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Results: 201 - 300 of 2195
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:06
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here. It's always a pleasure to see you. To the other witnesses as well, thanks for coming.
I'd like to start off with a general concern which should be a concern all Canadians and all parliamentarians have, and that is the ability for us to do our job, to ensure oversight on expenditures. It seems you get a failing grade when we listen to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Fréchette, who kind of kindly slams you, Minister, for reducing significantly parliamentary oversight. For example, the Parliamentary Budget Officer says that nearly two-thirds of expenditures here are only getting cursory oversight.
How do you answer the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Canadians with respect to the decrease or lack of transparency in these particular mains?
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you for the question. It is an important one for parliamentarians and for Canadians as well.
The responsibility for oversight is shared. It is obviously part of Treasury Board's responsibility in its meetings and activities to provide oversight, but it's also parliamentarians who have to take up the responsibility of oversight as well. We've done a number of things to improve what we call expenditure management to enhance the tools that are available to explain, dig into, and to develop and implement the government's spending plans.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:08
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Why is the Parliamentary Budget Officer saying that almost two-thirds of expenditures are only getting cursory oversight?
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Yaprak Baltacioglu
View Yaprak Baltacioglu Profile
Yaprak Baltacioglu
2014-03-25 9:08
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Thank you very much for the question.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer points out what my colleague, Mr. Matthews, pointed out. The statutory expenditures are going up while the program expenditures, because we're in an era of reduction, are coming down. Your oversight in terms of the statutory expenditures is that Parliament approves the statutes under which these moneys are distributed. Beyond that it is formula-driven, because however many children you have under the statutory program, you end up paying that. It's a formula-driven oversight and we do have annual reports.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2014-03-25 9:08
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I understand that, but there's still less information given to Canadians publicly about what's going on with expenditures.
I don't have a lot of time. Five minutes is not a lot of time.
You've removed EI spending from the estimates. We're talking about 85% of projected budget spending that is not reflected. What's the motivation for removing EI expenditures?
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View Peter Stoffer Profile
NDP (NS)
Yes, sir.
I have a couple of things for you, sir.
Mr. Jenkins mentioned the number of recommendations that your organization and a number of others made with the Gerontological Advisory Council a few years back. He noted the number of recommendations that have been put forward and how very few of them have actually been accepted. I'd just like your view, the Royal Canadian Legion's view, about why there has been a reluctance to accept some of these recommendations...the other ones that have been there. Also, I have another question and it's for both of you. I'll ask the Legion first and then, Mr. Jenkins, you can answer second.
In the Equitas lawsuit, the crown attorneys who were representing the Crown—and I'm paraphrasing them—stated under oath that there was no moral obligation for the crown to care for veterans. I'm paraphrasing more or less what they said. Basically that moral obligation applies only to the aboriginal community.
Obviously many veterans organizations across the country were quite concerned when they heard this. The judge hearing the case indicated that there was an obligation to care for those veterans in that regard. My question, which I've been asking quite repeatedly, is this. Does the government have a moral, legal, social, and financial responsibility to care for those they asked to put themselves in harm's way? I haven't gotten an answer on that question even though this is now the eighth time I've asked it. I'm wondering what the Royal Canadian Legion's view would be on that as well.
I thank you again, you and all the other veterans groups, and especially Mr. Richard Blackwolf, an aboriginal veteran who is here today, for being with all of us. I thank you.
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Gordon Moore
View Gordon Moore Profile
Gordon Moore
2014-03-06 16:07
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Mr. Stoffer, the Royal Canadian Legion's view on the moral obligation is that the government has a moral obligation to look after our veterans and their families, right to their last moments.
The government of the day has put them into harm's way, whether it happened 20 years ago or whether it just happened recently with them being in Afghanistan. The government has to understand that you're the one who asked them to sign the dotted line; you're the one who paid to have them trained; you're the one who paid to send them overseas; and you're the one who said, yes, you're going to go and fight for democracy, in Afghanistan, or wherever they had to go. Yes, the government has that moral obligation and they will.
As I stated in my report, there are three acts that state that the government has the moral obligation. When the new Veterans Charter was written, the moral obligation was kept out. That's the only place. No one at the time caught that. That's very unfortunate because it was something that came across that it had to be put into place because we had men and women serving in Afghanistan, we had to make sure that we were prepared back here, and this is how they sold the bill. We had to be prepared back here when our soldiers returned. But we had to be ready in how we're going to look after them, on the short term and also in the long term.
Mr. Stoffer, they've been looking after them in the short term, but they haven't been doing a good job on the long term. The moral obligation has to be there all the way through.
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View   Profile
2014-03-06 16:09
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A good example of moral obligation is the United Kingdom government signed, about two years ago, their social covenant with their military on how it was going to respond to their needs once they had been deployed and moved out and possibly injured and returned home. Perhaps what the Canadian government needs to do is to also have a social covenant with those who serve its country.
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Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2014-03-06 16:10
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I'll be very brief. I couldn't put it any better than these two gentlemen to my right. I would like my response to be exactly the same as Gord's and Brad's.
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Percy Price
View Percy Price Profile
Percy Price
2014-03-06 16:10
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm sure you're well aware of the fact that those veterans who served in Canada only, they're under section 21(2) of the Pension Act. In the act under section 21(1), where there's a special duty area, Afghanistan, there shall be no deduction in injuries or whatever. If it occurs in a special duty area or in the theatre of war, the government is solely responsible and obligated to provide pension for that veteran.
However, under the other section, in Canada—not those war time or special duty areas—that would be a different issue. Certainly in war time or special duty areas, the government is solely responsible.
Thank you.
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View Sylvain Chicoine Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would also like to thank our witnesses for joining us today.
Let me go back to what you were saying about the fact that it is time to take action right away to improve the New Veterans Charter.
Since we are conducting a comprehensive study and we are going to produce a report in several months in the wake of which the minister will prepare a bill, would it not be desirable for the minister to start right away to improve the new charter given that everyone agrees with the ombudsman's recommendations?
Would it be in the minister's interests to start right now to improve the new charter based on the ombudsman's report, granted that it may involve other changes in a year after the comprehensive study?
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Gordon Jenkins
View Gordon Jenkins Profile
Gordon Jenkins
2014-03-06 16:31
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I think the minister already has a list of recommendations and we cannot help but wonder why another series of recommendations is necessary.
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View Shelly Glover Profile
CPC (MB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good day to my fellow members. Thank you for having me here for the first time in my role as Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. I remember my visits to this committee when I was parliamentary secretary. My greetings to Mr. Godin who was a member of the committee at that time and is one still. All the other members have changed.
So, let us begin.
I would like to recognize this committee's achievements. Your study on immersion programs across the country is an indication of your commitment to promoting our national languages. I was, however, a little disappointed that I did not receive an invitation to appear, especially given the fact that, as the product of an immersion program myself, I have often expressed my concerns regarding the changes that have been made to programs since I was in school.
That said, the vitality of our national languages is important to me both as the minister and as a member of the Franco-Manitoban community. I am honoured to work in both Saint-Boniface and Ottawa toward the advancement of French and English, as well as official language communities.
As you know, in the summer of 2012, we undertook official language cross-Canada consultations. Canadians told us that we have made significant progress in key areas since 2008. However, they also mentioned that there was still work to be done to unleash the full potential of our linguistic duality and contribute even more effectively to developing our minority communities.
In its report on the previous Roadmap, your committee shared the concerns expressed by the general public and representatives of organizations in francophone and anglophone minority communities. In the budget tabled on March 21, 2013, our government committed to measures reiterating support for our national languages and showcasing their importance for our identity. A week later, we rolled out the Roadmap for Canada's Official Languages 2013-2018.
This new strategy for official languages translates into $1.1 billion invested over five years in education, immigration, and communities. I'm pleased to confirm that all of the road map's initiatives are now funded on a permanent basis. This is important as only three-quarters of the funding in the previous road map took the form of ongoing support. Road map 2013 to 2018 provides clear testimony of our continuing commitment to official languages in this country.
As I explained in the 2011-2012 Annual Report on Official Languages that I tabled in Parliament last November, Canadian Heritage oversees two main programs supporting official languages. One aims to develop minority official language communities. The other's objective is to promote French and English in Canadian society.
Our programs support the offer of minority-language services at the provincial and territorial level in sectors such as education, justice, culture and health. Our actions have tangible results. For example, working closely with the provinces and territories, we are supporting minority-language education. Every morning across our country, more than 240,000 students in minority communities go to school in their own language.
We support second-language learning. A total of 2.4 million young people are learning French or English as a second language in Canada, more than 340,000 of them in immersion classes. Our young people are among our greatest resources. That is why I am pleased that we were able to offer bursaries to 7,800 students in 2011-2012 that enable them to improve their skills in their second national language. We also created some 700 summer or short-term jobs for bilingual young Canadians. These jobs allow them to practice their knowledge of French and English.
The annual report also provides details about my role in coordinating official languages support within federal institutions. In 2011-12, Canadian Heritage adopted a broader approach to coordination to make the accounting process uniform among all institutions. For three years we've been using this approach, adopted jointly with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
Some 170 federal institutions now have the opportunity to showcase their achievements, which provides Canadians with a complete picture of national efforts to promote French and English.
In the interest of efficiency, we also launched a review in 2013 of our support for organizations in official language communities. Through this review, we want to ensure that our measures effectively meet the needs of communities, particularly in key areas such as youth and culture. This review is being carried out in consultation with community organizations. Our investment levels remain unchanged. I simply want to ensure that we are achieving the best possible results.
The Commissioner of Official Languages has also acknowledged these results. In his 2012-2013 Annual Report, he applauded the efforts to date of Canadian Heritage and other federal institutions with regard to respect for official languages. We will be continuing along this path. We welcome the Commissioner's report and the recommendations in it. They will be used to inform our government's actions. I want to mention here that, last year, our government renewed the appointment of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser, for three years. This reappointment was applauded by numerous key stakeholders in official languages. I also want to note that I agree with the Commissioner when it comes to the importance of promoting our linguistic duality as part of large-scale events.
Let's talk about celebrations.
We are currently conducting online consultations and holding roundtables across the country to learn more about how Canadians want to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017. The consultations taking place are mindful of our commitment to promote our linguistic duality as part of the celebrations.
The Commissioner also mentioned in his report that he will be monitoring the implementation of the protocol for agreements for minority language education and second language instruction. I am very pleased that we recently renewed our co-operation with the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. The protocol for agreements that we signed with the council provides for more than $1.3 billion in federal investment over five years to support the provincial and territorial governments in the area of official languages in teaching.
we have taken concrete action to promote respect for national languages. We will continue our efforts in this regard, because our action generates results for Canadians and benefits for minority communities.
Thank you for your attention. I am ready to answer your questions.
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View Lise St-Denis Profile
Lib. (QC)
You mentioned grants that you give out. Your report lists dozens upon dozens of small programs. You hand out grants for activities involving three people, and no follow-up is done to ensure accountability. You measure neither the direct nor indirect effects of the funding you give out to numerous small groups of individuals, small programs. Are these small programs making things better for francophone groups? Or is the thinking that it's better to run them even if they don't do much?
Don't these programs warrant better evaluation so you can determine which ones are really making a difference for Canada's francophonie?
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View Shelly Glover Profile
CPC (MB)
I don't know of any.
The cultural program Juste pour rire has a budget of about $1 million. Another event we support is Montréal en lumière. I was there last week. It attracts thousands of people. Funding for the festival comes from our department and the roadmap, obviously, as well as the Canada Council for the Arts. Thus, we support opportunities that enable people to take part in activities in the minority language, and that applies not just to English in Quebec but also to French in the rest of the country. Both the QCGN and ELAN receive funding as well.
I repeat, Canada is the only G7 nation that did not make cuts in the area of official languages, and we should be proud of that.
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View Manon Perreault Profile
Ind. (QC)
View Manon Perreault Profile
2014-03-06 9:38
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to briefly go back to the roadmap. I know that your predecessor announced, last year, that the roadmap would not contain any accountability measures.
In light of that announcement, Commissioner Fraser recommended, in his 2012-13 report, that a management framework be established for the roadmap. Has that recommendation by Commissioner Fraser been followed?
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View Shelly Glover Profile
CPC (MB)
Thank you so much for your question.
In fact, that was the second matter I discussed with the Commissioner of Official Languages when we met just before his annual report was published. He said in his report that the government cut an envelope of about $30 million that was intended for accountability and the coordination of departments, but that is false.
As Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, I am responsible for a large part of the programs' management. In the previous roadmap, money was set aside for governance and coordination. However, during the consultations we held across the country in 2012 regarding the next roadmap, the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne asked us to remove that envelope from the roadmap because francophone and Acadian communities were not directly benefiting from that money.
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View Manon Perreault Profile
Ind. (QC)
View Shelly Glover Profile
CPC (MB)
Yes. The audit report should be published soon.
However, I want to point out that this was a mistake made by the Commissioner of Official Languages. He admitted his error, but his annual report had already been published.
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Corinne Charette
View Corinne Charette Profile
Corinne Charette
2014-03-04 8:47
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Good morning and thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It is a great honour to be here before the committee to speak about our success and our work on open data for the government.
I'm very pleased to be here with my two colleagues to talk about open data. I'll introduce Stephen Walker, who is the senior director for our information management policy sector as well as for open government at TB Secretariat. With him is Sylvain Latour, who is a director of our Open Government Secretariat at TBS.
The way we propose to cover the material this morning is that we have a presentation in two parts, and we propose to have a demo. We will go through the first part of our presentation.
You have in front of you a presentation which, I think, gives a good summary of the key concepts concerning open data.
We'll start off with essentially a primer on open data, what the key concepts are, and then we will stop and do a demonstration. You've noticed the screens in the room. We'll have a live demonstration. Stephen and Sylvain will go through our actual open data portal and show you some examples of the data and how the portal works. Then we'll revert to the presentation to give a summary of what different initiatives are going on within the federal government and with our colleagues across Canada in other jurisdictions, and in fact, on our initiatives internationally on the open data front. Of course, we'd be delighted to answer whatever questions the committee has.
That's what we propose by way of the three-section approach. Before I start into the first part of the presentation, I would like to say that we've just completed a very exciting weekend. On February 28, Minister Clement launched the Canadian Open Data Experience, which is an appathon challenge that brought together, finally, 927 registered participants from across Canada, from universities in all provinces across Canada, to try to see what kinds of applications they could develop using Canada's open data information published on our portal.
It was a very exciting weekend, and at the end of it, preliminary reports suggested that over 100 different apps were developed and will be validated and vetted and be the subject of tough competition. The finale of CODE will be March 28, in Toronto, where the 15 finalists will review their apps with the judges. The finalists will be awarded a prize.
This is very exciting because this would be our first national CODE appathon. Different provinces and cities have had a few, and there have been a number of efforts across Canada, but this is the first on a pan-Canadian basis. The success of CODE is a testimony to the enthusiasm and interest in Canada's open data portal and the information that we make available to Canadians.
With that, I will go into the presentation and hopefully help to demystify this. We'll be doing section 1.
Page 3 is titled “Open Data Fundamentals”. I apologize that some of you may be well aware of this, but we weren't sure so we thought we'd bring everyone to a certain level of knowledge.
So what is raw data?
Raw data is machine-readable data at the lowest level of integration that can be reused alone, or mashed up—as the term is—with other data in innovative ways.The government either generates or collects and aggregates a vast amount of raw data. The best example of raw data would be weather data that we collect through sensors and radar and a variety of other means. We turn that into raw data, numerical data that is available for further processing and manipulation.
So what is metadata? Metadata is data about data. Metadata is key to the potential of open data. Without metadata, the vast numbers of data sets and information that are available are not as useful.
It's very important to describe the contents of a data set and to describe the specific kinds of information in each field of a data set that is presented, so that when application developers go to the data set, they know they're finding the right data set with the right kind of data and they know how to interpret the different fields. That's an important part of using the data effectively. In Canada, making our data available in an open data portal first involves producing metadata in both official languages so that app developers can quickly understand what the nature of the data set is and can use it appropriately.
Finally, what is open data? Open data is the practice that takes the raw data and the metadata and makes it available through a portal, as is the case of data.gc.ca. It allows users to search through the portal for the right data sets and allows them to browse and then to download the data in machine-usable formats so they can develop programs and information systems that can manipulate it and produce other uses for it and greater advantages.
The open data movement is quite well developed today. In October 2013, McKinsey Global reported that the potential for open data to generate economic value is significant. This is McKinsey's view. Certainly, through open data efforts in the U.S., in the U.K., in Canada now, and all over the world, we've seen the rise of many, many businesses through the generation of apps that basically use open data and are now widely available through different online stores and so on. Certainly, all of the large consultancies, including Deloitte, speak to the fact that data is the new capital of the global economy, and the ability to harness the vast amounts of data that we do generate is really a large potential for Canada and for society as a whole.
Just to give you a recap of the history, in Canada we have long been aggregators and generators of data. In fact, the concept of open data started around 1995 with the important stores of geophysical and environmental data that we already collect and manipulate through NRCan and Environment Canada.
In California, of course, in the U.S. in 2007, open data started to become an important movement. In fact, in President Obama's first term, there was really the first important national foray, I guess, into open data, with his mandatory policy on the release of open data. The U.S. launch of that direction certainly stimulated open data movements in the U.K. and internationally. Certainly, we watched in Canada and also thought that this was a valuable movement to embrace. It's really a movement that has grown very quickly, and it is, certainly in Canada, stimulated quite a bit by the work by our cities—cities are very active in open data in Canada—as well as by the provinces and by us in the federal government.
Open data is certainly well established internationally. As you may know, the Open Government Partnership, first launched in 2011 by the U.S. and Brazil as co-chairs, was a strong platform for further developments in open data and making governments accountable, open, and responsive to citizens. Similarly, the World Bank has opened its data, knowledge, and research, and is a strong supporter of open data and of all our efforts.
The Open Knowledge Foundation is a civil society organization dedicated to promoting open data and open content. The OECD has also embraced open data and was present at the 2013 Open Government Partnership conference in the U.K.
Certainly the World Wide Web Foundation is, of course, a strong believer in open data.
Just to give you a capsule of open data in Canada, we're quite pleased with Canada's progress on this front. Four provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec—have open data portals, as do over 30 cities. In fact, certainly Vancouver was one of the first leaders in open data in Canada and continues to be very dedicated to that, but we're pleased with all of the municipal efforts, including the City of Ottawa, which is also working hard at open data.
Page 8 just contrasts what was it like, how civil society could access the data sets the government created and aggregated and made available, prior to open data. Before open data, the government was already publishing data, but in a different way and in a much smaller and less accessible way. Certainly weather data from Environment Canada has been available for some time, as were maps from Natural Resources Canada.
But what you see on the diagram on the right is one of the fundamental issues of the problem. Each individual department collected and prepared data and made it available on their own individual websites, but not always prominently, often without sufficient, or if you will, standard metadata that described the contents, and not always with appropriate search engines to access it.
So from a user's perspective, it wasn't easy to answer the question of what kind of data is available from the government on topic A or on topic B. The users would routinely have to go through multiple sites, go quite deep into the sites, and then the data was not necessarily in machine-readable format. So while they could visualize it, they couldn't really use it and create an information system.
Finally, an additional issue that users had to tackle at the time was that every individual website made the data available under slightly different licensing terms. The licensing terms are very critical to open data, and the ability to have an open licence that is recognized across Canada, that makes the data available for reuse without restriction on the same terms, is really key.
So that was the situation of data before open data.
Starting in 2009 we started to tackle these questions, and in fact started working on our first view of the licence and the first view of a portal that could potentially make this data available.
Why is open data important for the Government of Canada? Certainly we're strong believers that open data helps to reinforce accountability and the government's agenda. Certainly we are convinced that it does generate economic value for Canadians. It is aligned with our digital strategy, as we are working with our colleagues across government, and it is a key catalyst for innovation and science and technology. We are aligned with our international partners, and the success of CODE, I think, supports the fact that Canadians are equally aligned with it.
Just to highlight the key milestones from a government perspective on open data, in March 2011 the government announced our first open government initiative, and at the time, our first open data portal. That was our first pilot. We launched it with much fewer data sets and with the first version of the licence.
In April 2012 Canada joined the international Open Government Partnership formally. We published our first action plan on open government at that time. The action plan on open government includes, of course, a number of commitments on open data.
In June 2013 the Prime Minister formally adopted the Open Data Charter with other G-8 leaders at the Lough Erne Summit in Northern Ireland.
Just to recap on this part of the presentation, and before we go to the demo of the portal, I'll just say that we have continued to work hard on open data since our joining of the Open Government Partnership.
In fact, this June we launched the second generation open data platform. We now have about 200,000 data sets from 27 departments. We launched with six departments and their data sets. Our search capability is state-of-the-art and we have incorporated social media features onto the site, so we're very pleased with our new portal.
In terms of GC resource management data, the expenditure database was launched in April 2013 to provide Canadians with financial information on departmental spending over the last three years, and we continue to add data sets through all topic areas.
We are working hard right now on a directive on open government, so this will be policy that will help departments and agencies to create a better inventory of their data assets and the information to be published, and provide an implementation timeline for them to achieve this. That will be an important part of our open government action plan commitments, and we're hopeful to see that in the new fiscal year.
Finally, our new open government licence, the second version of which was issued last June, is aligned with a Creative Commons licence. It's plain language. It clearly states the conditions for the reuse of data and aligns with all international best practices.
That's a quick primer on open data. Before we go to the demonstration, would you like to ask any questions?
I am wondering if the committee members would like to ask questions.
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View Bernard Trottier Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
Madam Charette, you use the terms “open data” and “open government”. I can see examples where open data would have little to do with open government, for example, publishing weather data isn't really about open government. So could you describe the relationship between these two concepts, which in fact are actually two different initiatives even within the Government of Canada, around open government and open data.
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Corinne Charette
View Corinne Charette Profile
Corinne Charette
2014-03-04 9:08
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To us they're certainly interrelated and in fact our open government action plan has three streams of activity that we committed to in April 2012. One of them is open data, one of them is open information, and one of them is open dialogue. In fact, the open government thrust is about making information and data widely available to Canadians and civil society so that they can use it for their own benefit and derive economic advantage, specifically in the case of open data, foster engagement, and generally contribute to society.
For us, open data is one of the three key streams of activity in our open government action plan. In fact, most of the other countries that are part of the OGP have similar open data streams of activity in their own open government action plan: the U.K., the U.S., and many others. In fact, most of the governments have published action plans that reflect those three streams of activity, because they are separate yet complementary.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2014-03-04 9:45
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I appreciate all of this, and it's helping to give some definition as to what type of information will be put up for open.... If the default is to be openness, that's an important directive. Currently the default seems to be secrecy. It's like pulling teeth to get sensitive information out of the government through the access to information regime. Even though you say this is not set up to replace or to do the job of ATI, you mention in the opening page of your website, data.gc.ca, that this is really an extension of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Access to Information Act.
I'm still suspicious and I'm still interested, but you didn't answer my question as to who screens. Who ultimately gets to say what goes up and what stays down in terms of the portal? Is it the minister, is it the government of the day, or is there some overarching, independent authority, such as the Information Commissioner, who says that cutting the hair of Afghan detainees should be public information and should go up on the portal, and that you shouldn't have to wait a thousand days and go to court to find out whether or not you cut the hair of the Afghan detainees?
Who is your boss who says what goes up and what does not go up?
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Corinne Charette
View Corinne Charette Profile
Corinne Charette
2014-03-04 9:47
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Well, there are two questions there.
First, in terms of what data sets are made available for publication, the first thing that's important is that what's on the open data portal is not classified information. Clearly it is not information that is classified secret or confidential. It is information that is public, so that the data sets themselves should be made freely available.
Now, within departments there is a wealth of data and of data sets that are not yet published. While we're very proud of the 200,000 data sets we have on the portal today, we believe there are a lot more.... That is the focus of the directive, to require that departments conduct an inventory of the data sets and then prioritize the data sets with our help. We work with them to identify high-value data sets and to help them make them available.
Ultimately, the departments have to be in a position to maintain and assure the integrity of the data and ensure that the data they are promoting—
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View Anne-Marie Day Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a few questions to ask.
In my opinion, and going back to what Mr. O'Connor was saying, a good example is cartography in the High Arctic. I believe that the cartography for that region is on the website in question and that it would be enormously useful to companies that wish to do business, move forward, or develop something in that area. This makes it possible, among other things, to know where deposits are and where local population groups live. This also makes it possible to know the environment, the ground plan and the whole area, which means that if someone wants to invest, thanks to this open data, they have a great deal of information at their disposal. That is one of the goals of this study, to highlight the impact of information on economic growth.
Now, in terms of accountability, how do you check this? Is it done annually or biannually? How do you know if you are heading in the right direction, that you are respecting the five initial goals and the eight others that will be added in the context of the G8? What do you analyze to determine if you have the right goal relative to what you should meet and if you are on the right track to meet the goals set by the G8?
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Stephen Walker
View Stephen Walker Profile
Stephen Walker
2014-03-04 10:23
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We have two. We have mandatory reporting requirements associated with the OGP and with the G-8. In the OGP it's an annual reporting process to define exactly what progress we've made on our specific commitments. That reporting process is templated. It's standardized internationally around the globe and requires specific public consultations to be able to feed into the development of the report. Then the report is subject to third-party review.
The G-8 is a little less mature at this point because just this past summer the G-8 Open Data Charter was established, but there was a commitment made by all G-8 countries to involve themselves in annual reporting so that later on this year the expectation would be that individual G-8 countries would have to update on what commitments within their G-8 action plan have been met, and the same thing again for 2015 but the reporting template has not been determined yet.
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Taras Kuzio
View Taras Kuzio Profile
Taras Kuzio
2014-03-03 16:17
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One of the best investigative journalists in Ukraine, who is currently based in Washington, D.C., on a grant, named Sergii Leshchenko is talking about the need to, like I think with the Italian and Polish diasporas, give them the right to vote and to participate, because he thinks they would have a different approach to politics and a cleaner approach, a good governance approach. They have grown up and socialized in a different environment. I think that's certainly one.
Beyond that, I think going back to your previous question—and I agree completely with Dominique—the people who are on the streets in many ways, like in the Arab Spring, are looking for dignity. They felt their leaders treated them with contempt, so there has to be the rebuilding of a new contract between elites who are accountable, who are not above the law....
Ukrainian elites like Soviet elites were above the law. I think the key institution from which everything flows is the rule of law. There was a little bit of rule of law prior to Yanukovych. He destroyed it completely.
I know colleagues in America who are doing similar things like judicial reform in Ukraine. I'm wondering whether it's time to move from putting plasters on the old system to dismantling the old system and starting again. The prosecutor's office, is it reformable? I don't think so. It's 18,000 people who are useless. They are useless, corrupt, and bloated. I think you are better just to start completely anew.
I think if you are going to put money in—because money's limited for every government—I would say just start again. Don't keep putting little plasters on this old Soviet institution.
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View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you.
I'd also like to thank our witness tonight. I'm also from British Columbia. I'm the member of Parliament for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, so certainly familiar with the work that you've done and want to thank you for the tremendous work that you've done.
From your perspective, because you have a very unique opportunity to look at the intersection of federal government responsibilities, provincial government responsibilities, and first nations responsibilities, can you talk about some of those challenges and barriers in terms of that particular aspect of the work you do?
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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
View Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond Profile
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
2014-02-13 18:44
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When it comes to preventing violence and responding to violence, I think the first and foremost principle is that everybody has a responsibility. It comes down to those issues of whether you're a friend or a neighbour, whether you're a government—municipal, first nations, provincial, or federal. We spend a lot of time, when it comes to first nations girls and women, finger-pointing about who has the responsibility and who delivers what, as a contract or what have you. I think we can see that, unfortunately, this framework does not work. There is a need to have a very different framework around looking at the needs, for instance, of safety for girls, and building the system around the need for safety with a degree of collaboration that perhaps we've never had. Maybe it's overly idealistic in Canada, but it's going to be needed to actually respond effectively.
We have adopted Jordan's principle, around supporting the person and figuring out who pays for it later. I have to say on the ground that's more of a theory than a practice. Frequently, for girls, they're just caught in that situation where everybody apparently has a responsibility, but nobody's on the ground to respond. That type of accountability is needed. If someone has the responsibility, I expect them to be accountable and be present and serve. I find significant barriers there on the ground around who's actually doing what and are they present in the lives of the victims who need them.
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View Sylvain Chicoine Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you.
The government is saying that it recognizes that duty and that it is included in the new charter.
Can you comment on that?
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Jim Scott
View Jim Scott Profile
Mr. Jim Scott
2013-12-10 11:49
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Sorry, when you say “duty,” which duty are you referring to?
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View Sylvain Chicoine Profile
NDP (QC)
Yes. I am talking about the government's sacred duty to take care of wounded veterans.
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View Ted Opitz Profile
CPC (ON)
View Ted Opitz Profile
2013-12-10 12:15
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First of all, thank you all for appearing today. I'm on the defence committee normally, and Mr. Kirkland visited us there not that long ago. In fact, the defence committee is conducting a study on the care of the ill and injured. We were actually in Petawawa last Thursday, touring the JPSU and some of the facilities there. And I was in Shilo a couple of month ago for a different event, but took the opportunity while I was there to look at some of the issues that are going on in Shilo.
That just illustrates that all of us in the House are very interested in making sure that this is right by veterans, and we're working very hard to do that.
To that end, sir, Minister Fantino announced that he would invite the veterans to the committee here for you to be able to air your concerns to Parliament, which you're doing today, which is fantastic. But at that time, did you expect the minister to ask us to bring forward recommendations on new language to be added to the new Veterans Charter capturing the duty, the obligation, and the commitment of the Government of Canada towards Canadian veterans?
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Jim Scott
View Jim Scott Profile
Mr. Jim Scott
2013-12-10 12:16
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That's a good question. A lot of people have asked what the solution is, and I've always said to every person, “Just acknowledge that there are some gaps, acknowledge that there are some problems, and then seek to close those gaps and those problems”. One of the concerns I have is that, when you go into a review process with predetermined ideas already in mind, it really doesn't make the review process that valid—in other words, if you say, “This is going to be the outcome; now have your review”. We're very open to what this committee does. There is just the fact that we want to raise, that for whatever reason we got down this road, we now have hundreds of people who have contacted us and they have bona fide cases of gaps in their benefits under this program.
What does the solution look like? I would hope you will be able to offer those solutions.
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View Jim Karygiannis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Scott, I want to ask the three servicemen.
Do you think your government is truly representing you? Do you think that truly your government is looking after you today?
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Aaron Bedard
View Aaron Bedard Profile
Aaron Bedard
2013-12-10 12:50
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I think everyone is here doing their job. It's a complex world, however, and PTSD goes on forever. Every day is a new day. I'm 40 years old. I got in after working construction for 15 years. I argue and fight with anybody who I see doing something that could kill others.
What was the question?
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View Jim Karygiannis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Is your government doing the best for you in representing you? Do you feel we're doing the best for you, or are we letting you down?
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Shawn A-in-chut Atleo
View Shawn A-in-chut Atleo Profile
Shawn A-in-chut Atleo
2013-12-05 19:19
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[Witness speaks in Nuu-chah-nulth]
Greetings. I am A-in-chut.
[Witness speaks in Nuu-chah-nulth]
I want to join others in acknowledging that we're here in unceded Algonquin territories.
It's my privilege to offer up some thoughts as National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. As I said, I am A-in-chut, or Shawn, Atleo.
I am joined here tonight by my colleagues.
With me is Alberta Regional Chief Cameron Alexis, who holds the national portfolio with the Assembly of First Nations executive. We have executive members representing 10 regions from coast to coast to coast. He carries the executive responsibilities for justice matters, has also served his community as chief, and brings with him over 20 years as a police officer with the RCMP.
Also with me is Charlene Belleau, a former chief of Alkali Lake first nation.
Thanks to the chair for acknowledging that she is a former chief herself.
She works with the Assembly of First Nations and, in my view, has demonstrated some of the most important leadership on the issues that are before us this evening at this committee, as well as in her community, in addressing safety, security, justice, and healing issues.
I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and to provide you with contributions to your recommendations.
In doing so, the Assembly of First Nations would like to recognize you, Dr. Carolyn Bennett, for your leadership in introducing the motion to create this committee.
We also recognize the support among all parties that was given to moving this forward. We welcomed the reconstitution, Madam Chair, of this committee in the new session of Parliament. I wanted to share that with all of you.
You've heard from a number of witnesses at this point and have a clear understanding of the contexts and the background, and I will not spend time going over that with you this evening.
We know there are many factors that work together to increase the vulnerability of indigenous women and girls: that historical, socio-economic, and legal realities have come together to create the conditions that allow this violence against indigenous women and girls to persist. You also know that it is simply and sadly true that there continue to be unacceptable levels of violence against indigenous peoples, particularly women and girls. The safety of indigenous women and girls is central to the health and well-being of all of our nations.
The factors that have led to the current rates of violence are absolutely complex, and they're intersecting, as was just articulated. Therefore, our responses must similarly be comprehensive, and they must be far-reaching.
At the 2012 annual general assembly of the Assembly of First Nations, over 800 chiefs, leaders, and citizens made a pledge to “live violence free and to personally work to achieve safety and security for all Indigenous peoples—women and men, girls and boys”. At the 2012 Council of the Federation, the premiers took up this pledge as a reminder in their professional and personal lives of the responsibility to ensure the safety of indigenous women and girls.
Since that time, thousands of first nations citizens and Canadians alike have taken the pledge. The pledge is clear recognition that ending violence and ensuring the safety and security of all citizens, particularly those most vulnerable, is everyone's responsibility.
Change starts within all of us, and we all have a role to play. In April of this year, the Assembly of First Nations and the Native Women's Association of Canada together convened a national forum on community safety and ending violence. We came together to identify the key elements and actions that needed to be brought forward for prevention, response, and ongoing support.
Specific actions were identified under broad themes of addressing structural/state violence and racism, rebuilding strong and healthy communities through capacity-building and support, increasing and strengthening partnerships, and building awareness and accountability. We've provided all of this to you, this national action plan, and I encourage you to incorporate it into your findings.
In the preparations leading up to this joint event, we summarized recommendations from previous inquiries and studies, and I remarked that if we stacked up all of the reports and studies related to first nations justice matters and violence, this body of work would simply tower over all of us. We don't lack for reflection. What we lack is accountability, and what we lack is action.
When I and others met with the Prime Minister last January and spoke specifically about a national inquiry into missing and murdered women, he responded that he had not yet seen the evidence that another inquiry could make a difference. Instead, he wanted to know what actions should be taken. I've heard these words echoed since by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
I want to be very clear with all of you tonight. The families who have lost loved ones—mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends—are not asking for more study to delay moving forward on what we know needs to happen. The AFN is not in any way saying that we sit back and not undertake the needed efforts now to stop violence against indigenous women and girls. Instead, I want you to know that a national public commission of inquiry is critical for accountability and to create change. What has prevented us from moving forward in the past? Has it been cost, negligence, or has it been oversight?
The children, families, and communities that have been indelibly marked by violence deserve answers and accountability towards the future, a commitment that we all strive to achieve safety.
I believe you have a unique and very powerful role and I urge you to use it for the best outcomes. Structural change and achieving true reconciliation in this country, overcoming decades of failed and oppressive laws and policy, will take time, but there are immediate actions this committee can recommend take place, actions that demonstrate the commitment and political will needed to create change.
These actions include the creation of an independent national public commission of inquiry on violence against indigenous women and girls with a focus on developing action plans to address violence and the factors that lead to it, one that is inclusive and reflective of the perspectives of indigenous women, communities, and the families of missing and murdered women.
We seek a clear and unmitigated commitment to taking action demonstrated through the creation of a national public action plan. Indigenous communities, organizations, provinces and territories, are advancing strategies to end violence, but without clearly articulated national goals and coordinated efforts led by the federal government these initiatives will not fully address the magnitude of response required to prevent and end violence against indigenous women and girls and bring accountability to the families of those who are missing and murdered.
Thirdly, there need to be immediate increased investments in front-line services and shelters on reserve and in rural areas so that every first nations woman and girl experiencing violence has access to immediate support. As well, there needs to be a coordinated focus on prevention among youth and across populations, with particular outreach to remote communities and, as was expressed, in the urban centres.
You've heard from police services, and our work has brought forward specific recommendations for police that are worth noting here and in your final report. Police services need to work together to produce verifiable numbers on incidents of violence against indigenous women and girls so that progress can be measured. Adequate sustainable resources are required for first nations police services. Compulsory protocols are needed between and amongst police services to share information and immediately respond to and appropriately investigate reports of missing persons by indigenous families.
In conclusion, addressing violence against indigenous women and girls is all of our responsibility: individuals, elected representatives, legislators, and police. I believe we know what the solutions are. What is needed now is the commitment, the will, and the leadership to get there.
Thank you.
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Shawn A-in-chut Atleo
View Shawn A-in-chut Atleo Profile
Shawn A-in-chut Atleo
2013-12-05 19:38
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I thank you, Mr. Strahl, not just as a fellow British Columbian, but as one who had close relatives whose remains were found on that farm, I often found myself supporting family to try to find missing individuals from my community in the downtown eastside.
Mr. Cyr articulated the wide range of reasons, which I chose not to go into tonight because I think this committee knows them more than most. To understand the challenge to first nations in trusting the systems that are intended to serve them, be they police, be they government—the kinds of experiences we've had and the one that occurred in the provincial inquiry. I think the first piece is to recognize that we're supporting this on a national scale and it requires a national response and, in our opinion, a strong national lead.
Parliament accepted that and continued the work of this committee, which in many respects was welcome, but it is also a recognition that this is a major issue that needs national attention and national leadership.
The earlier question about the three or four things is extremely challenging. The purpose of the public inquiry is to engage in this on a national scale: the accountability aspect of it and having it led in a way that learns in some respects from other inquiries that have been felt to be less than satisfactory.
Indigenous peoples in this country have experience working in partnership with the federal government. There's every reason we can learn from the good experiences, as well as learn from experiences that have fallen short of what we would have hoped to come out of it.
To a certain extent I was involved in my former work as regional chief for British Columbia. I think the depth of involvement could be something to learn from, the meaningful involvement of the families that are directly impacted, having them help to forge an approach that feels right, that instills us with a sense of trust that we can have these conversations in this country and that there will not be a sense of a power imbalance in the way the work unfurls.
If that is up front and you have that, then I think you have a much better chance of success at sharing responsibility, because that's the theme of what you've heard from the presenters here tonight—a shared sense of responsibility. I think there are elements we can look at, not just the inquiry that happened in B.C., but other inquiries. We can learn from those experiences.
Very clearly, the context of this is tremendously different. We end up working in every region of the country. To pick up on the last question, I think this committee has the opportunity to call for a full national public commission of inquiry.
But the first on the short list of three is to support the development of a national public action plan, where indigenous communities, different organizations, come together to articulate national goals that this committee says is required at this time, to get on with that action, and get on with supporting a nationally developed action plan that brings the voices together.
Second, there needs to be an immediate response to the shelter needs. I think Charlene alluded to this in some respects, the fact that every woman and girl needs to be able to have access to services. Right now that does not exist. With emphasis on the rural, I join in calling for those in the urban program.
Third, to round it out, we need a coordinated focus on prevention. Charlene talked about when these instances come up what's happened in that family already to lead to an increased vulnerability? She has experience, as many do, supporting the healing work that's happening in the communities.
I understand the question, and there's a sense that there's some reticence, that because of what happened in one jurisdiction, it doesn't apply nationally. This absolutely applies nationally. We're looking to you as a committee to call for a full national public commission of inquiry.
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View Jim Karygiannis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
I'm glad you pointed out, sir, that the old pension was non-taxable and the new one is taxable.
I'm going to pick up on Mr. Rafferty's point about the closing of the VAC centres. There are going to be 27,688 vets who will be affected by the closing of these centres. We are told that there are all kinds.... I mean, for My VAC—this portfolio, I think, is what you or some people referred to—people can actually go online, use phones, go in person, use mail, and whatever else there is.
With the closing of these centres, how would the older vets, vets who are 80 or 90, be able to get assistance? We get from the department that there are 600 points of reference and that they're going to do this.... You even mentioned that you're going to train personnel in service centres. But there is a feeling out there that you can't trust VAC. That was certainly obvious when it was mentioned to them that 27,388 boxes of medical records were destroyed, and they kept saying, “No, no, nobody was affected.” Then vets were coming up and saying, “We've lost our records.” That was proven.
My question is, how can the department be trusted when time and time again it has shown that their methods and their figures, as well as what they do, are incorrect? I mean, breaching personal files of Dennis Manuge, Harold Leduc...I could go on ad infinitum. How can the department be trusted? I know you might not want to answer this, but you are even reporting to the minister that you, your shop, should be reporting directly to the department.
I'm going to put it out there. I don't think that what you get from the department is something that you can take home and say, “this is it”, you know, it's firm, because time and time again they've been caught not saying the truth. They've been caught misleading and even doing stuff to members of their own board, such that in the private sector they'd be fired. I mean, for breaching somebody's medical records, you would be totally fired. I'm just wondering if you have a comment or any thoughts on that.
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Guy Parent
View Guy Parent Profile
Guy Parent
2013-11-28 12:27
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Well, it's very hard, of course, for me to comment. As I've mentioned many times before, we're obviously an evidence-based organization. For any personal situation and anything that is factual, if people want to contact us, we will work to try to resolve it. If there are negative things that have to be said to the department, that's fine. We'll get some corrections. There have been a few instances in the past where we've produced reports or changed the way that programs were administered because of actually challenging the department on some issues.
Obviously, we have a capacity for systemic investigation and systemic reviews. Again, I urge people, if there are any veterans and families who have specific issues they want us to look into, that's what we're there for.
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View Blaine Calkins Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blaine Calkins Profile
2013-11-28 9:37
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today. It's quite enlightening to hear what the government has planned going forward with the legislative agenda. I know that my colleagues and I are looking forward to having that legislation come to this committee.
Minister, you've been here a little longer than I have been here, and I have been here for quite a while now. I'm looking at the estimates—we go through this exercise quite frequently—and I notice that there are changes made in the preparation of the main and supplementary estimates. Basically it looks as if there's more information available. It's provided in a more usable format, and it's easier to read.
I'll give you an example. In both the published books and the online tables, various departments and agencies are presented alphabetically according to the legal name of the department or agency. It makes it easier to find the organizations, and so on.
I was wondering if you could enlighten us as parliamentarians here at the table on the importance of making these estimates not only more understandable for the general public, but also for the work that we do here as parliamentarians. I think this is an ongoing theme of openness and transparency that we've established here through various other mechanisms as well. Could you explain how this fits into that context?
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View Peter MacKay Profile
CPC (NS)
View Peter MacKay Profile
2013-11-28 9:38
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Sure. Thank you very much, Mr. Calkins.
I know that you have been very diligent in your committee work as well as in calling upon our own government to pursue this effort of being accountable, being open and transparent in the finances of every department.
That's what this main estimates and supplementary estimates process is all about. Greater accountability has been the cornerstone of our government, greater ability to translate that to the public in a more understandable way. We're not all accountants. We're not all perhaps as well versed with finances as we should be. Certainly as we approach tax time, this becomes more and more evident in my own household. Having more information presented in a way that the public can digest, that they can understand the line items and what they're connected to....
We were speaking earlier about programming and how that money is spent. That's true across government. People need to see the direct correlation between how money is spent and what results are achieved as a result.
As members of this committee know, this estimates process is really all about that direct accountability. Laying it out in the format as you see before you in clearer and more understandable terms is what we've sought to achieve. I appreciate your having noticed that and pointing it out. It is something that I believe all departments are working very diligently to continue to achieve.
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View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
Thank you.
Just at the outset, I would like to say that I'm not going to dwell on the particular issue, the particular employee that Mr. Regan spoke to, but I do want to raise with the minister—he doesn't have to worry about responding, but he could—the concern about ministerial responsibility, and perhaps a word for the wise, given a recent court decision in Alberta about ministerial accountability for the conduct of senior staff.
In that case, the court ruled that the energy regulator had erred in law because senior officials had suggested behind the scenes that witnesses on energy projects shouldn't be heard if they were opposed to such energy projects. It goes to the conduct of officials, so it would be our understanding.... It's a big theme over the last year on what's going on in the House about ministerial accountability for what goes on in staff, so probably all ministers should be taking heed of that recent court decision.
My first question, Mr. Minister, goes to vote 1b and more dollars—$750,000 essentially—being spent to “streamline...import regulations border processes for...trade”. I'm raising a concern on that because it is actually a violation of both NAFTA and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation for any of the parties to that agreement, which of course includes Canada, to downgrade environmental measures for any kind of economic benefit.
I had the privilege at working at the NAFTA environment commission. At that time, there was a big issue of fuel cocktailing, and there was an issue of a lot of illegal trade in endangered species and so forth, so we were trying to step up inspections at the border. Since then, there's a big push to fast-track movement at the border. I wonder if you could explain what you mean by “streamline”. Does that mean to deregulate and downgrade at the border any inspections for environmental reasons?
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View Joe Oliver Profile
CPC (ON)
First of all, let me comment on your comment about ministerial responsibility. And I don't really need a lecture on that, I have to tell you.
I must say, this implication that integrity is in play here I utterly reject. There is no suggestion that anyone in my department or I have ever violated integrity.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:33
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Thank you.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present my Fall 2013 Report, which was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday. I am accompanied by assistant auditors general Wendy Loschiuk and Maurice Laplante, and principals Gordon Stock and John Affleck.
This report touches on a range of long-standing issues the government has been struggling to address, with potentially significant impacts for Canadians.
Rail safety is one such issue. Fourteen years ago, Transport Canada recognized the need to shift from an inspection-based oversight approach to one that integrates the oversight of safety management systems. This shift is ongoing. Much work remains to be done, and the transition is taking too long.
Transport Canada completed only 26% of its planned audits of federal railways over a three-year period. Most of these audits were narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of railway safety management systems. The department has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have implemented adequate and effective safety management systems for complying on a day-to-day basis with Canada's framework for rail safety.
Our audit of Canada's food recall system showed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does a good job of managing most aspects of recalls. However, the weaknesses we saw in both follow-ups with industry and in large emergency recalls leave significant gaps in the system. While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I'm not confident the system will always yield similar results. The weaknesses we found in decision-making and follow-up stand in the way of the continuous improvement of a system intended to deal with food safety incidents in Canada.
In this report, we also looked at how the Canada Revenue Agency followed up on a list of possible Canadian residents with accounts in a European bank. The Canada Revenue Agency's initial work on offshore banking information shows promise. However, with more lists to look at and changes in legislation that will give the agency access to more information, I believe that it needs to formalize its approach to deal with the increase in its workload.
In another audit, we looked at border controls to prevent illegal entry into Canada. It is very important for the safety of Canadians that controls at the border work as they are supposed to. I am very concerned that our audit found too many examples of controls not working.
Though the Canada Border Services Agency has made significant progress in some of its efforts to detect high risk travellers, it often does not get the information it needs to identify these travellers before they arrive in Canada. Furthermore, even when the agency has the information, we found that controls do not always work. We also found that the RCMP does not know the extent to which it is successful in intercepting people who enter the country illegally between ports of entry.
Though it is not the first time we have raised these issues, border controls are still not working as they should. With better analysis of existing information and better monitoring, many of these issues can be fixed.
Our audit of disaster assistance to agricultural producers is an example of a program with a disconnect between the program's objectives and its outcomes.
Providing quick assistance to agricultural producers is a key goal of the AgriRecovery program. While Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has delivered assistance to producers for large disasters within their targeted timeline, those producers impacted by disasters with a smaller total payout often wait more than a year for financial help.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada needs to streamline its processes for smaller initiatives, and it must track whether it is meeting its timelines.
Let's now move on to our audit of online government services. We found that, since 2005, the government has not significantly expanded the services it offers online to its citizens. As Canadians rely more on the Internet in their day-to-day lives, they expect the government to provide them with online information and services that address their needs.
The government has estimated that savings can be realized by providing better online services for Canadians, but there needs to be a concerted client-focussed strategy. Departments need to work together to make this happen.
Our audit of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's role in supporting emergency management on first nations reserves showed that the department is in a cycle of reacting to emergencies. It has not been able to focus on what can be done to prevent and mitigate these events.
Some reserves continue to be adversely affected in significant ways by repeated emergencies, such as floods. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal government and other stakeholders are unclear. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada must work with other stakeholders, including first nations, to reduce the human and financial costs of emergencies over the long term.
We also followed up on our audit of internal controls over financial reporting. Eight years after the government made it a priority to have in place effective internal controls over financial reporting, I am concerned that several large departments are still years away from knowing whether these controls are in place and working effectively. With annual spending of nearly $300 billion across government, effective internal controls are a necessary part of safeguarding public assets. It is imperative that departments get this work done without further delay.
This report also looked at the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, specifically whether it has been designed and managed to help sustain Canadian shipbuilding capacity and capability over the coming decades. It's still early, but so far the strategy has resulted in the transparent and efficient selection of two yards to build ships for the navy and the coast guard.
Although only a few contracts have signed to date, and it will be a few years before any ships are delivered, the national shipbuilding procurement strategy shows promise. As with anything new, there are risks involved, and these will need to be closely monitored on an ongoing basis.
A look over the audits that we are reporting on today shows that, in many cases, the results need to be improved. Even when the government recognizes a problem, it takes too long to develop and implement solutions. The resulting delays can have significant impacts on Canadians, both directly and indirectly.
Departments need to focus on critical success factors that are proven to work. These include setting clear priorities, applying lessons learned, and monitoring deliverables against timelines and objectives.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement.
We are happy to answer any questions the members may have. Thank you.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:43
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the Auditor General for being here today along with his staff. Obviously, it is a very important function to make sure that Canadians are getting value for money. I certainly look forward to working with you during my time on this committee.
I'd like to start with chapter 1 of your report. Specifically, I want to understand not just the recommendations, but also the problems that are at hand.
First of all, it's my understanding that the Treasury Board policy on internal control was implemented back in 2009. To me, it sounds as if the purpose was to shift the department's focus from audited financial statements to mandatory annual public disclosure of their risk-based assessment of controls over financial reporting and their planned improvements. It's moving from that. It sounds to me as if they're moving from just keeping the numbers, tracking the numbers, to keeping an eye on other priorities such as inventories, liabilities, etc.
Could you explain a little bit more what that shift is?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:44
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The internal control systems are important for many different reasons. They are there to help protect the government's assets. They are there to make sure that all of the revenue that the government is owed is collected and recorded. They are there to make sure that expenses are authorized.
Financial internal controls are not just about producing statements. They are about many other things, such as protecting government assets.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:45
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Thank you for that.
Your report in paragraph 1.7 states:
While the departments had made some progress toward completing their annual risk-based assessments, none of the departments had fully assessed their internal controls for financial reporting.
I'm bearing in mind that this particular committee takes a non-partisan approach. We're not about the policy per se; we're about value for money. I was disappointed to hear that there was an illusion that none of the seven departments had made improvements, but it sounds to me as if two particular departments made some significant progress. Is that accurate?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:46
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We found that two of the departments involved in this audit, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of Finance, completed all of the work necessary to put in place their system of internal control, assess that system of internal control, determine if there are any gaps in it, address those gaps, and put in place a monitoring system. Two of the departments we looked at had completed the work we expected them to have completed.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:46
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So assertions in this chapter stating that the departments do not have controls over spending are not necessarily accurate. What we're talking about is transitioning to a higher level of accuracy and control from a system where they only monitored through statements. I also believe that it has to do with accountability, as in the Comptroller General's overall position in helping guide departments to comply with the policy.
I think that's another issue you've taken up with the departments. Is that correct?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:47
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Again, it's important for the departments to put in place these systems of controls. I think that's been a priority for a while now, to make sure there are good systems of controls in place. Certainly, there is a role there for the Comptroller General's office as well to encourage these departments to get the internal controls in place.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-27 15:47
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Because the policy itself didn't actually set deadlines, is it a fair characterization to say that your office, the Office of the Auditor General, and the Comptroller General's office disagreed with the notion that the Comptroller General, as part of the central agency oversight, would have more of an active role in trying to bring those departments into compliance? Is that correct?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:48
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One of the things we noted—and I think it's in the table that's in the chapter—was there were at least two departments that told us they were going to have this work done by the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013. There were three departments that told us that, and in this audit we found that two of them didn't have it done. That was a concern for us.
Also, yes, we spent a lot of time discussing with the Comptroller General's office what their role is and, I guess, what activities they undertake to encourage these departments to put their systems of internal controls in, assess them, and make sure they have monitoring processes in place.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 15:49
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the Auditor General and the department for coming.
I have a quick question regarding chapter 1. My friend across the way has been talking about that.
In your comments I think you stated that this actually is not a new audit of a similar situation, but an audit was done of this some time ago and the government committed to making immediate changes on how they do this. Is that a fair summary of what the last one said? I don't have it in front of me today, obviously. I don't think you do either, Mr. Ferguson, but it seems the gist of it was that this was done before and somehow it was going to get fixed, and it's still not fixed.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:49
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This audit was a follow-up audit of an audit we had completed in 2011. The reason we came back and looked at it again so quickly in 2013 was that some of the departments told us they were going to be finished in 2013.
I think it's clear in the chapter that other than for the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Department of Finance—and I want to be clear that for those two departments, we judged their performance to be satisfactory—the other departments we looked at, as well as the role of Treasury Board, we judged the progress that had been made since the last time we did the audit was unsatisfactory.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 15:50
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I guess I would use the term.... I won't ask you to comment, but you can comment if you would like to, of course, Mr. Ferguson. I always love it when you comment.
It would seem when you did the audit the government made a commitment to complete something. You went back and checked, because they said they would do it quickly, and what you found in this particular case is that a couple of departments managed to make it, and a whole pile of them didn't get there at all.
I don't know if you want to comment on that. It's more of a comment from me. I recognize that's not a direct question.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:51
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Again, I think the summary of the audit was.... It was a follow-up audit. When we're doing a follow-up audit, what we are looking at is what departments have told us in the past, and whether they have done what they said they were going to do. Then it's very clear in a follow-up audit. We look at what they have done, and we judge it to be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. I think our determination is very clear throughout the chapter.
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View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Then we go back to what you say in chapter 1, about the monitoring issues that seem to be severely lacking. It's been going on for quite some time, where we really need to do a lot of catch up on monitoring of these programs to find out if we're getting the measured success that we so desire. Certainly, when it comes to procurement, such as ship building, or even other types of equipment of that size, and the right decision about options, it seems to me that it's prolific across many departments where we lack the amount of monitoring in order to make these decisions.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 16:41
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As I mentioned in my opening statement, a number of these issues have been around for a while. Departments have been working on them for a while, but they haven't been able to get them resolved. We think they need to go back to the things that have been proven to work in terms of setting deadlines, learning lessons, setting objectives, and those types of things in measuring performance to make sure some of these files move forward.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 16:52
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I would certainly concur with that, sir, in the sense that if you don't know what the dates are when you're recalling a particular product, you may be recalling stuff that doesn't need to be recalled, but that's on the plus safety side, in a sense. It's a loss to the producer or the processor. The problem is if you have the wrong date, and you were supposed to have recalled the tainted material the day before and it's now out there. That seems to me to be a glaring gap when that confusion starts.
However, I want to move on to chapter 7. You indicated that with a hard cap, if I can use that term, in the budget, which the government has talked about before in the House and you've identified, you suggested that perhaps they will be faced with some choices. What do you see those choices being if they, indeed, stay at the same dollar figure that has been proposed, if there's no movement in opening up that budget in the next number of years?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 16:53
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To clarify, Mr. Chair, the question referred to chapter 7. I think you're referring to chapter 3 on—
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2013-11-27 16:53
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Oh, sorry. Yes, it's chapter 3. I beg your pardon, Mr. Ferguson. You're right. I got ahead of myself; I want to go there next.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 16:53
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Really, the types of choices, I think, are the normal types of choices you would see in any large project, whether it's acquisition of military equipment, acquisition of a building, or an information technology project where there are constraints. There's the amount of money you want to spend, there's what you want to buy, and there's when you want it delivered. I think people in the consulting business will usually tell you that you have those three constraints and you can have any two of them.
That's really what this is about. There are budget caps, there's the number of ships they want, there's capability they want in those ships. When you put all of those things together, I think it's a normal part of this type of large project that at some point in time there will have to be considerations made about whether there needs to be more money in the budget, whether it's fewer ships, whether the capability of the ships can be reduced, and we've already seen that within these projects. They're faced with having to make considerations in some of those areas.
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View Dan Harris Profile
NDP (ON)
View Dan Harris Profile
2013-11-27 17:06
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Thank you very much.
I'll jump right into it so we can get in a little bit more questioning.
Mr. Ferguson, in recent times you've expressed a concern.... We know how important the work of your office is. The public accounts committee is an important part of reviewing the work so that we can write reports that go back to Parliament and get responses from government to see some action moving forward.
Recently you've expressed some concerns that the committee is not studying as much of your reports as it used to. Your fall report has just come out. The spring report came out in late April and to date, this committee has studied only one chapter of it. To date there is no plan to go back and study more chapters of it, and some important chapters like those on search and rescue.
Because we have five or six months before your next report comes out, do you believe this committee should, over the next few months, go back and study more chapters from the spring report?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 17:08
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Mr. Chair, the work schedule of the committee is up to the committee. We do the audits, and we present the audits to the committee. I think there were a number of important audits in the spring report. There are a number of important audits here as well.
Certainly, we feel it helps to get our message through to the departments as well if there are hearings on the audits. Our preference is that there be hearings on as many chapters as possible, but again, it's up to the committee to decide its work schedule.
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View John Carmichael Profile
CPC (ON)
View John Carmichael Profile
2013-11-27 17:14
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Thank you.
I don't want to put words in your mouth, so you can stop me at any point. You concluded that the CRA was diligent in its approach with the Liechtenstein lists and bank procedures. In your conclusion, paragraph 9.46, you state:
We concluded that overall, the Canada Revenue Agency adequately conducted compliance actions for those named on the Liechtenstein list. It followed its own procedures to determine which files to audit and how to conduct those audits. Agreements allowed the Agency to learn about the structure of these investments, which was in line with the project goals.
Previously, in paragraph 9.36, you go on.... This is what I wanted to ask you. Based on your review of the Liechtenstein project, do you feel the measures that were introduced in economic action plan 2013 will meet the objective of ensuring that we have greater scrutiny in the future of these types of situations?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 17:15
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What we've identified—and we refer to the legislative changes in paragraph 9.36—is that the agency will now have access to more information so that they can identify some of these schemes more quickly. That will give them more information. They also have more lists.
The concern we've raised about that is they'll have all of this information. How are they going to manage the increased workload that will come along with more lists, more information, and now more knowledge about how these schemes are put into place? How are they going to manage that moving forward?
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View James Bezan Profile
CPC (MB)
View James Bezan Profile
2013-11-26 17:03
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Thank you, Mr. Chair, through you I want to welcome our witnesses and thank them for their testimony today.
To both our witnesses, Mr. Wiebe and Mr. Fraser, under our Westminster style of Parliament and governance system, do you guys believe in the supremacy of Parliament in drafting legislation?
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View James Bezan Profile
CPC (MB)
View James Bezan Profile
2013-11-26 17:04
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And under international conventions such as what we're discussing here today, it takes the Canadian Parliament to actually bring into force the convention under Canadian law through a bill in the House, correct?
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Armine Yalnizyan
View Armine Yalnizyan Profile
Armine Yalnizyan
2013-11-25 19:17
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I'll give an introduction and a context for my comments. Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before the committee, as members of Parliament review the second budget implementation bill for the 2013 budget. It's a particular honour to be able to appear as a witness since this committee, I understand, will be restricted to hearing only seven hours of witness testimony in addition to what you just heard from the minister over only two days of hearings.
In these two days, parliamentarians will not have an opportunity to meaningfully review the impact of all of the measures embedded in this legislation, which run from tax and spending changes, to EI reforms, to conflicts of interest in financial institutions, a brand new system of processing economic immigrants, and new rules for choosing Supreme Court justices. I have left out dozens of additional changes, including more than 60 amendments to the Canada Labour Code and a new restricted definition of “danger”, an appeal of that definition of danger that the Canadian Bar Association says turns the clock back by decades on health and safety concerns for workers.
In 1994, a freshly elected MP Stephen Harper asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule a budget bill out of order because of its sweeping scope. It affected public sector pay, it affected EI measures and payroll taxes, and a reduction in federal spending through the Canada assistance plan. It offered an extension of transportation subsidies and the ability for the CBC to borrow money for the first time.
At that time Mr. Harper said, “The subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles”. That omnibus bill, ladies and gentlemen, was 21 pages. This omnibus bill is 308 pages. It amends 50 pieces of legislation on a diverse array of topics, many of which have zero to do with the federal budget of 2013. it makes a mockery of the process of public oversight.
Consequently, and in keeping with the spirit that brought Mr. Harper and his Conservatives to power in 2006 and since on a pledge of accountability and transparency, this committee should split Bill C-4 into fiscal and non-fiscal measures in order to permit sufficient scrutiny of these incredibly important policy changes that are being proposed. Further, this committee should treat as separate and apart the non-fiscal measures that are major policy initiatives. These include the selection of Supreme Court justices, the fundamental changes proposed to the Canada Labour Code, and the selection process for new economic immigrants who will build the Canada of our future.
One simple way of accomplishing this proposal is to defeat these measures in Bill C-4 and invite the government to reintroduce these measures as separate pieces of legislation. This approach can also be used for matters that you view as time-sensitive, with such items put in a separate bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has queried why the federal government has under-spent its budgetary allocations by $10 billion each year for the past three years. Yet the second round of supplementaries that parliamentarians are considering are requesting $5.4 billion more to spend.
The finance minister's economic and fiscal update notes that the deficit is a surprising $7 billion smaller than forecasted just a few months ago.
It is hard not to feel that the public is being somehow gamed, that payments are suppressed in order to be able to declare great fiscal prudence, then picked up through supplementaries for which parliamentarians have even less time for scrutiny than this budget implementation bill.
In 2013, the budget implementation bill was delayed because of prorogation. Supplementary budgets will have to be passed with even less than usual oversight and there is no time to study a request for $5.4 billion. The integrity of the democratic process that assures there are checks and balances on the government's ability is at risk.
Though the Stephen Harper of 1994 has silenced his concerns over these procedural sleights of hand, he has inflamed that same ardour in many other people.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court controversy that led to the measures in this bill did not even arise until after the budget was tabled. The budget is being used as a Trojan horse to rewrite the Canada Labour Code and our immigration policies. These are not add-ons. They turn the workhorse of a budget implementation bill into a Trojan horse. I fear that Bill C-4 is starting to look alarmingly like a Duffy budget bill, stuffed with hidden measures and designed to mislead the public. But it can and should be amended.
Accountability and transparency were great principles in 2006. They are great principles in 2013 as well.
Thank you.
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View Murray Rankin Profile
NDP (BC)
View Murray Rankin Profile
2013-11-25 20:09
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I have to say, though, that I am grateful to you for coming here and putting in context what we are doing as a committee. You will be happy to know you are in good company. The radical organization, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, today also pointed out the inadequate time available to study such a complicated bill.
I'm grateful to you for pointing out that Stephen Harper railed against a 21-page omnibus bill and today we have to deal with a 308-page bill. This is the fifth hour. We will be here for five hours today to do it, as the government prorogued and took a month away from the scrutiny. Your points are very well taken.
I asked the Minister of Finance what the amendments to the health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code had to do with a finance bill, and he said something like, “Well, mediators and the like have to take into account financial issues.” The Supreme Court amendments were an example where, really, I couldn't think of anything financial, but they threw that into the omnibus bill as well.
So thank you for bringing to the Canadian public's attention what I call “legislation by exhaustion” and the inadequate way to address these issues.
On a more substantive, not process, side, you talked about the under-spending each year. You talked about how the deficit looks smaller. You used a provocative expression; you said that it may be that the public is being gamed.
Could you explain what you meant by that?
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Armine Yalnizyan
View Armine Yalnizyan Profile
Armine Yalnizyan
2013-11-25 20:10
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It's very difficult to know what is going on. The Parliamentary Budget Officer asked for documentation and failed to receive it. The public is asking and fails to receive good answers to many questions that are being posed of this government. That $10 billion shortfall, consistently in three years—under-spending by $10 billion every year—kind of looks like maybe they want to be telling us a story because the money appears in supplementaries a few months later.
It appears to me that there is a pattern, and the pattern does not offer a lot of reassurance that they want to be open and forthcoming in how the budget is being both articulated, and then allocated and spent. I guess some parliamentarians believe government is better when it's closed and murky rather than open and transparent.
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View Guy Caron Profile
NDP (QC)
Thank you.
I am now going to ask a question of Ms. Yalnizyan.
Your presentation was clear. You referred to the abuse by the government of 500- to 600-page omnibus bills that include just about anything when they should deal with budget measures.
Something else should be noted. Most committees, and the government in general, decided to prevent, to a certain extent, independent members from bringing forward amendments because they are not sitting at the table and they do not have a voice. Only those members who belong to an official party in the House can attend and fully participate in the procedures.
However, they found a way around the system and told them that if they wanted to bring forward amendments, they could do that at the Standing Committee on Finance or other relevant committees. What that means is that if they have an opportunity to propose amendments in a specific committee, then they can no longer table them and speak to them in the House. Were you aware of this measure?
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Armine Yalnizyan
View Armine Yalnizyan Profile
Armine Yalnizyan
2013-11-25 20:22
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I've been listening to this conversation and I am grateful to be part of it. I'm grateful to be part of these very respectful questions of small business and of the unemployed. I'm sitting here thinking that this piece of legislation needs to be split apart between fiscal measures and non-fiscal measures, and the parts that are non-fiscal, that are recreating huge pieces of public policy—huge pieces of public policy—with zero scrutiny, need to themselves be treated separate and apart. There is absolutely no way this process, which is designed to introduce amendments, is going to deliver that sort of thing because of the nature of where we're at.
It really saddens me to watch our democratic institutions, which are here to prevent this kind of railroading of public policy and to permit scrutiny and democratic discussion, not being permitted to anymore. We're in a democracy. We have these tools at our disposal and we can't do it. We're going to talk about small business and the unemployed. With due respect, that isn't what we're here to discuss. We're here to discuss a piece of legislation, a project for implementing a budget, our second budget implementation bill, that stuffs even more things that have got nothing to do with a budget in it, that can actually rewrite Canadian history when it comes to immigration, to selecting a Supreme Court justice, to defining what is health and safety of workers.
That strikes me as improbable, that we are having this discussion about where should we go from here on small business taxes. That isn't what this bill is about.
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View James Rajotte Profile
CPC (AB)
View James Rajotte Profile
2013-11-25 20:28
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Okay.
I'm going to take the final round here, as the chair.
I just want to clarify the process. We are discussing the overall bill, but this panel is largely focused on part 3 of the bill, division 1, which discusses employment insurance, EI hiring credit, EI premium rate, EI fishing regulations. All the questions with respect to EI are completely germane to this division of the bill.
I want to address a larger part of the process. The full briefing given by the Department of Finance is now online, thanks to this committee's work. We're one of the committees that does everything online. We're a very open committee. You can in fact go to our website and see every single study or every single witness who has ever presented on any pre-budget thing.
In regard to this bill: part 1, measures related to income tax; part 2, the Excise Tax Act; part 3, you have employment insurance, financial institutions—two sections on that. It's true, you have the Canada Labour Code, the reorganization of certain crown corporations, the Financial Administration Act, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board Act.
But I'd like to take it back to the process. This is the second Budget Implementation Act. The government presents the budget in February or March of each year, following up with one act in the spring and one act in the fall. But the start of this process is actually the pre-budget consultations at this committee.
Ms. Yalnizyan, I'm going to ask you the questions I ask my political opponents. We get submissions on every single topic at this committee every summer and fall. So if we don't want sections on environment or labour in the budget bills, and that's in the budget, do we as a finance committee say no to people who want to present on the environment, on labour, on immigration?
We take submissions at the pre-budget consultations on everything. We accept submissions on everything. The budget is the largest document each year and the budget act is to implement that. So if we're not going to allow it at the Budget Implementation Act process, we should probably cut it out of the pre-budget consultations. I'll tell you, if I did that as the chair, I wouldn't be a very popular person in this country.
Can you respond to that?
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Armine Yalnizyan
View Armine Yalnizyan Profile
Armine Yalnizyan
2013-11-25 20:30
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Absolutely.
I think you're completely correct to say that any pre-budget consultation should be open to discuss anything that the people of Canada want to see in the next federal budget, and that is appropriate.
But when you put out a 308-page document with over 420 clauses, and you give witnesses seven hours to bring testimony before you, how is it going to amend the Canada Labour Code? Why doesn't the Government of Canada just say, “We heard this in the pre-budget consultations. We agree that it is important to change the Canada Labour Code, and we're going to do that in a separate piece of legislation”?
It's the same with choosing a justice for the Supreme Court. It's the same with changing immigration. These are major planks of public policy in our country. Why are they being shoved in a piece of legislation that cannot be scrutinized in a clause-by-clause way? Why can't we reasonably make amendments to these important policy initiatives?
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View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
Good morning to everyone.
We're here with the order of reference of Monday, October 21, on the review of the Board of Internal Economy.
Welcome to all today.
Madam Legault, it's great to have you here with us again. We're going to let you make an opening statement, and then we'll ask you questions.
Please go ahead.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:01
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Good morning, Mr. Chair.
I am here this morning with Nancy Bélanger. She is the general counsel at the Office of the Information Commissioner.
Mr. Chair, my remarks will be very brief this morning.
I really welcome the opportunity to provide my views to the committee on the motion to increase the transparency and accountability of the House of Commons. I will limit my comments this morning to whether there should be modifications to existing laws to ensure greater transparency and accountability. You will not be surprised to hear that I am advocating this morning in favour of extending the coverage of the Access to Information Act to the administration of Parliament.
Access to information legislation gives citizens a legal framework to seek and get answers about how the institutions that govern them spend their tax dollars. The legislation also sets out the limitations to that right—as it is not an absolute right—and the independent review of disclosure decisions.
In my view, the only way to ensure transparency, accountability and effective oversight is for parliamentary institutions to be covered by the Access to Information Act.
Both the Standing Committee on Justice, in 1986-87, and the Access to Information Review Task Force, in 2002, made similar recommendations.
Internationally, the UK Freedom of Information legislation applies to the administration of Parliament but it exempts records if their disclosure would infringe the privileges of Parliament. Discussions with my colleagues at the Information Commissioner's Office of Great Britain led me to believe that these provisions are working fairly well. It is my understanding that that is what the committee was told by IPSA during its review. Obviously, IPSA is subject to Britain's access to information legislation.
During the hearings thus far, there has been a lot of discussion on proactive disclosure and whether or not the new rules set out by the Board of Internal Economy are sufficient.
In my view, proactive disclosure of expenses is a necessary step to making detailed information available to the public. Consistent proactive disclosure across the board for all institutions of Parliament can be done in a detailed way, in an open, accessible, and reusable format, on a regular cycle, and in a timeframe that preserves the relevance of the information.
So proactive disclosure is a good thing, and the more of it, the better. However, it isn't enough. In order to promote public trust in public institutions, there is a need not only to increase the availability and the quality of information but also to ensure access to that information. Citizens want to be able to validate the information that is provided to them or to obtain more details about an issue of interest, or simply know that the right is there for them to exercise when needed, which allows them, really, to determine the legitimacy of the spending and not just its legality.
In my view, bringing Parliament under the Access to Information Act, with appropriate safeguards, would guarantee that right of Canadians.
Thank you.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Legault, for being here.
Thank you, Madam Bélanger, for being here as well.
As you know, the real purpose of this committee is to determine whether or not the Board of Internal Economy should be replaced with an outside independent agency. You may have some comments on that, but I understand from your opening statement that you really want to concentrate your comments on access to information and how it applies both to Parliament and, I assume, to individual members of Parliament as well.
You speak of proactive disclosure and the need for that. As I'm sure you are aware, two of the three recognized parties in Parliament, the Liberal and the Conservative parties, have undertaken to proactively post hospitality and travel expenses from their members of Parliament. The NDP has refused so far to do so. I don't know why, but I'm sure they will have some explaining to do about that.
Specifically, I want to get into how members could or should post their expenses online because there is always going to have to be that balance between access to information and privacy concerns. We have heard, at least in a written submission from the Privacy Commissioner, a cautioning to members about some of the infringements on privacy when posting some of the information of their expenses online. So that's where I'd like to ask you how you see that balance should be and perhaps could be affected.
I'll give you, perhaps for a point of reference and context, a specific example, because it was mentioned in the Privacy Commissioner's written submission. If there were, say, a group of constituents who came to Ottawa to meet with a member of Parliament, and the member of Parliament then subsequently took them out for dinner and posted that expense online, what level of detail do you believe should be on that web posting?
The Privacy Commissioner is cautioning us about naming names. The commissioner suggests perhaps the affiliation or the organization that the constituent or the individual represents rather than the name. But if constituents are coming down on a personal visitation as opposed to a corporate or organizational visitation, would it be sufficient, then, in your estimation, for a member to post that hospitality line as “dinner with constituent” or “dinner with stakeholders”, and the amount? Or do you think there needs to be more information than that? If you do, how does that balance off against the concerns that the Privacy Commissioner has?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:08
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Let me take us back to more generic principles, because I think we're losing ourselves in the details of one specific meal.
Let me explain where I'm coming from, because my understanding is that the motion that is before the committee is also going to look at whether amendments need to be made to any other acts in order to promote the desired level of transparency and accountability.
In preparing today, it's fine and dandy to say that we're going to disclose more detailed expenses or we're going to decide whether we're going to scan receipts and post receipts. But at the end of the day, Mr. Chairman, the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the Senate Ethics Officer all together account for roughly $500 million of taxpayers' dollars. None of that is subject to access rights for Canadians. Ministers' offices are not subject to access rights for Canadians.
I think that when the committee looks at the level of transparency and accountability we have for Parliament, parliamentarians have to decide what level of accountability Canadians deserve in 2013 and specifically in the context of the recent events that we've been living through in Ottawa. In terms of what should be posted publicly, there are various levels of disclosure, and various levels of disclosure are being proposed, and as far as I can tell, we have been discussing MPs' expenses.
In preparing for this, I've also looked at the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy. There are also budgets allocated to members responsible for national caucus research offices. These are not disclosed anywhere, as far as I can tell, nor is there any level of granularity afforded to those kinds of expenses. There are House officers, including the Speaker's office, that receive a separate budget. In fact, they are specifically exempted from disclosure under the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy. No documents, nothing that's being tabled before the Board of Internal Economy or being discussed before the Board of Internal Economy, is actually disclosed or disclosable. In fact, under the Parliament of Canada Act, the members of that board have to swear to secrecy.
That's the legislation that the committee will have to look at, in my view, in changing the rules that would apply to the Board of Internal Economy.
So really to answer the honourable member's question, Mr. Chairman, yes, obviously if anything is disclosed one has to always be mindful of interests of privacy, of interests of constituents, of interests of parliamentary privilege, of interests of solicitor-client privilege. All of these are properly protected under the Access to Information Act.
When one looks at deciding what level of disclosure is required, I think that the U.K. model in that respect is interesting, because Parliament is actually subject to the access act. IPSA is subject to the access act. Our conversation with the assistant commissioner in the U.K. basically reveals that the more disclosure there is, the fewer access requests to Parliament there are. They in fact have very few complaints. In terms of the specific level of details on receipts, I understand that there is presently a case in court in the U.K. on that issue. So it is an issue that is not decided.
From my perspective, that's the only thing I can say. The more proactive disclosure there is going to be, fine, but it still doesn't give people the right to make access requests and find about these kinds of receipts and about the actual events surrounding those expenses. There is no way to properly protect full privacy, parliamentary privilege, and solicitor-client privilege unless you have a proper legislative framework surrounding it.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you, Madame Legault and Madame Bélanger for your presence here today.
I was quite amused by Mr. Lukiwski. After all the Senate scandals with the Conservative and Liberal senators, he's now promising to do better but in the same breath also seemed to hedge on the whole issue of what we've been mandated to do by Parliament, which is replace the Board of Internal Economy with an independent oversight body—not to study the question, but to do it. Mr. Lukiwski will have the opportunity, of course, Mr. Chair, in the coming days to prove that Conservatives will do better, after all of these repeated scandals and all these problems with transparency.
As you know, Madame Legault, the NDP is a strong ally of yours. We had Pat Martin just last week calling for a complete reform of what is a broken Access to Information Act. I know you've been a strong advocate for that. The NDP is your strong ally on it. Liberal and Conservative governments have broken the act, and the principle is that when taxpayers' money is being used, Canadians should have access to that information.
We also fully support your call to have the Access to Information Act apply to the administration of Parliament. I don't understand why the other parties seem to object to that; it's just common sense. And you said it so eloquently: we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money that the Conservative government just seems to want to keep beyond what citizens should be able to access.
So we're strong allies.
What I wanted to do to start off was ask you, in terms of the issue that is in front of us—the whole question of independent oversight.... We've had the Auditor General say very clearly that there needs to be an independent organization that is responsible for MPs' expenses. We support that fully. That's what the motion says that was adopted by Parliament.
You've referred to IPSA as well, to IPSA's process, which also allows for access to information at the same time as it applies the independent oversight that the Auditor General was so strong on just a few days ago.
My question to you is, do you agree with the idea of independent oversight of MPs' expenses, and do you agree with the approach that IPSA has taken, both in terms of MPs' expenses and independent oversight and in terms of access to information?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:15
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Mr. Chair, again it's a very complex question. I'm not an expert in how IPSA works versus the Board of Internal Economy. I really think that the Clerk of the House is the best person to put these kinds of questions to.
Personally speaking, in terms of administrative efficiency it seems to me, from what we have heard and seen so far, that the Board of Internal Economy administers the House of Commons well, and it has a whole slew of officers—an administrative officer, a financial officer, and all of these things—who seem to be working very well. What is lacking is the independent oversight.
Now, the committee can decide to recommend to create another body that would be an independent oversight body, but if that body is still not subject to access to information or if that body is hired through the administration of the House, there has to be some reporting that is done to the Board of Internal Economy, to the Speaker. So I'm not sure that solves the issue the committee seems to be trying to address, which is to get out of the self-supervision that seems to be at issue.
It seems to me that the Office of the Auditor General provides independent oversight, and if the House administration were subject to the Access to Information Act, there would also be independent oversight through complaints to my office and through Canadians being able to make access requests. So if one wants to look at the economic administration of it, or the efficiencies related to it, you already have two independent officers of Parliament who are independent from the administration of the House.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Yes, we appreciate that, and you're calling for changes to the Access to Information Act. I should mention to you that when the Auditor General appeared before us, he said that because of the cutbacks we've seen under this Conservative government in the Auditor General's department, he could undertake comprehensive audits of MPs' expenses, but it would cost Canadians, because he'd have to cut back on important audits elsewhere. As we have seen with the F-35s and military procurement, there is a whole range of issues on which the Conservative government has been appallingly irresponsible when it comes to managing public finances.
So the Auditor General's scope needs to be expanded. What he said is that he needs those resources in order to undertake a comprehensive audit of MPs' expenses at the same time as he does the valuable work of looking over all of the various instances of misspending that we're seeing from this current government.
In your case, you are saying that IPSA is a model. But do you have any specific suggestions, beyond having the Access to Information Act apply as well to the administration of Parliament, that would create an IPSA-like model?
Now we're getting into the details of how we transition to an IPSA-like model. Do you have any specific recommendations that you could make about how we can undertake that transition and assure access to information for the taxpayers who pay our salaries and who should know where that money is being spent?
Do you have any specific additions to what you had in your statement?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:18
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First of all, I didn't say that IPSA was the model. I basically said that IPSA is subject to the Access to Information Act.
Whether the Board of Internal Economy.... If the whole administration of the House is subject to the Access to Information Act, whether you actually need to create another body is for the committee to determine. In looking at the costs of being subject to access to information, I did a brief basic estimate, looking at the overall amount of money that's being spent in the government and the amount that is usually spent on access to information—which is 0.06%, by the way. So of the total cost of the whole of government, how much money is allocated to access to information in the whole federal system? It is 0.06%. If you apply that to the budget of the House of Commons, it is about $400,000 that it would cost to subject the House to an access to information regime.
Whether my office could sustain an increase in complaints.... As I testified before the ethics committee in the last Parliament, my office is basically submerged with complaints at this time.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
And this is a concern with other independent parliamentary bodies. We're seeing those bodies starved of resources.
You are saying that you need more resources to adequately protect the taxpayers' interests.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:20
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Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
In listening to your presentation, Ms. Legault, my ears perked up when you indicated that proactive disclosure is a good thing. I think that we and the vast majority of Canadians, if not all, would agree that proactive disclosure is a good thing. I notice that Mr. Lukiwski also picked up on that particular point. It is something on which, even though there are two parties in agreement about progressing, we have already taken the next step. We are saying that Liberal MPs and Liberal senators have to participate in proactive disclosure.
The issue, of course, is that it has that much more meaning if in fact it is administered to all political parties and is done through the administration. We hope to be able to achieve that. It's been difficult, because the NDP do not want to participate in proactive disclosure, but we'll continue to try to get those reforms brought in.
That was more of a political statement than anything else. I will get to my question.
You also made the comment that “in order to promote trust in public institutions...”. Well, we have made other suggestions, such as having performance audits conducted on expenditures on a more regular basis.
I'm interested in knowing your thoughts about the value of having performance audits be conducted by Canada's Auditor General.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:21
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I think that's something you could ask the Office of the Auditor General. Mr. Ferguson was here, and I think he's the best person to determine the value of the audits.
I think what I've read is that the audits they are proposing to do are going to be completed in a period of 18 months. When institutions are subject to the Access to Information Act, there is an obligation to respond within 30 days. So the accountability that the two mechanisms provide is different. When you conduct an audit, then you determine whether the rules are being complied with and whether the rules lead to efficiency in administration of the program. When you make an access to information request, taxpayers can also determine for themselves whether they consider that the rules are legitimate, whether the spending under the rules is legitimate, or whether they consider it to be illegitimate.
I think the simplest example of a public outcry was when we had disclosure of the $16 orange juice. That was in compliance with the rules; it was an available expense. I think people who have a hard time making ends meet at the end of the week consider that it is not appropriate or legitimate for people who spend public money to incur those kinds of expenses. That's the difference between being able to have an access to information request answered and having an audit answered. They are two different types of accountability mechanisms that exist in Canadian law at this time. The question is, when Parliament spends all of this money that belongs to Canadians, what level of disclosure and what accountability mechanisms are appropriate?
I think parliamentarians have to lead by example. They are accountable to Canadians and they have to lead by example in terms of what mechanisms they will decide are appropriate to supervise their activities.
I actually went on the websites before coming here. The Library of Parliament has no disclosure of anything that the Librarian, whom I know very well, does, whereas the Parliamentary Budget Officer has disclosure. The Senate Ethics Officer.... It's impossible for Canadians to actually determine properly what money is being spent and where, except in aggregated format as part of the public accounts or the public proactive disclosure of MPs' expenses.
What I'm saying today is—
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:24
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I guess, Ms. Legault, what I am getting to is that, whether it's a question of more detailed reports coming from the Auditor General or of putting in a mandate under which they are doing these audits every three years, it actually complements that process to see forward movement on access to information, so that the two of them, hand in hand, can ensure more accountability and transparency.
Would you not agree to that?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:25
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Yes.
If you conduct performance audits, you will have more accountability and transparency every third year for something that happened in years prior. That's the problem: you're basically looking at the past all the time, so that your accountability will be dealing with something that occurred in the past. It's something that is not available during election time; it is something that is not available during prorogation of Parliament. The House administration, the Senate administration, the Library of Parliament, all of these things continue to operate. They continue to enter into service contracts; they continue to spend money; they continue to manage people. All of these things deserve accountability and transparency. If you do something every third year, it's not sufficient.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:25
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In an ideal world, let's say I meet with a senior on pension because he's having issues with the Canada Pension Plan, and I meet him over at McDonald's for lunch. What should I state on the form?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:25
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That's what's going to have to be determined, if people are proactively disclosing specific receipts: how the parliamentary function aspect versus the partisan function aspect and the constituency work are being protected.
You're going to have to look at what is within the definition of “parliamentary function” under the bylaws of the Board of Internal Economy; that is the extent of what is going to need to be disclosed in order to make a determination on whether that expense is valid.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-21 11:26
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If we look at that specific example, should I be putting in the constituent's name? Whether it is disclosed or not, should I be putting that constituent's name on the receipt, saying “I met with John Doe over lunch”?
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2013-11-21 11:26
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Let me answer from the perspective of an access to information commissioner. If I were to look at something like that; if, for instance, you were subject to access to information and that information were being requested, I would have to look at whether or not this information is personal information of your constituents. That is how I would look at it: whether that information is personal information to your constituent. Then I would look at whether or not there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.
That's how I would look at it.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
Before I get into a couple of questions, Madame Legault, again I want to correct the record. My colleague Mr. Julian has a habit of introducing revisionist history in this committee. He mentioned earlier that this committee has a mandate to replace the Board of Internal Economy. It most certainly does not. We are conducting studies to determine whether or not there could be an independent oversight review body, but certainly there is no mandate for this committee to do so.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Julian. I'm sure you'll have your opportunity in a moment.
I have a couple of questions. You've talked about access to information in institutions such as the Speaker's office, the Library of Parliament, and the like, saying that there should be more information disclosed so that ordinary Canadians.... Would that extend to officers of Parliament—to your own office, as an example?
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