Evidence of meeting #34 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was estimates.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Michelle d'Auray  Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat
  • Sally Thornton  Executive Director, Expenditure Operations and Estimates, Expenditure Management Sector, Treasury Board Secretariat
  • Christine Walker  Assistant Secretary and Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Services, Treasury Board Secretariat

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 34th meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

We're very pleased today to welcome the President of the Treasury Board, Mr. Tony Clement, to speak to us today about the supplementary estimates (C) as well as the main estimates under Treasury Board.

With him today, I understand, is Michelle d'Auray, secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada; Sally Thornton, executive director of expenditure operations and estimates; and Christine Walker, assistant secretary and chief financial officer.

You seem very well served and your department seems very well represented today, Mr. President.

You have the floor, sir, for as long as you like.

3:30 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka
Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

Today, I would like to focus on the supplementary estimates (C) 2011-12 and the 2012-13 Main Estimates for the Government of Canada.

I will also say a few words about the estimates process.

Let me begin with supplementary estimates (C) 2011-12.

Obviously this is more evidence, Mr. Chair, that our government continues to put Canada's financial house in order. Indeed, in an uncertain global economy, we are sticking with our plan, our low-tax plan for jobs and growth, a plan that we believe has worked and has served Canadians well.

The supplementary estimates (C) 2011-12 are certainly aligned with our commitment to restrain the growth in government spending. They support the government's request for $1.2 billion in funding for 54 organizations through an appropriation act. This represents an increase of only 1.3% over the 2011-12 main estimates.

As members know, supplementary estimates are part of the regular parliamentary approval process to ensure that planned government initiatives receive the necessary funding to move forward and meet the needs of Canadians. These supplementary estimates (C) 2011-12 provide information to Parliament to approve spending plans that reflect elements of new programs set out by the government in Budget 2011 and in previous budgets. I'm sure we'll get a question or two on those.

Let me just speak briefly on 2012-13 main estimates.

Mr. Chair, in addition to the supplementary estimates (C) 2011-12, I would like to discuss the 2012-13 Main Estimates.

As I mentioned, the government's top priority continues to be economic growth and job creation.

Indeed our commitment to this goal is also reflected in the 2012-13 main estimates and the responsible spending plans they set out.

These main estimates provide details on $251.9 billion in planned budgetary expenditures for the fiscal year 2012-13, which is essentially the same as, in other words, about a 0.4% increase from last year's main estimates of $250.8 billion.

I can tell you, Mr. Chair, that these expenditures are in line with decisions from Budget 2011 and previous budgets. They demonstrate our ongoing approach to spending restraint by showing the government operating within its means.

An appropriation bill for 2012-13 interim supply will be voted on by Parliament this evening—I hope that is not a shock to you—and an appropriation bill for full supply will be introduced for a vote in June. As you probably are aware, interim supply grants departments the required authority to make expenditures from April 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, until the end of June, providing parliamentarians time to deliberate and vote on full supply.

Mr. Chair, let me turn now to the estimates process itself.

As the committee is fully aware, after new initiatives are announced in the budget, departments prepare detailed implementation plans, which must be approved by Treasury Board before the initiatives can be included in the estimates.

The proximity of the tabling of the main estimates and the budget does not provide sufficient time for new budget initiatives to be included in the main estimates for March 1.

Another part of the estimates examination process is the departmental reports on plans and priorities. They support the parliamentary committees' reviews of the main estimates by providing additional information by program activities to parliamentarians before they vote on full supply.

This year, the reports on plans and priorities will be tabled a little later than usual. Departments and agencies were given additional time to prepare their reports, in recognition of the time and effort required to complete the strategic and operating reviews under the deficit reduction action plan. But as per the normal process, these RPPs will support the main estimates; that is to say, they are connected to whatever is found in the main estimates. That issue has been a matter of public commentary, and I wanted to explain why we are following that approach and why that is consistent and required, if one looks at the Standing Orders.

If you're looking for the anticipated savings, they will be found in the process that is Budget 2012 and the Budget Implementation Act that flows from Budget 2012.

The broader issue, of course, is the logistics of the estimates process. That's why I am pleased that this committee is undertaking a review of the estimates process.

This process is rooted in both legislation and parliamentary tradition. While there have been changes to the presentation of estimates over time, there have been only a few changes to their fundamental form and content, and these were largely as a result of recommendations from parliamentary committees.

In this respect, I'm sure members have received a copy of my letter to the chair of this committee. It sets out a number of questions for your consideration during the course of your study of the processes relating to budget timing and whatnot. One of these questions pertains specifically to the timing of the main estimates and the budget. I'm looking forward to the conclusion of your study and the recommendations on the subject the committee will make in its report.

Mr. Chair, thank you. I'll be more than happy to take your questions on supplementary estimates (C) and the main estimates, which are before you.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you very much, Minister.

You're right that this committee is undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the fiscal cycle and the estimates. We will certainly take note of the observations you made in your letter to the committee. I think they will be of great use in helping the public scrutinize and understand what their government is doing with their money.

We will proceed right away to questions.

First, for the official opposition, the NDP, we have Alexandre Boulerice for five minutes.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Minister, thank you for being here today.

With the review of the estimates process in mind, I cannot help but point out that glaring problems exist, such as those that came to light with respect to the Border Infrastructure Fund. A few million dollars had actually been allocated to the G8 Summit. You will recall the few discussions we had on the matter. I hope that main estimates and supplementary estimates going forward will be clearer and more specific, so that we are able to verify where the money was really spent.

I am not sure whether you can give us any insight into this, but members of the public service have been feeling a lot of uncertainty in the wake of the strategic reviews and the upcoming 5% and 10% cutbacks. We have heard that nearly 30,000 public service jobs could disappear. Yesterday, you said that you were going to respect collective agreements. I hope so. The government should respect the contracts it signs; that is the least it can do. That decision means, then, that those employees whose jobs are going to be cut will receive a certain amount of severance pay.

How do you think public services provided to Canadians will be affected by the elimination of 30,000 public servants? We aren't talking peanuts, that is a big number. The public service could lose a tremendous number of people.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I can say a few words on that. Obviously, the budget for 2012 is the result of many decisions, and the answers to those questions are important, as is the action plan needed to achieve a clear and balanced budget.

At the same time, however, I must tell you that a program is in place so we can have discussions with public servants to decide whether programs will be affected, and their suggestions are taken into account. There is such a process already.

I can tell you, Mr. Boulerice, that we have a number of things already in place, such as the collective agreement. There's something called workforce adjustment, which has been in place, I believe, since 1999, after the last major round of consolidation that took place during the Martin years—the Chrétien-Martin years, I suppose.

We are aware of those demands, and we will be in a position to have some clarity once the budget and the budget implementation acts are in place.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Minister.

We aren't talking about a minor reorganization here, simply shuffling around everyone's role. We are talking about tens of thousands of jobs. Thirty thousand people could disappear from the public sector that delivers public services to Canadians and Quebeckers.

How can you assure us that the work will still be done, if these people just disappear overnight? Who is going to do the work in their place?

I want to tell you about something that has happened at the provincial level. Time and time again, we have seen governments lay off thousands of civil servants, workers who were responsible for delivering services. Then governments realized that someone had to do the work, so what did they do? They hired consultants. Too many times, we have seen former public servants return to the public service as consultants doing the exact same job. That's what happened with nurses in Quebec.

The size of the public service shrinks, but not the costs, because someone still has to be paid to do the work.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I can tell you that plans are necessary. As I said, the reports on the plans and priorities of each department are essential.

You will get the answer to your question once the 2012 budget is tabled and the budget implementation bill is introduced.

The Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada might be able to answer those questions.

It's up to the member as to whether he wants a more detailed explanation.

Do you want a more detailed explanation?

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Of course. I want all the details you can give us.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Very, very briefly, Madame d'Auray. We don't have much time left.

3:45 p.m.

Michelle d'Auray Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Alright.

As the minister said, we have two directives in place, and they are well-known to employees; they address the responsibilities of managers as well as the responsibilities and rights of employees.

It is important to understand that none of the decisions contained in the budget will be known until it is tabled. So any figures you have at this time are merely speculation. It is equally important to understand that measures and mechanisms are in place to minimize as much as possible the impact on employees and anyone else who might be affected. The measures are taken, and the rights and responsibilities of employees are well-known.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you, Madame d'Auray. Thank you, Alexandre.

Next, for the Conservatives, is Peter Braid.

Peter, five minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister and officials, for being with us this afternoon, and not only speaking to the estimates but helping with our wider study of this process as well.

I have a couple of questions that deal with the estimates. I think it's perhaps fair to say that they're higher-level, process-type questions.

First of all, I'm curious to know about the impact on the estimates process, particularly with programs that wind down, programs that may sunset, and money and resources that are reprofiled.

Could you speak to the impact of those particular items on the estimates process, and our understanding of the process as well?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Sure. Let me take a stab at this one.

When you look through the main estimates, to give you one example, you'll note there are some examples of significant reduction in spending in certain departments compared to the previous year. That's probably a pretty good signal that there's been a sunset or a wind-down of some particular program.

We've had a lot of that in the last couple of years, with the wind-down on Canada's economic action plan as a good example. As you recall, in Budget 2009 there were extensive new programs, stimulus measures, but there was a specific date saying those will be wound down two years hence. That's where you start to see that in these estimates documents. If these programs were completed by March 31, 2011, it's after that period, so you're starting to see now where these programs drop off.

A lot of these were infrastructure projects. They were large infrastructure projects. You can clearly see—such as for FedDev, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the clean energy fund, CFI, which is the Canada Foundation for Innovation—where the evidence of that drops off. Because the specific stimulus measures are no longer active, they are dropping off our estimates sheet.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you.

Minister, you mentioned as well the challenge that we sometimes have when we try to compare the mains from one year to the mains from the previous years. It's a bit of a mug's game, perhaps. Often, we see discrepancies when we're comparing mains to mains. Can you speak to why those discrepancies exist by using the example of the mains that are being presented today versus those from last year?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

The one example that I was going to give was, if you look on page 37 of the mains, for instance, you can see that Agriculture and Agri-Food showed a $29.6 million year-over-year reduction, and that's because of the sunsetting of the slaughter improvement program. That was a three-year program to improve competitiveness in the red meat packing and processing industry of Canada. That sunsetted in 2011-12. Those things then show up on the mains, and therefore you will see an example of that.

Money that is allocated but not spent in the previous year has a different kind of connotation. You'll see that as an increase in spending. In supplementary estimates (C), for example, there appears to be an increase of $353.4 million to the gas tax fund. It's there because it was reprofiled; it wasn't spent in a particular year. The municipalities wanted a bit more time, or the provinces delayed in submitting their annual expenditure reports. That money was then deferred until the reports were provided. There are a couple of good examples for you.