Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to be back with the committee.
I'm joined today by Joyce Murray, who is just joining us; our parliamentary secretary, Yaprak Baltacioglu; the secretary of the Treasury Board, Brian Pagan, assistant secretary of expenditure, management sector; and Renée LaFontaine, chief financial officer.
With supplementary estimates (B), the government is seeking Parliament's approval of funding to address matters of importance to Canadians.
This includes funds for the crises in Iraq and Syria, first nations education, recovery efforts in Fort McMurray, and funds for youth employment. We're seeking additional parliamentary approval of $3.9 billion in additional spending for 68 organizations. I'd like to draw your attention to some of the major voted items.
There is the amount of $375.5 million in funding to address the crises in Iraq and Syria, providing funding for Canadian Forces to train, advise, and assist Iraqi security forces and to address the humanitarian crisis in the region.
There is $350.6 million in funding to advance early work and land acquisition in Michigan for the Gordie Howe International Bridge between Windsor and Detroit.
There is $249.3 million in funding for the post-secondary institution strategic investment fund, or SIF, to enhance, modernize, and improve environmental sustainability of research facilities across Canada.
We are also asking for $245.8 million in funding for additional investments in first nations elementary and secondary education, as per budget 2016.
In addition, supplementary estimates (B) include an increase of $375 million in planned statutory expenditures. This increase reflects revised forecasts for such items as interest payments, territorial financing and payments to provinces related to softwood lumber export charges.
This brings them in line with the forecast set out in budget 2016.
Mr. Chair, these are some of the highlights of the supplementary estimates. As you know, supplementary estimates ensure that departments and agencies can receive the necessary funding to move planned government initiatives forward and meet the needs of Canadians. They include budget priorities and information on spending requirements that couldn't be included in the main estimates in many cases because of when the main estimates were tabled, but this, as in previous discussions we've had, could change for the better with the package of reforms we discussed when I was here earlier this month.
I'm referring specifically to the proposal to move the tabling of the main estimates from March 1 to on or before May 1 on a provisional basis for the next two budget and estimate cycles. This change would help ensure that main estimates include budget items. As it stands now, as you're aware, the main estimates can only reflect decisions as of January, long before the budget actually comes out, so the main estimates, as they are now, do not reflect the government's most recent plans and priorities as outlined in the budget.
This timing limits your ability to provide proper oversight of a fundamentally important financial document. Reforming the estimates process would give parliamentarians better tools to hold the government to account, and future governments to account, and you'd be able to study documents that would be substantially more meaningful than the ones you have today.
By tabling the main estimates later, we would also eliminate the need for spring supplementary estimates, and this would create the added benefit of enabling parliamentarians to focus their attention on one estimates document in the supply period ending June 23, a more meaningful document. It would also mean that the first round of supplementary estimates would be tabled in the autumn during the supply period ending December 10.
I would add that this proposal would not reduce the number of supply days, and I want to be clear on that point. Adjusting the tabling date for main estimates would have no impact on the number of allotted opposition days or other aspects of the supply cycle, including planned supplementary estimates for the supply periods ending December 20 and March 26. Committees would be able to examine estimates documents and call in officials and ministers throughout this supply cycle.
After the two budget and estimates cycles, the House would examine the provisional reform and determine a permanent date. The goal would be to have an earlier date to tighten the timelines between the budget and the main estimates. In the past, I've suggested March 31, but that's ultimately up to Parliament to determine.
In closing, allow me to reiterate our strong commitment to working with all parliamentarians to strengthen the estimates process. I think we can all agree on the need for reform. As I have said earlier, I view this as an evergreening process that makes significant but iterative steps, identifying what works and having an opportunity to work with these changes and to consider other steps as we move forward.
There is a clear need for making the planning, spending, and tracking of tax dollars more timely and transparent. I am confident that the package of reforms our government is proposing will help achieve those objectives.
I look forward to your feedback and recommendations as we move forward together. My officials and I would be more than happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Minister, and thank you to the staff for being here.
If I understand your presentation clearly, the purpose of the supplementary (B)s is—I'm reading the introduction—to provide us, the MPs, the spending requirements that were either not sufficiently developed in time for inclusion in the main estimates or have subsequently been refined. At the moment, you are talking about a 4.3% increase, about $3.9 billion.
How would the proposal that you have for realigning the mains and the budget reduce the spread? How would it reduce the number of supplementary estimates that we get?
Before you answer the question, I was asked by my colleague to thank Mr. Pagan for his Movember moustache and to ask you why you don't have one.
Now, you can answer the serious question.
I'll start with the last question. It would take me far longer than November to achieve what Mr. Pagan has achieved; I'd need about the next 12 years.
On the other question, there has been a lot of progress in terms of the work between Finance and the Treasury Board and departments. In fact, last year, I believe, almost 70% of budget initiatives were delivered in supplementary (A)s, and that's up from about 6% the year previous.
Our objective, in changing the sequence of budget and estimates so that the main estimates are tabled after the budget, would be to include the lion's share of budget initiatives in the main estimates, which would make the main estimates a more meaningful document.
As it stands now, with the main estimates coming out with a deadline of March 1, what happens is that, first of all, you don't have any of the budget initiatives. All the significant efforts parliamentarians put into studying the main estimates are rendered basically useless and irrelevant once the budget comes out. We view the work of Parliament as being important, and we want parliamentarians to have the opportunity to hold the government to account on meaningful documents.
Estimates timing is one of the four areas of reform we are proposing in terms of the budget estimates process. The others are a better reconciliation of cash and accrual accounting methods in terms of the estimates and the budget; program-based expenditure approval, providing more detail, and ultimately more power, to Parliament on specific expenditures; and finally, departmental plans that are more informative and actually reflect what a department or a program does, and ultimately measure the results so that parliamentarians and Canadians can hold any government to account.
Not before he was resigning. That was not a discussion that anybody would have with Treasury Board Secretariat.
Prior to that, Mr. Smith had identified, in written form, as well as in some of the meetings that I had with him, his concerns. As a result, I stressed with Shared Services Canada, especially when the census was being done, that they needed the right support. I believe that Shared Services Canada put a full team around the census and the census support, and, right now, the Stats Canada operations. After the census was finalized, Mr. Smith did report that he was adequately supported by Shared Services Canada for the census activities.
However, we wouldn't be privy to him not being in his job, or his independence.
Thank you for your question.
The people of Fort McMurray can count on the continued support of our government. In these supplementary estimates there is an amount of $104 million for the Red Cross. This amount corresponds to the generous donations made by Canadians.
The Red Cross offers an array of aid programs to the people of the region to help them get over their losses, so that they can go back to work or to their studies. Among the examples of aid provided by the Red Cross are food, clothing, housing, medical equipment, baby or children's items, and transportation.
The help we provided to the people of Fort McMurray was very important at that time, and we are going to continue to support them. This is a priority for our government. We were proud of the contributions made by citizens from all over Canada. They contributed a large amount.
Specifically with respect to forecasting contingent liabilities for out-of-court settlements, the process is such that, when there is a claim against the crown, we work with the Department of Justice to determine if the claim is founded and the probability of there being a payment due.
Once we make the assessment that there's a probability of a liability due, even if we are not making the payment, the liability will be recorded in the public accounts—the public accounts were just tabled a couple of weeks ago—and in that way we reflect the total liabilities of the government.
The issue here with the White case is that there was a settlement made based on a precedent established with the Canadian Forces. Best efforts were made to identify the number of claimants, but we're dealing with members who go back as far as 1970. In this case, the additional costs are due to unanticipated members coming forward who were not part of the original claim or, in the case where we made a decision and lost on appeal, and therefore, payments are owing.
The project is proceeding. As you know, this has taken a long time, and more than one government has worked on this. The importance of that Detroit crossing at Windsor is essential in terms of Canada's trade relationship with the United States.
I am told the project is within budget, but it has experienced a lot of delays due to environmental assessments, government approvals in Michigan, and legal challenges from certain stakeholders. We're moving forward on this, but there is a lot of land. I forget how many pieces of land, but it was several hundred parcels of land that needed to be acquired. My information is that about 50% of that land has been acquired, and the rest is on track, but you can imagine the complexity and the number of moving parts involved in moving that forward.
I think you'd agree the key point is that we need to move forward, and we need to ensure that we improve the ability to move people and goods across that crossing. As I say, it has been for more than one government a challenging but important project.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Minister, and the rest of the panel, for being here with us.
I am interested in this relationship between the supplementary estimates that we are studying today and the budget process, and how it helps the quality of our review. For example, in the budget, we talked about a program for harmonizing the human resources programs across many departments, and an amount of $75 million was allocated to that. It's very similar to the Shared Services problematic, where we have different HR programs across many departments, and it's difficult to have aggregate information around that. That's interesting to me, because it was presented in the budget, but it's now in the supplementary estimates that the Treasury Board is asking for $68.1 million.
I just want to understand what would change in the reform. How can I study that amount now? How can I understand how that amount is going to be used to put that project into place? How will it change, so we can avoid the kind of problems that we are now seeing with Phoenix, which of course was a similar type of program trying to harmonize multiple platforms?
I will ask Brian to respond.
I can say that the Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is a remarkable achievement for our country, with leadership by the Asper Foundation, supported by the federal government.
It is tremendously important to recognize the diversity we have in Canada, and the role we have, both within Canada and globally, to defend human rights. I think of that human rights museum in Winnipeg. I think also of the immigration museum in Halifax. These are important national museums that are outside of Ottawa.
Also, as a Nova Scotian, I believe we need to celebrate Canadian greatness across Canada, and, of course, in Ottawa. I think it's great when we can identify these opportunities to invest in and promote Canadian excellence and leadership in institutions like the museum of human rights and the immigration museum.