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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

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

I call to order the 18th meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Today we have the honour of the presence of the Honourable Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, who will speak to the supplementary estimates (B).

Minister, you are always welcome here. Thank you for coming.

On a point of order, Mr. Casey.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Could I ask that the minister be sworn in?

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

No, I won't entertain that practice. Any witness to our committee is deemed to be under oath.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

It isn't without precedent, sir. Committees are the masters of their own procedure.

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

If you don't like the ruling of the chair you can challenge the ruling of the chair. That's as far as it's going to go.

Minister, you have the floor.

3:30 p.m.

Parry Sound—Muskoka Ontario

Conservative

Tony Clement ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I am pleased to be here to discuss the supplementary estimates (B) 2011-12 for the government and for the Treasury Board Secretariat as well.

With me today from the Treasury Board of Canada are Michelle d'Auray, Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, and Bill Matthews, Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management. That is all for the moment.

We are here to respond to your questions on these estimates.

Before doing that I would like to go over the basics of the supply process, if I may. The supplementary estimates support the request for Parliament's approval for expenditures that were already planned for in the budget but for which the necessary approval had not been obtained in time to be included in the main estimates.

Typically, the government tables supplementary estimates three times a year, in May or June, in October or November, and toward the end of the fiscal year in February or March. An equally important part of the supply process is the departmental performance reports and the reports on plans and priorities. Last Thursday, I tabled the DPRs, or departmental performance reports, for 2010-11. These reports are the primary means by which departments and agencies report their performance against the plans and expected results set out in their reports on plans and priorities.

I'm pleased to say that this year the departmental performance reports are primarily being made available to parliamentarians and Canadians electronically on the TBS website rather than in volumes of thousands of pages. By doing this we're delivering on our commitments to Canadians to be more cost-effective, sustainable, and modern. Indeed, we save the printing costs of three million pages in so doing. We have also taken other efforts to improve the accessibility and accountability of information about government spending. On November 30 departments and agencies' second quarterly financial reports will be posted on their websites. This quarterly financial reporting ensures that parliamentarians and Canadians have access to information on government spending on a timely basis.

Let me now focus on the highlights of supplementary estimates (B) for the government as a whole. The supplementary estimates (B) 2011-12 present $4.3 billion of expenditures in 68 organizations for which Parliament's authority will be sought through a supply bill. This is similar to amounts in previous supplementary estimates (B), the $4.4 billion in voted appropriations in 2010-11, and the $4.9 billion in 2009-10.

These supplementary estimates (B) set out the government's request for funding to continue investing in the Canadian economy, so that it can continue to grow and create jobs, while keeping taxes low. They also reflect the government's commitment to responsible spending. Let me just mention a few of the highlights.

The estimates include the economic action plan funds that have been reprofiled from previous years to complete infrastructure projects already approved and under way. These include $709 million for the infrastructure stimulus fund, $163 million for the Building Canada fund communities component top-up, and $35 million for recreational infrastructure. And Natural Resources Canada is seeking $470 million to strengthen Canada's economy and improve its environmental performance. Part of this is for grants to homeowners to implement energy efficiency improvements.

Let me also comment on the supplementary estimates (B) for the Treasury Board Secretariat. My department is presenting additional requirements of $39.2 million, as well as a transfer of $70.8 million to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and to the Department of National Defence.

The request for an increase in operational spending includes $15.5 million for the engagement of external experts to provide an independent view and perspective on the strategic and operating review initiative. A compensation adjustment of $11.5 million is required for the employees of the federal public administration, due to the signing of collective agreements for public servants and members of the RCMP. These payments are government-wide and the increases are consistent with the Budget 2010 cost containment measures. There's also funding for the Red Tape Reduction Commission, a Budget 2010 and 2011 priority, and the financial interoperability and stewardship initiative to improve the exchange and integration of financial systems and data.

There is the $70.8 million transfer to Foreign Affairs and International Trade and to National Defence for the cost of management of pension insurance and social security programs for locally engaged staff abroad. This will ensure that the roles and responsibilities for human resource management are properly aligned.

In total, the items presented in the supplementary estimates (B) represent a net reduction of $31.6 million in 2011-12 planned expenditures for the Treasury Board Secretariat.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my preliminary remarks.

Certainly I'd be available now, and my colleagues I work with, to address any questions the committee may have on these estimates.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you, Minister. I'm sure the committee members have questions regarding the estimates.

For the official opposition, the first questioner is Alexandre Boulerice.

You have five minutes, Alexandre, for questions and responses. So please keep them concise.

November 24th, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

I'll try.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

It's just a recommendation.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank you for being here, Minister. It is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with you.

You are responsible for managing approximately $280 billion for the entire Canadian government. That is a substantial amount.

I am going to try to use these five minutes to get some more information about your priorities, and that will answer some questions.

According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the only place in this year's supplementary estimates where there really are large cuts is in green infrastructure. He mentions 59% less. This is an initiative that was launched in 2009, out of a total budget of $1 billion for five years.

According to the Public Accounts of Canada reports, $5 million was spent in 2009-2010 and $34 million in 2010-2011, and $65 million is planned for 2011-2012.

That means this program still has 90% of its budget, for the last two years of the program. So the questions are fairly simple.

Why is there so much money in the last two years of the green infrastructure program? Is the program having problems? Is it in connection with the implementation of the program?

Should that money have been spent, or could it have been spent, elsewhere?

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Those are very important questions.

It is important to say that in managing funds, you have to have an action plan that works, that is useful and that Canadians can support.

The Secretary of the Treasury Board can also answer the questions.

3:35 p.m.

Michelle d'Auray Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Some time was needed for projects and project development to be done, to meet the criteria. Within those funds there are initiatives, like carbon capture, that take a fair bit of time to develop.

Projects have now been evaluated and we do anticipate being able to spend the funds over the remaining years of the program.

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Thank you.

It is difficult to search and dig through the supplementary estimates (B) to try to understand and dissect all of the information there, what amounts will be reduced, and why there is spending for a particular item. Because a lot of things are combined. It is sometimes difficult for us as parliamentarians to follow the puck, as they say in hockey. In fact, Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, says it is difficult for parliamentarians to follow and they just approve what comes from Treasury Board.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer is also seriously concerned about the fact that we are losing control of spending. Although the government says it is going to rationalize, it is going to cut certain services, we see that the budget keeps growing, year after year. It is as if no one has any hold over it and no one is able to control anything.

Just with respect to personnel expenditures, in spite of budget cuts, the strategic review and attrition of positions, we see that spending for personnel, for employees, keeps going up. Even in the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 budgets, this spending has neither stabilized nor declined; it is still going up.

What is going on in your department?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

It is important to have regulation. In order to manage the Economic Action Plan, we have to be transparent, employees have to have the tools to manage these funds. Of course it is important to have an Economic Action Plan at this time in our history. It is necessary to have plans to protect jobs, to have funds that can—

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

I have only a little time left, Minister. On the subject of the Economic Action Plan, how can you explain the fact that you are still unable to tell us how many jobs have been preserved or created, when $47 million in spending has been incurred?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

The Minister of Finance has promised that this answer would be given in 2012, when we have calculated the results for all the programs that will have been put in place. This is important. A report will be published in 2012.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

That's your time, Alexandre. Thank you.

For the Conservatives, Andrew Saxton for five minutes.

Andrew, go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's a pleasure to be back at government operations. Thank you very much, and I appreciate being here.

Thank you to our witnesses, as well, for coming here today.

Minister, a special thank you to you. I understand you have a very busy schedule and that you have to leave at 4:30 p.m. for other commitments, so I'll get right into my questions.

There's a lot of money in the supply bill when it gets voted in Parliament. Would you be able to remind the House how much money was in last year's supply bill, and what the difference is this year, if any?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Yes, I think I do have that, Mr. Saxton.

In 2011-12, there was $250.8 billion in the main estimates. There was $2 billion in supplementary (A,) and $6.6 billion in supplementary (B), for a total of $259.4 billion. That's for 2011-12.

For last year's supply bill, I'm looking to my colleague, Mr. Matthews.

3:40 p.m.

Bill Matthews Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat

Sure. Last year, 2010-11, the main estimates came in at $261.6. billion. There was a supplementary estimates (A) for $1.9 billion, and a supplementary estimates (B) for $3.1 billion, for a total of $266.6 billion.

For those of you who may recollect last year, there was a supplementary estimate (C) tabled, but it was never actually turned into an appropriation act, so we have not included it in the totals.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you very much.

Minister, Canadians elected our government to return to a balanced budget and get out of deficit. In Budget 2010, the government announced cost-containment measures on operational spending. Why, then, has operational spending increased by $2.8 billion this year?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Well, I can certainly assure you that there have been some cost containment measures that have been put in place, including the restraint measures that were in place for this year's budget and last year's budget.

I can tell you that the operating budgets for federal organizations that are appropriated by Parliament have remained frozen at the levels established in 2010-11, until at least 2012-13.

There were some exceptions to that, including the clean energy programs, which I think we've already been talking about a little bit, and the economic action plan spending to complete some infrastructure projects. I think there was $708 million in that total.

Then we have legal obligations. They are statutory and include parental benefits, severance, out of court settlements, as well as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development payments to Indian residential schools settlement agreement recipients.

Those are some exceptions, and they obviously indicate that there are certain envelopes that have cost containment and others, for valid reasons, that do not.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

I know the major spending initiative over the past few years of this government has been Canada's economic action plan. Is there any information in supplementary estimates (B) on EAP funding this year?

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

There is in fact. There are certainly provisions found in supplementary estimates (B) that deal with the extension of certain infrastructure programs in order to allow for the completion of projects that were already approved and under way. You might recall, after consulting with municipalities, we made that decision and felt it was important that there might be extenuating circumstances where these projects could not be completed on time. Rather than stop the projects in mid-track, we continued with this extension. That information, and the numbers associated with it, do appear in supplementary estimates (B). As an example, there is $708.6 million to complete provincial, territorial, and municipal infrastructure projects; and there is $163 million specifically for the needs of smaller communities. Regional development agencies have $35 million to complete their construction activities relating to recreational infrastructure, the rink program, that you may remember as MPs, and so forth. Those, in fact, do show up in the supplementary estimates.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Conservative North Vancouver, BC

Thank you.

Finally, the Auditor General made some recommendations as to how to display the estimates documents in a better fashion. What progress has been made in that regard?