Madam Speaker, the President of the Treasury Board has presented a motion that changes the one I presented last week, November 25, 2004, to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, one which, I repeat, was adopted by the majority of the committee members.
That motion, I must point out immediately, did not in any way question the legitimacy of the role of the Governor General. Primarily for the benefit of the taxpayers who are watching so they will know exactly what is involved, I will reiterate and explain as clearly as possible what it is all about, because much has been said.
The motion I presented, which the majority of the committee adopted, involved a 10% reduction in the $4,171,000 that had not yet been authorized by the government with respect to the Governor General's budget, in other words the modest sum of $417, 000. Let us make it clear, the budget of the Governor General's secretariat is $19.1 million for the current fiscal year, but taxpayers need to know that the total budget allocated to the Governor General's mandate is far more than the $19.1 million figure. When all the budgets of all the other government bodies that provide her with services are added it, the figure totals—a conservative estimate—between $35 million and $42 million. We can never get accurate figures. This is an important point, because it demonstrates that the real costs, the total costs, are not consolidated but spread among a number of federal bodies.
On the other hand, I must tell the public, prompted by that same desire for clarity, that the Governor General's budget has, according to all the data known, gone up 90% in the past 10 years. It made a jump worthy of an Olympic record in 2002-03, with a dizzying 102% increase.
The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates was able to hear from two representatives of the Office of the Governor General, to question them on the budget and the way in which the Office of the Governor General undertook its responsibilities to streamline expenditures, to optimize expected and achieved results, to review this streamlining exercise and the reporting, accountability, and transparency expected by Canadians and Quebeckers. I will come back to this testimony in a moment.
First, I want to say that it is normal to expect a Governor General, the head of state, not only to lead the way in cutting government expenditures, but also to set the tone and to lead by example. She is a head of state. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The motion that was adopted seeks to rectify this. This requirement to cut expenditures is not new. The Liberal government has made it into a theme song, and we are well-placed to hear it in the House.
To give an extremely simple but very relevant example, I refer hon. members to the Speech from the Throne, and I do not need to remind anyone that it was the Governor General herself who read that speech.
On page 2, the government announced, with regard to its seven commitments:
To aim for tangible, practical results for Canadians and report to them so that they can hold their governments to account;
A little later, on page 3, the government said, through the Governor General:
—we will not be complacent. The Government will not spend itself into deficit ... It will provide transparent, accountable management, treating every tax dollar with respect. The Government will make the difficult decisions among competing priorities and systematically review all expenditures, reallocating from old to new, from past to future.
I want to digress, here, because I allow myself to hope that the Governor General will not go from past to future with a 90% increase.
Now, I will detail the testimony given by the Governor General's representatives so that everyone can see that the goals of reducing expenditures, optimizing anticipated results and being financially transparent have not really been taken into consideration by the senior officials and the head of state herself, and that progress, as such, has been more than mitigated and very minimal.
To do this, I refer to the minutes of the meeting of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates of Tuesday, November 23. Let us recall, first, that in the spring of 2004, this committee undertook a review of the budget of the Office of the Governor General. I need only point to three recommendations that are especially relevant to what I have to say in support of it.
The third recommendation reads as follows:
That the Parliament of Canada ensure that the necessary measures are taken to improve the financial transparency and accountability of the Office of the Governor General (Head of State).
The fifth recommendation reads as follows:
That the Office of the Governor General report on its annual projected plans and priorities and the anticipated results of its activities. In that report, the Office of the Governor General should state the expenses borne by the federal departments and agencies supporting its activities.
Finally, the sixth recommendation reads as follows:
That the Office of the Governor General prepare an annual report on its activities, including its financial statements—
In reference to these recommendations, the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, a committee member, asked what had been done in this regard, and I quote:
The purpose of the reports requested at that time was transparency, letting Canadians know how money was being spent and what activities were being done. Also, I guess whenever we look at budgets or main estimates or a report of this type, it's to try to find savings.
Addressing the two representatives, he asked the following question:
At the point you're at in the preparation of this plan, have you found savings?
This is the answer of the Director General, Corporate Services, Office of the Governor General:
We participated in the government's reallocation exercise in the current year and we did find savings. We found about $150,000... We are also participating in the 2005-06 expenditure review committee initiative.
And the Governor General's secretary added:
I might just add that it is part of our regular management practices; in our program planning and in looking at all the events that the Governor General does, it is a critical part of our planning to always look at the most cost-effective ways of doing business.
I am very pleased because that is exactly what was proposed and requested in the motion that I introduced and that was adopted.
I then had an opportunity to ask a question of the two representatives along the line taken by the hon. member. I therefore asked these two representatives:
—how the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General measures the return on investment Canadians get from the Governor General's activities. How is this return measured?
I think that the answer is of interest to everyone, and taxpayers in particular:
For example, with respect to the Visitor Services Program, we do an evaluation based first on the number of visitors to the sites and their level of satisfaction. We have carried out surveys to determine their level of satisfaction as well as the recognition of information provided during the visits. This is one of the types of evaluations we do.
To which I replied:
So according to your logic, the budget could go on increasing, since it would always be possible to provide activities or services that would attract more and more people.
I used these examples to show that, for 2004-05, on a budget of $19.1 million, only a microscopic cut of $150,000 was made. This should answer the argument put forward a moment ago by the President of the Treasury Board. One might even argue that, by extrapolation, it is but a speck of dust, as compared to a total budget of $35 million to $42 million.
In response to my questions on the Governor General's total budget, for all services, I was basically told that there was no desire to be transparent in providing taxpayers with the big picture, that is, all the costs associated with the mandate of the Governor General.
There was no indication from the representatives of the Governor General that the Office of the Governor General had any concern for any analysis or real, significant reduction in spending, or even for recommendation 5 mentioned earlier.
And yet, the President of the Treasury Board himself, in response to a question I asked him last week concerning the need to add up all the various expenses relating to the Governor General's mandate, gave this answer, and I quote:
—the public service modernization process that we are engaged in and which was announced in the budget is to do exactly what the member is requesting. It is to put in place a modern expenditure management information system that allows us to answer these questions quickly and easily and make it entirely transparent for the members of the House and the citizens of Canada.
I would like to add that the President of the Treasury Board began his answer to my question with, I quote, “—the member raises a very interesting and important question”.
In all modesty, that is not surprising, because when the President of the Treasury Board testified—the same day—at the Standing Committee on Governmental Operations and Estimates, he said that the government's strategic initiatives plan would have to involve:
—rigorous stewardship of public resources to achieve the results that Canadians demand, making sure that Canadian's tax dollars are invested in their priorities and managed in a manner that is effective, efficient, and accountable, is part of any government's most fundamental responsibilities.
In conclusion, we are firmly and resolutely opposed to the motion by the President of the Treasury Board, since it is high time we put the brakes on the Governor General's spending. The people of Canada and Quebec have every right to expect that the Governor General's expenses are rationalized, subject to analysis for their cost-effectiveness, transparent, and accounted for absolutely rigorously.
Finally, I want to refute the argument advanced by some hon. members that a reduction of $400,000 or so would have negative effects on the activities and mandate of the Governor General. There is no reason for the general public to be penalized in any way by such a cut. It is simply about doing things differently, as is happening in a number of departments and agencies. One telling example, if I may say so, is the initiative and savings undertaken by my counterpart, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, about which he speaks so eloquently.
It is up to the Governor General and her senior officials to use their creativity and their undoubted sense of innovation, to do things differently and reduce costs. Moreover, the Governor General herself said, in the preamble to the throne speech, and I quote:
I recently concluded extended visits to six cities of varying size ... In them, I found remarkable, innovative projects for social renewal and individual commitment. They express the confidence and love that we all hold for this country. This is the spirit of Canada I see as Governor General.
I hope she will be inspired by the words she spoke in the throne speech.
I am sure we can all remember the slogan—one I heard more often in a previous life—that was widely used in the government: “Do more with less”. It is high time for the head of state, the Governor General, to lead the way.