That Vote 1, in the amount of $465,000, under Northern Pipeline Agency — Program expenditures and contributions, in the Main Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, tonight, I am pleased to speak about the 2018-19 main estimates, which I tabled on April 16. The main estimates provide information to support the government's request that Parliament approve $276 billion in spending to deliver programs and services in the fiscal year starting April 1, 2018. This includes $113 billion in planned voted expenditures, and $163 billion in statutory expenditures.
The main estimates support two appropriation bills, the first Appropriation Act No. 1, 2018-19, approved $31 billion in interim funding for voted expenditure requirements in the first three months of the fiscal year. The second Appropriation Act No. 2, 2018-19 will approve the remaining $82 billion. Through these main estimates, the government continues to make important investments in the priorities of Canadians: growth, progress, reconciliation, and advancement as part of our plan to grow and strengthen Canada's middle class.
We are also delivering on our commitments in a manner that is open, transparent, and accountable to Parliament.
Canadians and the parliamentarians representing them have the right to know how public funds are being spent, and to hold government to account.
That is why we made changes to the estimates process to make it easier for Canadians and parliamentarians to track expenditures. For the first time in recent history, the main estimates will include all budget measures announced in this year's budget.
This is a major step forward, and it has been made possible in part by changing the tabling date of the main estimates to mid-April, after the budget. In the past, new initiatives announced in the budget did not appear in the main estimates because the main estimates were tabled before the budget. Parliamentarians were left largely in the dark about how spending announced in the budget would be allocated to departments. The Globe and Mail rightly called the system bad to the point of absurdity, with spending estimates usually coming before the budget and in a different accounting format, rendering them virtually meaningless. As the Globe put it, “It's a discredited practice that has only served to keep MPs in the dark about how tax dollars are being spent.” That is why our government has taken steps to address these problems and strengthen transparency to Parliament.
We have revised the Standing Orders so that the main estimates are much more likely to be tabled after the budget. To do this, we have added the new budget implementation vote to the main estimates. Changing the sequencing allows the 2018-19 main estimates to include all the measures announced in the budget for this year. Therefore, today, parliamentarians have a document in front of them that is relevant and complete so they are better able to hold government to account for how it spends tax dollars. By law, this money can only be spent on the measures announced in the budget tabled on February 27, 2018. Treasury Board, as a central agency, does not have any discretion to use the funds for any other purpose. Parliamentarians can now trace each and every allocation from this new central vote to a specific line in the budget. That is table A2.11 in the budget, and in the main estimates in annex 1.
Allow me to address some of the concerns that have been raised recently about the budget implementation vote. Let us take the assertion that the budget implementation vote does not allow sufficient oversight by parliamentarians. As someone who has served in this House for over 21 years, I respectfully disagree. In fact, parliamentarians still have the opportunity to study and vote on the budget and the estimates and the appropriation bills for the main and supplementary estimates. In both the budget plan and the main estimates, they have a detailed disclosure of the measures to be funded from the central vote. Former parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, recently called the detailed table in the 2018 budget, “a 'clear signal' that the federal government wants and is working to give a more accurate figure of the year's upcoming spending”.
Parliamentarians will also be able to see allocations to departments and remaining balances for the line-by-line budget measures in monthly reports online and in the next available estimates.
I would add that former Department of Finance officials and economists, Scott Clark and Peter DeVries, gave budget 2018 an A grade for fiscal credibility, writing:
With respect to transparency the 2018 budget provides more detailed financial analysis and information than any budget that we can remember, and we go back a long way. For critics of the budget who felt such information was lacking, they should perhaps take the time to read the Annexes.
Let me now turn to the suggestion that the constraints placed around the use of the funds in the budget implementation vote are not sufficiently binding. This is completely untrue.
Annex 1 of the main estimates details, line by line, the limitations of the vote. It includes specific measures, departments, and maximum funding available for budget 2018 through the central vote. In addition, as I mentioned, on page 261 of the TBS main estimates, we reiterate these details.
Treasury Board cannot allocate additional funds or otherwise reallocate funding from other initiatives to support these programs.
Let us say, for example, that circumstances change, and the government proposes increasing funding for a budget measure identified in the budget implementation vote. The result would be that a separate funding decision would be required. Parliament would then be asked to approve the items separately in future estimates. I will provide an example.
Budget 2018 proposes a number of important investments, including $154 million to the Department of Health to address the opioid crisis. These funds are reflected in the 2018-19 main estimates budget implementation vote. Let us say that over the course of the year the opioid crisis worsened and the government decided it needed to invest more. If the government wanted to increase funding for this, or for any other budget measure identified in the budget implementation vote for that matter, a separate funding decision would be required and Parliament would be asked to approve the items separately in future estimates.
I spoke with the Parliamentary Budget Officer about the idea of amending the wording of the vote to create even more clarity and provide him and Parliament with even greater assurance. I am pleased to report that based on that conversation, we have amended the vote wording in the appropriation bill to incorporate by reference the details in annex 1 of the main estimates.
I invite members to turn to page 29 of the supply bill, which states, “Authority granted to the Treasury Board to supplement any appropriation of a department or other organization set out in Annex 1 to the Main Estimates for the fiscal year, for an initiative announced in the Budget of February 27, 2018, and set out under that department or other organizations name in that Annex, in an amount that does not exceed the amount set out opposite that initiative in the Annex.”
With this amendment, it is even clearer that funding may only be provided for the measures, amounts, and organizations detailed line by line in annex 1 of the main estimates.
It is also worth noting that Auditor General Michael Ferguson has said “he’s less concerned by the $7-billion vote because...the government is bound to the line-by-line promises.” He said, “You have to allocate it”, funding for the budget measures, “on that basis, you can’t just decide somebody else should get more and somebody else can get less. To me that’s not the authority that they’ve been given by Parliament.” We wholeheartedly agree with the Auditor General.
Finally, I would like to address the view that the initiatives to be funded through this vote are not reflected in the departmental plans, that there remains a lack of alignment between the budget initiatives and the planned results. Allow me to clarify that alignment between the main estimates and departmental plans has not changed. Instead, we have actually improved transparency by including budget 2018 funding in a central vote managed by the Treasury Board Secretariat.
As the year progresses, parliamentarians will be able to better track budget allocations because they will be reported in the monthly online reports; the next available supplementary estimates; the departmental results report, after the fiscal year has ended; and through a budget implementation tracker on the GC infobase. This is a level of transparency not available in previous estimates that parliamentarians have been debating and voting on for years.
I would now like to talk about budget 2018 and highlight some of the measures our government is taking for the middle class. Canadians want to ensure that more and more people benefit from a growing economy.
That includes Canada's talented, ambitious, and hard-working women. By supporting women entrepreneurs, reducing the gender wage gap, and increasing the participation of women in the labour force, we are helping boost economic growth for all Canadians.
Budget 2018 also aims to close the gap between the living conditions of indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples, facilitate self-determination, and advance recognition of rights.
As of today, 63 long-term drinking water advisories on reserves have been lifted, but there is still much more work to be done. Our government is committed to ending long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on reserves by March 2021, and we are making greater investments through budget 2018 to try to beat that deadline.
To help address employment gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous populations, we are investing $2 billion over five years to create a new indigenous skills and employment training program.
Budget 2018 also creates new opportunities for innovators since its invests nearly $4 billion over five years to support the next generation of Canadian researchers. This is the most significant investment ever made in basic research in Canada.
Through these estimates, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians. We are creating economic growth for the middle class and those working hard to join it. In addition, we are making important changes that will improve the clarity, transparency, and accountability of government spending. In doing so, we are continuing to raise the bar on openness and transparency to Parliament and Canadians.