Pizza, well, okay, but it may break Treasury Board guidelines if I tried to bring it in.
I'm delighted to be here today to talk about the 2016-17 main estimates. I'm pleased to be here with my colleagues in my department: Yaprak Baltacioglu, the secretary of the Treasury Board; Brian Pagan, the assistant secretary of the expenditure management sector; and Renée LaFontaine, the assistant secretary, corporate services, and chief financial officer. After my remarks, we'd be happy to receive your questions.
As you know, on February 23, the Government of Canada tabled its 2016-17 main estimates. These main estimates provide information to support the government's request to Parliament to approve $250.1 billion in spending to deliver programs and services in the fiscal year starting April 1, 2016.
This amount includes funding for significant initiatives noted in each separate organization's main estimates. These main estimates reflect spending proposals that are already planned and they represent "up-to" amounts.
I'd like to discuss an important issue with you now, the misalignment of the budget and estimates processes.
We had this discussion last time briefly, but looking at the main estimates you can really see a disconnect between the main estimates and the main budget, and I'm going to point out an example of that. You may ask, for instance, how can it be that a department like Indigenous and Northern Affairs is having its funding both decreased and increased? You may draw that conclusion considering that budget 2016 announced very significant investments in first nations, Inuit peoples, and the Métis Nation, totalling $8.4 billion over the next five years. Yet, these main estimates that we're discussing today actually show a decrease in Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada's budget by over half a billion dollars. That relates to the fact that we now expect to need less in 2016-17 than the government had previously forecast for claims agreements, including land claims and resettlements related to residential schools.
This is a perfect example of why we need to look at the realignment of the main estimates and the budget. With the main estimates currently introduced before the federal budget each year, there is no opportunity for the main estimates to reflect the priorities that the government lays out in its budget.
This confusion created by the lack of alignment between the main estimates and the budget, and the resulting effect on transparency are an indication of why we ought to work together to fix this. These are the main reports to Parliament on the government's finances, so if we want to make this complex process of planning, spending, and tracking tax dollars less complex and more timely and transparent, we can make a real difference—this committee particularly, working with Treasury Board and the Department of Finance. This is why we've started discussions with parliamentarians and other stakeholders on reforms to improve the process and to give parliamentarians better and more timely tools to hold government accountable.
Australia is one jurisdiction where the main estimates are presented after the budget.
This practice allows for significant budget measures to be included in the main estimates, which helps speed up delivery on government's priorities and also provides a more coherent flow of information to Parliament. The budget sets an overall fiscal plan, and then in this context, the government asks for Parliament's approval for the appropriations. The spending plan set out in the estimates is more easily reconciled with the budget's forecast for expenses.
Closer to home, Ontario has a similar process and gets top marks from the C.D. Howe Institute for the clarity of presentation in their financial documents, from budget forecasts to appropriations to year-end results. I think we can look at models such as these, and learn and improve our own systems.
Returning to the 2016-17 main estimates for our department, the Treasury Board Secretariat, we're seeking Parliament's authority for $6.6 billion in funds, which represents a decrease of $321.6 million from last year.
Of this $6.6 billion, only $209.5 million would actually go to Treasury Board to support the operations of our department. The remaining $6.36 billion would support central votes for the rest of the government, for which Treasury Board is responsible. This includes things such as the public service insurance, government contingencies, and requirements for public service pay in areas such as parental or maternity leave, or severance pay. These funds are managed centrally by Treasury Board and are transferred to departments and agencies throughout the fiscal year as required.
If you need more information about Treasury Board's plans for 2016-17, please refer to our report on plans and priorities, which we tabled in the House on March 7. I know you all wait with bated breath for me to table my report on plans and priorities. I brought a free copy with me for your reading enjoyment today.
I would add that an interim supply bill seeking Parliament's approval to spend funds in line with these main estimates was also introduced on March 21. The interim supply sought approval for monies that would cover planned government expenditures for the first three months of the fiscal year.
With respect to new expenditures announced in the recent budget, according to the current parliamentary supply process, we will begin to present the details of those in supplementary estimates (A), which will be tabled next month.
In the time remaining, I'd like to bring you up to date on what we're doing to improve the oversight of government spending.
These main estimates include a pilot project with a vote structure for Transport Canada. In the last main estimates, this department had three votes based on the kinds of things the funding is for: operating expenditures, capital expenditures, and grants and contributions.
In these main estimates, we've expanded the grants and contributions part into three program-based or purpose-driven votes. Parliament now has a clearer indication of both what the funds are buying and which departmental programs are supported by these funds.
This pilot gives parliamentarians and Canadians more detailed information in a more useable format. The ability to exercise oversight is considered to be the most important role parliamentarians can play on behalf of citizens. To do it properly, parliamentarians need access to accurate, timely, and understandable information about government spending.
I'm committed to working with parliamentarians to find ways to make improvements. We've already taken some concrete steps. In December, for example, I came before the House of Commons in committee of the whole to present the supplementary estimates (B). I appeared with . This, of course, included important new spending to support Syrian refugees.
Our government had a choice then. We could have used the less transparent Governor General warrant process, but we chose to give parliamentarians a chance to debate and question this spending.
Moreover, there's an annex to the supplementary estimates that provides Parliament with an early indication of the lapses expected for this fiscal year.
In terms of accountability, projecting lapses is a significant step forward, and it was recognized by the parliamentary budget officer, who said that it “represents an important increase in fiscal transparency”.
As we move forward, we intend on taking further steps to provide more useful information, in a more useful format, to parliamentarians.
Mr. Chair, I would like to return to the committee at the earliest opportunity to discuss these steps in detail. We all have a vested interest in improving accountability to Parliament, and I look forward to working with this committee as a partner in progress as we move forward.
Thank you, Ms. Ratansi. This is an extremely important issue.
We are working with the public service unions on this as well. This is something that we view as a joint effort, where there's a lot of common ground, and it's something that we intend on deepening in our work with PSAC and other unions representing the public service.
The numbers are troubling. I think there's been progress, but we have a long way to go. We're committing resources, but also, the partnership with the public service unions is going to be very important.
Incidentally, in regard to our colleague Michelle Rempel's piece that I read on this issue this week, for her to speak out as she has, as a member of Parliament and as somebody who's been a minister, reminds you of issues that continue to exist in this place and Parliament. Demonstrating leadership here is important more broadly within the public service.
In terms of some of the specifics we are working on now, I mentioned some work with the public sector unions, but Yaprak, our secretary of the Treasury Board, may have something to add to this as well.
Thank you very much for the question. It is a very important issue, and we are acutely aware of the numbers in the public service. For us, even 1% is far too many.
For the Clerk of the Privy Council, a healthy workplace has been made a government-wide priority, and this is reflected in the deputy minister's performance accords with the clerk. Of course, a healthy workplace comes with working in a respectful workplace, and that should be free of harassment.
With regard to the Treasury Board Secretariat and our minister's role, we are the holders of the management policy, which means that we make the rules as to what is acceptable and what isn't. It doesn't matter how many rules you put in place; you have to make sure that the culture is one of respect. It is an ongoing effort and ongoing education.
As well, this year we are going to try to see if there is a way to do annual checkups on those kinds of important issues, so that it's not a case of your getting a number every three years and then you can't really hold anybody accountable, or you don't know where your problem areas are. We are looking at that as a way to have more of a real-time checkup on how the employees are feeling.
As you do appreciate, for us all—and for me, as a woman and a senior public servant—it is a critical issue, and we have to lead by example. Nobody should suffer in silence, so you have to do something about it. You have to speak out.
Mr. Weir, the debate as to whether or not to have a Senate is not necessarily the subject of my appearance at this committee, but it's a great discussion that I'd love to have with you any time.
The fact is that there's a constitutional reality in terms of provincial requirements if we were to do what I think you're suggesting. What we are doing as a government is levelling with Canadians and saying there are ways, without our opening up the Constitution, to make the Senate more effective, less partisan, and more constructive. Some of the questions you're asking may be directed to the Board of Internal Economy, as an example.
If we're going to have a Senate, we have to fund it in the same way that your office gets funded, my office gets funded, parliamentarians' offices get funded. We're not going to have a Senate and not fund their operations.
I'm meeting tonight with the Senate committee, the equivalent committee.
I can tell you, Mr. Weir, that when I meet with senate committees, I meet with senators who are diligent and prepared and effective in the work they do. I would urge all of us to consider that there is important work that goes on in the other place, and to recognize that as long as we're going to have a Senate, there are things we can do in terms of governance to make it operate more effectively. I think that's what we're trying to do as a government.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would like to welcome the minister for his second appearance before the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
I would also mention, Mr. Chair, that we intend to support the requests pertaining to the main estimates.
Mr. Minister, when you last appeared before the committee, you indicated that you were implementing a new pay system for federal public servants. You said at that time that everything was fine in the best of all worlds. You are now preparing to implement the second phase of the Phoenix pay system.
We have learned that public servants are not receiving their pay, specifically Canadian Coast Guard employees, who return from several weeks or months on assignments abroad for Canada only to discover in horror that their pay has not been deposited.
Can you reassure us that the errors that occurred during phase one have been corrected and will not recur in the second phase?
One has to feel for federal public servants, especially those on lengthy assignments abroad who are without income for some time.
I appreciate the question.
I cited Ontario as another jurisdiction that has pretty good alignment in this sense. Quebec, actually, in terms of alignment of budget and the estimates process, has a better situation than we do in Canada. The C.D. Howe Institute has done a study of this, which I would commend to you. Honestly, this is something we would really like to engage this committee on.
I was at the World Economic Forum a couple of months ago, where I met with the Australian finance minister, the equivalent of the Treasury Board here. We discussed some of their issues. There's an opportunity to have bilateral discussions between you, as parliamentarians, and Australian parliamentarians, and ministers and parliamentary secretaries. I want our government and Parliament to be moving forward in unison on this, because we all have a vested interest.
Ultimately, making the system more understandable and sensible, and aligning the system, will make it easier for parliamentarians to hold governments to account. It will also make it easier for Canadians to hold government and Parliament to account, which I think is a good outcome. I think ultimately it will result in better policy and results from government, as people can hold us to account. This is one part of a more results-focused Parliament and government.
Our accountability to Canadians is going to be improved if we get this right, and I believe we can.
Thank you very much for your question.
Mr. Blaney, our government inherited a deficit from the Conservatives and very low economic growth.
During the election campaign, we presented an economic plan providing for significant investments in infrastructure, education, aboriginal communities, the middle class, job creation, and economic growth.
We believe in our plan and our approach. Mr. Poloz, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, stated recently that our investments were important for stimulating economic growth. David Dodge and Kevin Lynch, two former deputy ministers of finance, and Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury in the U.S., have all commented on this.
It is an important debate. We have, nonetheless, clearly stated that we will continue making strategic investments to create jobs and help the middle class. We will indeed continue doing so.
Look, any government can use rosy growth projections to create a notional or illusory surplus. We're levelling with Canadians on this, but that's a discussion for when I see you in the gym sometime.
We are very pleased as a government, and I think all of Parliament shares our enthusiasm, for the success of the Syrian refugee initiative. This was accomplished at a cost of just over $700 million, which was actually under budget.
We have not utilized the additional reserves, the contingencies established for the purpose. In addition to the commitment made in budget 2016, the government has confirmed a new approach to the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria and its impact on the region.
This is fundamental to the future of Canada in terms of our ability to attract new Canadians. A lot of people say this is a great thing to do for Syrian refugees. I think it's actually a great thing to do for Canada. These Syrian refugees, in 20 or 30 years, are going to make a huge difference.
I serve on the ad hoc cabinet committee for Syrian refugees, as does Minister Monsef. She was an Afghan refugee and came here as a child. To have a former Afghan refugee sitting as a cabinet minister today makes me wonder sometimes whether, in 20 or 30 years, we might see some of these Syrian refugees sitting in the House of Commons or as members of a cabinet. I think it's an investment in the future that we all welcome.