Evidence of meeting #35 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

  • Ned Franks  Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual
  • Joachim Wehner  Associate Professor, Public Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, As an Individual

5 p.m.

Associate Professor, Public Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, As an Individual

Dr. Joachim Wehner

I think there are many parliaments where it is unthinkable that you would have anything happening on the floor of the House with regard to the budget without the responsible committee reporting on the budget. I'm not aware of any incidents in the German Bundestag, for example, or in many other western European parliaments, where the lack of a committee report would have delayed parliamentary practice.

So why not just require parliamentary committees to report on the estimates or on part of the estimates? Then they are under an obligation to do so. But you just say that if you don't do it, you're deemed to have reported. Effectively, this means that this part of the budget will not be properly examined. Let me put it more mildly: there is no potential, no possibility, for this part of the budget to be properly examined.

Examination at committee level is crucial. It's not going to happen on the floor of the House. If there is serious debate and analysis of the budget, it has to be at committee level. I would be a very strong proponent for making sure that committees live up to their duties and their responsibilities.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you, Dr. Wehner.

That concludes your five minutes, Alexandre.

Scott Armstrong, for the Conservatives.

March 26th, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks to both of you for your presentations today.

Dr. Franks, I'm going to start with you.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs said in 1998 that the standing committee should be able to reallocate funds during their consideration of estimates. My first question is, should they be able to reallocate these funds? If so, how would this affect both the principle of a royal recommendation that all funding proposals proceed from the crown and the ability of departments to actually plan for spending? Can you reconcile that for me?

5:05 p.m.

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Dr. Ned Franks

No, but I can try.

5:05 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5:05 p.m.

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Dr. Ned Franks

Parliamentary control is on the vote, and the royal recommendation is based on the vote. Within the vote, there are sub-votes—the allotment—and my understanding was that they were proposing that kind of readjustment within the vote, not from vote to vote.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Okay—

5:05 p.m.

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Dr. Ned Franks

I think—I'm pretty sure, but I couldn't swear to it.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

I understand.

Dr. Wehner, I have a question for you.

What are your thoughts...? Maybe you could inform us of your research on this. Is there any other country that consults the private sector in preparing estimates in such a way as to arrange the data to make it more accessible and easy to manage for parliamentarians? Do you see any opportunities for benefits by doing so on the presentation of process and the financial information? Have any other countries used the private sector to help out on this?

5:05 p.m.

Associate Professor, Public Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, As an Individual

Dr. Joachim Wehner

Not necessarily in presenting the estimates or presenting information. The U.K. government has just committed itself to having, more routinely, public consultations when it comes to major tax changes, for example, which then will give the private sector a chance to make input and so on. Many parliaments would call it part of their review process of the budget if private sector institutions such as banks, for example, were to testify, or other private sector institutions that provide independent forecasts of fiscal policy or economic data, but this may not be entirely what you referred to in your question.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you.

I have one last question for both of you.

Another problem we have is that it seems each department has its own way of doing accounting. For us, that makes things very confusing.

In your opinions, would centralizing the process be an option?

5:05 p.m.

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Dr. Ned Franks

Treasury Board has responsibility for overseeing the production of accounts in departments. I think you should direct that question to Treasury Board and give them specific examples of the kinds of divergences in practice that concern you. It's certainly possible to make the accounting more uniform, but you have to draw the problem to their attention first.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Dr. Wehner, do other countries use some sort of centralized process or format? Or is the situation like the one here, with every department kind of controlling its own accounting processes?

5:05 p.m.

Associate Professor, Public Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, As an Individual

Dr. Joachim Wehner

There should certainly be uniform standards with regard to the format of accounts. I hope that is the case in Canada. I would reckon it is. But it could well be that the quality of accounting varies a bit across departments, and then you would have to focus on rectifying that situation, because, really, that shouldn't be the case. I would agree with that.

Let me just add this one thing. In the U.K., the preparation of the annual accounts is very much devolved to departments. The practice that you see is that some departments produce accounts much more quickly than others. Through that process, especially after the introduction of accrual accounting, there's also been a bit of competition between departments. So if you are one of the laggards, you're trying to catch up with the ones who report early on after the close of a fiscal year. So that has been quite helpful in the U.K.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.