Thank you, Mr. Chair. We're pleased to be here via video conference from Edmonton.
I believe you've been provided with a brief overview of our estimates process, which we provided to the committee clerk last week. My comments will be very brief to give you the gist of what we do out here.
Since the 1990s the estimates process in Alberta has undergone a number of transformations in terms of committee involvement, but there has been a consistent practice of presenting a budget address in February or March, at which time the main estimates are also tabled. Exceptions to this timeframe have occurred during election year, or when there's been a change in leadership.
The process begins with the Minister of Finance tabling the main estimates for the government departments. This occurs immediately prior to the minister's beginning the budget address. Depending on the year and the date of budget address, there may also be interim or supplementary estimates tabled at that time. There are also a number of other documents that are tabled and must be made public when the minister tables the main estimates, and those are the government's strategic plan; the ministry business plans, which are conducted on a three-year basis; a consolidated fiscal plan; and a consolidated capital plan. This is a statutory requirement in the Government Accountability Act.
Under our rules, once the main estimates are tabled they stand referred to committees of the assembly known as policy field committees. The assignment of a department to a particular committee is determined by the portfolio or mandate of each of these committees. Currently there are five policy field committees and 21 government departments. The only department that's not assigned to a policy field committee is the executive council, which is considered by the committee of supply. As you know, the committee of the whole is comprised of all 87 members of the assembly.
Our standing orders do allow for some variation of this procedure if the House leaders agree to a different format. For instance, this spring, of the 21 government departments, the estimates of 16 were considered by policy field committees, and the remaining five were considered in the committee of supply. During committee consideration, members have up to three hours to consider one department. Once all of the estimates have been considered for all departments, they are reported in the committee of supply and followed by a final vote.
One of the questions that has been identified by your committee clerk is whether all estimates are reviewed, or whether some are deemed to have been reported. I can advise you that they are all in fact considered by either a policy field committee or the committee of supply for three hours—again, for each department—or two hours in the case of the executive council. All of these departments are reported on before the final vote in the process.
There are some specific rules that apply to a committee consideration of main estimates, and they are as follows. Consideration begins with the minister's opening remarks. The official opposition is then entitled to the next hour for questions, and then there are two 20-minute blocks that belong to other opposition members. It's anticipated that this allocation may change, given the results of the last election. We now have an increase in the number of recognized opposition parties.
Unlike at other committee meetings, department officials are not permitted to address the committee, only the minister is. There's no voting that occurs during consideration of estimates. Amendments may be presented, but the votes defer to the date for the final vote on the estimates in the committee of supply.
In theory, once we get to the day for the final vote there may be a single vote on all of the government estimates, but this may be varied by any member who can request on one day's notice that the estimates of a particular department be voted separately. The other votes that could occur would be votes on amendments that had been presented during committee consideration.
Finally, the types of votes that are presented in the main estimates fall into three different categories. The first is expense or operating expense. The second is capital investment, and the third is non-budgetary disbursements. The practice of having these three categories of votes has been in place in Alberta since 1993. Prior to that time, voting was done on a program by program basis.
Just to close the loop in the cycle, once the vote on the main estimates occurs, the committee of supply rises and reports to the House, and the report from the committee of supply details each approved expenditure for all departments.
One of the matters that has been raised with us was whether parliamentarians can reallocate funds between votes. In Alberta that would not be an option that's available. That would be considered a transfer of funds, which would necessitate a supplementary supply estimate.
Finally to close the loop, following the committee of supply's report, the introduction of the appropriation bill takes place, typically the next sitting day. The bill then proceeds one stage per sitting day. So in a typical year the appropriation bill will receive royal assent approximately one week after the vote on the estimates.
That concludes my remarks, Mr. Chair, and we'd be pleased to answer any questions you or the committee have.