Evidence of meeting #38 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 senate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • David McGee  New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman, As an Individual
  • Harry Evans  Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

4 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you for your answer. That is clear.

From what I have read, New Zealand's system of approving votes is somewhat unique and different from ours.

Here, we can approve an expenditure as is or suggest a reduction. In your system, select committees or members can suggest increases when scrutinizing votes. One might think that would create repeated budget deficits because requests are infinite and resources are always limited.

How have you been able to manage such a system in New Zealand?

4 p.m.

New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman, As an Individual

David McGee

It is reconciled by the political reality that a government, if it is to remain in government, will have a majority in the legislature to deny any proposals for increases and expenditures it doesn't agree with. That means what the majority of the government manages to put together in the Parliament keeps a coherence to the overall budget, because it is being constructed by a particular element in the Parliament that is theoretically working together and in one direction.

Budgets are not up for grabs by individual members of Parliament. I don't think it would be in the interest of the country if they were. If one had a bidding war between the particular parties represented in the Parliament about how much should be added to the budget, that would be a recipe for fiscal irresponsibility.

A government presents a budget on a united basis, and its political strength in the Parliament ensures that the budget largely stays together. I think the Parliament can insist that the budget be presented in a clear way and that Parliament has a good opportunity, in terms of time and support, to consider thoroughly that budget before giving its formal approval.

4 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you, Mr. McGee.

Mr. Boulerice, that concludes your time.

Next, for the ruling party, the government side, I have Mr. Jacques Gourde.

April 4th, 2012 / 4 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon, Mr. McGee. Thank you for your presentation.

Mr. McGee, you reformed the budget process in New Zealand in the 1990s. Could you explain to us what was done, please?

4 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

There is no answer.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Make a motion that we go to New Zealand. We have to make sure he's okay.

[Technical difficulty--Editor]

4 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

There was a small technical difficulty.

Mr. Jacques Gourde was about to ask you a question, or may have just asked you a question. Are you ready to answer Mr. Gourde's question?

4 p.m.

New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman, As an Individual

David McGee

I didn't hear the question.

4 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Jacques, could you repeat the question, please?

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Mr. McGee, you reformed the budget process in New Zealand in the 1990s. Could you explain to us what was done, please?

4 p.m.

New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman, As an Individual

David McGee

The major reform in the 1990s was to insert the post-budget review I talked about. Up to the 1990s, Parliament exclusively confined itself to approving the estimates and then effectively paid no attention to the way in which those estimates were used. It had no processes for reviewing the outcomes of the expenditures it had approved.

That seemed to me, and to a number of other people at the time, to be a major omission in our system. Although the estimates approval process did not dramatically change in the 1990s, the post-budget examination system has been considerably improved by requiring better financial information to be presented to Parliament shortly after the end of the financial year, and that all of that information and the reports from the departments are referred to the individual subject select committees for consideration.

Those committees then draw up lists of questions of other issues that arise from the information and put them to the departments. Then, on a proportional basis, they call the chief executive, the deputy minister, and the senior officials from that department before the committee to answer, in examinations like this, for the way in which they have used those resources and their efficiency or otherwise in terms of the actions they've taken during the previous financial year. There is a comprehensive post-budget scrutiny of departmental performance.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

What changes would you recommend to our Canadian system, as far as the budget process is concerned?

4:05 p.m.

New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman, As an Individual

David McGee

Well, I would only recommend a change to another parliamentary system with a great deal of trepidation. I don't know enough about your system to suggest any specific changes.

For instance, I know you have a parliamentary budget office. In New Zealand we do not have a parliamentary budget office. I know you have a public accounts committee. In New Zealand we do not have a public accounts committee. I understand that you have pre-budget hearings before the finance committee; we do not have that. I think one of my suggestions would be exploring ways of involving other subject committees in pre-budget scrutiny.

One thing I would say very firmly is that budget scrutiny isn't just the job of the finance committee; budget scrutiny is the job of all of the subject committees in regard to the particular sectors they are charged with overseeing.

One of the things we've done in New Zealand, and I think quite successfully, is involve all of the subject committees—and there are 13 of them in our Parliament—in budget consideration and post-budget consideration.

I don't know the extent to which you do that, but I think it's very important to bring the other committees in. It's also important for the finance committee to have an overall stewardship role to look at the macro effects of the budget, and also to supervise.

In some ways this is what happens in New Zealand. Our finance committee supervises the examination of estimates and the post-examination of the budget by the other subject committees. It keeps them up to speed. It allocates the estimates to them; it allocates the financial reviews to them, and it ensures that they do their job. I think that's an important role for a finance committee to take on.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière, QC

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you, Mr. Gourde, and thank you, Mr. McGee.

Next, for the New Democratic Party, Mr. Mathieu Ravignat.