar.
Colleagues, first, if you have a question or comment or suggestion, raise your hand, and we will try to take you in order.
It could be the same panel at the same time or one after the other or, when is here, the DM from Health Canada should be here.
Frankly, I'm getting tired of this. Again, we had Public Services and Procurement. We asked questions. We're told to ask PHAC. We have PHAC. We're told to ask Health. We say, “Well, you're part of Health.” We're told, “No, you should ask someone else.”
I hate to be cynical, because that's not my nature, but I'm starting to sense a real pattern here of their realizing, “Hey, the other people aren't in the room. Let's blame them and not answer the question.”
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate that.
Unlike Mr. McCauley, I have not immersed myself in the blues of other committees to see what questions are being asked in those committees of the witnesses that we are duplicating in our own committee. I would suggest that maybe they are asking different questions than we might, from a government operations perspective. I'm not sure, though, unless somebody wants to provide me with that testimony so that I can make sure my questions are not duplications, should those witnesses appear here.
You know, years ago when I was on OGGO, when we were looking at inviting witnesses, we endeavoured to have some idea about where we wanted to go with our questioning so that they could advise us. We tried to see who might be the most appropriate witnesses to invite so that we didn't find ourselves asking questions that were being referred to another department or deferred to someone who was not in the room.
I'm not sure how that would work. Perhaps when we are looking at different witnesses and inviting them, we should be asking a department who might be best suited to come. We have in our own minds who that might be, but maybe the department could recommend someone, given the line of questioning that has been coming to them from this committee.
I'm reluctant to say that it's not worth it to have them here just because they've shown up at another committee. If we were sitting, we'd be meeting twice a week, as we are now, so I don't think there's any reason we can't just continue on the path we're on.
My only suggestion will be that we don't know what will happen after May 25. We don't know what will be potentially negotiated. We have no idea how long.... As you've mentioned, Mr. Chair, we may be back into regular sessions. Who knows?
I would keep the schedule at a two-week interval, and then reconvene this committee to have the opportunity to discuss the agenda.
The other point I'll mention is that we can blame departments for pointing fingers and blaming the other part, but there's also a responsibility that's incumbent upon us to ask the proper questions. The questions to Health Canada were with regard to licensing and who gives the licence, the authority, to sell medical devices, and it's not Public Health. It is Health Canada.
That's the point I want to make. Yes, we can be frustrated about this, but it's also incumbent on the questioner to ask the proper questions to the witnesses who are before us.
has already been here twice. How many more times do we want her? Do we want her every week? I'm just trying to get a sense of the committee. Are we going to invite ministers and have them come back every week?
Sometimes you may not get satisfactory answers to your questions, but if you go on a wild goose chase, sometimes you just won't find a goose there. I don't have any objections to having her appear at the 13th meeting, but we've already had her twice in the space of a month. I'm just trying to understand this situation. How many times do we want to appear before this committee?
Yes, I fully support Mr. McCauley's call. I may have been called “combative” today, but it's born from a frustration of getting information passed back and forth between departments that may not happen to be there on a particular day.
It's really about having accountability. We don't have the public accounts committee operating right now. We're in the middle of a pandemic and a crisis. I think that the ministers have a responsibility to be responsible, and that includes coming before members of this committee to provide testimony that would get to the heart of the questions that we're asking.
Therefore, I fully support it and I would encourage us to continue this work. I'm still not satisfied, quite frankly, with the answers that I'm getting. It's stonewalling. We can ask the same questions five different ways if we're not getting the answers because they're kicking it somewhere else.
Anyway, I fully support Kelly in his position here.
Yes, it's just somewhat to follow up on Mr. MacKinnon's comments. They were fair comments by him and Mr. Drouin, and today was a perfect example. How many times did we ask PHAC valid questions and hear, “Well, that's Health Canada” or “Maybe it's Health Canada”?
I saw answers to Mr. Green and Mrs. Block about the MDEL, and the answer was “Health Canada”. When we had here, we were asking very valid questions about the national stockpile, and we were told, “Well, that's Health Canada” or “That's PHAC”. PHAC shows up and says, “Oh, that's someone else.” Yes, I understand that we can't continue this forever, but we have to continue until we get answers, so I suspect we might have to continue a bit.
Mr. Drouin and Mr. MacKinnon, I certainly take your points and I understand them.
Thank you, Mr. MacKinnon. My own comments are somewhat aligned with yours.
Colleagues, it has certainly been my experience, and I think the experience of clerks and others, that ministers are very reluctant to appear with non-government witnesses, so on the suggestion, which I think came from Mr. McCauley, that perhaps we schedule Minister Anand with representatives from Canada Post or Amazon I just don't think is in the cards. I doubt very much if the minister would accept such an invitation.
I'm inclined to agree with Steve that we have a work plan that has been suggested. I haven't heard anything suggesting that we radically change the work plan and schedule that Raphaëlle has so carefully put together. My suggestion is that we follow the work plan as proposed, and if there are any serious differences of opinion, or if there are additional witnesses that one committee member would like to see who have not been included in the work plan, then submit those to our clerk. Between our clerk and our analysts, I'm sure we can come up with some sort of an amended schedule.
My feeling right now is to try, as I said, to ring-fence this and get moving forward unless there's any serious objection. We can just conclude this discussion and go forward with the work plan as proposed.
Mr. Clerk, I don't see any other interventions, and so I'll turn it back over to you.
I think what Paul has suggested is a very sensible way forward. If we find, as we're getting closer to the end of this parliamentary session, that there still has not been an official appointment of an Auditor General, then of course we can invite officials from the interim Auditor General's office to appear before us if we wish.
So that we're all on the same page, Paul has suggested we continue with the work plan up until and including the May 29 meeting of OGGO, and before the conclusion of that meeting we will have a discussion to determine meetings and witness lists as we go forward.
In the interim, if anyone has any suggestions as to potential witnesses, I would ask that you get them to our clerk, who can then share them with the analysts as quickly as possible. Does that make sense to everyone?
All right. Having said that, Paul, I don't know how we proceed. Do we need a recorded vote to approve this?
I believe we see some concurrence for that, Paul. Why don't you go ahead with the recorded vote?
(Motion agreed to: yeas 10; nays 0 [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Thank you very much, colleagues.
We're a little over time, but I want to wish you all a very happy Victoria Day weekend, a long weekend. I hope it's healthy and safe. Stay with your loved ones, and we will see you back next Friday.
Have a great weekend, everyone. We are adjourned.