Today, Mr. Chairman, I'm going to be focusing on supplementary estimates (A). I'm here with Brian Pagan, Renée LaFontaine, and Marcia Santiago, who is here from the expenditure management sector.
As you know, supplementary estimates are tabled three times a year. They present information to Parliament on spending that was either not ready for inclusion in the main estimates, or that has since been refined to account for new developments in programs or services. With that in mind, we want to make it easier for Parliament to hold the government to account.
However, as noted by the PBO in his most recent report on supplementary estimates (A), preparing the main estimates prior to the budget means that these documents are not aligned. I agree with the PBO on that. That's why we have advanced an agenda on estimates reform designed to properly sequence the budget and estimates processes. I look forward to working with parliamentarians on this agenda in terms of a four-pillared approach of purpose-based budgeting; reconciliation of cash versus accrual accounting; departmental results frameworks; and of course, budget and estimates sequencing.
We are already making some progress in terms of better information and sensible changes to the process. These supplementary estimates (A) provide an online table detailing the activities of organizations participating in horizontal initiatives that span multiple departments. We'll provide more details on those in a moment.
We're also continuing the practice, which started last year, of reconciling funding announced in this year's budget with funding requested through this year's estimates. This comparison makes it easier for Parliament to track government spending and to hold our government or future governments to account.
With respect to budget 2017, this year's supplementary estimates (A) include funding for 26 items announced in this year's budget. Indeed, of the $3.7 billion to be voted by Parliament in supplementary estimates (A), $1 billion is to implement budget 2017 measures.
Mr. Chair, both we and the PBO recognize that this is less than last year. It is still significantly more than what was accomplished two years ago with budget 2015 in supplementary estimates (A).
More importantly, our government has started a significant discussion around the importance of getting the basic sequencing right so that the priorities of the budget are presented before the program plans of the estimates. This would allow a bottom-line reconciliation to the budget in the tabled main estimates of the same fiscal year, which would be a first for any government. It would also eliminate the confusion caused by having Parliament vote on supply bills for both the main estimates and supplementary estimates in the same period.
Through supplementary estimates, the government is asking Parliament to approve spending on programs and initiatives of importance to Canadians.
Mr. Chair, our government is committed to growing the Canadian economy and to strengthening the middle class.
Allow me to detail four of the seven horizontal initiatives involving multiple organizations. They include $221.7 million for the oceans protection plan; $195.8 million to support the targeted admission of 300,000 immigrants under the 2017 immigration levels plan; $146.8 million for the youth employment strategy, which was laid out in budget 2017; and $99.8 million to support infrastructure and programs for indigenous early learning and child care.
Other major items voted in these estimates include $446.5 million for compensation to first nations for specific claims settlements; $400 million for transfer payments with the provinces and territories to support early learning and child care; $235.4 million for national rail passenger transportation services, as announced in budget 2017; $174.7 million for operation return home to repair, rebuild, and re-establish four Manitoba first nations communities that were affected by the catastrophic flooding in 2011; $166.7 million to maintain mission-critical services to Canadians; and finally, $162.8 million to maintain the integrity of Canada's border operations.
I’d also like to draw your attention to the portion of the supplementary estimates (A) that apply to my department.
The Treasury Board Secretariat is seeking Parliament’s authority for $625 million for adjustments made to terms and conditions of service or employment of the federal public administration.
This funding will cover retroactive payments and salary increases resulting from collective agreements that were recently signed or are expected to be signed in the coming weeks.
Our government is also committed to improving and strengthening parliamentary oversight of spending. With the changes we've made so far, we're raising the bar on better openness, transparency, and accountability. This is reflected in the fact that this May, Canada was ranked number two in the global open data barometer survey. It's a global measure of how governments are in terms of publishing and using open data for accountability, innovation, and social impact. We have more work to do, but we are achieving some progress that is being recognized.
It is also reflected in the Government of Canada's recent election to the Open Government Partnership steering committee ahead of 11 other candidates. This is a global organization affiliated with the United Nations.
Mr. Chair, as you know, I enjoy working with parliamentarians and all stakeholders to find ways to improve the estimates process. We can agree that better aligning processes and timing for the budget and estimates will strengthen the clarity and consistency of financial reporting.
Recently, on June 2, I had my 20th anniversary as a member of Parliament. In that time I spent 17 of those years in opposition and three in government. Just to speak of the role of Parliament, every one of those years was valuable, important, and productive, so I come to this place as a minister from the perspective of great appreciation and respect for the work of parliamentarians. On an ongoing basis, parliamentarians make a difference in the lives of their constituents but also, as legislators, in the lives of all Canadians.
I really have great respect for the work of parliamentary committees, which is reflected by my 19th appearance, I believe, before a parliamentary committee in this incarnation as a minister. I hope I'm not overstaying my welcome with you, colleagues.
We've ratified 18 agreements to date. We also have a
tentative agreement with a 19th group, reached recently, and we're awaiting ratification. We had anticipated the completion of these negotiations, and as such, we're anticipating this funding.
These agreements, negotiated over the last several months particularly, have come a long way in terms of restoring....
It's a priority for us to restore a culture of respect for our public service. I believe we've made a great deal of progress, but we still have a lot of work to do. We'll continue working closely with unions and public servants throughout the government.
There are a couple of things. One is that last year the number was better in terms of the number of budget items in supplementary (A)s. It reflected fewer items of larger amounts. This year we did not achieve the same percentage.
With a permanent or more rational sequencing of main estimates after the budget, we believe that the working relationship between Treasury Board and Finance on budget and estimates processes will deepen and strengthen. As main estimates follow the tabling of the budget, each year you will see progress made in the percentage of budget initiatives that will be in the main estimates. That has been the experience in other countries. In fact, in some jurisdictions they come out almost simultaneously—a lot of the work of budget and estimates is done and announced concurrently or shortly after. The Australians have, in my opinion, one of the better models of how this works.
In Canada, there's the budget process of approving budget initiatives and then the Treasury Board process of submissions to Treasury Board that lead to the actual expenditure approval. I believe that aligning these processes will strengthen budgeting activities and expenditure approvals, which will mean that funds will flow more quickly and that the rigour of public expenditures will be increased.
This is going to take time—and I've been clear about this whenever I met with this committee—but it's a significant step. I believe The Globe and Mail editorial has called the current situation absurd, where main estimates precede the annual budget. I agree with that, but it will take time to change. I'm not underestimating the fact that it will take time to accomplish this. Some years we've done better than others, but the permanent sequencing of main estimates after the budget will really take us much closer to what we want.
Hello, Minister Brison.
In February, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance shared a concern with you. I don't think you were there, but your senior officials were there. The committee was concerned about the recurring practice of using supplementary estimates—what we're studying today—to pay the salaries of certain ministers, ministers without portfolio. These include the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, the Minister of Science, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and the Minister of Status of Women.
Your department responded by specifying that the increase in the salaries of ministers without portfolio was part of a practice established in 1995. That said, the practice violates parliamentary rules.
I have a quick and easy question. Why do you want to increase the salaries of ministers without portfolio?
I agree that there is some confusion and I think some misconceptions about the purpose of the vote wording and how it interacts with legislation before the House.
The concept is very simple. There was a point of order raised in the House about this vote wording. The Speaker ruled, in fact, that the vote wording and the authorities are entirely appropriate and in keeping with parliamentary practice.
By the estimates process, Parliament is approving specific wording, what departments can and can't do with the monies provided to them. One thing they can do is pay salaries to ministers and to ministers of state with or without portfolio. The reason for this is because the supply cycle, when we introduce estimates to the House, is fixed, but the way in which the prime minister, he or she, arranges the ministry, is not fixed. A prime minister can make changes to his or her ministry at any time, and if they do that, obviously the prime minister would need the ability to pay that minister his or her salary.
The initiatives are being carried out and the oceans protection plan is being implemented through Fisheries, Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment, Climate Change, and Natural Resources. It's a horizontal initiative across a broad range of government departments and agencies, and over several years.
You can appreciate this, coming from Newfoundland and Labrador, or me from Nova Scotia, or any.... It's essential from an ecological and an environmental perspective, but also from an ocean industry perspective. I would commend to you, I think it was last week, The Economist did an excellent piece on global ocean sciences and the state of oceans. Oceans are under threat right now, and the economic opportunities of strong conservation and ecological policies resulting from that are significant.
in addition to the oceans protection plan, as a government we're investing significantly in ocean sciences. The future opportunities for Canada around ocean sciences are immense. We are looking forward to implementing these investments. Marine trade currently employs about 250,000 Canadians, but we believe broadly that the economic opportunities in sustainable ocean management give Canada a great opportunity to lead on this. So our investments are significant. They will help create a lot of economic opportunities for us in the future, while we preserve the ocean environment.
Just for the benefit of the committee and observers, the Minister did table a plan to this committee last year. It's a four-point plan that addresses timing; the need to reconcile the scope and universe and accounting of estimates; budget processes to provide better control for Parliament by purpose, rather than by inputs; and finally, better reporting, using online tools such as InfoBase so that committee members and Canadians can access, in real time, information about how government departments are spending their money.
That is the plan, and that has been developed in consultation with departments and other central agencies. We are ready to execute if we can get agreement to move forward.
There was a question. The PBO quite rightly observed that we have fewer budget items in the supplementaries this year than we did last year. We take no issue with his observation. If the question is what can we gain by changing the timing of the main estimates, I would advance three arguments for you, sir.
The first is that we would be able to reconcile immediately the estimates and the budget. Right now we're doing that post-fact with the supplementary estimates (A). That's number one.
The second one is that we have this situation now, where in this supply period, we are going to be presenting full supply for main estimates and incremental supply, supplementary supply, for these supplementaries (A). There is a very specific example, Marine Atlantic. VIA Rail is another. If we had the estimates after the budget, the confusion that's created by the two documents would not be necessary.
In the 2016-17 main estimates, Marine Atlantic's authorities from Parliament were $140 million. In the 2017-18 estimates that were tabled February 23, the authorities provided to Marine Atlantic were $76 million. That's almost a 50% reduction.
In these supplementary estimates (A), as a result of the budget decision that came after the tabling of main estimates, Marine Atlantic is seeking $135.9 million from funding that was confirmed in the budget. Therefore, we're going from $140 million down to $76 million and back up to $211 million. Had we had the estimates after the budget, that apparent reduction would not have been the case, and, in fact, there would not be a requirement for these supplementary estimates. Those amounts would have been included in the main estimates for Marine Atlantic.
The same situation applies with VIA Rail, and it has applied with other departments in the past. Therefore, when the president speaks of the importance of getting the timing right, there are certain budget decisions that are ongoing funding. We don't require elaborate Treasury Board approvals or controls. Once we get that budget decision, we can basically automatically reflect that in the main estimates. That is one of the very real gains from getting the timing right. There are other new initiatives that are identified in the budget that will require some consultation with partners and some challenge from Treasury Board before they're brought forward. They will likely remain elements of budget funding that are brought in through the subsequent supplementaries, but as the Minister says, if we can get the basic processes right, we can shorten that timeline so that it's much more timely.
Colleagues, we'll resume our meeting.
I have just a couple of quick comments before we start. As you know, we will be going in camera for about a 30-minute period following the presentation from PCO officials since we need to finish off, hopefully within that 30 minutes, the report on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
Therefore, as I mentioned earlier, we'll preclude the opening statements and go straight to questioning. In addition, I would suggest that we go to one five-minute round, rather than one seven-minute round. That will get us back on time and hopefully allow us to complete the report in camera.
We will start a five-minute round beginning with Madam Ratansi.
On a couple of things, maybe what I can do is to preface what the role of the PCO is before I get into responding directly to your questions. Because the commission of inquiry is an independent commission, so a separate arm's-length organization in terms of the decision-making, the role that the PCO plays is really under the administrative support for the commission of inquiry.
We provide all of the financial, human resources, and procurement kinds of activities that they need in terms of making sure that the spending they do, the spending they intend to do, is done in accordance with the rules and the regulations within the Government of Canada.
To come back to your very specific questions about risks and do they have enough money, it's up to the commission to decide how they're going to achieve their mandate. In terms of looking at whether or not there's risk or if there's enough money, it's up to the commission to figure out within the money that's been allocated by government, the $53.86 million, how they go about addressing those terms of reference, how they structure the work plan, how they accomplish the tasks at hand. Up to this point in time, we have not received any formal request with regard to an extension related to time or any additional resources.
That's fine. I understand.
I have another question. On May 30, Michel Girard, from the Journal de Montréal, published data that made radios in Quebec City panic. The public service benefits have increased by 54% in the past four years.
How can you explain this increase in benefits, which total $93.4 billion in liabilities?
In the past four years, there has also been a $33 billion increase in benefits such as severance pay, package deals for separation from employment, and so on. How do you explain this drastic increase in public service benefits, which lit up Quebec City's radios?
Thank you, Chair. I appreciate the opportunity.
Thanks to my colleague MP Weir for giving me some space.
My questions are all for the Privy Council Office and in relation to the funding around the murdered and missing indigenous women's inquiry.
We had some fairly high-profile criticisms both from the Native Women's Association of Canada and the 50 indigenous leaders and family members. Quite a few of their questions were about the extent to which money is flowing to the inquiry and whether there are some bureaucratic interferences that might explain why the inquiry has been so slow to generate results.
I will just say the big picture is that we all want the inquiry to succeed and so none of these questions are meant to undermine its overall intent, but just to make sure that as MPs we're doing everything we can to set it up for the best success.
Do the commissioners have full access to the inquiry funding that the government has set aside for them? Do we have examples of times that there have been delays waiting for payment in relation to the inquiry because of the Privy Council Office approval process?
Mr. Chair, I will take the questions.
As I mentioned, just specifically with regard to providing funds to the commission of inquiry for murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, even though we're coming here for supplementary (A) estimates, and it's the first time we're coming for those resources, we've had enough resources within the PCO budget to be able to pay for expenditures related to the commission up to this point so they have not been without resources available for what they would need in terms of doing it. Have they had full access? Absolutely.
How we develop the access, the way we've come up with the fact that we're going to be using $34.4 million roughly this year, is by working with the commissioners to determine what their work plan looks like, what they want to achieve, and being able to come up with a costing. Because, as you're aware, in terms of getting money out of Treasury Board ministers it's about providing a work plan, identifying how the money is going to be used, and the timing that money is going to be used for. Yes, the commissioners have had full access to any resources they would have needed in terms of carrying out their responsibility.
In terms of examples related to payments not being made on time, I know there have been some challenges with regard to.... There is government process. We won't just say someone's going to go and travel, and they've spent $100. We actually need to see the authority for that spending to happen, we need to see the receipts associated, and we have to have all of those checks and balances in place before we can issue the money.
There have been challenges from the people who, say, travel for the advisory committee meetings, for the hearings, to get their information in together, to get it signed off through the commission structure into PCO for us to then turn it around.
We have put in two specific people within PCO. That is all they do. For anything that comes into the PCO in terms of procurement requests, payment requests, or anything like that, their only function is to make sure we don't delay the operations of their committee.
I'm aware, certainly, of the Auditor General's report. I'm not intimately involved in the response, but there was a management response and I will make sure that's forwarded to this committee.
It's important to point out that the Auditor General assessed the risk of fraud, and in assessing that risk he found no fraud. We have controls in place, and he made specific recommendations to improve those controls.
We have a range of activities currently. You mentioned Defence Construction Canada. They submit a corporate plan in which they identify proposed projects. They look at their existing management practices and skill sets to deliver on those plans, and the environments they're going to be working on. That's one view we would have of that department, and there are many others.
Secondly, when it comes to individual transactions, projects, as my colleagues mentioned, there is a challenge function at Treasury Board where we will be looking at the specific details of projects to understand terms and conditions—who they're going to be working with, the way service will be delivered, how contracting will be administered, and the geographic areas they're working in—and then there will be specific conditions or controls put in place to address that.
I will make sure you get the management response to the AG report.
I'm not certain exactly how to respond to that.
Within the controls of PCO, we will do our due diligence to make sure all of the transactions that happen are done in accordance. We have our own internal control framework set up to manage the resources of Canada, that are part of our responsibility, like any other resources within PCO.
In terms of the transactions that happen on the ground with the commissions of inquiries, they tell us what they want to do and we use our processes that are currently in place. We use our standing offers, our procurement vehicles, and our staffing processes to ensure those controls and frameworks are addressed.
I think there's an appropriate control framework in there for managing the risk of fraud, because we do our due diligence and we do follow up with regard to every expenditure that's made.
||Vote 1a—Program expenditures..........$33,132,276
(Vote 1a agreed to)
||TREASURY BOARD SECRETARIAT
||Vote 1a—Program expenditures..........$26,392,686
||Vote 30a—Paylist Requirements..........$625,000,000
(Votes 1a and 30a agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the chair report the votes on the supplementary estimates (A) to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: It shall be done, thank you very much.
To all of our officials from PCO, I thank you for your appearance here again today.
We will suspend for a couple of moments, colleagues, and then go in camera.
[Proceedings continue in camera]