Evidence of meeting #88 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was results.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Brian Pagan  Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management, Treasury Board Secretariat
Yaprak Baltacioglu  Secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat
Renée LaFontaine  Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Sector and Chief Financial Officer, Treasury Board Secretariat
Patrick Borbey  President, Public Service Commission

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats.

Minister Brison, welcome to the committee. I understand you have some opening remarks. Before you start, can you introduce the people who are with you?

We will have Minister Brison for the first hour, and then Minister Brison will be leaving us and we will have the Public Service Commission and the Treasury Board both at the table for the second hour.

Minister Brison, I hope your remarks are limited to 10 minutes.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Honourable Scott Brison Liberal Scott Brison

Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm delighted to be with you again at this committee.

On a personal note, I spoke yesterday to Tom Lukiwski. I had given him a call last week to check in, and we had a nice conversation yesterday. He assures me that he looks forward to returning. He's having a good recovery. I know we all feel the same way, that we wish him godspeed in his recovery and look forward to seeing him back in this place.

Madam Chair, it's great to see you here today. I'm delighted to be joined here today by Joyce Murray, our parliamentary secretary; Yaprak Baltacioglu, the secretary of the Treasury Board of Canada; Renée LaFontaine, the chief financial officer; Marcia Santiago, the executive director of the expenditure management sector; and Brian Pagan, who is not just the assistant secretary of the expenditure management sector but also the president of the Ottawa Senators fan club.

We have wonderful public servants in the Government of Canada, and we have some really great ones at Treasury Board, but I wanted to dissuade you from any notion that they're just a bunch of boring bean-counters, because they are living, breathing sports fans who feel quite passionately about other things besides budget and estimates processes.

Madam Chair, I'm pleased to be here with members of the committee to discuss the 2017-18 main estimates.

I've had the pleasure of appearing before this committee a number of times in my role as President of the Treasury Board and, as you have commented before, I feel like an honorary member. More than that, I value the hard work that goes on here because it is important to the sound finances of the country.

As you know, on February 23, the Government of Canada tabled its 2017-18 main estimates. These main estimates provide—

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

Minister, there seems to be a translation problem. However, you're speaking English at the moment, so we're fine.

Continue.

May 18th, 2017 / 8:50 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I apologize to the translators. It's been said that I speak French with a Nova Scotian accent, but that's only fair, because I speak English with a Nova Scotian accent as well.

The main estimates provide information to support the government's request to Parliament to approve $257.9 billion in spending to deliver programs and services in the fiscal year starting April 1, 2017. This includes $102.1 billion in planned voted expenditures and $155.8 billion in statutory expenditures. The voted expenditures include funding for the priorities outlined in budget 2016, including more than $7 billion in new funding for infrastructure. Through these main estimates, the government continues to make important investments in the priorities of Canadians—jobs, growth, innovation, infrastructure, communities, and post-secondary education. These are part of our plan to grow and strengthen Canada's middle class.

Just a word though on the process, as you know, the main estimates reflect spending proposals that are already planned and represent “up to” amounts. They are required, under the House of Commons Standing Orders, to be tabled by March 1 each year. They usually precede the Minister of Finance's budget for the same year. In fact, if you go back to 1995, 75% of the time the main budget appeared in the February-March period. Therefore, new initiatives announced in budget 2017 are included in future estimates.

Let me add that we appreciate that oversight of government spending is one of the most important roles of parliamentarians. To do that, they need access to accurate and timely information, which is what the government's vision for estimates reform is all about.

Just to recap, Madam Chair, our four-pillar plan to modernize, improve, and strengthen the budget estimates process includes changing the timing of the main estimates; addressing the differences in scope and accounting methods between the budget and the estimates in terms of cash and accrual accounting and reconciliation; making it easier for MPs to connect the money we vote for with the program it's being used for in terms of program-based budgeting; and improving how government reports on the resources it uses and the results it achieves—results-based reporting.

To that end, we have taken another step towards improving the reporting process with the tabling of the 2017-18 departmental plans, which replace the previous reports on plans and priorities. Departmental plans provide details on an organization's mandate, commitments, and priorities and provide links to related resource requirements in the main estimates. They form the baseline against which organizations track and report on their year-end performance through the departmental results reports, which were previously known as departmental performance reports.

Fiscal year 2017-18 is a year of transition in how organizations set out their performance goals for the coming year, and the financial and human resources required to achieve them. Next year, the departmental plans will provide even more pertinent information on planned spending, expected outcomes, and the actual results achieved.

At the same time, we're increasing and enhancing information available on TBS InfoBase. That's the searchable online database that provides financial and human resources information on government operations. While improvements take time, I'm pleased to say that we're already providing an unprecedented level of financial information and planned results on it at this point, and we plan to improve the searchability of information going forward by introducing new features.

This speaks to our government's and Treasury Board's commitment to evidence-based decision-making and consistent and regular measurement of results. Continued development of simplified and effective reporting processes will better allow Parliament and Canadians to monitor the government's plans and progress on delivering real change to Canadians.

Madam Chair, when it comes to departmental plans, as you know, we introduced a new Treasury Board policy on results to improve how government reports on the resources it uses and the results it achieves.

Given that TBS has three reporting structures over the 2014-15 to 2019-20 reporting period, it's difficult to make direct comparisons on a year-to-year basis, so we have developed a reconciliation, a crosswalk, which was provided to the committee, and that helps enable parliamentarians to understand changes year over year. It does this by reviewing previous years' performance against our new departmental results framework. This provides better year-to-year comparisons, ultimately improving transparency to Parliament.

I'd like to now turn to the portion of the main estimates that applies to my department—or our department—specifically.

Treasury Board Secretariat is seeking Parliament's authority for $6.5 billion in planned spending. That's a decrease of $28.9 million from the previous main estimates.

Most of this roughly $6 billion is for supporting government-wide expenditures for which we're responsible as the government's expenditure manager and the employer of the public service. To put it in context, for 2017-18, TBS is forecasting expenditures up to the following amounts: $222.9 million for our own programs; $2.4 billion for public service insurance; $3.6 billion in government-wide votes that support departments and agencies across government; and $367.2 million in statutory appropriations.

Madam Chair, the Government of Canada is delivering on its commitments to Canadians in a way that is open, transparent, and accountable. We will continue to strengthen the culture of results, measurement, evaluation, and innovation as we push forward to achieve greater transparency, openness, and accountability, and while we also push forward with our plan to invest in Canadians and in communities to grow the economy and support the middle class.

Thank you, Madam Chair. I look forward to engaging with the committee members.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

Thank you, Minister.

We'll move to our first round of questions.

Mr. Ayoub, you have the floor for seven minutes please.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Brison and members of the committee.

To get to the heart of the matter, Mr. Brison, the 2017-18 Main Estimates provide $7 billion in spending for new infrastructure, which you told us about.

Could you provide the committee with more details about this infrastructure spending and explain how it is related to the government's priority of investing in Canadian communities and growing the economy? Can you outline what is planned?

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

First of all, you are correct in saying that our government's priority is to invest in infrastructure, and it will do so with an investment of $7 billion. That includes $1.3 billion for investments in the federal infrastructure of 23 organizations, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Defence, Parks Canada, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the National Arts Centre Corporation, and many other organizations. It also includes a further $3.2 billion in investments for public transit and green infrastructure, to ensure that Canadian communities can live and work in healthy and productive environments, and to help fight climate change.

There are other investments, but you asked about the Infrastructure Bank. I am confident in the fact that we are following the trend seen other countries such as Australia, England, and many others around the world. These countries attract investments from pension funds in order to improve their infrastructure.

Canadian pension funds have in fact long been leaders in infrastructure investments around the world, including in Australia, England, and Latin America. Canadian pension funds been used for a long time to improve living conditions in communities elsewhere, but not in Canada. We think it makes sense to use Canadian pension funds and global funds to invest here to improve living conditions in Canadian communities. Australia and England have been successful in this regard, and I am confident that our model will also be a success.

Our government will continue to invest public funds, such as the funds we are discussing here, as presented in the 2017-18 Main Estimates. That said, this is not enough to meet infrastructure needs in all parts of Canada. So it makes sense to involve investors in this undertaking and to attract global pension funds to our country.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

I'm sorry to interrupt, Mr. Brison, but I must do so even though I know that you could continue talking about this for a long time.

I have a more specific question. According to the budget, infrastructure investments will boost GDP by 0.4% in 2017-18. Has that been considered in preparing the budget? Does the Treasury Board Secretariat consider economic indicators to guide infrastructure investments?

9 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

We work very closely with the finance department, which is responsible, together with Treasury Board, for our budget systems. We consider economic growth, working closely with the finance department.

The infrastructure investments will clearly stimulate economic growth here, in Canada, and elsewhere. The global economy is still fragile. So it is very important to continue making major investments in the community in order to create conditions favourable to stronger economic growth and greater competitiveness.

Infrastructure investments will certainly boost our economic growth, both now and in the future.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you.

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

You have 45 seconds.

9 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

I do not have very much time, but I would ask you to tell us quickly about the Department of Veterans Affairs. From our budget, it is clear that we want to give more. Veterans Affairs is a sensitive department. We are sometimes criticized by the other side for not investing, not giving the department enough, and not treating our veterans well.

I can see, however, that the department's budget has in fact been increased to ensure that services are provided to veterans.

Can you provide a few details quickly?

9 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

You've just used up your 45 seconds.

We are now going to Mr. Nater.

Welcome to the committee.

9 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Madam Vice-Chair.

It's good to be here.

I am filling in for Mr. Lukiwski, but I certainly can't fill his role. He certainly will be missed until he returns, and we hope that will be sooner rather than later.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Yasmin Ratansi

I'm not doing such a bad job, am I?

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

You're doing a wonderful job, yes.

Thank you to the minister and to the departmental officials.

I hate to start on a negative note, but there is the issue of cultural sensitivity. There are Leafs fans, Oilers fans, and Habs fans on this committee, so perhaps an update on the TB policies on cultural sensitivity may be in order.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

I'm a Habs fan.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Habs, okay. Very good.

I had the opportunity earlier this week to sit in on the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, where Mr. Mendelsohn, the deputy secretary to cabinet for results, appeared. He spoke a fair bit about the work that you, as minister, and the Treasury Board Secretariat are undertaking to improve reporting outcomes to Canadians, and to parliamentarians as well.

I was hoping you might be able to provide this committee with the Excel spreadsheet of the performance targets for the 400 or so government programs that currently exist. Specifically what we're looking for are the indicators and results for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 years for all departments, agencies, and crown corporations.

Am I to understand that such a document exists? I was hoping that you could share that through the clerk with the committee.

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Thank you very much.

That's not a negative note at all. Actually, it's a very positive note. We launched the policy that Mr. Mendelsohn was referring to, our results policy, last July.

What we are doing is quite different. In the past, there was reporting, but it wasn't necessarily the clearest reporting in terms of being pertinent, useful, and clearly reflecting what departments and agencies were doing and the results.

Our new reporting, Mr. Nater, is focused on three things. First is that departments and agencies, through their DRFs, delivering results frameworks, clearly indicate what they do. It is important to understand clearly what they're doing. Second—

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Can I just—

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Second is why they're doing it, and third, the results.

We also want to move not just on engaging and providing information to you, but also to Canadian citizens. That's where we're moving.

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

That's great, but could we get that spreadsheet with the 400 government programs shared with the committee?

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Again, in terms of the broader policy, we're moving forward with unprecedented reportage to Parliament. It's not just information, but useful information, useable information, digital information—

9:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

No. I understand that, but specifically, could we get that spreadsheet shared with the committee?

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Brian may have something to add to that.