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Richard Blackwolf
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Richard Blackwolf
2015-05-27 18:43
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Good evening. I'm Richard Blackwolf, the national president of Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association. I'm honoured to have with me tonight, Mr. Joseph Burke, the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans national representative from Ottawa, who has an extensive medical background from his service in the military.
Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee and give you our thoughts and opinions on the clauses contained in division 17, part 3 of Bill C-59.
It is our understanding that Canada is one of the countries that do not maintain a large standing armed forces. The often quoted prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, in his speech to the Canadian corps on the eve of the attack on Vimy Ridge is a reflection of the covenant between the Government of Canada and the citizen volunteers of Canada who go to fight in Europe.
The new Veterans Charter is a covenant between the people of Canada and the Government of Canada to the current volunteers serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and to future citizens answering a call to arms when the country needs to fight aggression. Therefore, it is all of our duties to make the best possible charter for the care of our veterans.
Our submission today is the result of a clause-by-clause analysis of division 17, part 3 of Bill C-59, with reference to the committee's previous three questions posed last year in May.
The purpose of the act is centred on the obligation to provide services, assistance, and compensation to Canadian Forces serving members and veterans, who have been injured or die for their service and have benefits extended to their spouse, common-law spouse, children, and orphans.
Mr. Burke will address the other portion of our presentation at this time.
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Bradley K. White
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Bradley K. White
2015-05-26 18:32
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Honourable Chair and members of the committee, good evening, and thank you.
I do agree with you, Chair, that 632 is the friendliest branch in all of Ottawa.
It's a great pleasure to appear once again in front of the committee. I'm pleased to speak on behalf of our Dominion president, Mr. Tom Eagles, and our 300,000 members and their families.
This evening, we will do our presentation in English. However, we have provided a copy of our brief in both official languages.
The legion has been asked to discuss specifically division 17 of part 3, which amends the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act to add a purpose statement to the act; improve the transition process of Canadian Forces members and veterans to civilian life; establish a retirement income security benefit to provide eligible veterans and their survivors with a continued financial benefit after the age of 65 years; establish the critical injury benefit to provide eligible Canadian Forces members and veterans with lump-sum compensation for severe, sudden, and traumatic injuries or acute diseases that are service related, regardless of whether they result in permanent disability; and finally, to establish the family caregiver relief benefit to provide eligible veterans who require a high level of ongoing care from an informal caregiver with an annual grant to recognize that caregiver's support.
The division also amends portions of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board Act as a consequence of the establishment of the critical injury benefit.
Please note that our comments are directed specifically to this section of Bill C-59 and not to the entire omnibus bill.
The Royal Canadian Legion is the only veteran service organization that assists veterans and their families with representation to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Veterans Review and Appeal Board.
The legion's advocacy program is core to our mission, and we have been assisting veterans since 1926 through our legislated mandate in both the Pension Act and the new Veterans Charter. Please note that veterans do not have to be legion members to receive our assistance; we provide it free of charge.
Our national service bureau network provides representation, starting with their first applications to Veterans Affairs Canada and through all three levels of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Through the legislation, the legion has access to service health records and departmental files to provide comprehensive yet independent representation at no cost.
Last year our service officers prepared and represented disability claims on behalf of over 3,000 veterans to VAC and the VRAB. There is no other veterans group with this kind of direct contact and interaction with, provision of support to, and feedback from veterans, their families and, of course, the caregivers.
When it comes to serving veterans and their families, the legion continues to be the only veterans organization in Canada advocating for and providing assistance to all veterans.
The legion recognizes that progress is being made for veterans and their families in this budget and recommends that the NCVA provisions of Bill C-59 be passed as soon as possible. Is it everything we have been advocating for? Does it answer all of the 14 ACVA recommendations? No, it does not, but it is a very positive step forward.
This bill lays out important enhancements that will improve the care and benefits provided to veterans and their families, especially for our veterans who have turned or will be turning 65 in the very near future. We need to ensure that they have financial benefits beyond age 65 for life, including that provision for their survivors as well.
However, we do have many questions on how the retirement income security benefit, the RISB, is calculated, and until we receive and review the complete policies on the RISB, the critical injury benefit, and the family caregiver relief benefit, we will not see how adequate these benefits will be to our veterans and their families.
Our principal concerns remain that the maximum disability award must be increased to be consistent with what is provided to injured civilian workers who receive general damages in law courts. As well, our concern with the family caregiver relief benefit is that it does not adequately compensate a spouse who has to give up a full-time job to become a caregiver. What is proposed is a respite benefit. Most families today are dual-income families and sometimes that service member works two jobs to support the family, so in essence when he gets injured three full-time wages are lost. We would prefer to see something akin to the Pension Act's attendance allowance reinstated.
As I previously stated, Bill C-59, in division 17 of part 3, does not answer all of the 14 ACVA recommendations. The Royal Canadian Legion will not rest until all these recommendations have been addressed and adopted, and we will not cease in our efforts to push the government to honour its obligations.
We have not shied away from making our stance on these issues known. We have shared our position paper, “Veterans Matter”, with all Canadians to encourage an informed debate on veterans' issues in the future.
I want to address the issues of communications and accessibility.
The new Veterans Charter was developed to meet the needs of modern veterans. It is based on modern disability management principles. It focuses on rehabilitation and successful transition.
It must be stated that the legion, while endorsing the new Veterans Charter as it was adopted in 2006, has also been steadfast in our advocacy for its change to better meet the lifelong needs of our veterans and their families. We all have an obligation to understand the complexities and interrelationships, and to inform about and explain the new Veterans Charter for the people who it concerns. Our veterans and their families deserve absolutely nothing less.
The new Veterans Charter and the enhanced new Veterans Charter Act are comprehensive and very complex. Our veterans and their families need to know what programs are available to assist them and how to access them, whether they are financial, rehabilitation, health services, and/or family care programs. The government needs to ensure that resources and programs are in place to meet their needs and to review the accessibility to these programs, while ensuring that front-line staff are available—and knowledgeable—to assist veterans and their families. This can never become a self-serve system.
Most veterans and their families do not have a good understanding of the new Veterans Charter. I would suggest that this highlights the ineffectiveness of the government's communication of the programs and services available under the new Veterans Charter for our injured veterans and their families. What is required is proactive communication to all veterans across this country to ensure that they are aware of the financial compensation, rehabilitation programs, health care services, and the family care programs that are available and of how to access them.
Lastly, it is also time for all of us to understand the new Veterans Charter and the Enhanced New Veterans Charter Act. This should be a priority. Our veterans need to know not only the weaknesses of the programs but the strengths behind the legislation: the programs, the services, and the benefits. We, too, can help our veterans and their families.
Since commencing our advocacy in 1926, the legion's advocacy and programming efforts continue to evolve to meet the changing demographics while supporting our traditional veteran community. However, notwithstanding the capacity of the legion, we certainly believe that the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada have a responsibility to ensure that policies, practices, and programs supported through a sustainable research program are accessible and meet the unique needs of all veterans, with a goal of enabling the healthy transition of all our veterans and their families through this very challenging, changing, and sometimes difficult life course.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention our World War II veterans and post-World War II veterans who are now seeking assistance through the legion for access to the veterans independence program. These veterans are often frail, and they are approaching the end of their life. They are a very proud group of people who have never applied to the government for any type of disability benefit assistance, and now, because they want to remain independent in their own homes rather than going into a long-term care facility, they cannot access the VIP and benefits for frailty because they do not have an established eligibility for a disability or a lower income.
Last October, we sent a high-priority list of resolutions to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, including a resolution that all veterans be deemed eligible for VIP benefits based on need, irrespective of their having established disability entitlement or low-income status. We urge the government to action this resolution without delay. We understand that the response to these resolutions will be forthcoming from the department very soon.
We agree that the passage of Bill C-59, and particularly those provisions that affect the new Veterans Charter, is a step in the right direction. Let me thank the committee for the work it does on behalf of our veterans. The legion appreciates the opportunity to come before the committee to brief you on our perspective on issues of concern to Canada's veterans.
I would also at this time like to extend to the committee the opportunity to visit our national headquarters, which we call Legion House. It would be opportunity for us to provide you with a full brief on how the legion is one of Canada's great institutions, and how we support Canadians, our veterans, and our communities.
Once again, thank you. Merci.
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Sean Bruyea
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Sean Bruyea
2015-05-26 20:02
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Okay. Super, Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, for the invitation. We have much to do so I will skip further formalities.
The proposed programs that bring us here today have been accompanied by an inundation of feel-good political announcements. Does the hype match reality? More importantly, do the programs fulfill identified gaps and address the evidence-based recommendations?
The retirement income security benefit claims it will top up to 70% of what the veteran received from government prior to age 65. However, this is based upon the veteran's earnings loss benefit, as already pointed out, which pays 75% of release salary, inadequately adjusted for inflation. The retirement benefit equates to the veteran effectively receiving 52.5% of their military salary, once again inadequately adjusted for inflation.
It is interesting to note that the ombudsman, Guy Parent, was quick to endorse this program during a partisan political announcement, yet Mr. Parent's office clearly recommended a retirement benefit matching 70% of a fully indexed release salary.
The department has been less than forthcoming as to what will be deducted from this income, but we are safe to assume that CPP, OAS, and the CF retirement pension will be deducted. We must know that OAS, a program for all Canadians, is transparent in its legislation as to how OAS is calculated. Do veterans not deserve the same sort of transparency for their benefits?
What we do know is that the calculation for the veteran retirement benefit does not include these other incomes in calculating the 70% benefit, but then will likely deduct these programs at 100%. This hardly meets the smell test, let alone the fact it fails to provide the veteran with even 70% of what he or she received in Government of Canada benefits prior to age 65.
We also must emphatically remember that the majority of veterans groups that are active in advocacy, the ombudsman, VAC's own advisory group, and this committee in 2010 have all repeatedly recommended that the 75% earnings loss benefit be substantively increased to anywhere from 90% to 100% of release salary, matching typical career progression and promotions.
Implementing this universally supported recommendation would result in a dignified income loss program, which would in turn provide a dignified retirement benefit for our most injured veterans. Today we are witnesses to the consequence of government's repeated dismissal of this evidence-based research and recommendation in this paltry payout from this proposed retirement benefit.
The family caregiver benefit is another puzzling creation. No veteran group, parliamentary committee, ombudsman, or advisory group asked for this benefit in this form. What others have asked for is everything from matching the DND caregiver benefit, which pays up to $36,500 in any 365 cumulative days, to providing spouses of TPI veterans with their own earnings loss benefit to compensate for their lost income while they're caring for their disabled veteran spouses.
One of the easiest solutions would be merely to open up attendance allowance to new Veterans Charter recipients. However, the proposed family caregiver benefit pays $7,238 per year, equivalent to the lowest levels of attendance allowance, which pays up to $21,151.44 annually.
New Veterans Charter clients are prevented, under this legislation, from accessing the attendance allowance. Attendance allowance recipients are prevented from accessing the new family caregiver benefit, yet the criteria for each are different. If new Veterans Charter programs are so good, why is this one closed to Pension Act clients? If the Pension Act so inadequate, why are NVC clients prevented from accessing attendance allowance?
The critical injury benefit will provide a one-time payment of $70,000 to eligible Canadian Forces members and veterans “for severe, sudden and traumatic injuries or acute diseases that are service related, regardless of whether they result in permanent disability”. Countless veterans have come forward, telling us that disabling PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and loss of organ function are being low-balled below the approximately $40,000 average disability award payment.
How can government justify to a veteran suffering a lifelong disability that their disabling pain and suffering merits far lower a payment than a veteran who temporarily suffered an injury?
This leads to the obvious question on many Canadians' mind: from what bureaucratic orifice did this benefit originate? Absolutely no one in the veterans community, the ombudsman's office, the committee, or advisory group asked for this benefit. We know little of the criteria, but we can guess.
The criteria will be so stringently defined as to restrict the benefits to only two or three individuals per year out of a totally disabled and permanently incapacitated veteran population of 4,000 veterans, and a CF serving and veteran population of 700,000 individuals.
How is this in any manner fulfilling Canada's obligation to all of our veterans and their families? It is not. Why did government not do what we've all been asking and increase the amount of the lump-sum benefit to at least match court awards for pain and suffering? We are inundated by slick PR campaigns and political photo shoots on the importance of military service and of being a veteran, but when it comes to addressing shortcomings for those most in need, government delays deflect, and unfortunately have been lightly dancing on the suffering of our veterans and their families.
Bill C-59 proposes wording regarding an obligation to our serving members, our veterans, and their families, to provide services, assistance, and compensation. It is more encompassing than the construction clause of the Pension Act. However, both offer little substance and are essentially meaningless.
To what end is the obligation? Is it to rehabilitate, to re-establish or offer opportunity, well-being, employment, quality of life or education, or perhaps provide a clear service standard? An obligation without a goal is meaningless. Why does this obligation recognize assistance to only injured members, veterans, and their families? Is Canada not responsible for all veterans? The duty of the minister under the Department of Veterans Affairs Act is for “the care, treatment or re-establishment in civil life of any person who served in the Canadian Forces”, and “The care of the dependants or survivors”. Is this not what the NVC promised but has so far failed to deliver?
I'm consistently honoured to appear before committee and to have my comments placed on the record. In the past, I have provided over 100 recommendations in original reports with often unprecedented observations, likely more than any other individual or organization. In my last submission, I provided 30 easy and doable recommendations, which would have minimal expenditure and—
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Michel Doiron
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Michel Doiron
2015-05-26 8:48
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Thank you kindly, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, Chair, members, mesdames et messieurs.
As the chair said, my name is Michel Doiron and I am the assistant deputy minister for service delivery at Veterans Affairs. With me today is my colleague Bernard Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of policy, communications, and commemoration.
I wish to thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on an issue of importance and great interest to veterans and their families, and that is those elements of the government's response to your committee's report of June 2014, titled “The New Veterans Charter: Moving Forward”, that are contained in economic action plan 2015, or Bill C-59. The legislation, if passed, will amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, commonly known as the new Veterans Charter, to address a number of the concerns and gaps that have been identified.
There are essentially five legislative amendments/provisions contained within the bill.
The first provision introduces a purpose clause “to recognize and fulfil the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service to Canada” and further provides that the “Act shall be liberally interpreted so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled”.
The second significant provision enhances Veterans Affairs Canada's ability to support transition to civilian life. It authorizes Veterans Affairs Canada to provide information and guidance to Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans on the benefits and services that may be available to them in order to help them transition and to make decisions on applications for benefits and services prior to release.
There are three additional amendments that effectively create new benefits for veterans. These new benefits will strengthen the government's support provided to seriously disabled veterans and their families through the new Veterans Charter.
The first benefit, known as the retirement income security benefit, RISB, would provide moderately to severely disabled veterans—those who need it most—with continued assistance in the form of a monthly income support payment beginning at the age of 65.
The second benefit, the family caregiver relief benefit, would provide eligible veterans with a tax-free annual grant of $7,238 so that their informal caregivers, often their spouses or other devoted family members, will have flexibility or relief when they need it while also ensuring that veterans' care needs are met.
The third benefit, the critical injury benefit, or CIB, would provide a $70,000 tax-free award to support the most severely injured and ill Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans.
These new benefits will complement the existing suite of services and benefits available through the new Veterans Charter and add depth to the supports available both to those injured in service to their country and to their families from the Government of Canada.
As announced in the budget, additional staff will also address delays in service delivery, especially for the most seriously disabled and their families. We will hire more than 100 permanent case managers for improved one-on-one services. More than 100 new disability adjudication staff, temporary and permanent, will improve the processing time for veterans who submit an application for a disability benefit application. This is part of the department's commitment to service excellence.
Thank you for listening.
I will now open the floor, Mr. Chair, to any questions the committee may have for Bernard or for me.
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View Pierre Lemieux Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you to our guests for being here to talk about this important legislation. I'm very happy it's included in the budget implementation act. I'm glad we have it here in front of the committee so that we're able to discuss the different aspects of it.
The first question I'd like to ask has to do with the purpose clause. You mentioned it in your opening remarks. I think it would be of interest to all members. I think the terminology that's been used in the purpose clause is terminology that all MPs have been seeking. I'm wondering if you could elaborate on that a bit.
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Bernard Butler
View Bernard Butler Profile
Bernard Butler
2015-05-26 8:58
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Thank you for the question.
Mr. Chair, the purpose clause reflects the objective of ensuring, as per the direction of this committee in its report going back to June 2014, that there be some formal statement of recognition of the obligation of the government and the people of Canada to Canada's veterans and their families. Interestingly enough, historically there was a very similar clause contained in the pension legislation, as an example, but when the new Veterans Charter was introduced in 2006, it was omitted. The committee had pointed out that this was a gap, that there was no formal statement in the new Veterans Charter to reflect that obligation.
The purpose clause has two elements. One is to state that there is a recognized obligation to support veterans and their families. The second element is quite important, to the extent that it says that the act shall be liberally construed so that the recognized obligation may be fulfilled. That's a very clear direction to both government administrators and presumably the courts, that if they are faced with interpreting any aspects of the legislation, they should ensure that a very liberal interpretation is applied in order to fulfill the obligation reflected in the statute.
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View Laurie Hawn Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
I want to talk about the purpose clause for a bit. That's been a sticking point, because it was, as you said, omitted for whatever reason when the legislation came into effect in 2006. But in de facto terms, has not every government of every stripe since 1917 tried to live up to that clause, whether written or not? In my view, every government—Liberal, Conservative, it doesn't matter—has tried to do the best they can.
I mean, the clause is nice. If it gives people comfort, that's great; it makes it more clear, more specific. But de facto, have governments not been trying to live up to that forever, basically?
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Bernard Butler
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Bernard Butler
2015-05-26 9:15
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I think that's a rather broad question to ask of a witness from Veterans Affairs. I would certainly say, in terms of how the Department of Veterans Affairs endeavours to apply the legislation, that we certainly endeavour to do that really all the time in adjudication of benefits and eligibility for services and so on.
I think you're right to that extent: this has always been the approach of Veterans Affairs. This simply very clearly codifies what that responsibility is.
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Brian Forbes
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Brian Forbes
2015-05-26 9:56
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
NCVA welcomes this opportunity to speak to this committee this morning on Bill C-59, with particular reference to that portion of the legislation dealing with the new Veterans Charter reform.
I first wish to state that it has become readily apparent over recent months that there have been a number of significant developments positively impacting on the operation of Veterans Affairs Canada and the department's relationship with the veterans community. We would be remiss if we did not commend the minister, Erin O'Toole, and the deputy, Walt Natynczyk, on their proactive engagement in the overall reform of the charter and the enhancement of the administrative culture within VAC.
With specific reference to charter reform, it is fair to say that significant momentum and substantial traction have been developed through the various recommendations brought down by the minister, culminating in the establishment of the current statutory amendments before Parliament, which clearly are the government's attempt to respond to their proposals made by this standing committee, the Veterans Ombudsman, the Veterans Consultation Group, the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, and our NCVA organizations.
Unfortunately, many of the minister's announcements and proposed legislative amendments reflect, in our judgment, half measures and are clearly not fully responsive to the comprehensive recommendations made by this committee and the aforementioned multiple advisory groups. After years, however, of what I have described as unacceptable inertia within VAC, there are indeed solid indications that the first phase of positive, incremental change is taking place. It remains our mandate, and I might respectfully suggest the responsibility of this committee and veteran stakeholders, to maintain pressure on the government to complete this vital initiative in addressing the outstanding inequities which still remain in the charter.
Mr. Chair, I would now like to make a number of general comments on the bill and the impact it will have on the new Veterans Charter.
First, the clear focus on seriously disabled veterans is commendable as it has consistently been the position of NCVA that the highest priority of the veterans community and the government must be seriously injured veterans.
Second, it is self-evident upon a review of the substantive provisions of the statutory amendments that the devil will be in the details as there are a number of references in the legislation to regulations and policy guidelines that have yet to be formulated to support the general provisions of the act. It is my opinion that until these regulations are finalized, it will not be possible to evaluate the precise eligibility criteria for the newly proposed major benefits and the “factors to be considered”, which are often mentioned in the bill, in the administration of the new law. It will be incumbent on veteran stakeholders and indeed this standing committee to monitor closely the draft regulations and policy guidelines to ensure that the substantive provisions of the act are not diluted or unduly restricted.
Third, it is also readily apparent that budgetary constraints still exist. It is our opinion, upon a review of the minister's announcements and the statutory amendments, that the proposals have been structured to fit into the budgetary envelope, resulting in proposed benefits that are targeted to specific cohort veterans rather than the veteran population at large. Unfortunately, in our view, the government fixation with balancing the budget in this election year remains a restraint on the complete new Veterans Charter reform at this time.
Fourth, as I stated to the minister through recent correspondence and through my presentation to the veterans summit, much more needs to be done to rectify the voids that have been readily identified in the charter. The present state of development cannot be considered a total fait accompli, but merely a significant first stage of remedial legislation.
Mr. Chair, I know we're under certain time constraints and my brief is fairly lengthy. I've made it available to members of the committee, but I'd like to highlight some of my concerns with regard to the bill and those areas where there are still gaps and inequities in the charter which have yet to be addressed in this legislation.
First, the earnings loss benefit must be elevated from 75% of former military income to 100% in accordance with the long-standing and consistent recommendations of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group, the Veterans Consultation Group, and NCVA—or at least to 90%, as proposed by my friend, the Veterans Ombudsman. The current reduction of 25% in income is unacceptable, particularly given that this loss of essential revenue is imposed when veterans and their families face a period of rehabilitation as they attempt to re-establish themselves in Canadian society.
This is particularly material to those who are permanently incapacitated. In this regard, the career probable-earnings approach identified by this committee should be implemented to ensure the true impact of the projected career income loss is recognized. This proposal can be implemented by further reform of the PIA or the PIAS, or alternatively by a separate evaluation based on the mechanisms used by the Canadian civil courts to ascertain future loss of income for severely injured plaintiffs
Second, the SISIP long-term disability policy needs to be eliminated from veterans legislation and be applied only to non-service related disability.
Beyond the unnecessary duplication of the programs—SISIP and ELB—the compensation of veterans and their dependants should not be a function of the insurance industry, whose mandate in many situations is to minimize exposure of insurers' policies when applied to injured or disabled individuals. I speak more of that in the paper, and I'll leave that to your reading at a separate time.
Third, disability awards commensurate with civil court general damages should be facilitated by VAC.
It is to be noted that in lieu of implementing this long-standing recommendation, the minister has opted to propose a new critical injury benefit in the amount of $70,000. This CIB is limited to the specific circumstances of a transitionally incapacitated veteran and to high-end disability award recipients. It is noteworthy in this regard that the CIB is fraught with definitional issues as to who is eligible for this benefit and what factors are to be considered by adjudicators in determining the scope and extent of this new provision. Although we support the establishment of the innovative CIB in recognition of the plight that seriously disabled veterans confront, the choice of VAC to compensate only this particular class of veterans, as opposed to incrementally increasing all pensions in the disability award system, is of concern. I might add that this recommendation has been consistently brought forward over the last six or seven years not only by this committee, but by all of the other advisory groups that have looked at the charter.
Fourth, improved access to permanent impairment allowance and entitlement to higher-grade levels of the allowance needs further evaluation. It will be recalled that the Veterans Ombudsman, Mr. Parent, in his empirical study of the charter identified that 50% of seriously disabled veterans were not receiving the PIA, and consequently the PIAS, and that 90% of these veterans receiving the award were only obtaining grade three, the lowest grade. The minister's proposal to widen the regulatory definition of PIA eligibility is commendable, but once again does not fully satisfy all aspects of the reform of this important allowance. This is particularly so for those seriously disabled veterans who fail to satisfy the criteria for PIA, but it is also of great significance when one considers that the amount of the PIA is a major element of the new retirement income security benefit, as was pointed out by Mr. Butler this morning.
We continue to strongly feel that our proposal to the standing committee in this regard is the best approach to improving this access to PIA. That is, once a veteran is deemed to be permanently incapacitated, the disability award received by such a veteran should be the major determinant in assessing his or her grade level of PIA. If you're over 78% disability award, you should be entitled to a grade one PIA. Between 48% and 78%, you should be at grade two. It's simple, straightforward, and triggered by the disability award.
Fifth, the family caregiver relief benefit requires further re-evaluation as it fails to comprehensively provide adequate financial support for the families of seriously disabled veterans where significant needs of attendants must be provided by a caregiver. This benefit, as brought forward by the minister, is commendable insofar as it goes, as a targeted support to allow caregivers appropriate respite or relief, but in my judgment, it represents only one element of the overall concerns confronting the caregivers of seriously disabled veterans in need of attendants. Such families are also facing, in many cases, a significant diminishment in income due to the fact that the caregiver spouse has been forced to give up his or her employment, and when coupled with the veteran's 25% loss of income, through SISIP or ELB, it often results in a financial crisis in the overall family budget.
I'll just be a couple of minutes, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2015-05-13 15:32
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for this opportunity to discuss “Report 2, Required Reporting by Federal Organizations” of the Spring 2015 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada.
Joining me at the table are John Affleck, principal, and Colin Meredith, director, who were responsible for the audit.
This audit focused on recurring reporting requirements set out by the Treasury Board, by the Public Service Commission of Canada, and by statute. We undertook this audit to respond to long-standing concerns about the burden these reporting requirements create for federal departments, federal agencies, and crown corporations.
The overall objective of the audit was to determine whether selected reporting requirements for federal organizations efficiently support accountability and transparency, and generate information used for decision making in policy development and program management. Overall, we found that reporting intended to support accountability and transparency was serving its intended purposes.
We also found that clear purposes and timelines had been established for the selected reporting requirements, and that central agencies had provided guidance and support to help federal organizations meet them.
However, with respect to the efficiency of required reporting, we found that neither the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat nor the Public Service Commission of Canada had determined the level of effort or costs involved in meeting the requirements we examined. ln our view, determining level of effort and costs would lead to a greater understanding of the resource implications of these requirements, and would allow them to be adjusted accordingly.
Furthermore, we found that the secretariat has not maintained a comprehensive inventory and schedule of the 60 recurring reporting requirements stemming from its policies, directives, and standards. Such a tool would both help the secretariat address the burden of Treasury Board reporting requirements and help reporting organizations efficiently prepare the required reports.
The secretariat made some accommodations for the sizes and mandates of reporting organizations when reporting requirements were first established and during subsequent reviews. However, we found that most Treasury Board reporting requirements applied equally to all organizations regardless of their size or mandate. For example, the Canadian Polar Commission, a small organization with 11 staff members, was required to prepare 25 annual or quarterly reports.
We noted that the efficiency and value of quarterly financial reports could be improved to better support accountability to Parliament. We identified only one routine use of the information in quarterly financial reports. The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer used the information in preparing assessments of in-year spending for parliamentarians.
Six of the eight reports that we examined were intended to support accountability and transparency. We observed that federal organizations were preparing these six reports. However, they were not meeting the remaining two reporting requirements, which were intended to support their internal decision-making.
We noted that 20% of departmental investment plans had not been completed as required. We also found that about half of the departmental security plans that were due by June 2012 had not been finalized at the time of our audit. A departmental security plan is intended to support internal decision-making by providing an integrated view of an organization's security requirements.
In addition, we found that the secretariat did not take full advantage of the opportunity to use the information in the departmental security plans. For example, although the secretariat reviewed the plans it received and used them to support its policy review, it did not use the information to identify broader government security issues.
In the report, we made six recommendations aimed at improving the efficiency and usefulness of required reporting. The secretariat and the commission have agreed with our recommendations.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer questions that this committee may have.
Thank you.
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2015-05-13 16:28
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Mr. Chair, we counted about 60 such recurring report requirements. There are ad hoc requests as well, so we're not counting ATIP requests or parliamentary requests in terms of information needed from departments and agencies. Working with the Treasury Board Secretariat, because they didn't actually have a complete inventory, we sat down with analysts to try to figure out what was the quantum there. On a recurring basis, there are about 60 of them.
At the outset, we would not have had a complete list to choose them from, nor were we trying to be representative in the selection. We wanted a bit of a combination of different natures. One for transparency, which seems like a good one, is the proactive disclosure of contracts. Larger contracts often should be subjected to public scrutiny, so information like that is put out there and people can see it for transparency purposes. Weighing that with some that would support accountability requirements and some that might be also for internal purposes as well, we wanted to have both the Treasury Board and the Public Service Commission, so that's why the staffing accountability report was chosen.
There wasn't a particular magic formula that we used, but we wanted a combination of different types of audit reports to choose from.
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View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
View Don Davies Profile
2015-05-11 15:44
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Thank you.
Mr. Minister, in the United States there's a vigorous debate going on among the President, Congress, and civil society concerning the TPP. In the interest of transparency, American legislators of all parties are permitted access to the negotiated text of the TPP upon signing confidentiality commitments.
Will you permit the same privilege to Canadian legislators so we can foster a similar level of debate in our country?
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View Ed Fast Profile
CPC (BC)
View Ed Fast Profile
2015-05-11 15:45
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Thank you for that question.
I can tell you that we have had very robust consultations with our key stakeholders. Since the TPP negotiations were launched, we've had round tables involving over 350 different stakeholders from the economy. We have had one-on-one meetings with over 500 stakeholders during that period of time. I can assure you that those consultations with stakeholders from every sector of our economy inform the positions that we take at the negotiating table.
We will not compromise Canada's ability to secure an optimal outcome for Canadians, in the national interest, by disclosing our negotiating strategy to the other parties at the negotiating table. That's something we will not do. I can assure you that at the end of the day, the standard we have set, as I've mentioned many times in the House, is that we will not sign a trade agreement unless it is in Canada's best interest.
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View Rona Ambrose Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee. I want to thank all of you for the work you do on the health committee. I know many of you are passionate about the issues of health, and I thank you for your commitment to that.
I'm joined by Simon Kennedy, Health Canada's new deputy minister; Krista Outhwaite, our newly appointed president of the Public Health Agency of Canada; and Dr. Gregory Taylor, whom you've met before, Canada's chief public health officer. I know he'll be here for the second half. You might want to ask him about his trip to Guinea and Sierra Leone to visit our troops and others who are working on the front dealing with Ebola. I'm sure he'll have some great things to share with you.
Michel Perron is here on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He's also new. Last time I know you met Dr. Alain Beaudet.
We also have Dr. Bruce Archibald, who's the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I think you've met Bruce as well.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to start by sharing an update on some of the key issues that we've been working on recently. I'll begin by talking about Canada's health care system, the pressures it's facing, and the opportunities for improvement through innovation. I will then highlight some recent activities on priority issues such as family violence and the safety of drugs in food.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada spent around $215 billion on health care just in 2014. Provinces and territories, which are responsible for the delivery of health care to Canadians, are working very hard to ensure their systems continue to meet the needs of Canadians, but with an aging population, chronic disease, and economic uncertainty, the job of financing and delivering quality care is not getting easier.
Our government continues to be a strong partner for the provinces and territories when it comes to record transfer dollars. Since 2006, federal health transfers have increased by almost 70% and are on track to increase from $34 billion this year to more than $40 billion annually by the end of the decade—an all-time high.
This ongoing federal investment in healthcare is providing provinces and territories with the financial predictability and flexibility they need to respond to the priorities and pressures within their jurisdictions.
In addition of course, federal support for health research through the CIHR as well as targeted investments in areas such as mental health, cancer prevention, and patient safety are helping to improve the accessibility and quality of health care for Canadians.
But to build on the record transfers and the targeted investments I just mentioned, we're also taking a number of other measures to improve the health of Canadians and reduce pressure on the health care system. To date we've leveraged over $27 million in private sector investments to advance healthy living partnerships. I'm very pleased with the momentum we've seen across Canada.
Last year we launched the play exchange, in collaboration with Canadian Tire, LIFT Philanthropy Partners, and the CBC, to find the best ideas that would encourage Canadians to live healthier and active lives. We announced the winning idea in January: the Canadian Cancer Society of Quebec and their idea called “trottibus”, which is a walking school bus. This is an innovative program that gives elementary schoolchildren a safe and fun way to get to school while being active. Trottibus is going to receive $1 million in funding from the federal government to launch their great idea across the country.
Other social innovation projects are encouraging all children to get active early in life so that we can make some real headway in terms of preventing chronic diseases, obesity, and other health issues. We're also supporting health care innovation through investments from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In fact our government now is the single-largest contributor to health research in Canada, investing roughly $1 billion every year.
Since its launch in 2011, the strategy for patient-oriented research has been working to bring improvements from the latest research straight to the bedsides of patients. I was pleased to see that budget 2015 provided additional funds so that we can build on this success, including an important partnership with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement.
Canadians benefit from a health system that provides access to high-quality care and supports good health outcomes, but we can't afford to be complacent in the face of an aging society, changing technology, and new economic and fiscal realities. That is why we have been committed to supporting innovation that improves the quality and affordability of health care.
As you know, the advisory panel on health care innovation that I launched last June has spent the last 10 months exploring the top areas of innovation in Canada and abroad with the goal of identifying how the federal government can support those ideas that hold the greatest promise. The panel has now met with more than 500 individuals including patients, families, business leaders, economists, and researchers. As we speak, the panel is busy analyzing what they've heard, and I look forward to receiving their final report in June.
I'd also like to talk about another issue. It's one that does not receive the attention that it deserves as a pressing public health concern, and that's family violence. Family violence has undeniable impacts on the health of the women, children, and even men, who are victimized. There are also very significant impacts on our health care and justice systems.
Family violence can lead to chronic pain and disease, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and many other serious and lifelong afflictions for its victims. That's why this past winter I was pleased to announce a federal investment of $100 million over 10 years to help address family violence and support the health of victims of violence. This investment will support health professionals and community organizations in improving the physical and mental health of victims of violence, and help stop intergenerational cycles of violence.
In addition to our efforts to address family violence and support innovation to improve the sustainability of the health care system, we have made significant progress on a number of key drug safety issues. Canadians want and deserve to depend on and trust the care they receive. To that end, I'd like to thank the committee for its thoughtful study of our government's signature patient safety legislation, Vanessa's Law. Building on the consultations that we held with Canadians prior to its introduction, this committee's careful review of Vanessa's Law, including the helpful amendments that were brought forward by MP Young, served to strengthen the bill and will improve the transparency that Canadians expect.
Vanessa's Law, as you know, introduces the most significant improvements to drug safety in Canada in more than 50 years. It allows me, as minister, to recall unsafe drugs and to impose tough new penalties, including jail time and fines up to $5 million per day, instead of what is the current $5,000 a day. It also compels drug companies to do further testing and revise labels in plain language to clearly reflect health risk information, including updates for health warnings for children. It will also enhance surveillance by requiring mandatory adverse drug reaction reporting by health care institutions, and requires new transparency for Health Canada's regulatory decisions about drug approvals.
To ensure the new transparency powers are providing the kind of information that Canadian families and researchers are looking for, we've also just launched further consultations asking about the types of information that are most useful to improve drug safety. Beyond the improvements in Vanessa's Law, we're making great progress and increasing transparency through Health Canada's regulatory transparency and openness framework. In addition to posting summaries of drug safety reviews that patients and medical professionals can use to make informed decisions, we are now also publishing more detailed inspection information on companies and facilities that make drugs. This includes inspection dates, licence status, types of risks observed, and measures that are taken by Health Canada. Patients can also check Health Canada's clinical trials database to determine if a trial they are interested in has met regulatory requirements.
Another priority of mine is tackling the issue of drug abuse and addiction in Canada. There's no question that addiction to dangerous drugs has a devastating and widespread impact on Canadian families and communities. In line with recommendations from this committee, I am pleased that the marketing campaign launched last fall by Health Canada is helping parents talk with their teenagers about the dangers of smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse. The campaign addresses both of those things, because too many of our young people are abusing drugs that are meant to heal them.
Our government also recognizes that those struggling with drug addictions need help to recover a drug-free life. From a federal perspective, of course, we provide assistance for prevention and treatment projects under our national anti-drug strategy. We've now committed over $44 million to expand the strategy to include prescription drug abuse and are continuing to work with the provinces to improve drug treatment.
I've now met and will continue to meet with physicians, pharmacists, first nations, law enforcement, addictions specialists, medical experts, and of course parents to discuss how we can collectively tackle prescription drug abuse.
Finally, our government continues to make very real investments to strengthen our food safety system. As only the latest example, I recently announced a five-year investment of more than $30 million in the CFIA's new food safety information network. Through this modern network, food safety experts will be better connected, and laboratories will be able to share urgently needed surveillance information and food safety data, using a secure web platform. This will put us in an even better position to protect Canadians from food safety risk by improving our ability to actually anticipate, detect, and then effectively deal with food safety issues. This investment will continue to build on the record levels of funding we've already provided, as well as the improved powers such as tougher penalties, enhanced controls on E. coli, new meat labelling requirements, and improved inspection oversight.
In conclusion, those are just some of the priorities that will be supported through the funding our government has allocated to the Health portfolio. This year's main estimates, notably, include investments for first nations health, for our ongoing contribution to the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the key research and food safety investments that I have already mentioned.
I'll leave it at that. If committee members have any questions, my officials and I would be very pleased to answer them. Thank you.
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Jerome Berthelette
View Jerome Berthelette Profile
Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 15:35
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank the committee for giving us this opportunity to discuss chapter 5 of our report, entitled “Support to the Automotive Sector”. It is in our 2014 Fall Report. Joining me at the table is Richard Domingue, Principal, who was responsible for the audit.
The global economic recession of 2008 negatively affected Canada's production and employment in the automotive industry. Vehicle sales declined sharply in the United States and Canada, and some companies, including Chrysler and General Motors, could not generate sufficient income to fund their operations.
In December 2008, the governments of Canada and Ontario joined the U.S. government and offered financial assistance to Chrysler Canada and GM Canada. In total, the federal government provided $9 billion of financial assistance to support the restructuring of Chrysler and GM, including their Canadian subsidiaries.
We looked at how Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed this financial assistance. The assistance involved complex transactions, high uncertainty, and tight timeframes. These circumstances had an impact on what Industry Canada could do to manage the assistance.
We found that Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed the financial support to the automotive sector in a way that contributed to the viability of the companies and the competitiveness of the sector in Canada over the short and medium terms.
Industry Canada adequately assessed the recovery prospects of Chrysler and GM. This helped the government decide whether to participate in the financing of the companies' restructuring. However, Industry Canada had limited information on required concessions from unionized labour and other stakeholders, and on GM Canada's pension liabilities. This lack of information made it difficult for the department to understand the impact of its assistance on the long-term viability of the companies.
Industry Canada's information on the use of funds was limited to broad categories. For example, Industry Canada had limited documentation on the actual use of a $2.8-billion loan made to GM Canada for capital expenditures, warranty claims, and other general corporate purposes. However, the department adequately monitored the companies' production commitments in Canada.
Mr. Chair, we also found that there was no comprehensive reporting to Parliament of information about the restructuring assistance. Based on the information publicly available, we found it impossible to gain a complete picture of the assistance provided and of the amounts recovered and lost.
In 2008, the federal government launched the automotive innovation fund program. The program's objective is to support automotive firms in their strategic, large-scale research and development projects to produce innovative, greener, and more fuel-efficient vehicles. In addition, the government expects the program to contribute to a more competitive Canadian automotive sector.
We looked at how Industry Canada managed this program. Overall we found that Industry Canada's assessment of each project proposal was consistent with the program's terms and conditions, but in our opinion its risk assessment framework was more comprehensive than required. The department could streamline its risk analysis, given that recipients assume all of the technical risks and most of the financial risks of their projects.
Industry Canada has adequate information coming from progress reports and site visits to allow the progress of each project to be tracked.
However, Industry Canada has not yet used this information to determine whether the program is achieving its objectives.
Industry Canada has agreed with our recommendations and set deadlines for their implementation. Last December the department met one of its deadlines by issuing a report entitled “Summary Report on Canada's Support for the Restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009”.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you.
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 15:42
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With that, thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for allowing me to provide you with a brief overview of Industry Canada's response to the Auditor General's 2014 fall report on the restructuring assistance provided to General Motors and Chrysler during the economic crisis of 2009 as well as the automotive innovation fund.
As you are aware, Canada has a strong automotive sector, which generates $17 billion annually of value-added, or 10% of Canada's manufacturing GDP. With some 730 automotive suppliers supporting our 11 assembly lines and three engine plants, the industry employs some 117,000 Canadians directly, and another 377,000 Canadians indirectly. In fact, in 2014, Ontario was the largest automotive manufacturing jurisdiction in North America—larger even than Michigan.
The auto sector is also export orientated. There are 90% of Canadian-made vehicles sold abroad, the vast majority of these in the United States. The proximity to the U.S., one of the most profitable auto markets, is one of our competitive strengths. Our auto sector is truly part of an integrated North American market.
Industry Canada is always interested in views and ideas that will help us support and grow Canada's automotive sector. While we hope we will never face a situation like the crisis of 2009 again, we are also interested in learning from such circumstances and in continuously improving how we prepare and respond. In this light, we welcomed the Auditor General's four recommendations. In fact, Industry Canada has already acted upon two of them and plans to act on the other two recommendations in a timely fashion. I will discuss this later in my remarks.
As you know, Mr. Chair, late 2008 and early 2009 was a period of extreme uncertainty and volatility. Credit was tightening, consumers were scaling down and postponing their spending, and economies around the globe appeared to be heading into recession, if they weren't already. The auto sector was experiencing first-hand the impacts of consumers postponing major expenditures. Annual vehicle sales plummeted in the U.S. in 2009, from about 17 million vehicles per year to a little over 10 million.
With shrinking sales, the financial situation of all companies was becoming desperate, but for GM and Chrysler it was particularly bad, as it did not have access to capital like the others. In November 2008, GM announced it would run out of cash around mid-2009 without a combination of government funding, a merger, or sales of assets. No credit institution was in a position to help either GM or Chrysler.
While Canadian sales did not dip as much, Canadian assemblers were not sheltered by the events in the U.S., given that close to 90% of Canadian-made cars are exported to that country. Canadian subsidiaries were directly impacted by their parent companies' difficulties. There was a real risk that GM and Chrysler might shutter their Canadian operations in an attempt to restructure.
GM and Chrysler were at the time, and continue to be, the two largest carmakers in Canada, accounting for more than 55% of total production. Many of Canada's suppliers depended on contracts with GM and Chrysler. Without this work, many would not have survived, leading to a hollowing out of the suppliers and creating problems for the other original automotive equipment manufacturers.
That would have triggered a collapse of the entire Canadian automotive supply chain. The strong links and interdependencies between our supply chain and our assemblers were the key motivation for government action and support of GM and Chrysler. GM and Chrysler in Canada had to be protected from being collateral damage of the events in the U.S., not only for their sake but for the entire suppliers sector and ultimately the entire automotive industry in Canada.
Mr. Chair, as the Auditor General concluded, the Government of Canada did what it set out to do: prevent the disorderly collapse of the auto sector and ensure a viable automotive sector in Canada.
The clock was ticking. There was a very short timeframe to find a viable remedy for both GM and Chrysler. Both were in dire financial straits, and Chrysler needed to find a buyer. From the point that the crisis started and GM submitted high-level restructuring plans to the U.S. Congress in late 2008, governments had less than a month to decide whether to provide an initial set of loans. Again, once the company submitted more detailed plans, there was only about six weeks to assess their long-term viability.
As these events demonstrate, the restructuring of GM and Chrysler took place under intensely challenging circumstances. It required unprecedented collective action by the federal, Ontario, and U.S. governments.
While Charles and I at Industry Canada were not there at the time of the restructuring, the federal government did quickly organize an automotive response team. It was headed by Mr. Richard Dicerni and Mr. Paul Boothe, the deputy minister and associate deputy minister at Industry Canada at the time, and Mr. Ron Parker and Mr. David Moloney, who are my predecessors and who led a team of dedicated public servants who worked tirelessly and in unique ways to manage the government's response to the crisis. It supported a steering committee made up of deputy ministers from Industry Canada and Finance, as well as representatives from Export Development Canada, the Privy Council Office, and the Ontario Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism, who all played important roles.
The team also reached out to stakeholders and experts to ensure it quickly had access to the necessary knowledge and expertise, whether on financial corporate restructuring from KPMG and Ernst and Young or on U.S. and Canadian insolvency law from Cassels Brock or on the automotive market from CSM Worldwide and Casesa Shapiro Group.
There were external discussions with those in the industry, including assemblers and suppliers, to gather essential information needed to assess and understand the risk. The government then made a responsible decision and took decisive action. Afterwards, my department monitored the two companies to ensure they fulfilled their end of the bargain and to ensure that the restructuring would deliver the desired results.
Mr. Chair, I am impressed by the work accomplished by my predecessors for the Canadian industry and its workers. Their work was the basis of the government actions and it paid off. It also proved to be pivotal in securing the immediate future of Canada's automotive industry and the economy at large. In early 2009, GM and Chrysler assembly plants directly employed an estimated 14,000 workers. Today both companies continue to be Canada's largest automotive manufacturers, employing about 19,000 Canadians, and the economic benefits extend far beyond the two companies. At the time of the crisis, the Department of Finance estimated that a total of 52,000 jobs were directly or indirectly tied to production at GM and Chrysler. Another study, by Leslie Shiell and Robin Somerville at the IRPP, estimated that in 2010 a total of 100,000 jobs, including jobs in the supplier sector, could have been lost without the restructuring. The study further suggested that in 2009 alone the economy could have suffered losses of $23 billion had GM and Chrysler not successfully restructured. The government's decisive actions ensured that there was business for hundreds of suppliers. The effects even spilled over into industries across the Canadian economy.
Today, all Canadian automakers, including GM and Chrysler, are investing in their operations. In the last two years in particular, each of Canada's five automotive assemblers has reinvested in Canada, and auto parts manufacturers have also invested in their operations. Another sign that the sector is doing well is that Canada's production increased to almost 2.4 million vehicles in 2014. The auto sector will continue to contribute significantly to the Canadian economy for many years to come.
All this work was and continues to be recognized, not only by the industry but also by third party analysis such as the IRPP study I mentioned, which concluded that the restructuring assistance was successful. Furthermore, Industry Canada received recognition for its accomplishments, including in the form of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's 2010 innovative management award. I believe it is a remarkable success story that we were able to partner quickly and effectively with our counterparts at home and abroad, within and outside of government, to provide sound advice and ultimately save thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses, and to secure a future for Canada's auto sector.
With respect to the automotive innovation fund, I am pleased that the report reflects a program that continues to be well managed. In many respects, it's still early days for the program. It was established in 2008 and seven projects have been supported. The initial projects are just now being completed, yet we know from the initial evaluation we did in 2012 that the program is meeting its short-term objectives. It has leveraged about $2.8 billion in investments since its inception, and as the Auditor General has recommended, we will continue to report against its longer-term objectives as projects are completed.
Mr. Chair, I want to conclude my remarks by noting that we have learned a great deal from these experiences, and the Auditor General's recommendations have helped embed these. The recommendations have highlighted that clear and comprehensive reporting on support provided and the management of that support contributes to the public understanding of the restructuring success. In order to increase the ease of access to the information, last December we published a single summary report on the restructuring support and recoveries. We've also committed to undertaking a review of the management of the restructuring assistance with a focus on identifying lessons learned. This work will be completed this year.
The Auditor General also recommended reviewing how we evaluate proposals for support from the automotive innovation fund, and monitoring the performance of the program.
We have updated the program's risk assessment framework and made explicit the manner in which risk profiles of applicants are assessed. We will also evaluate the program again in 2017-18 to determine to what extent it achieves its long-term objectives.
It is fair to say, just like all Canadians, we hope we never face such a challenge again, requiring us to use the lessons learned from the 2009 crisis.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. We will be pleased to respond to your questions.
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Jerome Berthelette
View Jerome Berthelette Profile
Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 16:01
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Mr. Chair, I agree with what you say.
I would make reference to paragraph 5.88, which is our conclusion:
...we concluded that Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed the financial support to the automotive sector in a way that contributed to the viability of the companies and the competitiveness of the sector...over the short and medium terms.
Generally, this is a good news story.
Mr. Chair, I would then make reference to paragraph 5.23. While I just noted that it is a good news story, there are certain areas where we saw that some more work could have been done. There were areas where there was limited analysis and limited information.
We recognized, as we state in paragraph 5.25, that, “The federal government made its decisions on financial assistance in a period of high uncertainty and within tight time frames.” We understand that. We think more work could have been done in terms of the analysis, maybe relying less on the material presented by the companies and doing a little more independent analysis of it, and perhaps doing a more independent challenge of the information that had been presented.
I think that a final restructuring plan would have been good. It would have provided a place where all of the details related to the restructuring could have been brought together in one place. It would have made it easier for the department and for Canadians to follow what had gone on in the restructuring, and would have made it easier for the department to report against the restructuring.
We have in appendix A, which I believe is at page 25 in my document, some suggestions related to going forward if there is ever another situation like this. We made suggestions related to the planning, monitoring, and public reporting related to such large interventions by the federal government.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:10
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Good.
The report, if I understand the conclusions, said with respect to the management of this particular file, Industry Canada did a good job in assessing the recovery prospects of the company, found on page 7, paragraph 5.24; that Industry Canada monitored the restructuring assistance, page 11; it monitored the production commitments, page 12; and it has been recovering the funds, page 13.
The critiques, if I understand them, are in the nature of how exhaustive the due diligence was, not that there was due diligence absent. Is that a fair assessment, Mr. Berthelette?
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Jerome Berthelette
View Jerome Berthelette Profile
Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 16:11
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I believe that would be a fair assessment. Our critiques were about the amount of effort that went into the analysis.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:11
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At the time, it said there was no report for the public with respect to the bailout. Is that complete now, Mr. Jennings?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 16:11
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It is completed and is now posted on our website, as of December 2014.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:11
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You pointed out there was no “lessons learned” exercise. That is in progress, as I understand it. What is the expected completion date?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 16:11
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It will be completed by the end of this year.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:11
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Okay.
On the auto innovation fund—which by the way in 2008 saved Ford's Essex Engine Plant in Windsor, that's a good news story there as well—I note that the Auditor General's report says that risk assessments were completed. I think for the first time I've seen one where they said it was perhaps too exhaustive in the due diligence. We'll take that as noted.
The project risk and proponent risk profiles, the Auditor General points out, were not part of the risk assessment framework. Are they now, Mr. Jennings?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 16:12
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I'll clarify that the department has always used, and continues to use, a risk-based approach when it assesses projects. As noted in the Auditor General's report, we did not have that approach properly documented. As of October of last year, we've now included that explicitly in our documentation.
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View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
2015-03-30 17:14
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jennings, how and when do you plan to report the final cost of the financial assistance to Parliament?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 17:14
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As I mentioned before, we put a report on the web. As highlighted by the Auditor General, there was no one place where all the information was together. A report was posted in December 2014, which essentially highlights all the funds that went into the restructuring, as well as all the funds that have been recovered to date.
The final recovery of some funds that make up the equity in General Motors is not yet known. The Government of Canada still owns equity in the company and the two principal factors that will determine the value of those recovered funds will be the share price for General Motors, as well as the exchange rate, so any depreciation in the exchange rate for Canada leads to more recovered funds.
The report highlights what the value of those funds was at the time the report was written, but that has been fluctuating since that point. I should also say that since the report was published, General Motors did call an option on its preferred shares. They bought back preferred shares from the Government of Canada, and Ontario exercised its rights to sell its remaining shares to General Motors, which took place in February of this year.
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View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
2015-03-30 17:15
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Why do Parliament and Canadians have to wait until 2017 or 2018 to know whether the program achieved its goals? That's a long time.
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 17:16
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As I mentioned, in 2012 we conducted an evaluation of the automotive innovation fund. It found that it was on track to meet the objectives. However, it did conclude that it was too early to be able to have a full assessment of the impact of the program, given that it was four years into the program.
We have committed to another evaluation, so we're able to assess that it is meeting its long-term objectives. That date has been set for 2017.
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 17:16
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We know that the immediate and medium-term objectives of the program are being met, but to know if the long-term objectives are being met will be evaluated in 2017.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2015-03-30 17:26
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So in essence the government maybe needed to lend the company less money, based on.... Of course, there was $1 billion that GM eventually did need because they self-financed the pension plan. Perhaps they needed to give them less money because there were greater concessions given by the labour force to the company than we perhaps knew about because there was a bit of deficiency in the analysis—albeit it's difficult to do, Mr. Jennings; I understand the timeline you were up against.
Listen, some of us have a real vested interest in making sure that General Motors actually succeeds. I'm one of those people in this country. I happen to be a retiree from General Motors, so I have a vested interest. It goes beyond my general community. I have other colleagues around here as well who have folks in those communities and represent those folks—as Mr. Carrie said, “real” folks in those communities, and I agree with him.
On page 15, Mr. Berthelette, you talk about the lack of comprehensive reporting to Parliament.
I do accede, Mr. Jennings, that your department finally finished the report by the end of last year.
Mr. Berthelette, from what I'm reading at paragraphs 5.62, 5.63, and 5.64, are we talking about the sense that Parliament actually didn't receive any timely reporting in any succinct way, other than unless you chased three or four departments to figure things out, as to what actually happened with a report back on where the moneys were spent? Is that what I'm reading there?
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Jerome Berthelette
View Jerome Berthelette Profile
Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 17:28
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Yes, Mr. Chair. As we say in paragraph 5.63, we found it impossible to gain a complete picture of the assistance provided, as no single entity had pulled the information together and put it forward in a clear or coherent manner.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:37
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This meeting has significantly changed. We were supposed to have here the new commissioner, who is nominated for a six-month period. It is fundamental to our democracy that commissioners appear in front of committees when they're nominated. This last minute decision not to appear is a contempt for the importance of our parliamentary institutions.
I also noticed that the Privacy Commissioner has not been allowed to appear in front of the committee on Bill C-51. This is a habit that the Conservatives are getting into, of muzzling commissioners. It is fundamental to ensure, when we make nominations of this importance to Canada and to Canadians, that we have a chance as parliamentarians to question the competencies and the quality of the nominee. I think it's unconscionable, Mr. Chair, that the commissioner is not here today.
What happened? I need to know what happened, first of all. This meeting has been cut in half, and something fundamental to the health of our democracy has been tampered with. I expect some kind of justification. The commissioner just cannot decide, “I'm going to wake up this morning, and Parliament doesn't matter.” He or she, depending on the commissioner, has a responsibility to come here when called upon and to be questioned.
I think this is a serious matter that we need to give full consideration to before we hear from our other invitees today.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:39
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Thank you, Mr. Ravignat. I understand your point. We did have a meeting scheduled to hear from the newly nominated integrity commissioner today, and at the last minute he has notified our committee that he will not be attending.
I have a speakers list.
Mr. Byrne, you wanted the floor briefly.
I'm going to ask—when you're done, Mr. Byrne, and perhaps Mr. Warkentin as well—the clerk to explain exactly what he was told by the office of the integrity commissioner as to why he can't attend.
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Jean-François Lafleur
View Jean-François Lafleur Profile
Jean-François Lafleur
2015-03-12 11:40
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Thank you.
I had a conversation yesterday with the commissioner's office, and there seems to be some confusion around his appearance concerning what he was appearing under. He was notified that he was to appear as interim commissioner, and on the notice of meeting we always write where he is coming from. It said that it was from the office of the commissioner.
So the confusion could have come from there in the sense that his office was probably thinking that he was asked to appear as a commissioner. But underneath, there was the name of the commissioner, Mr. Friday, and it said “Interim Commissioner”, so it was in that capacity that he was invited to appear.
It seems that at his office there was some confusion about that fact, and what I received as information is that he would probably be nominated later, and there was an absolute willingness from his office to appear later as the commissioner—a permanent commissioner, if you wish.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Yes. This is getting murkier, Mr. Chair. If I understand it, the requirement under the Governor in Council is for an order in council to be issued for his nomination to be extended as the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
Work with me, Mr. Chair, if you can, because I think we need to get this clarified. As I understood it, the nomination of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was forwarded to this committee because we have an opportunity as a committee to oversee and to make a recommendation about this particular appointment. The referral was required because the commissioner's former appointment had expired and he is being renominated. Is that—?
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:42
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No. The former commissioner, Mario Dion, is no longer there, and in the interim Mr. Friday was nominated to a six-month term to be the interim integrity commissioner.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Therefore, he is acting, so it's fairly clear that—
Has he not yet obtained the order in council? Has the order in council been authorized?
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:43
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No, he is interim commissioner for six months and he's about three months into that six-month appointment. But still, this committee is allowed to and in fact is obliged to vet that appointment.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
This makes absolutely no sense. That's why I wanted to work this through, so that we're communicating to Canadians that there is a new commissioner who has never been vetted by a parliamentary committee. The commissioner has been invited, we understand, under very specific directions to appear concerning the nomination itself, and the interim commissioner is saying, “No, I don't think so.”
Mr. Chair, with all due respect to those who have made a decision in this matter—and those decision-makers are not in this committee, but outside of this committee—we have had a very serious breach of trust already occur with a former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. That commissioner was never allowed to appear before this committee. That commissioner was never asked.... The report of the Auditor General was never allowed to be heard by the public accounts committee, which interfaces with the Office of the Auditor General.
Now we have an interim commissioner who holds a very important office—important not only to us as Canadians, but to our parliamentary system and to our system of governing the public sector in a fair and responsible way—and this person has just said he won't appear before us because he's a bit confused.
I am very confused, Mr. Chair. I would like to have the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner come before us so that we can meet him.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-12 11:46
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Thank you, Mr. Martin. I appreciate that.
It is clear to me, based on what the clerk said, that that there was some confusion about the invitation. We are very confident in the ability of Mr. Friday, and I'm certain that when he does come before this committee we will all be satisfied that he has conducted and will continue—
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View Greg Kerr Profile
CPC (NS)
View Greg Kerr Profile
2015-03-12 11:48
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Mr. Chair, I know a lot of us have been through a lot of committees and a lot of processes before, and certainly know how to detect the bit of posturing that's going on. That's part of what politics is about, but I understand that if you are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, because obviously a lot of comments are being made without knowing some of the background....
I think what Mr. Byrne was suggesting is to let him know that we'd really like him to appear and that we expect him to appear, and leave the door open for him to respond back that the committee would like to hear what he has to say. I think we all would like to hear what he would say, but to put motive in that sort of way, I think, is just absolutely irresponsible. I'd rather give this individual the chance to explain to us in detail what he sees his position is and what's expected. To condemn him blind, I think, is just absolutely irresponsible.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:49
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Condemning him is not the issue here. The issue is that something went awry.
Why did he—and I haven't heard an explanation for this—confirm that he was going to come, knowing very well the content of the letter and that this was about him being appointed for an interim period? All I'm asking with the motion is that he come to committee to explain himself, and talk about his capacity as the commissioner during the six-month interim period. We have a responsibility to review nominations.
The motion is to ensure that the commissioner is at the next meeting and that we have the chance as parliamentarians to do our job and ask him the difficult questions that he needs to answer.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:51
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Who answers to whom? Do we answer to the commissioner? The commissioner answers to this committee. The message that needs to be sent to this commissioner and to all commissioners is that they are responsible and accountable to parliamentarians. This is just a fundamental issue about how our Westminster Parliament functions.
I understand the spirit of Mr. Byrne's amendment, but I think that we need to be clear about the nature of the relationship between commissioners and Parliament in the motion.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 11:52
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I think Mr. Byrne may have been pointing out as well that it's not quite as simple as saying this committee shall summon the witness. The process is such that I would have to report to the House that a witness was unwilling to attend, and the House—the Speaker in fact—would have to direct a vote in Parliament to compel that witness to attend. It's a multi-step process for the standing committee to exercise their extraordinary powers to compel the attendance of a witness who is otherwise unwilling to attend.
I believe Mr. Byrne's amendment may have been in that vein. It may be a more achievable outcome if we in fact rephrase it to inform him that his attendance is expected.
Mr. Ravignat, and then we really must move on, I believe.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:53
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Well, it may be more achievable, but what the official opposition is concerned about is that this is becoming a pattern. This isn't the first committee that this has happened in. In fact, the Conservative government has instructed the Privacy Commissioner not to attend the discussion going on in committee on Bill C-51.
If this is going to become a pattern, then there needs to be some commitment on behalf of the committee, and maybe this is the place to do it, that all the commissioners be reminded that they have a responsibility to be in committee and to defend themselves and their position.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-12 11:54
Expand
Yes.
This is getting absolutely ridiculous, to impugn motive without having heard from the interim commissioner. It's absolutely unfortunate and certainly below the office to which the member opposite has been called.
We expect and look forward to hearing from the commissioner, but this has turned into a bit of an unfortunate circumstance. We'll be voting against it, but we look forward to hearing from the commissioner in due course.
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View Gerry Byrne Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Chair, this is where we move into murky waters because those who would suggest that we should be careful about our relationships with officers of Parliament, and that we should understand that they are the masters of the House, not us, does no service to the work we do in this committee or as parliamentarians.
An alternative, a reasoned amendment, was offered to collapse the situation and provide some diplomatic resolution to this, which was refused by the government, clearly for a good reason, because while they may protest that this is inflammatory and unnecessary and that their motives should not be impugned here, it is clear to everyone listening to this and watching us and hearing our words that there's more to this than meets the eye.
Mr. Chair, the government was offered a reasoned solution to a diplomatic problem that has now morphed into something clearly much larger because now the government wants us to invite. We are going to the lowest common denominator now because a meeting was offered and rejected, and now this committee is left to simply invite an officer of Parliament to appear before us, as opposed to expressing the expectation that they must appear before us.
This has become escalated at this point in time, and unnecessarily so. I'm not very comfortable about the notion of inviting an officer of Parliament to come before us so that we can examine the nomination and offer a report to the House of Commons as to whether or not we agree or disagree with the nomination. It is our fundamental responsibility as a committee to examine this nomination and to report to the House, not to invite, to expect an appearance by someone who would assume such an office.
I'm not very pleased right now. I thought we had a reasoned opportunity to de-escalate the situation, but now I think we are getting very clear instructions from the government as to who is in charge. Is it the executive or Parliament? The government is telling us it's the executive.
I will not support this.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-12 11:59
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I fully agree with my colleague, Mr. Byrne. This has become about clarity, and it's about clarity to the Canadian public with regard to who has the right to call an officer of Parliament. Is it the officer of Parliament who decides, just on a whim, whether or not he's going to show up and be accountable to the Canadian people whom we represent? Or does the committee have the power to make sure that this person is accountable? This is just a fundamental issue of our democratic institutions.
I'm sorry that my Conservative colleagues don't see this. They were elected to represent their constituents. That's the fundamental role we play. That means that you have responsibility like I do to ensure that officers of Parliament are accountable. The relationship between the executive, the officers of Parliament, and committee, is a fine balance. That relationship is essential to the health of our democracy, and that's not an exaggeration. That's just political science 101. You have to make sure that there is a check and balance between the power of committee, the power of the executive, and the officers of Parliament.
The reality is that they are accountable to us. Whatever the executive would like to do to interfere in the nomination process—and that's a whole other issue, the transparency and accountability for the nomination process—but at a minimum you would think that when a letter is sent to a commissioner, that letter is positively received.
It stinks. Something happened. I think Mr. Byrne is right. These are murky waters and we have no clarity as to why, unless the clerk has more information as to why the commissioner decided to come, and then suddenly.... What was it, the day of the meeting, Mr. Chair? No, the day before, it was yesterday, right?
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View Greg Kerr Profile
CPC (NS)
View Greg Kerr Profile
2015-03-12 12:02
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Mr. Chair, because we have witnesses, we can get on with it. We could continue the hyperbole for a long time here.
What I suggest we do then, if you want, is to make a motion to reinvite the witness and give the witness a chance to come here and explain, as opposed to condemning him before he's even before us.
If it's in order, I will move a motion to reinvite the witness, and you set the date, as chair, as to when the witness appears.
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View Tarik Brahmi Profile
NDP (QC)
View Tarik Brahmi Profile
2015-03-12 12:05
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm trying to understand this motion and look at it from a French perspective. I feel that the word “invite”, which I would translate as “inviter”, does not express the agent's obligation to appear before Parliament. It does not remind him of his obligation to appear before Parliament.
I know that the word “summon” was initially proposed, and that would probably be translated as “convoquer”. However, I would translate “convoquer” as “convene” or “call”. The word “summon” may be too strong. It may be lacking the diplomacy and the respect due to the position, but I think the word “inviter” absolutely doesn't render the idea of a legal obligation to report to Parliament. I don't think that term is appropriate. That is why I will vote against the motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-12 12:07
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Thank you, Mr. Brahmi.
Just for information, we could not return to the word “summon” because it has already been voted down within the context of the same meaning. We can't vote again on the same issue twice.
Is there any further debate? Seeing none, the question is on the motion by Mr. Kerr.
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: The motion is carried and I believe the issue is resolved for the purposes of this meeting.
We will move on then to the orders of the day.
I offer my great apologies to the representatives here today from Shared Services Canada. First they were made to wait until the vote had finished in the House of Commons, and now they've had to suffer through a prolonged debate about committee business.
One of the witnesses was forced to leave already. Elizabeth Tromp, the acting senior assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer for corporate services, unfortunately had to excuse herself. Perhaps someone else can read her presentation.
Mr. Radford, if you wouldn't mind, introduce the rest of your panel and proceed with Ms. Tromp's presentation.
Thank you.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-10 16:14
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Minister, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate the fact that you and your officials have made yourselves available to spend this next little while with us.
I was reading a national columnist this last week, and there was an expression of concern about the estimates process and the ability of the average Canadian and possibly of parliamentarians to understand it. Certainly he, as a member of the media, was confused by the estimates process. I think it's important for people watching this and for those who don't fully understand the estimates process that you explain in general terms how Canadians should look at the estimates. Maybe you can also explain some of the things that have been done to help people understand the estimates and some of the recent things that have happened.
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View Tony Clement Profile
CPC (ON)
This is a constant challenge for anyone who is the President of the Treasury Board, to draw the distinction between the estimates process and the budget process. Ultimately they align, but it does take some months for that to occur. Because I'm statutorily required to table the estimates to the House of Commons prior to March 1, and frequently the budget is either around the same time, or in this case just after that, they don't align perfectly at the start of the year but they certainly align perfectly at the end of the year. So parliamentarians have the estimates process and they obviously pass or not. We have the budget, and then we have the public accounts for the previous year, which are a topic of examination and debate by this committee and by the parliamentary process.
Finally, I would say that one of the things I have instituted since being named the President of the Treasury Board in 2011 is to try to get us away from paper-based estimates and public accounts, and toward the more online versions, where through hypertext and other links it will be easier for you and your colleagues to examine each program year by year, each department year by year, and that way you can compare and contrast, rather than going through three sets of books of the past three years that are a metre high.
I think it is working better, and there is certainly more that can be done, but technology is our friend and it's making it easier for the government to be accountable to parliamentarians.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:01
Expand
I'm afraid that's not a point of order, Mr. Byrne, but you have made your point, and that does come close to the time that we have for the minister with us today.
But I just want to say before you go, Minister, that this has not exactly been a triumph of scrutiny and oversight and due diligence, in that 241 billion dollars' worth of spending just flew past under our noses with the most cursory overview of one hour with the committee, and one party with political standing got exactly five minutes to question all of the spending on the main estimates and the supplementary estimates (C).
It's a bit like walking a chicken past a pot of boiling water and calling it chicken soup. It hardly qualifies as oversight, in my view.
On a point of order, Mr. Albas.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:02
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I can challenge that notion if you like, but the point is, Mr. Chair, we all have the opportunity to hold government to account through many different vehicles. It's up to us, as individual members, to do that. While I totally understand that you do have your strong feelings on things like this, it should be done through the committee process. Therefore, if you'd like to ask the officials questions, you can give it up to the vice-chair, and I'm sure the vice-chair will gladly take the chair so you can fulfill your role and bring accountability in your way.
Thank you.
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View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-10 17:03
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Mr. Albas, I'm not sure if you were a member of this committee when we did a comprehensive review of the way the committee deals with estimates, where we made 17 very robust recommendations and a commitment to the public that we would do a more comprehensive analysis of the estimates for the very reason that it's our obligation as an oversight committee, which happens to be called the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
A one-hour analysis of 241 billion dollars' worth of spending does not satisfy those—
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2015-03-10 17:03
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It's up to individual members of Parliament to do that, Mr. Chair—
The Chair: Well, as the chair—
Mr. Dan Albas: —and there's still a whole other hour.
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