Mr. Speaker, I rise to address the House on issues arising from the Auditor General's report and to respond to comments made by hon. members opposite on Mr. Desautels' report highlighting many of the significant matters that require our attention. Of course these are matters that are relevant to the last Parliament and the last government. They require immediate attention by all of us to ensure the most efficient and effective use of the taxpayers' dollar.
I am pleased that we have already acted on a number of the points raised by the Auditor General. We have opened up the budget process. We cancelled a flawed airport deal relevant to Pearson International Airport; we put the airbus up for sale; we tightened up the regulations on the use of government aircraft; we have streamlined the decision making process of cabinet; and we restructured departments to make sure they can work together more effectively.
The new decision making structure of cabinet consists of full cabinet and only four cabinet committees: economic development policy, social development policy, Treasury Board and a special committee of council. This is in marked contrast to the very expensive, cumbersome structure that existed previously with 11 cabinet committees in operation.
Moreover, we have reduced the privileges of members of Parliament in terms of the costs we can save there. We have cut the political staff of ministers; we have reduced the budgets for ministers by some $10 million a year. As will be heard later today from my colleague the minister responsible for federal-provincial relations we are moving in the areas of cutting the waste, the duplication and the overlap between the federal and provincial governments. This is a strong start but more has to be done to address the issues raised by the Auditor General.
At this point I would like to acknowledge the contribution Mr. Desautels and his staff have made to a better understanding of many of the important and complex issues faced by government. Many of his concerns parallel our own. When we met to discuss his report I learned that we shared a belief in the importance of improving information to Parliament and in reviewing existing programs and policies to ensure they continue to meet the needs of Canadians.
The Auditor General has outlined his view that parliamentarians need to be more involved in the budget process. That has been raised here this morning. We agree and my colleague the hon. Minister of Finance has been making great strides in opening the budget process through various pre-budget consultations in the cities of Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Calgary. He has met hundreds of Canadians and has heard directly from them what they feel must be done to turn the economy around, to create jobs and restore the faith of Canadians in the future. In many of the debates we have had in this House hon. members have had the opportunity to address issues relevant to the upcoming budget.
I remind hon. members that we believe the efforts to bring the federal debt and deficit under control are most important and are going to be addressed in the budget of the Minister of Finance. It is important that we bring them under control, but it is also important that the measures taken are compatible with getting Canadians back to work.
The federal-provincial-municipal infrastructure program is a key to stimulating economic activity. Bearing in mind what hon. members opposite have raised this morning, it is a good example of attempting to cut down on duplication, overlap and competition among the different levels of government. This program is unique in bringing three orders of government together to ensure the most efficient and effective spending of taxpayers' dollars.
As we have said in "Creating Opportunity" and as the Prime Minister has confirmed, we will allow individual members of Parliament more involvement in these consultations. Committees of the House will be given greater influence over government expenditures than previously. This government has announced that changes will be proposed to the rules of the House of Commons to provide members of Parliament with a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of public policy and to contribute to the development of legislation.
The Official Opposition motion mentions that a special committee be struck to examine public expenditures by the federal government in light of the Auditor General's report. However there already is such a committee. As was raised this morning by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce that is the public accounts committee.
We look forward to working with members of the public accounts committee as they study the Auditor General's report in detail. The public accounts committee is chaired by a member of the Official Opposition. That gives them enormous opportunity to raise these issues and to have them dealt with by the public accounts committee. I look forward to those deliberations.
I do not see the need for creating still another committee. I said a few moments ago that we have streamlined the process of cabinet, going from 11 committees down to 4 committees. We do not see the necessity in adding still further committees.
The committee on public accounts will want to examine how government departments and agencies are responding to the need for improved administration and management. It will want to call senior officials before it and when its work is complete the government will have the benefit of its findings.
The Auditor General has consistently advocated the need for better reporting of financial information for Parliament. This year was no exception in his report. This year Mr. Desautels devoted an entire chapter of his report to his view that better information is required on the deficit and the debt. Once again I am pleased to report the government is acting to address this need.
Recently the finance department issued two publications that will help increase understanding of the debt and the deficit. A short booklet entitled "Basic Facts on Federal Spending" will help Canadians better understand the federal government's budgetary spending. It summarizes spending as it is presented in the federal budget and in the public accounts. In addition, a longer background document called "Federal Spending" provides even more detail.
Members will be happy to see that the public accounts recently tabled in the House were accepted without reservation by the Auditor General. The fundamental purpose of the public accounts is to provide information to Parliament and through Parliament to all Canadians. Their purpose is to facilitate understanding of the full nature and extent of the financial affairs and resources for which this government is responsible.
Last year the Auditor General said that in his view: "The government's financial statements would be more understandable if they were presented in a comprehensive but succinct annual financial report". What Mr. Desautels was calling for was a financial report similar to the annual reports published by corporations in the private sector. We have done just that.
To make the financial statements of the Government of Canada more understandable to the public we have added a new section to the 1993 public accounts. For the first time we have presented a summary of economic developments during the year, a financial review and a set of condensed financial statements. New graphs and charts portray complex financial data in an understandable format for the first time. This clear and concise overview of the state of the government's financial affairs was added at the suggestion of the Auditor General.
Another ongoing concern of his has been the need for more information on the results of government programs. We agree. To have a country that works we need to measure whether specific government programs actually deliver results over time. We recognize the need for strengthened audits, strengthened internal audits, strengthened evaluation. In fact that was a cornerstone of the recommendations in the red book.
This year the Auditor General looked at several aspects of regulations. Regulations can help improve the quality of life of Canadians by setting standards for things which affect their daily lives. Canadians should be able to put their children in car seats knowing they meet certain safety standards. They should know how much fat the ground beef they buy contains. Yet regulations can also place an undue cost or administrative burden on businesses and individuals.
This government is committed to reducing the regulatory burden on Canada's economy. One example of the innovative ways we are finding to do this is the new business impact test which was jointly developed with the Canadian Manufacturers Association. I had the pleasure of unveiling it with that association just a week ago.
This new software package is designed to help governments understand and evaluate the potential impact of proposed regulations on the private sector. It looks at the direct costs of proposed regulations as well as the effect the proposals may have on the way firms operate, organize and innovate. It allows companies to give their views early in the process, as a regulation is being developed. It can even help business and government determine other ways to serve the public interest that may not involve regulation at all. Therefore we are trying to streamline regulations to help Canadian businesses compete in this current economy.
In closing, I would like to stress the importance of the contribution of the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General has made an important contribution to the better understanding of the issues faced by governments. At the same time there is no doubt the Auditor General's work is an important stimulus to constructive action.
We look forward to consulting with the Auditor General. We look forward to hearing the deliberations of the public accounts committee, chaired by a member of the Official Opposition. Together we can pursue the goals of restoring the confidence of Canadians in their government and the efficient and effective spending of tax dollars.