Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise in support of the supply bill. We are here this evening to talk about government expenditures; the money the government will spend this year on its many programs, services and initiatives.
Before I continue I want to take this opportunity to clarify a term that has been used. There has been much discussion about government money. There is, in my opinion, no such thing as government money. There are only public funds.
As parliamentarians we are well aware of this fact. The vast majority of the funds that we discuss in this House are tax dollars of our neighbours, colleagues and friends, farmers, fishermen, high and low tech workers, small business persons and others who work across this country from coast to coast to coast. They have the right to expect their government to spend this money judiciously, wisely and fairly. They have the right to see that their tax dollars are making a difference and improving the standard of living in their lives, in their children's lives and in the lives of all Canadians.
The Government of Canada is committed to investing in programs, initiatives and services that Canadians want and need. This commitment is reflected in the supply bill. The funds for which we are seeking approval in the supply bill are essential to our ongoing efforts to improve the lives of all Canadians and to deliver good government to all Canadians.
It is realistic to state that these funds will have an impact on each and every Canadian in some tangible way. This money will help continue the fight to make sure that our accomplishments are achieved; accomplishments in continuing to make our streets safer, preserving our environment, or furthering the development of our programs which help the less fortunate.
We are investing in numerous initiatives. Why? Because each contributes to a common goal, the goal to provide Canadians with the high quality programs and services they need and expect in their daily lives. These are the investments that continue to make us the number one country in the world with the United Nations rating systems for literacy, distribution of wealth, education and the many forms of tolerance and compassion that make us who we are.
Yes, I will echo my colleagues' sentiments when I stress how important it is to ensure that these important investments are being made responsibly. It is not enough for this government or any government to simply say “Trust us”. We know the importance of having clear accountability in place. We also know that having the appropriate control of frameworks and regulations is essential to ensuring that funds are being administered in a way that best serves the public good.
We must ensure that every dollar goes a long way and that we leverage it to get better results, such as the very successful Canada infrastructure program for which the member opposite has commended the government many times.
Mr. Speaker, as you, my colleagues and most Canadians know, we have those frameworks and regulations in place. They are in place and they work.
It is the framework and smart spending that allows for all of these improvements in the daily lives of Canadians. We know that the job is not complete. We know that there are further improvements to be made and that is why we need to continue to build on our success.
I welcome this opportunity to elaborate on some of the comments my hon. colleague, the President of the Treasury Board, made a few moments ago. I would like to focus for a few moments on the Treasury Board Secretariat's revised policy on transfer payments which came into effect on June 1, 2000.
The revised policy is important to strengthening the management of public spending. The member opposite has helped in the process of formulating the new policy that the government has put forward and has commended it.
The origins of the revised policy can be traced back to the 1997 report of the independent review panel on modernizing comptrollership in the Government of Canada. This report recommended that the Treasury Board Secretariat establish government-wide administrative standards and policies. As a result, we started a review of our policy on transfer payments, particularly as it related to grants and contributions.
That review began in the summer of 1999. It built on the panel's recommendations. A working group was struck, composed of both the departmental and central agency representatives. The idea was to obtain broad input and balanced viewpoints. The working group met to review, provide input and ultimately facilitate the drafting of a revised policy.
The objective was to develop a policy that would meet departmental needs while fulfilling the government's requirements for accountability, managing for results and ensuring responsible spending. This policy meets the objective.
Some of the departments involved in providing input to the revised policy included Health Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Industry Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Western Economic Diversification, Canadian Heritage and Finance Canada.
I would like to note that feedback on an earlier draft of the policy was provided by the office of the auditor general, which fully supported its direction. The revised policy has a single but very important objective: to ensure the sound management of and control over accountability for grants and contributions.
The policy on transfer payments applies to all Government of Canada departments and agencies, as well as to all transfer payments, including those between the Government of Canada and other levels of government. While it does not apply to crown corporations, several are using it as a guide to develop their own policies. This is a model that is being copied far and wide. This is how we continue to reinvigorate government and its processes to ensure Canadians get the government they deserve.
Aside from what the President of the Treasury Board has already explained from her overview of some of its most important features, let me elaborate a little on certain points.
The revised policy affects grants and contributions. In this respect it requires several things of departments. As my colleague has pointed out, it requires departments to guarantee that measures are in place to ensure due diligence in approving payments. Departments must also ensure diligence in verifying eligibility and entitlement whenever a new contribution program is being established or renewed.
Second, it requires that departments have a results based accountability framework in place. This framework must include performance indicators, expected results and outcomes, as well as evaluation criteria to be used in assessing the effectiveness of any given program.
Third, the revised policy requires that departments recommend specific limits to federal assistance in instances wherein recipients are receiving funding from multiple levels of government, including other federal sources.
Those are all positive measures and it does not stop there. The revised policy also adopts the principle that funds are provided only at the minimum level required to achieve the expected results and not in advance of need. In addition, eligibility criteria for assistance must be predetermined, made public and applied on a consistent basis.
Finally, the programs must be formally renewed through treasury board once every five years, or more often should it be deemed necessary. This ensures ongoing relevance and effectiveness.
Individually these are all important steps forward. Collectively they represent considerable progress. These measures will make a difference for Canadians. They will help ensure that funds are administered responsibly and that Canadians can have confidence that their money is being well invested by their government.
Of course I know that some questions remain. I have had several colleagues ask me about how this policy affects programs that are already in existence. There are three important ways.
First, effective June 1 as I mentioned earlier, departments must commence a review of their transfer payment management regimes to ensure they reflect all aspects of the revised policy.
Second, agreements entered into on or after June 1 should respect the principles of the revised policy. A three month transition period is provided however before new agreements must reflect all the revised policy requirements. This is only fair. It is a recognition of what is realistic from an administrative point of view.
Third, departments must obtain treasury board approval to replace or renew the terms and conditions of existing transfer payment programs by March 31, 2005.
The government has introduced some broad though necessary changes. Many of the requirements contained in the revised policy, such as the need for results based accountability and risk based audit frameworks, are already in place since they were implicit in the old policy.
However there is likely to be an initial workload increase as departments work to ensure existing management control frameworks are adequate and appropriate. They will also have to make sure that they have the data required to evaluate programs and to report to parliament.
For renewals as well as for new programs, departments will need to provide fuller proposals when coming to treasury board for approvals. This will no doubt require greater attention to detail and as a result, more work for departmental staff. This is essential however. Treasury board needs to be provided with the necessary assurances that the programs are sound.
Clearly there will be some initial expenses but I believe that these expenses will be relatively inconsequential compared to the savings we will ultimately enjoy as a result of more efficient and effective management of funds.
Let me conclude by once again stressing my emphatic support for this supply bill. It is good and necessary legislation. It will allow the government access to essential funding, funding for programs that are important to Canadians.
The government has a clear vision. We have a clear appreciation of what Canadians want. That is why our policies have helped produce the lowest unemployment rate in over 25 years. It has enabled us to deal with a surplus and in effect have more efficient and effective government.
As the policy of transfer payments demonstrates, we have the mechanisms in place to ensure that funds are administered effectively. Together these elements will ensure that Canadians get truly exceptional value for their tax dollars.