moved that the first report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, presented on Tuesday, February 8, 2022, be concurred in.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to move concurrence on the first report of the Standing Committee of Public Accounts presented to the House on Tuesday, February 8.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts is probably known as one of the most powerful committees of the House of Commons. It has, I would say, far more influence than many others. It is one of the very few committees where deputy ministers are obliged to appear in order to respond to questions from members of Parliament, but also to explain why there are often shortcomings in reports from the Auditor General. The report I am interested in debating today is “Report 1, Procuring Complex Information Technology Solutions of the 2021 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada”.
This particular report was last tabled in the 43rd Parliament's second session, in June 2021. I had the distinct privilege of briefly being elected chair of the public accounts committee, the standing committee of the House of Commons, late last year or the beginning of this year.
What I want to do, as I have done in past concurrence reports, is explain to constituents back home why we are debating this particular report. It comes down to the recommendations found therein and that is where I want to go. This report has eight recommendations in it, and I want to go over them so the constituents back home can understand why this is important.
I was trying to download the government's response to the report, but, as with much in the current government, it told me the link was broken and not working so I actually could not get it. It is typical. I tried twice on two different devices to get the contents of the response, so I am going to focus on the recommendations.
Often, I have constituents who come to my office and are worried about government spending. They are worried about excess spending and deficits and debt spending that is going on in our country. We saw, during question period, lots of questions about the state of the country's finances. We all remember that, back in 2015, it was the current Liberal government that promised itsy-bitsy, little tiny $10-billion deficits, and no more, to be over by 2019. It is 2022 now and we have massive, structural, permanent deficits.
Where am I going with this? I tell constituents that waste in government starts with millions: not billions. It starts with the little things. It starts with things from contract splitting to sole-sourcing to individuals likely close to the government or close to particular public officials in the bureaucracies, and then they have a few hundred thousand dollars here and a few hundred thousand dollars there. That turns into millions of dollars. Then there are delays. There are dry-dock fees, perhaps with the national shipbuilding strategy, that amount to hundreds of millions of dollars and there is sometimes no construction going on. That is a major source of concern to constituents. They think, “Just take this large program of billions and billions of dollars and then cut that.” I say that is not how government works.
The government, in its sixth year, with this current budget 2022, will be a half a trillion-dollar operation. Never in my lifetime did I think this would happen. I want to give some credit to the Auditor General. I remember being a much younger man 20 years ago. The Speaker will remember this, because it was important to a particular province. We all remember the sponsorship scandal. The sponsorship scandal and the 1995 referendum happened in my formative years and were how I got interested in politics. I still have a copy of the Auditor General's report and her findings on my bookcase. It is not in mint condition. It is well flipped through and has lots of annotations in it. Those were millions of dollars of wasted, corruptly spent monies that the Auditor General found and then reported on.
I am not saying that this report has the same impact, but it talks about millions of dollars being wasted, the opportunities for corruption to exist within government, and how we deal with it as parliamentarians. This place is supposed to provide accountability and oversight in order to ensure that the public purse is spent wisely. It is to ensure that we spend money wisely. It is a challenge function, as a board of directors would have with the executive in a company, where the executive here is the cabinet that typically sits in the front bench to the right of the Speaker. That is the importance of this place. It is to make sure we catch those millions before they become billions.
Let me get to the recommendations of the report. Recommendation no. 1:
That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Public Services and Procurement Canada, and Shared Services Canada provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts with reports outlining what progress has been made with regard to developing more comprehensive guidance and training for employees to improve their understanding of agile procurement and how to apply collaborative methods.... Public Services and Procurement Canada should also provide a final report.
That is a lot of technical language right there. Very essentially, to constituents back home, it is better training for the Public Service and also better training, as we saw again for matters coming out of Question Period, on what the rules of the Treasury Board Secretariat are on things like splitting contracts in two so they fall under $25,000. It is as big an issue in my province, I suspect, as it is in the Speaker's province. These types of issues will come up where civil servants, at the closest level, are dealing with persons trying to seek grants or organizations trying to seek grants or trying to get a contract in very quickly, perhaps to procure a service or construction material or do quick renovations. The splitting of contracts is not supposed to happen. It is supposed to be an open bid so that the taxpayers can get the best absolute price and service: the two should always go together, hand in hand.
Recommendation no. 2:
That...the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, in consultation with Public Services and Procurement Canada and Shared Services Canada, provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts with a progress report regarding the assessment of the skills, competencies, and experience that procurement officers need to support agile approaches to complex information technology procurements.
In this space, I think we can all admit that we have a great amount of technology coming into our spaces, and we have a lot of individuals who are now using things like smart phone devices, but we have large tablets and we are doing a lot of work.
I want to make sure my dear colleague, the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola is in the chamber so that I can split my time with him, and he can then continue speaking to the recommendations of the report. I want to make sure that I got it in that I am actually in the chamber so that I could split my time with him.
Recommendation no. 3:
That the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat provide the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts with reports outlining the progress made with regard to ensuring that governance mechanisms are in place to engage senior representatives of concerned departments and agencies for the Next Generation Human Resources and Pay initiative.
Again, it is more training in place. I know the member for Edmonton West would appreciate this, because he is always hassling me in a friendly way about it. I used to work in human resources before being elected to Parliament. I was responsible for things like HR practices and labour policies. I was not directly involved with it, but I worked for the professional association that was responsible for setting things like the code of ethics or the practice guidelines, so I would often work with large committees of professionals who knew what the guidelines should be.
I learned a lot just by sitting at a table for three years with experts in the field: over 6,000 HR professionals in the province of Alberta at the time. It was about things like next generation human resources and pay. Pay is the most basic thing that has to be right in human resources. I see things like the Phoenix pay system, all the travails that have happened since then and all the difficulties in getting it right. If it had just been done right in the first place, all of those problems could have been avoided. I want to just spend a moment on Phoenix. I have a lot of constituents who have been affected by Phoenix, so I am always trying to help them. In fact, my case file manager was “Phoenixed” one month, while she was trying to help constituents. Although hers was a very small amount, others were much larger.
I have been given a signal that I am running out of time, but I do have a Yiddish proverb. The one I want to use at this time is one I have used before. I think it is so relevant. It is, “When you sweep the house, you find everything.”
We have so many reports that are tabled in the House. Some receive recommendations and get a government response, and some do not. Some of these reports have very valuable content and information. This particular one speaks to avoiding millions of dollars of potential waste so it does not turn into billions. We are running a $50 billion-plus deficit. That needs to stop: It needs to be wound down. We need to make sure we pay down the national debt, and it begins with ensuring that we spend money wisely.