moved that Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House again this afternoon to speak. This time it is with regard to Bill S-201.
Mr. Speaker, before I get started, I want to commend you and the other chair officers who have been working late hours the last couple of nights and yet you are still here on Friday afternoon. I would like to commend you for your diligence in this respect.
Today I am here to talk about Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act (quarterly financial reports).
I will begin by commending Senator Hugh Segal who brought this forward and has been working diligently with respect to the matters that are addressed in this bill and issues of accountability and transparency that the senators and I share.
I know this bill had a previous incarnation in the Senate before prorogation last fall but, unfortunately, it did not get out of committee before prorogation and therefore had to go through the whole process again.
I know that the careful consideration that was given by the hon. senators in the other place, especially within the national finance committee, is greatly appreciated by all members of the House. My private member's bill, Bill C-428, is in the other place and is going through the same consideration, the same thoughtful process that I know this private member's bill has gone through. I would like to commend the senators who worked diligently not only on this bill but also on my bill and many of my colleagues' bills as well.
The bill that we are here to discuss is Bill S-201, which seeks to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Bank of Canada Act. The requirements that would change are as follows. This would require that all departments, agencies and parent crown corporations would table financial statements on a quarterly basis. The bill would create a more transparent financial management system in government and would allow parliamentarians and all Canadians to see the way the government is spending money and ensuring that it is delivering programs effectively.
I wholeheartedly agree with the objectives of this bill. It would ensure greater accountability and transparency of government. The good, hard-working Canadians who pay their taxes on a regular basis and the people from my constituency really deserve no less.
The objectives are really in keeping with our government's commitment to Canadians to increase accountability of government. Accountability is the foundation of Canada's system of responsible government. It is key to assuring Canadians and Parliament that public resources are effectively and efficiently used.
I am especially proud of the Federal Accountability Act that this government brought forward as its first piece of legislation because it provides Canadians with the assurance that the powers entrusted to government are being exercised in the public interest.
However, accountability does not stop there. It has to be throughout government. An accountable government ensures that Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars are not wasted and ensures they are invested in responsible and effective programs that meet Canadians' needs. In fact, the sound stewardship of Canadian tax dollars ensures they receive value for money, and that is a top priority for myself and our government.
There have been some important improvements brought forward by our government in working to ensure that Parliament has the information it needs to hold any government of any day to account. For example, we have made several improvements to the estimates documents to provide more meaningful information to parliamentarians and make these documents more user friendly.
The Treasury Board Secretariat has worked with departments and agencies to improve the quality of information presented for their individual requirements. This has resulted in better information describing the nature of transactions, including the offset of new spending requirements through the use of existing spending authorities.
In the past year we have made other changes, including provisions of clearer summary tables, a presentation of gross financial requirements for each organization and an explanation of the funds available to offset new spending requirements. These improvements allow hon. members in the House to get a better understanding of the government's spending plans and to ensure that they can hold the government to account.
We are also strengthening the oversight role in the use of public funds. The creation of a parliamentary budget officer is a long realized dream of my predecessor, the member from Peace River, whom I replaced, Charlie Penson.
After a decade of advocating for this officer of Parliament who would provide objective analysis to the nation's finances, Mr. Kevin Page was appointed by the Conservative government as our first Parliamentary Budget Officer, and that happened in March of this year. This is another move to realize a decade long dream of advancing transparency and accountability within government that my predecessor had and for which I know many members of the House have been advocating for nearly a decade.
This new officer of Parliament position was announced in the Federal Accountability Act and is now included within the Parliament of Canada Act. The person has three main responsibilities: first, to provide objective analysis to the House of Commons and to the Senate concerning the state of the nation's finances and trend within the general economy; second, he has the responsibility to undertake economic and fiscal research for House of Commons standing committees; and third, he estimates the financial cost of proposals currently or prospectively under consideration in either the House when requested to do so by a member or a committee of the Senate or the House of Commons, or a committee of both Houses.
In talking with the new Parliamentary Budget Officer, I had an opportunity to discuss the bill that is currently before us today, Bill S-201. I can say that our new officer of Parliament is very supportive of this new bill. It would actually improve his capability of helping out members of Parliament and senators.
In addition to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the government has recently implemented a new expenditure management system as well. This system will rigorously and systematically assess all direct program spending and operating costs of major programs. Further, all government organizations are required to conduct their program strategic reviews to assess how and whether they are first, efficient and effective; second, able to meet the priorities of Canadians; and third, are aligned with federal responsibilities.
The first round of strategic reviews was completed in the fiscal 2007-08 year with departments identifying expenditures totalling some $386 million a year of program that are low performing or programs that are no longer needed.
In the fiscal year 2008-09, 16 departments and agencies are reviewing their program spending. This covers a total spending of $20 billion. These reviews will help us reduce spending in inefficient or ineffective programs and stop those that just do not work. These will help to ensure that every tax dollar that we collect, as government, is spent to deliver the necessary programs to Canadians. They will help us to control the overall growth of government spending.
This is simply good management. It is the same thing Canadian families to ensure they are spending efficiently. When they shift their priorities, they need to ensure they are living within their means. Governments should act no differently. That is good management, good government and it is good leadership for Canadians.
The first fruits borne by this more disciplined approach were announced recently in the savings of $386 million, money that will be redirected to new initiatives within departments or within the government at large.
Taken together with the key elements of this new expenditure management system, it will ensure that taxpayer dollars are well managed, that they are spent in responsible ways and that the management of doing this will ensure that the business of government is responding to the needs of Canadians.
I will now turn directly to the bill we are talking about this afternoon. The bill also supports accountability and the sound stewardship of all tax dollars. I will explain how.
By increasing the quality and frequency of financial reporting to Parliament and Canadians, the bill will ensure that they are informed of recent developments in government operations. As such, it will facilitate oversight by parliamentarians of government spending on a timely basis.
It is imperative that we have the correct information in a timely manner in order to combat waste of money. Every dollar the taxpayers pay must be treated with respect and must be closely monitored.
Let me step back for a second and outline how the current reporting system works. The government prepares a federal budget and summary financial statements on an annual basis. The Department of Finance also publishes a monthly fiscal monitor that reports on the government's overall fiscal results. While this report does contain some departmental information, it does so in such an aggregated way that it really only reflects government's performance overall.
This bill will require that all federal departments, government agencies and crown corporations would have to, in addition, submit quarterly financial reports to Parliament. This would be a substantial increase in the timeliness and quality of information reported to Parliament.
It is important to note that the Senate has already made some important improvements to the bill. For example, it was amended to require that financial statements are made public 60 days after the quarter end. This will provide for a more regular reporting timetable while lessening the burden on organizations. It will also avoid the need to defer the release of quarterly financial statements during recess or prorogation.
These are amendments that I thank the hon. senators for making, because they provide additional transparency for parliamentarians and Canadians.
I would also like to take this opportunity to explain that the government has been working diligently to strengthen financial management across the federal government. A sound system of financial controls improves this organization's ability to manage risk.
In this area, we have taken a number of steps to strengthen both our policy and our practice. For example, by March 2009, we should have in place a renewed financial management framework and policies that clarify the responsibilities and accountabilities of deputy ministers and senior officials within government.
In addition, our audit policy is strengthening public sector accountability, risk management, resource stewardship and good governance by reorganizing and bolstering internal audit functions on a government-wide basis.
This involvement ensures the independence of internal audit from line management by introducing two points. The first is departmental audit committees, which will include a majority of competent and experienced members drawn from outside the federal public service. The second is the organizational independence of chief audit executives, who will lead audit functions and must now report directly to the deputy head.
In conclusion, I want to ensure that there will be no doubt that the government is committed to improving accountability and increasing transparency. We have proven that not only in word but also in action. I will stand with hard-working taxpaying Canadians and support legislation like this bill, which will ensure greater transparency for government expenditures.
We support quarterly financial reporting requirements by all federal departments, agencies and parent crown corporations. The measures that I have talked about today will provide Canadians with the open and honest government they deserve, one that acts transparently, ensures value for money and demonstrates accountability.