House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right. I mistakenly, as a result of seating changes, assumed in regard to the hon. member; therefore that would have made him a Tory member, and I certainly do apologize for that.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, yesterday, when I asked the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development about the Amo Ososwan school in Winneway, Témiscamingue, the minister claimed he was not aware of this file.

Consequently, I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to table the abundant correspondence between the minister, the department and Chief Mathias of Winneway about the school, the last letter of which was signed by the minister himself a few days ago. This proves that the minister misled the House and the public.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member to table these documents?

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on June 5, 2003, by the hon. member for St. Albert concerning multi-year funding of the heating fuel rebate. I would like to thank the hon. member for St. Albert for having raised this matter. I would also like to thank the hon. Minister of National Revenue for the information she provided to assist the Chair on June 11.

In raising this matter, the hon. member for St. Albert pointed out that the government paid out more than $1.4 billion in heating fuel rebates during January 2001. As this is a somewhat complicated case, it will be helpful to provide the House with a fairly detailed chronology of the events that have led to the raising of the procedural point before us.

The government's intention to make rebate payments was first announced in the budget speech made in the House on October 18, 2000. As a result of the general election held during November 2000, the government initially funded these rebates by the use of Governor General's special warrants. These special warrants are used exclusively to fund government operations on an urgent basis when Parliament is dissolved. During periods of dissolution, it is impossible for the government to apply to Parliament for the approval of funding, and Governor General's special warrants provide a temporary means of overcoming this difficulty.

Members will find a more detailed account of the use of special warrants in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice , pages 747-48.

Once Parliament meets following a general election, any special warrants that have been issued must be submitted to Parliament for approval. The special warrants in the present case were tabled in the House on February 12, 2001. It is not necessary to enter into every detail of the procedures concerning the use of Governor General special warrants, but I would draw the attention of hon. members to two points in particular. First, any funds obtained by the government through the use of such warrants must subsequently be approved by the House as part of the normal estimates process. The funds authorized by the special warrants on December 13, 2000 and January 9 and 23, 2001, were included in the Appropriation Act approved by the House on March 20, 2001.

Second, and this point was underlined by the hon. member for St. Albert, the funds approved in this way apply only to the fiscal year for which they are granted. The fact that funds are provided by a special warrant does not exempt them from the key principle of our financial procedure that funds are allocated on an annual basis and may not be expended after the end of the fiscal year for which they are approved.

Although the initial funds were approved for the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2001, the hon. member for St. Albert pointed out that in 2001-02, $42.2 million were disbursed for heating fuel rebates and a further $13 million during 2002-03.

At their meeting of May 12, 2003, an official of the Treasury Board indicated to the public accounts committee that further payments would be made during 2003-04. The hon. member for St. Albert noted that no legislative authority exists for the heating fuel rebate program and that the House has not been asked to approve any appropriation for that purpose since supply was passed for the fiscal year 2000-01.

An appropriation act gives authority only for a single year and is therefore not appropriate for expenditure that is meant to continue for a longer period or indefinitely. Ongoing programs must be established by particular legislative measures. Once Parliament has approved a program in this way, it then may be asked to appropriate funds on an annual basis.

At this point I would like to point out that an exception to this rule exists in the case of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Section 60(1) of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency Act reads:

Subject to subsection (4), the balance of money appropriated by Parliament for the use of the Agency that remains unexpended at the end of the fiscal year, after the adjustments referred to in section 37 of the Financial Administration Act are made, lapses at the end of the following fiscal year.

Accordingly, with respect to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, subject to the reservations in the act, appropriations are for two years rather than one as is usually the case. The hon. member for St. Albert drew to the Chair's attention to the fact that $42.2 million was paid out in heating fuel rebates during 2001-02. Given the carry-forward provision just cited, there seems to be no reason to question the agency's authority to make these payments using funds originally appropriated for 2000-01.

However, the hon. member also pointed out that in testimony before the public accounts committee it was revealed that a further $13 million in rebates were made during 2002-03. Clearly, no authority existed for the carry-forward of funds from the moneys provided by the special warrants. Any unused funds from that appropriation lapsed on March 31, 2002. It was also indicated to the public accounts committee that further payments relating to heating fuel are expected during the current fiscal year.

The hon. Minister of National Revenue indicated to the House in her statement on this issue that all of the payments made relative to heating fuel rebates were made as ex gratia payments. The Public Accounts, 2002, Vol. II, Part II at page 10.14 describe an ex gratia payment as “a discretionary payment, made as an act of benevolence in the public interest, free of any legal obligation, whether or not any value or service has been received”.

As the hon. minister indicated, payments of this type do not require specific parliamentary authority. That is to say, they are not made as part of a legislated program, nor are they the object of a specific funding request made to Parliament. At the same time, it is quite clear that even with respect to ex gratia payments, the funds used must be properly authorized by Parliament. In the present case, the minister has told the House that the heating fuel rebates were paid using funds authorized as part of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency Vote 1--Operating Expenditures.

The Chair concluded that in both 2001-02 and 2002-03, the rebates were simply paid out of the Vote 1 funds, all of which had been properly authorized. No other authorization is required for payments of this type. It seems reasonable to conclude that any further payments issued during 2003-04 or subsequent years will be made on the same basis. I am therefore satisfied that the point of order of the hon. member for St. Albert is not well founded.

However the Chair is troubled by the current case which is an example of a persistent problem that I have had occasion to comment on before, that is, the adequacy of information provided to Parliament regarding estimates. Committees have always been dependent on being provided with complete and accurate information concerning proposed public spending. In light of the size and complexity of modern government, this is all the more true.

The reports on plans and priorities and the performance reports that are now tabled annually were meant to provide such information. Yet difficulties persist and, some might argue, have grown even more acute. In this case, for example, to determine the source of the funds being used for the heating fuel rebate, members had to rely on the documents tabled before Parliament. If that documentation is inadequate, then members seeking clarification have no recourse except, as the hon. member for St. Albert did, to raise a point of order in the House.

The hon. minister's statement has clarified the situation but I believe all members would agree with the Chair that it would be preferable if members had available to them the opportunity to obtain this information without being obliged to take up the time of the House.

It may well be that those House committees that have special responsibility for the estimates process will want to have a closer look at the nature of the information provided to members by the estimates documents. It is, after all, hon. members who must take a large share of the responsibility for seeing to it that they receive the information they require.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, during question period I made a remark which may have been unparliamentary and for which I sincerely apologize.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Earlier today we had a unanimous consent to move on to orders of the day. At that point we lost presentation of petitions.

I would seek unanimous consent to return to routine proceedings specifically for the petitions segment.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Is it agreed that we return to presentation of petitions?

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

June 12th, 2003 / 3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have several petitions, the first of which asks that the Canadian Emergency Preparedness College, which is essential to training Canadians for emergency situations, be reinstated.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the next petition, the petitioners call upon Parliament, the Department of Justice and the Government of Canada to call an immediate amnesty for all unregistered firearms or, in the absence of the amnesty, to scrap the firearms registry altogether.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the next petition, the petitioners are calling upon Parliament, the Department of National Defence and the Government of Canada to exercise their contractual right to cancel the supply chain project and by doing so ensure the long term employment of the employees at the Canadian armed forces.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the next petition, the petitioners are calling upon Parliament to refrain from including sexual orientation as an amendment to the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code of Canada.