Motion No. 1
That Vote 5, in the amount of $992,135,000, under HUMAN RESOURCES DEVELOPMENT—Department—Grants and contributions, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2001 (less the amount voted in Interim Supply), be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak in support of this motion this afternoon.
The Government of Canada has made a commitment to improve the quality of life of all Canadians. We have developed a complete and cohesive vision to enable us to attain that objective.
That vision was defined in the throne speech and given concrete form in the budget. The supply bill we are debating today is proof of that. This vision is a clear one. We are striking a fair balance between expenditures, tax reductions and paying down the debt.
When our government came into power, we inherited an impressive deficit of $42 billion. With the support of Canadians in every part of the country, we have eliminated this deficit. After years of austerity, we are now in a position to make investments.
We are not investing carelessly, however. It is not our intention to go back to the spending policies of the Conservative government of that time. Instead, we will be investing strategically and responsibly in health and in programs that will enable us to create employment, to improve people's feeling of security, both individual and collective, and to promote prosperity in general.
Canadians have told us what they wanted: a prosperous country with well-protected communities, a country with a healthy environment, and opportunities for their children's future. They also want a country with a heart, a country with compassion, one with a shared and profound feeling of collective responsibility. Those are the objectives of Canadians, and those are our objectives as well.
Perhaps we are talking numbers today, but we cannot lose sight of the real meaning behind those numbers. It is easy to consider major expenditures as merely abstract figures. It is sometimes harder to see the human aspect that lies behind the columns of figures presented to us.
It is important to do it however. We must never forget that the expenditures we are discussing today will have an impact on the everyday life of Canadians.
The investments proposed in the supply bill will increase the ability of the RCMP to ensure the safety and security of our communities. They will help prairie farmers who have fallen on hard times. They will reinforce native communities. They will help young people to have access to post-secondary education and good jobs. They will make access to government services easier, and will thus bring citizens and their government closer together.
This is why I support the bill before us today. It is a good bill that will help people across the country.
As hon. members are aware, the government is asking for $34.5 billion in this supply bill. It represents a huge portion of this year's main estimates.
The main estimates reflect most of the spending plan presented by the government in the March budget. The main estimates for fiscal year 2000-01 amount to $156.2 billion, or nearly 99% of the total projected expenditures.
This includes the government's request to parliament with respect to a sum of $50.1 billion for which an annual authorization is required, and $106.1 billion worth of expenditures authorized under current acts.
It is worth noting, in passing, that this year's main estimates show a $4.6 billion, or 3%, increase over last year's estimates.
This is not to say that we are going backwards and spending wildly. This is not how this government is managing its operations. In fact, the total expenditures as a percentage of GDP has decreased over the last four years, from 17.1% in 1997-98, to 15.8% now.
The same for program spending, with expenditures to reach $116 billion in 2000-01, or $4 billion less than in 1993-94.
There are many reasons why this year's main estimates are $4.6 billion higher than last year. For one thing, we have put $1 billion more into the Canada health and social transfer, and $700 million more into old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the spouse's allowance program.
Because of our ageing population, we see that the number of beneficiaries and the mean rate of benefits are increasing. Canadians have told us what their priorities are: a strong social security net, and reliable, quality health care. We have listened to them and, as you can see, we are making the necessary investments.
Our commitment to serving Canadians is also clearly reflected in the funding that we are seeking approval for today. A significant portion of these funds will go to maintaining and preserving the levels of service that Canadians expect from their government.
Some of this money will go to ensure the sustainability of a number of core federal services. We intend to improve among other things the safety of the country's public infrastructure. We want to augment the safety of food inspection. We want to speed up the response times and capacity of search and rescue services.
The plans outlined in the supply bill will allow us to do this. Let me stress again the supply bill is not just about numbers; it is about people.
The funds we are seeking approval for are not arbitrary amounts. These funds will help us administer and fund programs and services that increase our general prosperity and competitiveness. We made a commitment to do this in the Speech from the Throne and these were not idle words.
Before I close my remarks, I would like to touch briefly on a related topic. There has been concern of late about the policies and frameworks that guide government expenditures. Concerns have been raised, particularly about grants and contributions. It would be remiss of me as President of the Treasury Board not to address this issue for a moment this evening.
Canadians work hard for their money. They expect the government to manage their tax dollars wisely and with great care. Canadians have a right to expect their government to administer funds judiciously. This principle is one of the pillars of good government. It is something this government takes very seriously.
That is why on June 1 I announced measures to strengthen the management of public spending through a revised policy on transfer payments. The revised policy will strengthen the supervision of grants and contributions, focus on results, promote responsible spending and heighten effective control. Above all it will provide for increased accountability and transparency to parliament and Canadians.
This is not a knee-jerk response to recent headlines. The revisions we have implemented were not hastily put together. Rather they are a result of the review of the policy of grants and contributions that was initiated in 1999. This was many months before the Human Resources Development Canada internal audit raised concerns about the grants and contributions issue.
The government routinely reviews its policies and frameworks to ensure that they are up to date and serving Canadians well. The review of grants and contributions was part of an initiative aimed at updating all policies related to the comptrollership function of the treasury board. We are taking measures on the broad front to identify ways to improve the stewardship of public funds. I should note that the revised policy on internal audits and evaluations is also forthcoming.
The revised policy on transfer payments requires that departments guarantee that measures are in place to ensure due diligence in approving payments. There must also be due diligence for verifying eligibility entitlement whenever a new contribution program is being established or renewed. Eligibility criteria for receiving assistance must be predetermined, made public and applied on a consistent basis. We want to ensure that grants are made in a fair and transparent manner. The playing field must be level and everyone must know what the rules are. Canadians should tolerate nothing less.
Before funds can be allocated, departments must demonstrate that they have a results based accountability framework in place. Accountability is essential to effective stewardship. These frameworks must include performance indicators, expected results and outcomes, as well as evaluation criteria to be used in assessing a program's effectiveness. After all, we cannot give public funds to projects that do not produce some sort of quantifiable results. Furthermore, departments must recommend specific limits to federal assistance where recipients receive funding from multiple levels of government, including other federal sources.
There are other important aspects of the revised policy. All programs will be required to be formally renewed through the treasury board at least once every five years to ensure ongoing relevance and effectiveness. If there are concerns about a program, this renewal process may be considerably less than five years.
We are also concentrating on transparency. The Government of Canada is committed to operating in an open manner. We have made improving reporting one of our main management priorities. This commitment is clearly reflected in the policy on transfer payments.
Departments must report on each transfer payment program which transfers in excess of $5 million in their annual departmental reports on plans and priorities. This must include descriptive materials such as stated objectives, expected results and outcomes, as well as milestones for achievements.
Departments must also follow up on this later in the year in their departmental performance reports. They must look at the commitments they made in their reports on plans and priorities and show evidence of the results achieved. In this way we ensure that all major programs are showing progress. If they are not, we will know why and be able to respond accordingly.
This revised policy on transfer payments only represents one element of our broader efforts aimed at modernizing the practices of the comptroller's duties. That element, in turn, is part of a larger and co-ordinated initiative aimed at modernizing public management in general.
The expectations and requirements of Canadians are changing and public management practices must follow suit.
That is why we developed a new management framework, which will allow us to take up the challenges of the new millennium.
Last March, I tabled the new management framework in parliament. It is entitled “Results for Canadians”. This document shows how management practices change to adapt to the changing priorities of Canadians.
It describes our new management philosophy, which stresses the need to maintain a strict control while using tools that enhance initiative and creativity in government departments.
It describes our management commitments, the way we strive to create a government more focused on citizens, on results and on values, intent on spending responsibly the funds made available to it.
Finally, this management framework shows how we honour our commitments, by working assiduously on many fronts.
In some respects, the supply bill is a major component of that process. The items for which we are seeking approval will help us meet our objectives. They will help us fund programs that will improve our capacity to serve Canadians. In short, they will also help us improve the government.
That is what citizens of this country want, and that is also what they deserve. Finally, without any doubt, that is what this government has committed to give them.