Madam Speaker, Treasury Board is responsible for establishing the overall policy and for providing general guidance to departments in its implementation. This includes the need for them to be sensitive to the cumulative impact of fees on their clients.
We view the assessment of cumulative impacts as a very important issue with respect to the introduction or amendment of user charges. Officials of the Treasury Board secretariat assemble an advisory committee of businesses and consumer groups to help them draft a revised set of cost recovery policy guidelines. We see this policy development as a first and important step toward ensuring that all departments and agencies work toward the same goals when they introduce or amend fees.
Program review has changed the way government conducts business. Many activities are being totally re-engineered to ensure Canadians get the best value for money spent. Scarce tax dollars cannot continue to be used to fund programs that provide specific benefits to clients which are over and above those provided to the general taxpayer.
In our efforts to improve the focus of government spending we are paying more attention to who receives benefits from government activities. Unfortunately shifting such costs to those who benefit will necessary involve fee introductions or increases in those areas which seem large when viewed outside this context. We all know nobody objects to paying their fair share, but those impacted by these changes want and deserve a voice in what happens. Departments and agencies must give clients an opportunity to provide input as to how services for which they have to pay can be improved.
However, this is not a one way street. Departments and agencies must keep an eye on their overriding policy objectives as they work with suggestions for change. The Treasury Board will not impose a ceiling on charges. However, it wants to ensure that departments carefully assess how such fees affect clients before they are put in place. Ministers of line departments are responsible for implementing cost recovery for programs under their area of responsibility and for assessing the economic impacts of specific initiatives.
I cannot over-emphasize the role that clients will have to play in any such exercise. The specific impact of user charges will vary greatly across clients, depending on their particular circumstances. Therefore, open dialogue between clients and departments is crucial to understanding and resolving inequitable situations which may arise.