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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

4:15 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

There are 40 seconds left, if you had any other thoughts.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Well, the only other thing I'd mention is the horizontal issue that was dropped before.

Do you want to elaborate on that?

4:15 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

The horizontal items are actually found on page 205, and they are described, as we have started to do, in a bit more detail. For example, the clean energy programs and the remediation of contaminated sites are described.

We are trying to give parliamentarians an update on what the activities or initiatives are that cover more than one organization, and to provide the information to you on a total basis of what is being requested and what has been requested to date for these initiatives.

One of the comments that had been made a number of times was that, when more than one organization is identified, the requests for funds in the estimates are all identified per organization but that it is very difficult for parliamentarians to get a sense of the initiatives that cross more than one. We have now grouped them, and you can trace them back into the individual votes for the individual organizations. You can also see them rolled up, described, and the amounts identified per organization in these estimates. It is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction so that you can actually....

Then in the next sets of estimates you will also see if there are any additional requirements related to these, and in which estimates they have been requested, if I can put it that way.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Anything further will have to wait for the next round.

4:20 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

It's not great English, but the meaning is there.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

It's easier to go through it this way.

4:20 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

It is. You have them all here.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you, Madame d'Auray.

Thank you, Scott.

Alexandre, you have five minutes, please.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

I am going to be sharing my time, if I don't talk too much, with Mr. Ravignat.

In the NDP, we often have the impression that we are running into a brick wall when we are looking for transparency, and we often complain about that. When we ask simple questions about the figures and the reports we get from Industry Canada, from National Defence and from Natural Resources Canada, to understand the budget changes from one year to the next, we—and the people who study them too—find ourselves facing stone walls and red tape. We do not have that information. Do the reports disclose all the appropriations announced in the Main Estimates? Once again, the answers do not stand up, and this is unfortunate for us, because it is then difficult to understand the public numbers.

There are also substantial cuts and objectives that have been set. At the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, there are $80 million in cuts. At Industry Canada, it is $6 million. At Infrastructure Canada, it is $51.8 million. We have no details about how these cuts or these savings are going to be achieved. The lack of criteria is very troubling. There are also other cases where the lack of selection criteria in projects has caused problems. I will not go into that subject today; we have other forums for talking about that.

This lack of clarity, of details, and of control, does this explain, among other things, why you are not able to come up with the balanced budget you had promised for 2015?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

You are correct.

I would like to say that my priority is to increase transparency—for ourselves, for members and for the public. We can create an action plan for that, certainly. There have to be discussions with the departments and agencies, because they are the ones who have the details.

I agree with you.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Yes, but that is wishful thinking. The people around the table are all in favour of transparency. We all like apple pie, too. But do you have a plan, or a timetable? Are you committing yourself? When will it be done?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Yes, of course.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

But when?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Michelle.

4:20 p.m.

Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat

Michelle d'Auray

In the first document you read, the quarterly financial reports that the departments have started to produce are one of the items the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer commented on. The first one was published at the end of June, or in August, for the end of June. That is the report you were referring to, in which there are different colours for the scores. That was the first effort, and we recognized that. The next report is going to be presented at the end of November.

Because it is the first time, we have a plan for continuing, fine-tuning and refining, so that in fact the information will be easier to understand. This is the first time we have done this in the course of a year. You have the current expenditures. This is the first time, and it was started in August of this year. The second report will be ready in November. As well, discussion sessions and training sessions are being held for the people in the departments with the goal of improving the reports.

We hope this will mean that in the next report there will be more green than red, if I can put it that way, in terms of the score the office of the Parliamentary Budget Director gives us.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

So by next year, we will be able to have the answers in order to compare.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Let us hope so.

I will give Mr. Ravignat the floor.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Thank you to both of you.

As my colleague has kindly agreed to share his time with me, I'll go ahead with a question.

Here's my question. Whether it be Public Works or various other ministries, when you look at these estimates, the costs for external consultants and professional services that are not in the public service are increasing at a rapid rate. This has been going on under this government for some time. At Public Works and Government Services Canada, it's a 100% increase.

Now, about this transformation exercise you're talking about at the public service, it's a little bit difficult for Canadians to understand why you're cutting jobs in the public service while you're giving money to external consultants by the boatload.

Is this transformation really an exercise in the privatization of our public service?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

No. The role of the transformation exercise is to deliver high-quality services to Canadians. What we care about is what services Canadians are getting. I can assure you—

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

By handing money to the private sector?

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

No, no, you're keying in on one element. In some cases it's appropriate; in other cases it's not appropriate. I don't think we should have our ideological blinders on. Obviously, the utility of these things should be reviewed, just as there should be a review of the utility of delivering services the same old way.

We're not looking at it from an ideological point of view. We're looking at it from a common sense point of view to see whether there's a practical, pragmatic way to deliver better services to Canadians.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

The cost trend clearly indicates an ideological point of view.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tony Clement Conservative Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

I would disagree with you.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

I'm afraid your time has concluded.

For the Conservatives, Mr. Laurie Hawn. Welcome, Laurie.

November 24th, 2011 / 4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's good to be here.

Thank you, Mr. Minister, and your officials.

When he became Prime Minister of Great Britain, Harold Macmillan was once asked what his greatest challenge would be in moving ahead with his agenda.