An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Benoît Sauvageau  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of March 21, 2005
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

PrivilegeRoyal Assent

November 3rd, 2005 / 6:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is not a laughing matter. There are 26 members who sent out the householder, and 28 who did not, because the Bloc Québécois is truly a decentralized party. No comprehensive study was done to know what was going on. Proposals are made, then each member decides what is appropriate for one reason or another. Some have issues or activities which are priorities in their ridings. For example, Bill C-277 asked that the Auditor General investigate into the $9 billion the government was hiding.

The sponsorship scandal having been exposed, I saw fit to inform the public that, under a bill put forward by the Bloc Québécois, the Auditor General would now have a right of oversight over the foundations through which the government was moving money. I am happy that the question was put to me. The government hid money in the sponsorship scandal. One has to wonder whether it hid more elsewhere.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2005 / 7:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak this evening with great pleasure in connection with this rather special and original report, since I am the member who initially introduced Bill C-277.

We have had occasion to debate it several times. If a report has been tabled not to proceed further with Bill C-277, it is not because it was no longer valid, or that its substance and value were no longer important. It is merely because, pursuant to the parliamentary procedures of this House, another party has also found it of great interest. Bill C-277 enabled the Auditor General to audit the main foundations and crown corporations—those in excess of $9 billion. That party was the Liberal Party.

In this year's budget, the Liberal Party took Bill C-277 word for word, or very close to it, and included in the budget Bill C-43—in the Minister of Finance's 2005 Budget Implementation Act.

Since the government has upstaged me by allowing the Auditor General to have that control, which she had been demanding for the past four or five years, and which the committee had recommended twice in two or three years, I felt I needed to publicly acknowledge in this House the occasional good things our political adversaries do. They should do them more often. So I felt they more or less deserved thanks for having understood that there was a need to restore a bit of the public's confidence in its elected representatives, particularly after the sponsorship scandal. This bill is a credit to them. It was necessary, and needed to be implemented urgently and promptly.

I was therefore pleased to propose to the committee that the bill be withdrawn.

In closing, I want to add that it is all well and good that the foundations receiving federal funding, such as the foundations for innovation, the millennium scholarships and all those with $9 billion in their coffers, are now subject to scrutiny by the Auditor General.

However, once I had achieved this, I continued to examine the public accounts and I realized that there is now another area that deserves our full attention. I am talking about the transfer of funding by departments to not-for-profit organizations. For example, the Canadian Unity Council gets nearly $12 million per year from Canadian Heritage, and its internal audits are extremely compromising.

This will be another hobbyhorse for the members of the opposition. I hope that the Liberals will show the same open-mindedness and allow the Auditor General to consider all of these files. At present, she can do so in the case of the Canadian Unity Council, but the internal audits of each department should be tightened up and redone so as to ensure the proper management of public finance.

I am pleased, therefore, to see that the essence of the bill has been recovered and that the wording from the budget legislation has been copied. It is therefore my pleasure to withdraw Bill C-277, particularly since it has been in force since June.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2005 / 7:10 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

I would like to remind hon. members that in June 2005, new rules governing private members' business were adopted. The provisions under Standing Order 97(1)(2) provide for a one hour debate for the consideration of a motion to concur in a committee report containing a recommendation not to proceed further with a private member's bill.

Tonight the House will consider a motion to concur in the 20th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts presented to the House on Wednesday, October 5, 2005. The report contains a recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General Act, audit of accounts.

During the debate no member shall speak more than once or for more than 10 minutes. There is no question and comment period.

In accordance with Standing Order 97(1)(2), the motion to concur in the report is deemed to be proposed.

The motion reads as follows:

That the 20th Report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-277, An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts), presented on Wednesday, October 5, 2005, be concurred in.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

October 7th, 2005 / noon
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The Speaker

I want to inform the House that, pursuant to Standing Order 97.1(2), I am designating Tuesday, October 18, 2005, as the day fixed for consideration of the concurrence motion on the twentieth report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

There is a recommendation in the report not to proceed with consideration of Bill C-277, An Act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts).

The debate on the motion will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., after which the House will proceed with the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

I would also like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 30, I am designating Thursday, October 20, as the day fixed for the consideration of private member's Motion No. 153 standing in the order of precedence in the name of the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

This additional private members' hour will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m., after which the House will proceed to the adjournment proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 5th, 2005 / 3:10 p.m.
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Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 20th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts concerning Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General's Act (audit of accounts). Mr. Speaker, your committee recommends that the House of Commons not proceed further with the bill as Bill C-43 achieves goals similar to those proposed in Bill C-277.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions among all parties and I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move that the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which asks for an additional 30 sitting days to consider Bill C-277, presented to the House earlier this day, be concurred in.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2005 / 10:05 a.m.
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Conservative

John Williams Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts concerning Chapter 1—Internal Audit in Departments and Agencies of the November 2004 report of the Auditor General of Canada.

In accordance with Standing Order 109, your committee requests a government response within 120 days.

I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 16th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts concerning Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts), and I intend to move concurrence in the report later this day.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:45 a.m.
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Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some emotion that I exercise my five minute right of reply before we conclude this debate. In the life of a parliamentarian, personally developing a bill and introducing it in the House for first reading and then consideration in second reading is a rather long, arduous and at times painstaking process. It is therefore with some emotion that I now see this bill reach the end of a stage. Moreover, throughout the debate on Bill C-277, I have been able to count on the cooperation, open-mindedness and professionalism of my hon. colleagues from all parties.

Some may say there are bad sides to a minority government, but there are good ones too. For instance, in the past little while, motions and bills from all parties have been receiving greater attention and consideration than before.

The week before the latest recess, my friend and colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles moved a motion on reversing the burden of proof. I had the privilege of speaking on this motion, saying that we have to take our blinders off and stop thinking that whatever comes from the Bloc or from Quebec is no good because they are all separatists. Our colleagues from all parties really considered the motion on its merits and content, and not just the messenger. That bodes very well.

As my hon. colleague from Hochelaga said, without presupposing how the House will decide, things are looking very good for Bill C-277 today. It may well be referred to committee and eventually be considered at third reading stage. It could enjoy a longer life, and perhaps even be passed. The process Bill C-277 is going through seems to be moving along very nicely.

At first, some colleagues had concerns about the scope of the bill with respect to private foundations or smaller foundations in their ridings or provinces. As the debate progressed, this irritant was eliminated.

As we had an opportunity to discuss the bill, other hon. members sitting on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts raised certain questions but they have not opposed it. These questions were completely legitimate and proper and caused us to work harder on how this bill was to be interpreted.

The final and most serious question was about the kind of audit done by the Auditor General. For the benefit of the House and Treasury Board officials, I shall quote from part of a reply I received from the Auditor General on these questions:

The new subsection 5(3) stipulates that the Auditor General may make such examinations and inquiries as he or she considers necessary in order to enable a report to be made in accordance with this act. This provision leads me to conclude that my office would conduct management audits only for all bodies other than crown corporations. This conclusion is based on the words “enable a report to be made in accordance with this Act”. The requirement to report under the Auditor General Act concerns management audits exclusively. The opinion expressed under section 6 of the Auditor General Act on the financial statements included in the public accounts is submitted to Parliament by the government.

The Auditor General concludes with this:

I hope that these comments will help you in your deliberations—

It was signed by Sheila Fraser.

I believe that all during the deliberations on this bill, my colleagues have offered concrete and constructive arguments to improve the bill and its interpretation.

I would be very pleased today if the House were to give its unanimous consent to send this bill to committee, for that would enable us to hear witnesses representing foundations, crown corporations and the Auditor General's office. In that way, we would be able to see what practical impact this bill would have on the management of the $7 billion in terms of the foundations.

I hope that everyone will agree that members of Parliament ought to have greater oversight over these foundations and public monies, and that the Auditor General will have the opportunity to audit and review these foundations and crown corporations.

I also want to thank all the hon. members who have spoken on Bill C-277.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Yes, because her appointment was supported by all parliamentarians. I think I can safely take it upon myself to say that Sheila Fraser has no enemies in this place. She is held in high esteem by everyone. This is a woman who has managed to exceed the expectations we had upon her appointment. In a sense, she is a clairvoyant. I think that all parliamentarians in this House will agree on that.

However, there are limits to what she can do. Even though, as everyone knows, she is a very enterprising and efficient woman, there are limits to what she can do, since there are a number of crown corporations that she cannot investigate. Bill C-277, introduced by the hon. member for Repentigny, would give the Auditor General the means to investigate and review, with her keen eye, Canada Post—of course, we have reasons to think it would be interesting to know more about what Canada Post is doing—the Bank of Canada, the Public Service Superannuation Plan, the Canada pension plan and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

One of the objectives of the hon. member's bill is to allow the Auditor General to act as auditor or joint auditor of crown corporations, which, until now, have not been subjected to her control.

I hope I am conveying fairly accurately our colleague's view when I say that, should his bill become law, what would make him particularly proud is the fact that the Auditor General would be able to follow very closely what is happening with the foundations. For the benefit of those who are watching us, I should point out that, over the past seven years, the federal government has transferred a little over $9 billion generated with Quebeckers' taxes.

At a press conference, the hon. member for Repentigny clearly said that the purpose of his bill was not to question the merits of these foundations, although we never agreed with them. It is the foundations themselves that are targeted, not their mandate or relevance. It is the mechanism through which the government is pursuing, with taxes paid by Quebeckers and Canadians, public policies without parliamentarians having any control over these initiatives.

As I was saying, over the past seven years, close to $9 billion has been transferred to foundations. I want to be a little more specific for the benefit of our viewers. What are we talking about here?

For example, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which conducts industrial research and so forth, was established in 1997. It has received $3.6 billion from Parliament, Treasury Board and the Department of Finance.

There was a problem with the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which was created in 1998 and which has received $2.5 billion. If I remember correctly, all the parties in the National Assembly were uncomfortable with the idea that the federal government could intervene by granting educational scholarships, for excellence in education, since it does not have the relevant or appropriate jurisdiction to do so.

The Canada Health Infoway, created in 2000, has received $1.2 billion. In 2000, its first year, Genome Canada received $375 million. In the most recent budget tabled by the Minister of Finance, its funding was increased, as we all know.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation, created in 1998, has received $350 million. Sustainable Development Technology Canada, created in 2001, has received $350 million. The Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, established in 1997, received $152 million in its first budget, but if I recall correctly, additional funds were allocated during the 2000 first ministers' conference.

Consequently, the hon. member for Repentigny did not tackle some sort of commonplace occurrence. There are billions of dollars going to foundations. So what is the dispute about, what is the basis of the problem? It is that both the Treasury Board and the Department of Finance take for granted that the moneys allocated to the foundations were actually spent by the government. Examples have been brought to our attention thanks to the vigilance of the Auditor General. We have learned that, in certain cases, money lay dormant in bank accounts for years. What is more, as we speak, although foundations were created back in 1999, 2000, 2001 or 2002, we know that the money has not always actually gone where it was intended, whether for research, bursaries, aboriginals or whatever. However, the federal government considers these as expenditures on its books.

This leads to two problems. As far as bookkeeping is concerned, it is dishonest. As far as policy is concerned, it lacks transparency. As far as Parliament is concerned, it is unacceptable, because accountability is obviously lacking.

In some countries this is cause for revolution. I wonder, in our parliamentary history—the hon. member for Repentigny knows the answer since he was a popular history teacher—what was the ministerial accountability in 1848? It was precisely that parliamentarians should monitor the budgets meticulously and with a sense of detail. Throughout our constitutional history, no one has been prepared to give up or cut down on the prerogatives of parliamentarians for that type of control.

The prerogatives of parliamentarians were given up, not subtly, but surreptitiously—there is no other word for it—and it was accepted as normal that the foundations should not have to come under the close scrutiny of parliamentarians.

We must thank the hon. member for Repentigny, and his assistant, for all the vigilance he demonstrated with this bill he introduced in this House. Out of pure respect for the prerogatives of parliamentarians, the best thing that could happen would be for this bill to receive support from all parties, and for it to be sent to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for improvement, if necessary.

In my opinion, Parliament would be better for it and better equipped in terms of public accounts. This will be a lasting contribution by the hon. member for Repentigny to the development and future of our work.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-277, introduced by our likeable and endearing colleague from Repentigny. Today is a historic day in certain respects, as there is great hope that it will see this bill passed, without presupposing what the House intends to do, of course.

The hon. member for Repentigny, who is our critic for the Treasury Board and public accounts, has been very well advised to introduce a bill which, frankly, adds transparency, integrity and even broadness of outlook to our legislative process. His goal is to ensure that, as parliamentarians, we have total control over the funds allocated by the government. We are not talking about private foundations. I realize that, in very specific cases, foundations would still be able to use private mechanisms. But, for the most part, we are dealing with creatures of Parliament established by acts of Parliament, with respect to which it is appropriate, fair and wise that parliamentarians be able to follow how this funding is used.

As I understand it, the bill introduced by the hon. member for Repentigny has three main purposes. This is a very well-thought-out and relevant bill, as were all the other bills he has introduced in this House. He is a very prolific member in terms of legislation.

First, reference is made to the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, whom everyone holds in high esteem. Can the Auditor General be considered an officer of the House?

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-277 and to compliment the member for Repentigny on his noble purpose in this private member's bill. Without hesitation, I applaud the intention to expand the scope of the Office of the Auditor General. It is a measure that I know the residents of my community feel is long overdue.

The Auditor General has become somewhat of a hero to all of us, but perhaps not to the government, which cringes every time she sheds more light on its mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars.

As an officer of Parliament, the Auditor General serves us well with the thorough audits of the accounts of federal government departments. However, there are currently many organizations, funded with billions of tax dollars, which she does not have the authority to investigate. These federal crown corporations include the Bank of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Telefilm Canada, the International Development Research Centre and the National Arts Centre Corporation.

Beyond these significant corporations that operate with taxpayers' money, there are also numerous foundations that receive the majority of their funding from the government. These include: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, Canada Health Infoway Inc., Genome Canada, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology and the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation.

There are also endowment funds, which include the following: the Green Municipal Funds, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the Pacific Salmon Endowment Fund Society, the Canadian Institute for Research on Linguistic Minorities, the University of Moncton and Frontier College Learning Foundation.

Other foundations also include: the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Green Municipal Enabling Fund, Precarn, the Canadian Network for the Advancement Research, Industry and Education, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the Canadian Centre for Learning and Development.

To my mind, any organization established and operated on government funding needs to be open to the appropriate scrutiny to ensure that Canadians are being served well and our money is being spent responsibly.

I sat on the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which gives out $100 million a year, and I can assure the House that what the government is doing pales in comparison to the levels of scrutiny and accountability we faced for $100 million. The levels of accountability were far more significant for only $100 million than they are for the billions of dollars we are talking about here today. I believe there should be more scrutiny of this money.

All Canadians deserve this overdue accountability. During my last election campaign, accountability was the central issue in my community. People have lost trust and confidence in their government and its institutions and, based on a recent survey, I would say in politicians as well. I do not blame them.

It was because of this that I lost trust in this government and decided to run for office and advocate for accountability. Over the past 11 years of the Liberal government we have seen shocking scandals involving grants, contributions and government contracts. This was driven home again last week by the continued revelations at the Gomery commission.

The Auditor General has led numerous investigations into government mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. It is clear that the government is incapable of managing taxpayers' dollars in a prudent manner. Government spending has continued unabated and with little accountability. Funds are too often being used for all the wrong reasons. This government needs a watchdog with sharp teeth and a strong bite to keep it in line.

The federal government spends approximately $18 billion a year on various grants and contributions and another $13 billion annually in awarding government contracts. This is a staggering amount of taxpayers' dollars and we trust our government to spend it responsibly.

Unfortunately, experience has shown us that we have misplaced that trust. Unarguably, a serious review of all government spending is required. Canadians have found out in recent years that the Prime Minister's companies received $161 million of taxpayers' money, not the $137,000 originally claimed by the government.

We have also watched $100 million disappear into thin air as government friendly communications agencies were paid millions of dollars in commissions and fees, with little or no service provided to the federal government or to Canadians. The gun registry was supposed to cost $2 million and is now costing us $2 billion, and $1 billion in grants and contributions at Human Resources Development Canada was misappropriated.

The list seems endless. What is really scary is that these abuses of tax dollars took place in departments that were subject to investigation by the Auditor General. We all have to wonder what other horrible mismanagement we may uncover through the extension of audits to a broader spectrum of the government departments and other organizations that receive government funding.

What we do not know does in fact hurt us. That is why it is so important to find out how federal crown corporations and other bodies established by Parliament and funded by Canadian taxpayers' dollars are managing Canadian resources and funding.

We need transparency and accuracy in all the accounting of government finances, whether that is for a government department like defence, a government corporation like Canada Post or an at arm's length foundation like Canada Health Infoway.

The Auditor General has stated that since 1997 the government has transferred $9.1 billion to 15 foundations. As of March 31, 2004, $7.7 billion was either still in the foundations' bank accounts and investments accumulating interest or was a receivable from the government, yet the government has already recorded these transfers as expenses.

The Auditor General has also stated that she is concerned about the manner in which these foundations are funded, the accounting for transfers and the accountability regime for the foundations. With her current mandate, she has no authority to audit any of these foundations even though this is taxpayers' money.

As a matter of fact, there is absolutely no parliamentary accountability or scrutiny of these foundations whatsoever. Can members believe that this government, which is constantly telling us that it believes in transparency and accountability, has not taken into account the Auditor General's own recommendations, year after year, on being able to review and audit these foundation books?

Nine billion dollars of hard-earned taxpayer dollars have been handed over with absolutely no parliamentary perusal or scrutiny or even a review by the Auditor General. Not only is this reckless, but this government's unaccountability is totally unacceptable.

Again, I agree with the objective of this bill. The Auditor General should most definitely have access to all the government books. I will support this bill's passage in principle. There is some loose wording that needs to be tightened, such as specifying that the Auditor General should be the Auditor General of any federal crown corporation rather than just crown corporations, as the bill currently reads. However, I am certain that the appropriate amendments, which we will propose at the committee level, can address such items.

I also think this bill should be expanded upon. Along with providing access to all government books to the Office of the Auditor General, we need to include access to the books of other outside organizations such as foundations, and we need to provide appropriate resources for the Auditor General to fully and completely execute her duties to the best of her ability.

There is no doubt that the cost of implementing expanded audit services will be substantial. However, the benefits of enhanced scrutiny are well worth the initial cost. The public's trust and confidence in government operations need to be restored and that can only happen through rigid accountability measures.

In fact, I would argue that the Auditor General should be authorized and directed to conduct expedited audits on all federal grant and contribution programs and contracting policies. Granting programs should be reviewed every five years on an ongoing basis at an absolute minimum.

As well, the government should act on the Auditor General's recommendations rather than just let them gather dust.

I would have no problem in supporting increased funding for internal audit functions and I am sure many of my esteemed colleagues would feel the same. The payoff for all Canadians would be tremendous. With a clear and accurate picture of how our tax dollars are spent, we could finally move forward in meeting the concrete demands of Canadians by providing more focused federal government that gives better service to all of us.

We would spend our money more wisely and clean up government waste and mismanagement. As a result, we could provide to Canadians both more efficient government and tax relief.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-277, proposed by the hon. member for Repentigny.

In principle, the government supports the intent of the member's bill regarding improved oversight of federal government entities, such as crown corporations, as well as not for profit organizations, such as foundations that have received significant federal assistance.

As we have already mentioned, the Government of Canada has made a commitment to improving accountability and has taken practical steps toward more transparency for the Canadian public.

That is the context in which the President of the Treasury Board tabled the report on crown corporation governance in the House of Commons on February 17.

In that report, the Government of Canada promised to amend the relevant legislation, including the Financial Administration Act and the statutes governing crown corporations, to ensure that, first, the Auditor General is designated the sole or joint external auditor for all crown corporations; second, that the Office of the Auditor General has the power to conduct special audits, focusing on value for money in all crown corporations; third, special audits are governed by an audit strategy based on the risk associated with each crown corporation, taking into account each corporation's complexity, field of activity and changes in its operational and strategic environment; and finally, that a protocol should be concluded with the Auditor General to ensure that commercially sensitive information is protected when special audit reports are presented to Parliament.

These amendments would include and go even further than the private member's bill.

In addition we are also concerned, as the hon. member has said, about the need for increased oversight over federal government institutions.

The Office of the Auditor General vigorously supports the measures outlined in the report on governance of crown corporations. It considers this the most complete review done in 20 years on this issue.

The government believes that these proposals are clearly a more efficient solution than that suggested by the hon. member for Repentigny to improving the transparency and accountability of crown corporations.

With respect to not for profit organizations, such as foundations, I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the commitments made in budget 2003 to improve accountability and transparency. At that time the government undertook to amend funding agreements to incorporate, among many other measures, provisions for compliance audits and evaluations, and the recovery of funds in the event of default or wind-up.

It also undertook to strengthen the reporting of plans and results to Parliament. The Auditor General has recognized the improvements that have taken place in this area. She has recognized that the government has amended these funding arrangements to deliver on its commitments of improved accountability and transparency.

The government recognizes that the Auditor General would like to see the government go further in the areas of audit, evaluation and ministerial oversight. In the government's response to her recommendations, we indicated that we would continue to work with the Auditor General to resolve these issues. The government is following through on this commitment and discussions are progressing well with the Auditor General. As we gain a better understanding of each other's views on these issues, we are hopeful that any issues will be successfully resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

As an example, the office of the Auditor General recently indicated to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Senate national finance committee that the office's thinking has evolved with respect to the audit of foundations. Previously, the office had taken the position that it should be the auditor of these organizations. This has now changed based on discussions with the government and the fact that the office of the Auditor General has no concerns with the financial audits that are being done by private sector auditors on the foundation.

I think this is important. It must not be thought that foundations and non profit corporations are not audited or reviewed.

Its real priority is to conduct performance or value for money audits in these organizations. The government also recognizes the motion from the member for Medicine Hat that was passed by the House on February 22. The government has expressed its desire to work with parliamentarians to address the concerns related to these arrangements.

The President of the Treasury Board has indicated that he would welcome a debate to find a solution to the problem. He has indicated that he does not support the motion in principle as it calls for automatically appointing the Auditor General as auditor. Similar to the Auditor General, he does not see this as the solution or the real priority.

I too do not see the bill's proposals as the best solution. I believe there are more effective solutions possible and support the government working with the Auditor General to find these solutions. One specific concern I have is that the bill would extend the Auditor General's powers into entities created or controlled by other levels of government.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize that I support the idea of broadening the Auditor General's role to include auditing or joint auditing of crown corporations, if the mechanisms for implementing this concept are examined more closely.

This government is committed to enhancing accountability and welcomes constructive input from all members of the House. The time we are devoting today to the motion in question highlights our eagerness to listen and consult on all matters before Parliament.

If the bill goes forward I would encourage the public accounts committee to carefully examine it and I expect that the committee will take into account the views of both the Auditor General and the government on the appropriate role of the Auditor General in the audits of independent organizations.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of Bill C-277. Its summary states that the enactment amends the Auditor General Act in order to allow the Auditor General of Canada to act as auditor or joint auditor of crown corporations, certain other bodies established by acts of Parliament and certain corporate entities without share capital.

Let me turn to another bill for a moment, Bill C-39, which has already been before the House. It is the enabling legislation for the first ministers' accord on health care and it sets up a third party trust for wait times reduction transfer. The Government of Canada will set that money aside this year but it allows the provinces to draw upon that money until 2009. The House will not review that agreement until 2008. That is a lengthy period of time without oversight on how that money will be spent.

If the Auditor General were allowed to audit the foundation there would be transparency to Canadians and all their demands on health care funding. It is absolutely essential that we commit to openness and transparency in funding that is being spent by the government on behalf of taxpayers.

I want to quote from a document I found useful in considering how health care funding is provided. It is from the CCAF and the Canadian Healthcare Association. The document is entitled, “Principles for Governance, Management Accountability and Shared Responsibility”. It states:

Health system partners need to demonstrate commitment to public transparency and accountability. They do this by explaining to, and involving the public in, what they plan to do, how well the system is performing, and the implications of both.

A third party foundation that has no parliamentary oversight is not the way to achieve public transparency. If the government continues to insist on using these bodies as a way of providing funding, we need to provide the public with confidence that this money is being spent well, that the money is providing the benefit the public needs and that any deficiencies are being identified and acted upon. We do not want to see a repeat of needing to implement a Gomery inquiry.

Another part of that report reads:

Reporting principles and standards are key to the integrity and utility of reported information and aprerequisite for fair comparisons and benchmarking.

These are critical elements in terms of what we have seen over the last several years of various private practices in accounting like Enron.

The Auditor General provides Canadians with reporting principles and standards in regard to how tax dollars are spent, principles and standards the Liberals seem willing to ignore by salting money away in foundations instead of spending it in a transparent manner. The bill would give Canadians some assurance that money directed into foundations is being spent appropriately.

I would like to turn to another foundation, Canada Health Infoway Inc. It was set up in 2001 to help develop efficient data systems for health care. Make no mistake, the NDP knows that more efficient methods of health information transfer are absolutely vital to our Canadian system, but how do we know if Canada Health Infoway is providing good value on that strategy? Four years after it was set up, the need for improved methods of health information transfer is still front and centre with the wait times reduction fund, the need to better understand what parts of the country are underserviced by health professionals and as a way of developing a comprehensive pharmacare system.

In a recent article in the Ottawa Sun the headline read, “Suspect Worst of Foundations”. The article reads:

Canada Health Infoway Inc: Set up in 2001 to help develop efficient data systems for health care, the foundation so far has managed to spend $30 million administering $51 million in grants. (How's that for efficiency?)

These are the kinds of facts and figures that cry out for the need to have the Auditor General look at what is happening with these foundations, instead of treating them as an arm's length mechanism to tuck away funds that do not have the kind of oversight that parliamentarians should have over these kinds of funds.

When we are talking about oversight and transparency, another bill is being put forward to the House, Bill C-201, which talks about the need to look at crown corporations and access to information. It is just another example of how private members need to bring forward business to encourage the government and the rest of the House to really walk the talk when we are talking about transparency and accountability.

I would urge all members from all parties to support this very worthwhile private member's bill.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

March 21st, 2005 / 11 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously, it is a great pleasure for me to speak today to Bill C-277, an act to amend the Auditor General Act (audit of accounts).

First, I want to pay tribute to the efforts of my colleague from Repentigny, who is expertly leading this battle. Everyone knows he is an experienced, dynamic and clever MP, who has been here since 1993. I hope that Bill C-277, an all-encompassing bill, will therefore receive strong support from both sides of the House and all four political parties, in order that it may pass.

For a long time, the Bloc Québécois has been trying to make the various federal foundations more transparent. In our opinion, the best solution would be to abolish them and ensure that parliamentarians retain control over public funds. If that is not possible, we believe that it is imperative to increase our control over these foundations, as well as their accountability.

So that everyone both inside and outside the House can truly understand what we are talking about, we need to ask ourselves a few simple questions and try to answer as best we can.

The aim of Bill C-277 is to refocus the public debate on the approximately $9.1 billion that has been allocated to federal foundations since 1997.

We are introducing Bill C-277 because the federal government is misappropriating part of its huge surpluses by investing in foundations that are outside Parliament's control, and therefore outside the control of the people's elected representatives and the Auditor General.

This tactic allows the federal government, among other things, to invest in an underhanded manner in areas of jurisdiction for which Quebec and the provinces are directly responsible. So this is a way for Ottawa, in this case, to use the back-door approach when it cannot use the front door.

The way to avoid this is, first, to adopt Bill C-277, which will give the Auditor General the right to examine how taxpayers' money is spent.

Five organizations and crown corporations do not fall under the authority of the Auditor General but would if the bill introduced by my friend from Repentigny were adopted. They are Canada Post, the Business Development Bank of Canada, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the civil service superannuation plan and the Canada pension plan.

As for the foundations, we are talking about those paid $100 million or more. I think we agree that $100 million is a bit more than pocket change. Obviously we are talking about some very large amounts that require at the very least some scrutiny by parliamentarians. In fact, one of MPs' primary responsibilities is keeping an eye on taxpayers' dollars, the various types of taxes that millions of Quebeckers and Canadians pay into the federal coffers.

I certainly do not wish to denigrate the work done by my colleague from Repentigny in any way, but he really has not reinvented the wheel in fact. He merely wants to put into practice within a legislative framework the recommendations of both the Auditor General and the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

The idea behind this bill, contrary to what some may have heard, is not a reaction to the sponsorship scandal, although I could spend a lot of time on that. As you know, the Gomery inquiry has almost as large a Canadian TV audience as popular series like Les Bougon . The source of the initiative is not the sponsorship scandal, but rather three specific documents.

First of all, there is the Auditor General's report. I would remind hon. members that the Auditor General is not political; she is instead an officer of Parliament, that is of all of us. In April 2002 she tabled her report, and the accompanying press release reads as follows:

Substantial amounts of public money have been transferred to foundations. I am concerned by the limits placed on Parliament's ability to scrutinize them.

Later, she stated:

The audit found significant gaps and weaknesses in the design of delegated arrangements;

limits on what the Auditor General can look at, which prevents her from giving Parliament proper assurance that the use of federal funds and authorities is appropriate;

the “parking” of billions of dollars of the public's money in foundations, years before it is to flow to the intended recipients;

little recourse for the government when things go wrong; and

limited opportunity for Parliament to scrutinize these delegated arrangements.

We found that the essential requirements for accountability to Parliament-credible reporting of results, effective ministerial oversight, and adequate external audit-are not being met.

So that was back in April 2002. In accordance with parliamentary procedure as we know it, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts examined the report in April 2002, and tabled its report in turn in May 2003. It will soon be two years since that date.

What did it say? There was one key recommendation, which read:

That, for those foundations either created through legislation, or receiving significant federal funding [...] the federal government appoint the Auditor General of Canada as external auditor of these foundations.

The Standing Committee on Public Accounts was talking about $500 million. My colleague from Repentigny wanted to reduce that amount to $100 million, which, in my opinion, is quite reasonable.

However, in response to this recommendation, the government said:

Requiring foundations to accept the public sector type standards and operations as well as establishing the Auditor General of Canada as their auditor as identified in recommendations eight through thirteen, could undermine the independence of foundations, reduce their operational flexibility—

In my opinion, this response is completely false and foolish, perhaps even slightly crazy. I hope this was merely a slip of the tongue by the government and I hope the government will support Bill C-277.

The purpose of this bill is simply to make public funds management more transparent. The Prime Minister is the one who described himself as the slayer of what he called the democratic deficit. One way to get rid of the democratic deficit is to give back to elected parliamentarians all the tools and means necessary to closely monitor the work of parliamentarians, legislative work and governmental work. One way to help parliamentarians do so is to provide all the information they might need, for example: where do taxpayer dollars go? What do the foundations do with these billions of dollars in public money? What do Crown corporations do with this money from Quebec and Canadian taxpayers?

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my congratulations to my colleague from Repentigny for being highly effective in this matter. I urge my colleagues from the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP to support this bill, which I would describe as inclusive, as it is non partisan. Simply put, this bill will provide us with all the necessary tools to do what is required of us under this British parliamentary system, which is to control the actions of the government and thereby help the Auditor General help us.

The BudgetGovernment Orders

March 8th, 2005 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, to reassure my colleague who just spoke, I can tell him that the interpretation was interrupted for about 40 seconds. Since we were listening attentively to his speech, we were able to point this out right away. So he did not have to begin all over again. We clearly heard him and, above all, we listened attentively.

I want to thank my colleague for one part of his speech that I particularly enjoyed. I am talking about the part on accountability and when he asks the Auditor General to look at how the funds are administered by, for example, the Canada Health Infoway and the other foundations.

I am happy to learn from his speech that the Standing Committee on Health introduced a motion on this, which was carried by a majority vote. I also want to remind him that his party devoted an opposition day to this subject. That motion won by a majority vote in the House. However, since he has shared this with me, I will gladly share with him that, on March 21, we will be discussing Bill C-277 in the House, to allow the Auditor General to audit all the foundations. His party, through the chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, has already shown support.

So, I would like to hear his comments on this part, whether he agrees with giving the Auditor General oversight with regard to the Canada Health Infoway and all the other foundations too? Also, once he has read the bill, does he intend to support all legislation seeking to achieve that objective?