Mr. Speaker, I rise to provide further information to the House on the point of order raised by the member for Edmonton—St. Albert on November 23, 2005, concerning the supplementary estimates.
The member essentially raised two concerns, one dealing with Service Canada and a second concern dealing with Downsview Park.
Let me first address the issue of Service Canada. As the member pointed out, Service Canada is not included in the supplementary estimates (A) and from this observation, he comes to the erroneous conclusion that the estimates are not properly before the House. If I understand the member's argument correctly, he suggested that the government has created a new department and that no moneys expended through Service Canada have been included in the estimates.
The member is mistaken on both points. Service Canada is not a department under the Financial Administration Act, FAA, or any other framework statutes governing the Public Service, nor has it been referred to as such by the government. Rather, Service Canada is a horizontal initiative for the delivery of services and programs associated with departments from across the government.
No new department has been created. Rather, employees and resources of current departments, notably the Department of Social Development and the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development remain in their own departments. To ensure one stop access for Canadians and to ensure integrated management of this innovative horizontal initiative, these public servants are now under a common management team led by the deputy minister for Service Canada.
However, it is important to note that this deputy minister is not a deputy minister for the purposes of the Financial Administration Act as the member has erroneously suggested. Rather, the deputy ministers of the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Social Development have delegated their responsibilities under the Financial Administration Act in respect of services provided by Service Canada to the deputy minister for Service Canada.
Although the member cited order in council PC 2005-1609 for the proposition that the deputy minister for Service Canada is a deputy minister with her own department, he did not say that under the order in council the deputy minister for Service Canada is cross-appointed as an associate deputy minister to the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development and Social Development Canada.
This reflects the accountability regime that I have just outlined and allows this deputy minister to have horizontal operational responsibility for this important initiative. Given that Service Canada is not a department but rather a horizontal initiative, there is no separate entry in the estimates for Service Canada.
Rather, services provided under this initiative, such as the delivery for example of old age security benefits and the Canada pension plan, are fully accounted for in the estimates of the partner departments I mentioned earlier. To sum up, the hon. member asked two questions to which there are clear answers.
First, where is the legislation authorizing the department of Service Canada? There is such department. Statutory authority for the programs delivered through Service Canada is found in the relevant departmental statutes and program statutes.
Second, where are the Service Canada estimates? They are found in the estimates of the partner departments whose services are being provided through the Service Canada initiative.
There is no affront to Parliament as was suggested by the member. Rather, the government has taken existing programs and expenditures, all fully authorized by Parliament, and has brought them under a horizontal management model that respects both Parliament and the Financial Administration Act.
To include Service Canada in the supplementary estimates would be an improper use of the estimates process, as it would be an example of legislating through the estimates.
On March 22, 2004 the Speaker commented on the practice used during previous governmental reorganizations. The Speaker pointed out that:
--the government may request funds only for programs and activities that have already received parliamentary approval. It may not present in the estimates, requests for departments, agencies or activities which have not yet been granted the appropriate legislative authority by Parliament.
The Speaker concluded that:
The Main Estimates reflect the existing structure of government at the time that they are presented to the House.
Therefore, the exclusion of Service Canada in the supplementary estimates is consistent with the established rules and practices of the House.
Turning to the Downsview Park question, there appear to be two issues again. One issue is the use of one dollar items to carry out transactions. The second issue is whether the transfer of land from one department to another federal entity should form part of the estimates.
With respect to the one dollar items, one dollar items are used in supplementary estimates to seek an alteration in the existing allocation of funds as authorized in the main estimates. They do not seek new or additional funds, but rather reallocate existing spending authorities between votes or provide appropriate authorities. The introduction to supplementary estimates makes this process clear, and it is a practice that has been recognized and followed by successive Parliaments.
Provision for the forgiveness of debts owned by crown corporations is specifically set out in section 24 of the Financial Administration Act, which specifies that “no debt or obligation shall be forgiven in whole or in part otherwise than by or under an Act of Parliament, including an appropriation Act”.
As the Speaker ruled in 1981, the government recognizes that there be no legislating through the estimates.
The creation of a one dollar item, in vote 4a in National Defence for debt forgiveness and a non-budgetary one dollar item, and vote L13a in Office of Infrastructure Canada for the establishment of a borrowing authority, specifically set out in section 101 of the Financial Administration Act, is consistent with the principles outlined above.
With respect to point two, the Auditor General, in her November 2003 report, concluded that the government had addressed the issues raised about Downsview Park's accountability to Parliament and the shortcomings in its corporate structure.
However, the Auditor General, in her November 2004 report, pointed out that:
--the Government of Canada has not requested—and accordingly Parliament has not provided—clear and explicit authority to create and operate an urban park, an initiative that Parc Downsview Park Inc. has undertaken...Furthermore, Parliament has not authorized the related spending of public funds.
On May 19, 2005, the government reconfirmed its previous decision to use part of the Downsview lands for the development of a park and authorized the transfer of specific parcels of land from the Department of National Defence to Downsview Park.
It was considered important to assign a transfer value, while ensuring that parliamentarians had an appreciation of the true value of the asset being transferred to Downsview Park. Accordingly, the government decided that the transfer would take place at net book value, which is the accounting treatment in the books of the government. The government placed a line item in the estimates, as urged by the Auditor General, to ensure that this action was transparent and therefore approved by Parliament.
The Auditor General, in her November 2005 report, stated that:
If the government's decisions of May 2005 are implemented, matters that we have previously brought to Parliament's attention would be resolved. Notably, Parliament's approval for the transfer of the Downsview lands and the financing of the park would be obtained.
In order to ensure complete transparency and to meet the request from the Auditor General, the financial informational components related to the transfer of the land from the Department of National Defence to Downsview Park are being presented to Parliament for approval and not for any mandate authority for such a transfer.
The Auditor General has indicated that she is satisfied with the proposed mechanism in the supplementary estimates which shows that land has in fact been transferred from the Department of National Defence to Downsview Park at no net cost to the corporation.
Accordingly, the government has taken the necessary action, through the inclusion in supplementary estimates (A) 2005-06 of a non-budgetary vote, L11a, in the Office of Infrastructure of Canada to address this outstanding issue.
I therefore submit that the use of one dollar items for Downsview Park in the supplementary estimates conforms to the established rules and practices that have guided this House.