Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address the House on Bill C-207, an act to amend the Auditor General, proposed by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier.
This bill will among other things allow the Auditor General to report to Parliament on various matters of interest throughout the course of a year. Under these proposals the Auditor General would have the opportunity to bring his reports to the attention of parliamentarians as his work on a particular audit is completed or he could report to Parliament at a time he judged appropriate on matters of urgency or pressing importance. He would no longer be limited to one annual report.
These are most interesting and constructive ideas. They are not new concepts. I know that the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier proposed them in the previous government and I believe deserve thorough consideration.
However as part of our study of these proposals I believe it is important to review carefully the existing system: what are its basic precepts, how is it working, does it allow the House to benefit to the fullest extent possible from the work of the Auditor General and his staff?
First let us examine the current system and how it is functioning. Currently legislation requires the Auditor General to audit the accounts of Canada, including those related to the Consolidate Revenue Fund and to report annually to Parliament on his findings.
This annual report relates to the publication every year of the public accounts. It facilitates consideration of these accounts by Parliament which of course also operates on an annual expenditure cycle. This procedure ensures regularity in the reporting process. It makes it possible to compare one year's performance with the next.
Once tabled in the House the annual report is then examined in detail by the public accounts committee. This committee, chaired by a member of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, looks closely at the issues raised each year by Mr. Desautels and his staff. The committee members look carefully at how government departments and agencies are running, respond to the Auditor General's suggestions for improvements, his request for information from Parliament and for the public.
They call before them senior officials of government departments. When their work is complete the committee gives the government the benefit of its findings.
I agree with the member for Ottawa-Vanier who believes that the Auditor General's role and responsibilities are of a paramount importance for MPs and senators, for the government and the Canadian people. Moreover, I am convinced that the present system is a good one.
This year's report is a case in point. The Auditor General and his staff made a valuable contribution to a better understanding of the many complex issues faced by government. When this year's report was tabled in February it quickly became clear that the government shared many of the Auditor General's preoccupations. I am pleased to report that we have already acted on and publicly set out our plans for addressing many of the areas of concern that he highlighted: more information for Parliament
and a more open budget process, a bigger role in policy making for members of the House.
These are only some of our shared concerns. In addition, of course, we agreed on the need to review existing programs and policies to ensure they continue to meet the needs of Canadians.
Specifically, the Auditor General has consistently advocated the need for better reporting of financial information for Parliament. This year was no exception. This year Mr. Desautels devoted an entire chapter of the report to his view that better information is required on the debt and deficit.
To address this need the finance department has issued two publications that will help Canadians understand the debt and the deficit. A short booklet entitled "Basic Facts on Spending" summarizes spending as it is presented in the federal budget and public accounts. It will help Canadians better understand the federal government's budgetary spending. In addition, a longer background document called "Federal Spending" provides more detail.
As a member of Parliament it is a matter of personal satisfaction for me that the public accounts for the year ending March 31, 1993 were accepted without reservation by the Auditor General.
Their fundamental purpose is to provide information to Parliament and through Parliament to all Canadians. Their purpose is to facilitate understanding of the full nature and extent of the financial affairs and resources for which the government is responsible.
It is the Auditor General's job to examine them. Last year the Auditor General said that in his view: "The government's financial statements would be more understandable if they were presented in a comprehensive but succinct annual financial report". What Mr. Desautels was calling for was a financial report similar to the annual reports published by corporations in the private sector. The government has done just that. To make the financial statements of the Government of Canada more understandable to the public we added a new section to the 1993 public accounts.
For the first time, we gave a summary of this year's economic developments, a review of our financial situation and a set of consolidated financial statements. The new graphs and organization charts present complex financial data in a way that is easy to understand.
In his remarks to the Canadian Club, Mr. Desautels specifically lauded the new section in the public accounts which he said included a number of indicators that should help Canadians gain a better appreciation of the government's financial condition. On the same occasion the Auditor General gave the government good marks for beginning the process of improving information about deficits and debt and for opening up the budget process.
This government made great strides in opening the budget process through pre-budget consultations. The Minister of Finance met hundreds of Canadians and heard from them directly what they felt had to be done to turn the economy around and create jobs and to restore Canadians' faith in the future.
In conclusion, I have emphasized the importance of the contribution the Auditor General makes to a better understanding of the issues facing the government. There is no doubt that the Auditor General's work is an important stimulus to constructive action.
However would this stimulus be any greater if Mr. Desautels reported to Parliament several times a year? We have a system now that is working well to the benefit of all Canadians. Would we lose more in coherence, comparability and impact than we would gain? These questions deserve the most careful scrutiny.