House of Commons Hansard #98 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was guidelines.


Canadian Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member will know that the projected order of business does give the time of the vote. In fact it gives the time of the vote for tonight.

I appreciate that sometimes that does not happen. The member is quite right that sometimes there is no indication of a vote, other than the bells. I appreciate the point he has made to the House.

All those at my left in favour of the motion will please rise.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Canadian Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being six o'clock, the House will now proceed to today's Private Members' Business.

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

November 6th, 1996 / 5:55 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

moved that Bill C-214, an act to provide for improved information on the cost of proposed government programs, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to start debate on Bill C-214.

The people want to turn the light on the departments of government that are spending their money. They want to be part of the process of government spending and not merely the recipients of the bills through income taxes after the money is spent. They

want to return to the origins of taxation when individuals gave their specific consent to be taxed.

Many look in mystery as they study their weekly pay cheques. They are mystified that so much is gobbled up by taxation and they are at a loss to understand how they were part of a process that allowed this to happen.

Over 55 per cent of our total personal income is accounted for by all forms of taxation, from income taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes and municipal taxes. Government expenditure is a great confusion to the public. It is an attempt to clarify and shed light on this darkness which my bill before us tonight addresses. The whole concept of taxation was originally based on consent, the consent to be taxed for things which we considered common good, for example sidewalks, snow removal and armies.

I have practised as a tax advisor to many Canadians and not just the wealthy but also those to whom I have donated my time. The common theme was did we consent to this level of taxation. Why is it important and why have we succumbed to this state of affairs when Canada's tax rates are the second highest in the western world? Graduates of Waterloo university are encouraged to leave the country because of a promise of lower tax regimes south of the border.

Did people rationally weigh the cost of programs which have pushed us to this dilemma? Indeed there are those who think by simply balancing the annual deficit it is good enough, as if we should continue to carry a mortgage of this magnitude forever.

What has caused us to create a deficit of over $600 billion? How can we prevent this situation from repeating itself? This is the real purpose of Bill C-214. People have lived in the dark over the cost of government programs. This does not mean we should turn every citizen into a bookkeeper or an accountant. We have to do away with a thought process that someone else is paying the bills.

I often encountered this philosophy in my professional life. People thought it was their next door neighbour who was paying for programs and not them. The reality of course is that nothing is for free and in one way or another we are all contributors. People want to get out of the darkness and turn on the light.

This is the purpose of this legislation. We have bureaucrats who spend endless hours studying government programs. Indeed recently in the October report from the Treasury Board the minister stated: "We must equip ourselves with better systems for evaluating the actions of government so that we can genuinely answer for our actions, first and foremost to our fellow citizens who are both clients and taxpayers".

Our government has come a long way in bringing fiscal responsibility back to government, from an annualized deficit of $44 billion down to $17 billion. We are on the road to financial responsibility.

The problem that gave rise to the original issue has not been solved. Simply put, everyday people did not understand the process or consent to the process that removed over 55 per cent of their disposable income. I suggest that because of this lack of consent we have watched a burgeoning underground economy and people taking their investments offshore.

Thomas Jefferson stated the people are collectively wise. That is why I believe this legislation will turn the lights on for those who pay the bills. It will allow them to be included.

This bill will not give everybody an economic overview of government but it will encapsulate the costs of specific legislation. It will make the information readily available to the public and to parliamentarians. Think of it, a bill that would shed light on the back rooms of Ottawa where people spend our money.

Members of Parliament jump up and down here all week long. They vote on legislation when many have not the slightest idea of its fiscal impact on individuals and the economy in general. This is because this information is not readily available. This legislation would empower them. It would give them more information and make them more effective in representing their constituents. Accountability is what it is all about. The public is clamouring for it and who are we to deny its rights?

The critics of this bill state two basic objections, that the process itself will increase the cost of government and it will inhibit the legislative agenda of the government. First, the government has prided itself on its program evaluation system which analyses the cost benefits of government programs. This is part of a program known as program review. The tool for doing this is a process called expenditure management systems. This is all very well and good as far as it goes.

The problem is all of this examines costs and benefits which have already occurred. Clearly knowing that programs have been efficient or otherwise is useful but the taxpayer will already be stuck with the bill. We are spending millions of dollars to conduct this after the fact review. It would make more sense to bring this examination process forward to the initial stage of legislation.

There is no question that with a greater degree of financial control and scrutiny the government will save more money than any incremental cost of having bureaucrats cost legislation prior to its introduction as opposed to after it is in full swing. Simple common sense tells us that better cost efficient decisions are made

when people assess them prior to their commencement than after the costs have been incurred.

A press release that was issued this morning by the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers states: "Taxpayers could save billions of dollars if the House of Commons votes to pass Bill C-214, the program cost declaration act, introduced by the member for Durham, to be voted on today"-which is not quite true-"at second reading. It would require government departments to provide a cost analysis for each new bill". The federation has stated that billions of dollars could be saved for the taxpayers of Canada.

Second is the concern that this will inhibit the legislative process. It seems to me this argument goes back to regimes of the past. Nobody would go down to a car lot, look over the car, agree to purchase it, drive it away and say "send me the bill" without knowing the cost, and neither should government. This is the whole point of this legislation.

Past governments have promised us all kinds of programs without fully informing us of their costs. A quick look at the state of affairs of the Canada pension plan would leave anyone to conclude that not taking the time or effort to anticipate cost has now led us to a place where we have to make some pretty drastic decisions which will not only affect the younger generations but also some who thought their immediate retirement incomes were secure. What degree of participation did people have in all of this anyway?

It is hard to understand how someone could argue the point of hindrance to the legislative process. It should be part of the legislative process and people should have a right to know.

These are not the issues of the rich but rather the poor and the disenfranchised. As we go through a period of retrenchment of fiscal priorities, many of the poor will be negatively affected. It is to the loss of some of these social programs that this bill directs itself, to the fact that after years of economic expansion that government has extended itself well beyond what it is able to sustain.

Indeed, the auditor general has gone on at length about whether our current levels of deficit are sustainable. That is to say at what point can governments no longer shoulder the cost of servicing the debt? If we have a mortgage on every single Canadian, as our government does, surely these same people have a right to see what the costs are. More important, they want some assurance that we are not going to return to the errors of the past.

This bill does simply two things. First, it requires that the fiscal impact of new legislation be included in a bill at the same time it is presented in this House. This also extends to the regulations of departments.

Second, it requires that the auditor general certify that the method of cost evaluation was fair and reasonable. I would like to underline this matter. The auditor general is only certifying that the method is correct. He or she has no political interference in the worthiness of programs but simply whether the method used to arrive at the estimated costs was reasonable under the circumstances. I suggest that the parallel in the private sector would be the certification of prospectuses.

Like the expenditures in the management system that we now have in place, the role of the auditor general is what is known as ex post. By this I mean he examines costs after they occur. Some of our listeners would equate this to closing the barn door after the horse is out.

This is the whole point of moving this process forward in time. It is small comfort for taxpayers and citizens generally to discover wasteful spending three years after the fact. It only makes them less trustful of their elected officials and government generally. They certainly feel they had no part in the decision making.

By costing legislation prior to its initiation, taxpayers and citizens generally will have available to them the tools by which to judge. It will be up to members of Parliament to justify whether the cost is justified relative to the benefits to be derived. This clearly is what democracy is all about. It makes people part of the decision making of government financing.

I have always had much respect for the people who work for the Treasury Board and also those in finance. I have often thought they were much like a lopsided hockey team where they were the goaltenders and every other department was the offence, all trying to score, and score means budget allocations.

This is why I find it hard to understand why some of them are reticent to accept this degree of accountability. It seems to me that with the support of the general public they will be in a better position to stop the pucks of the spenders of the future. This is the problem. Many legislators equate a zero annual deficit with the end of the story. This legislation would make legislators more cognizant of the cost effects on the general public. Turn the lights on. This is what taxpayers and citizens demand.

Here is what some people are saying about the bill. I have some quotations here. The Auditor General of Canada said: "We share your view that the cost of government programs and operations should be made more visible to Parliament and taxpayers". "I am pleased to inform you that the Certified General Accountant's Association of Ontario fully supports your private member's bill. Your initiative accords with the CGA's Ontario Board of Governors requirements that all action items presented to the board must be accompanied by an explanation of financial implications".

Another quote: "Mr. Shepherd's bill is a good first kick at the can and deserves the consideration of all members of Parliament". That was said by James Forrest of the Alberta Taxpayers' Association.

"I commend you for presenting the right type of legislation which will help the public to understand where their hard earned tax dollars are being spent". That is a quote from the president of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants. I could go on with the list but obviously time will not permit.

We talk a lot about our youth and it is truly the younger generation that will inherit our nation and propel it into the next millennium. Saddling our youth with debts, which they did not incur, will tie their hands. Governments are struggling with this reality as we move toward a more responsible fiscal framework.

It is also appropriate that we conduct a post mortem. That does not mean that we are dead, but it certainly means that financially we are very much on the ground. When we conduct this port mortem we must ask ourselves how this situation occurred in the first place and ensure that we cure the disease so that it will not happen again. That is what my bill attempts to do.

We need to give people the tools to make conscious choices about government policy. Our younger generation will accept nothing else. It is to these people that we address the need for a more consensual form of government.

This is the day after the U.S. election. I was in the United States on the weekend and I actually took part in some of the electioneering. I stopped people on the street and I knocked on doors. The mood was: "They are nothing but a bunch of crooks. It really does not matter anyway". Corrupt election financing practices, together with the fact that people cannot see how they would count, has brought their voter turnout to less than 50 per cent. Imagine, more than half the population of the so-called strongest nation in the world do not consent to their government.

It is this issue which this legislation addresses here in Canada. Turn on the lights and let the people decide. Include them in the decision making process. To do otherwise is to court divisiveness and exclusivity which may well lead to violence.

I have studied many regimes in Australia, Great Britain and the Netherlands that are all moving in the direction of providing more accountability for the actions of government to the people. Think about it. Every piece of legislation that comes before the House would have a cost attached to it. Some in the bureaucracy are going to say it is very difficult to do. But the reality is that we already have an evaluation and internal system of calculating the cost of programs. It simply means moving the thought process up a little bit closer to the legislative process.

How can we as legislators go around the country talking about various pieces of legislation without understanding the full impact it will have on the economy and on government spending? As I researched this issue in other countries, I found that other parliamentarians were doing much of what I am suggesting: moving in the general area of greater accountability, greater awareness of the programs for the general public.

There is nothing unusual about any of the things I am suggesting. It is done in business every day. I am not saying that government is a business. It is not. We have a very different social purpose here. But government needs to be run a little bit more like a business. People have to know the costs.

My fear is that even though we are going down the road of financial and fiscal responsibility and we have moved the ship of state, if you will, maybe 10 degrees on the course where we want to go, there are people who will move it back the other way and we will be off course again. People want to be part of the process. They want to be involved in the process that allows them to make judgments on how governments spend.

People are not going to sit down with a calculator and figure out how much every piece of legislation impacts them, which is why I have included a clause that says: "divided by the population statistics". That way, everyone will know exactly how much every piece of legislation costs him or her.

This could be a good thing. This is not a negative thing for government programs. It could well be a good thing. For instance, we may find that the cost of day care, if we extrapolate it over our population base, is really quite small. People would have a greater degree of acceptance of that if they saw that it was a small cost on an individual basis. On the other hand, there would be those programs that people would not think were particularly cost effective. They would be able to make those kind of judgment calls.

There will be those people who could not care less. They will not use the information at all but the bottom line is that they will have the ability to do so.

The longer I sit in this House and the more legislation I see come by, I cannot figure out what the financial impact of it is at all. I feel it is really part of my responsibility, as a legislator, to know that and to explain it to my constituents. I do not feel that I have the ability to do that with the present legislative format.

Finally in summary, just simply turn the lights on here in Ottawa.

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Nic Leblanc Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Durham, a Liberal member, has put forward Bill C-214, a bill to provide for improved information on the cost of proposed government programs.

The hon. member for Durham, who sat on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts as vice-chairman, is very interested in any administrative or legislative measure that would make the government more responsible or accountable for the enormous amounts taxpayers invest every year in the federal public service.

I want to assure the hon. member of my support in requiring the estimated annual cost and cost per capita of every new program be published as soon as the bill that authorizes it is introduced in Parliament or the regulation that implements it is issued.

The bill also requires that the auditor general be called upon to determine whether the method of calculation is valid and the cost is a good estimate. This assessment and the method to calculate the estimated cost used by the auditor general would go a long way to reassure the public on the objectivity of the calculations and cost estimate.

To increase public awareness of the actual cost of government programs and enhance transparency, as promised by the Prime Minister during the last election campaign, transparency that never really materialized, this bill also requires the total cost and cost per capital of each program to be displayed at any place where the program is delivered to the public.

The purpose of Bill C-214 is to require all departments to provide detailed financial or cost analyses for any new legislative measure.

Estimating these costs on a per capita basis will help individual citizens understand more clearly how much each new piece of legislation costs them personally, how much is actually taken out of their pockets each time the government put a new program in place.

This bill will make legislators and public service officials more aware of the financial impact of various legislative measures. It will also encourage the public to pay closer attention to government spending.

I agree with the hon. member for Durham, when he says that, had such a legislation been in place in the past, the debt burden facing the taxpayers would have been much lower today.

I sympathize with the hon. member for Durham. His background and personal experience, as well as his work at the public accounts committee level, have all contributed to leading him to put Bill C-214 before this House. However, while he has our support, the problem for the hon. member, who sincerely wants to prevent the setting up of programs that are useless and too costly, is that his own government, his own party turns a deaf ear to his bill.

Indeed, the cost of government programs is the least of the Liberal's worries. Since the days of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Liberal Party of Canada has buried Canadians under a mountain of debts, and the current Prime Minister is carrying on the tradition. The notion of cost-benefit analysis is a foreign to this government as its understanding of Quebec is flawed or, for that matter, the existence of two distinct peoples in Canada and the partnership that could exist between them. This Liberal government's constitutional policy is based on confrontation. The Liberals prefer covering up to transparency and to analyzing the real costs of government programs.

For these reasons, Bill C-214 stands little chance of being supported by the hon. member's own party, even though such legislation is urgently required.

A good illustration of the Liberals lack of support for Bill C-214 is an E-mail note we received in which the Liberal member for Bruce-Grey writes the following to his colleague for Durham, and I quote:

"While I find the objective of the bill laudable, I am concerned that it could prove to be costly and cumbersome, particularly if applied to all new programming proposals regardless of materiality".

While cost estimating is the very basis of the evaluation of any new product or service in the private sector, the Liberal member for Bruce-Grey tells us that estimating the cost of any new program would be too costly when we do not know whether the program will actually be implemented. The member for Bruce-Grey seems to be implying that it is better to implement a new program without knowing its costs, then to know the costs of a new program whose financial impact would lead us not to implement it.

Such is the Liberal philosophy: it is better to not know the costs of a new program, because this information could arouse the suspicions of the media, of the opposition parties and of the taxpayers, who would strongly object to its implementation.

Better to keep the public in the dark about the real costs of programs, and above all to keep the auditor general, with his objective and transparent opinion about such information, at a distance.

We saw this, during hearings of the finance committee on the transfer of two billion dollars of Canadian capital tax free to the United States. Members of the Liberal majority and the chairman of the committee himself tried to put the auditor general on the

spot, because he had dared to give a dissenting opinion on the controversial decision by the revenue department and the finance minister regarding this unusual transfer of funds to the United States.

The final report by the Standing Committee on Finance, with which the Bloc Quebecois was not in agreement-we tabled a dissenting report-is devoted largely to trying to refute and undermine the auditor general's opinion.

As political debate and public morality, we have seen worse. Instead of attacking the message, Liberals attack the messenger.

At the end of his note to the member for Durham, the Liberal member for Bruce-Grey says, and I quote:


"With respect to the role of the auditor general, his mandate is one of ex-post review. Indeed your proposal may create a conflict of interest for his office".

The Liberals want to continue to maintain the role of the auditor general's office as one of intervening after the fact, when the deed is done and taxpayers money has already been committed and spent.

As for the possibility of conflict of interest in the auditor general's role, the Liberals have put themselves in a conflict of interest situation for some time by attacking the auditor general during hearings of the finance committee and in their subsequent committee report to the House. The auditor general is accountable only to Parliament, and that is why the Liberals are so afraid of him, do not want to extend his mandate and are trying to undermine his credibility to diminish the impact of his views. This is petty politicking.

Bill C-214 presented by the hon. member for Durham, will unfortunately not be supported by his own party, because it calls for innovation in administration, for transparency-

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, but the hon. member's time has expired.

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


John Maloney Liberal Erie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today in this House to speak in favour of Bill C-214 put forth by my hon. colleague from Durham.

Bill C-214 is an act to provide for improved information on the cost of proposed government programs. We as parliamentarians need to rethink from time to time not only what we do but also how we do it. Bill C-214 will help us to achieve this.

This bill will require the estimated annual cost and the cost per capita of every new government program to be published as soon as the bill that authorizes it is introduced into Parliament, or the regulation that implements it is issued. The auditor general's opinion on the estimate is also to be published. It also requires the cost and the cost per capita to be displayed in any place where the program is to be delivered to the public.

When a new program is to be funded from public money, the minister responsible must make a declaration of the estimated annual cost of the program in each of the first five years of its intended operation, expressed as a total cost and as a cost per capita for every resident of Canada. This declaration must be made in the House of Commons if it is sitting, in the Canada Gazette , in writing to every member of Parliament and in a media statement.

The Auditor General of Canada will provide an opinion that the method of calculation on the cost referred to in this declaration is valid and that the cost is a good estimate. If the auditor general dissents from that opinion given by the minister, then the reasons for the dissent shall be made public by the responsible minister. The minister shall also ensure that the program costs are clearly displayed at every place where the program is delivered and in every document pertaining to the program.

This bill has the support of the Certified General Accountants Association of Ontario, the Alberta Taxpayers Association, the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants, the Society of Management Accountants of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and the Certified General Accountants of New Brunswick. It is obvious that this bill is endorsed from coast to coast and for very good reason.

Members of Parliament must be the stewards of the taxpayers' dollars and MPs often cannot understand the financial impact of legislation for the simple reason that it may not be presented in a clear, concise manner. I believe that Bill C-214 will change this.

Over the years the information provided to parliamentarians has become very technical and lengthy and deals with mainly short term issues. It does not sufficiently help parliamentarians understand the relationships between the resources we are approving and the financial impact they would have on Canadians and the results actually achieved by the program if applicable in previous years.

No one will dispute that governments should be accountable to the Canadian taxpayers. In fact it is the foundation of our parliamentary system of government. The problem with our current way of doing business is the timing of that accountability.

Most government accountability options focus on after the fact methodologies such as evaluation systems. These initiatives provide for reporting long after the tax dollars have been spent. To me,

this does not make sense and is questionable at best. The auditor general also provides Parliament with that same hindsight analysis.

We must look at the issue of control and the understanding of cost before moneys are spent. Is this not a logical extenuation of accountability to the client or taxpayers? Our constituents deserve nothing less.

Each piece of legislation should have attached to it the estimated impact on government expenditures. Indeed it is a logical extension of the current expenditures management system, one which must involve the ultimate client: the people of Canada.

The provisions requiring publication of the costs and opinions about those costs is an excellent initiative. Not only will it provide a greater degree of financial scrutiny by the public over their elected officials, it will also increase the public awareness of the cost of government at all times but especially during periods of restraint.

I know that some hospitals now issue a statement to the patient after being discharged, not for the purpose of payment but to show the patient the cost of hospitalization. Raising the awareness of the public to programs and services that can be easily taken for granted is good. The taxpayers are entitled to see where their money goes and conversely they should be shown how much it is costing when they themselves access programs and services. Very simply, it is accountability.

When the board of directors of a corporation is considering a new initiative, do they not intensely scrutinize the financial implications of the corporation, both in the short term and long term? Are we as parliamentarians not the board of directors of this great country Canada? Should we not also be making decisions on the new initiatives by intense scrutiny of the financial implications? The answer is clearly yes, yes, yes.

With respect to accountability, the public demands more accountability from Parliament. Bill C-214 is one way in which we are counting taxpayers and citizens in on the process of evaluation before the money is actually spent. People wonder at the deficits built up by past governments. How did we get into this horrible situation? By making Canadians and parliamentarians partners at the point of sale rather than only when the bills come in will help prevent or hopefully eliminate escalating deficits in the future.

My constituents can look at the per capita cost of a proposed project and tell me it is not worth it. Many supporters of an initiative in government may look at the cost in black and white and decide it is not worth it. We can give Canadians these choices.

Our children are the true recipients of any unpaid liabilities and the beneficiaries of prudent or imprudent decision making. We owe it to that generation to be aware of the costs of programs before we initiate them and before we saddle these children with an unacceptable financial burden.

The forces that would turn government back on the road to fiscal irresponsibility are at work today. Our colleagues opposite and perhaps members of the bureaucracy are already pondering how to spend annualized surpluses even though the deficit stands at over $600 billion. This legislation will serve as a check on these forces.

Today one of the priorities of the Canadian government is to get government right. Getting government right means modernizing the way we conduct our business and to include the Canadian public as citizens, as clients and as taxpayers. Governments must be transparent. Canadians have the right to know and we parliamentarians have the responsibility of informing them.

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Bill C-214 put forward by the hon. member for Durham, an act to provide for improved information on the cost of proposed government programs.

Bill C-214 contains several proposals all of which address or seek to address the need for accountability in federal spending, particularly on government programs. The objective of this bill is simple: accountability. This is an issue which must be addressed and without question I support this objective. Accountability is critical to good government, and unfortunately there is a need for accountability within this government.

I support this bill in principle and I believe some of the proposals contained in this bill merit support. However, there are also many areas that must be amended before the bill can be supported in its entirety.

For example, to make government more accountable, Bill C-214 proposes that a minister of the crown make a public declaration of the cost of each new program funded from public money. This public declaration would include the estimated annual cost of the program in each of the first five years of its intended operation expressed both as a total cost and as a cost per capita for every resident of Canada.

Providing annual projections for the first five years of operation is a reasonable expectation for new programs. This should be a matter of course. However there is a problem. Projections are not binding once they are published. There is nothing to ensure that the amount published will be the amount spent. One possible solution could be an amendment to the bill that would require amendments beyond 5 per cent to be announced as well.

The proposal in Bill C-214 to provide estimated costs for each program on an annual basis is clearly a good idea. However, I have concerns that the proposed cost calculations for each program may take the issue too far.

Estimating each program as a cost per capita for every resident of Canada does not appear to be a necessary or cost effective procedure. This proposal would be an inefficient use of government money and has the potential to create an unnecessary bureaucracy within government.

Bill C-214 also proposes that program costs be made available in the House of Commons if it is sitting at the time, by publication in the Canada Gazette , a letter to each and every member of Parliament and a statement to the media if the House is not sitting at that time. I fully support this proposal. In fact, this proposal should be strengthened so that the minister's statement to the media is not limited to periods when the House of Commons is not sitting. The public should be informed each and every time a new program is proposed.

Another concern I have is that Bill C-214 proposes that following each new program declaration, the auditor general should provide to the minister responsible for the program an analysis of the cost proposal. The main purpose of the auditor general is to report on how federal government departments and agencies spend taxpayers' money. The role of the auditor general in providing a measure of accountability between the government and the people cannot be underemphasized. On first sight, the proposal to have the auditor general evaluate the cost for each new program may appear valid. However, this is not necessarily a good idea for the following reasons.

I have concerns that such a proposal will create unnecessary work for the auditor general. The independence of the auditor general gives him the freedom to criticize and to form independent assessments on how things are working. There is clearly a risk of overloading the auditor general. Forcing many small projects on him and his department as proposed in this bill would hinder the auditor general from examining more significant issues.

Such a proposal also steps on the independence of the auditor general. He must be allowed to use his own judgment in choosing which areas to report on. Government must not legislate the auditor general to evaluate specific programs.

However, if we wish to be more accountable, we must make changes that allow the auditor general more freedom to report on government spending. The auditor general should have access to reporting on the costs of all government programs and initiatives, including crown corporations and the Senate.

The auditor general provides a very valuable service to Canadians and to parliamentarians. As it stands, he only has limited

jurisdiction as to what he can now report on. If Canadian tax dollars are funding it, then the auditor general should be able to investigate it. It should be that basic.

Bill C-214 also proposes "that program costs be clearly and publicly displayed at every place under the jurisdiction of or contracted to the Government of Canada at which the program is delivered and in every document in which the minister or a person acting with the authority of the minister undertakes to deliver to any person a good or service under the program".

Although I agree with the principle of this idea, I have concerns that this procedure may also run into unnecessarily high expenses that may not be essential. I suggest we maintain the principle of the proposal, yet it should be revised with a more realistic goal.

Costs of programs and initiatives must be public and accountable to the public, but how far we should go in this respect needs to be discussed in depth. As it stands, Canadians have been left out of the picture for too long. Canadians do not find out about the cost of programs until they are already established and by then the money is committed.

Bill C-214 must be applauded for its efforts to make governments inform Canadians. This is a step in the right direction and it is good to see it coming from the other side of the House.

Governments clearly must be accountable to the people. Canadians need to know what the costs are. After all, they are the ones who are paying for the programs in the first place.

Certainly costs of advertising must be balanced against the extent of advertising. The proposal in this bill appears to go too far in advertising the costs with too little concern for the cost of doing so. A balanced approach is needed, as both sides of the issue must be addressed.

Government fiscal policies must be open and within the scrutiny of the general public. The minister of heritage's complete lack of accountability with her flag money is a typical example of the kind of mismanagement and utter lack of accountability that goes on in this government, and this type of irresponsibility must be brought to an end. Spending millions of tax dollars without a clue of where the money is coming from is utterly irresponsible.

Another issue is our debt, which is out of control. Canadians want to know where their money is being spent. The member for Durham, in his move toward accountability, is moving clearly in the right direction.

Canadians want to know what they are paying for. Canadians deserve to know what is going on in Parliament, in its departments and in its crown agencies. Yet time and time again this government

has voted down initiatives that would give Canadians open and accountable government.

For example, if this government is truly committed to open government as it claims, it would open all crown corporations to the Access to Information Act.

Last week I asked the minister of public works to open Canada Post to the public by putting it under the Freedom of Information Act and to the scrutiny of the auditor general, but the minister responsible for Canada Post refused. The government's refusal to open crown corporations to the public makes its commitment to open and transparent government somewhat hollow.

As well, there is complete lack of accountability in the Senate. The Senate continues to spend over $40 million a year with absolutely no accountability to the taxpayers who pay its way. Actions must be taken, yet this government voted down a motion that would require the Senate to account for its spending to the elected members within this House.

The government voted for the Senate budget of over $40 million without knowing how the money would be spent. This is very poor accountability.

Open government means not only opening the finances of government to the people but conducting the affairs of government above board. Open government and accountability are the two main principles within this bill. I believe the member is right on track when he attempts to target these areas.

The member sees there is a lack of accountability and openness in his government and is doing his bit to address the situation.

In conclusion, I support the member in his efforts and, as such, I will support this bill.

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support a good friend, a good colleague and a damn good bill which has been presented to this House, Bill C-214, the program cost declaration act.

The member for Durham probably needs no introduction to parliamentarians, but I think it is of note the work he has done on public accounts and the work he has done hither to his hopefully very long career as a politician, including many years as a chartered accountant and a very fine, upstanding man in terms of the community of Durham.

I speak with some knowledge, although he is not my chartered accountant. I can assure members that many people speak very highly of him. Any member whose dentist goes by the last name McTeague has to know something about his clients.

Mirth aside, the bill deals very specifically with a concern that Canadians have. The concern is that when we decide to move or to allow supply, when legislation is provided, we seem never to be able to provide people with an opportunity of knowing just how much that legislation is going to cost.

I therefore commend the member of Parliament for having the foresight and the experience in terms of his committee work to be able to present a bill which I think a lot of members of Parliament on both sides of the House are expressing they will support.

We realize that the bill is only in second reading and therefore only in its first hour of debate. There will be two more hours of debate. I look forward to listening to other members of Parliament as they provide their views on the bill.

It is important to point out that the committee will hopefully also be able to address the amendments that were suggested, for example, by my hon. colleague from the Reform Party. I cannot help but remark that while the member from the Reform Party rightfully supports the bill, he took the opportunity to talk a bit about the Senate. I was quite amazed to note yesterday that the Reform Party was not willing to join in a motion by other members to remove the section that would deal with abrogating or removing the Senate.

The public has demanded greater transparency from us. It is a slogan for many of us. As we go into campaigns we talk about the need for making sure that people understand how much programs and legislation will cost.

I believe this bill squares with the public expectations, certainly in an era where there is justified or perhaps even unjustified cynicism toward how politicians and governments spend money.

The hon. member for Durham who presented the bill has pointed out that we are currently in a situation of being $600 billion in debt. Some of that, I am sure, is the result of changes in the economic climate, governments not being able to change with the times and the result of great adjustments that have necessitated the government to incur such a debt.

But that does not relinquish us from our responsibility of providing the kinds of instruments that will allow the public and politicians greater scrutiny on the bills that they pass from time to time. Having had 18 votes in this Chamber last evening, it would be good to know the quantum effect of how much those bills will impact on our ability to make ends meet at the end of the day.

The hon. member from Durham who proposed this, whose riding happens to be beside mine, talked about the importance of inclusion, the importance of providing people a real opportunity for participation. That does not mean that people necessarily will take an interest in every single bill. But it allows one dimension of information which allows a democracy to survive in a very trying time. As we approach the 21st century an informed citizenry may avail itself of very important information. That is why I believe the member's bill is not only timely in the context of the deficit and the

debt situation we have, but it is also timely because the public expects us to do this.

Right now there is every indication that there is something lacking when we talk about an underground economy. According to some estimates by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business we are losing somewhere in the order of as much as $100 billion a year because people are looking for alternatives. Some people have low faith in the system and the way their tax money is dealt with that they believe the best way to get around it is to cheat the system.

I think that is a rather sad indictment on the situation we find ourselves in. It makes the job of the revenue minister and in particular the finance minister almost impossible if not elusive. We have to bring Canadians back on side. How we do that is to provide them absolute, open, honest, up front probate information so that they can judge for themselves how the money is spent and ensure their members of Parliament are accountable. In that way it would make my job as a member of Parliament much easier to say to those engaged in the underground economy, given the importance of this bill and that it might someday be enacted, they have absolutely no reason to hurt their fellow Canadians by simply withholding or not paying taxes due.

This is what Parliament can do to bring people back on board and address the cynicism that exists out there.

This may also, as the hon. member has indicated, prevent unnecessary spending. There would certainly be a reluctance by some members to accept a bill that would seem on the surface to be aiming in the right direction. Sure, there are a lot of things we would like to do, but if we do not have the money to make those projects a reality, on whose shoulders or whose generation will the mortgage or the cost of that program be borne? We have many good programs in this country. Some of them have served this country very well and will continue to serve the country in the future. I think of our medicare programs and the transfer payments to the provinces. There are many projects and undertakings that the government has considered in the past and it has enacted valid legislation. However, we must ensure that these projects and undertakings square with public expectations as to how we are able to finance them.

In terms of the debate that surrounds what we are to spend and what we are not to spend, it is important to allow people an opportunity to converse with their representatives, if it is not during an election campaign, in the case of a majority government. There is an opportunity to speak to hundreds of constituents, who I know attend the hon. member's office. It is one of the most accessible offices in the region. It allows them to judge for themselves the importance of the program and to weigh the cost versus the social benefit. That is consistent with my definition and I believe it is consistent with the definition of the Liberal Party.

I want to put this into context in the few minutes which are allowed to me and talk about a project in the town of Ajax, which is in my riding. It has a population of approximately 75,000. In that town there is a program known as Stars. It was featured not too long ago on "W5". The Stars program saves taxpayer money by increasing their awareness of how to reduce spending. No jobs have ever been lost by the town of Ajax. We have given people an opportunity to determine how best to save valuable taxpayer dollars while at the same time making sure that ends meet because municipalities do not have the ability to incur debt.

The architect of this idea was Mr. Barry Malmsten. I am of the opinion that the member for Durham may have talked to Barry about this and applied the wisdom which has been enacted in municipalities such as Ajax to the federal realm. That is very laudable. If that is not the case, then it is certainly an awesome coincidence. Again it leads me to the conclusion that what the member is proposing at the federal level has already proven to bear fruit at the municipal level.

I believe it is up to Parliament to at least consider it. It is an important issue. Obviously it can be tinkered with in committee, but the general thrust of the bill is something which I believe all Canadians would support.

In conclusion, I would like to commend the hon. member. He has put behind him a variety of well known organizations such as the Certified General Accountants of Canada. I note that the organizations include the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and its chairman Jason Kenney. The federation has its provincial organization in my riding. He commented on this as being common sense in the Commons. Such flattery speaks to the importance and the timeliness of this bill.

In concluding, we can say that this bill deserves the attention, respect and even the support of the vast majority of members of this House. I am pleased to have had a chance to speak to my colleague's bill, and I hope it will be passed very shortly.

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Hon. members, it is now 6.58 p.m. Is there unanimous consent to call it 7 o'clock?

Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members


Program Cost Declaration ActPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hour provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Program Cost Declaration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, on October 30, I asked the President of the Treasury Board the following question:

Farmers are increasingly concerned about the multiple impact cost recovery is having on their ability to survive and prosper.

What economic impact analysis has been and will be done to monitor these impacts and is the minister prepared to redress any serious negative impacts should they result?

The President of the Treasury Board responded by indicating that each department is responsible for the cost recovery programs it administers and responsible for any impact analysis undertaken. He also indicated that the analysis would be undertaken in response to specific concerns raised by stakeholders in the industry.

The role of Treasury Board seems to be to monitor and apparently report on the overall impact of cost recovery programs. My concern is that the cumulative impact of various cost recovery programs which involve more than one department but impact on the individual producer is not being adequately responded to.

For example, an individual producer may not have a direct problem with cost recovery programs of Agriculture Canada, but may have a problem arising out of the impact of cost recovery programs from Health Canada, Transport Canada, et cetera.

It appears to me that an individual who has a problem with the cumulative impact of cost recovery does not have any one place to bring these concerns forward for redress. I would point out that producers have to be assured that they will not be burdened with new costs that will affect their competitiveness, especially now that we are part of the new global environment.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has pointed out that the new Pest Management Review Agency will cost recover approximately 60 per cent of its costs while the counterpart agency in the United States has a cost recovery initiative of only 15 per cent. I understand the Minister of Health disputes some of those figures, is reviewing the matter and will come back to the issue.

In the Prince Edward Island Guardian on September 26 under the headline: ``Farmers fear fee hikes'', a very serious matter was raised by Ivan Noonan who is general manager of the P.E.I. Potato Board.

The article pointed out that fee schedules obtained by the Guardian show that the government expects the new fees to more than double the revenue it currently earns from a range of Agriculture Canada services, such as licensing and inspection. Ivan Noonan said: ``It is going to cause a lot more hardship for growers, that is certain. If growers cannot pick up the revenue through better prices or cutting costs per acre, then they will be out of business''.

We must assure producers that that cannot happen. Imagine the cost. Imagine the impact on the macro economy of Prince Edward Island if the multiple impact of cost recovery fees forced some producers out of business.

We cannot allow ourselves to be penny wise and pound foolish. My colleague, the member for Victoria-Haliburton, produced a letter at committee that was sent to him by the vice-president of Pickseed Canada.

In the letter the individual, Mr. Pick, said: "Agriculture and Agri-food Canada now has plans to increase our costs to export to certain countries by as much as four times in 1997. If full cost recovery is passed on, this could rise to as much as 10 times". He concludes by saying: "We simply cannot do business with these costs".

The government must be extremely careful not to allow cost recovery to push producers out of business.

Program Cost Declaration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

Bruce—Grey Ontario


Ovid Jackson LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to respond to the member for Malpeque. I have a lot of respect for him. He works extremely hard on behalf of his constituents and he is very knowledgeable about farming.

It is important that Canadians get food at a good price and that user fees do not put an undue burden on them. The user fee concept is not new. Canadians have paid a passport fee since the 1800s. However, the extent to which public sector goods and services are being financed by users and beneficiaries is increasing in Canada as it is in other OECD countries.

The first principle is that those who enjoy, profit or benefit from government services to the exclusion of the public at large, should be the ones who pay the cost of providing them. That is the underlying premise of the user pay policy. This promotes fairness in the use of tax dollars, discipline in the consumption of services, and allows users to have a direct say in the service and how it is delivered.

The very existence of user charges permits the federal government to improve cost recovered activities that it might not otherwise be able to provide. It permits tax dollars previously used to finance these activities to be reallocated to fund general activities benefiting all Canadians.

The Treasury Board establishes government wide policies and provides general guidance to departments on their implementa-tion, but individual ministers are responsible for applying the policy to programs under their area of responsibility. Individual

departments are responsible for deciding where fees are appropriate and are to be initiated.

Program Cost Declaration ActAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am sorry, but the parliamentary secretary's time has expired.

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m.

(The House adjourned at 7.06 p.m.)