Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to meet with the committee today and to provide you with a status report on our efforts to establish a parliamentary budget officer within the Library of Parliament.
I have invited Jacques Sabourin, Acting Director General, Parliamentary Information and Research Service,
and Allan Darling, special advisor on the parliamentary budget officer. I will tell you that Allan was a former deputy secretary to cabinet, deputy secretary of the Treasury Board, and, most recently, he has been working with the World Bank in advising developing nations on their budgetary and fiscal requirements.
We're here today to listen to your advice and recommendations regarding the organization and work of the PBO, and my colleagues will help me answer any questions you may have.
In my efforts to establish the parliamentary budget officer, I have tried to be consistent in following four guiding principles:
1) To implement the law as set out in the Parliament of Canada Act;
2) To provide the non-partisan service to parliamentarians that has been, and continues to be, the hallmark of the Library of Parliament for over 130 years;
3) To strengthen Parliament's institutional capacity to hold government to account—in this case, by giving Parliament access to additional expertise on economic and fiscal issues;
4) To ensure that parliamentarians continue to receive the best possible service from the whole Library.
It is important to note, above all, that our efforts have been guided by the legislation and our mandate to establish an office that is independent and non-partisan, providing services to both Houses and all parties.
You are all aware that the Library of Parliament plays a unique role in the provision of professional, non-partisan services to members of the House and to senators, and in support of your work. As this work evolves and adapts to change, the library must also evolve if it is to meet its overarching commitment to effectively serve Parliament and you, its clients.
Part of the library's evolution must be integrating the PBO within the organization to provide enhanced advice and analysis on the state of the economy, the nation's finances, and the expenditures of government. Locating the officer within the Library of Parliament means that members of the House and senators can rest assured that the officer will function as their servant, operating within the library's mandated approach and professional ethos in its service to Parliament.
Appointing the officer and creating this capacity allows the library to build on the strong foundations of expertise we already have in place. It avoids duplication of effort or resources and provides generally for economies of scale wherever possible. In short, it provides us with an opportunity to strengthen our services to you.
While some of the functions associated with the officer will enhance the library's ability to do what it already does, there is an important new element—one that provides Parliament with a new dimension and value-added in exercising fully its role in overseeing the government's fiscal plan.
As you know, this means explaining the assumptions underlying that plan and assisting parliamentarians in asking relevant questions relating to the executive's economic and fiscal forecasts.
I do not think the PBO should provide an alternative fiscal forecast to the one produced by the Department of Finance. Several reputable Canadian forecasting firms already do this, and adding yet another forecast would not improve service to parliamentarians.
I foresee the PBO taking a lead role with parliamentarians to provide a much more strategic approach that would enhance parliamentarian's understanding of the underlying factors affecting fiscal forecasting and the reasons the executive is moving in a particular direction.
I anticipate that the work of the PBO would focus on higher-level analysis that would improve parliamentarians' understanding of alternative public policy options that might influence future government expenditures.
Members are aware of the assistance already provided by the research branch staff during your review of the expenditure estimates tabled by the government. I anticipate the PBO will provide leadership in developing initiatives to tailor the presentation of information on proposed expenditures to better reflect the specific interests of parliamentarians.
Costing proposals of interest to parliamentarians is another role currently performed by the library's research services. With the additional resources available to the PBO, I would anticipate a significant improvement in the transparency and credibility in this area.
When the PBO function was included in the Parliament of Canada Act, the Treasury Board provided for an annual budget to support the officer, and this currently sits at $2.7 million. Like any new operation, the PBO requires phasing in, and the library's estimates for 2008-09 include $1.6 million of the total allocation for the initial implementation of these new services to Parliament.
Under the leadership of the officer we foresee building capacity in two distinct areas. First is an economic and fiscal analysis capacity that will be staffed by experts in economic modelling and fiscal forecasting. This will enable parliamentarians to obtain access to independent analysis of the state of the economy.
The second capacity, expenditure analysis, will provide broader expertise on the government's expenditure program. This will be integrated into our current work for all parliamentary committees and the staff resources that are currently allocated to them. Individual requests from parliamentarians or committees for costing proposals or costing of legislation will be prepared by the PBO, again in cooperation with our current research services staff.
The amended Parliament of Canada Act, subsection 79.1(3), provides that the Governor in Council may select the parliamentary budget officer from a list of three names submitted in confidence by a high level committee formed and chaired by the parliamentary librarian through the leader of the government in the House of Commons.
Based on the interpretation of the PBO mandate and the approach to implementing it that I have outlined for you, a job description for the officer was forwarded for approval and classification to the Privy Council Office in December 2006.
I convened a discussion group in January 2007, whose members were nominated by the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians and represented all parties in both Houses. They assisted greatly in defining the skills and experience that candidates should possess to serve Parliament well and interact effectively with parliamentarians.
In late July 2007, I received notification that the position had been classified as a GCQ-5. This classification is roughly equivalent to an EX-3, normally a director general level in the public service.
Following a competitive bidding process, the library contracted with the executive search firm Ray & Berndtson on August 28, 2007. Led by their senior Ottawa partner, Michelle Richard, they conducted an exhaustive national search process for qualified candidates.
On November 30, 2007, I convened a blue ribbon selection panel committee, which was composed of Maria Barrados, the president of the Public Service Commission; Don Drummond, the senior vice-president and chief economist of the TD Bank; William G. Knight, former commissioner, Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and a nominee of the Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians; and Allan Darling, with me here today, who is my special adviser on the PBO project.
As required by the statute, the selection committee reviewed eight of the 24 candidates who had been identified through the preliminary search process. At that time, the committee identified an additional six candidates to be approached for the position. The committee held interviews on December 20, 2007, and on its behalf I forwarded the committee's recommendations to the government House leader on December 21, 2007.
Throughout this process, I have benefited greatly from the comments and advice of the Honourable , and the Honourable Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate. As you know, they are jointly responsible for the operations of the Library of Parliament under my direction and therefore ultimately for the PBO.
Your invitation to appear before the committee obviously is a timely one. Selection of the PBO is a decision of the government, and I am currently waiting for the decision.
Thank you. We'd be happy to respond to any questions the committee may have.
I have two additional documents that I would like to have distributed, please. The first is a chronology of planning and implementation activities undertaken by the library to help highlight the steps that we have taken to fulfill our mandate, and the second is a report prepared for me by Ray & Berndtson on the recruitment process for the parliamentary budget officer.
Before beginning my remarks, I'll quickly introduce my colleagues who are at the table. Marc O'Sullivan is the acting assistant secretary to the cabinet for senior personnel and special projects with the Privy Council Office; and Katharine Rechico is with the Department of Finance, as is Benoit Robidoux. They're here primarily to assist in any technical questions that might come up around the specifics of some of the mandate.
I'm going to quickly go through some brief opening remarks just to help set some context for the members of the committee.
Thank you for your invitation to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to discuss the implementation of the Federal Accountability Act and especially the implementation of a Parliamentary Budget Officer position.
As lead for the overall implementation of the act, I propose to update the committee on the overall progress that has been made by the government.
As you know, the Federal Accountability Act amended 46 existing statutes and created two new ones. Some of these changes came into force at royal assent on December 12, 2006, while others were subject to coming-into-force dates set out in the act or established by order in council.
The introduction of Bill was accompanied by the federal accountability action plan, which organized the various elements of the Federal Accountability Act along 14 themes and set out as well related policy initiatives. I will now provide some details on the highlights of the government's progress in implementing the act and action plan along those themes.
With respect to reforming the financing of political parties, this element has been fully implemented. The relevant statutory amendments came into force on January 1, 2007. These measures are currently being administered by the Chief Electoral Officer.
With respect to banning secret donations to political candidates, this element has been fully implemented. The final statutory amendments came into force on July 9, 2007. These measures are currently being administered by the Chief Electoral Officer and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
With regard to strengthening the role of the Ethics Commissioner, this element has been fully implemented. The new Conflict of Interest Act came into force on July 9, 2007. On that date, Ms. Mary Dawson was appointed to the new position of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
With regard to making qualified government appointments, statutory amendments to provide parliamentarians with more say in the appointment of agents of Parliament, to revise the process for appointing returning officers under the Canada Elections Act, to provide for the creation of a public appointments commission, and to remove entitlements to priority appointments within the public service for ministerial staffers, these have all come into force.
With respect to cleaning up government polling and advertising, most of the items under this heading have been implemented, including statutory and policy changes and contract regulations that came into effect on June 7, 2007.
With regard to providing real protection for whistle-blowers, the amended Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was brought into force and operational as of April 15, 2007. Appointments have been made to both the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the public servants disclosure tribunal.
In terms of strengthening the access to information legislation, all of the statutory amendments under this element have been brought into force. The Access to Information Act has been expanded to include 69 additional institutions, which comprise agents of Parliament, several foundations created under federal statute, seven additional parent crown corporations, and all subsidiary crown corporations.
With respect to strengthening the power of the Auditor General, all of the statutory elements under this element have been brought into force. Regulations are also being developed in order to support the Auditor General's authority to inquire into the use of funds under federal funding agreements.
With regard to strengthening auditing and accountability within departments, deputy heads have been designated as accounting officers under the Financial Administration Act. Statutory amendments have been made regarding the governing structure of crown corporations, and a new offence has been created for fraud involving public moneys.
In terms of creating and establishing a director of public prosecutions, the office of the director has been created and it is operational. An acting director has been appointed, pending a permanent appointment to this position. It has been that way since the act received royal assent on December 12, 2006.
We have also ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. That convention was ratified on October 2, 2007.
In terms of cleaning up procurement of government contracts, several items under this element have been completed, including the incorporation of an overarching statement of principle on procurement in the Financial Administration Act and the adoption of a new code of conduct for procurement on September 19. A procurement ombudsman designate has been appointed. Draft regulations were posted in the Canada Gazette on December 22, 2007.
In terms of toughening the Lobbyists Registration Act, the government has developed proposed regulations for the coming into force of the Lobbying Act. The consultations on those regulations are now closed. The regulations are going through the process of being finalized in order to be brought forward for deliberation by the Governor in Council.
With regard to the establishment of a parliamentary budget authority, as you know, this item remains to be fully implemented. The Federal Accountability Act established within the Library of Parliament the position of parliamentary budget officer. The new officer will provide research and objective analysis to the Senate and House of Commons concerning the state of the nation's finances, the estimates of the government, and trends in the national economy. The parliamentary librarian, under whose responsibility the selection process of the parliamentary budget authority falls, has highlighted current progress made on the matter.
There has been a lot of work done in the last year on the Federal Accountability Act, and I want to assure this committee that, across government, we continue our hard work to implement this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my opening remarks. I'd be pleased to answer any questions committee members may have.
I understand that Mr. O'Sullivan has a few brief remarks.
First of all, I want to compliment you, Mr. Wild, on your written submission to us. It's very concise and very precise—we don't always get that precise a presentation given to us—and it's quite factual. We appreciate it.
Something we haven't talked enough about here today, and I'll be very brief, Mr. Chair, is the value of what we're talking about here. We and Canadians have been waiting a long time to see a number of the things that are implemented in this.
The one that strikes me as very apropos today is strengthening the powers of the Auditor General, and the one that our chairman and I would agree on is that we can now audit the books of the Canadian Wheat Board.
I think it's so important today. Let me just put an example of why in front of you. One farmer in my riding, because of the actions of the Canadian Wheat Board today, has lost access to something in the neighbourhood of $20 million to $25 million. I will be quite interested to see the Auditor General's view of what the Canadian Wheat Board did today, actually withdrawing from absolutely the highest recorded wheat markets in the world that these farmers have ever seen. They withdrew from selling it, and their mandate is simply to sell it.
Having said that, it's great to see some of the things we've put in the Accountability Act. The one question I have, to end up, is this.
In item 10, creating a director of public prosecutions, you suggest that there's an acting director in place. When would we expect to have a permanent one?