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PACP Committee Report

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GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE THIRTEENTH REPORT OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

REPORT ON PLANS AND PRIORITIES 2005-2006

RECOMMENDATION

That Treasury Board Secretariat and the Office of the Auditor General submit separate reports to the Committee on the status of efforts to establish a new funding mechanism for the Office of the Auditor General by 30 September 2005.

The Government recognizes the value of the work performed by the Auditor General and her Office and the benefits provided to the Government, Parliamentarians and Canadians. The Auditor General plays a crucial role in advising Parliament on how program delivery and management practices can be improved.

In its response to the Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts tabled on June 22, 2005, the Government indicated a commitment to launching, “a pilot project for a new funding and oversight mechanism for Agents of Parliament for the 2006-07 Main Estimates.”

The Government recognizes the important role Agents of Parliament play in reporting to Parliament on Government activities. The Government is firmly committed to a new funding and oversight mechanism for Agents of Parliament by implementing a two-year pilot project for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 Estimates process. The participating Agents include the: Office of the Auditor General of Canada, Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Office of the Information Commissioner, Office of the Official Languages Commissioner, and the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.

The proposed pilot project is designed to reflect the degree of independence of Agents of Parliament, the role of Parliament in budget and oversight matters, and the responsibility of the Government for the sound stewardship of public resources. Moreover, as the Agents of Parliament have distinctive mandates, the Government is proposing a mechanism that is flexible enough to be applied to all Agents.

Comprehensive consultations over the past several months have been held with the Office of the Auditor General, along with the other four participating Agents of Parliament, Parliamentarians (including the Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts), and other experts to develop this new funding and oversight mechanism. Drawing on this advice, the Government is pleased to commit to an approach to the pilot that would include the establishment of a parliamentary oversight panel (or equivalent) to assess the Estimates of Agents of Parliament including related financial and management performance and provide oversight. This panel would receive submissions from Agents during the fall period, which coincides with the usual Annual Reference Level Update process. The Government will work with Parliamentarians to put in place a parliamentary oversight panel (or equivalent) as soon as possible.

The Treasury Board Secretariat would provide, as input to a parliamentary oversight panel, the broad budgetary parameters as well as an assessment of the Agents' submissions. The recommendations of the parliamentary oversight panel would be submitted by the Speakers to the Treasury Board for inclusion in the Estimates.

Over the course of consultations, there was broad agreement that, reflecting their unique relationship with Parliament and with Canadians, Agents of Parliament have a special duty of care to maintain the highest standards of financial and management performance. In this regard, it is proposed that all Agents of Parliament be subject to periodic, independent, third-party financial and performance reviews in addition to applicable peer review mechanisms. Appointment of the independent reviewer and the terms of reference for these reviews would be directed by the parliamentary panel. Upon finalization, these reviews would be released publicly.

As required under the Financial Administration Act - Schedule I.1., Agents of Parliament would be expected to continue to adhere to Treasury Board policies and directives. Consistent with the standards applicable to other public service entities, Agents of Parliament would still be required to submit annual Reports on Plans and Priorities and Departmental Performance Reports to Parliament. In addition, the Office of the Auditor General will continue to exercise its audit responsibilities with respect to Agents of Parliament.

Should the application of Treasury Board policies and directives, in the view of any Agent of Parliament, be incompatible with an Agent's statutes or the degree of independence required to carry out an Agent's mandate, the parliamentary oversight panel could consider the matter at the request of the Agent and formulate recommendations to Government.

This pilot is consistent with the reports of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, as well as of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, and the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. It represents a significant change from current funding and oversight mechanisms for Agents of Parliament.

Over the coming weeks, to assist the parliamentary panel in undertaking the initiative, the Government will be working with Parliamentarians and Agents of Parliament on a workplan for moving forward on this important initiative. In this regard, the Government is committed to continuing with the collaborative approach that has characterized this endeavour and will work with the Auditor General along with other Agents of Parliament to ensure successful implementation of the pilot.