House of Commons Hansard #45 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:20 p.m.


Paul Forseth Reform New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, in one part of the hon. member's speech he specifically mentioned a freeze on the general percentage grid increase.

There is a contract in place and the movement within the grid, the annual increments, should be honoured and the savings made elsewhere. We can support the broad general percentage increase. However we believe the increment freeze itself within that grid will increase disparities rather than relieve them. Will the hon. member comment more specifically on the rationale for the general freeze as well as for the freeze on the increments within a grid?

This is particularly disturbing to the RCMP. I understand there was a meeting in Surrey, British Columbia of over 800 members of the RCMP. They were very upset that promises were being broken. Certainly within its structure the RCMP is given a budget and rules to live by and therefore cannot do much about it.

We are saying that the breaking of a promise or a contract to honour the increments within an overall framework needs to be addressed even though we agree with the broad approach of a spending freeze.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:20 p.m.


Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised to hear my colleague from the Reform Party talk about the virtues of undoing any of the freezes the government has put in place, given that party's obsession with deficit reduction.

The government chose the freeze as the method of dealing with this problem. It was not because it was going to be a popular method or an easy sell to the public servants, the members and the senators who are affected by the freeze. The government chose this option because it was very concerned if it did something else, it would result in substantial layoffs in the

public service. We have witnessed that in the provinces, particularly in Ontario where there was a social contract put in place with rather disastrous consequences.

The purpose of the government in choosing this particular option was to ensure that as many members of the public service as possible could retain their jobs. In spite of the significant cutbacks in funding that are available for all manner of government programs, by freezing we have avoided the necessity to eliminate jobs while others get an increase.

Even if the increments could be allowed to employees, as I am sure the government would like to do, that would result in an increased salary cost to the Government of Canada. That would have to be met out of the existing budget. Since the government has no additional funding to give to government departments for this purpose the only solution to capping the total salary cost would be to eliminate someone else's job. That is why there is a freeze on the increments and that is why there is a freeze on salary increases.

I do not think it is popular. I do not think it is the greatest thing by any means. However it is the best thing the government could come up with given the financial circumstances we are facing.

I know the hon. member and his party are very supportive of government cutbacks and government freezes. I am delighted to know he will be supporting this part of the bill.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:25 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the point my hon. colleague raised. Our party has very little problem with freezing salaries. However when we start talking about freezing increments it goes a little bit further.

With the RCMP constables the government is cutting into what was considered training advancement through an incremental process.

British Columbia has the largest number of RCMP. It is the largest division in the country. There are over 700 constables in the E division. A large part of the cost the member is talking about controlling is municipal. It is through the municipal taxpayers.

In the Surrey detachment 90 per cent is picked up by the municipality. Provincially, 70 per cent is picked up by the province. When the hon. member starts talking about saving real dollars for the federal government he is talking about minimal savings on the backs of low paid constables who are in training.

The Reform Party certainly supports the concept of freezing salaries. However it does not support freezing increments which are based on training that are part of an ongoing contract with these individuals and should not have been put into a collective package.

I do not think the government can make those kinds of decisions without looking at individual circumstances in different programs that fall outside the normal salary range. I would like the minister to give this further consideration.

Morale in the RCMP is at an all time low. There was a meeting of 800 members of the RCMP in my constituency last night. The deputy commissioner made the statement: "It would be futile for me to say that there is not a morale problem in terms of this incremental freeze". Would the hon. member please respond to this.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:25 p.m.


Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised to hear this from the hon. member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley because she is a member of a party that keeps telling us there is only one taxpayer. It does not matter two hoots if the federal government raises the salary costs for these people but then recoups 90 per cent of the cost from her municipality which taxpayer is paying. It is the same taxpayer that is going to pay that cost. It is just that instead of the federal government paying it, the municipality or the province in which she resides is going to pick up the tab.

She nods her head that that is okay. Yet the other members of her party, and I am sure she has been part of this, keep telling us there is only one taxpayer and we have to cut costs. When we do it I am surprised we face criticism from the Reform Party on this matter.

Let me turn to the essentials of the question. She says it would not cost the federal government anything to allow the increments to go into place for a group of RCMP officers in the province of British Columbia. I do not know for certain but I would bet any money that the rates are the same across the country. If the federal government is to give that kind of increase in British Columbia, it will have to give it in other parts of Canada too. It will have to give it in parts of Canada where it does not receive a subsidy from a province for operating a police force such as all RCMP forces in Ontario and in Quebec. While there may be fewer, the cost would still be significant for the federal government.

Surely the hon. member agrees with me when I tell her that it would be unfair to give the increase in the provinces where the federal government picks up only a part of the share and not give it in the provinces where it is paying the full shot. I think she would agree with that. She must recognize the wisdom of the government's decision in this matter, given the regrettable circumstance that led to it, the very substantial deficit that her party said it would eliminate in three years.

The next time she asks a question, I ask her to tell us where she was going to make the cuts to eliminate the deficit in three years. She would not have only frozen the increments. She would have slashed the wages of these people and she knows it. She would face much tougher criticism then.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


Jim Gouk Reform Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a short comment to make. The member opposite knows well where the Reform Party would makes its cuts because they were well publicized.

Would the minister be prepared to amend the bill so that the increments were paid if the Reform Party showed him how to save $2 for every $1 it costs without causing any job loss?

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Reform Party likes to talk about its steps to reduction plan. As I read the figures, it announced an $18 billion reduction in government expenditures and said that $18 billion would bring the deficit to zero in three years.

The deficit we now know is something like $45 billion or $47 billion. Whatever it is this year it is a very substantial figure, and $18 billion off that takes it down to about $28 billion. Where would the other $28 billion come from? That figure was a fraud. The whole paper put forward by the Reform Party during the election was a complete fraud. I invite hon. members to tell us the truth. Where was the $45 billion coming from? That is what the deficit is. We have never heard that figure from anybody in the Reform Party and we never will.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are about three minutes left to be divided between the two members.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

March 25th, 1994 / 1:30 p.m.


Jim Gouk Reform Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, it will not even take me that long to expose the hoax of the question he posed.

The parliamentary secretary knows well that much of the reduction was coming through a growth in the economic situation in the country. Using a figure lower than the one proposed by the finance minister at that time, using a figure that was compatible with the one that the Liberal government is using right now, it was based on a real deficit, not one that was propped with non-recurring factors added to the budget to make it look worse than it really was.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member can argue that if he wishes. I will go back to Mr. Mazankowski's budget deficit figure last year which I think was $35 billion, if I am not mistaken. If the hon. member subtracts $18 billion from $35 billion, my arithmetic takes it down to about $17 billion. Where were the other $17 billion in cuts? The question is the same. It is only a matter of the amount. However $17 billion is $17 billion. Maybe it should have been $25 billion, I will not argue that. I still ask: Where are the other $17 billion in cuts?

The Reform Party had no idea where those cuts would come from. It still has no idea where those cuts would come from. We will never hear from them as to where those cuts would come from because I predict that when the time comes for the Reform Party to tell us those figures it will be a dead duck.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate. I should perhaps tell the hon. member for Lévis we have about ten minutes of debate left.

Budget Implementation Act, 1994Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will do my best in ten minutes.

Bill C-17, an Act to implement certain provisions of the budget, reveals this government's true identity. Liberal government members succeeded in getting elected by denouncing the unfair policies of the Conservative government which widened the gap between rich and poor, as well as the gap between anglophones and francophones. A study released this week showed this to be the case everywhere, except in Quebec.

However, once again we see today how the public's hopes for justice, dignity and equity have been blithely crushed by politicians who, when in opposition, denounced others for doing exactly what they are now guilty of.

Once again, the government is attacking the least fortunate in society. A recent analysis carried out by three experts from the economics department at the University of Quebec at Montreal showed that 60 per cent of the cuts to the federal deficit announced in this budget will be borne by Canada's unemployed. This is totally unfair since the government will be forcing the least fortunate to bear a bigger share of the burden of putting the nation's finances in order.

Lowering the number of weeks of benefit entitlement while at the same time increasing the number of weeks of work needed for benefit entitlement does nothing to address the problem of those who defraud or take advantage of the system. What this measure does above all is attack the vast majority of unemployed workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who must now face increasingly harsh economic conditions.

This unravelling of the social safety net on which workers depend will also affect regions and provinces already hard hit by the recession. By taking this action, the Minister of Finance is getting the provinces to foot the bill by forcing the unemployed onto social assistance sooner than necessary.

According to the figures provided by the Department of Human Resources, the federal cutbacks mean that the Government of Quebec will have to spend an additional $65 million to

$135 million on social assistance. Benefits paid to Quebec's unemployed in 1994-95 will be cut by a total of $735 million.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance still claims to promote job creation. How can he indulge such fantasies when he is about to take more money out of the pockets of a large group of consumers in this country, the unemployed?

Although it makes no sense at all, the Liberal government continues to apply the same policy as the Conservatives, in other words, it prefers to attack the unemployed instead of creating jobs. So far, the present and previous governments' mindless cuts in unemployment insurance have produced very unsatisfactory results. In 1989, 1 million Canadians were unemployed. In 1993, there were 1.6 million, an increase of 60 per cent.

On the subject of job creation, I think we must realize it will take more than a good old fashioned infrastructures program to improve the employment situation. Although this program invests federal funds, it also involves additional expenditures by the provinces and municipalities. In most cases, this money will have to be borrowed, which means additional debt.

In this scenario, I think reducing the number of insurable weeks will have no effect at all. In fact, this reduction will come down harder on regions and provinces where the unemployment rate is high, in other words, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. This measure will affect six regions out of thirteen in Quebec and seven out of thirteen in the Maritimes. The proposed amendments will not only affect whole regions, they will also have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people in this group, and I am referring to claimants who work only for short periods. Unfortunately, the majority of workers in this category are young people.

In Quebec, youth unemployment is around 20 per cent, involving about 137,000 unemployed in this age group. The real problem, in their case and in the case of other labour market "rejects" is not that they have no incentive to work because unemployment benefits are too generous, but that there are no jobs available.

Here we have a perfect example of a government saying one thing and doing another. On the one hand, we have the government stating in its official discourse that the gap between the poor and the rich must be bridged and, on the other hand, implementing measures which shamelessly make the less fortunate bear the brunt of the federal deficit.

It is more obvious than ever today that this ship is sinking. Constant infringment upon provincial jurisdictions, particularly with respect to job training, has led the federal system to the brink of bankruptcy. And now the supporters of this system want the most vulnerable segment of our society to bear the brunt of a misguided policy of infringement, which prompts more and more Quebecers to say it may be high time we get out of that system.

It has become nothing more than a vast and expensive smoke screen for the financial abyss the Liberal government is leading us to. Much would need to be done in terms of administrative management and even about the way ministers carry out their duties.

As reported last Saturday in Le Soleil , following the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs' example, the Minister of Human Resources Development also used a government jet, at a cost estimated, using the Auditor General's method of calculation, at $117,900, to go and talk about cuts in compensation to fishermen in Quebec and the Maritimes.

The minister has a lot of nerve to try to make the people of Quebec and Canada believe that they are going to be consulted concerning social programs reform. This is the kind of consultation I do not hesitate to call a sham because the minister did not even wait for the report to be tabled, which it was today, to start making cuts in the unemployment insurance system.

As we speak, the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development is releasing its report on the first phase of the consultations it has held on social programs. But by proposing, as it did, the adoption of Bill C-17, which deals mainly with cuts to the unemployment insurance system, that is to say one of the most important elements of our social programs, the government is actually going ahead and making cuts in that area without even waiting for the report from its own committee. What message is it looking to send to the public for the second phase of the consultation process?

The minister did not wait either for the rapport of a study group which held similar consultations in all provinces at the same time as the committee. I myself attended last Tuesday in Montreal a meeting organized for community organizations by the coalition of organizations for the development of employability, acting under a mandate only three weeks old.

Most of the organizations said that the time is too short; they did not have time to prepare, but were coming anyway; they have experiences to share; they will tell you what they think of it; employment should be the priority; maintain the level of social programs. But we did not expect this: the government consults but meanwhile takes measures attacking the most disadvantaged.

The second phase of consultations is approaching. I am a member of the human resources committee; the report is to come out in September. I think that it would have been wise under the circumstances-with a less improvised, less rushed consultation, with more serious briefs presented, further to the

options announced by the minister himself-to wait for the report from this consultation before passing Bill C-17.

No, when it comes to attacking the poorest people in our society, the Liberal government is in a hurry. To help those who need jobs, they propose measures and studies and suggest that those people wait for the result of these studies. They say one thing about jobs and another about cuts.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.


Jean-Robert Gauthier Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved that Bill C-207, an act to amend the Auditor General Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today I have the honour to introduce Bill C-207 and to recommend that it be passed.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Auditor General Act, in order to allow the Auditor General to report to the House upon completion of his report or as he deems necessary.

I am the adoptive sponsor of this legislation, since many other members of this House have thought of this initiative. As well, former colleagues in previous Parliaments have tried to have such a measure passed under circumstances which may have been different from those prevailing today.

This private member's bill was approved by nearly all of the Public Accounts Committee chairpersons of the last 15 or 16 years. The bill is also based on several recommendations from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, and others. I am pleased to say that the Auditor General of Canada, Mr. Desautels, also gave me his support in a three-page letter which he sent to me last March 22, and which I will be glad to show to hon. members if they wish to take a look at it.

The Auditor General of Canada is a senior civil servant of the Parliament of Canada; he is an official of this House. This is a very important position. That person has the responsibility of reviewing expenditures authorized by the House, and must tell us if these expenditures are done in an efficient and effective manner, and if they meet the objectives.

So, the Auditor General's report, which is currently tabled annually-members are familiar with this thick document containing about 750 pages-is very important, since it allows us to evaluate the government's business and strategic management. This report provides essential data to help parliamentarians and government to better evaluate the relevancy of a program, and to correct within a reasonable delay administrative practices which are not sound.

At present, the Auditor General must table his report on or before December 31, in the year to which the report relates. Yet, the evaluation included in the report covers the fiscal year ending on March 31 of the previous year. Since the evaluation of a department or an agency can take up to two years, this means that the information contained in the Auditor General's annual report is sometimes more than three years old. This, in my opinion, hinders the efforts of the House to make the government and its management accountable to Canadians. The information is often not up to date and even less relevant.

Indeed, sometimes, after so many years, managers responsible for the activities scrutinized have been transferred, or the incumbent at the time the Public Accounts Committee conducts its review has no idea of what happened, or was not there at the time, or does not care about what happened or what was reviewed by the Auditor General.

Of course, a department's management team may have changed since the evaluation was done, since the department is informed during the evaluation conducted by the Auditor General. In fact, it even participates in the exercise and it is invited by the Auditor General to submit reasons explaining the situation which will be exposed in the annual report.

Generally speaking, however, it is only after the Auditor General of Canada has tabled his report in the House that we parliamentarians are informed that departments or agencies are under pressure to make the necessary changes to these bad administrative practices.

Delays cost taxpayers billions of dollars. I will give you just a few of many examples. In his assessment of programs for seniors, as described in chapter 18 of his last report, the Auditor General of Canada observed significant deficiencies in the management of the Canada Pension Plan program. For instance, pensions were paid to deceased beneficiaries. Systems and procedures were inadequate to identify, control and collect these overpayments.

According to the Auditor General, overpayments range from $120 million to $220 million. If the act had allowed him to, the Auditor General could have tabled his report four months earlier, thus helping to save a large part of the hundreds of millions of dollars lost.

The dividends paid to Canadian companies by foreign affiliates have deprived the government of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues. I am not exaggerating, as close to $400 million have been lost.

Before the 1993 general election was called, the Committee on Public Accounts tabled a substantive report proposing measures to correct these practices costing money to the government. In the time available between the audit and the tabling of the report, the committee would have been able to ask the

Department of Finance, before the election, to submit its response to Parliament within the 150 days provided for in the Regulations for tabling a departmental response to a parliamentary committee.

The delay is frustrating for the members of the Committee on Public Accounts who worked hard to try to correct a situation that is very costly for the government. If we go back ten years, many of you will remember the scientific research tax credit, which cost the government some $2 billion over ten months.

In 1985, the Committee on Public Accounts sharply criticized the Auditor General of Canada for not bringing earlier before Parliament the results of his audit. But the act forbids him to do so. He may table only one report annually. That is where my bill comes in. I want to change this situation. Had he informed Parliament seven months earlier, the Auditor General might have allowed us to save over $1 billion.

In his last report the Auditor General of Canada devoted an important chapter, chapter 22, to airport transfers. The auditor might have easily presented his report in May or June 1993 when his evaluation was terminated. If so, the report could have had a great influence on the Pearson airport transaction, for example. Unfortunately the auditor's report was tabled after the event.

Chapter 15 in the same report indicated that $587 million was spent by the government on the northern cod adjustment and recovery program without clear legislative authority. The Auditor General of Canada raised grave doubts regarding some of the hurried allowances given to those ineligible persons who ought not to have benefited from that program. The auditor might have tabled his report in March of last year rather than wait for December thereby again saving Canadians millions of dollars.

Particularly in this era of budgetary restraints it is imperative to improve governmental management practices. It is imperative for us to have better accountability for public funds. Moreover, I say that we in the Liberal Party said in our red book during the election that we would exercise unwavering discipline in controlling federal spending and would reorder current spending priorities to make sure that maximum return was obtained on each investment.

I am of the opinion that punctual reporting by the auditor without being the only solution would give the Liberal government of today additional tools to allow cutting of waste while realizing valuable objectives. Therefore the adoption of my bill would constitute a step in the right direction.

Some would suggest that punctual reporting, and I have heard it, would possibly reinforce or feed the media hype over this annual report. As we all know it gets the attention of the media for maybe two or three days a year, possibly a week sometimes, but no more. After that it pales into oblivion and the public accounts committee is asked to look into some things that sometimes date several years and sometimes are frustrating for us to examine because we know the press are not interested.

Let us not kid ourselves. Some people want to eliminate waste. We as parliamentarians have an obligation to the people of Canada to do our best to try to meet that challenge. Canadians want to be assured that legislators have all the information to reduce wasteful spending in the government infrastructure.

Moreover, the last annual report of the Auditor General for 1992-93 contains 775 pages. As I said it is a huge volume. It is complicated. It is indeed technical sometimes and it is very important in my view. The report, in my experience having chaired the public accounts committee, is a source of invaluable information for members of Parliament who want to know how the government administers public funds.

It brings forth information to improve the management of public funds. It would make us more efficient. It would make the government certainly more effective in trying to come to grips with the huge administration of some $160 billion a year.

The public accounts committee, as we all know, has been a very non-partisan committee over the years. That is the way it should be. It should be able to plan and order its business in a more efficient and quicker way of doing business. It should be able to profit from the examples set in England, Australia, New Zealand and other parliamentary systems similar to ours where the study or the overview of public accounts is done on a more regular basis by Parliament.

I would be astonished, for example in my riding of Ottawa-Vanier, if a business person or somebody said to me that he had to wait a year and a half before knowing if he made a profit and that he had to wait another two years to figure out which corrective he had to use to reduce the losses. Nobody could operate a business that way. The government should not do it that way either. I would hope the House would see fit to support the bill which only presents a small amendment but in my view a very important change to the way we do business.

I mentioned at the beginning of my speech it is useful to note that the Auditor General wrote to me on March 22, 1994. I want to read into the record one paragraph of that letter if I have time:

This office would benefit from efficiency improvements resulting from completing work in progress rather than having to put it aside and then pick it up again at the time of tabling of the annual report. This disruptive effect of the annual report tabling on the smooth and orderly flow of work through this office cannot be overemphasized.

Underlying this Mr. Desautels said: "Ultimately the taxpayers of Canada will be the main beneficiaries". Earlier reporting of audit results will lead to faster correction of problems. In my view this means greater savings for Canadians, reduced risk, better management and generally better government.

Therefore for these reasons I ask the House, in a spirit of better accountability to Canadians, in a free and open spirit, to assure the passage of the bill. By the way I am proud to say I have the support of many members of Parliament. I have at least 70 letters of support for this bill from this House. I am very proud of that. I think it is a good sign. It is a hopeful sign.

I hope the bureaucracy does not meddle in this issue, that it stays out of this debate and does not start trying to prevent this from happening. It did it before. I hope this time we parliamentarians keep our minds open, that we do it with an open and free will. Let us not have the bureaucracy tell us what we should be doing in this House.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier wish the unanimous consent of the House to table the document? He did not move it at the end. I do not know whether he wants to or not.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Jean-Robert Gauthier Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that this letter be tabled. I think it is an important letter and it should be appended to today's minutes.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members


Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker


Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Roger Pomerleau Bloc Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me begin by thanking my hon. colleague from Ottawa-Vanier for introducing Bill C-207. He explained very well the overall nature of the bill which is aimed at giving the Auditor General of Canada a little more room to manoeuvre so as to allow him to present the information the House truly requires as quickly as possible. The hon. member gave a good account of several great examples of totally outrageous spending. We had heard of these expenditures. He pointed out that the Auditor General's report was enormously useful to members, and I cannot disagree with this statement.

However, I would like to say that this report should also be useful to the people. The public can obtain copies of the report from the Auditor General of Canada. The published report is available free of charge. Many citizens would do well to read it. The Auditor General's Office will be happy to send them a copy if they request one.

To all those who are listening to us at this moment, let me say that the role of the Auditor General of Canada is to act as the government watchdog in matters of national finance. Each year, the Auditor General inspects a portion of the government's books and each year, as my colleague from Ottawa-Vanier said, he releases a report anywhere from 600 to 700 pages long describing some administrative horrors of which the government is guilty.

Very often, and that is something that my colleague also stressed, the media jump on this report and it makes headlines for two or three days, a week at best, and then it is shelved. I believe my colleague was right to mention it.

Naturally, the Bloc Quebecois will support this bill, but I must say that ever since we arrived here, we have asked for something much larger than this. We believe that the role of the Auditor General is not wide enough. We have been asking the government to open its books to the public, so it can review, item by item, all government spending, including fiscal spending. By the way, we know that fiscal spending is beyond the reach of the Auditor General, he is not suppose to review that, it is nor part of his mandate, and I talked about that with Mr. Desautels during a meeting we had with him.

For those who would like to know what fiscal spending is, I recommend a book published in Toronto I believe, a couple of year ago. It is called The Lion's Share , by Linda McQuaig, and it describes how people who control Canadian fiscal policy could grab it for their own profit.

Unfortunately, the way things are now, I believe that government operations are not fully transparent since some elements which should be audited are not accessible to the Auditor General of Canada.

That is the case for tax expenditures; that is also the case for family trusts, which the government does not want to touch. We do not know how much money there is in these at the present time. There were also other examples, such as Ginn Publishing, things that remain secret, but that should be known in the House.

There should not be secret relationships between secret people on secret decisions. What is going on in the government should be known here, in the House, so that we could take good decisions on the matter.

Unfortunately, that is why we got the budget that we did. If we look at that budget, and that was still evident in the media today, the government is directly attacking the unemployed. In that budget, it is the unemployed and the old people who will be hurt.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, the budget does not talk about the billions of dollars in waste noted by the Auditor General of Canada. It does not talk either about solving the issue of program overlappings. It does not talk about eliminating family trusts or at least taking a look at what is going on there. The Auditor General should be the one examining that.

Unfortunately, the budget does not talk about that or about the more than 90,000 profitable companies that presently do not pay any taxes in Canada, while in the United States, which is certainly not a communist country, all profitable companies must pay a minimal tax.

In general, we are not satisfied with the way the current government is fulfilling its task of managing public funds. Canadians will not be either. Let us just think about the kind of reception the Prime Minister got during his recent visit to his riding. The same is true about the welcome they gave the Minister of Transport. I am not talking here about members of Parliament, but about people who experience problems which the government has the power to solve.

Unfortunately, I think this dissatisfaction is bound to increase because the measures implemented by the government affect the poorest among the have-nots while we know that public funds management could improve if they would only follow up on reports like the one by the Auditor General and give him more authority to push his analyses further.

However, I must stress the fact that the present bill does give more authority to the Auditor General. On the whole, this bill provides for better management and that is why the Bloc Quebecois will support it.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Val Meredith Reform Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand in this House today and support the private member's bill of my hon. colleague for Ottawa-Vanier.

Our party, as members know, is very supportive of increasing the reporting opportunities of the Auditor General to this House. We sponsored a supply motion in the early stages of this Parliament that tried to set up a procedure for the Auditor General to be able to make reports more often on a regular basis to this House rather than just once a year giving his annual report.

This bill, as mentioned by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier, has been introduced at various times or something like it has been introduced various times in this House, in 1985 and 1988 just to mention a couple of occasions. It is the feeling that this is a step in the right direction but not necessarily the only step that should be taken. However, it would start to solve some of the concern that with a yearly report is more than often after the fact.

It has been brought to the attention of the House that the public accounts committee holds hearings on chapters of the Auditor General's report which deal with government waste and mismanagement. It seeks to ensure that Canadians receive value for their tax dollars.

Due to the fact that the Auditor General's report is only tabled once a year, the committee is often dealing with problems that are more than a year old and any remedial action that should be taken is unnecessarily delayed.

We feel that this private members' bill C-207, that is sponsored by a former chairman of the public accounts committee, would allow the public accounts committee to deal with reported cases of fiscal mismanagement in a more timely manner than currently exists.

That certainly is a very positive step. We feel that it would allow the committee to report to the House what remedial action could be taken more expeditiously since it would be able to hold hearings more expeditiously. We feel that is a very good step in the right direction. We feel it would contribute to an improved process to correct government mismanagement.

We like to think that if the government is truly concerned about using taxpayers' dollars wisely that it will endorse this completion date reporting as suggested in Bill C-207.

We feel that taxpayers are entitled to receive value for their money and when they do not, such as when the Auditor General reports cases of mismanagement, taxpayers are entitled to have the problem rectified as quickly as possible, not once a year or after the fact.

In conclusion, this idea has been supported by former NDP and PC members in this House and endorsed by public accounts committees and the office of the Auditor General. The Reform caucus now has the pleasure to endorse it.

We feel that the member for Ottawa-Vanier, a Liberal MP and former chair of the public accounts committee, should be supported in this private member's bill.

I urge all members of this House to give their support so that this can be referred to the public accounts committee after second reading.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

St. Boniface Manitoba


Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services

Mr. Speaker, I too am delighted to rise in this House and give support to this initiative.

I want to congratulate my colleague on taking this initiative and I will tell you why. For me, the key point is that information could be available when needed and before changes are made.

When you look at the size of the government machine, which is massive, it seems to me that, when there is a problem, it is absolutely essential to be aware of it as soon as possible and take corrective measures, so that we can still meet our objectives. This is in keeping with other objectives set by the Liberal Party of Canada which wants government's operations to be much more open than in previous years. We want to improve our cost-effectiveness.

This bill at least in principle, and one might want to quibble with the niceties and the details and what have you which I will leave to parliamentarians to do, not only reaches a prime objective of providing information when we need it so that we can take corrective action, but permits us to conduct a more open and more transparent type of government which is one of the goals of this party and this government and to improve our accountability. For me that is of critical importance.

It is important, certainly for me, that the Auditor General play a critical role in the efficient management of government. Obviously it is not the Auditor General himself with his team but certainly the Auditor General and that team are major players working with government in trying to make it more efficient and trying to make absolutely certain that we spend taxpayers' money as wisely as we can.

I applaud not only this Auditor General but Auditor Generals in the past for their efforts in that area.

Just the other day in the operations committee, a statutory committee of the House of Commons of which I am a member, I chatted with the Auditor General and his team about a number of important concepts such as Renouveau 2000, of how we can in fact determine criteria for success when we look at the civil service and the operations of government, what measures other governments have undertaken to establish that and how we compare with other governments. We are going to have additional discussions.

I want to underline the main point which is that the Auditor General, with the team available and the tools that are there, can help this government, its ministers, the members of Parliament of this government and whatever party to understand government better, to come forth with creative solutions to the problems we have and to put forth mechanisms that are going to help us reach the objectives that we think are valid for all Canadians.

While the Auditor General is obviously a critical component of government and has an important role to play, I want to remind members that we have many other sources of information.

Personally I feel as a member of Parliament that the greatest benefit I have which is never mentioned is all the sources of information at my disposal. Unfortunately the one thing I do not have is the time to read all those sources of information. There are many and excellent.

Let me mention just a few. For example, the Commissioner of Official Languages brings forward a report that is insightful and potentially very helpful, whatever our position happens to be on official languages. I think mine is fairly well known.

There is a report as well from the Human Rights Commission which is extremely useful and insightful that I would recommend to all parliamentarians. There are reports from the Public Service Commission. Again they have much useful information.

Some will know that many valuable reports on a wide range of public policy and management issues from Canadian and non-Canadian institutions are available to parliamentarians through the Library of Parliament. We must never forget the Library of Parliament is there to make those available to us.

There are reports from the private sector think tanks or from international bodies such as the OECD while others are the works of academics, business, labour, professionals, associations or other interest groups. These are useful tools to inform us, to help us get to know government, our country better, to help us understand what the goals of a government might be and how we might reach those objectives.

I want to say at this point how much I appreciate the contribution of the Library of Parliament itself. I have seldom found an institution that is as responsive as it has been to my needs. I use it a lot. It responds with a great deal of sensitivity. It responds rapidly and with excellent information that I have learned that I can trust. There are very few instances where I have not been very satisfied at the response to my request. I want to applaud all the men and women who work very hard for all of us.

I want to mention another source of information that perhaps is overlooked on occasion. The Government of Canada has established from time to time royal commissions, various task forces to study in depth and report on issues which are important to the public policy agenda.

Another source that is often forgotten is the Senate of Canada. It often produces superb reports that are extremely useful. For those members who have never had an opportunity to read them, I would suggest that they do so. In fact, if they did I warn them, and I can see the facial expressions of certain colleagues, their view of the Senate and senators might change. If members do not want their view of the Senate and senators to change then perhaps they should not read them. If members are interested in accurate information and insightful commentary I suggest that

they read them and decide for themselves. I would be delighted to chat with them about it if they want more information.

As members know, a steady flow of reports come to us from the government departments, agencies and crown corporations on their activities, their accomplishments and their plans. I find them exceptionally useful as a member of Parliament, particularly those agencies and institutions that are of interest to me.

Finally, I want to focus on the departmental program evaluation and internal audit programs. To my way of thinking, they have not received the visibility they deserve. Some will know I was a former deputy minister and had access to internal audit reports and to program audits. I found them extremely useful.

During the course of the year, we had an opportunity to sit down and look at those with a team of colleagues and try to decide what it was that was working, what it was that was not working and what it was we could do to change our direction in order to meet not only financial obligations but others as well.

I want to quote something useful with respect to the internal audit. By the way this comes from the Auditor General. It goes like this: "The internal audit has the potential to contribute greatly to improving management practices. The government is looking to internal audit to play a vital role in providing assurance on management systems and practices and in addressing re-engineering productivity and government issues".

My view is, actually it is one that has been communicated by the Auditor General, that the internal audit has a tremendous potential to help us all manage government more effectively and to reach the targets that we have set for ourselves either as a government or collectively as parliamentarians.

I want to point out as well that the program evaluation data has a lot of potential because it provides information and analysis for government managers on the results which government programs are producing. It finds innovative and less costly ways of serving Canadians. I think we have all talked about that.

Apparently, this is something that should be noted because we are not often willing, I think we do not do it often enough-

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order, please. The time has expired.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

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.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Gordon Kirkby Liberal Prince Albert—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address the House on the frequency of reporting by the Auditor General. I would like to compliment the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier for introducing this bill.

All members of the House are aware of the valuable contribution the Auditor General makes every year in improving the way the government spends the taxpayers' money. All of us look forward as do the taxpayers and the media of this country to the annual fall ritual of the tabling of the Auditor General's report.

The Auditor General as an institution in Canada dates back to before Confederation. There was a time in our land when every cheque issued by the government had to be pre-approved by the Auditor General.

The role of the Auditor General has changed considerably since then, as has the way government works. Yet the Auditor General remains the independent watchdog for this House and for the taxpayer. The hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier is right in trying to make sure that the job is well done.

We should keep in mind that the Auditor General does not act in isolation. His work supports and affects that of other institutions and mechanisms in place to guard over the management of government. The financial program management of depart-

ments is scrutinized by the Treasury Board secretariat, by internal auditors as well as evaluators who work in concert with the Auditor General to provide an efficient and effective system of controls over the management of the public service.

The Auditor General's present mandate and his general approach including the fact that he reports annually dates back to 1977 when the present Auditor General Act was passed by this House.

Much of the preparatory work for that act was done by an independent review committee which examined the responsibilities, relationships and reporting procedures of the Auditor General's office. I should note that at that time the committee recommended that the Auditor General should report annually to this House and not periodically.

It will soon be 20 years since that report was tabled in this House. The hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier is right to call for a review of the issue of frequency of reporting. However, I would like to take this opportunity to build on my colleague's efforts and suggest that as much has changed in those past 20 years this House should take a broader look and look at other issues concerning the Auditor General's mandate and procedures which the passage of time now calls into question.

This is a very different world from what it was in 1977. At that time the government was expanding and there were serious and legitimate concerns about the adequacy of existing financial and management controls. The then Auditor General, Mr. Macdonell, did us all a great service by bringing this to the attention of this House in no uncertain terms.

Things are quite different today. The public service is no longer growing and the reduction in the operation budgets of departments is imposing a discipline of its own. Things have changed and it may be that the Auditor General's usefulness to this House is constrained not just by the annual reporting requirement but by other limitations as well.

There are a number of areas I would like to recommend that this House explore as part of a review of the mandate and operational procedures of the Office of the Auditor General. For example, I note the hon. member who brought forward this bill expressed considerable concern during the recent hearings of the standing committee on external affairs of which he is the chairman about what role the Auditor General should have in commenting on government policy.

If we look at the Auditor General Act we find that section 7 sets out in detail the responsibilities of that office. Specifically it tells the Auditor General to report on instances of unauthorized spending, lack of due regard to economy and efficiency, and the lack of procedures to measure and report on the effectiveness of a program.

It does not authorize the Auditor General to report directly on the effectiveness of programs but rather only on whether there are systems in place to measure and report on effectiveness. This is an issue which the Auditor General has struggled with for several years.

If we look at his reports over the last 15 years it becomes evident that on some occasions the Auditor General decided that in the public interest it was necessary to go beyond a strict interpretation of his mandate and report on programs which he felt were ineffective.

There are other issues which I am sure the Auditor General would like this House to review which are at least as important to the Auditor General as the frequency of reporting. They include for example the question of resources.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the Auditor General's resources grew faster than those of the government as a whole as it staffed up to meet its new mandate under the 1977 Auditor General Act. In 1977-78 the Auditor General's office spent about $20.5 million while its estimates for 1994-95 are for over $56 million.

If this House sees fit to change the reporting requirements of the Auditor General it should take the opportunity to examine whether such a change would affect the resources necessary to carry out this modified mandate.

I do not think there is anybody in this House who would wish to increase the costs of the Auditor General's office. However perhaps changing the reporting mandate as proposed could actually reduce the budget of the Auditor General's office.

At present over half the staff of the Auditor General is in the senior management category, a significantly greater proportion than in the rest of the public service. Part of the reason for this is having to staff up to meet the one annual deadline for all chapters of the report simultaneously. If the Auditor General were to go ahead with a format of periodic rather than annual reporting, would this enable him somehow to streamline his operations?

Finally there is the issue of who audits the Auditor General. I know the Auditor General is concerned with retaining his independence. At the same time like any other public institution, he knows he must be accountable for the resources he consumes and the quality of his work. At present there is no mechanism by which the Auditor General is made to account in a detailed way for his operations.

As you can see, Mr. Speaker, there are quite a number of issues waiting to be tackled if we are looking at the mandate of the Office of the Auditor General.

It is in the best interests of this House and of the Canadian taxpayers to make sure the mandate and resources of the Auditor General are right for the job which we want him to carry out. In my opinion these issues are interrelated. I would prefer that this House deal with all of these issues as a package and not on a one by one basis.

In conclusion I agree with the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier that it is time to review how the Auditor General reports to this House. However we should look at all related issues and not just the frequency of reporting to make sure the Canadian taxpayer gets the most out of the work of the Office of the Auditor General at the lowest cost.

Thanks to the member for Ottawa-Vanier for making this debate relevant to this House and bringing it forward so we can all do a better job for the taxpayers of this great nation.

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:35 p.m.


Tony Valeri Liberal Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I speak with great pleasure on this bill to amend the Auditor General Act, introduced by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier.

The issue of whether the Auditor General Act should be amended to allow the Auditor General to report the findings of his audits as often as he deems necessary or when he has completed each audit rather than just annually has been discussed in this House on many occasions over the last 10 years.

The hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier has been a long time supporter of this notion. His experience as a former chairman of the public accounts committee has undoubtedly given him good reason to propose such an amendment to such a significant piece of legislation. It is important that we have this debate today.

As I understand it the primary reason for introducing such a change is to ensure that Parliament and the public accounts committee receive and have the opportunity to discuss the important findings of the Auditor General on a more timely basis. This implies that corrective action could be taken on a more timely basis and that Parliament would be in a better position to influence that action.

I also understand this approach to reporting may lead to certain efficiencies within the Office of the Auditor General. These are admirable goals.

I also note as has been argued that other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States have a system of periodic reporting. This does not mean, however, that we should jump on the bandwagon without serious debate and consideration of the issues.

The United States of course has a system that is quite different from our own and even the United Kingdom has different needs and traditions.

The issue of reporting was discussed fully when the Auditor General Act was first introduced in 1977. It was the considered opinion of the experts at that time that annual reporting best suited the needs of the Canadian Parliament. It was felt that annual reporting was appropriate because it relates to the annual issue of public accounts. It facilitates consideration by Parliament which operates on an annual expenditure cycle. It introduces a note of regularity into the report process and it makes it possible to compare from one year to the next.

It is interesting to note also that the provinces have similar reporting requirements to those of our Auditor General. There must be some reason why, although there seems to have been general consensus in previous debates on the purposes of these proposed amendments, no government to date has taken action to amend the act.

There are several possibilities for this lack of action. One reason may be that the Auditor General already has the authority to make special reports to Parliament. Section 8 of the current act allows him to make a special report to the House of Commons on any matter of pressing importance or urgency that in his opinion should not be deferred until the presentation of his annual report. This provision ensures that Parliament can be informed of major issues as determined by the Auditor General on a timely basis.

Another reason may be that there was concern that allowing the Auditor General to report more often during the year would lead to a loss of focus by both parliamentarians and Canadians at large on the results of the Auditor General's work.

The annual focus on the Auditor General's report is most important. As we well know, it is this attention, this potential to effect change through public scrutiny, that makes the work of the Auditor General so valuable.

I think, however, that the real issue here is what would be the impact of the proposed changes on the independence of the Auditor General. We would not want to support changes that would in any way put at risk the effectiveness of the Auditor General. I am sure the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier concurs.

The Auditor General is held in such high esteem by parliamentarians and Canadians and his findings are given such credence primarily because he is seen as being independent from government and above the politics of Parliament.

If the Auditor General were put in the position of bearing the sole responsibility for choosing the timing of his reports, as suggested by this bill, he might be faced with the dilemma of presenting a report on a subject currently being hotly debated in the House. There is real risk that one or the other side of this House would perceive that as being in some way partisan.

Just one ill-considered accusation by a member of this House or by the media could affect the non-partisan image that all Canadians have of the Auditor General. It would therefore be regrettable if the timing of the tabling of individual reports were to become yet another concern for the Auditor General's busy office.

There was further concern. Under the present system the Auditor General is free to choose the areas and issues he wishes to audit and report on. The office of the Auditor General has a very considered planning process that has served us well. Of course, when choosing he takes into consideration the concerns of parliamentarians and Canadians. If, however, he reports more frequently he may be put under increasing pressure by parliamentarians, committees, the government and the media to address hot topics of the day.

As I mentioned earlier, the general accounting office in the United States does issue its reports-

Auditor General ActPrivate Members' Business

2:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Order. The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the item is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

May I wish all members a very happy Christmas, Joyeuses Pâques.