Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion by the hon. member for Cariboo—Chilcotin, which reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should take immediate measures to ensure that the Financial Information Strategy is fully and completely implemented.
I will start by saying that we of the Bloc Quebecois are in favour of this motion. This information strategy has been in the works for some years, and even had a whole chapter devoted to it in the auditor general's report in 2001.
Implementation of an information strategy has been discussed ever since 1989. It was to be fully implemented by April 2002, but we are far from that stage still. That is why the auditor general had a number of recommendations to make.
It is very important that this initiative be put into place so that accountability of the entire public administration will be more easily attainable. As well, this will enhance organizational performance through the strategic use of financial and other data.
As I have said, this modernization of accounting was first raised back in 1989 and again six years later, in 1995, before being addressed in this motion.
We believe that the implementation of the strategy will give government managers a better financial information tool for making decisions, as it will allow them to tie program costs to the results obtained.
There is one question we have on this matter. In the past, the former Minister of Finance missed the mark on more than one occasion with his estimates. He had the bad habit of underestimating the estimates, which resulted, by a principle of accounting, in the surplus being allocated to the debt when the provinces had great needs, particularly in the areas of education and social assistance. During this debate, I would like to hear from the member who moved this motion, to see if he thinks this strategy will help the new Minister of Finance with the estimates any better.
When it comes to how the strategy will work, it is made up of modern financial systems. It will allow for a more accurate snapshot of our financial situation, as soon as one is needed.
Essentially, the financial information strategy will encourage better management by providing managers with access to information not only on the cash flow required to carry out programs, but on all of the costs.
Managers will also have the opportunity to compare program costs with their results.
Another question that is raised is whether or not this strategy will allow for any readjustments or changes if the program does not meet its objectives.
In her 2001 report, the auditor general praised the financial information strategy, but did not mince her words when it came to her criticism of the government for being slow in implementing it.
She strongly recommended that the federal government finish the work that was started to improve the government's financial management and decision making process.
She said, and I quote:
The federal government achieved an important milestone on 1 April when the final 60 of the 95 departmental financial systems went on-line. Now it has to take the final critical step in implementing the strategy—getting the information to managers and motivating them to use it.
So, the strategy is a step in the right direction, but more must be done. The government cannot pat itself on the back until the financial reports of each department have improved and until they comply with the strategy. A lot remains to be done.
Another question that we must ask ourselves is: If the financial information strategy were already in effect, would it have saved us from having to dig up the scandals and the allegations that this government is facing?
How can this government explain the delay in the implementation of the strategy, after deciding itself that it would be implemented in April 2001?
What did the Treasury Board Secretariat do to ensure that the departments have adequate plans to complete the implementation of their system so as to comply with the requirements of the financial information strategy? These are questions that this government absolutely must answer.
The use of the new financial information should also allow managers to do a more effective job. They must have access to it and, more importantly, they must trust its accuracy. This is a major challenge for departments.
We must put an end to the use of black books by managers who cannot use the new financial systems and who continue to manage information by using the old manual methods.
It remains to be seen whether the government will have the courage to make good on its intentions. Considering the magnitude of the task and the rigour required by the strategy, we are concerned that the government may decide to shelf this initiative, as funding measures dry up and project offices reduce their activities.
Parliamentarians and taxpayers hope that all the moneys invested and the efforts made so far regarding this project will bear fruit. If the government wants to ensure transparency, it has a duty to complete this important modernization process of our financial systems.
The motion before us is a reminder to the government that it is too soon to celebrate and that, even though progress has been made, there is still a lot of work to do.
It is necessary that managers use the new financial information available and, more importantly, that they be encouraged to use it in the decision making process. The issue of estimates and supply must be settled once and for all.
This is why we support the motion that:
—the government should take immediate measures to ensure that the Financial Information Statement is fully and completely implemented.
A lot remains to be done before the strategy can be deemed to be completed.