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Jerome Berthelette
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Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 15:35
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank the committee for giving us this opportunity to discuss chapter 5 of our report, entitled “Support to the Automotive Sector”. It is in our 2014 Fall Report. Joining me at the table is Richard Domingue, Principal, who was responsible for the audit.
The global economic recession of 2008 negatively affected Canada's production and employment in the automotive industry. Vehicle sales declined sharply in the United States and Canada, and some companies, including Chrysler and General Motors, could not generate sufficient income to fund their operations.
In December 2008, the governments of Canada and Ontario joined the U.S. government and offered financial assistance to Chrysler Canada and GM Canada. In total, the federal government provided $9 billion of financial assistance to support the restructuring of Chrysler and GM, including their Canadian subsidiaries.
We looked at how Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed this financial assistance. The assistance involved complex transactions, high uncertainty, and tight timeframes. These circumstances had an impact on what Industry Canada could do to manage the assistance.
We found that Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed the financial support to the automotive sector in a way that contributed to the viability of the companies and the competitiveness of the sector in Canada over the short and medium terms.
Industry Canada adequately assessed the recovery prospects of Chrysler and GM. This helped the government decide whether to participate in the financing of the companies' restructuring. However, Industry Canada had limited information on required concessions from unionized labour and other stakeholders, and on GM Canada's pension liabilities. This lack of information made it difficult for the department to understand the impact of its assistance on the long-term viability of the companies.
Industry Canada's information on the use of funds was limited to broad categories. For example, Industry Canada had limited documentation on the actual use of a $2.8-billion loan made to GM Canada for capital expenditures, warranty claims, and other general corporate purposes. However, the department adequately monitored the companies' production commitments in Canada.
Mr. Chair, we also found that there was no comprehensive reporting to Parliament of information about the restructuring assistance. Based on the information publicly available, we found it impossible to gain a complete picture of the assistance provided and of the amounts recovered and lost.
In 2008, the federal government launched the automotive innovation fund program. The program's objective is to support automotive firms in their strategic, large-scale research and development projects to produce innovative, greener, and more fuel-efficient vehicles. In addition, the government expects the program to contribute to a more competitive Canadian automotive sector.
We looked at how Industry Canada managed this program. Overall we found that Industry Canada's assessment of each project proposal was consistent with the program's terms and conditions, but in our opinion its risk assessment framework was more comprehensive than required. The department could streamline its risk analysis, given that recipients assume all of the technical risks and most of the financial risks of their projects.
Industry Canada has adequate information coming from progress reports and site visits to allow the progress of each project to be tracked.
However, Industry Canada has not yet used this information to determine whether the program is achieving its objectives.
Industry Canada has agreed with our recommendations and set deadlines for their implementation. Last December the department met one of its deadlines by issuing a report entitled “Summary Report on Canada's Support for the Restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009”.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you.
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 15:42
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With that, thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for allowing me to provide you with a brief overview of Industry Canada's response to the Auditor General's 2014 fall report on the restructuring assistance provided to General Motors and Chrysler during the economic crisis of 2009 as well as the automotive innovation fund.
As you are aware, Canada has a strong automotive sector, which generates $17 billion annually of value-added, or 10% of Canada's manufacturing GDP. With some 730 automotive suppliers supporting our 11 assembly lines and three engine plants, the industry employs some 117,000 Canadians directly, and another 377,000 Canadians indirectly. In fact, in 2014, Ontario was the largest automotive manufacturing jurisdiction in North America—larger even than Michigan.
The auto sector is also export orientated. There are 90% of Canadian-made vehicles sold abroad, the vast majority of these in the United States. The proximity to the U.S., one of the most profitable auto markets, is one of our competitive strengths. Our auto sector is truly part of an integrated North American market.
Industry Canada is always interested in views and ideas that will help us support and grow Canada's automotive sector. While we hope we will never face a situation like the crisis of 2009 again, we are also interested in learning from such circumstances and in continuously improving how we prepare and respond. In this light, we welcomed the Auditor General's four recommendations. In fact, Industry Canada has already acted upon two of them and plans to act on the other two recommendations in a timely fashion. I will discuss this later in my remarks.
As you know, Mr. Chair, late 2008 and early 2009 was a period of extreme uncertainty and volatility. Credit was tightening, consumers were scaling down and postponing their spending, and economies around the globe appeared to be heading into recession, if they weren't already. The auto sector was experiencing first-hand the impacts of consumers postponing major expenditures. Annual vehicle sales plummeted in the U.S. in 2009, from about 17 million vehicles per year to a little over 10 million.
With shrinking sales, the financial situation of all companies was becoming desperate, but for GM and Chrysler it was particularly bad, as it did not have access to capital like the others. In November 2008, GM announced it would run out of cash around mid-2009 without a combination of government funding, a merger, or sales of assets. No credit institution was in a position to help either GM or Chrysler.
While Canadian sales did not dip as much, Canadian assemblers were not sheltered by the events in the U.S., given that close to 90% of Canadian-made cars are exported to that country. Canadian subsidiaries were directly impacted by their parent companies' difficulties. There was a real risk that GM and Chrysler might shutter their Canadian operations in an attempt to restructure.
GM and Chrysler were at the time, and continue to be, the two largest carmakers in Canada, accounting for more than 55% of total production. Many of Canada's suppliers depended on contracts with GM and Chrysler. Without this work, many would not have survived, leading to a hollowing out of the suppliers and creating problems for the other original automotive equipment manufacturers.
That would have triggered a collapse of the entire Canadian automotive supply chain. The strong links and interdependencies between our supply chain and our assemblers were the key motivation for government action and support of GM and Chrysler. GM and Chrysler in Canada had to be protected from being collateral damage of the events in the U.S., not only for their sake but for the entire suppliers sector and ultimately the entire automotive industry in Canada.
Mr. Chair, as the Auditor General concluded, the Government of Canada did what it set out to do: prevent the disorderly collapse of the auto sector and ensure a viable automotive sector in Canada.
The clock was ticking. There was a very short timeframe to find a viable remedy for both GM and Chrysler. Both were in dire financial straits, and Chrysler needed to find a buyer. From the point that the crisis started and GM submitted high-level restructuring plans to the U.S. Congress in late 2008, governments had less than a month to decide whether to provide an initial set of loans. Again, once the company submitted more detailed plans, there was only about six weeks to assess their long-term viability.
As these events demonstrate, the restructuring of GM and Chrysler took place under intensely challenging circumstances. It required unprecedented collective action by the federal, Ontario, and U.S. governments.
While Charles and I at Industry Canada were not there at the time of the restructuring, the federal government did quickly organize an automotive response team. It was headed by Mr. Richard Dicerni and Mr. Paul Boothe, the deputy minister and associate deputy minister at Industry Canada at the time, and Mr. Ron Parker and Mr. David Moloney, who are my predecessors and who led a team of dedicated public servants who worked tirelessly and in unique ways to manage the government's response to the crisis. It supported a steering committee made up of deputy ministers from Industry Canada and Finance, as well as representatives from Export Development Canada, the Privy Council Office, and the Ontario Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism, who all played important roles.
The team also reached out to stakeholders and experts to ensure it quickly had access to the necessary knowledge and expertise, whether on financial corporate restructuring from KPMG and Ernst and Young or on U.S. and Canadian insolvency law from Cassels Brock or on the automotive market from CSM Worldwide and Casesa Shapiro Group.
There were external discussions with those in the industry, including assemblers and suppliers, to gather essential information needed to assess and understand the risk. The government then made a responsible decision and took decisive action. Afterwards, my department monitored the two companies to ensure they fulfilled their end of the bargain and to ensure that the restructuring would deliver the desired results.
Mr. Chair, I am impressed by the work accomplished by my predecessors for the Canadian industry and its workers. Their work was the basis of the government actions and it paid off. It also proved to be pivotal in securing the immediate future of Canada's automotive industry and the economy at large. In early 2009, GM and Chrysler assembly plants directly employed an estimated 14,000 workers. Today both companies continue to be Canada's largest automotive manufacturers, employing about 19,000 Canadians, and the economic benefits extend far beyond the two companies. At the time of the crisis, the Department of Finance estimated that a total of 52,000 jobs were directly or indirectly tied to production at GM and Chrysler. Another study, by Leslie Shiell and Robin Somerville at the IRPP, estimated that in 2010 a total of 100,000 jobs, including jobs in the supplier sector, could have been lost without the restructuring. The study further suggested that in 2009 alone the economy could have suffered losses of $23 billion had GM and Chrysler not successfully restructured. The government's decisive actions ensured that there was business for hundreds of suppliers. The effects even spilled over into industries across the Canadian economy.
Today, all Canadian automakers, including GM and Chrysler, are investing in their operations. In the last two years in particular, each of Canada's five automotive assemblers has reinvested in Canada, and auto parts manufacturers have also invested in their operations. Another sign that the sector is doing well is that Canada's production increased to almost 2.4 million vehicles in 2014. The auto sector will continue to contribute significantly to the Canadian economy for many years to come.
All this work was and continues to be recognized, not only by the industry but also by third party analysis such as the IRPP study I mentioned, which concluded that the restructuring assistance was successful. Furthermore, Industry Canada received recognition for its accomplishments, including in the form of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada's 2010 innovative management award. I believe it is a remarkable success story that we were able to partner quickly and effectively with our counterparts at home and abroad, within and outside of government, to provide sound advice and ultimately save thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses, and to secure a future for Canada's auto sector.
With respect to the automotive innovation fund, I am pleased that the report reflects a program that continues to be well managed. In many respects, it's still early days for the program. It was established in 2008 and seven projects have been supported. The initial projects are just now being completed, yet we know from the initial evaluation we did in 2012 that the program is meeting its short-term objectives. It has leveraged about $2.8 billion in investments since its inception, and as the Auditor General has recommended, we will continue to report against its longer-term objectives as projects are completed.
Mr. Chair, I want to conclude my remarks by noting that we have learned a great deal from these experiences, and the Auditor General's recommendations have helped embed these. The recommendations have highlighted that clear and comprehensive reporting on support provided and the management of that support contributes to the public understanding of the restructuring success. In order to increase the ease of access to the information, last December we published a single summary report on the restructuring support and recoveries. We've also committed to undertaking a review of the management of the restructuring assistance with a focus on identifying lessons learned. This work will be completed this year.
The Auditor General also recommended reviewing how we evaluate proposals for support from the automotive innovation fund, and monitoring the performance of the program.
We have updated the program's risk assessment framework and made explicit the manner in which risk profiles of applicants are assessed. We will also evaluate the program again in 2017-18 to determine to what extent it achieves its long-term objectives.
It is fair to say, just like all Canadians, we hope we never face such a challenge again, requiring us to use the lessons learned from the 2009 crisis.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. We will be pleased to respond to your questions.
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Jerome Berthelette
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Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 16:01
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Mr. Chair, I agree with what you say.
I would make reference to paragraph 5.88, which is our conclusion:
...we concluded that Industry Canada, the Department of Finance Canada, and Export Development Canada managed the financial support to the automotive sector in a way that contributed to the viability of the companies and the competitiveness of the sector...over the short and medium terms.
Generally, this is a good news story.
Mr. Chair, I would then make reference to paragraph 5.23. While I just noted that it is a good news story, there are certain areas where we saw that some more work could have been done. There were areas where there was limited analysis and limited information.
We recognized, as we state in paragraph 5.25, that, “The federal government made its decisions on financial assistance in a period of high uncertainty and within tight time frames.” We understand that. We think more work could have been done in terms of the analysis, maybe relying less on the material presented by the companies and doing a little more independent analysis of it, and perhaps doing a more independent challenge of the information that had been presented.
I think that a final restructuring plan would have been good. It would have provided a place where all of the details related to the restructuring could have been brought together in one place. It would have made it easier for the department and for Canadians to follow what had gone on in the restructuring, and would have made it easier for the department to report against the restructuring.
We have in appendix A, which I believe is at page 25 in my document, some suggestions related to going forward if there is ever another situation like this. We made suggestions related to the planning, monitoring, and public reporting related to such large interventions by the federal government.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:10
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Good.
The report, if I understand the conclusions, said with respect to the management of this particular file, Industry Canada did a good job in assessing the recovery prospects of the company, found on page 7, paragraph 5.24; that Industry Canada monitored the restructuring assistance, page 11; it monitored the production commitments, page 12; and it has been recovering the funds, page 13.
The critiques, if I understand them, are in the nature of how exhaustive the due diligence was, not that there was due diligence absent. Is that a fair assessment, Mr. Berthelette?
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Jerome Berthelette
View Jerome Berthelette Profile
Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 16:11
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I believe that would be a fair assessment. Our critiques were about the amount of effort that went into the analysis.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:11
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At the time, it said there was no report for the public with respect to the bailout. Is that complete now, Mr. Jennings?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 16:11
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It is completed and is now posted on our website, as of December 2014.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:11
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You pointed out there was no “lessons learned” exercise. That is in progress, as I understand it. What is the expected completion date?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 16:11
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It will be completed by the end of this year.
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View Jeff Watson Profile
CPC (ON)
View Jeff Watson Profile
2015-03-30 16:11
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Okay.
On the auto innovation fund—which by the way in 2008 saved Ford's Essex Engine Plant in Windsor, that's a good news story there as well—I note that the Auditor General's report says that risk assessments were completed. I think for the first time I've seen one where they said it was perhaps too exhaustive in the due diligence. We'll take that as noted.
The project risk and proponent risk profiles, the Auditor General points out, were not part of the risk assessment framework. Are they now, Mr. Jennings?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 16:12
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I'll clarify that the department has always used, and continues to use, a risk-based approach when it assesses projects. As noted in the Auditor General's report, we did not have that approach properly documented. As of October of last year, we've now included that explicitly in our documentation.
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View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
2015-03-30 17:14
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Jennings, how and when do you plan to report the final cost of the financial assistance to Parliament?
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 17:14
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As I mentioned before, we put a report on the web. As highlighted by the Auditor General, there was no one place where all the information was together. A report was posted in December 2014, which essentially highlights all the funds that went into the restructuring, as well as all the funds that have been recovered to date.
The final recovery of some funds that make up the equity in General Motors is not yet known. The Government of Canada still owns equity in the company and the two principal factors that will determine the value of those recovered funds will be the share price for General Motors, as well as the exchange rate, so any depreciation in the exchange rate for Canada leads to more recovered funds.
The report highlights what the value of those funds was at the time the report was written, but that has been fluctuating since that point. I should also say that since the report was published, General Motors did call an option on its preferred shares. They bought back preferred shares from the Government of Canada, and Ontario exercised its rights to sell its remaining shares to General Motors, which took place in February of this year.
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View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
2015-03-30 17:15
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Why do Parliament and Canadians have to wait until 2017 or 2018 to know whether the program achieved its goals? That's a long time.
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 17:16
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As I mentioned, in 2012 we conducted an evaluation of the automotive innovation fund. It found that it was on track to meet the objectives. However, it did conclude that it was too early to be able to have a full assessment of the impact of the program, given that it was four years into the program.
We have committed to another evaluation, so we're able to assess that it is meeting its long-term objectives. That date has been set for 2017.
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Philip Jennings
View Philip Jennings Profile
Philip Jennings
2015-03-30 17:16
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We know that the immediate and medium-term objectives of the program are being met, but to know if the long-term objectives are being met will be evaluated in 2017.
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View Malcolm Allen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Malcolm Allen Profile
2015-03-30 17:26
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So in essence the government maybe needed to lend the company less money, based on.... Of course, there was $1 billion that GM eventually did need because they self-financed the pension plan. Perhaps they needed to give them less money because there were greater concessions given by the labour force to the company than we perhaps knew about because there was a bit of deficiency in the analysis—albeit it's difficult to do, Mr. Jennings; I understand the timeline you were up against.
Listen, some of us have a real vested interest in making sure that General Motors actually succeeds. I'm one of those people in this country. I happen to be a retiree from General Motors, so I have a vested interest. It goes beyond my general community. I have other colleagues around here as well who have folks in those communities and represent those folks—as Mr. Carrie said, “real” folks in those communities, and I agree with him.
On page 15, Mr. Berthelette, you talk about the lack of comprehensive reporting to Parliament.
I do accede, Mr. Jennings, that your department finally finished the report by the end of last year.
Mr. Berthelette, from what I'm reading at paragraphs 5.62, 5.63, and 5.64, are we talking about the sense that Parliament actually didn't receive any timely reporting in any succinct way, other than unless you chased three or four departments to figure things out, as to what actually happened with a report back on where the moneys were spent? Is that what I'm reading there?
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Jerome Berthelette
View Jerome Berthelette Profile
Jerome Berthelette
2015-03-30 17:28
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Yes, Mr. Chair. As we say in paragraph 5.63, we found it impossible to gain a complete picture of the assistance provided, as no single entity had pulled the information together and put it forward in a clear or coherent manner.
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View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to Mr. Ferguson and Ms. Sachs for attending today. It's always extremely interesting. I want to again commend you on the necessary and good-serving function you provide in allowing government to continuously update its processes.
I want to begin with some things that are probably obvious to all of us sitting at this table, but may not be so obvious to those who sit at home. That is with the raison d'être of your department, your agency. As I read it, there are a couple of important functions that your audits and studies provide. One of them is to provide objective information, advice, and assurance to Parliament, territorial legislatures, governments, and Canadians.
Do you consider that as the prime function of your agency?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-03-31 15:53
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I think that very much is our prime function.
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View Yvonne Jones Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Yvonne Jones Profile
2014-03-31 16:12
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You talked about the fact that you had been requested by the Senate to do an audit of the Senate.
Do you want to tell us a little bit about the particular aspects you will be looking at in that audit and what timeframe it will cover?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-03-31 16:12
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We're looking at the spending of each and every senator, at every dollar that was spent by each and every senator over a two-year time period. I'd be going by memory to give the exact start and end date. I don't want to get it wrong. But it's a two-year time period for all of the spending of each and every senator that we're going through.
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View Alain Giguère Profile
NDP (QC)
So if human resources were used for partisan activities, you would investigate. An analysis would be done of the performance of Senate staff. Is that right?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-03-31 16:25
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Again, what we are looking at is whether the spending was incurred for Senate business. I am not going to go down into the particular examples that might be outside of that, but what the money was spent for has to meet the test of being for Senate business for all of the spending that occurred in that two-year time period.
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View Yvonne Jones Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Yvonne Jones Profile
2014-03-31 16:42
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Have there been any other particular audits that have been done like that more recently and would not have been done in the past that have been added to the work of your office?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-03-31 16:42
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Again, I think one place where it has always been a bit of an issue as well in terms of how much access we have is with Parliament itself, either the House of Commons or the Senate. So I think the fact that we have access now to do the audit of the Senate is the type of audit that we have done only periodically rather than on a regular basis.
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View Glenn Thibeault Profile
Ind. (ON)
View Glenn Thibeault Profile
2014-03-31 16:52
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Well, I would state that with all due respect, if you move the goalposts, it's easier to make the numbers look like you're fulfilling your mandate. We need to ensure, especially in this time of transparency and accountability that all parties are saying.... I think all parties want to see more of this. So how can we tell Canadians to rest assured that the Office of the Auditor General is able to do the audits it needs to? Because to quote what Mr. Ferguson said, there is “no shortage” of doing performance audits. That was his quote. There's no shortage of doing those. But what we have right now according to the statistics is a shortage of resources and a shortage of staff.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2014-03-31 16:53
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Again, I think it's important to understand that we have the financial audits and we have the special exams that we have to do according to legislation, so that's all covered. Then what's left over, essentially, if you want to look at it that way, is what we put toward performance audits. The amount of effort we put into performance audits, as I've said, hasn't reduced. If Parliament decided it wanted more performance audits, we're really at...Parliament telling us how many performance audits they want to do, and the way they do that is essentially by setting the budget.
So we can continue to do 30. Remember that performance audits are not just a function of our being able to do them, they're also a function of the departments being able to have the capacity to accept auditors in. That's another aspect of it. So within this budget, we're able to continue on with the 27 to 30 audits. If Parliament wanted us to do more, that would require more money.
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View Manon Perreault Profile
Ind. (QC)
View Shelly Glover Profile
CPC (MB)
Yes. The audit report should be published soon.
However, I want to point out that this was a mistake made by the Commissioner of Official Languages. He admitted his error, but his annual report had already been published.
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 15:33
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Thank you.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to present my Fall 2013 Report, which was tabled in the House of Commons yesterday. I am accompanied by assistant auditors general Wendy Loschiuk and Maurice Laplante, and principals Gordon Stock and John Affleck.
This report touches on a range of long-standing issues the government has been struggling to address, with potentially significant impacts for Canadians.
Rail safety is one such issue. Fourteen years ago, Transport Canada recognized the need to shift from an inspection-based oversight approach to one that integrates the oversight of safety management systems. This shift is ongoing. Much work remains to be done, and the transition is taking too long.
Transport Canada completed only 26% of its planned audits of federal railways over a three-year period. Most of these audits were narrowly focused and provided assurance on only a few aspects of railway safety management systems. The department has yet to establish an audit approach that provides a minimum level of assurance that federal railways have implemented adequate and effective safety management systems for complying on a day-to-day basis with Canada's framework for rail safety.
Our audit of Canada's food recall system showed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does a good job of managing most aspects of recalls. However, the weaknesses we saw in both follow-ups with industry and in large emergency recalls leave significant gaps in the system. While illnesses were contained in the recalls we examined, I'm not confident the system will always yield similar results. The weaknesses we found in decision-making and follow-up stand in the way of the continuous improvement of a system intended to deal with food safety incidents in Canada.
In this report, we also looked at how the Canada Revenue Agency followed up on a list of possible Canadian residents with accounts in a European bank. The Canada Revenue Agency's initial work on offshore banking information shows promise. However, with more lists to look at and changes in legislation that will give the agency access to more information, I believe that it needs to formalize its approach to deal with the increase in its workload.
In another audit, we looked at border controls to prevent illegal entry into Canada. It is very important for the safety of Canadians that controls at the border work as they are supposed to. I am very concerned that our audit found too many examples of controls not working.
Though the Canada Border Services Agency has made significant progress in some of its efforts to detect high risk travellers, it often does not get the information it needs to identify these travellers before they arrive in Canada. Furthermore, even when the agency has the information, we found that controls do not always work. We also found that the RCMP does not know the extent to which it is successful in intercepting people who enter the country illegally between ports of entry.
Though it is not the first time we have raised these issues, border controls are still not working as they should. With better analysis of existing information and better monitoring, many of these issues can be fixed.
Our audit of disaster assistance to agricultural producers is an example of a program with a disconnect between the program's objectives and its outcomes.
Providing quick assistance to agricultural producers is a key goal of the AgriRecovery program. While Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has delivered assistance to producers for large disasters within their targeted timeline, those producers impacted by disasters with a smaller total payout often wait more than a year for financial help.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada needs to streamline its processes for smaller initiatives, and it must track whether it is meeting its timelines.
Let's now move on to our audit of online government services. We found that, since 2005, the government has not significantly expanded the services it offers online to its citizens. As Canadians rely more on the Internet in their day-to-day lives, they expect the government to provide them with online information and services that address their needs.
The government has estimated that savings can be realized by providing better online services for Canadians, but there needs to be a concerted client-focussed strategy. Departments need to work together to make this happen.
Our audit of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's role in supporting emergency management on first nations reserves showed that the department is in a cycle of reacting to emergencies. It has not been able to focus on what can be done to prevent and mitigate these events.
Some reserves continue to be adversely affected in significant ways by repeated emergencies, such as floods. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal government and other stakeholders are unclear. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada must work with other stakeholders, including first nations, to reduce the human and financial costs of emergencies over the long term.
We also followed up on our audit of internal controls over financial reporting. Eight years after the government made it a priority to have in place effective internal controls over financial reporting, I am concerned that several large departments are still years away from knowing whether these controls are in place and working effectively. With annual spending of nearly $300 billion across government, effective internal controls are a necessary part of safeguarding public assets. It is imperative that departments get this work done without further delay.
This report also looked at the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, specifically whether it has been designed and managed to help sustain Canadian shipbuilding capacity and capability over the coming decades. It's still early, but so far the strategy has resulted in the transparent and efficient selection of two yards to build ships for the navy and the coast guard.
Although only a few contracts have signed to date, and it will be a few years before any ships are delivered, the national shipbuilding procurement strategy shows promise. As with anything new, there are risks involved, and these will need to be closely monitored on an ongoing basis.
A look over the audits that we are reporting on today shows that, in many cases, the results need to be improved. Even when the government recognizes a problem, it takes too long to develop and implement solutions. The resulting delays can have significant impacts on Canadians, both directly and indirectly.
Departments need to focus on critical success factors that are proven to work. These include setting clear priorities, applying lessons learned, and monitoring deliverables against timelines and objectives.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my opening statement.
We are happy to answer any questions the members may have. Thank you.
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View Dan Harris Profile
NDP (ON)
View Dan Harris Profile
2013-11-27 17:06
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Thank you very much.
I'll jump right into it so we can get in a little bit more questioning.
Mr. Ferguson, in recent times you've expressed a concern.... We know how important the work of your office is. The public accounts committee is an important part of reviewing the work so that we can write reports that go back to Parliament and get responses from government to see some action moving forward.
Recently you've expressed some concerns that the committee is not studying as much of your reports as it used to. Your fall report has just come out. The spring report came out in late April and to date, this committee has studied only one chapter of it. To date there is no plan to go back and study more chapters of it, and some important chapters like those on search and rescue.
Because we have five or six months before your next report comes out, do you believe this committee should, over the next few months, go back and study more chapters from the spring report?
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Michael Ferguson
View Michael Ferguson Profile
Michael Ferguson
2013-11-27 17:08
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Mr. Chair, the work schedule of the committee is up to the committee. We do the audits, and we present the audits to the committee. I think there were a number of important audits in the spring report. There are a number of important audits here as well.
Certainly, we feel it helps to get our message through to the departments as well if there are hearings on the audits. Our preference is that there be hearings on as many chapters as possible, but again, it's up to the committee to decide its work schedule.
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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.
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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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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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 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 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 11:29
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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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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 Tom Lukiwski Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you for that.
You've done “random” audits. I guess that would be the best term, if I'm following you. In other words, you have not done a forensic audit at any time, whether of members’ expenses or in the Senate.
Are you recommending that if your audit capabilities were enhanced, you would like to see forensic audits of both the members’ and Senators' expenses?
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Audrey O'Brien
View Audrey O'Brien Profile
Audrey O'Brien
2013-11-05 11:02
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Thank you for that very kind introduction, Mr. Chairman. Good morning to you.
Honourable members, good morning. I would also like to say good morning to the guests of honour who are here shadowing some members today.
I am joined today by Mark Watters, the chief financial officer of the House of Commons, and by two people who have devoted themselves to the cause of making me look smarter than I am, Suzanne Verville, my chief of staff, and Kori Ghergari, who is with the corporate communications directorate.
This morning I'm delighted to be here to have a chance to discuss with you the role of the Board of Internal Economy. As Clerk of the House, I am Secretary to the Board of Internal Economy. I want to state at the outset that I'm here today as the Clerk and Secretary to the Board, but I don't speak for the current Speaker, Speaker Scheer, or past Speakers, or for the current Board of Internal Economy, or for any board members. I'm basically here in my capacity as somebody who's been Clerk for over eight years. I've been a parliamentary official for over 33 years, so eyes may glaze over and you may think, “She's here to defend the status quo”, which is not actually the case, but you'll find out more as we go along.
I paid a great deal of attention to the terms of the order of reference that you have, and was struck by the fact that in the very first phrase you have the term “full transparency” and you mention the concept of accountability. That seemed to be a good place to start discussing things this morning.
I want to look, in the first instance, at the disclosure measures already in place and to the web presence that we—and when I say “we”, I'll be referring to the House administration and the Board of Internal Economy—have on the Internet.
I think it's important to realize that in the sometimes quite heated discussions of the past weeks and months, there has been a certain amount of confusion when people are talking about what is disclosed or isn't disclosed. It's been my experience over these 33 years that one has to take everything one hears with a grain salt. I think this morning it'll be useful to see exactly how the board has approached this whole question of disclosure, particularly in the 40th and 41st Parliaments.
What I'd like to start with, then, is the Parliament of Canada website, to show you what's available to the public if one were to google the Board of Internal Economy.
If you search for "Board of Internal Economy"…
you are brought right away to the main page of the parliamentary website, parl.gc.ca. The board section is also accessible from the main page of the Parliament of Canada website. There's permanent access under the “House of Commons”. Under the “What's New?” rubric you'll find such things as the newest information that has been posted—statements, media advisories, and so forth. In the package of information you have been given, you will find copies of what I am presenting, together with copies of certain statements that have been issued by the board. All this is available on the web.
The section “About the Board”, starts with introductory comments on the nature of the board, including its legislative foundation in the Parliament of Canada Act and its membership. It's important to note that the board's membership consists of the Speaker, who acts as its chair; two members of the Privy Council, who are appointed to the board by the government; the leader of the opposition and his or her representative; and additional members appointed in numbers so that the total result is an overall equality of government and opposition representatives. Of course, that's not counting the Speaker.
The current actual membership, in terms of individuals, is made up of the government House leader, Minister Van Loan; the chief government whip, Minister Duncan; the Honourable Rob Merrifield;
…the House Leader of the Official Opposition, Mr. Cullen; the whip of the official opposition, Ms. Turmel; and the whip of the Liberal Party, Ms. Foote.
At its meeting of June 3, 2013, the Board of Internal Economy decided to post its minutes on parl.gc.ca retroactively to the start of the 41st Parliament. Board minutes continue to be tabled in the chamber, which is a practice that has been in place since the 34th Parliament.
The board meets about every second week when the House is sitting, and, of course, legendarily, it meets in camera. The meetings are in camera, and the board operates largely by consensus, so the board minutes are not in extenso in respect of the discussion that has gone on but are simply records of decision. The board frequently considers confidential matters, including legal issues, issues related to labour relations, and issues related to security.
The exact timing for the tabling and posting of board minutes will vary because it depends on the scheduling of the board's meetings. Time was, when you had three board meetings—let's call them A, B, and C—you would have meeting A take place and the minutes from meeting A would be approved in meeting B. Then they would come back to meeting C to be approved for tabling. As of yesterday, the board, I am happy to say, agreed to do away with this belt-and-suspenders approach. So there will be approval of the minutes from meeting A at meeting B, and then they will be ready for posting. They don't have to come back to a third meeting, which might well mean another two-week delay.
Depending upon the matters being discussed, however, some minutes are tabled to coincide with the tabling of other information such as the Public Accounts of Canada—or, one thing that everybody is familiar with, the main estimates. The board considered the main estimates yesterday and made certain decisions. Those minutes, though, will not be available until the President of the Treasury Board tables the main estimates in the House in April.
There are some additional features of the minutes. There is a subject index that's available to facilitate access, and there are hyperlinks in the minutes themselves, which will direct the user to useful information on many subjects that are referred to therein.
I'd like now to turn to the bylaws of the board. As you know, the Board of Internal Economy is enshrined in the Parliament of Canada Act, and it is from this statute that the board derives its authority to establish bylaws.
In general, the by-laws established by the Board of Internal Economy form the basis for all decisions on internal economy and governance in the House of Commons as an institution.
These bylaws are the foundation of governance. They form the basis of policies and guidelines regarding the resources that members have access to for carrying out their parliamentary functions, and they grant authority to me, as Clerk, reporting through the Speaker to the board, to execute the directives of the board through the administration of the House.
The four bylaws are the “Members By-law”, which, as you can tell by the title, refers to the members and definitions of such things as parliamentary functions, etc.; the “Committees By-law”, which talks about how committees are funded and how they carry on their work; the “Governance and Administration By-law”, which is basically, for me and the administration, the important bylaw that delegates to us certain authority from the board to act on its behalf in executing its directives. Finally, there are the rules of practice and procedure of the board, which are basically the standing orders that the board has set up for itself in terms of how it is going to proceed. These are legally binding on members and they take precedence over any administrative manual or general policy decision.
The bylaws date back to 1993. From 1993 to 2010, they were revised from time to time on a case-by-case basis. But in 2010 the Board of Internal Economy agreed with a recommendation to proceed with a comprehensive review of the bylaws, a project to update and consolidate them. The revised bylaws were approved by the board on November 21 and December 5, 2011, and they came into force on April 1, 2012. The revised bylaws were posted on the Parliament of Canada website on April 2, 2012.
The document that gets, I suppose, the most attention with regard to disclosure and web presence are the Member's Expenditures Reports. But I also want to point out, because this is not necessarily all that well known, that the audited finance statements for the House of Commons and two administrative planning documents are also available online.
The board believes strongly that an annual external audit of the financial statements is a key component of sound management practices. Once again, the audit for 2011-12 of the House of Commons' financial statements has resulted in an unqualified audit opinion. The auditor is of the opinion that financial statements present fairly the financial position and the results of operations of the House. The auditor's work included gathering evidence about the amounts and disclosures made in the financial statement and assessing the risks of error, fraud, or misstatement.
The auditor also evaluated the appropriateness of the accounting policies that have been selected, as well as the estimates made by management. The audited financial statements for fiscal year 2012-13 and the Report to Canadians 2013 will be posted online a little bit later when the board has had a chance to consider it. The board approved the report yesterday at its meeting and we expect that the financial statements audit will be forthcoming.
There is a section
…which consists of a FAQ section, which was given considerable thought. Another section covers the media, allowing the Board of Internal Economy to issue media advisories and statements from time to time, especially on the website.
So media advisories and statements that are issued by the board are also available online, as well as the FAQs—frequently asked questions—on various subjects.
The Board of Internal Economy designated two spokespersons to interact with the media. These spokespersons work closely with Heather Bradley, the communications director for the president's office. The two spokespersons are the NDP whip, Nycole Turmel, and the Chief Government Whip, the hon. John Duncan.
Minister Duncan and Madam Turmel are the spokespeople for the board and, again, there you'll see the balance that is kept in terms of the approach of the board in its communications. The board speaks with one voice. These spokespeople respond to questions related to the board--if there are any asked during Question Period, for example--and they also respond to inquiries from the media, working, as I said a little earlier, with the Speaker's director of communications, Heather Bradley.
Now let's come to the whole question of the members' expenditure report, which has been the subject of a great deal of public discussion and discussion in the House in the past little while. The “Members' By-law” provides that the Speaker of the House of Commons, on behalf of the Board of Internal Economy, ensures the publication of the members' expenditure reports on the Parliament of Canada website. These have been posted online since 2001-02 and you'll see on the slide that you have PDF versions from 2001-02 to 2008-09. I'd like to call up the 2001-02 report and, for those of you who may be frustrated with the degree of disclosure that we now have, you could perhaps console yourselves that we have come a very long way. The 2001 report, which I remember as being the subject of great controversy at the time, is pretty thin gruel when you look at it now. There are a number of headings. There isn't very much explanation. There are two pages of explanation at the beginning of these. None of this, of course, is interactive; you can't select groups of people, or regions, or any of that kind of thing.
Starting in 2009-10, the board agreed to a recommendation for extensive improvements to the reporting format of the individual member's reports, displaying the data in easier to understand columns and rows and providing for a more detailed explanation of each aspect of the report. Improvements have continuously been made with each tabling of the report.
It wouldn't be a committee meeting if I didn't tell you that, unfortunately, we have a little technical glitch. For reasons I can't figure out, the computer that lets us see the French version can't connect to the Internet. So there may be some inconsistency between what we will see in English and what we will on the other computer, while we try to access the Internet. I'm sorry. We practised this yesterday, but unfortunately it was in another room. We will do better next time. Here we go.
I'll tell you some time about my James Thurber parallel to me and technology, so you'll understand that I come from a long way off.
Back to the MERs, the members' expenditure reports, and looking at the summary report of members' expenditure report as well as the reports by individual members, we'll call up 2012-13. You'll see at the beginning of this there's a very extensive discussion of the entitlements—the allowances and services—under different rubrics so that users can understand better what members are entitled to, because, of course, this is a finite set of entitlements. It's not a case of members being able to go back to the board to ask for something more after the fiscal year starts if they find that they have been a grasshopper rather than an ant in terms of managing the resources that are given to them.
You will see a comprehensive introduction on the resources provided to members and you see, of course, the individual reports and the summary of reports. There is a report-generating tool that allows the user to select a single member or a group of members by name, by province or territory, by constituency, or by party and to group them together for presumably comparative purposes. There is also a rollover feature that allows the user to read the description of the category of expenses from the online report.
The board decided in November 2011 to further the detail of disclosure by displaying each type of traveller's expense on a separate line. There are four types of travellers that are permitted to use the resources: the member himself or herself; the designated traveller, the person designated by the member, who is usually a spouse or partner, though sometimes a parent or a sibling; a dependant; and, of course, an employee. Along with displaying each type of traveller's expenses they also display the number of regular, special, and U.S.A. points that are used. One regular point is basically one return journey between Ottawa and the constituency: a half point to go and a half point to come back. There are 25 points out of the total of 64 that are allocated as special. They allow the member to travel from the constituency to any other place in Canada. Four of those can be used for travel to the United States, but only to Washington, D.C., or New York because of the presence of the United Nations.
There's also a further change in the 2012-13 report that presents secondary residence expenses separately from members' accommodation and per diem expenses.
As I mentioned earlier with regard to the format, we started off in 2000 and 2001 with PDFs with a print feature that automatically included the expanded explanation. We now have the expanded explanation for each column and expenditure category, and the XML format we have for the 2012-13 reporting period allows the analysis of report data in spreadsheet software.
On October 23, 2013 the Board of Internal Economy issued a statement on measures it was going to take in order to improve this reporting further. Where you had both contracts for services and full-time employees listed as one total, under the employees' category the enhanced disclosure format will now break that down into contracts and employees' services. There will be employees' salaries and service contracts.
Similarly, members' accommodation expenses will be separate from per diem expenses. Currently members' accommodation expenses and per diems are in the same line.
Similarly, we will subdivide the hospitality category into events. Those are usually the summer barbecues, the winter skating parties—those kinds of things—protocol gifts, and meetings.
The special point disclosure is also going to feature more information because the regular points, as I said earlier, are basically simply travel between the constituency and Ottawa. Special points are different. They are travel to another destination. So, the details of the use of all special travel points will be disclosed. You will have the information about who the traveller is, the destination, the dates of departure and return, the reason for the travel, and the total transportation cost. As I said earlier, there are 25 special points available. A maximum of four are for travel in the United States. The others are for travel within Canada.
I should say in talking about this disclosure that I hope the committee won't mind if I sound a bit of a cautionary note about trying to make too close a parallel between disclosure of members' expenses for travel and disclosure of ministerial expenses for travel. I sometimes worry—in fact, I worry a lot—that such a parallel can lead to false conclusions. A minister's office, naturally enough, looks at travel and logically sees that concept as so many separate trips. You have a separate trip. You're going somewhere with x number of people accompanying the minister. The minister is going for a particular reason: depart and return. There will be accommodation in hotels. There will be transportation. It makes a nice little package.
Here at the House, we don't tend to think of members going on trips; we think of them as travelling, which is basically travelling between the constituency and Ottawa. When they go to the constituency, they're going home, so there's no accommodation there. When they come back here, it's to accommodation they've set up in Ottawa, usually apartments. It's not usually hotels, as they tend to be very expensive over the long run. So that becomes a false kind of parallel.
The other thing is that members who are in Ottawa at the House are given per diems because they're in travel status. So the parallel is not infallible. It is true, though, that members can be accompanied by their designated traveller or dependants or employees. That information is disclosed in the MERs.
The good news today—I don't want to steal the board's thunder, but I checked with them yesterday, and they told me that I can tell you—is that there are two more documents that will be available. They are actually public documents that will be posted in the near future. The Members' Allowances and Services manual has been a public document for a long time. It was available, for instance, for the media to consult in the library, and there was the director of communications in the Speaker's office with her long-suffering cut-and-paste of bits of information that she would send in answer to questions. But this will be posted on the web, as will the public registry of designated travellers. That will be available.
I thank you for bearing with me. Many of you may well be attuned to what has been on the web and what's available as disclosure. I thought it would be useful to do that, because I've been troubled by some of the discussion I've seen that seemed to me not particularly well informed in terms of what is already available.
Now I'd like to turn to the question of governance. From my point of view, it is in the governance structure that you see the notion of accountability embedded.
You can see the schematic here that shows the Canadian parliamentary system.
For our discussion today, we'll talk about the House of Commons as a legislative body, of the 308 members of Parliament and of the House of Commons administration. I'll focus on these three aspects in a minute.
If we define the House as the democratic institution at the heart of the Canadian parliamentary system, then we come up with certain realities. It is independent. Its independence is guaranteed by the law of parliamentary privilege.
It is made up of 308 members, soon to be 338 members. It is the House of Commons as a collectivity that is the institution.
These members are independent of each other and of the House itself. Certainly most of them will belong to a caucus. The caucus will have its own internal ways of operating and supporting its members. But for our purposes in the administration, each member is considered to be an individual who has been elected by Canadians to support, to represent, his or her constituents. Therefore we bring to that member, as an individual, the full support for the work they do in their parliamentary functions.
The House of Commons is independent of government. In order to have that principle mean something, it is, of course, self-regulating. Here again we note that the Government of Canada laws, acts, and policies—for instance, the Financial Administration Act or the guidelines of the Treasury Board—do not apply to the House.
That also is something that, if it is taken out of context, can lead to misunderstandings. This is not to suggest that this is the wild west and that anarchy rules. The point is that it's the Board of Internal Economy, finding its legislative authority in the Parliament of Canada Act, that basically drafts the framework within which the work of the House of Commons is carried out.
We have, for example, the Financial Administration Act. It doesn't apply to us, but we conform to the usual stewardship and, as I mentioned earlier about the accounting or auditing of the financial statements, the appropriate principles for a stewardship of public resources.
Similarly, the House of Commons develops and applies its own policies and procedures to support effective stewardship of public resources. For example, the Canada Labour Code, part III, has not been promulgated to apply to the House of Commons, and yet we have made a point of having our human resources directorate developing, in consultation with the unions, health and safety policies that are as robust, if not more, than the provisions in the code itself.
Ultimately, the House of Commons is accountable to the people of Canada because, of course, the general election that everybody has to submit to now on a fixed calendar is where that accountability...where the chickens come home to roost.
I won't talk very much about the House as a legislative body because that's really not germane to our discussion this morning, except to say, of course, that the governing authority there is the House. The House sets the Standing Orders that define how deliberations will unfold.
The Speaker, elected by secret ballot of all members, is the presiding officer and makes decisions on points of order and questions of privilege, and your own committee of procedure and House affairs has the standing mandate to look at the Standing Orders and, of course, to look at such questions as these which go to the very heart of the administration of the House.
The legal framework for the House as a legislative body encompasses the law and custom of Parliament, of course, including the applicable provisions of the Constitution and the law of parliamentary privilege. And, then, of course, there's the Parliament of Canada Act itself, which is understood to be a constitutional statute, covers the operations of Parliament, the privileges and powers of the House of Commons and the Senate, as well as the Library of Parliament, and the administration of both Houses and of the Library.
It is in dealing with the House as a legislative body that the Speaker and the Clerk bear responsibility for procedural matters. I'll be returning to this briefly later in the presentation.
The governance that interests us this morning, I think, is the governance structure for the 308 members who constitute the House of Commons as a legislative body and a collectivity, and their work, the carrying out of their parliamentary functions in their constituencies and committees or associations, in caucus, and of course in their offices, and the administration of the House, which is basically the bureaucracy that supports members in their parliamentary functions.
As I mentioned earlier, the Parliament of Canada Act is the statute from which emanates the board's authority for this governance. It establishes bylaws, and the bylaws regulate the use of parliamentary resources that are made available to members.
The decisions of the Board of Internal Economy are final, and the Members' Allowances and Services manual is where those policies are gathered together, that is, the policies approved by the board to be executed by me as the head of the administration and the people I work with.
In your information package we have included an overview of the history of the board.
The board's research section prepared this overview for us. I'll spare you the summary of the entire history, but I would like to mention a few dates and point out that the concept of internal economy goes back to 1868.
There, in 1868, there was An Act respecting the internal economy of the House of Commons. The internal economy was put in the hands of the Speaker and four commissioners, all of whom were privy councillors who were members of the House.
In 1886 that act was integrated into a new act, which was called an Act Respecting the House of Commons, and it had a section on internal economy. Basically, that remained unchanged for 86 years.
In the 1960s and 1970s there were various studies of the organization of the House of Commons. In 1964-65 there was a Special Committee on Procedure and Organization. In the 1970s there was a lot of concern and debate about this whole idea that the membership of the board was limited to ministers and that the members had no say. In 1974 the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections also did a study relating to that.
In 1979, in November, the Report of the Auditor General, which had been undertaken at the request of the then Speaker, revealed that there were significant vulnerabilities, and not to say significant “vacancies”, shall we say, in the whole administrative structure of the House and in the way the stewardship of public resources was being handled.
That led to a flurry of changes, which brought in a bureaucracy that was similar to and based largely on how the public service was organized at the time. There was, for a brief time, someone called an “administrator”, who was ostensibly in charge of the administration of the House. That led to the confusion, you can imagine, in which there was a Clerk and an administrator and a Sergeant-at-Arms, who were like co-deputy ministers. They did not get along nearly as well as the Trinity. I can tell you that from being the actual chief of staff to the Clerk at the time.
In 1984, the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons was created. That was chaired by the veteran MP James McGrath, and it became known as the McGrath committee. Really, it undertook an ambitious series of studies of both procedural principles governing the House and of the principles underpinning the management of the House and its committees. It tabled three reports, all of which elicited government responses but none of which was adopted.
At the same time, I think it's important to note that the McGrath committee was really the intellectual cornerstone for the development of the House into the institution that we know today. For instance, it's there that you will find the roots of the way in which the Speaker is now elected by secret ballot without domination by the parties and so forth, the notion of private members' business—all kinds of ideas. It was a tremendously creative exercise, and it really can be regarded as the touchstone for where we find ourselves today.
In 1985, Parliament adopted the Parliament of Canada Act, which consolidated three acts: the House of Commons Act, the Senate Act, and the Library of Parliament Act. It replaced commissioners by a Board of Internal Economy chaired by the Speaker with, as members, the Deputy Speaker; two privy councillors; the leader of the opposition or his or her nominee; and two members of the opposition, at least one of whom comes from the official opposition. That change was made specifically to give a voice to all members and to give an equality of voices in the representation to the government and the opposition.
In 1986, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, whereby it created the Board of Internal Economy as the employer of record for some...well, now we're about 1,800, if we count part-time staff. The board is the employer of record for those staff people in the House of Commons who report through the services to me. It sets the terms and conditions for the unrepresented employees as well as the negotiating mandate that we take to collective bargaining with the unions.
In 1989, another special committee was created, this time chaired by Deputy Speaker Marcel Danis.
This committee also looked into how the Board of Internal Economy was set up.
In 1991, Bill C-79, Parliament of Canada Act amendments gave the Board of Internal Economy the authority to control how MPs spend their budgets and use parliamentary resources.
It's important to realize that it was the 1991 amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act that gave to the Board of Internal Economy the authority to establish bylaws that would govern the spending of MPs' budgets by MPs and their use of parliamentary resources. For instance, in the case of travel, the money comes from a central fund of the House of Commons.
It was also that bill that provided that the Clerk of the House of Commons become the secretary to the Board of Internal Economy.
It was then that the bylaws of the board were drafted. These were approved at the end of March 1993 and were tabled in the House for the first time on April 19, 1993.
In 1997, you may remember, there was a proliferation of opposition parties in the House, and in order to deal with the composition of the board—to accommodate this larger number of opposition parties—Bill C-79, An Act to Amend the Parliament of Canada Act, addressed that composition, adopting a formula that would allow for the future configuration of parties but maintain the very important principle of the equality of government and opposition representation.
If you're especially interested in the history of the board, there is that brief history prepared by the Table Research Branch in your briefing material. There's also a very useful article that I found, which was written by two of the Library of Parliament analysts who have extensive experience in the House. I believe James Robertson was once the analyst for this committee, and James Robertson and Margaret Young contributed this article to the Canadian Parliamentary Review, the winter issue, in 1991-92. I think it provides a helpful explanation of the circumstances surrounding the board's creation.
I realize this kind of history may seem tedious, but we get to the place where we are because of certain circumstances and because of certain influences, and it's important, I think, to realize that there's been a tremendous amount of thought that went into the creation of the board and the ameliorations that we've seen over time.
It's the board—and it's been discussed in this respect in the newspapers and in the media—that provides members and House officers with their entitlements, allowances, and services to support their parliamentary functions. This is all detailed in the Members' Allowances and Services manual.
The basic principle that underlies the approach of the administration and informs my work as Clerk of the House is that each individual MP is directly accountable for the use of parliamentary resources that support the work in their offices as they carry out the parliamentary functions entrusted to them on their election. From that individual accountability of each MP flow the independence and the flexibility enjoyed by each MP to manage the budget allowances and services provided to the MP in those functions.
Thus, you will see that the “Members By-law”, as the name suggests, lists and goes through extensive definitions and establishes the framework within which members are to operate. It gives an enormous amount of independence to individual members, because the fundamental principle here is that it's up to the member to judge how he or she will represent his or her constituency. That freedom is required so that the members can set their priorities and decide what assistance they will require to achieve them.
As I said earlier, each political party determines how it will support its caucus members, but from our point of view, we look at each individual MP as an independent entity.
Each MP is the employer of record for each person hired on staff or on contract, because it's the individual MP who sets the terms and conditions of employment for staff and then decides on deliverables and the value of the contract that they may sign. It's the individual MP who decides where the staff will work, whether in the constituency or on the Hill, and what their responsibilities will be. The individual MP decides how many constituency offices he or she will need to lease, where the offices will be located, and how they'll be staffed. And it's the individual MP who decides how to shape the relationship with the constituency and how he or she will communicate with citizens.
Generally speaking, these fundamental decisions determine how the MP will decide to allocate his budget. Once staff has been hired and office space has been leased, a significant portion of the member's office budget, the famous MOB, has already been committed. The MOB is allocated to each member each fiscal year, and the member is personally liable for any and all expenses incurred above those allocations.
The expenditures are processed by Finance Services—and Mark will be telling you a bit more about that in a little while—and are captured in the member's expenditure report, so that every dollar that is spent within members' budgets is reported on. These expenditures are then further captured in the Public Accounts of Canada.
But along with this central role of being responsible for the resources that are given to members, the board has a wider role. It examines and approves the annual estimates of the House, that is to say, the main estimates and the supplementary estimates. It approves and controls the budget expenditures of committees of the House and of International and Interparliamentary Affairs. The committee envelope is given to the Liaison Committee, which then distributes it as requests come to it from the standing and standing joint committees.
Similarly, the Joint Interparliamentary Council, which is chaired by the chair of the Senate internal economy committee and the Deputy Speaker of the House, is the council that is set up to deal with the envelope of money that is given to interparliamentary associations.
As I said earlier, the board is the employer of record of the staff of the House of Commons, and in being that employer of record, it conforms with the terms of the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. It approves salary scales for non-unionized employees. It authorizes us to negotiate the renewal of collective agreements with unionized employees, and it ratifies those agreements after those negotiations are done.
We currently have about 1,800 employees, including those who are not represented, and the unions. There are seven bargaining units of which four have bargaining agents.
The board also, of course, governs the security of the House of Commons precinct. In security and other matters, for example, the long-term vision and plan for the renovation of the parliamentary precinct, the board partners with its counterpart in the Senate for the management and security of the precinct.
I have been talking about the framework for the 308 members. I'll just say a few words about the framework for the administration. You've noted the “Members' By-law”, which governs the allowances and services available to each member. The “Governance and Administration By-law” delegates to the Speaker and the Clerk the authority to oversee the administration, and it in turn is responsible for executing the directives of the board on various issues.
In the governance structure in the organigram that you see before you, the Board of Internal Economy is at the very top in deciding on budget and policy. Those policies are then left to the Speaker who operates something like a minister in a government department, and I operate as the equivalent of his deputy minister in the House of Commons. Two people in my office report directly to me. One is the director of internal audit, and the other is Suzanne Verville, who is my chief of staff and the director of corporate communications.
On the last line there, there are the six senior officials who are the heads of services. They report to me on their different responsibilities and we sit together as the Clerk's Management Group. I preside over meetings of those six people. You have the Deputy Clerk, who is in charge of procedural activities. The Sergeant-at-Arms is in charge of security and the physical plant of the building, and in so being he's obviously working with Public Works and Government Services on the renovations. There is the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, who provides advice on legal issues as well as running the legislative services that draft private members bills and amendments to government bills. Then you have the three senior people who one would find in any organization: the chief information officer, who is responsible for the network of the campus and for all of our technology; the chief financial officer, Mark Watters, who is with me today; and the chief human resources officer, Pierre Parent, who is the person in charge of staffing and all of the related human resources policies.
I said earlier that the Speaker and I have two distinct areas of responsibility. There is the parliamentary role and function, which is basically the part of the job that comes with a uniform, so I'm wearing it today because we'll be in the House this afternoon for question period. Then there is the administration role and function that we play, and that's, of course, of more interest to you here this morning. The Speaker is the chair of the Board of Internal Economy and I am its secretary. He oversees the administration, which I am directing, and he appears before this committee to defend the estimates. You have from time to time gotten into discussions with him on the study of main estimates and supplementary estimates.
So it's the same thing, the same division of labour for me. Time was when the Clerk of the House really spent much more time on procedural matters, but really most of my time now—I'd say 85%—is on administrative matters. I am very well supported by the six heads of service who are the experts in those various fields, but I do think it's particularly useful to have the Clerk as the secretary to the board and as the person responsible for administration overall, because I think the needs of a legislative assembly are different from the needs you might find in another public sector formation—an agency, a crown corporation, or a department—and certainly vastly different from the needs you would find in a corporate situation.
So as part of the Clerk's Management Group, I report directly to the Speaker and have regular meetings with him on various issues. The group, that is to say, the meeting of the six people, the heads of service on that bottom line of the organigram, is chaired by me. The chief of staff, Suzanne Verville, and the director of audit, Jennifer Wall, attend those meetings as observers. We make recommendations to the Speaker and the board regarding the administration of the House.
It's the CMG, Clerk's Management Group, that is responsible for setting strategic directions, priorities, and expected results for the House of Commons administration, for ensuring that we have the financial, material, and human resources necessary to carry out our mandate, which is to support members in their parliamentary functions, as well as to support the legislative body that is the House. It sets the direction for the development of policies for our own internal regulation. Of course, we ensure appropriate monitoring so that there is compliance with the approved policies and directives.
I should say, for example, that the performance audit of the Auditor General, which was done some two years ago—it took so long I sometimes forget, taking two years to do instead of one—looked at the structures and the systems that we had in place for ensuring compliance with the directives of the Board of Internal Economy. They were content with what they saw. They did make a few recommendations, which we have happily taken on board and acted upon. Basically, for us, it was a very helpful exercise.
When I mentioned earlier that the CMG, Clerk's Management Group, sets the administration's strategic objectives, maybe it's useful to just mention to you the following. Because members are elected in general elections on a regular basis—and in the Commonwealth, for instance, Canada has one of the higher turnovers of members in each election—it's inevitable that the job, the responsibility for carrying the institutional memory, rests more with the administration than it would in other circumstances. I know it is common for people to have a very long career at the House—not just to spend a certain amount of time at the House. So I feel, as the Clerk, and I know my predecessors felt the same, that we have a culture that has a very special responsibility for safeguarding the institution, the independence of the institution, and for ensuring that we are not only applying the highest standards of public sector governance, as we say in that fourth objective, in this parliamentary context, but that we're ready to respond to changing needs, because each Parliament is different.
The composition of this parliament, for example, which is more diverse and far younger than most of the previous parliaments, means we have to be ready to deal with the various challenges that come up there. We like to pride ourselves on the fact that we do that. We are very flexible and prepared to change, as I say, to respond to needs.
We also feel responsible for enhancing ongoing services, for instance, communication with citizens, communications with constituents. Now that people are using websites and other kinds of approaches, we are always looking very carefully at what tools we make available to members.
Finally, we want to promote greater understanding and support for the advancement of legislative institutions. In that respect, we are often asked by other jurisdictions to come to visit on studies. The U.K. people have come to look at how we are set up. We have a lot of visitors from the Commonwealth, and right now there's a study program that's in train for senior parliamentary officials
…from French-speaking countries who are there not only to share their experiences of governance in their legislative institutions, but also to learn how we meet the challenges. One of the most impressive things that emerged from these exchanges and studies is how similar the challenges an administration faces are, be it the Walloon parliament of Belgium, in Kenya, Senegal, Nunavut, British Columbia, Quebec or here, at the federal level in Canada. The context is particular because of the geography and culture, but the challenges are essentially the same. We're fascinated by that.
That is how I see the role of the Board of Internal Economy.
I'll turn things over to my colleague and friend, Mark G. Watters…
who is the chief financial officer. Then I'll come back for one final kick at the can and we'll be happy to take questions.
I should say that Mark is a career public servant, and I think of him as “my” but it really is “our” renaissance finance guy. He has extensive experience and came to us
…from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration two years ago.
He previously worked with a government agency, the Canada Council, and with
…the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
As well, he worked with the Office of the Auditor General. He really has a phenomenal breadth of experience. He's going to be addressing other aspects of your study.
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View Ted Opitz Profile
CPC (ON)
View Ted Opitz Profile
2013-11-05 12:45
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Okay.
To Mr. Watters, have outside auditors ever been brought in to look at either House of Commons spending or spending by the House of Commons administration?
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Mark G. Watters
View Mark G. Watters Profile
Mark G. Watters
2013-11-05 12:45
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Yes, every year since 2004-05, I think, the financial statements of the House have been audited.
We have an external auditor, KPMG. The financial statements, which include all of the activities of the House, are consolidated, and KPMG expresses an opinion on those financial statements annually.
This year, as I said in my statement, no management letter was issued, which means there was no area for improvement. As I said, it's as good as it gets in terms of audit-speak. If there's one thing we can be happy about in finance, it's that—when we get that kind of report from the auditor.
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Jean-Pierre Gauthier
View Jean-Pierre Gauthier Profile
Jean-Pierre Gauthier
2013-05-28 16:43
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The multilateral protocol for agreements that we have in effect provides us with broad parameters. We negotiate bilateral agreements with each province according to their needs. On page 4, you see a quick overview of the content of the protocol for agreements.
First, the annual funding for immigration has been set at $259 million. You can see that the major part of the funding is set aside to support provinces in minority-language education or second-language learning. Those two aspects combined come to $234.5 million. A little less than 10% of the funding is allocated each year to two youth programs managed by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. These programs provide exchanges; they also allow language monitors to join teachers in classrooms in order to help with and enhance the teaching of the first or second language. That gives you an idea of the scope of the protocol for agreements in financial terms.
As we talk about the factors that go into the federal-provincial-territorial agreements, we must deal with the way in which the performance and the outcomes are evaluated. Page 5 explains that the agreement protocol sets out six outcome domains that are agreed with the provinces. Within those outcome domains, each province is asked, in each bilateral agreement, which initiatives it wishes to undertake in the areas of second-language or minority-language teaching. The table gives you some examples of the kinds of initiatives that provinces or territories can undertake in order to reflect the outcome domains identified in the agreement protocol.
Page 6 shows how the accountability system is subsequently structured. We are well aware that this is an area of provincial or territorial jurisdiction. The provinces therefore establish their priorities according to their overall priorities in the area of education. During the discussions that they have with us, the provinces also identify and specify performance targets and indicators that they are going to use. We document the objectives, the targets and the indicators as established by the provinces and we are content with them. Each year, we make sure that the funds spent by the provinces match the planning established under our agreements.
First, the provinces and territories submit annual financial reports. Every two years, we ask them to measure their progress in terms of their targets. A discussion between our offices and the provinces then takes place. The goal is to make sure that the progress and the efforts that have been made are fully measured.
In addition, you have the regular processes in the departments—that is, evaluations and internal audits—that are also applied to these agreements for these programs.
Finally, in terms of reporting, we have the annual reporting of the department, which captures the essence of our activities.
You'll find on pages 7 and 8 a selection of examples of those targets to illustrate a bit better what kinds of things we are talking about. If I take the first example, it will give you, for teaching of the second language, what kinds of targets have been established by, for example, the Northwest Territories with respect to the participation of students.
You have the target they set at the beginning of the agreement, and in the right-hand column you basically have the results of what they achieved so far, at the interim report stage, which is year two, 2010-11. We just concluded year four on March 31, and we're expecting reports from the provinces and territories that will give us a complete overview over the whole four years of the last protocol agreements we have.
Just in passing, you have the same thing on page 8, but this time it's for teaching in the minority language as part of the activities we have with provinces and territories. Again, it's a selection of targets and the kinds of achievements provinces have reported back to us in their biennial reports on progress and results.
Let us now move to pages 9 and 10. By taking a step back, we try to get an overall picture of which results and which achievements we can identify as activities in the area of second-language and minority-language learning.
On page 9, we can see the achievements in second-language education. About 2.4 million young Canadians are learning English or French as a second language. That is a little more than half the school population. We also see that immersion programs are highly popular, with strong growth and demand.
Among the achievements in the second-language area, we also see innovative second-language teaching methods like, for example, intensive learning in one language. At the moment, 8,000 students are involved in the provinces and territories.
We also see improvements in the measurement of learning, but that is an area that you have already heard about. This is the ability to properly measure and certify the level of language mastery attained by a student. In a second language, of course. Thought and work is needed in this area, and steps are being taken to properly measure the quality of the learning.
We can also see that particular attention is paid to exchanges and cultural activities in immersion in order to enrich the experience of learning a second language, so this is not simply an experience limited to a classroom.
The next page, page 10, shows more or less the same approach, but this time it deals with minority-language education. About 240,000 young Canadians are studying in their language in a minority situation. This student population is increasing, whereas the general student population across the country is dropping slightly. This is encouraging.
We see that schools want to play a greater role in their communities. They want to be part of community life. So a number of schools also want to become involved in community activities after school hours or on weekends. They want to provide services like public libraries, for example. To the extent possible, things are brought together in different facilities. You will see figures from various places, like the 37 community learning centres in Quebec, where there is an attempt to play a greater role in minority situation schools. They do not want to limit themselves to teaching the Department of Education's program. They want the school to play a role in the community as well.
Efforts are also being made a post-secondary level. You can see in the presentation that there are programs in more than 40 colleges and universities in minority situations. I would also like to highlight the work that is being done by our colleagues at Health Canada and Justice Canada, each of which is trying, in its own area of activity, to develop a program in various colleges and universities.
There is a list of other more specific achievements at the bottom of the page, but I will not spend time describing them. I will quickly wrap up with the last page.
In short, the current protocol agreements that we have in place ended on March 31 of this year. That was the end of the fourth year. We are well advanced in negotiating the next agreement, which will be for five years. We've pretty much finished, so we're optimistic that we will have the agreement in place. That will set the stage to get discussions going with the various provinces and territories to establish a bilateral agreement. That is the document by which we gain authority to start funding their activities, whether it be for second language learning or minority schools.
I will stop at this point.
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View Élaine Michaud Profile
NDP (QC)
I have one last question before turning things over to my colleague, Mr. Dubé.
You mentioned in your description of the accountability system that the various programs in the initiatives funded by the roadmap undergo regular evaluations and audits.
Could you give a little more detail about how frequently these evaluations and audits are done?
Can the committee and the communities have access to this information, if necessary?
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Jean-Pierre Gauthier
View Jean-Pierre Gauthier Profile
Jean-Pierre Gauthier
2013-05-28 17:28
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Certainly.
The internal audits, which are risk-based, are established by the chief audit executive. So it is our internal auditor who determines, based on his judgment, where the focus will be within the department. The frequency is therefore left to the discretion and good judgment of the chief auditor. However, the evaluations are conducted every five years. In addition, an evaluation of official language programs is almost done. It should be published in the next few weeks.
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Ronnie Campbell
View Ronnie Campbell Profile
Ronnie Campbell
2013-02-28 15:32
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'm joined today by Glenn Wheeler and Nadine Cormier, who worked on this audit. With that I'll begin my opening statement.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss chapter 6, Transfer Payments to the Aerospace Sector—Industry Canada. Joining me at the table are Glenn Wheeler, Principal, and Nadine Cormier, Director, who were responsible for the audit.
The Government of Canada sees the aerospace sector as crucial to Canada's economic development, sovereignty, national security, and public safety. Since 2007, Industry Canada has managed two programs that provide repayable assistance to support industrial research and development in Canada's aerospace sector.
The strategic aerospace and defence initiative, SADI, is the federal government's second largest program of direct spending on research and development. Under this program the department has authorized assistance of just under $825 million since 2007. The program was created to support private sector industrial research and pre-competitive development in Canada's aerospace, defence, security, and space industries through repayable project contributions. At the time of our audit, the department managed repayable contribution agreements for 25 individual projects with recipients.
The Bombardier CSeries program is intended to encourage research and development that will result in the development of new commercial aircraft technologies. The department authorized assistance of $350 million to the Bombardier CSeries program in 2008. Industry Canada manages two repayable contribution agreements under this program.
Mr. Chairman, we examined whether Industry Canada had sufficient information to determine if the transfer payments were meeting the programs' objectives. We also looked at whether the department managed these programs according to the key requirements of the Treasury Board's policy on transfer payments as well as the terms and conditions of the programs. In addition, we examined whether Industry Canada collected repayments from recipients for contributions that are repayable under two previous transfer payment programs.
The work on this audit was completed in July 2012 and we have not audited actions taken by the department since then.
When funding for the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative was approved in 2007, Industry Canada agreed to report publicly each year on contribution recipients as well as on program results and accomplishments. This reporting is in response to its commitment to set new standards for transparency following the end of its predecessor program in 2006—Technology Partnerships Canada.
We found that Industry Canada has yet to report publicly on the results of the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative, as required by the funding approval it received in 2007. This means that both Parliament and Canadians do not know whether a program is meeting its objectives.
Before 2010, Industry Canada had inadequate performance information to determine progress being made to achieve the program's objectives. This information was needed to meet its requirement to report publicly each year on overall program results and accomplishments. Since 2010, the department has made improvements and now collects and consolidates sufficient information to allow it to determine progress against the program's objectives.
However, Industry Canada has delayed and cancelled some of its evaluation commitments, potentially missing out on early improvement opportunities. The department will need to follow through on commitments to collect additional performance information so that it can complete its planned evaluation of the program in 2016-17.
Similarly, the department needs to complete the final evaluation of technology partnerships Canada's longer term technological, economic, and societal outcomes. It may then be in a position to integrate lessons learned from this evaluation to potentially improve performance measurement for the strategic aerospace and defence initiative.
For the Bombardier CSeries program, Industry Canada has not collected all documents required by the two contribution agreements to determine progress toward the program's objectives. Therefore, it has a more limited picture of the program's performance. Again, this means that both Parliament and Canadians do not know whether the program is meeting its objectives.
Industry Canada has managed most aspects of these transfer payment programs appropriately, by using a reasonable control framework. For example, it reviews recipients' claims and progress reports before issuing payments. Also, the department funded only recipients that met program eligibility requirements. It also undertook a detailed review of proposed projects before signing contribution agreements with recipients.
In cases where contributions under two previous transfer payment programs—the defence industry productivity program and technology partnerships Canada—were repayable, the majority of repayments we examined were obtained by Industry Canada on time.
Industry Canada agreed with our recommendations and made commitments in its responses, several of which were to be implemented by the end of 2012. Mr. Chairman, the committee may wish to explore the progress made by the department to date in addressing our recommendations.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer the committee's questions.
Thank you.
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View John Williamson Profile
CPC (NB)
Okay. That's good. I'm going to come back to you. I want to speak to the assistant auditor general.
I'm concerned with your review of the old programs, TPC and DIPP, particularly the line in section 6.80, “We found that, of the repayments we reviewed as part of our audit, the Department obtained most repayments on time.”
I'd like a very quick answer. This wasn't a value for money audit. It was looking at procedures, I suppose, and how the program worked. Is that right?
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View John Williamson Profile
CPC (NB)
Thank you.
My time is running out. I want to return to Mr. Davies.
Mr. Davies, you talked about repayments that could in theory total 155% if you look at the interest, but the reality is that past programs never came anywhere near that. Otherwise, repayments would have been much higher and much, much closer to the amounts that were disbursed.
My problem is that we're falling into the trap that existed for the last two programs. You're not being transparent with taxpayers. I want to know how the department is going to respond to this report and the concerns that the assistant auditor general has that you're not meeting those requirements and that we don't end up with another program like TPC and DIPP, which were sold to taxpayers as value for money. At the end of the day, we saw that the forecasts weren't there, and the moneys were never recouped by the government and therefore the taxpayers.
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Mitch Davies
View Mitch Davies Profile
Mitch Davies
2013-02-28 16:48
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Mr. Chair, I think that when the government in 2007 introduced SADI the expectations established were that we would raise the bar in respect particularly of transparency around the program. I think that's the thread of some of the recommendations that we've agreed to in this AG report. It's to improve our efforts in that and we're going to undertake that.
In terms of repayment and specifically to your point, our repayment track record on SADI is going to be on the website. It's there now. Obviously, many of the entries are blank because the companies are not in a position where they owe us money. But at that point in time in the next fiscal year when first payments come due on our first round of contracts, any Canadian who wishes to know will be able to check that website and determine whether we're actually collecting those moneys. Over time, you'll have a cumulative story as to whether the goal to have a nominal repayment of the funds that have been issued under the program is being achieved.
Quite frankly, that's what we're interested in—the program, the administration of it, and the way we manage the portfolio—and certainly we'll provide that information for Canadians and parliamentarians to judge the progress against it.
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Laurie A. Henderson
View Laurie A. Henderson Profile
Laurie A. Henderson
2012-12-12 15:38
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Thank you.
Thank you for providing the Yukon government the opportunity to comment on these changes.
By way of background, I will note for you that the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act has its origins in the Umbrella Final Agreement and the 11 Yukon first nation final agreements that have been signed into effect by the Government of Canada, the Yukon government, and 11 Yukon first nations.
Chapter 8 of these agreements established the framework for the Surface Rights Board legislation, and the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act came into force on February 14, 1995. Additional responsibilities of the board are established in other pieces of legislation, including two Yukon statutes: the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act.
The amendments to the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act that are contained in Bill C-47 have been under discussion for some time. The Yukon government was first contacted about the amendments in the fall of 2011 by officials from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
In January of 2012 there was a meeting between federal officials and Yukon government representatives to discuss the proposed changes. That meeting was followed up a number of months later in August with a letter, wherein the federal government was actually seeking views on the specific changes that are now in the bill.
In September of this year, Yukon advised those federal officials that it had no substantive comments on the proposed changes. That continues to be the case today; the Yukon supports the changes and believes they will make board operations more efficient and cost-effective.
Two of the changes in Bill C-47, particularly the amendment of section 10 and the amendment of section 11, which authorize a member whose term has been terminated or expired to continue to act as a member until a decision has been made on the matter before the board, will ensure efficiency in resolving disputes. Without this provision—and we have certainly run into this situation with other boards and committees in the Yukon—if a member's term does expire or is terminated prior to rendering a decision, the hearing may have to be restarted, and that obviously would incur additional costs for both the proponents and the board officials. The Yukon government sees this change as quite positive, and it is welcomed.
The third change in Bill C-47 involves the amendment to section 23 of the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act. This one requires the auditor of the board to audit the accounts, financial statements, and financial transactions of the board each year and to report on the same to the board and the minister. In the Yukon's view, this change again will help ensure financial accountability and transparency in the board's financial management. As it does for the other amendments, the Yukon supports this change and sees it as an improvement over the past arrangement, whereby the financial statements were actually audited by the Auditor General of Canada.
In conclusion, we would like to reaffirm the Yukon government's support for these three changes. Thank you for the opportunity to appear today.
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View Jean Crowder Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jean Crowder Profile
2012-12-12 16:17
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With regard to the Auditor General, my understanding is that it's now going to be an independent auditor.
Will that have the same level of transparency that an Auditor General does for Canadians? I'm sure citizens of Yukon hold auditors general in very high esteem. Will an independent auditor have the same effect in terms of transparency and availability of the reporting to the general public?
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Laurie A. Henderson
View Laurie A. Henderson Profile
Laurie A. Henderson
2012-12-12 16:17
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I believe so. The requirement is that the auditor, of course, will be required to operate under the generally accepted principles of accounting, as does the Auditor General, and that the report be made available to the board and to the minister. The practice of the board has been to release those reports publicly, generally as part of its annual report.
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Nancy Cheng
View Nancy Cheng Profile
Nancy Cheng
2011-11-28 16:07
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Perhaps an example would shed some light on the situation.
I think a typical example people would use to try to explain some of these issues is when you buy capital assets. You could buy assets right at the outset and have a major cash outlay in one year, or you could actually have a financial lease, which is really a financial arrangement over a period of time, so that you acquire the same asset but your payment stream is different.
Under a cash or near-cash appropriation basis, they actually would be coming forward to Parliament asking for very different sums, but in essence it's the same decision you're trying to make.
When you look at that, the two of them are not the same, but if you look at it on an accrual basis, the cash equation or the cost equation would be identical under both cases.
In some of the international experience they're running into a problem whereby if you allocate a ceiling or a certain sum of funds to be used for a particular purpose and not all of that is being expended in that year because it's a capital lease—and lease payments actually get paid out later on—or something of the sort, it's the management and the transparency of how that fund is going to be kept. Is it money kept aside for some other purposes that the government might have in mind?
It causes a lot of confusion in that sense. So those are some of the problems people run into, whereby if we go forward, we need to be careful about how we manage those kinds of issues.
Those are the basic differences between the two approaches, if that helps.
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Jim Ralston
View Jim Ralston Profile
Jim Ralston
2011-10-26 15:41
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Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about internal audit, and how we have strengthened it in recent years.
I have with me today Brian Aiken, Assistant Comptroller General, Internal Audit. I will make a brief statement, and we would then be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
The Office of the Comptroller General of Canada works to strengthen the stewardship of taxpayer dollars and government assets across the federal public service and thereby support the overall effectiveness of public administration in Canada. We are responsible for providing functional direction with respect to financial management, internal audit, investment planning, procurement, project management, and the management of real property and materiel across the federal government.
To focus on internal audit: it is the professional appraisal function that looks at management systems, processes and practices, and the reliability of information. As such, it provides deputy heads with information on how well government's risk management and control processes are working in their departments.
This allows deputy heads to: exercise oversight and control; manage risk in an informed manner; and give attention to areas that need improvement.
Mr. Chair, to support the government's accountability agenda, we implemented the Policy on Internal Audit in April 2006. This policy includes: the clear assignment of accountabilities and roles and responsibilities; improvement in the independence of internal audit through changes to reporting relationships; the inclusion of a majority of members from outside the government on audit committees; and the adoption of professional auditing standards and practices.
Thanks in large part to this policy, significant strides have been made in improving internal audit in the government. For example, we have considerably increased the focus of internal audit on areas of higher risk and significance, and we have increased the credibility and professionalism of the function through community development efforts championed by my office and supported by chief audit executives across the Government of Canada.
As a result, deputy heads have confidence in the independent assurance that internal audit gives them, and they are increasingly relying on it to support them in their role.
Five years after bringing in the policy, we did an evaluation of the implementation—and the results have been extremely positive. They demonstrate that the policy has helped to improve risk management, governance, internal control and the stewardship of resources in departments and agencies.
The Auditor General's audit of the economic action plan in the fall of 2010 praised the work of internal auditors in supporting the successful implementation of this major government initiative. Moreover, the Auditor General comments at length on the progress made in the government's internal auditing function in the 2011 June status report.
We thank the Auditor General for this report, and recognize the value it brings to the continuous improvement of the management and operations of the Government of Canada. Finally, the establishment of departmental audit committees has received attention from academic experts in public administration.
To conclude, we in the Office of the Comptroller General, together with the entire internal audit community, are proud of what has been accomplished, and we are delighted that our efforts have been recognized.
However, we continue to make further strides and welcome the recommendations of the Auditor General, the independent evaluators, and academics as possible directions for future improvements.
We would now welcome the committee's questions.
Thank you.
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View Andrew Saxton Profile
CPC (BC)
View Andrew Saxton Profile
2011-10-26 15:56
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Thank you.
Finally, have the improvements that you described in internal audits contributed, in your opinion, to more transparency and accountability in government?
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John Wiersema
View John Wiersema Profile
John Wiersema
2011-10-26 15:56
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Yes, Mr. Chairman. The improvements in internal audit have absolutely contributed to better accountability in government. I believe that deputy ministers are now well served, for the most part, where there are internal audit functions, and they are also well served by their departmental audit committees. So this is clearly a success story.
What I would say, though--and Mr. Ralston perhaps might have some comments in this regard--is that the entire internal audit community in the core federal public service comprises some 400 or 500 people, who I believe are now functioning well for the most part. There are always opportunities for improvement, but it's important to keep that in the context of a core public service with over a quarter of a million people involved. So this is an important function, but it's a relatively small function, and I believe it's largely functioning well.
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Suzanne Legault
View Suzanne Legault Profile
Suzanne Legault
2011-09-22 8:50
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Good morning, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
Good morning to all the members.
Good morning. I'm very pleased to appear before you today as the committee starts its work on access to information, privacy, and ethics in this 41st Parliament.
You will find in the package that was distributed to you a number of documents that provide more information about my mandate, the accomplishments and priorities of my office, as well as a report and action plan related to a recent audit of our investigative processes. My opening remarks, unfortunately, are not finished being translated, so we will bring them to the committee a little bit later this afternoon.
Clearly this committee plays a crucial role in holding the government to account. You're vested with the responsibility of ensuring that the Canadian government's transparency agenda fulfills Canadians' needs and expectations for timely disclosure of valuable public sector information. Indeed, timely access to public sector information drives democracy and citizen engagement.
In an era of highly developed and ever-evolving information in communication technologies, it is the fluidity of public sector information that is key to competitiveness and socio-economic growth. That being said, it's important to remember that not all government information should be disclosed. As the Supreme Court of Canada stated last year:
Access to information in the hands of public institutions can increase transparency in government, contribute to an informed public, and enhance an open and democratic society. Some information in the hands of those institutions is, however, entitled to protection in order to prevent the impairment of those very principles and promote good governance.
It's a very delicate balancing act.
One of my responsibilities as Information Commissioner of Canada is to ensure that this right balance is struck. My annual report, tabled in June 2011, highlights the activities of my office in this endeavour.
The core of my mandate is to investigate complaints under the Access to Information Act. I am proud to report that we completed more than 2,000 cases for a second consecutive year.
We reduced by 8% the average time needed to complete investigations, and we further decreased our inventory at year-end by 11%. This success is due to a combination of efficiency gains, agile case management and collaboration with institutions. Overall, we can count on institutions' collaboration in resolving issues and implementing recommendations.
However, to deal with more complicated problems of non-compliance, I issued last year seven reports of findings with formal recommendations to heads of institutions. After the reports had been issued, three of these cases were ultimately resolved and the recommendations implemented. The four remaining cases are now before the courts.
I bring forward or intervene in legal proceedings when important principles of access legislation must be defended or clarified. This is the case with proceedings involving the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Canada Post Corporation.
To maximize compliance with the act, we must address the root causes of widespread or recurrent issues that adversely impact the timeliness and quantity of information disclosed. I take a systemic approach to assessing and investigating institutions' compliance. My goal is always to provide institutions, central agencies, and Parliament a thorough, fact-based diagnostic with specific and tailored solutions to guide efforts for improvements.
Last year, we implemented year two of our three-year plan for report cards and systemic investigations. The exercise included the assessment of a group of crown corporations and agents of Parliament that had recently come under the act. We followed up with 13 institutions that had performed poorly in previous assessments. Based on the data collected, we also launched a systemic investigation into the sources of delays, particularly mandatory consultations.
We are also investigating allegations of interference with the access to information process at Public Works and Government Services Canada.
In the current context of fiscal restraint, all institutions must seek more efficient ways to serve Canadians. This is why, upon taking office, I undertook a strategic planning process with my staff and key stakeholders to determine priorities and chart a roadmap for the first years of my term.
This plan will help us achieve significant outcomes in three key areas: exemplary service delivery; a well-governed workplace of choice; and a leading access to information regime.
To provide exemplary service, we will continue to refine our case management strategies while developing a comprehensive talent management framework. In this endeavour, we will build on the results from the audit of our investigative processes.
Mr. Chair, that is what I did last year as part of our internal auditing, in the wake of the incidents within the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
I commissioned an audit of my investigative function at the OIC, and I made sure that the criteria that the OAG had used to do its audit of the Integrity Commissioner's office was incorporated into the audit we conducted.
This morning, as part of the documents before you, I've tabled the results of this audit, which basically show that our investigative function conforms with our legislation. It made some recommendations, which we plan to incorporate into our action plan this fall.
Mr. Chairman, you can count on my continued support and advice to foster a leading access regime. I applaud the Canadian government for its commitment in the Speech from the Throne to ensuring that citizens, the private sector, and other partners have improved access to the workings of government through open data, open information, and open dialogue.
Minister Clement has taken the helm of the open government initiative, which notably includes an open information component that promises to take access to information closer to the digital age. I also welcome Minister Baird's commitment this week to having Canada join the multinational open government partnership. We will follow these government initiatives with great interest. In my view, they are key to embedding a culture of openness in federal institutions.
However, an open government initiative and a commitment to transparency must include a willingness to improve the efficiency of our access to information regime. In this area much work remains to be done. As reflected in Treasury Board statistics, over the past ten years there has been a steady decline in the timeliness and disclosure of information by federal institutions.
Current needs and expectations of Canadians require that we reverse this declining trend in timeliness and disclosure. I've committed to using all the powers and tools at my disposal to influence this outcome, starting with effective and timely investigations of complaints.
Mr. Chair, next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the Access to Information Act. I submit that the way forward must include the review and modernization of the act to bring our regime up to par with the most progressive international models. In preparation for this event, I have started an in-depth review of international benchmarking of our legislation to be in a position to advise Parliament of necessary amendments to the act.
To provide information about our work, I will be hosting the International Conference of Information Commissioners, which will be held in Canada for the first time, in collaboration with the Canadian Bar Association from October 3 to 5.
This forum will provide an excellent opportunity for commissioners, practitioners and advocates to exchange ideas for the advancement of access to information principles.
I am very excited to host this important event here in Ottawa. I invite you all to join the discussions, as we have an agreement with the Canadian Bar Association to allow all the committee members to attend the conference and some of the presentations.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and unwavering dedication of my staff, to whom I owe much of our accomplishments.
I urge this committee to continue to advocate for more open government, for more timely and greater access to information.
Mr. Chair, I am now ready to answer any questions the members may have.
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