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View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
Mr. Speaker, today we are introducing a motion for debate in the House. This motion invites all sitting members from all parties, the 338 members of the House of Commons, to do some serious soul-searching.
Let us think back to the pandemic. Let us think back to the report that the Parliamentary Budget Officer released after the pandemic. He said that there had been $500 billion in COVID-specific spending, but he could not explain where $200 billion of it had gone. In the report, he says that, although spending was needed during the pandemic, there were amazingly few controls. This first report highlighted something very important. He was unable to explain $200 billion in spending. We may now even be able to see that some of the remaining $300 billion in spending was a bit fishy.
Another very important person involved in scrutinizing what happens to public funds is the Auditor General of Canada. Last year, the Conservative Party asked the House to vote. In November 2022, the Auditor General was asked to investigate ArriveCAN. ArriveCAN seemed a little strange from the start. It is a tool intended to track people's movements and obtain information on their vaccination status. In theory, it should not have cost much. However, we eventually became aware that something was wrong. It was costing a lot of money to create something that should not have been all that complicated. When certain information was brought to light, particularly concerning contracts with some odd people, it was decided that an investigation was in order.
The Auditor General did her job. She spent almost a year and a half trying to get answers. Let us put ourselves in the shoes of Canada’s Auditor General, who is appointed to work independently to verify and examine everything concerning the administration of public funds in relation to a particular file. She released her report two weeks ago, saying she was discouraged and was unable to carry out her work. From what she could see, at least $60 million was spent on this app, but it could have been more, because she could not find the supporting documentation. She could not find the contracts. When she did find an invoice, there were no details. It simply listed an amount of a few million dollars, and the cheque was sent out. She was really depressed to see how public funds were handled in this file.
In addition to the Auditor General, the procurement ombud did his own analysis, and our motion today mentions that too. He released a report a week or two ago, stating that 76% of the companies involved in the ArriveCAN file had performed no work. That means that $45 million was paid to people who did not even do any work. It is one scandal after another. When the Auditor General's report was released, I said it was the tip of the iceberg. I was sure more would be found and that this was not over.
Today, we want to shed light specifically on ArriveCAN. We have a great deal of information showing that there was outright corruption. At what level was the corruption happening? Who did it? How did they do it? We do not know, but we want to know. That is why we need to get to the bottom of this matter. I expect everyone in the House to support the motion that the Conservative Party is putting forward today. There is nothing remotely political about the Conservative Party's motion. It is a motion containing three specific points with specific queries about documents. This is simply an effort to shed light on the matter, so that the House can get the documents and information necessary to understand what went on in with ArriveCAN.
Last week, I sat on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The Auditor General was there. The deputy minister of procurement and the assistant deputy minister of departmental oversight also attended. I asked the latter, whose office is in charge of oversight, a question concerning ArriveCAN, and she did not know what to say. She started giving me a vague answer. I told her that I did not want a written answer that did not mean anything. I wanted a real answer. I asked a question, which appears in the record of the meeting. I asked her if, when she heard about this issue a year and a half ago, everyone in her office started banging their heads against the wall wondering what was going on.
We could see that no one really knew what was going on. Another thing to take into account is that there are people in offices who have specific oversight functions, but still do not know what is going on or, in any case, do not appear to know or do not want to know. I do not know what to make of all this. The point is that the federal government’s overall management of public funds is troubling. As I mentioned earlier, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let us keep in mind that the Parliamentary Budget Officer did not even know where $200 billion of the budget deficit had gone. We are now dealing with the ArriveCAN scandal, an app that cost $60 million when it should have cost $80,000. There are a lot of questions about government spending in general.
We also learned other very important facts. Minh Doan, the Prime Minister’s chief information officer at the Information, Science and Technology Branch, apparently deleted tens of thousands of emails concerning ArriveCAN. Why would he have deleted tens of thousands of emails documenting discussions between the people who were managing ArriveCAN if there was nothing to hide? That is another problem we have to solve. That is one of the reasons why the House of Commons needs to examine this issue in depth.
This morning we learned something else about the member for Québec, the current Minister of Public Services and Procurement. During COVID-19, he was the president of the Treasury Board and therefore responsible for issuing contract management directives. I even asked him some questions at the time at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates about contract management. The minister did not seem to know how to answer. He often offloaded questions to his deputy minister. Since last summer's cabinet shuffle, he is now the Minister of Public Services and Procurement. According to La Presse, the minister's briefing book contained some sensitive items. The minister was told to pay attention to the shipbuilding strategy with Davie, the F-35 file and other issues. However, there were no notes about ArriveCAN. At the time, the Auditor General was conducting an investigation into a matter related to the procurement of federal government contracts. The ArriveCAN file was not even part of the minister's briefing. He was not even told to pay attention to it or that it was a sensitive issue. That is another question that needs to be explored. Why is it that when someone leads a department, they do not get any notes on a file that is being investigated by the Auditor General? There are so many questions, which is why our motion is very clear.
I will close by referring to the mandate letter issued to the member for Québec when he was president of the Treasury Board. In the mandate letter, the Prime Minister clearly states:
I also expect us to continue to raise the bar on openness, effectiveness and transparency in government. This means a government that is open by default. It means better digital capacity and services for Canadians. It means a strong and resilient public service. It also means humility and continuing to acknowledge mistakes when we make them.
That last sentence is what I would like to hear from the government. I would like it to acknowledge that it made mistakes. Since the tabling of the Auditor General's report, we have yet to hear the government express a modicum of regret. On the contrary, it tries to put it off, saying it will do better in the future. These mandate letters are useless because all we see is scandals and the government does not seem to want acknowledge the truth.
View Julie Vignola Profile
View Julie Vignola Profile
2024-02-27 11:16 [p.21354]
Mr. Speaker, we are gathered here today to discuss a Conservative Party opposition motion. While we expected to have another of many motions on the carbon tax, which does not apply in Quebec and represents less than 0.15% of inflation, it was a wonderful surprise to see that we were going to talk about something else. Honestly, that feels good.
Today's motion is on the ArriveCAN application, a matter that has been before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates for study since October 22 and for which I have the pleasure of reading every document that we receive. In fact, I have prepared a table of contents, and, so far, these documents represent 27 pages of table of contents. That will give members an idea. What is more, I have not even finished it all yet. I also want to point out that my hon. colleague from Terrebonne, who is also examining the ArriveCAN app at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, is the next speaker. I will be sharing my time with her.
So far, we have met with 46 witnesses and received two briefs, as well as tens of thousands of pages of documents. Just to give members an idea, the table of contents so far is 27 pages long. Naturally, I have not read it all yet. Reading is one thing, analyzing is another. Connecting each piece of information to form a cohesive and coherent whole will take more than five minutes. It will take more than a 15-second sound bite on social media.
Why introduce this motion today if the subject is being studied in committee? Some of us may be wondering. This is one of the questions I will attempt to answer in my speech by giving an overview of the situation as we understand it so far. I will talk more about what ArriveCAN is and about what has happened since 2022, in other words, about what we have learned.
ArriveCAN is an app that travellers were obliged to use for declaring their vaccination status at customs. The first contracts for ArriveCAN date from 2017, long before the pandemic. The aim of these contracts was to create an app that would facilitate declarations at Canadian customs. The health aspect was added to the app in 2020. That is when everything appears to have started going off the rails.
How much was the app supposed to cost at first? So far, the answer appears to be $80,000. In 2022, it was to cost around $250,000, after a team of young programmers copied the app. The team told us in committee that copying an app is much easier than starting from scratch but that, even if they had created it from scratch, applying the security codes and updates, it would not have cost $54 million, the number that was being bandied about at the time. We are now at a cost of $59.5 million.
After that, we found out more about ArriveCAN and its cost. Our investigation revealed that consulting firms had been given hefty contracts. What did these consultants do? Essentially, they turned on their computer, accessed LinkedIn to find specialists and listed them along with their daily fees. Incidentally, the consultants invoiced between $1,000 and $1,500 a day for specialists.
However, we found out through the ombud that 76% of the people on the list of IT specialists submitted by GC Strategies never worked on the app. Other specialists, who were not on the original list, and with who knows what qualifications, did the work. I hope people are following me. That is essentially what the consulting firms did. At the end of the day, they invoiced 15% to 30% to submit names. In short, 15% to 30% of the daily fees invoiced were for specialists who did not end up working on the app.
That reminds me. Remember the two guys who set up a company and, within seven days, had a $237-million contract for 10,000 ventilators? They took that contract and gave it to Baylis Medical, a company owned by a Liberal MP who lost his seat in the 2019 election. If we apply that same percentage, 15%, which is the minimum, that means those two guys pocketed $40 million seven days after starting their business. That sounds a lot like GC Strategies, but in this case, things started well before the pandemic. Things started in 2015 for GC Strategies and in 2007 for Coredal Systems Consulting.
That is the Canadian dream, being a consultant and having an extraordinary ability to find people on LinkedIn. There are similarities there. People set up a business in their basement, take a quick look around and end up with millions of dollars in their pocket at the end of the day. This is all strangely reminiscent of a system that we need to study, analyze and investigate. GC Strategies is not the first of its kind. Its predecessors include companies such as Coredal Systems Consulting and FTI Professional Grade. This is a big deal. The Auditor General says she has never seen worse record-keeping than in the ArriveCAN books. That is a big deal.
Today's motion is about accountability. Yes, the opposition certainly has a role to play in drawing attention to information like that. However, it is not up to Julie Vignola alone, or the member for Terrebonne or a small research team to sift through tens of thousands of pages to find every item related to ArriveCAN. At some point, accountability is also the government's responsibility. It knows where it invested taxpayers' money.
Speaking of taxes, it would be nice if companies hired by the government did not use tax havens, which may be the case for one company that got millions through the ArriveCAN contract. I would encourage everyone to read today's La Presse.
We are being criticized for voting in favour of ArriveCAN. I will point out the estimates in question. ArriveCAN is mentioned in the supplementary estimates (B), 2021-22, on pages pages 2-2 and 2-82. ArriveCAN is also mentioned in the supplementary estimates (C), 2021-22, on page 1-19.
These budgets were voted on as a block. If we had voted against them, like the Conservative Party members did, we would have been voting against the construction and management of indigenous women's shelters, against financial support for festivals and tourism, against community revitalization, against financial support for mental health and against support for Afghan nationals, support that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles was screaming for in the House. We also would have been voting against the procurement of PPE.
There is a problem. We agree with the motion, but we also need to put the CBSA under third-party management, because whistle-blowers have been warning of serious problems for quite some time, particularly regarding passports, and members of both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party have turned a blind eye to these problems. It is time to put this agency under administrative supervision. We will vote yes, but we need to go even further.
View Greg McLean Profile
View Greg McLean Profile
2024-02-27 11:28 [p.21355]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague from Quebec, but I have other comments and questions about other companies that received a lot of grants and contracts from the Liberal government during the pandemic.
In my opinion and that of my colleagues, the Liberals hid behind the pandemic to hand out a lot of money to their friends.
Is the member aware of the other contracts like the one that went to Medicago? What has been happening with Medicago from the time the contract was awarded until now?
View Julie Vignola Profile
View Julie Vignola Profile
2024-02-27 11:29 [p.21355]
Mr. Speaker, when the pandemic started, we might recall that, in terms of vaccine procurement, the federal government put all its eggs in one basket. It reached an agreement with the Chinese government, but the agreement fell through. We were left in the lurch, with no access to vaccines.
Then the Government of Canada decided to diversify its potential pool of vaccine producers, including Medicago, but not without some risk. Some producers, not just Medicago, failed to deliver vaccines for various reasons and, unfortunately, the Government of Canada lost its deposit payment. Following a decision by Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma, Medicago no longer exists. A decision was made.
Yes, we lost money, but it could have easily turned out in our favour. There was a race to be the first to manufacture vaccines and get access to the market.
View Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné Profile
View Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné Profile
2024-02-27 11:32 [p.21356]
Mr. Speaker, nearly two weeks ago, the Auditor General released a scathing report regarding the government's handling of the ArriveCAN app. The Auditor General said that the management of the app was one of the worst examples she has seen in her career.
Now we are learning that the ArriveCAN file is just the tip of the iceberg. The purpose of the app was for people to register travel with the CBSA in the context of COVID‑19. The app was supposed to cost $80,000. Another company said it would have cost about $250,000 to develop. We are talking about an app that cost only $12 million in France for a population of 70 million people. I could name other examples where this app cost far less in other countries. Unfortunately, in Canada, it cost nearly $60 million.
I mentioned the tip of the iceberg. The fact is, the Auditor General and her team could not even put an exact figure on the cost of the app. That is where the problem starts. That is the crux of the problem. It has to do with a procurement process that was completely disregarded. The Auditor General and the procurement ombud have come forward with some pretty serious allegations that Public Services and Procurement Canada and other departments simply did not follow what is supposed to be an exemplary procurement process worthy of a G7 country.
Here are a few examples. The average daily cost for this app was about $1,090, whereas it is usually around $675 for IT positions.
View Francesco Sorbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Francesco Sorbara Profile
2024-02-27 15:40 [p.21394]
Madam Speaker, it is always wonderful to rise in this most honourable House to speak on various topics, and today, the opposition motion.
If we remember the period of 2021 and the global pandemic, our government undertook a number of measures to both protect Canadians and assist Canadians. We protected Canadians by receiving and contracting for vaccines and getting personal protective equipment, and we assisted Canadians, Canadian workers and Canadian businesses through the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the CERB and a number of other measures. We literally kept a part of the economy going that was basically frozen due to the pandemic, and, working with our provincial colleagues, that allowed us to come out of the pandemic faster and stronger than any other country across the G7, across our developed partners. We see the results today in our employment numbers and our unemployment rate, in our GDP growth and in where the country is going. We had the backs of Canadians during the pandemic; we will always have the backs of Canadians, and we did the right thing.
With regard to today's opposition motion, let me make a few comments.
I want to begin by saying that our government is committed to protecting the integrity of the federal procurement process. The recent allegations related to the procurement of professional services for the ArriveCAN app are simply unacceptable. The Auditor General and the procurement ombud have uncovered inappropriate conduct on the part of some suppliers and some government officials.
While investigations are still under way into what happened in these cases, we are acting now on behalf of Canadians and implementing the recommendations of the Auditor General and the procurement ombud.
I want to reiterate that our government is deeply concerned about the allegations regarding the procurement of IT services for the ArriveCAN app. Furthermore, taxpayers have the right to ask tough questions about how public funds were spent.
While important questions have been raised about the conduct of a handful of public servants during the ArriveCAN procurement process, I want to emphasize that Canada was facing an emergency at the time and that so many others in the public service stepped up to meet the needs.
In the spring of 2020, we were faced with one of the most serious public health crises our country has ever seen. I am proud to say that our government made every effort to protect Canadians by purchasing essential supplies and services. Meeting the needs of Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic was a monumental task on many fronts, for the government and for the world.
Public servants worked non-stop to support our frontline health care professionals and all those keeping Canadians safe. From the beginning, public servants followed a deliberate, strategic and comprehensive plan that helped Canada get results.
We can all take pride in the fact that our focused approach allowed Canada to secure a supply of vaccines and personal protective equipment when we needed them most and to ultimately get us out of the pandemic. Yes, I do believe in vaccinations; I do believe in science, and I do believe in doctors. We supplied those vaccines to Canadians, and we protected Canadians. Unfortunately, we had about 57,000 Canadians pass away due to COVID and its impact, but we protected millions.
In fact, Canada was a world leader on this front, thanks to the hard work of many Canadians across the country. We acted quickly, because we had to, but that does not excuse the mismanagement that has been uncovered with respect to the ArriveCAN app.
I want to assure the House and all Canadians that the findings of the Auditor General and the procurement ombud are being taken seriously and that we trust our law enforcement agencies, such as the RCMP, to investigate any wrongdoing.
Let me be absolutely clear on the fact that any criminal wrongdoing will lead to consequences. Our government's goal now is to strengthen certain aspects of the federal procurement system, and I know that public servants will use these lessons learned to improve the way they do business with contractors.
Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, is the central purchasing agent for the government and has an important role to play here. For ArriveCAN, PSPC provided support to the Canada Border Services Agency with contracting tools and lists of suppliers that could be used for the project. It was incumbent on the CBSA to define the requirements for ArriveCAN and to manage the ArriveCAN development and maintenance contracts, based on the policy direction provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Even though greater flexibility in procurement allows us to be more agile, especially in times of crisis, it is clear that the governance and monitoring around procurement needs to be improved. I want the House to know that PSPC has already taken measures to strengthen its processes and review its functions. In November, PSPC informed every government department and agency that it was adopting new, stricter measures, introducing a common set of principles and mandatory procedures that they must abide by to use PSPC's professional services contracting instruments.
These measures will enable PSPC to improve the evaluation requirements to ensure that resources are qualified, to demand more transparency from suppliers regarding their prices and use of subcontractors, to improve documentation when contracts are awarded and task authorizations are issued, to clarify the work requirements and activities, to specify the initiatives and projects being worked on, and to assess the resources just before the work begins to ensure that the services are indeed being provided by the proposed resources.
I would also like to mention the action our government is taking to improve and strengthen the integrity regime. Our government introduced the integrity regime in 2015 to foster ethical business practices, ensure due process and uphold the public trust. The integrity regime is always being improved and strengthened, including when it comes to fraud, and PSPC continually strives to ensure that we hold suppliers accountable for any misconduct.
On an ongoing basis, PSPC proactively uses data analysis to identify any inappropriate conduct and investigate any potential wrongdoing in contracts. If an investigation uncovers any wrongdoing, PSPC informs law enforcement so that a criminal investigation can be conducted. The department also seeks to recover the funds when wrongdoing is discovered.
In conclusion, I must emphasize that we are committed to using an open, fair and transparent procurement process while obtaining the best possible value for Canadian taxpayers. The ArriveCAN app was put in place to protect Canadians. It enabled us to keep Canadians safe by managing public health measures at the border in a time of crisis. It was absolutely necessary. Without that essential tool, Canada's ability to deploy the border measures necessary to protect public health would have been significantly diminished.
I look forward to questions and comments, and I hope everyone is having a great afternoon.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2024-02-27 16:26 [p.21400]
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to speak on behalf of the residents of my riding of Davenport. It will be my pleasure to share my time with the hon. member for Mississauga—Lakeshore.
I have some prepared remarks, but first I want to provide a bit of context for those who might be listening. I want to go into a few details about the motion that is before us today. In terms of context, we are going to be talking about the ArriveCAN app. For members of the public who might have forgotten, the ArriveCAN app was a key tool in protecting Canadians during the pandemic as we went travelling.
As we have come out of the pandemic, sometimes I think we have forgotten how intense a time it was and how historic a time it was. Literally, the world shut down on March 15, 2020. Professor Adam Tooze, Columbia University, wrote a book called Shutdown. He said that the first half of 2020 was historic; 95% of the world's economies suffered a simultaneous contraction. He said that had never happened before. Three billion adults were furloughed from their jobs or tried to work from home, and that had also never happened before. The sum of lost earnings just in the first months of the pandemic was $10 trillion U.S., more than a tenth of the global GDP.
The global economy was shut down, and the Canadian government was trying to grapple with what COVID-19 was, how we were going to keep Canadians safe, how we were going to ensure that people would be able to pay their bills, how we could protect Canadians, and how we could help our small and large businesses, our societies and our cities. That is what we were consumed with at the time.
People will recall that we were moving quickly and making lots of decisions, because we had to move quickly. The regular processes we had in place were not followed all of the time. A lot of the decisions around the ArriveCAN app happened during this time. It is important for us to remember that context.
The motion before us is an opposition day motion. Basically, it is asking for a lot of documentation around the ArriveCAN app to be tabled here in the House of Commons, in terms of the decision-making. There is also a portion about recouping all of the funds that were paid to develop the ArriveCAN app.
I will not be supporting the motion. The reason for that is that there are already a number of independent investigations under way right now, and we have to allow time for those investigations to be completed. They are being done by outstanding, independent organizations. Also, we have already heard from the Auditor General, and there are already a number of steps being taken. I believe there are some recommendations from the procurement ombud. I will go through a couple of those items right now.
CBSA has committed to implementing every recommendation set out by the Auditor General's report, as well as by the similar report by the procurement ombud. In addition to all of these independent reports, CBSA is also conducting an internal audit to assess the procurement practices. Where specific allegations of misconduct have been made, CBSA has launched an investigation that is still in process and has referred all allegations to the RCMP. A lot of work is under way. The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates is also looking into it. It is right for all of these investigations to be under way, particularly when there are concerns about anything that we are doing from a procurement perspective.
I am now going to move into my prepared remarks on government procurement.
The federal government is committed to ensuring that the procurement of goods and services is done in a fair, open and transparent manner, and, crucially, in accordance with policies, regulations, guidelines, trade agreements and procedures. Legislation, including the Financial Administration Act, along with Treasury Board policies, establishes clear requirements for the administration of government, including for contracting activities.
The Financial Administration Act sets out the requirements needed when the government is making public disbursements, which include contracts. For example, section 32 requires that funds be available before entering into a contract. Section 33 deals with ensuring that payments are lawful charges against the appropriation and that the appropriation is not exceeded.
The Treasury Board Secretariat, through the office of the comptroller general, provides government-wide direction to support the implementation of mandatory Treasury Board policies related to financial management and the management of assets and acquired services. The Treasury Board sets the administrative policies for federal procurement, guided by the principles of fairness, openness, transparency, competition, and integrity, all while ensuring best value.
For example, its directive on the management of procurement lays out the expectations and requirements that departments and agencies must follow so their procurements are managed in a way that supports the delivery of programs and services to Canadians. It is also managed in a way that will demonstrate the best value and in a way that is consistent with the Government of Canada's socio-economic and environmental objectives. This framework supports the management of procurement so it is fair, open and transparent.
There are also clearly defined responsibilities for government departments when conducting procurements, including those for services. First and foremost, government departments and agencies are expected to maintain the integrity of the procurement process and protect government spending from fraud and unethical business practices. This is done through internal processes and controls and through dedicated procurement professionals and effective mechanisms for the disclosure of any wrongdoing.
Second, government departments and agencies are responsible for clearly defining the intended outcomes of a procurement, including operational requirements, expected benefits and how those outcomes align with the government's strategic direction and total costs over the life cycle.
The Government of Canada has clear rules and controls in place to ensure contracting is done in an ethical manner and upholds the values and ethics of the public service. In the public service, like elsewhere in society, when governing rules are broken, there are consequences and corrective measures are taken. Just as getting best value is built into the contracting procedures, so is accountability for the spending of public money. For instance, all proposals are required to be reviewed through a conflict of interest lens and evaluators are required to recuse themselves for real or possible conflicts.
There is also the code of conduct for procurement, which sets out clear expectations for vendors and their subcontractors in the areas of human rights, labour standards, conflict of interest and environmental responsibility. That means the government is committed to upholding and promoting the high standards and values Canadians expect, and the same is expected from vendors and their subcontractors.
I would also remind the House that the government's integrity regime serves to hold suppliers accountable for misconduct. The integrity regime helps foster ethical business practices, ensures due process and upholds the public trust. Public trust is gained through transparency. That is why government contracts over $10,000 are publicly disclosed on the open government portal, so Canadians are better able to hold the government and public sector officials accountable. The name of the company, the value of the contract and a description of the work are all publicly available.
In conclusion, I want to assure everyone in the House, and indeed across Canada, that the government takes all concerns regarding contracting and consultants seriously. The Government of Canada has a strong framework of rules to direct how procurements need to be conducted, and it is constantly looking at strengthening and clarifying those rules. It also offers guidance and training to employees to ensure they know, understand and obey these rules.
I talked about trust earlier, and that is certainly the foundation of any public institution. It is crucial for Canadians to trust their public institutions. It is also vital for them to trust the employees who support those institutions. Furthermore, it is essential they trust that any procurement conducted on their behalf is done ethically, fairly, openly and transparently. Upholding that trust is vital to any public institution in this country.
The federal government is committed to ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly in a way that provides value for Canadians, and it will continue to advance the priorities of Canadians.
View Charles Sousa Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Charles Sousa Profile
2024-02-27 16:42 [p.21402]
Madam Speaker, our government takes its responsibility for the stewardship of public funds very seriously, and we are committed to ensuring that government spending stands up to the highest levels of scrutiny. Contracting for goods and services is a routine part of business in any government. It enables us to deliver the services and programs that Canadians need and expect, and we have important guardrails in place to maintain the integrity of the process.
Government procurement is carried out in accordance with a number of regulations, trade agreements, policies, procedures and guidelines. This is the governing framework when it comes to federal procurement that public servants are expected to follow. Even in a time of crisis, such as what we faced during the global pandemic, basic rules must be followed to ensure that we are getting value for money while meeting the needs of Canadians, as urgent as those needs may be. Clearly, that did not happen in the case of ArriveCAN.
The revelations brought forth by the Auditor General and the procurement ombudsman are deeply troubling, to say the least. I think we can all agree with that. We know that there are other investigations under way, which we fully support, so we can get to the bottom of this issue. I can assure the House that any wrongdoing will be addressed. In the meantime, we owe it to Canadians to immediately act upon the recommendations of the Auditor General and the procurement ombudsman, and that is precisely what our government is doing.
Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, as it is commonly known, plays an important role in these matters. When it comes to deciding whether to contract out certain projects, the government takes many factors into consideration. It starts with the proposition that contractors are there to support the good work of our world-class public servants. Where it is determined that there is need for professional services, PSPC then works as the federal government's central purchasing agent with departments to procure those services in an open, fair and transparent fashion. PSPC procures on behalf of other departments and agencies when requirements are beyond their own contracting authority and advises on the steps needed to ensure that money is well spent.
With regard to ArriveCAN, we know that it was put in place urgently to track and trace travellers as they crossed the border and limit the spread of COVID-19 within Canada. Public servants acted with extreme urgency on a number of fronts during the early days of the pandemic to keep Canadians safe, and the ArriveCAN app was a critical tool at that time. I want to be clear that the issues with ArriveCAN should not reflect on the public service's overall response to the pandemic. It should be proud of its work to procure vital supplies, as well as the vaccines, that ultimately helped lift Canada out of crisis.
However, unlike those other urgent procurements at the time, it is clear now that the way procurement was done in support of the creation and maintenance of the ArriveCAN app was unacceptable. Indeed, there are many questions surrounding the management and integrity of the government's procurement processes for IT services associated with ArriveCAN.
For its part, PSPC is already taking action to ensure that lessons learned are turned into concrete action. That means going beyond addressing the specific issues related to any one specific contractor, as important as it is to hold them to account, and fixing the broader issues that have allowed this mismanagement to happen in the first place. In November, PSPC temporarily suspended all delegated authorities, including the authorities of the Canada Border Services Agency, to authorize professional services based on task authorizations. The department also provided direction to its procurement officers to ensure that all task authorizations include a focus on clear tasks and deliverables. We are glad to see that the Auditor General agreed with the actions we have taken.
All federal departments must now formally agree to a new set of terms and conditions to obtain access to select professional service methods of supply. PSPC is also updating its guidance to aid departments in procuring effectively and responsibly when using PSPC's procurement instruments under their own authorities.
Of course, adhering to procurement policies, directives and guidelines is a shared responsibility across government departments and agencies. In the case of ArriveCAN, it is quite clear that a handful of public servants failed on that front. Our government is committed to fixing the system so that cannot happen again.
Let me be clear, when it comes to holding suppliers accountable, PSPC is looking at ways to improve its integrity regime, including with regards to fraud, which will help us take swift action against bad actors for their misconduct. I will note that, on an ongoing basis and as part of the regular business, PSPC proactively seeks to uncover improper conduct and investigates potential wrongdoings in its contracts. Should an investigation reveal wrongdoing, PSPC informs law enforcement for possible criminal investigation. The department also seeks to recover funds when wrongdoing is found.
However, members opposite want to push lies. They say that “Well, we're focused on finding the truth and making sure that those responsible are held accountable—
View Dave Epp Profile
View Dave Epp Profile
2024-02-26 17:02 [p.21329]
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to bring the voices of Chatham-Kent—Leamington to this chamber as I rise today to speak to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Industrial Relations Board Regulations, 2012.
This bill would, of course, amend Part I of the Canada Labour Code and the industrial board regulations to prohibit the use of replacement workers, and improve the process of protecting against the immediate and serious danger to public health and safety during a legal strike or lockout. More specifically, the bill would prohibit employers from using new hires or contractors to replace striking workers. In addition, they also could not use members of the very same bargaining unit that was on strike or in a lockout position.
There are two exceptions provided for in the bill. First, employers would be able to use those replacement workers in the strike or lockdown if it was necessary to protect life, health or safety; protect against destruction or damage to the employer's property or premises; or to protect against serious environmental damage affecting those premises. Second, employers could use employees within the bargaining unit to prevent that same list of circumstances that I just outlined.
When I commute to Ottawa, I fly in to and out of Windsor. My flight path almost always takes me, depending on which way the wind blows, over the new battery plant being built in Windsor, the Stellantis plant. In fact, on Friday, a few days ago, I toured one of the buildings of this new plant with the leader of the official opposition and my friend, the member for Essex. This building was being erected by a local third-generation, family-owned construction company, Rosati, with a strong, unionized, industrious local workforce.
I find it a bit ironic that we are debating this legislation today, Bill C-58, when the government committed $15 billion of Canadian taxpayer funds for a battery plant that is hiring foreign replacement workers. We can make the argument that this is not the very same worker. The point is, this is $15 billion of taxpayer funds. That is going to cost every family in Canada $1,000, while leaving our union workers out in the cold. We can debate the semantics of whether that is a replacement worker or not.
I also find it ironic that this legislation would not ban the use of replacement workers in federally regulated workplaces, but this legislation is not being extended to the public sector unions. In those situations, the federal government is a party to the negotiation process. Is that not a bit curious?
Last November, we also learned that the Liberals are allowing companies like NextStar and Northvolt to bring in hundreds of foreign workers to help build electric vehicles in Windsor and Quebec. Not surprisingly, the government has received major pushback from our unions on this. Sean Strickland, the executive director from Canada's Building Trades Unions, has called the situation unconscionable. He said that bringing in 900 foreign workers is well beyond the standards his organization has ever seen.
Conservatives will always stand up for Canadian workers. In fact, we tabled a motion in November at the House's government operations committee to compel the government to be transparent with Canadians once and for all, and publish the contracts for the two battery plant deals, as well as the three others that have received a promise of federal subsidies. Of course, Liberal members on the committee objected.
The hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle compared this situation to shareholders demanding to hold a company's CEO accountable. By shareholders here, of course we mean the Canadian taxpayers. By the company's CEO, we mean the Prime Minister of Canada. He said, “foreign replacement workers coming to Canada, thanks to taxpayer subsidies, is of interest not just to the workers in the area but to every single Canadian family whose tax bill is underwriting this.”
A further example of taxpayers underwriting government overspending is, of course, the arrive scam app. It gave a $20-million contract to GC Strategies, a two-person IT firm, though it might be four people but that does not really matter, which does no actual IT work. The government cannot confirm how much the company has received. We have learned that GC Strategies has received a quarter of a billion dollars in consulting contracts since 2015.
Why did the Prime Minister not go out and hire another 600 border guards to address the car theft we are experiencing, or the import of handguns or drugs from across the border? That would have been $60 billion far better spent. It has never been more clear that the Prime Minister is not worth the cost.
I am a Conservative, so I believe that the market mechanism is the most efficient means by which to transfer the value of goods and services. Services include things like the labour that is required in almost every sector of our economy. However, markets only function best and are sustainable over time when there is a balance of power across the negotiating table where these goods and services are being established. Too much power on one side or the other distorts the process, leads to unfair outcomes and is not sustainable over time. Collective bargaining is one such structure that has developed over time to bring some balance to the negotiating table. It is obviously used in many sectors of our economy.
Prior to being elected, I served and participated in a form of such bargaining on behalf of processing vegetable producers in annual negotiations with processors to establish pre-plant contracts for the terms and conditions of sale for a particular vegetable crop each and every season. Do members know what? We did not always agree. Then, a strike or a lockout really was not an option for either the processors or the growers as it is Mother Nature who dictates, through the seasonality of our Canadian climate, when the crops need to be planted and harvested. The certainty of a pre-plant contract was vital for both processors and producers so that they were assured of a supply for the processors and of the opportunity of a fair return for the producers. Therefore, an alternate form of dispute resolution needed to be found in the event of contract negotiations not being agreed upon by the pre-approved deadline.
For many years, the industry used the final offer selection arbitration process as this dispute settling mechanism and, as unpleasant as any arbitration ever is, the system worked and worked well for many years for several reasons. The first is that it was fair.
Second,it worked well because it drove good negotiations, which I believe is the goal of all processes to establish fair values, be it for a tomato crop or for an hourly wage. In the event that two parties to a contract talk could not agree by a specified predetermined time, they flipped final offers. At that time, both parties submitted their final offer to an arbitrator or to a panel of arbitrators of all the outstanding disputed items in the contract. Some time after a period of conciliation or mediation, an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators had to pick, and here is the key, one party's position in its entirety. They could not “split the baby in half”.
Herein lies the beauty of the system. If either party submitted an unreasonable or indefensible position, even on one particular aspect of the contract, it risked the arbitrator picking the other party's position. Therefore, in effect, the final offer selection process drives good negotiations to settle at the table where the best agreements are always made, rather than risk an arbitration process.
Let me be clear. Canadian workers have the right to collectively bargain and to determine fair value for their work, and it is inevitable that not all such bargaining situations will end in an immediate agreement. Bill C-58 sets out one option in the event that a strike situation occurs. Of course, unions will argue that the option for replacement workers tips the balance of power too much toward the employers, while employers will state that the lack of such an option will lengthen strikes and jeopardize so much of the critical facets of our economy, thus hurting the Canadian public.
In another setting, I have personally experienced a different option: final offer arbitration. That has worked to settle disputes and has allowed crops to be planted and harvested on time without disrupting or losing a season. Improved labour relations should be the goal of any and every government, and having good labour relations is ultimately what is best for our country, for our workers and for our employers.
I look forward to the continuation of the debate to see if Bill C-58 is the right tool in the right circumstances. I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
View Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné Profile
View Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné Profile
2024-02-13 14:40 [p.21042]
Mr. Speaker, let us recap the situation with the Canada emergency business account.
According to current numbers from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, nearly 150,000 businesses were unable to pay back their loan and nearly 200,000 others had to go into debt to do so. In addition to all that, roughly 50,000 business owners are still looking for refinancing.
The federal government has the means to properly assess the situation and ensure the fewest bankruptcies possible. Specifically, it should look at the SME files on a case-by-case basis and show some flexibility. That is what we have been calling for from day one.
Why is it still refusing to do so?
View Rechie Valdez Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, nearly 80% of small businesses paid back their Canada emergency business account loan and were able to take advantage of the refundable portion of the loan.
This being Black History Month, I would like to mention the Black entrepreneurship program. It is an historic investment of $266 million that, so far, has helped support more than 9,000 Black business owners across Canada. Nearly $50 million in loans have been approved.
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
View Jean-Denis Garon Profile
2024-02-05 14:37 [p.20628]
Mr. Speaker, there was a 41% increase in business bankruptcies last year, and 61% of those are in Quebec. It is the highest increase ever recorded. It is in that context that the federal government set the January 18 deadline for SMEs to pay back the emergency business account loan without penalty.
In a Radio-Canada news report, trustee Stéphane Leblond warned that insolvency cases have been on the rise for the past month. Of course the Liberals just added $20,000 of debt to the SMEs most at risk.
Why not show these businesses some flexibility instead of continuing to kick them while they are down?
View Rechie Valdez Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the Canada emergency business account, or CEBA, was to help keep businesses afloat during the pandemic and give them some room to recover.
Nearly 80% of small businesses have paid back the CEBA loan and were able to take advantage of the refundable portion of the loan. We are also reducing credit card transaction fees by up to a quarter to help small businesses keep more money in their pockets.
View Julie Vignola Profile
View Julie Vignola Profile
2024-02-05 14:38 [p.20628]
Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are bragging about the fact that 80% of SMEs paid back their CEBA loans on time, but that is not good news. That means that 20% of SMEs are at high risk of bankruptcy. We are not talking about multinationals. We are talking about small business and restaurant owners in our communities.
The government needs to do three things: Deal with each case on a case-by-case basis, guarantee loans from financial institutions and reinstate the $20,000 subsidy. Why is it so hard for the government to be flexible in helping the business owners in our communities? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out.
View Soraya Martinez Ferrada Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Soraya Martinez Ferrada Profile
2024-02-05 14:39 [p.20628]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
I would like to remind her that this was not the first but the second extension that we gave to all businesses, and that there is no business that cannot get support from the government. If they cannot pay back their loan, we will guarantee that loan for three years at an interest rate of 5%, which means that they have to reimburse about $250 a month.
Not only that, but Canada Economic Development is looking to the future. I just made announcements in Drummondville, Sherbrooke and a number of regions in Quebec. We will continue to support businesses in making the much-needed green transition.
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