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Results: 501 - 600 of 2195
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:32
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With the idea of proactive disclosure, we're saying that Canadians have a right to know where you're flying from and to, and that you should be listing how much you've paid and your hospitality expenses and so forth, and that we're putting it on the Internet. Is this something that you think all parties should have to do eventually ?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:32
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I think it makes total sense to do that. Of course, as I've said, the more detailed the better. The more the public understands exactly how its money is being spent, the better the understanding and the better it is for Parliament.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-20 20:33
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Should we have to wait until the law or regulation is changed to do that, or do you think we should be able to do it on our own?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:33
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I don't think anybody should wait to do that.
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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for being here tonight.
One of the things we're seized with as a committee is looking at making recommendations. If we do actually recommend to replace the BOIE with something else, do you have a preference? Do you think that whatever might replace it is better or worse if we maintain the membership of elected members of Parliament, rather than independent people from the public who might be appointed by some agency—the Parliament of Canada, or whatever?
Is there a value in having MPs on the Board of Internal Economy? At the end of the day, we as elected members of Parliament are directly responsible for these expenditures and for the way the House of Commons works. Do you have a preference as to whether these be independent individuals or continue to be elected members of Parliament?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:34
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Our concern is less with the composition of the board and more with the way the board deliberates—whether it's in private or in public.
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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
Is the main concern of journalists and reporters the lack of detail in the expenses? We can all do what Mr. Julian does, which is take last year's report, which the House of Commons has already produced, and upload it on his website. It's not real-time data; it's not what he spent money on last week. It's last year's report.
Are you folks looking for more real-time, direct...? For example, when I flew from Ottawa to Toronto this week, do you want to see the cost of that on a website somewhere in real time? Is that the greater level of transparency that journalists and reporters are looking for? Or are you satisfied with what we're seeing now, which is that the expenses are being reported? There's a time lag, and it could be of a month or two months or even, in the case of the member's annual expenses after they've been done, several months after, for the previous fiscal year. What kind of transparency improvements are you looking for around individual MPs' expenses in real time?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:35
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Real time would be unbelievable. I suspect that would be quite a change to implement.
Having said that, I don't think it's any journalist's expectation.... I'm inadvertently speaking on behalf of a lot of people I haven't spoken to specifically about this, but I would suspect that many journalists don't mind the current system whereby there is quarterly reporting, because the point is that it be within a reasonable amount of time that these things are being reported. It's more about the detail of the expense, not the frequency of the reporting.
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View Brad Butt Profile
CPC (ON)
My last question is about in camera aspects. You would agree that there are certain items that have to be discussed in camera: a legal matter, a personnel issue, something that is extremely sensitive. As I understand it, and I'm not on the Board of Internal Economy so I don't know this specifically—I've read some of the minutes of the meetings—there are often many issues at these meetings that are very sensitive and that have to be in camera.
I know your line was that it's better to be open, but it sounds to me as though many of the items dealt with at the Board of Internal Economy, regardless of what changes are brought forward, are still going to have to be in camera. They are sensitive personnel matters, and legal issues are involved. It's great to say that you want maximum transparency, and I think we all want to see as much transparency as possible, but there are some fiduciary responsibilities in that “in camera” definition, and the Board of Internal Economy is the one committee of the House of Commons that deals with those very sensitive matters.
You're not suggesting that we throw those wide open or throw caucus meetings open to the media and the press as well. I assume you would respect the fact that some items have to be dealt with and maintained in camera.
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View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you, Chair. I appreciate that.
Thank you very much for your attendance today.
I'm going to start with another quote from the Auditor General, from yesterday. He said:
In particular, we noted that members of Parliament hold positions of trust and have responsibilities to their specific constituents and to Canadians in general that are considerable. In my opinion there are three fundamental elements that contribute to the fulfilment of these responsibilities. They are transparency, accountability, and good governance.
I'd just like to paint a picture for you and get your thoughts on whether you think it would be an improvement or not over what we have, and on any other holes in it that you see, or if perchance there are parts of it you like.
Right now, all the work of the BOIE is, for the most part, done in camera. You've acknowledged that most reasonable—if I can use that word—people will acknowledge there are some matters that do need to be in camera. We can articulate what those are: certainly people's medical records, legal circumstances, staff issues, and things like that, which really don't belong in the public domain because those people have rights.
What we're talking about is the potential for an organization, similar to what they've done in Britain, that would take all those issues that relate to MPs' expenses and running our offices and all the areas you're looking for, the line items and everything, and put them in this stand-alone agency.
Now, I've heard you say you really don't have a lot of thought as to who is making the decisions. I find that a little surprising, simply because there is an issue of arm's length. In terms of good governance, there are reasons that arm's-length bodies are created, and we're looking at this as an extension of that. One of the problems is that in BOIE debates, discussions, there can be partisanship. There won't be with people who are chosen from the public and there are criteria and it's a public application. The whole process of hiring these folks, actually, or appointing them is in law, and they actually have the regulations for that.
That would be a stand-alone body. They have no partisan interest. They have a stand-alone mandate and that mandate is to answer in this case to the Canadian people—the British people, in their case—on their monitoring and oversight of MPs' expenses and related matters.
You've acknowledged those in camera things. They started out in public. It's interesting. I think Tom mentioned they did start that way, and then they went in camera, which speaks to the issue that reasonable people will see times that you need to be in camera, and then they issue minutes. So they're in camera, not secret meetings.
However, on the flip side, by taking those things out of BOIE, I would suggest to you that it leaves a lot of other areas that are wide open to be public matters because we're debating them the same way as we debate anything. There are only certain times when you'd need to go in camera—security, and things of that nature—but for the most part, for the operation of the House and the building, there is not a lot of secrecy there. So it would actually, in the model I'm painting for you, provide the BOIE to have more of their meetings open, and to have a stand-alone agency that's accountable to the people directly and overseeing our wages, expenses, and related matters.
What are your thoughts on that picture?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:41
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Well, if the picture you're painting leads to a meeting that the public can attend, then I like at least that part of the picture.
I'll just make one point of clarification on the composition of the board and my not having a preference, really, on who fills it. I just mean that from the perspective of the CAJ and from the journalist's perspective, transparency isn't at stake in the same kind of way. I won't get too academic, but if you have people behind closed doors, it doesn't matter to me who they are, the issue is that the door is closed. That was my rationale there.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Okay.
Mr. Taylor-Vaisey, I'm going to challenge your profession a little bit here. I can understand completely what you're saying, and if I were in your profession I would probably be asking for the same thing. You're a journalist. You want to know. You want to gather information. You want to print information. You want to broadcast information. But I ask you to take, perhaps, a little self-critical look, because much of the information that is published now, frankly, is simply not reported upon.
Peter is talking with great pride about how he publishes, and has for seven years, all this information. Those are summary financials that are published with expenses for every MP. It's open to the public. It's open to journalists. I haven't seen, outside of one or two stories every second or third year, much concern or examination from journalists.
I gave the example a couple of meetings ago, and I will again—Kevin doesn't like this because I'm going to be picking on my friend, Ralph Goodale. It's quite clear in the financials on the travel expenses. Ralph and I both live in Regina, Saskatchewan. I live in Regina Beach; he's in Regina proper, but we both fly out of Regina to Ottawa and back. We both attend the same number of sessions of caucus. I'm here from Monday through Friday. Ralph is usually here Monday through Friday, but, amazingly, last year his travel expenses were over three times mine. His were about $122,000 and mine were $38,000. Do you know something? We never saw a story on that.
If all of this information is here, and if you're suggesting that the public is clamouring for this information—and maybe I'm mischaracterizing your words—why aren't you writing stories about the information you have now?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:43
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As a mini newsroom, this is the funniest-looking newsroom I've ever come across. That's a good question, though.
I don't want to speak for journalists who may have found interest in that story about discussing expenses between two MPs. Maybe it's a worthwhile—
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Much of the information is perhaps not as much as you'd like to see. There is information out there now in more detail than there ever was before, but I haven't seen a whole bunch of stories about it.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:44
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I think that's because most of it is not newsworthy. Some of it might be, and that's why it's important for it to be there for the public and for journalists to see. I would never suggest that every airline ticket is going to be a news item.
The answer to your question is simply that there aren't a lot of news stories about expenses, relatively speaking, compared to the amount of information that's out there, because most of it is not extremely newsworthy. If it is newsworthy, it's our judgment in newsrooms to publish it.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
I go back to a point I made earlier. If all of the rules and bylaws are made public, so you know exactly what constraints we as MPs have—what we can and cannot do, in other words—and if the board adheres to those rules and bylaws and if the decisions made are published, why isn't that important then? As you said yourself, a lot of this may not be newsworthy. If it were, you would already know about it. If there were problems like we saw in the U.K., you'd know about it and you'd report it, but there haven't been.
I'm trying to get my head around why it is so important to be able to actually sit in a meeting to hear the discussion between members who reach the same decision that is published right now and that you are not reporting on.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for being here.
As a former journalist, I can understand this concern about transparency. I can understand it even more now that I belong to a non-recognized party.
As I said earlier to Mr. Milliken, in the first seven years I was an MP, my party was represented on the Board of Internal Economy. I trusted my whip, who reported what he could to us. Not all the discussions were systematically made public, even for party caucuses.
Now I am in exactly your position, even though I have been an MP for nine years. I don't know much about what has happened in the past two years. The Board of Internal Economy brags about transparency, but even the MPs, particularly those whose parties are not recognized or who are independents, are suffering from the lack of transparency. This is especially true for journalists, even though they in some way represent the public. But the money being spent is taxpayers' money, who deserve to have watch dogs—pardon the expression—check what is going on and how the money is being spent. Yes, there is a lack of transparency, internally and externally.
However, although Mr. Milliken said that there were no major changes in his 10 years as Speaker, I have seen a change. More information is available now, online for example, but there is much more on each expenditure.
Would you be satisfied if, rather than indicate a bunch of expenditures and the amount an MP spent on travel, we said what the trip was, and where the MP went and when, for example? All that information is submitted to the auditor anyway. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have a problem with it, but the 307 other MPs should do the same. It shouldn't be up to each individual to decide what information to provide.
What additional information would be useful to you in doing your job?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:48
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I think, if I can use the members' expenditure reports as a guide, it would be more detail about each line item. I wish I had one right in front of me so that we could go line by line and talk about what value there may be to each.
But I would just say more detail. There is more detail there, of course, than there has been in the past, but with more detail breaking down salaries and purchases, we would know what people were buying.
So just greater detail—that's really what it comes down to for us. It gives us a greater sense of a politician's judgment when they're spending public money.
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View André Bellavance Profile
Ind. (QC)
Mr. Lukiwski gave us an example earlier. But if this story about Ralph Goodale had happened in Quebec, it would have certainly been in the newspapers. I'm convinced of it. For us, the media report on details of MP expenditures at least once a year.
Far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but I would still like to point out that every MP's reality is different. I myself am not one of the biggest spenders in Quebec: out of 75 ridings, I rank about 44th. Having said that, I don't want to judge the others who have higher expenses. Since my riding includes 40 municipalities and covers 3,000 km2, I have not one office, but three. So I need employees who drive two hours to get from one constituency office to another to work.
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-20 20:50
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Thank you.
I'm trying to understand what you expect of the Board of Internal Economy. As you can see, everyone is in favour of transparency. But how we are achieving that transparency is not as clear. There have been some changes at the Board of Internal Economy, and there will be more changes in how our expenses or budgets are posted on the site. That should help.
You also noticed from our discussions that our position has not changed much. The current government does not seem to want an independent board or any real openness within the committee. But that is what you are after: openness and the possibility of knowing what is going on.
There are minutes. The former Speaker, Mr. Milliken, said that the minutes were published, that they were very clear and that that should suffice.
As a journalist, you have to work with BOIE representatives. Do you think you have enough information? If we maintain the status quo, what additional information, be it minutes or BOIE reports, would help you do your job and meet the public's needs?
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-20 20:51
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I'm sorry for interrupting you, but I want to clarify that the status quo is not what we want.
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-20 20:51
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I wanted to make that clear. We would like the submissions to be fully independent and open.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:51
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As it stands, I think the status quo, if it were to endure.... This is not ruining Canadian democracy. I don't think the status quo has been disastrous. Our opinion is we can improve things. I think that's the answer to the first part of your question.
As to the second part, I'd say that what we'd like to see in the minutes would be similar to what we'd see from a standing committee. We'd like to see as much detail as we can of conversations, where that's possible. It has been raised a few times, the question about there being legitimate times to go in camera. Of course, I would submit to that. But otherwise, as much detail of conversations as any member of the public can reasonably expect of a standing committee.
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View Nycole Turmel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Nycole Turmel Profile
2013-11-20 20:52
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MPs are currently trying to post their expenses on the sites. Do you think the information posted there is currently sufficient or do you expect to see the Board of Internal Economy officially post it on the site to look at the difference?
Currently, journalists have to trust that an MP has reported everything, which is not necessarily the case, and that it is being done honestly and correctly. But you have no way of knowing if it's true or not.
I would like to hear what you have to say about that.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:53
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Sure. Right now, journalists and the public are expected to trust politicians and people of influence, people with power, that everything is going reasonably well, things are handled with care and that everything is above board. In a perfect world, that would be fine, but we don't want to have to trust the word of people who are talking behind closed doors. They may be honest with us, but we don't want to have to trust that.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:54
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It has been brought up a couple of times, but I want to go back to something that has been discussed a little bit previously and ask you a couple of direct questions in regard to it.
It has been noted already during the meeting that both our party, the Conservative Party, the government, and the Liberal Party are currently moving toward posting more proactive disclosure—our hospitality, our travel expenses in line-item type status—so there's an ability to see where an MP has travelled, what was spent on that travel, hospitality type of expenses.
I guess I would want to ask you, looking at something like that, would you see that as a move toward greater transparency, and would you see that as a positive step?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:55
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Yes. If political parties compete with each other to be more transparent and post more things online that shed light on their expenses, that's something that I think the public would welcome.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:55
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Okay.
If something like that were to be made mandatory so that all parties would be doing it, we'd have to obviously drag the NDP kind of kicking and screaming toward it. Despite their protestations otherwise, certainly there's no question that actions speak louder than words. They talk a little bit about accountability and transparency over there, but we in our government live that, we embody it. You look at our record and it's a move toward things like the Accountability Act, that kind of move. We're trying to bring them kicking and screaming toward that transparency.
If something like that were to be made mandatory, so that all parties were doing it and it was a mandatory system, would that be something you would see as an improvement, something that would be greater transparency and something that journalists would appreciate?
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:56
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Absolutely. Okay. Well, I appreciate that. Thank you very much for that, and I hope that we can bring them into that—
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:56
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I don't really want to endorse the preamble, but I will confirm the spirit of it—
Voices: Oh, oh!
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:56
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I understand. Of course you have to be non-partisan, and of course you wouldn't want to endorse that, but certainly we would have to do that. We'd have to bring them kicking and screaming, and we hope to do that.
An hon. member: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Blake Richards: Well, as I've said, to talk about something is one thing and to show action, like we've done, is another. Now—
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:57
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I just want to move towards the board minutes—
An hon. member: You had your turn.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:57
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Thanks, Mr. Chair.
You talked about the board minutes themselves.
Obviously they are now being posted and you are able to see some of the decisions that have been made by the board. As a journalist yourself, have you read those minutes? Are they something that you look at on a regular basis? Have you looked at them once or twice...?
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:57
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Yes, I've read them. I haven't been assigned a great many stories dealing with the Board of Internal Economy myself, so I don't regularly seek them, if that makes sense.
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:57
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But I have read them and seen them, back to 2011.
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View Blake Richards Profile
CPC (AB)
View Blake Richards Profile
2013-11-20 20:58
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Okay. Now having done that, when you look at those decisions.... Try to be conservative in your estimate, I guess, but when you look at those decisions and you try to imagine what led to those decisions and the discussion, in trying to picture what may have been in camera types of discussions to arrive at certain decisions, what would you see—
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Nick Taylor-Vaisey
View Nick Taylor-Vaisey Profile
Nick Taylor-Vaisey
2013-11-20 20:58
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Offhand, I don't know. We'd have to look over them right now together.... I don't know them that intimately. I'm sorry.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-20 15:41
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I just want to thank all of our guests for being here today to offer your expertise. Obviously, we appreciate the service you do for the country to make sure that again, as Ms. Cheng said earlier, this is a key accountability measure for parliamentarians and thus for the public, so we certainly appreciate your being here.
In regard to that, this is the 15th consecutive year that the Auditor General has issued an unmodified opinion on the Government of Canada's consolidated financial statements. Could you please comment on what this means for Canada?
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 15:42
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As we have mentioned in the past, this is rather rare in terms of the global situation on financial reporting at the government level. We're not aware of too many jurisdictions that actually have clean opinions on consolidated accounts, let alone having 15 years of consecutive records like so. The closest I think we could find would be New Zealand and Australia where they have consecutive unmodified opinion for about four or five years, but not anywhere close to what we have here in Canada.
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View Dan Albas Profile
CPC (BC)
View Dan Albas Profile
2013-11-20 15:42
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Excellent. I'm very happy to hear that, Mr. Chair.
Now the government's clean audit testifies to the high standards of the government's financial statements and reporting. Can you please share with this committee the requirements needed for the government to achieve this opinion. Are so-called clean audits common in the rest of the world? I know you did say that Australia and some other areas are working toward this same standard. Could you just comment a little further on that?
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 15:43
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It requires a lot of due diligence on the part of the various departments and agencies that have a role in preparing the financial information.
First and foremost, the proper systems and processes to capture the data are needed; good systems of internal control are needed to be able to ensure that the data collected would be valid; and then the central exercise is needed, which is under the charge of the comptroller general, to make sure there's proper consolidation and proper elimination of accounts. Where there are significant accounting judgments on estimates and more complex issues, the comptroller general would work on those to make sure we follow the standards.
The auditor's role is, in turn then, to look at those accounts and make sure we obtain sufficient and appropriate audit evidence to support the accounts to make sure there are no material misstatements to consolidated financial statements.
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View Kirsty Duncan Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you all for your work and for coming today.
I'm new. Is the Auditor General's office receiving enough information from the government for the Auditor General's office to do its work?
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 16:10
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We have received excellent cooperation from both the comptroller general's office as well as all the line departments and agencies, so there are no issues of any concern that I would bring to the table.
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View Kirsty Duncan Profile
Lib. (ON)
How do you ensure that the departments implement your recommendations? You have talked for 10 years about National Defence. We haven't seen those changes.
How do we ensure that, and do you have recommendations for doing so?
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 16:12
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We have some success stories along the way. As I pointed out, we have a very good working relationship with the comptroller general's office, or with other departments, for that matter.
To take an example, if you go back to observations several years ago, estimation of tax revenue was on the block. We talked about things that would be better for assessing tax revenue and estimating the amounts, and these are not on the list anymore.
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 16:13
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We tend to present the results to senior management, and wherever the department might allow us to do so we would go to the departmental audit committee as well to explain some of the differences and some of the weaknesses in their area and encourage them to do that.
As with any other recommendations and performance audit reports, we do not have the authority to require departments and agencies to take certain actions. But the reason I mentioned the centre is that often the comptroller general's office can influence a department to encourage them to make those adjustments and changes.
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View Kirsty Duncan Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
I'm concerned that there's little follow-up. For example, there's an audit and a few years later there's another audit and we learn the recommendations weren't implemented. Would it be possible to table with the committee what's done to ensure the recommendations are followed? Is that possible?
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 16:37
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Mr. Chair, the management letters are intended as a management communication. It was never, I guess, drafted or written with it in mind that it was going to go to a full committee discussion.
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Jim Ralston
View Jim Ralston Profile
Jim Ralston
2013-11-20 16:37
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I think Ms. Cheng has indicated that first of all, there are.... In your first questions, you referenced performance audits. I think it's important to point out that this would not be classified as a performance audit. This is an audit of financial statements.
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View Kirsty Duncan Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
How accurate do the government's consolidated financial statements have to be to receive a clean audit opinion?
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 16:39
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Mr. Chair, in order to receive a clean opinion, we have to conduct sufficient audit procedures to make sure that there are no material misstatements. In that process we look at the different cycles of businesses, we look at the various financial statement line items, and we have audit procedures to audit them.
Because the Government of Canada is composed of many, many activities in more than 100 departments and agencies, we then decide on the larger ones that we would do more work on, and the smaller ones, it stands to reason, we would do less work on. We roll up all of those findings into an overall account to sort of say what some of the differences are that we found.
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2013-11-20 16:40
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For example, in concluding the 2011, 2012, and 2013 public accounts, we had discussions with the government and the government made $1.5 billion worth of adjustments to the financial statements in terms of the statement package that you see here. When we find differences, we discuss them with management and make sure they understand why we say that those are the differences. When they come to an agreement on that, they make adjustments to the financial statements.
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View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
Let's call the meeting to order.
To the members, we are in public today. We even have some television cameras with us. We have two different hours of meeting today. Mr. Ferguson, the Auditor General, is here to join us in the first hour.
Sir, if you have an opening statement, we'll let you go ahead with that, and then we'll ask you as hard questions as we possibly can.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:01
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Thank you.
Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to participate in your examination of the administrative oversight systems, policies, and practices of the House of Commons, including the role of the Board of Internal Economy. With me today is Clyde MacLellan, Assistant Auditor General.
I'm pleased that the House of Commons and this committee wish to explore the practices of provincial and territorial legislatures and other Westminster-style parliaments with respect to administrative oversight; to consider modifications to the roles of institutions, such as the Office of the Auditor General in that oversight; and to propose any other necessary modifications to the administrative policies and practices of the House of Commons.
I would like to start by mentioning a few broad principles that I think the committee could consider during its deliberations. Before this meeting, I provided the clerk of the committee with a short paper that elaborates on these principles. I would also refer the committee to our June 2012 Report on the Administration of the House of Commons of Canada. In this June 2012 audit report, we mentioned that demands have been increasing for political and government representatives to be held accountable for their use of public funds.
In particular, we noted that members of Parliament hold positions of trust and have responsibilities to their specific constituents and to Canadians in general that are considerable. In my opinion there are three fundamental elements that contribute to the fulfilment of these responsibilities. They are transparency, accountability, and good governance.
I believe that providing detailed public disclosure of members' expenses, and having clear policies and processes for those expenses, establishes an environment of transparency, and transparency is the foundation of accountability.
In my opinion, governance can be strengthened by having an independent body that would either advise the Board of Internal Economy or be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements. Regardless of the role of such a body, it is important that Canadians are confident that its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner.
I also believe that independent comprehensive audits, including financial statement audits, compliance audits, and performance audits, would not only strengthen members' accountability but would also enhance the public's confidence in the governance mechanisms of the House of Commons.
The committee may therefore wish to consider whether the mandate of the Office of the Auditor General should be amended to include this role. The right to conduct such audits, at the discretion of the Auditor General, should be clearly described in statute. Because we regularly conduct all of these types of audits, the Office of the Auditor General has a unique ability to contribute, and we are ready and willing to take on this role.
Canadians expect members of Parliament to spend the moneys they receive for the functions of their office in an ethical and prudent manner and for approved purposes. Members are accountable to one another in the House of Commons and to the public for their actions. It is their responsibility to carry out their assigned mandate in light of these expectations. I therefore believe that the changes the committee will decide to make, while respecting the many unique aspects of the institutions, need to be significant enough that a reasonable person with a healthy degree of skepticism would be satisfied that the rules are being consistently applied and sufficiently monitored.
In conclusion, members of Parliament must be properly supported in order to carry out their duties effectively. Refining the mechanisms that promote transparency, accountability, and good governance will enable members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities and meet the expectations of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions that the committee may have.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, for being here today.
I guess I want to start off with, if we can, a comparison between the oversight provisions imposed upon the House of Commons versus those of the Senate. Obviously, most Canadians over the last several months have heard, read about, and probably been concerned about some of the controversy that we've seen in the Senate with some of the expenses being claimed by senators, which, at least on the surface, appear to be claims that should not have been made and certainly should not have been paid.
I wonder if you would, for the benefit of this committee and perhaps anyone else who may be listening, contrast the oversight provisions upon members of the House of Commons versus the oversight provisions for members of the Senate, specifically for travel and hospitality. In other words, what documentation is required for travel and hospitality claims made by members of Parliament versus the documentation required with claims for travel and hospitality by senators?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:08
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Before I turn it over to Mr. MacLellan, I think our comments in this vein would mostly be in the context of the two audits that we completed recently on the administration of the House and the administration of the Senate. For example, in the administration of the House of Commons in terms of expenses, while we noted that for the most part they were being processed properly, there were still some situations where documentation was missing and improvements needed to be made.
I'll also turn it over to Mr. MacLellan just to see if he has anything that he would like to add.
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Clyde MacLellan
View Clyde MacLellan Profile
Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:09
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Thank you, Mr. Auditor General.
Just as the Auditor General indicated, in order to try to answer this question I have to relate back to the audits we did in 2012 on both institutions, keeping in mind that those were audits of the administration and not necessarily the governance regime of both chambers. It's very clear in those audits that we didn't audit the Board of Internal Economy in the case of the House, or the Standing Committee on Internal Economy in the case of the Senate.
That said, we did have an opportunity to interact with how the administration plays its role in the oversight of expenditures, and what other types of bodies are present. That may be able to help in that regard.
My perception on that would be that there are a lot of similarities, perhaps more than there are differences. In thinking about that type of question earlier this morning, one of the big issues I recall from those two particular audits was the nature of documentation that was present in the case of the Senate with respect to our being able to determine whether or not the expenses were incurred for the purposes intended.
If you go back to the two different reports, we provided tables in those documents about the percentage of compliance with regard to our ability to determine whether or not those expenses met their intended purposes. That's largely for purposes of the role of members, in the case of this chamber, and in the case of senators in the case of the red chamber.
The difference is that when we did that audit, in about 98.5% of the transactions we looked at we were able to conclude that they met that condition. In the case of the Senate, it dropped down to about 94.8%. That had a lot to do with the way in which documentation was kept vis-à-vis the role of the administration and individual senators, an issue that we didn't really encounter here.
As it relates to policies and procedures, at a very macro level there were quite a bit of similarities and what you would expect to see in terms of proper authorization, proper documentation being required, proper approvals being necessary, and reviews by the administration. In both cases I think we got lots of comments that many members and many senators felt they were under a lot of scrutiny by the administration on how the expenses were being incurred. Yet we still found instances where the documentation was not sufficient in both cases, but we had a bigger struggle with that in the case of the Senate administration, which is why we made very specific recommendations in that report about that subject.
Both groups have a committee. Here, the Board of Internal Economy, and there it's the Standing Committee on Internal Economy. At a macro level there are a lot of similarities in terms of the expectations, roles, and responsibilities of both of those organizations from a governance perspective. We looked at the roles of internal audit as being important in providing some kind of oversight to assist the particular boards, and we made recommendations in both cases.
I hope that helps a little bit in giving you some clarity on those. But I would say that at a macro level they're very similar in the details, and a little bit of a difference that was sufficient for the nature of the recommendations we made.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
It is helpful, and thank you for that.
As a follow-up, you mentioned—and please correct me if I'm mischaracterizing what you said—that in the House of Commons there was 98.5% compliance.
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Clyde MacLellan
View Clyde MacLellan Profile
Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:13
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My comment was specifically to one attribute we were looking at, which was whether or not we were able to determine they were incurred for the purposes intended.
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Clyde MacLellan
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Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:13
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The overall percentage for the House of Commons was very high in terms of other categories as well, so your generalization is not unreasonable.
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View Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
What I'm trying to get at is that if we're looking at 98.5% “compliance”, to use that term, where all expense claims were justified—in other words, submitted properly, with supporting documentation, and the claims were determined to have actually been for their intended purpose, and thus accepted—are you still suggesting, sir, that there is a lot of room for improvement?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:13
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Certainly it indicates that there is still room for improvement.
When you look at the number of claims that go through and you apply a 98% success rate to it, it still indicates that there are a certain number of claims that need to have more scrutiny. I think that's important. So 98% sounds like a good success rate, but when you're dealing with this type of situation there is still room for improvement.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thank you, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. MacLellan. Your comments are very important for our report.
We have just come back from a constituency break week. I've been in my riding, which I think is similar to other ridings across the country. Canadians are very concerned about the Senate spending scandals and are concerned about what they have seen from both Conservative and Liberal senators and how they have acted. There is some real concern out in the public mind right across the country that enough is enough. We really need to put in place a really transparent regime.
So the NDP brought forward their motion in June, and happily we were able to get the support of other parties to move towards ending the self-policing regime that exists, the Board of Internal Economy, which you made reference to.
I noticed in your presentation that you referenced very clearly the point that governance could be strengthened by either having an independent body that would advise the board, or that this independent body could be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements.
My question to you is very simple. I think in the public's mind they want an end to self-policing. They want an end to this perception that the MPs are policing themselves. What they would like to see is an independent body they can have confidence in.
You provide two doors. Is your preference that this independent governance, this independent body, be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements? Do you not feel that is an important way of re-establishing the public trust that I think has been shattered with the Senate spending scandals?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:16
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Certainly, what we have done, Mr. Chair, is to indicate that we believe that some sort of independent oversight is important. We have indicated it could be advisory or it could be authoritative. Certainly, my preference would always be that it have some sort of authority, but that's not my decision to make. That's a decision for the committee to recommend.
Again, I think, in general—and I tried to make the comment in the opening statement—at the end of the day what's important is that whatever change is put in place is going to be a change that a reasonable, independent person harbouring a certain level of skepticism will believe has been sufficient, so they can be confident that the rules and expenses are being appropriately monitored.
I think the other thing that is important to remember is probably that the ground of this type of situation always shifts so that what people believe to be perhaps acceptable right now may not be what people perceive to be acceptable sometime in the future. So I think it's also important there be some mechanism to make sure that's all being monitored. And on that mechanism, again there should be some component that is independent or coming from the outside. My preference would be that it have a certain level of authority, but it could be advisory as well.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you. I think that's a clear recommendation, and we certainly appreciate your reinforcing what I think Parliament directed this committee to do, which is to put into place an independent authority around MPs' expenses.
You also referenced in your presentation an independent, comprehensive audit process, and we're certainly supportive of that. You're saying you are ready and willing to take on this role. I understand that's with existing resources, that the only thing needed to be put into operation to make that real would be changing the mandate, or adding that to the mandate.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:18
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Certainly, an important component to that would be having a clear mandate so that we understand what our responsibilities and authorities are. Obviously, taking on this type of a mandate, if we did it within existing resources, would have an opportunity cost. But every audit we do has an opportunity cost, right? So for every audit we decide to do there are other audits we can't do because of that.
However, we believe this would certainly be an important role, and if we were looking at priority areas of audit, this would be one that would come high on our list. So I think regardless of whether there were additional resources that came along with the mandate or not, we would consider conducting these types of audits important enough that we would be willing to take them on.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Ferguson, those comments disturb me a little bit, because we have seen fairly substantial cutbacks in support by the current government for the Auditor General's office.
What you're telling us is that if we were to add an independent comprehensive audit of MPs' expenses, it would take away from important work in other areas. We've certainly seen with the F-35s and a whole range of other areas that we need oversight, particularly of this current federal government, of a whole range of expenditures.
I gather that additional resources would be needed for you to continue the work you're doing while adding this function of providing an independent comprehensive audit of MPs' expenses. Is that not true? You would need additional resources so that you wouldn't have to cut back in other areas that are equally important.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:20
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Certainly, having the additional resources would allow us to take the mandate on and add it to everything else we're doing.
If we don't have the additional resources, we will have to either reduce some of the other audits or see if there are any places to free up the time to do it. I don't think we could absorb the mandate entirely, though, without resources and without it affecting the other work we do.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
That's an important point you've made. We've objected to the cutbacks the Conservative government has imposed on your office.
I have a final question.
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View Peter Julian Profile
NDP (BC)
There has been some push for having political parties put forward partial selective audits. Each party would provide a different framework and some additional information on MPs' expenses. But it wouldn't be a complete approach where every MP's expenses were subject to the same criteria. Do you agree that MPs have to do it together?
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 11:21
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Our New Democratic friend was starting to play a childish game. Maybe the NDP should just take the initiative and do what the Liberals and the Conservatives are saying, which is to move forward and say that we're prepared to provide proactive disclosure.
Anyway, it is about public trust. Politicians can only dream about having the type of public trust, Mr. Ferguson, that Canadians have in the Auditor General's office.
What I have found is that quite often when we find ourselves in trouble, because of the way affairs have been managed, one of the offices we always turn to is the Auditor General's office. Once again, in the last number of months, we find ourselves in a situation where we're turning to the Auditor General's office to get some assistance, some direction.
With respect to the idea that we need to undertake performance audits for the House of Commons administration, do you have any short thoughts you could share with us on performance audits, or the benefits of such audits?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:22
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
In my opening statement, I identified three types of audits: financial audits, performance audits, and compliance audits. The first message is that not all audits are the same. That's important for everybody to understand.
As to a performance audit of the administration, that's what we did in 2012. We did an audit of the administration of the House and an audit of the administration of the Senate.
The purpose of these audits is to look at whether the administration is performing its function in an economical and efficient manner, looking at whether all of the support functions are operating the way they should.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 11:23
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To the best of your knowledge, has that been the case? Has there been follow-through on that?
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Clyde MacLellan
View Clyde MacLellan Profile
Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:23
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In relation to that question, we completed the audit. Typically, we allow a bit of time to pass before we do any type of follow-up. The unique relationships between the House and the Senate have operated on the basis of being invited back to take a look at particular issues. So in answer to your question, we have not followed up on those recommendations.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 11:24
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That's right. So there's a need for us to invite you back.
Performing more detailed audits of parliamentary spending seems to be what Canadians are wanting to see. Do you feel this is something the Auditor General's office would be able to provide—looking at ways we could perform more detailed reporting of our expenditures? Do you believe this would help out in furthering accountability and transparency, Mr. Ferguson?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:24
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In terms of expenses themselves, I think there are a couple of different types of audits that could be undertaken. One would be a compliance audit, which would be the standard: did the claims comply with the rules and were they processed properly?
In terms of the question you're asking, that would be standing back and trying to do a broader audit of disclosure practices, making recommendations around those practices. It's certainly something that we could put an objective around and do an audit of. Usually in our performance audits we have to stay away from commenting directly on policy. We just look at how policy was implemented. In this instance, we would very much have to be given the mandate. If we were going to do that type of audit, it would have to include a mandate to be able to comment on policy. I'd have to make sure that we would be able to do that under our legislation, but that would be the thing we would need to consider.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 11:26
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It is about trying to say to Canadians that we want to reform the system. One of the things that seems to come up is this whole idea of in camera meetings, to the degree that the leader of my party wants to see legislation that would in essence make it a law that we could not have in camera meetings of the Board of Internal Economy, with the odd exception, such as when dealing with security or personnel matters.
Are you able to comment on in camera meetings?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:26
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I'm not trying to insert myself into any political debate here, but with any type of committee or organization that needs to meet on these things, there probably needs to be some ability to meet publicly, meet privately, and meet in camera. All three of those tools have to be available. When I say “meet privately”, I mean not with the cameras on, but not under the rules of in camera. There would be minutes.
Those three types of avenues would need to be available to any type of committee that had this responsibility: public, private, and in camera meetings.
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View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2013-11-19 11:27
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Currently there is proactive disclosure by ministers on such things as flights and hospitality. Have you ever had the opportunity to audit those things? If so, can you comment?
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Clyde MacLellan
View Clyde MacLellan Profile
Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:27
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The only work we do that's related to those types of expenditures is via the public accounts. I used the vernacular for that. In our office, that's the audit of the government's financial statements as a whole. As a part of that financial audit and all financial audits, we randomly select certain travel/hospitality expenditures for examination. We have never specifically targeted that group writ large for examination. But it's possible that some of those expenses, since they would be paid through a department, could have been a subject we looked at as a small sample in doing that particular work.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-19 11:28
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Thank you, Chair.
Have either of you conducted corporate audits?
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Clyde MacLellan
View Clyde MacLellan Profile
Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:28
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Yes, for the first eight years of my career I worked for what is now Deloitte. I audited corporations, mostly private companies, in the Atlantic provinces. Since joining the Office of the Auditor General in 1991, I have audited almost every crown corporation that we do.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-19 11:29
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Thank you very much.
I think you indicated there was 98.5% compliance, which would seem a pretty good number. Have you even done an audit that was 100%?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-19 11:29
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It's difficult to say. Certainly we've looked at lots of samples where we have not found any errors, when we're selecting samples in different audits.
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Clyde MacLellan
View Clyde MacLellan Profile
Clyde MacLellan
2013-11-19 11:29
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The short answer to that question is I don't think I can ever relate to 100% compliance, which I think is the point of your question.
Mr. Dave MacKenzie: Yes.
Mr. Clyde MacLellan: But on the issue of focusing on this 98%, we concluded in the report in 2012 that we found that the systems and practices were sufficient to meet the objective that we'd established. Keep in mind that as part of that audit we didn't look at the issues around transparency in terms of disclosure that you're debating today, or the issues around governance and oversight of the various aspects that you're looking at today.
As the Auditor General mentioned in his response, even though the percentages are very good, the issue is that we had some concerns about documentation, even with respect to the House.
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View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dave MacKenzie Profile
2013-11-19 11:30
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I know that in the corporate world, 100% is a pretty scarce thing to find in an audit. That's why you have an audit, to find shortcomings and to correct things.
With ours, I don't hear a great deal from the corporate world demanding more transparency. Where I hear the complaints come from is inside the House and from the press. The corporate world seems to have an understanding that we're fairly limited in our budgets to start with. Each member's budget is something of the same nature, and you have to take into account the salaries and the rent from your constituencies. There's very little in there that is available for a member. There are some areas, but most of it is covered pretty well. Certainly, my experience with the administration is that they're very tight on mileage. You have to produce the information for them on travel.
I hate the thought that we have a partisan game going on trying to depict this whole area as being one that's kept under wraps. For instance, the Clerk of the House testified that if the board meetings were held in public, the real discussions regarding expenses would then be forced underground, creating a new problem.
I think what she was trying to tell us is that if you do them in public there's going to be political grandstanding, so the real negotiations would happen outside in the halls. Would you concur with that?
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