Thank you. I think I can get through the material and also leave some time for questions. We can, of course, come back at another time.
We offer several workshops. This is a version of our orientation. We offer a more in-depth workshop on effective questioning and also issuing recommendations. One that we did as a pilot several years ago for the federal public accounts committee, and have been back several times to do, is on reading the public accounts.
I'll return to our material about planning for now. We're at slide 23, if you want to follow along.
The most effective committees plan. Prior to going into a hearing, they'll plan their work. You'll have a method for choosing what audit reports you're going to look at and in what order. You'll probably have a steering committee set up as a shortcut to making some of those decisions at the committee. Then you'll also want to decide as a committee, in advance of a hearing or investigating a report, what your shared purpose for delving into this report is.
They say that you should be able to close your eyes in a hearing and not know what political party people are speaking from. In Yukon, they've started preparing all of their questions and then divvying them up among members. You may come up with a question or your party may come up with a question, but it might not be you asking it in committee. Those are a couple of examples of ways to be working together. Setting that shared purpose is important.
Moving on to “constructive engagement” with witnesses and presenters who come to the committee, your goal in having a hearing is to get information to end with a unanimous report. The report should be unanimous because you are giving direction to the public service on what to do. The public service is used to politicians disagreeing. It's what you do, but when you come out with a cross-party statement giving direction, it gets attention. That consensus really matters.
When you have the witnesses in front of you, you want to keep in mind that time is important. It's not just your committee time that's taking you away from other valuable work, but also the time that an audited entity spends preparing for that hearing, the time of that deputy minister in that hearing. Those things all add up.
Sometimes deputy ministers will come in front of you and won't have the answers on hand. That's understandable. Sometimes the material goes back years. There is nothing wrong with asking them to make a submission in writing. It's a good practice to have a deadline for submitting that, and if you're not sure how long it's going to take them to gather that information, it's completely fair to ask them how long they think they will need to get it to you. You have support staff who can help you follow up to get that information from the department.
Carol mentioned the “one and done” idea. You don't want them coming into that meeting and then walking out and saying “Phew, it's over.” They need to know that you're going to go back as a committee to follow up.
We have prepared some pocket cards. Some of you have seen these ones before. I will make sure that the clerk has electronic versions available to send to you, and if you want the physical versions, we could get those out to you as well. They give you some quick pointers on asking effective questions and issuing recommendations, and also on cross-party collaboration, which I'm going to get into.
Before I do that, I'm going to go ahead to slide 25, which says that “Without follow-up, there is no accountability”. That's returning to the notion that if a department walks in and says they're going to do everything that the Auditor General has recommended and here's how they're going to do it, if you don't go back and check on that—and you have methods to do that through reports that you request, the committee's progress report—you may not know whether they've done it. You can call them back for another hearing if you're concerned that progress hasn't been made. The audit office always has the option of doing a follow-up audit, if that's necessary.
I like to associate this with having teenage children. You ask if they have done their homework. Often, you probably check. Is their bedroom clean? Do you open that bedroom door and check if it's clean? If you don't, you have probably developed a lot a trust in your children. That's excellent. Maybe write a parenting book.
I'm going to touch on one last thing in terms of our good practice. The number one thing we see missing from committees that aren't effective is cross-party collaboration. I've already touched on some of the reasons it's so powerful for the public accounts committee. The reason this is such a challenge for elected officials is that it's not what you're used to doing in your job.
The analogy I like to make is to hang your party colours up at the door. Public money has no party, so when you're looking at the implementation of policy, that party affiliation is not as relevant.
Slide 30 describes some partisan behaviour. There are many different ways politicians can be partisan. Some of them are subtle and some are more obvious. You have all of the foundational structure in place in your committee to be non-partisan. You have the timing of the speakers, an opposition chair and an entrenched follow-up process. It's really up to you as individuals when you walk into that room to make the decision that you want to work towards the collective goal and have in mind that you want to improve public administration.
We have some tips on slide 31 on how you might want to go about doing that. A lot of you are probably sitting there thinking that this is a really far-fetched idea, especially coming from somebody who has never been an elected official. I am going to leave delving into that topic to the four former chairs who will be speaking after us. They can speak to you from the experience they have on the importance of collaborating with other parties and the impact that can have.
I'll turn it back over to you, Chair, for any questions from the committee.