Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address the House in the debate with regard to private member's Bill C-214.
This bill is an act to provide improved information on the cost of proposed government programs and has been introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Durham.
As members will recall, the bill purports disclosing in Parliament the estimated annual cost of every new program the government decides to implement.
If a new program had to be authorized by legislation, this proposal would require that a disclosure be made when the bill was introduced. If enabling legislation was not required, the disclosure would be made at the time a regulation order or one of the instruments was issued.
This proposal further requires that the auditor general provides an opinion on the validity of each cost estimate. The underlying objective of the proposed legislation is laudable but the results of such a bill, if passed, would be costly and administratively cumbersome. This act would result in such red tape for approvals of any kind that the business of the government would slow to a halt.
Applying this legislation to all new programming proposals regardless of size would raise all sorts of issues of interpretation, of applying this act, what constitutes a new program, what should be included in the cost calculations, direct costs only, indirect costs, opportunity costs. This proposal itself would constitute a program for which costs and benefits have yet to be determined.
This bill would also create a new role for the auditor general's office in the expenditure management process. The bill would require that the auditor general's office carry out detailed reviews of thousands of individual transactions before they take place to verify whether costing assumptions that the governments use were valid.
This would create a huge additional workload for the auditor general's office to perform these pretransaction audits. It would have to divert most of its resources away from the audits that focus on whether programs deliver value for money.
Our auditor general and those in many other countries have moved away from this type of detailed pretransaction control and toward broader value for money auditing. The auditor general's mandate is generally one of an ex post review and critique of government spending. It is not likely that the auditor general would readily agree to validate cost estimates on this scale.
I applaud the basic premise of the bill but unfortunately it presumes that we are currently not providing this type of cost information for government programs. This assumption is not correct. I am sure my colleagues would agree that the steps this government has taken toward more open and cost effective government are unparalleled in the Canadian federal government. Perhaps it would be useful to cast our gaze south of the Canadian border for a minute before considering this proposal.
One will observe that there are a number of Republican representatives in the American Senate who want to institute extremely complex regulatory procedures. Implementing those procedures would so complicate the U.S. system that the regulators would be prevented from implementing regulations in the interest of the public good. One could characterize such a system as being a state of paralysis by analysis. Excessive red tape would slow the system down to a crawl in spite of the insistent public demand for more responsible government.
In Canada we have taken a different approach to the regulatory process. Ours is a process that is concerned with cost effective regulation. The Canadian regulatory system already has mechanisms in place to get the cost information. Every regulatory initiative must be included in the Treasury Board's annual regulatory plan which lays out the government's regulatory initiative for the coming year.
Departments and agencies have to list what is planned and why it is necessary. This includes a brief description of benefits, costs, alternatives considered and how the department and agency will consult. There is also a section that provides information on initiatives that are scheduled to be implemented in the coming year.
For every initiative submitted the department or agency must make a cost declaration to identify the anticipated costs. The initiative is then classified based on both anticipated cost and degree of acceptance. For example, an initiative with an anticipated cost of $1 million will be considered a major initiative if it has a low degree of acceptance, but an intermediate cost initiative if it has a high degree of acceptance. From the beginning of the process regulators are mindful of costs.
That is just the beginning of accountability for costs in Canadian regulation. In November 1995 the Treasury Board of Canada secretariat introduced federal regulatory policy which discusses the requirements for new regulations. The objective of this policy is to ensure the government uses its regulatory powers for the greatest
net benefit to Canadian society, in other words, that its regulations are cost effective.
When regulating authorities must ensure that they comply with six general policy requirements. First, a program or a risk exists, intervention by the federal government is justified and regulation is the best alternative. Second, Canadians are consulted and they have the opportunity to participate in developing or modifying regulations and regulatory programs. Third, the benefits outweigh the costs to Canadians, their governments and businesses. In managing risks, resources are used where they do the most good.
Fourth, adverse impacts on the capacity of the economy to generate wealth and employment are minimized and no unnecessary regulatory burden is imposed. In particular, information and administrative requirements are limited and they impose the least cost possible, the special circumstances of small businesses are addressed, and parties proposing equivalent means to conform with regulatory requirements are given positive consideration.
Fifth, intergovernmental agreements are respected and full advantage is taken of opportunities for co-ordination with other governments and agencies.
Sixth, systems are in place to manage the resources effectively. In particular, to ensure that the regulatory process management standards are followed, compliance and enforcement policies are articulated as appropriate, and resources have been approved and are adequate to discharge enforcement responsibilities effectively and to ensure compliance where the regulation binds the government.
The regulatory policy provides for cost effective regulation. It provides for regulation that is flexible, focused on ends rather than means, focused on high priority problems rather than unnecessary detail and based on a partnership model with other governments and those subject to the regulation. It guarantees an open and transparent development process and requires that the government consider all alternatives before choosing the regulation.
This policy goes a long way toward to ensuring that Canadians have smarter regulation, free from unnecessary and costly burden. It provides for regulation only where it is the best alternative and only where the overall benefits clearly exceed the costs.
In other cases the government provides a clear indication of costs either at the time a new program is announced or in the budget if these costs are significant. In the budget of March 6 of this year the Minister of Finance emphasized the need for frugality in everything we do. Waste in government is simply not tolerated.
We have put aside the notion that new government programs require additional spending. What they do require is the will to reallocate. In the March budget every initiative involved a shift of resources from lower to higher priority areas.
The announcement in 1995 of the expenditure management system committed the government to making the best use of taxpayer dollars to deliver quality services to Canadians. The system is built on the principles of funding for new initiatives or priorities by reviewing existing expenditures and then reallocating money.
The expenditure management system will foster greater fiscal responsibility and help the government to meet its fiscal targets. Using business plans will allow departments to set out strategies for changing their businesses to reflect budget targets and government priorities.
The presentation to standing committees of departmental outlooks on program priorities and expenditures will help us to review expenditure trends and priorities for the coming years and provides a context for examining the estimates of the Government of Canada.
On March 7, 1996 the government released its progress report on getting government right. We recognized that the people of Canada are concerned about the cost of government and how those costs are being controlled. They want better governance. We have laid out for them what we have done and what we will continue to do to achieve this.
The program review exercise launched two years ago was the most fundamental review of federal programs and services since World War II. Its goal was to identify the federal government's core roles and to refocus resources on primary areas where reducing overall spending was important. The results of this review are changing the face of the federal government and will continue to do so for many years.
The government continues to ask the important question of how can programs be delivered in the most efficient manner. The auditor general continues to provide advice in this area. As long as this remains a government priority, departments and agencies will continue to do a good job in following up on every opportunity for improvement.
The combination of the two initiatives, the revamped expenditure management system and program review, opened the door for what we are now engaged in, an effort to bring results orientation to the information we in Parliament use.
We are entering a new era of governance, an era that will be characterized by greater transparency and dialogue about policy directions.