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View Robert Kitchen Profile
CPC (SK)
The puck I'll use as my gavel today is an Ottawa Senators puck, but in fairness to the Leafs, it is a Senators puck signed by Dion Phaneuf, who played for the Leafs. I will use that as my gavel today and call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting 11 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The committee will meet today from 3:17 p.m. my time, which is 4:17 p.m. your time.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
Interpretation of the video conference will work very much the way it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. In order to assist the interpreters, we would ask that when you speak, you choose the language you are speaking. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you're ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you're not speaking, please have your microphone on mute. To raise a point of order during the meeting, committee members should ensure their microphone is unmuted and say “point of order” to get the chair's attention.
In order to ensure social distancing in the committee room, if you need to speak privately with the clerk or analysts during the meeting, please email them through the committee email address. For those who are participating in the committee room, please note that masks are required unless seated and when physical distancing is not possible.
We have a busy day today. Just so that we're on time and we can move in camera.... Unfortunately, at this point in time, we're still working on that. We may not be able to move in camera. However, assuming that we can, in the second hour each party will have five minutes to speak. Then we will go in camera. If we are unable to go in camera, we will continue with the regular schedule of questions at that time.
With that said, I will now invite the Parliamentary Budget Officer to make his opening statement.
Monsieur Giroux, welcome.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:18
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
To all the members of the committee, thank you for the invitation.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today to discuss our analysis of the government's main estimates and supplementary estimates (B) for 2020-21, which were published on March 12 and November 4, 2020 respectively.
With me today are our lead analysts on the main and supplementary estimates reports, Jill Giswold and Jason Stanton.
The government's main estimates for 2020-21, tabled on February 27, 2020, outline nearly $305 billion in total budgetary spending authorities, $125 billion of which requires approval by Parliament.
A notable difference this cycle are the temporary changes that were made to Standing Order 81, extending the study period of the 2020-21 main estimates to December. This resulted in the need for an additional appropriation bill to ensure the government had enough funds until full supply receives royal assent, changing the way in which Parliament provides authority to organizations this fiscal year.
The second supplementary estimates for the 2020-21 fiscal year total $79.2 billion in additional budgetary authorities, $20.9 billion of which requires approval by Parliament. Another key difference this fiscal year is that the government introduced several bills to authorize spending for COVID-19-related measures, and therefore did not need to seek authorities from the usual supplementary estimates process. These changes have made it more challenging to determine where the source of the authority has been provided, especially since some of these bills provided only temporary authority.
My office developed a monitoring framework to assist parliamentarians to keep track of all the government's announcements related to COVID-19. That is available on our website. This tracking document enumerates the COVID-19 measures announced by the government and indicates whether they were included in supplementary estimates (A) or (B). It also provides high-level implementation and spending data collected by the PBO from numerous federal departments and agencies through information requests. We will continue to monitor government announcements related to COVID-19 and update the document as we receive more information. I want to underline that this has been achieved by assigning only two analysts to this task, suggesting that the government could easily do it if it wanted to.
We would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have regarding our analysis of the government's main estimates or supplementary estimates, or other PBO work.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon and welcome, Mr. Giroux. It's always nice to see you.
In your opening statement, you were very clear about the difference between the billions of dollars in authorities voted on by Parliament and the other expenditures set out in the supplementary estimates. That makes a big difference to your work because it means you have less access to the information relating to the funding approved by Parliament.
Would you mind elaborating on that?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:22
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Thank you, Mr. Paul-Hus.
You're right. With respect to the funding voted on by Parliament for the various COVID-19 support measures, we don't have access to the same level of information that we did before. That has only been the case since Parliament was prorogued.
Prior to prorogation, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance was receiving biweekly updates on spending committed to date for the various support measures. When Parliament was prorogued, committees ceased to exist and the updates stopped. Like many people around the country, I was expecting the biweekly updates provided to the Standing Committee on Finance, and Canadians as a whole, to resume once Parliament and committees started back up in September and October. That did not happen, however.
For the time being, then, we have a set of program cost estimates, but those estimates cover the entire year. What we are still missing is the amount spent to date on each of the programs. That information is harder to obtain. That said, it is not impossible to provide the information given that the government had been doing so up until the beginning of August.
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View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
It's worrisome that someone like you, whose job it is to provide oversight, does not have access to information that was previously available. Since prorogation, the rules under which committees were able to fulfill their roles don't appear to have been reinstated. If you know why that is, please tell me. I, myself, find it surprising. The lack of transparency is even greater considering that we are in the midst of a pandemic and we are trying to figure out where we are headed.
Were you given any explanation as to why the government is no longer providing the updates?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:25
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I believe the Standing Committee on Finance had asked the government for the information or the government had committed to providing it to the committee.
Many people and think tanks monitored the information quite closely, as did my office. We followed it closely. Being able to track, almost in real time, government spending on each of the measures—including the Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB—provided a very good sense of where the economy stood and how appropriate certain measures were. We could tell whether the demand for certain measures ended up being low, contrary to initial expectations. That was the case, for example, with the Canada emergency wage subsidy. The government could use the information to make adjustments. In addition, the opposition parties and other groups could use it to ask questions and suggest program changes. The lack of these real-time updates has made our job harder given that we are supposed to hold the government to account for its measures.
It is possible to obtain the information, though. We regularly submit requests to departments, but even though they tend to be responsive, we always have to wait for the information. It's not the same as receiving information that is provided by the government itself through an established and ongoing mechanism.
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View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
You are accustomed to submitting requests for information to the Receiver General of Canada to find out how much has been spent on certain measures. When it comes to the spending on COVID-19 measures, do you receive the information you are looking for in relation to awarded contracts, protective equipment and vaccines, for instance? Do you ask for that type of information, and if so, do you receive it?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:26
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Ms. Giswold and Mr. Stanton can probably provide further information on COVID-19 matters involving contracts for vaccines and protective equipment.
Overall, I would say we have the information we need. As for the information requests we've made these past few months, there have been a few hiccups here and there. Some departments had trouble responding, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Generally, we didn't have any problems getting the answers to our questions.
Ms. Giswold and Mr. Stanton probably have more to say about vaccines and protective equipment.
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Jill Giswold
View Jill Giswold Profile
Jill Giswold
2020-12-02 16:27
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Thank you for your question.
We received the information on vaccine spending from the Public Health Agency of Canada, but it includes high-level data on expenditures and the implementation of the measures. The departments responsible would be in a better position to provide additional details.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
that is not to be that you would only reason you wantThank you, Mr. Chair.
I also want to thank Mr. Giroux and his team for being here.
Mr. Giroux, I'm going to continue along the same lines as Mr. Paul-Hus.
The commercial rent assistance and other measures have been discussed. You mentioned CERB. Previously, the government was giving the Standing Committee on Finance updates every two weeks on those program expenditures.
Was anything like that ever done before COVID-19 hit? Can you recall whether that was common practice under other governments?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:29
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That's a good question.
If I really think back, I can't recall very many cases where it was common practice. I can't think of any situations where a committee was receiving such regular updates. That doesn't mean, however, that it was never done. What I remember may just be a sign of my age and my diminishing mental faculties.
I should also point out that, prior to taking this position, I didn't pay as much attention to parliamentary proceedings as I do now. Nevertheless, providing updates to a House of Commons committee as the government was doing during the COVID-19 crisis was certainly not common practice before. I would say it's a fairly new practice.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
I know you were in office prior to COVID-19. I wasn't the one who made remarks about you; I will let you be the one to speak about yourself. That doesn't mean, however, that I share your views.
How did you receive financial information prior to the COVID-19 crisis—so before the government began providing the information to the finance committee every two weeks?
I know the finance department puts out a monthly economic update that includes expenses and so forth. Is that a source of information for your office?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:30
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Yes, the “Fiscal Monitor” is a monthly publication that we look at closely. The information it provides is high level, so it doesn't give spending details by program, whether for CERB or other specific programs.
When we need more detailed information, we submit requests to federal departments and agencies; we send a formal letter that I sign requesting the information. I, myself, send those requests to the ministers in charge. Generally, we give them two to three weeks to reply, depending on how complex the measures are. That is usually the best way to obtain the information we need to do our work. Obviously, if the information is already public, we consult those sources, like everyone else. When the information is not publicly available, though, we send out those requests.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
I imagine you are very familiar with the GC InfoBase website, which provides other data. It's something a number of Treasury Board presidents have often mentioned.
Do you find the website useful for finding information that is not made available through the estimates process?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:32
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Although the website has improved considerably in recent months, it provides aggregate data, so again, fairly high-level information.
For the most part, the information available on the website about COVID-19 programs relates to voted appropriations or funding provided with the source. For example, the website indicates whether the funding is part of supplementary estimates (A) or (B), but does not list total expenditures to date. It provides the maximum amount for the year as well as the current status of the supplementary and main estimates.
The data can help provide an idea of the maximum size of programs, but not an idea of the actual demand for the programs or the actual expenses already incurred. For that reason, it's not all that useful to my office or the people I work with.
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View Francis Drouin Profile
Lib. (ON)
I'm not sure what the government can do. Consider the Canada emergency wage subsidy, for example. When the government launches a program, people may not apply for it during the first two or three months—perhaps because of a lack of education and awareness—but they may access it later.
What suggestions do you have for the committee? Would you recommend that the government post the information on GC InfoBase? Do you wish to continue working with the Treasury Board? Was there any information the Treasury Board did not provide within an acceptable time frame? Are you recommending that the information be made available on a website like GC InfoBase or that more information be provided through the estimates process? My understanding, though, is that some programs are not reported on in the estimates because it's impossible to determine the final cost—the Canada emergency wage subsidy, for instance.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:34
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That's a good question.
The mechanism the government uses to communicate the information is not what matters most. It could be done through GC InfoBase or reports to this committee, the finance committee or another committee. Perhaps the government could do what it was doing before and provide updates every two weeks or at some other interval.
I think having up-to-date information on the expenses incurred to date was very useful to parliamentarians when it came to determining whether Canadian should have access to more funding under certain programs.
I'll give you an example of when it was useful to receive information in real time. When CERB was in high demand among Canadians, it was a sign of trouble in the labour market. Conversely, when the demand for CERB dropped, it was a sign that the labour market might be picking up.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 16:35
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Good afternoon, Mr. Giroux. Thank you for being here this afternoon.
I'd like to discuss your comparison between the joint support ships and the Asterix.
Let's consider the construction costs of the joint support ships as compared with the costs associated with the Asterix and a potential Obelix. If we compare the two by dividing the construction costs by the annual leasing costs for the Asterix, assuming that the ships will require the same maintenance every year, is it fair to say that the Asterix would become cost-effective in or around year 15, whereas it would be much later for the joint support ships, somewhere around year 40?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:36
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That's a complex question, so I will do my best to answer using the numbers I have to date.
In the case where the government first leases the ships and later decides to purchase them, the sooner it purchases them, the better it is cost-wise, of course.
I think you're asking me the point at which the price would be more or less equal to the purchase price, $633 million. You suggested that it would be after about 15 years. That seems to be the right point for the purchase of the Asterix and Obelix, especially considering that the fixed rate is estimated to be $40 million annually if the contract is extended, which is highly likely. Under the lease contract, the government basically has to pay $100 million a year. If the government decides to extend the lease contract, it will have to pay the contractor, Davie, fixed payments of $40 million. In short, the 15- or 16-year period you mentioned is more or less on the money, by my calculations.
Given that the joint support ships are much more expensive, I think it would be even longer than 40 years before they became cost-effective, so to speak.
That means the cost difference is substantial. I will no doubt come under fire for saying that since the two types of ships clearly have different capabilities. They are not identical, and I fully recognize that. We are, however, talking dollars and cents, as well as costs. Naturally, the different capabilities or features of the two types of ships account for the cost differences.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 16:38
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Thank you.
My understanding is that it would be to the taxpayers' advantage if the government bought the Asterix earlier, even before the end of the lease. It would be a way to ensure that the vessel it is currently leasing will become its property.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:39
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That is a correct assessment.
However, a word of caution is in order: don't forget that ships' capacities can be different. Assuming that the Asterix and the joint support ships are equivalent to the needs of the Royal Canadian Navy, then purchasing the Asterix as soon as possible is a much less expensive option than building the two joint support ships. If two ships are desired, then purchasing the Asterix and the Obelix is a much less expensive option than building the joint support ships.
As I said, this assumes that both types of ships adequately meet the needs of the Royal Canadian Navy. Do they? This question can be answered by the Royal Canadian Navy's marine armament and equipment specialists.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 16:40
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In the report we're talking about right now, you mention that the Government of Canada overspent $2.6 billion on these ships. In a November 19 letter regarding this report, the president of the Naval Association of Canada described your analysis as simplistic and superficial, and your reasoning as suspect.
What do you say to this letter?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:40
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This is not the first time I have been told that my reasoning is not optimal. Obviously, when I come to conclusions that some people don't like, I'm told things like that. I have two children, so I've already been told that I was mean when I prevented them from staying up too late. That's the kind of thing that doesn't surprise me.
That said, the committee had asked me to compare only the financial aspects of the two types of vessels. I was not asked to compare the capabilities of the different types of ships, the Asterix and Obelix on the one hand, and the joint support ships on the other. I was only asked to compare costs and that's what my office and I did.
The costs are very different for the two types of vessels. Do their different capabilities and characteristics totally explain this difference in costs? It is quite possible. However, the analysis I was asked to do did not take into account the different capabilities and characteristics of the vessels.
It is possible that one vessel is an old Lada and the other a terrific Cadillac, just as it is possible that these two types of vessels are quite comparable. I don't have the expertise to compare the characteristics of the different types of vessels. Those who can are the people in the Royal Canadian Navy.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 16:42
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to welcome all the witnesses here.
Please forgive me in advance. I'm also on the public accounts committee, and I feel like all my committees are starting to melt together. It would have been great to have this before we had the President of the Treasury Board before us in one of my other committees.
In the report on supplementary estimates (B), the PBO notes:
As of the publication of this report, there is currently no public document published by the Government which provides a complete list of all measures announced to date, or updated cost estimates. There is also no consistency to which organizations publicly report on the implementation of these measures. Some organizations have proactively published this data, while others have not.
The Treasury Board claimed on the 4th that “the GC InfoBase...contains all the detailed...information”. How do you think the Treasury Board Secretariat should increase the amount of information on COVID-19-related measures presented in these estimate documents?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:43
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The Treasury Board Secretariat made a valiant effort on collecting all the information on the various support programs under COVID-19. There are a lot of programs, and they've done a pretty good job of collecting the information and putting it in InfoBase. That being said, what is not there in terms of information is the amounts being spent to date. InfoBase includes these programs, but—
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 16:44
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Yes, I'll interject to say it's been my experience that the government is great at making announcements and is very public-facing with that, but when it comes to the actual specifics, we don't have this.
This is a government that claims to be open by default, so I'm wondering.... Some organizations proactively published the data. Kudos to them. Which organizations did not?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:44
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Employment and Social Development Canada is quite good at publishing up-to-date information. They publish information on the big programs—the ones that are spending the most.
The pieces that are missing are the smaller programs, the ones that don't tend to be as popular but still involve billions of dollars—for example, off the top of my head, the lending programs that involve billions of dollars in government money being loaned to small and medium-sized businesses. These types of programs don't tend to have reporting that's up to date. That could be a concern for many individuals, because even though these are loans, they could end up being government liabilities if the loans don't get repaid. That's just one example.
I'm sure there are many other programs that don't report up-to-date spending, but for the sake of time we can provide you a list if you want.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 16:45
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I would love that list. I think you're quite right. I think Canadians would like to know. I would agree that these loans are liabilities, in fact, until they are paid on. There has been lots of scrutiny of the way some of these programs have rolled out.
Are you comfortable that you have received all the information required to adequately report on the spending for COVID?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:45
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Yes, I have received the information I need. What I don't have—and even if I did get it, I don't think I would have the capacity to do that—would be biweekly updates on spending to date. With the small team that I have, even if I had that information, it would be very difficult for me to report in real time.
For the costing that we do, the economic and fiscal outlook that we do, the supplementary estimates report and the JSS, so far we are by and large getting all the information we need from departments, with a few hiccups, as I mentioned in my previous answer.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 16:46
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You have noted here that your monitoring framework tracks the documents. We just had the Minister of Digital Government in another committee. It seems to me that there could be some technological, big data-type responses to this—some products, perhaps, that might, on the back end of cloud computing, track and adequately summarize the expenditures that are happening.
Why do we not have a system that provides direct access to these required documents through the IT framework instead of through information requests?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:47
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That's a very good question. I personally would love the information exchange to be streamlined and automated, but the legislation is such that I need to submit a request to a minister, and then they respond.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 16:47
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I'll share with you our perspective as members here. I know that my colleagues in opposition have even asked ministers for detailed responses. I'm unclear on whether the ministers have been able to give detailed responses, or at least they haven't been willing to, to date.
I'm wondering what recommendations you might have to move beyond the request for information towards a more proactive.... It seems like a simplistic idea, but I wonder if it's anything that you've given consideration to or if there are any recommendations that have come up through your department.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:48
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I have made a couple of recommendations to the leader of the government in the House with respect to access to information. It was related to the legislative authorities allowing me to have access to certain types of data or information, but not to other types.
I haven't looked specifically at the type for the manner in which I and my office get this information, except for the very specific timelines that we have to abide by under the electoral campaign proposals where we cost party proposals.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 16:48
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My last question is, how would you define “open by default”?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:48
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It would be that you open the kimono by default and you hide just the sensitive parts. That would be cabinet confidence and tax information, and the rest is available.
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View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2020-12-02 16:49
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Thanks, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Giroux, Mr. Stanton and Ms. Giswold, it's nice to have you with us.
I want to start by continuing with the issue of transparency. I was reading some of the blues from your Senate appearance. I guess a concern was brought forward about some of the Crown corporation financial agencies either refusing or not publishing or making available to you risk assessments. I wonder if you could comment on that.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:49
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That's a good point, because it involves dozens of billions of dollars of government borrowing, so it's not spending per se. What we are wondering is the extent to which Crown corporations have done a risk assessment. For those of you who may not be familiar with that, it's a sensitivity analysis. For example, if the economy deteriorates by 5% or gets better by 5%, or if there is an external shock, exchange rate, whatever, what would be the impact on the default rates of these Crown corporations that are lending to businesses in various sectors?
Some Crown corporations are very good and proactive at disclosing that, using that and showing the impact on their balance sheets of these sensitivity analyses. Others are less forthcoming when it comes to that. Off the top of my head, CMHC was quite good at indicating the risk management or the risk—
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View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2020-12-02 16:50
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Who's less forthright? Name and shame one of those less forthright ones, because again, it's billions of dollars of taxpayers' risk, basically.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:50
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Farm Credit Corporation, Export Development Canada, and the Business Development Bank of Canada were the three that were not as transparent. Jill and Jason can correct me if I shamed an institution that shouldn't be shamed.
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Jason Stanton
View Jason Stanton Profile
Jason Stanton
2020-12-02 16:51
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I would just add that as part of the “Crown Corporations' COVID-19 Liquidity Support” report we published.... As Mr. Giroux indicated, CMHC does provide a summary of their stress test in their annual reports. BDC, EDC and FCC don't proactively publish that. It is something that they do internally. We did submit an information request to receive that information, and we did receive it. It was just deemed confidential, so we weren't able to present it in the report.
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View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2020-12-02 16:51
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Confidential...so you cannot present that to members of Parliament. Is there a reason why such information would be confidential? It's not state secrets. It's not commercial secrets. It's taxpayers' risk.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:52
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When a Crown corporation tags something as confidential, in that case it's presumably for commercially sensitive reasons. In that case, they have deemed that to be commercially sensitive. It could give rise to an unfair advantage to some of their competitors.
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View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2020-12-02 16:52
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Great.
I'll just ask you something quickly. We had the President of the Treasury Board here. We were talking about the approval process for the WE money and their comment was that it didn't need to go through Treasury Board approval because the other minister had the spending authority, and therefore it also didn't have to go through the official languages analysis.
Could you comment on that, about Treasury Board subcontracting, basically, their responsibility? Have you seen this before?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:53
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I've seen that before, but for programs that were much smaller or existing programs. For example, if you just extend an existing program, you can forgo going through Treasury Board, but when you launch a new program, and especially when you have amounts of that magnitude—in the case of that program, it was hundreds of millions—it's highly unusual not to have Treasury Board review the terms and conditions and details of a program like that.
It's something that could happen, but it's highly unusual.
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View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2020-12-02 16:54
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank Mr. Giroux and his team, not only for coming to the committee and providing testimony, but also for the work they are doing.
Mr. Giroux, I'm trying to reconcile a couple of things. I'm hearing that there seems to be an inconsistency in the timing of your getting the information that you want. You reach out to some department and you get the information that comes to you quickly. You reach out to some other department, and the information comes but it comes within two or three weeks. It's a matter of consistency.
I want to take issue with the fact that the government is not being transparent. They may not be timely in giving you the detail. This is what I want to focus on. What do you think is the driver behind some of the departments being able to give you the information readily and some not being able to give you the information? I believe you talked about the department for labour. They managed to give you those. What do you think is the attribute? What do you think is the driver of that?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:55
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That a good question.
I would say that usually it's internal processes, and the other determinant is awareness of the role of the PBO. There are departments that have well-established internal processes. Employment and Social Development Canada is one, where information requests go through the deputy minister's office and are sent to the department. The individuals and public servants who hold the information send it back up to the DM's office and then it is sent to me. National Defence is another example of where information usually flows quite well.
There are other instances where there are internal processes, but there's not as good an understanding of the role of the PBO. Sometimes individuals in departments see that as just another request to be dealt with eventually. There is still some misunderstanding about the role and the access rights of the PBO in legislation, but usually, when this is explained to these individuals—ministers' offices or deputy ministers and deputy ministers' offices—these get settled within a couple of—
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View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2020-12-02 16:56
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Thank you.
I want to ask a very specific question. The Government of Canada spent about $19 billion on the safe restart, and that was a collaboration of a transfer of funds from the federal government to the provinces. In an effort to make sure that we collect information on a timely basis, I assume we have some type of dependency on the province to come and say how much of that has been spent.
Do you see any programs among your reviews that may need partnership with other levels of government? Has there been a time lag due to the fact that the various levels have to work together to be able to get you the information? Can you comment on that?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:57
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There's one example that comes to mind, which is infrastructure. When the federal government transfers infrastructure money to provinces, they in turn often need to partner with municipalities, and they need to enter into agreements, terms and conditions and so on.
There are various aspects of reporting that differ from one jurisdiction to the other, making the provision of information to my office cumbersome, to say the least. It's possible, but there's still a significant time lag in providing the information because it's collected from 13 jurisdictions that have to deal with hundreds of municipalities.
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View Majid Jowhari Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Majid Jowhari Profile
2020-12-02 16:58
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I realize that. Thank you.
How would you correlate that to some of the COVID-19 programs that are being rolled out by the government? As you know, almost $8 out of every $10 that our government has spent nationally comes from the federal government, and it's all in partnership with the provinces. How would that impact our ability to collect information on a timely basis to make it available, whether publicly or through the departments, and back to you?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 16:58
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We haven't encountered that issue with respect to COVID-19, because it's not project-specific. When the federal government transfers money to provinces, it's usually less than provinces assess as what they need, and there are usually no conditions or specific projects attached. The information we have is not usually related to federal-provincial spending. It's usually related only to federal spending, so that issue has not arisen to the same extent.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 16:59
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Through vote 5, Treasury Board authorized an allocation of up to $802,189 to the Leaders’ Debates Commission to ensure that it continues to operate to some extent and is ready to organize debates when the 44th general election is called. The commission had not requested any money in the main estimates.
In approving this budget for the leaders' debates, do you think the Treasury Board Secretariat is telling us that the Liberal Party of Canada intends to bring down its own government by the end of the fiscal year?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:00
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That is an excellent question. That said, you probably know the answer much better than I do. The goal is probably to be prepared, in case it happens. I won't go any further.
It's a good question, but, as I said, you probably have a better sense of the answer than I do.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 17:00
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Thank you.
In its report on the 2020-2021 main estimates, your office notes that while the Canada Health Transfer is the largest federal transfer to the provinces and territories, “all provinces and territories will continue to face rising health care costs. A significant cost driver is the ageing of the population...”
Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial pressures it is placing on the provinces and territories, should the federal government consider amending the Canada Health Transfer to better reflect and respond to the demands of Quebec and the Canadian provinces on a recurring basis?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:01
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It's a very interesting question, and it takes me back to the Fiscal Sustainability Report 2020, which I updated a few weeks ago. This report looks at the financial sustainability of the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments over the next 75 years.
It shows that, despite the expenditures related to COVID-19, the federal government is still sustainable over the long term. However, the provinces are not.
Obviously, the first version of this report, which we published several months ago, presented the same conclusions. Following its release, we expected that the discussion would quickly enough focus on the apparent imbalance that exists between the long-term viability of the federal and provincial governments, which would logically have led to an increased transfer of financial resources from the federal government to the provinces. However, this discussion has not yet taken place.
In any case, I believe that the conclusions you have raised in your question are quite correct.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 17:02
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
There were some very interesting questions raised about the Crown corporations. I'm very interested in that. Would the reported $750 billion in liquidity supports to big banks and the regulatory loosening for Bay Street flow through those corporations, or would they go through one of the ministries?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:02
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They would go mostly through the Bank of Canada and OSFI, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, through changing some of the capital requirements for big banks.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 17:03
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As it relates to liquidity, is that something you would have access to and report on?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:03
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That's something we could easily have access to if it is provided by the Bank of Canada. The bank is probably the most transparent of all the big Crown corporations, especially when it comes to COVID-19 support and the extraordinary instruments that it has deployed in response to the crisis and—
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 17:03
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I would agree that they're extraordinary. Just to give us relative terms, I think we have $100 billion going out in CERB and the wage subsidies, but $750 billion.... Would you not agree that's very material? I think it happened within the course of about four days. It's something that Canadians would probably want to know about in terms of line-by-line breakdown.
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:03
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You're right, and the bank has been transparent in that, at least from my point of view. I'm sure if you asked them to testify in front of your committee they'd probably be very happy to do that. We have touched on the Bank of Canada liquidity and its assets in one of our reports on the financial Crown corporations and the lending support or the financing capacity.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 17:04
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If I were to ask them, hypothetically, to come before this committee, and let's say, hypothetically, you were me, how would we be able to determine what the impact of the liquidity supports would be for something of that size and scale? What would your office do to determine the impact of those supports?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:04
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That's a good question. I probably would have to give it some thought to give you an intelligent answer on that. That's a $750-billion question.
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View Matthew Green Profile
NDP (ON)
View Matthew Green Profile
2020-12-02 17:04
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Well, I would put to you, with my remaining 15 seconds, that if you'd like to send it back to us in writing, as I know our chair is about to say.... I think that when we talk about the debt we're in, in this country, everybody is talking about what's going to the workers and the working class. Nobody is talking about the money that went out the back door to Bay Street.
Thank you.
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View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Giroux. I'm just looking over your recent report on the monthly breakdowns of the 699 leave. I understand that this is a huge program spend in a very unprecedented situation, but being in digital affairs, two of the justifications for 699 really jumped out at me: “technology” and “work limitation”.
Looking at it, obviously May was the high period for 699. It went down until August, which is when you finished reporting, but it appears that the proportion of technological and work limitation justifications has remained pretty consistent. The government has told us that every single civil servant has been able to be up and running remotely on a computer as of May, which I was told by the minister of digital affairs.
Why is it that we are still seeing such a large number of people having problems with technology and using 699 for this case?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:06
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It's my problem. I was on mute. I knew that would happen to me, and it did. I'm sorry about that.
That's a good question, but I think the person best placed to answer it would be either the President of the Treasury Board or individual ministers in departments where they are still using leave code 699 for technology and—
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View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
Can you break down what “work limitation” means? I can assume that “technology” means they didn't have the proper computer or they couldn't access the network. What does work limitation mean in this case?
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Yves Giroux
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Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:07
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It could mean auditors, for example, who have to visit businesses and who cannot go to these businesses on their premises because of physical distancing rules. It could also be that they are prevented from having too many people in the same workspace, such as on the same floor. Those could be work limitations that could be covered by 699. It's a broad category. These are just a few examples.
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View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
Another question is related to my colleague Mr. McCauley, who'd sent in a request for an analysis. I believe Étienne Bergeron did an analysis related to the proposal to remove minimum withdrawals for registered retirement income funds. What I found most interesting was what the analysis was lacking. Maybe it just wasn't in the purview, but I'm aware that if there were to be a change in that manner, it would lead to changes in OAS, because people could qualify for more OAS.
You're talking about the cost of the program, and it's significant, but there was no analysis on what the potential gains could be from people having a large amount of money in their savings when they die, or later on in life it being taxed at a higher marginal income tax rate. Did you do any analysis on the possible trade-off of giving seniors more flexibility over a longer period, possibly leading to the government getting more tax revenue later on in life?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:08
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We limited our analysis to the first five years. If we were to provide a much longer-term analysis over time, we would find that the cost in the initial few years would probably be progressively reduced, and maybe even recouped, for exactly that reason. As people don't withdraw the current minimum, they leave bigger inheritances. At one point, somebody has to pay that tax. The government recoups the tax that doesn't get paid in the first few years of the program being implemented.
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View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
As we saw recently in the fiscal update, the government is working to move to apply sales taxes to companies—for example, Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb and other Internet giants. It could be even more, according to your estimate. The government estimated $3.1 billion, but you estimated $4.3 billion. Why was your number significantly higher?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:10
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It probably depends on the different parameters of the different assumptions. I'd have to look closely at the details of what the government is proposing versus the details of what we estimated.
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View Dane Lloyd Profile
CPC (AB)
Did you do any economic impact on that? Was it overall positive for the Canadian economy?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:10
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No, not that I can recall.... We didn't do an economic impact for the rest of the economy, because that was rather pointed and rather targeted, to say the least.
You have to bear with me. I was preparing for supplementary estimates (B) and the main estimates, so I don't remember all of the reports that the office produced.
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View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Giroux.
In your report on the supplementary estimates, you note the personnel accounts for about $1.4 billion in expenses. You also note that the PBO had developed the personnel expenditure analysis tool, or PEAT. I have to tell you that I found the tool and the PEAT report to be very interesting. It shows that over a 12-year period, the number of FTEs has grown from 335,000 to 369,000, which is a gain of about 33,000, much of that taking place in the last four years. A lot of the departments that are driving that growth—CRA, PSPC, ESDC, IRCC—are some of the departments that we've really relied on the most to help us get through this pandemic.
Interestingly enough, the tool also shows that during the Conservative government years of 2011-15, there were annual contractions of federal employees in the amount of about 2.7% annually. Statistics Canada estimates that about 50,000 federal service jobs were cut by the Conservative government during those four years.
I wanted to ask you, if those cuts had continued, what impact would those cuts have had on the government's ability to respond to COVID-19? Would that have a negative impact on the ability of this government to protect the health and safety of Canadians during COVID-19?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:12
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That's a hypothetical question. The impact would depend on where these cuts would take place.
Of course, if you were to cut in areas that Canadians rely on to protect themselves from the pandemic, it would have a big impact. But if you were to target these reductions to areas that have nothing to do with the pandemic, the impact would be fairly small. For example, if it was only Heritage or Immigration, then the impact would be minimal. But if it was Health, then, of course, the impact could be bigger. So, it depends.
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View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
You don't do that type of analysis, do you, in your work?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:13
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Sadly, we look at numbers. The qualitative analysis and the policy impacts we leave to wiser persons, such as members of the committee.
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View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
Oh, gotcha. Okay.
I have a question on it because, again, I think it's a very interesting tool. Can you provide a little bit of information on the PEAT? When did it come about? What drove its creation?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:13
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We decided to create that tool because personnel expenditure information is available on multiple platforms and in multiple repositories at the federal government. “Multiple” is the key word. At least to our knowledge, there's no one single window where you can have a picture of the historical trends by department on the number of FTEs and the expenditures. That's why we decided to collect that information in one tool, so that parliamentarians and Canadians can access it and use it.
Initially, we called it PEST. We came up with an acronym that made sense—personnel expenditure...something tool—but the acronym had a negative connotation, so we decided to go for PEAT instead.
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View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much for that.
I understand that personnel or staffing represents a large proportion of the federal operating costs, obviously. Was this tool able to capture all of the departments? What percentage of the federal service was it able to capture, and what are some of the departments that maybe were excluded from the PEAT?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:15
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Well, you're asking me a detailed question for which I don't have the answer. I'll have to get back to you on that. It captures the vast majority of the public service and the federal arena, so to speak, but I don't think it captures the totality, so I'll have to get back to you with the details as to what is not included.
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View Irek Kusmierczyk Profile
Lib. (ON)
Okay.
The PBO projects that over the next five years the number of FTEs will continue to increase. I just wanted to ask you whether that takes into account staffing changes driven by COVID-19, or whether it is looking at broader trends.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:15
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It's looking at broader trends. COVID-19 could have an impact, but it's difficult to determine at this point because we're still in the pandemic. It's based on trends.
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View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Giroux, I was shocked to read your report, just as I was shocked to learn, during your statement at the beginning of the meeting, how things were really going. For example, the Standing Committee on Finance is no longer kept informed. I also note that the word “usually” comes up a lot: you say that you usually have this or that report or that you usually receive information. So there is a huge lack of information. I consider this to be a very serious lack of transparency. We're talking about tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions of dollars. As far as we're concerned today, we're talking about almost $100 billion dollars.
In your opinion, has Treasury Board completely lost control over spending?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:18
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I don't think it's just Treasury Board. It's probably an issue for all departments. Have they lost control of spending? We've certainly lost accountability for real-time spending. We can't get a clear picture of how much has been spent to date on a given program, such as CERB. We only have an idea of how much will be spent up to the end of the fiscal year. CERB has ended, I know, but there are still applications in process, late applications. It's the same for the programs that succeeded it. The disclosures give us an idea, but we have no idea of the total expenditures to date for COVID-19. The government used to provide this information to the Standing Committee on Finance every two weeks. We have lost this source of information.
The Treasury Board Secretariat has developed a website, the GoC InfoBase, which displays the maximum amount voted by Parliament for each of these programs, but it does not provide the current amount of spending.
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View Pierre Paul-Hus Profile
CPC (QC)
We are in agreement that this is not normal in a country like Canada. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent and we have no access to contracts or information. Even the Parliamentary Budget Officer does not have access to that information. It's quite surprising.
You have completed the analysis of appropriations in supplementary estimates (B). The committee is being asked to vote on these estimates which total $79.2 billion. Of this amount, $72.4 billion is for measures related to COVID-19. However, the details of these amounts are not available. How can anyone think that we are going to accept $72 billion in appropriations through a simple vote when we cannot know the details?
Of course, I'm not asking you to answer that question; it's a very political question. Let's just say that I wanted to make my point: I, for one, have a lot of difficulty voting for these estimates.
Before my time runs out, I'd like to ask you another question.
A report from the C.D. Howe Institute notes that at the rate the Liberal government is announcing spending, there will be a problem with some ongoing programs.
According to the Speech from the Throne, apart from the measures related to COVID-19, the various permanent programs that have been promised will require annual expenditures of between $19 billion and $44 billion on an ongoing basis. Right now we are not even in a position to fund that. Even if we were to raise the GST by two percentage points, which would allow us to claw back perhaps $15 billion, we would still be a long way off the mark.
What do you think of these figures put forward in the C.D. Howe Institute report?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:21
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That is certainly worrisome, especially since Monday's economic update showed that the public debt-to-GDP ratio, a measure that is being closely monitored, was going to rise more than expected. This does not include spending to stimulate the economy. If you add in that spending, the public debt-to-GDP ratio will be well over 50 % for several years to come, and that's only at the federal level.
Historically, the government's economic and fiscal forecasts have always tended to move over time. For example, while a $10-billion deficit was projected five years from now, the following year the deadline is pushed back. This somewhat worrisome trend could be repeated even after the COVID-19 crisis, so that the public debt-to-GDP ratio could also continue to rise well beyond this crisis.
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View Patrick Weiler Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would also like to thank Mr. Giroux, Mr. Stanton and Ms. Giswold for joining our committee today.
I'd like to pick up on the line of questioning that my colleague Madame Vignola brought up earlier, talking about the report you did on the JSS and the Asterix ships. You mentioned, in your report and in your answers earlier today, that you didn't look at the capability of the two ships in this study. However, you did mention that there was a difference in the capabilities.
I was wondering if you did a measure at all to assess how much it would be to bring the capabilities of the Asterix up to the capability of the JSS.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:23
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That would be a very interesting exercise. However, we have not done it. To do that, we would need an expertise that we may not have. I don't want the analysts who worked on the JSS and who will be working on other defence to feel that they're not the ones to do the work, but we would need a much bigger capacity in terms of expertise when it comes to navy and warships than we currently have.
We looked at the cost. We didn't look specifically at the capabilities. If we were to do that, we would need to use expertise that's outside of what we have in the office.
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View Patrick Weiler Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you.
I understand that, for instance, the Asterix would have the lowest cybersecurity set-up of just about any ship. For this, it would have to rebuild the entire cybersecurity systems from the ground up. I can imagine there are many other measures like this that would need to be taken.
I was wondering, Mr. Giroux, if you could confirm that raising the Asterix to the military capability of the JSS would in fact be costly.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:25
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I would certainly take that as a very reasonable assumption. You cannot have ships that are that different in costs having the same capacities or capabilities. For the Asterix and the Obelix to be that much cheaper, there has to be something in terms of capabilities, and there have to be differences for both ships.
The question is, are these differences material, or are the Asterix and Obelix sufficient to meet the needs of the Royal Canadian Navy? That's not for me to assess. That's for military experts. My office and I just provided the cost differences. We didn't venture into the capabilities of the respective ships.
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View Patrick Weiler Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you.
I'd like to quote a part of your report:
In keeping with our mandate, this report presents costs only and does not include a cost-benefit analysis. The summarized system characteristics for each vessel found in this report are for information purposes only. That is, comparing and analyzing the capabilities across ships relative to their respective costs are outside the scope of this report.
Therefore, would you agree that this study doesn't tell the whole story?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:26
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Well, as the quote you just used exemplifies, we didn't look at the differences in capabilities. What we took as an assumption, however, was that because the navy currently uses the Asterix and it seems to be doing the job, it could—and I say “could”—be a substitute for the JSS. However, without looking at the different capabilities of both types of ships, we cannot make that assessment.
We looked at the cost differential, but because the Asterix seems to be doing the job for now—and it might not be a suitable solution for the long term—we took it for granted that it was an acceptable substitute. It might not be, and I recognize that.
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View Patrick Weiler Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you.
I understand that the Asterix wasn't actually built in Canada. Rather, it's the Ikea model. The parts were sent here and then it was assembled here. With that in mind, I was wondering if you considered the relative benefits of the two ships being built in Canada fully, in terms of local economic impact.
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:27
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No, we looked at the costs only, because what was asked of us was the differences in costs. We obviously could have taken into account the fact that there will be benefits for spending more money domestically for these ships, but the mandate and the question asked of us was to look at the cost differentials.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 17:28
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Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Giroux, in your report on supplementary estimates (B) 2020-2021, you indicate that the government is seeking Parliament's approval for additional funding to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes personal protective equipment and materials, but there is also $1 billion to clean up inactive oil and gas wells in Alberta. I have nothing against that, but I'm trying to understand how that relates to the pandemic.
Can you explain how this fits into your analysis?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:29
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That is obviously not directly related to the pandemic. Rather, it is related to the economic crisis that was largely caused by the pandemic. The oil and gas sector has been hit hard by the pandemic, like every other, but it has also taken an indirect hit from the drop in oil prices that was caused by the pandemic and the reduction in demand.
You're right, it's not directly related to the pandemic. Oil wells have not contracted COVID-19, but the oil and gas sector has suffered more than other sectors, proportionally, due to the collapse of international prices.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 17:29
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In your report on the main estimates 2020-2021, you point out that now that Parliament has returned to the original budget tabling date of March 1, these main estimates no longer contain the new budget measures, which are deferred until the supplementary estimates. As a result, expenditures will have to be subject to a detailed review by the Treasury Board Secretariat, which will lengthen the time between the announcement of new measures and their implementation.
In a situation such as the one we are currently experiencing, what could be the possible consequences of this increased delay, both for the public and for businesses, non-profit organizations and the government itself?
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Yves Giroux
View Yves Giroux Profile
Yves Giroux
2020-12-02 17:30
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As you said, when the main estimates are presented prior to the federal budget, new measures introduced in the federal budget are not reflected in the main estimates and must be included in the supplementary estimates. Statutory programs, on the other hand, are directly funded through enabling legislation.
When measures are not in the main estimates but rather in supplementary estimates, this effectively lengthens the timeframe, because it takes time for funding to be requested from Treasury Board, for funding to be provided, for programs to be put in place, and for the government to finally spend the money.
That said, when there are emergencies such as COVID-19, the government can significantly shorten these timelines by expediting internal procedures. The extent of the negative impact on the disbursement of funds, assistance to the population and equipment purchases therefore depends on the ability and willingness of the government to shorten the timeframe through these internal approvals.
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View Julie Vignola Profile
BQ (QC)
View Julie Vignola Profile
2020-12-02 17:32
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Your analytical work allows us to do our work.
What are the consequences of this extension on your work, and, consequently, on ours?
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