Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to the main estimates 2018-19. In fact, I have several points. Some of those points will pertain to the main estimates as a totality, and other points of order will pertain specifically to the so-called budget implementation vote, or Treasury Board Secretariat vote 40, which I will simply refer to as vote 40 throughout the course of my argument.
At the outset, it is important to say that I support the stated objectives of the President of the Treasury Board with respect to reforming the estimates process and having better alignment between the budget document, the estimates documents, and the public accounts. That said, those goals will not be realized if for every step forward, we take two steps back. Moreover, we can have better information and better alignment between those documents without undermining the financial oversight role Parliament plays with respect to the government. It is in respect to that important role that I rise on a point of order today.
It is also important to say that these arguments will be procedural in nature. They are not about the substance of what is in the estimates, and pointing out the deficiencies in the way the government has chosen to seek funding for its new budget initiatives is not the same as opposing the substantive measures.
There are some positive measures in the budget, but the ends cannot justify the means in this case. Our duty as parliamentarians to oversee government spending does not begin with the programs we do not like and end with those we do, just as you, Mr. Speaker, serve the whole House and are charged with upholding the rights and privileges of the House, despite whatever partisan affiliation you may have had prior to your election as Speaker.
The first respect in which I believe this year's main estimates are deficient is in respect to their form. In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, we read:
The business of supply is the process by which the government asks Parliament to appropriate the funds required to meet its financial obligations and to implement programs already approved by Parliament.
The government initiates its request in the House of Commons because, as stated in Standing Order 80(1):
All aids and supplies granted to the Sovereign by the Parliament of Canada are the sole gift of the House of Commons, and all bills for granting such aids and supplies ought to begin with the House, as it is the undoubted right of the House to direct, limit, and appoint in all such bills, the ends, purposes, considerations, conditions, limitations and qualifications of such grants, which are not alterable by the Senate.
To accomplish that task, according to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition:
The Crown, acting on the advice of its responsible Ministers, transmits to the House of Commons the government’s projected annual expenditures, or “estimates”, for parliamentary scrutiny and approval.
Further to that, we are to understand that:
During the legislative phase [of the supply process], the House considers and votes on the government’s proposed annual spending plans (the main and supplementary estimates) and the legislation (appropriation bills) needed to authorize all consequential withdrawals from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
In other words, the government is meant to receive the authority to spend money out of the consolidated revenue fund from the House of Commons on the basis of the information it provides to members of the House through the estimates documents. As such, the form and content of the estimates have been contested over the last 150 years, and the rules and procedures of this place require certain information to be included in the estimates in order that members of the House are able to assess the spending plans of government prior to voting authority for expenditures of public money.
Requirements of the estimates are described in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition:
The main estimates provide a breakdown by department and program of planned government spending for the upcoming fiscal year. The estimates are expressed as a series of votes, or resolutions, which summarize the estimated financial requirements in a particular expenditure category, such as operations, capital or grants. The votes are expressed in dollar amounts, the total of which, once agreed to, should satisfy all the budgetary requirements of a department or agency in that category, with the exception of any expenditures provided for under other statutory authority.
In response to complaints that the government estimates did not include sufficient information for parliamentarians to properly assess the integrity of government spending plans, the estimates were modified to include departmental plans, which include more detailed information about current and anticipated departmental initiatives. This practice dates back as far as 1981 and is so integral to the estimates process that the departmental plans are, in fact, considered to be Part III of the estimates.
I will spare members of the House a lengthy citation by referring them to chapter 18 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice for a historical survey of the estimates and the incorporation of departmental plans in the estimates.
Departmental plans are considered to be so important to parliamentarians' understanding of the estimates that a given department's departmental plan is automatically referred to the committee considering its departmental estimates. The authority for that comes from Standing Order 81(7), which I quote:
When main estimates are referred to a standing committee, the committee shall also be empowered to consider and report upon the expenditure plans and priorities in future fiscal years of the departments and agencies whose main estimates are before it. Any report on plans and priorities of a department or agency shall be deemed referred to the appropriate standing committee immediately after it is laid upon the Table.
The main estimates 2018-19 fail to meet these requirements of properly constituted estimates. It defies the well-established practice and reasonable expectation on the part of members of the House that the estimates will include the information they need to make a considered judgment with respect to the government's spending plan before giving authority for the spending.
Moreover, it violates the spirit of Standing Order 81(7), a standing order meant to ensure that members of the House have all the relevant information available to them with respect to the government's spending plans before authorizing that spending as part of the estimates process.
These estimates do that by supplanting Part III of the estimates with the budget document for all the government's new budgetary initiatives, valued at over $7 billion, and all lumped together under Treasury Board vote 40.
There is no requirement for the government to present a budget in any given year, and there is no mechanism by which that document is automatically referred to committees for study. Nevertheless, we are being referred to that document, not any document in the estimates themselves, to get whatever details the government is prepared to offer about its proposed new initiatives.
To give a sense of the magnitude of the spending contemplated, consider that of the roughly $276 billion of expenditures forecast in the main estimates, only $83 billion actually stays with the government for operating and capital expenditures. The amount being requested under vote 40 is $7 billion. That is 8.5% of the federal government's own operating and capital expenditures.
Together with the contingency fund of $750 million under Treasury Board vote 5, the government is asking for $7.8 billion, or about 9.4% of its actual budget, without providing the appropriate supporting information under Part III of the estimates.
While these are impressive figures, Speaker Jerome made the point in a ruling on December 7, 1977, that when it comes to deciding whether an item in the estimates is in order or not, “whether the amount is $1 or a billion dollars makes no difference to the Chair.” By extension, it does not matter whether the sum is over $7 billion, either.
As Speaker Lamoureux stated on December 10, 1973, with respect to these matters, “The Chair has to make a ruling on principle”.
To confirm that the government intended to supplant Part III of the main estimates with the budget document, such as it is, I would direct Your Honour to the testimony of Ms. Marie Lemay, deputy minister of the Department of Public Works and Government Services, at the government operations and estimates committee on May 10, 2018, in response to questioning by the member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke. I quote from committee testimony. The hon. member said:
I want to follow up some of the questions that were raised earlier by [the member for Edmonton West], about table A2.11.
I want to try to clear things up a little....
There are things that are listed there for PSPC—$653 million worth of spending—and for Shared Services—$289 million of spending. That's nearly a billion dollars. Are those in the main estimates?
Ms. Marie Lemay responded, “Those were announced in the budget. They are not in the main estimates.”
That is despite the government seeking appropriation for funds for those measures under Treasury Board vote 40.
I would further draw the House's attention to a number of examples in the documents themselves, which I do not pretend is by any means an exhaustive list but is merely a sampling of instances where authority is being requested for grants that are not described in Part III or any other part of the estimates.
Take for example the item “Ensuring Security and Prosperity in the Digital Age”. In the annex of the main estimates that proposes certain allocations out of Treasury Board vote 40, this item is mentioned on eight separate occasions. The suggested allocations under this item are as follows: Communication Security Establishment, over $42 million; Department of Employment and Social Development, $2.7 million; Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, $3.3 million; Department of Industry, $4.6 million; Department of Natural Resources, $2.2 million; Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, $5,471,000; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, $38,225,000; and the Standards Council of Canada, $1.6 million.
Of the eight departments or agencies in question, only three bothered to mention digital initiatives at all in their departmental estimates. In the departmental plan for Employment and Social Development on page 54, for example, it is not exactly clear, given the subject heading in vote 40 and what occurs in the departmental estimates, how this funding is supposed to line up.
I quote from page 54 of the ESD departmental plan:
ESDC is developing and implementing a modern IT infrastructure that enables digital services; enables effective, efficient and timely availability of information; and ensures a secure technology environment. This will be delivered through initiatives to update and modernize the desktop computing environment, upgrade older server operating systems through the Application Portfolio Management initiative, as well as through establishing an Enterprise Architecture program to deliver on IT-enabled business transformation; and by supporting ESDC in delivering on Benefits Delivery Modernization of the Service Transformation Plan commitments to be delivered in the longer-term.
How that relates exactly to digital security is not exactly clear. The departmental plan for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, on page 22, says:
The Department will strengthen its relationships with information management and information technology services partners and maintain its ongoing participation in government-wide enterprise and modernization initiatives, including: the review and implementation of the new Treasury Board Digital Policy; the promotion of more accessible and open information via Open Government by design and default; the development of interoperability standards; the adoption of Government Enterprise systems such as GCDoc, GCSI (Government of Canada Secret Infrastructure), CTSN (Canadian Top Secret Network), and others.
While the RCMP departmental plan does provide considerably more information, and I will not quote at length from it, that still leaves five of the eight departments or agencies that did not include information on these proposed authorities in the estimates. Perhaps they felt that they did not need to, because the vote seeking authority for that spending actually appears as a Treasury Board vote, so they may have thought they did not need to include it in their own departmental estimates. If so, one might think the Treasury Board departmental plan would provide details for the over 200 items covered under vote 40. Alas, it does not.
Perhaps Treasury Board felt it did not need to provide those details because they appear in the budget document, but the budget document is not part of the estimates, which is, in essence, my point. Unlike Part III of the estimates, it is not automatically referred to committees for their consideration as part of the estimates study.
As a second example, consider the item “A New Intellectual Property Strategy”. That item appears in the vote 40 annex under five separate departments or agencies, but the new strategy is mentioned in only one departmental plan, the one for the Department of Industry. The Department of Industry requests $6.2 million for this, the Copyright Board $600,000, Courts Administration Service $2.7 million—