Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to table the Main Estimates of the Government of Canada for the 1997-1998 fiscal year.
In 1993, the Red Book stated: "We will exercise unwavering discipline in controlling federal spending and will reorder current spending priorities to make sure that maximum return is obtained on each investment".
These estimates mark the turning point: the point where we regain control over government spending. The point where we deliver public services adapted to today's reality.
As we promised in 1993, we are working to put the country's financial house in order. The main estimates I am tabling today contain expenditures that are closer to our means.
We are fully committed. We have worked hard and we are on the verge of achieving our objectives.
In the span of four years, we have significantly reduced the deficit, we have built a more efficient public service. We are working to deliver quality services to all Canadians.
For example, this year, Revenue Canada will process several million tax returns, and it will do so in less than 10 days.
Environment Canada has rationalized its approach. The number of weather offices was reduced from 71 local offices to 17 regional offices. This was made possible by better use of modern equipment and technology. Weather information and services provided to Canadians will be improved.
By the end of the current fiscal year, the percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to federal programs as a whole will be the lowest it has been in almost 50 years. Government program spending will account for only 11.9 per cent of the gross domestic product in 1998-99 as opposed to 16.8 per cent in 1993-94.
Since it assumed responsibility, this government has reduced the federal government's expenditures from $120 billion to $106 billion.
As we promised, we have changed the way in which we govern even as we continue to put public finances in order. We took up the fight and we will win the battle to provide our citizens with quality government.
The people of Canada elected us because they had confidence in us and believed, with just cause, that we could succeed. Our expenditure plan will live up to their expectations, but we still have a long way to go to transform government. This year we can achieve our financial goals without announcing any new reductions.
I left the public service and decided to enter the political arena in order to protect the financial future of our country. I was already dreaming of the day when I would be part of the birth of a new culture of public financial management.
In December 1993, I said: "Over time, governments collectively have promised more than they could deliver- and delivered more than they can afford". Today marks a turning point in the history of the administration of public finance in Canada. We have examined our financial situation, made firm decisions, and taken action to achieve our objectives. We have governed strongly and wisely.
But make no mistake: the battle has not yet been won. To relent would be to stray from the path that we have set. We are readying ourselves to enter the 21st century on sound and solid footing.
In February 1994 I told hon. members that we had to undertake an in depth review of the roles and responsibilities of the federal administration so that we could give the country a government equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Program review has been the cornerstone of our strategy. Thanks to this unprecedented exercise, we have been able to achieve our deficit reduction targets, to improve the delivery of services to Canadians and to clarify the role of the federal government in a number of areas.
We have reformed the system of expenditure management. We have inaugurated an ongoing program review, and soon will be in a position to provide public services within our financial limitations. We have created a stable long term planning framework for the departments.
The program review has, among other things, led us to the conclusion that, at the close of the 20th century, the state did not need to be the owner of railways, airports, or even the St. Lawrence Seaway in order to serve the taxpayers' interests. It enabled us to more clearly define the areas in which the government can best be involved in co-ordinating the actions of all citizens.
The main focus of public administration must still be the pursuit of program excellence and quality, in keeping with our means and with the needs of all of our fellow citizens.
Our mission has been developed without ever losing sight of the goal of enhancing the measurement of outcomes and of accountability. We are still faced with the challenge of maintaining a culture of state administration which supports constant improvement.
To that end, we have put in place a number of initiatives.
In partnership with industry we have eliminated half of the administrative irritants identified by small businesses. By next September, Veterans Affairs Canada for instance will have cut the time it takes to process an initial disability claim in half. All of this has been done while in fact spending less than we had predicted.
While reducing costs and providing quality services to Canadians, we are preparing partnerships with the provinces, the private sector and the NGOs.
The Canada infrastructure program is one example of a successful partnership.
Another is the transfer by Transport Canada last November of its civil air navigation services to a private sector not-for-profit agency, which today employs 6,000 former public servants.
Not only must program delivery reflect today's reality but most important, it must meet the needs of Canadians. Soon Canadians will be using more of the new information technologies to deal with government. This is a more economical, more efficient approach that will be accessible to Canadians at any place and at any time. The government would like to develop cost recovery more fully; however, we will move forward cautiously to avoid obstacles that might unduly inhibit the competitiveness of companies or the access of Canadians to services.
This tool will lead to a change of attitude in both public servants and those who pay user fees. Departments will have to better tailor their services to users' needs.
Thanks to the determined support of the public servants who have been behind our undertaking for the past four years, we have made considerable progress. Thanks to their innovative nature, these public servants have proven their ability to adapt rapidly to change, while keeping firmly in sight the objective of the pursuit of excellence and the delivery of quality services.
Canada has an administrative system that is the envy of the rest of the world. Yet we cannot rest on our laurels. The constantly and rapidly evolving world economy demands greater efficiency and greater rationalization of our operations.
Our public administration had become too unwieldy over the years. The governmental machine had multiplied its areas of intervention, and had built cumbersome and costly structures. After reviewing the functions of the state, we were forced to reduce its size.
However, we are treating our employees with civility and respect as we move through the public service reduction process. Accordingly, we established the early departure incentive program, called the EDI, and the early retirement incentive program, or ERI, both of which offset a number of the consequences of staff reductions.
The number of federal public servants has gone from 225,000 down to 195,000 between April 1995 and December 1996.
We all want a modern and dynamic public service. We also want a quality public service. We cannot afford to be left behind, nor to let events overtake us. Accordingly, we have introduced a series of measures and strategies to address this issue. The program known as "La Relève" is the catalyst for building a modern and dynamic public service.
The return to collective bargaining is another important step for the government. I look forward to successful negotiations with the unions. We are expecting a great deal from these negotiations. We are looking for financial accountability. We are looking to establish the concept of total compensation and we are looking at transforming the public service.
Canada deserved a new way of managing public affairs. We have a vision of the future that is shaped by the need to move forward with pride.
I do not need surveys to know that Canadians are happy that their financial independence is within reach and that they will soon be free once again to choose the type of society they want.
Our vision held true as we improved results, assessment, transparency and accountability. These changes mean that we can establish a new public service culture in the best interests of all Canadians.
We still have much to do, but I am proud of what we have already accomplished.
The House will recall that last March we introduced, on a pilot basis, a new format for six of the Part IIIs of the Estimates.
In October, I also tabled performance reports for 16 departments and agencies. These reports provided the House with more detailed information on the results achieved. And they brought this information to members six months earlier than if we had waited for the tabling of the traditional Part III. These documents were well received and appreciated. They reflect our efforts to improve the information we present to Parliament. We have therefore decided to continue with the initiative this year.
The 16 departments and agencies have prepared outlook documents, entitled "Plans and Priorities", which I am tabling as their
Part IIIs. They are the outcome of discussions with members of the House and the auditor general.
I would like to thank all of them for their valuable contribution, especially the member for St. Boniface and the members of his working group.
As further good news for Canadians, I am also making public today another document: "Getting Government Right-Governing for Canadians".
This document-which is close to my heart-is a report on the current status of government reform, as well as a description of the action we will be taking to achieve our goals.
We promised to create quality government. Canadians can be proud of their government. We have kept our promises. We are back on the right path-the path to cost-effectiveness and to quality.