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Evidence of meeting #18 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 billion.

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
Bill Matthews  Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat
Christine Walker  Assistant Secretary and Chief Financial Officer, Corporate Services, Treasury Board Secretariat
Sally Thornton  Executive Director, Expenditure Operations and Estimates, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I think this pertains to M. Boulerice's comments as well. Indeed, I think it's important that we continue to look for ways to present the information in a clear way, in the way in which these funds were intended. We certainly heard from the Auditor General about that point, that it was an important concept, and we do agree with that.

What we've been doing is chipping away at certain practices that have been around for decades in some cases, and are not helpful now in the 21st century in terms of transparency and so forth. We shall continue to work with departments and agencies. I've directed the secretary and her staff to do that. And in order to aid parliamentarians in their consideration of the estimates, we'll be making sure that we can link funding horizontal initiatives from one supplementary estimates to the next during the fiscal year. It will be easier to compare things in supplementary estimates (B) with the other estimates that might be found in supplementary estimates (A), for instance. I think that will be very helpful.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

You must have been talking to Mike about that, Minister, have you?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

The Mike Wallace amendment.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

We appreciate all the input. Keep those cards and letters coming.

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Okay, thank you Andrew.

Next for the NDP, Mathieu Ravignat.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thanks to the minister for being here and answering some questions. My questions concern the Auditor General.

The interim Auditor General has announced cuts of $6.5 million annually to their $88 million budget. The AG's office will also stop performing separate financial audits of close to 20 small government agencies, boards, and commissions. Of course, we know that these have has been very useful in the past. For example, it was the Auditor General's office that uncovered problems at the Office of the Integrity Commissioner.

My question to you is, why are you planning on cutting the Office of the Auditor General? Doesn't it save taxpayers' money by auditing?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Let me explain the situation. Of course, the Auditor General is an agent of Parliament and we respect his or her independence. That's also true for the House of Commons, as well as other agencies that are independent of government. I did take it upon myself, as President of the Treasury Board, to write to these various other branches of our democracy and indicate to them that government departments and agencies are pursuing a particular plan to see if they can cut their budgets by 5% or up to 10%, and that I would appreciate their input, on a voluntary basis, to see whether they could do the same.

The Auditor General communicated back, quite keen to participate on a voluntary basis in this initiative, understanding that, perhaps, the Auditor General has to lead by example in some cases. So he has been pursuing this. He does not review that with me. He makes those decisions himself, and certainly we are very encouraging of that. For you to be aware, I've written the same letter to the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate, and it would be very encouraging of them to do the same thing.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Minister, for that information.

Who is going to perform the financial audits of close to 20 small government agencies?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Well, I think it will--

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Are you going to be going to external consultants to do that?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

No.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

If you do, won't there be a cost?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Sure. What we're doing, obviously, is....

First of all, in case you're unaware, we have a lot of internal audit processes in government. It's not as if we rely on the Auditor General to be everywhere, because that would be impossible. There's a whole parallel system of auditing that takes place within government. We have a Comptroller General, with whom I met recently, whose job is to work with the various departments and agencies to make sure that pennies are accounted for and dollars are accounted for. That's their job.

Perhaps you can elaborate on that, Michelle.

3:50 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

Thank you.

The Auditor General's proposals are really to look at.... They audit, for example, whether the reports have been produced to meet a standard. In those instances, the Auditor General is not removing himself or herself from a performance audit. On the contrary, they've identified areas where, in fact, their auditing of either reports or financial statements duplicates what is currently under way.

So they are not removing themselves from their core practice, which is the performance audit. In effect, in a lot of the areas where there was duplication, the Auditor General is going to be increasingly relying on internal audit, as the minister indicated, because that is something the government has strengthened and improved.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Thank you very much for that. That's great.

To continue with the Auditor General, particularly the report, you released this week a letter about the fall 2010 report by the Auditor General, which I will quote. The letter said:

My officials at the Treasury Board Secretariat are following up on the Economic Action Plan audit recommendations to ensure that we continue to provide strong advice and guidance in the design of similar programs.

What concrete steps will you be taking to follow through on his recommendations? What are the concrete steps?

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I think I was referring a little bit to that earlier, in response to the earlier question, in terms of how these are presented to parliamentarians. I completely agree with the Auditor General's report that it is important to make sure that parliamentarians are able to follow the dollars and to make sure they are presented transparently. That direction has gone out. As I mentioned, we are working with departments and agencies.

I don't know, Bill, if you have any update on that.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

It's a little worrying that I'm not hearing anything concrete.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Well, I think we....

Sure, Michelle.

3:50 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

For example, one of the elements is how departments report on horizontal activity. The economic action plan had some elements that were cross-cutting. We are working with departments so that they can be as precise as possible—and in fact, you are finding some of the results of that in the current supplementary estimates (B).

In terms of the....

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

They can be precise about what?

3:50 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

It's the horizontal activities, where there are more than one—

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

What are these horizontal activities?

3:50 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Mathieu, your time has expired, actually. I'm sorry, you'll have to continue that in another round.

Next, for the Conservatives, we have Jacques Gourde.

Jacques, you have five minutes.