[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, March 11, 1997
The Chair (Ms Marlene Catterall (Ottawa West, Lib.)): Order, please.
We're ready to start on section 224, the role of the Office of the Auditor General. Our recommendation is in section 230.
Do you wish to comment on this, Mr. Researcher?
Mr. Brian O'Neal (Committee Researcher): Yes, Madam Chair.
This falls under the section of the report that deals with support for standing committees as they examine the estimates. There was some testimony from the New Zealand high commissioner to the effect that there, the auditor general takes a very active role in supporting the work of committees. However, this committee decided not to make a recommendation along those lines, principally because the Office of the Auditor General in this country is already fairly active, and as well, because of various kinds of resource limitations, it would be unfair to ask that office to do more than it's already doing.
However, the subcommittee did think there was a role to play for the reports issued by the Auditor General, and responses coming from the public accounts committee in particular, in the sense that this type of information could, or should, be referred to in the departmental plans and performance documents. So there is a recommendation to that effect after section 230.
The Chair: What we're saying, basically, is that the past reports and recommendations of the Auditor General and how departments have responded to them should be included when the department reports to its standing committee with its plans and performances so that the committee can judge those against what the Auditor General has had to say in previous reports.
Is there any disagreement with that?
Mr. John Williams (St. Albert, Ref.): The only minor problem I would suggest, Madam Chair, is specific reference to recent reports within the previous two or three years. We don't want to go back ad infinitum.
The Chair: I can think of reports, though, that are still current. I think it's nine or ten years since the Auditor General reported on problems with old age security. Those problems still have not been resolved.
Mr. John Williams: Hence the need for program review, of course.
The Chair: It wasn't a problem with the program; it was a problem with how it was being administered.
Mr. John Williams: Yes, but as I say, hence the need for program review. I appreciate that point. I just didn't want to think that we had to go all the way back to square one and carry these forward ad infinitum. When recommendations have been addressed and resolved they should fall off. That's what I'm trying to say.
The Chair: Yes, absolutely, but it's those that have not been addressed that we're targeting here.
Mr. John Williams: Yes. Perhaps Brian can make some notation to that effect. I guess it's the specific reference to ``outstanding'' issues.
Mr. René Laurin (Joliette, BQ): Could Mr. O'Neal tell me what the difference would be between such a provision and what is already in the Auditor General's report? When the Auditor General audits a department, he gives his comments and his analysis of the situation to the department, the department responds and its response can be found in the report.
In his reports, the Auditor General makes comments to the department. If he makes a request, the department gives him a written answer explaining what steps have been taken. The department tries to explain why it opted for a specific course of action. It is more or less what we're requesting here. What difference is there?
The Chair: I think when we agreed to this recommendation before Christmas our thinking was that a committee that's reviewing the plans of its department or its performance documents should know - it should be brought up to date in those annual reports - how the department is addressing those reports of the Auditor General.
I think we agreed that an important part of your planning as a department or of measuring your performance is how you are dealing with problems identified by the Auditor General. That should almost be a section in the report for the committee to be aware of.
My feeling is that the Auditor General is Parliament's prime check on the department, and bringing it all together in one place for the committee is a good idea.
A voice: Okay.
The Chair: Then we had concerns about the information Parliament gets on the estimates of supply process. So we have recommendations in 233 and 234 that deal with Parliament's need for better information about how the process works and how to use the documents put in front of it. Are there any problems with them?
Mr. John Williams: Are you talking about 233 and 234?
The Chair: Let's do 233 first. Is there any problem?
Mr. René Laurin: I'd like to understand the scope of 233. We point out that, for the members of Parliament, there is no lack of information, but rather very often an information overload. The suggestion is to prepare an additional information package to solve the problem.
I'm trying to find any consistency in this type of recommendation.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, I draw your attention to the second part of what Dr. Mallory was telling the subcommittee. He said because you don't really quite understand what its significance is, that is, the significance of the information you're being presented...
The intent of this recommendation - and I'm sure subcommittee members can propose ways of improving it - is that there be an information package that explains succinctly and clearly how the estimates of supply and the government's financial management processes all work.
Some of this information is already provided in various places, but I don't think there's one single source for this. This would result in there being a single source of information on all aspects of the process. I've had some talks with people at the Treasury Board Secretariat and they -
The Chair: They'd like to do that.
Mr. O'Neal: Yes, they'd like to do this and they feel it's feasible.
The Chair: In fact what they've tried to do for the last couple of years is have the opportunity to brief each committee on how to use the estimates documents.
You've probably heard the same complaints I have: there's too much information here; there's too little information here. I think the biggest problem is people don't know how to zero in to get the information they want in what is there.
John, you have a comment?
Mr. John Williams: Yes, the only point I was going to make -
Mr. René Laurin: Essentially, the information package would explain the budgetary process itself, the technique used to draft the budget. I think it would be useful to specify it.
The Chair: It's like a road map to the estimates, so you know where you're going when you want to get to a certain place.
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, that's right. It should be made clearer in the wording, because it could give the impression that more information will be provided.
If there is already too much information, we shouldn't have to read another 100-page document. I know that we must understand the process, but there could be a simpler kind of educational kit, a digest on the techniques used to prepare the budget to enable us to know how to find our way through those documents, which one to check when we need some information.
Mr. John Williams: I was going to say, Madam Chair, that the way I envisage this recommendation is that a document would be prepared to give a fairly good comprehension of the yearly circle of the estimates. I think that's what we called it.
It started with budget preparation, the budget table, followed by the estimates, followed by the committees dealing with the estimates, how they would deal with the estimates, followed by the House voting on supply, which then starts off the next year's situation in which the civil servants, having heard the comments by members of Parliament, take that into consideration when they start drafting up the general cash requirements for the government for the following year, which then leads into the pre-budget consultations.
So it wouldn't be an annual document with a whole bunch of figures, but a road map that wouldn't have to be rewritten every year. I can think, for example, that new MPs coming in after the next election are going to be just as naive as we were, and one document could explain the whole process complete from beginning to end. That's what I envisage by this presentation.
The Chair: Maybe less government financial management needs to be in there. What I've suggested to Brian is maybe something like an information package on the estimates and the supply processes and how to most effectively use the documents and information available to them. Would something like that clarify it a bit?
Mr. René Laurin: I think there already is a document dealing with this. I think I received, within the first months after we arrived here as MPs, an information document describing the budgetary process, but it was a long time ago, three-and-a-half years ago.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, occasionally these kinds of documents or pieces of information will surface in places like part I of the estimates, but they're not always there. I think in the briefing binder that was prepared for you there's a section on government financial management, which is pretty good. It comes out of the estimates, I think, for 1994-95. It was there once, but it never reappeared.
So this would be a document explaining everything. It's as Mr. Williams put it: it would explain everything.
I thought perhaps the recommendation might be further improved by using the words ``concise and comprehensive''. So maybe that would address some of your concerns that this would be a huge, voluminous document.
The Chair: Okay.
Mr. John Williams: Are these two words compatible?
The Chair: You mean ``concise and comprehensive''?
Mr. O'Neal: Hopefully.
The Chair: With those revisions, we'll have a look at the final wording.
So section 234 is a compatible recommendation, in that it directs each department to also be aware that Parliament needs a guide on how to use the voluminous data it's being presented.
The next section is the scope of parliamentary financial review. Again, this ties into statutory programs, and so on.
Our first recommendation is in section 243. Is there any disagreement with that?
Mr. John Williams: It should say that ``the government establish a schedule for the ongoing review''. I want it to become a continuous issue.
Okay, that's covered off in the next paragraph, isn't it?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Williams: Okay, I withdraw my point.
Mr. René Laurin: Such a mandate could be the main task of the new committee. At any rate, we may come back to it when we discuss the advisability of creating a new committee. However, it seems to me that it could be referred to various standing committees, what is not done at the present time, I think.
It is very important, because statutory expenditures represent 71 % of total annual government expenditures, according to the document. That's quite something! That budget is spent and we don't have any say in the matter because it is already provided for in the legislation.
So, if there was a consensus for the creation of a new committee, it could be one of the main topics that could be referred to it.
The Chair: I think if you would look down at 244 you would find we're proposing that the estimates committee should coordinate and support this review by standing committee.
Mr. René Laurin: You are starting to score some points, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Is there any problem with the two recommendations in 243? Is that okay?
Mr. John Williams: I think so, but I may come back later on, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Okay. I'll just put a little question mark beside that.
We'll go to 244. We can accept that one provisionally on our final decision in the committee.
Mr. O'Neal: I think you might want to come back to that one.
The Chair: Okay. We'll tentatively say that's okay if there's an estimates committee, and come back to it if necessary.
Our next recommendation is at 248. This is one of your key points, Mr. Williams.
Mr. John Williams: Yes, this is the area I really want to stress, Madam Chair.
I've spent some considerable time researching the fundamental issues of program evaluation. Here are the four questions. One, what is the public policy that has been identified by government that it wishes to address? Two, what program evaluation then assesses the program and how effective is it in meeting that public policy? Three, how efficient is the program in its operation? Four, can the same public policy goals be achieved by a different manner?
The four fundamental questions should always be answered in a program review, starting with the articulation of the public policy that the program is designed to address.
I'd like to see that in -
The Chair: We might in fact add that into the recommendation at the top of page 81 in English, on the second-to-last line ``whether the program is achieving the public policy objectives it was established to meet''.
Mr. John Williams: Enumerate the four points that I've put out: the articulation of the public policy; the review of the program and how well it achieves the public policy mandate; its efficiency in its operations; and whether the public policy objective can be achieved in a better way.
The Chair: We might change ``whether'' and ``how well'' the program is achieving the public policy objectives it was established to meet. What was your last point?
Mr. John Williams: The third one is just how efficient this program is. The fourth one is whether there is a better way to achieve the same public policy objectives.
I'm not suggesting that -
The Chair: Okay. We could simply add ``and alternative means of achieving the same objectives''.
Mr. John Williams: That's right. Once we start down a certain course of action, sometimes after a period of time an alternative route becomes more obvious.
The Chair: I say no to super RRSP, but that's okay. The issue should be addressed is what you're saying.
Mr. John Williams: That's my point. There are umpteen statutory programs we have that have basically become totally part of the system. Over ten, twenty, thirty, or fifty years, sometimes these programs should be evaluated under the light of whether we can do things in a different way and achieve better results. That's all.
We should never ignore that potential possibility. I'm not saying we should devote a huge amount of effort in a program evaluation to try to determine if there's a better way, but if it becomes obvious that a better way is potentially there, then with a little bit of effort perhaps it should be explored even more. Just be aware of it.
The Chair: Those are the amendments.
Mr. René Laurin: It's all right.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. John Williams: One final point. On numbers 50 and 250, should a statutory program be phased out prior to any program review, a review should be done after the program has been phased out. This is just so we have on record what it did or did not accomplish.
Take, for example, short-term programs. I know this one has been extended, but we did have the infrastructure program that was running for three years, which was introduced by this government after the last election. It was originally designed as a three-year program, with a sunset at the end of three years.
Under this proposal it would never have been reviewed. The lessons, good or bad, would have never been documented. Therefore, the short-term statutory program should have a review after it's finished.
Mr. O'Neal: Do we want that in the recommendation or in the text?
Mr. John Williams: I would like to see it in the recommendation that all legislation for new statutory programs contain a provision for parliamentary review within a minimum of five years following their introduction, and on a cyclical basis thereafter.
Programs that are -
The Chair: Of a shorter term than five years.
Mr. John Williams: - of shorter duration should be evaluated after the program has been -
The Chair: So you don't have a problem with this recommendation. It's an additional recommendation you want.
Mr. John Williams: No, it's just adding an additional sentence to it. It's only for short-term programs that have come and gone and have never been evaluated. They should have an evaluation afterward.
Mr. O'Neal: Okay.
Mr. René Laurin: We might want to go beyond that and make sure that no program can be renewed without it having been reviewed to see whether it has achieved the objectives or whether changes should be made to it. The infrastructure program is a striking example. Governments discussed the possibility of extending it, and the Auditor General himself make some remarks about its effectiveness and the way its objectives had been met.
Many gaps were noted by the Auditor General, but it was hastily renewed, long before any serious consideration had been given to the Auditor General's recommendations. I think therefore that we should recommend that the government must review a new program before it can be extended.
Mr. John Williams: I wouldn't want to be that Draconian, Madam Chair.
Again, to use the infrastructure program as an example, it ran for three years. The government made a decision to extend it. It has the authority to do so.
I wouldn't think the government would endorse a situation in which everything came to a stop, because they originally chose a three-year period. It would not continue until such time as a review had been completed.
Under this particular instance, let us say they continue to renew the infrastructure program on a year-by-year basis. It's been around for a number of years. Then the cyclical program review would click in under normal circumstances. It is when a program has come and gone and we never have the benefits, disadvantages, or mistakes documented to find out what happened... If we ever want to repeat the process, we have nothing to fall back on in terms of whether it was good, bad, or indifferent.
The Chair: Let me deal first with this recommendation. I will then try to deal with what each of you is dealing with.
Let me try to look back a bit. I'm thinking that we're introducing a new child tax benefit. It's going to be a program in evolution for a number of years, as medicare was when it first started. It didn't get introduced and implemented overnight, and neither will the child tax benefit. It will be a gradual thing. It will involve working it out with the provinces. It will be changing as more money becomes available to increase it and to increase its effectiveness.
It may be five or ten years before it's fully implemented. Is it too stringent to say that it has to be reviewed after five years? I don't want to get to the point at which Parliament is spending so much time reviewing things that it's not doing anything new.
Mr. René Laurin: But when the government sets up a program, they may want it to run for five years because they think at least five years will be needed for it to achieve the intended objectives. If a program is implemented for three years, it is because they think the objectives can be achieved in three years, as with the infrastructure program. Had they thought that five years were necessary to assess its effectiveness, they would have had it run for five years.
When a program is implemented, its duration is set in advance because it is thought that it is a normal duration for the intended results to be achieved. Therefore, before any extension of a program, when the initial period is over, a review of the program should be done and it should be automatic or mandatory. If the infrastructure program cannot be reviewed after three years, extending it blindly would be a bad decision. Otherwise, it should have been anticipated right from the start and it should have been made to run for five years.
I don't think that it is very binding on the government. It is a cautionary measure, a better planning measure. You mentioned the example of the child benefit. If we think that a program has to run for five years so that its impact can be assessed, it won't run for two years, but for five years. That's how it's done with all programs, unless there is an emergency, but that's something else.
The Chair: Indeed, it depends on the duration of childhood. It takes time to assess the effectiveness of a program.
Mr. René Laurin: For example, in the field of education, in Quebec, there is some talk about creating full-time kindergartens. Surely, it will be impossible to assess the system after less than ten years. Earlier than that, it won't be known whether instituting full-time kindergartens has achieved the intended results. It cannot be assessed after two years. The Quebec government doesn't say that it will be a two-year program, because it would be ridiculous to take a measure that could not be assessed after two years. Therefore, it is given an indeterminate duration and, a few years from now, another study will be made to see whether it was a wise decision.
I think the same applies to any other program. When a program is being implemented, the criteria for performance and quality assessment have to be set in advance. The program duration is known in advance and it should not be extended until a review has taken place.
Mr. John Williams: I wouldn't want to be that splintered, Madam Chair. I would rather give the government greater flexibility, but I wouldn't want to let the government think it could go on ad infinitum without having reviews being done. I don't think everything has to grind to a stop for a review being done on a program that is initially announced as three or four years in duration and that they then decide they wish to continue. These types of decisions are being made fairly frequently by government based on its perception of what is needed and based on its perception of the politics of the day. I wouldn't want to cause it to make every program a long-term program so that it could circumvent the issue. That's why I wouldn't want to be stringent.
But the five years after the introduction of a program... I'm quite flexible on the five years, or whatever. I think the larger the program, the longer the periods between reviews. The smaller the program... I wouldn't think any statutory program should be reviewed more often than every five years. I wouldn't want to see it more often than every five years, which is why I leave it to the government to determine the cycle by which it would review the program.
So maybe we can just be a little more flexible in our writing of the recommendation.
The Chair: I think Brian has come up with a useful suggestion: that we take out ``at a minimum of five years''. We could include that in the text, but in doing that the government has to specify what the period of review will be when it brings in the legislation. Parliament will be able to determine whether it thinks two years or ten years is appropriate for that particular piece of legislation.
That, it seems to me, resolves the problem for both of you. If you think the infrastructure program should be reviewed before it's extended, Parliament can say that when the program's implemented. If it thinks the child benefit is really going to show substantially whether it's working when it's fully implemented in eight years, ten years, or seven years, it might want to specify that as the period for review. Don't forget that this doesn't change the ability of any of the standing committees at any time to decide to review a particular program. They have that authority now, even if they don't use it very much.
But I like the idea of requiring Parliament to specify what it believes is an appropriate period for review. If we took out the five years, that leaves much more flexibility. That would cover your concerns, Mr. Laurin, and yours, Mr. Williams.
Mr. René Laurin: Madam Chair, I'd want us to stick as closely as possible to the management of large corporations. Let's take the example of large corporations that would adopt a new policy on foreign market penetration and decide to invest $50 million over the next three years to penetrate those foreign markets. Do you know many corporations which, after three years, would extend the program for two years and invest another $20 million without evaluating what has been achieved after the first three years? I think that no private company would ever do that. Before any decision on an extension of their market penetration policies, they would establish whether, according to the results from the first three years, they are on the right track and whether extending the program would bring better results.
I'm not saying that everything should come to a full stop and that a one-year or a six-month study should be made before extending the program. No, but when the government opts for an extension, they will need to have enough evidence to show that the program is going to achieve its objectives and that there has been sufficient positive impact to lead to assume that an extension would be justified.
The Chair: If you'll forgive me, I think we're covering that, because we're saying that when a program begins the government has to specify in the legislation after how long it will be evaluated and reviewed. So when it brought in the infrastructure program, it said it was a three-year program that would require a review after three years.
Mr. O'Neal: If I could just add some background to help out, the first recommendations that are here deal with statutory programs that are already in existence and are out there functioning now. It says there should be a review conducted of all of those existing statutory programs over the next 10 years. The next concern the subcommittee had was about new statutory programs that are introduced. This recommendation calls for there to be embedded in the legislation establishing a new statutory program a provision for review. That should at the very least take care of long-term, ongoing programs.
As I understand it, your concern might be with programs of a shorter duration that will last two or three years. Even in the event that they're only going to last two or three years, if they are statutory programs this recommendation would call for there to be, in the legislation establishing them, a review. Therefore, if the government intended to renew the program, there would still be a review conducted, and it would have to make reference - I would think it would be forced to make reference - to that review that had taken place. Certainly members of Parliament would make reference to that when they're reviewing the government's proposals to renew a particular program.
So I think perhaps the chair is right, in that this recommendation as amended should address both Mr. Laurin's and Mr. Williams's concerns. The trick is to make sure there is a review. As long as you do that -
Mr. René Laurin: Would you repeat the modification?
Mr. O'Neal: The recommendation would read as follows:
Mr. René Laurin: This is more acceptable to me.
The Chair: The next section is on tax expenditures that are not required right now to be reported to Parliament. They were stopped by the previous government. They've been re-instituted, but there's no requirement... I think we agreed with the Auditor General in that this is a very significant area of government spending that is not reviewed adequately at all. So we have our recommendation 254, that there be a requirement that tax expenditures be reported and that the report be tabled in the House of Commons.
Mr. John Williams: I agree, Madam Chair, that the statutes, presumably the Financial Administration Act, would require that the tax expenditures be reported to Parliament. I'm concerned about a simple annual report that is more paper and is more superfluous scrutiny of a tax expenditure without our really getting to the real evaluation of a public policy being achieved or otherwise.
The Chair: Could you have a look at recommendation 256, please, John.
Mr. John Williams: Okay. Basically, 254 is a report by the Minister of Finance that tells us what tax expenditures currently exist. That's already being done.
If there is to be, under 256, a periodic complete evaluation, I wonder if the statute is requiring the annual report under 254 or whether the statute should be amended to require the periodic review under 256.
The Chair: I think we have to take the three of them together and see what they're going to accomplish.
Mr. John Williams: Okay.
The Chair: I could suggest that under 254 the annual report on tax expenditures include identifying the public policy objectives that the tax expenditure is intended to achieve.
Mr. John Williams: If we go back to what we have just been talking about in 248 and -
The Chair: That's really covered in 255.
Mr. John Williams: What I'm talking about is the same requirement for an evaluation of tax expenditures as we would for statutory programs. That's what I'm trying to achieve. I would far rather see, as I said, that the legislation be amended to require the in-depth review on a periodic basis rather than the legislation being amended to require the Department of Finance to table a report telling us what tax expenditures exist on an annual basis.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, I would point out two things. First of all, as you've already said, it's obvious the problem here is that this kind of information on tax expenditure has been reported but reported sporadically.
Mr. John Williams: Superficially.
Mr. O'Neal: Well, yes, perhaps it's not been reported in a format that was useful or comprehensive enough.
In any case, the intent of the first recommendation is to make sure there's a statutory requirement to report this information annually. As you've mentioned, that could be placed in the Financial Administration Act.
The second recommendation talks about how that information should be presented. The recommendation talks about lending itself to the use of standing committees in their examination of the estimates and should require specific references to the policy goals these expenditures are intended to achieve.
We've now come to the recommendation at 256. That's framed in a way that's general, because this information is... Sorry, the annual report on tax expenditures stands automatically referred to the Standing Committee on Finance, so it's really their job to do this. However, I spoke to the researcher who works for that committee. He says they've yet to examine these documents.
So this is an area they're already responsible for. This recommendation is in a sense a gentle reminder, a suggestion, that they start to review these documents. I think there's also some wording in here that indicates that the standing committees ought to make use of the documents when they're thinking about the estimates or reviewing the estimates.
The Chair: Interestingly, the only committee that has made use of that report is the one that did the review of social programs.
Mr. O'Neal: Yes, I think you're right.
Mr. John Williams: The public accounts committee did quite a bit of work on tax expenditures as reported on by the Auditor General, but I'm not aware of, or haven't seen, a complete program review of a tax expenditure outside the Auditor General's report.
The Chair: What we could do, perhaps, to be more specific about this is in fact use a little more of the wording we used with respect to statutory expenditures under 243. It would then say, for instance, that the government establish a schedule for the review over the next ten years of all tax expenditures, etc.
Mr. John Williams: I'll go along with that.
The Chair: That makes it more concrete and more specific, I think.
Mr. René Laurin: Maybe we should give more thought to recommendation 243.
The Chair: It's exactly the same thing.
Mr. René Laurin: No. I'd not want for the department to only have to make a report on its expenditures, because with this wording, the report could remain very general, even too much so. It would be helpful to members if the report states the nature and the amount of tax expenditures and not only a list of tax expenditures. It could state that the tax expenditures the government had this year are of such and such a nature and that their total amount was x dollars. There could be such a report, but it would not address our concerns. It's the reason why I'd like you to suggest that we use a similar wording to recommendation 243. I want to be sure that it would include the precision I mentioned. I want the amount and the nature of these expenditures to be in the report.
The Chair: It would be possible to specify it under recommendations 254 as well as 255. It would be somewhat clearer.
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, maybe there.
The Chair: The three recommendations must be read together.
Mr. René Laurin: Okay. We could say that the annual information related to the nature and the amount of tax expenditures...
The Chair: It is quite acceptable to me.
Mr. René Laurin: Okay.
The Chair: Should it specify the nature and amount of tax expenditure, John?
Mr. John Williams: Of course. We need to know the nature. We need to know that public policy is being achieved. For example, the RRSP deduction is a huge public policy issue -
The Chair: It's $14 billion a year.
Mr. John Williams: - with huge tax expenditure costs that don't show up anywhere.
For example, you mentioned the child tax benefit. There are tuition fees the minister announced in the budget.
Again, these are all tax expenditures that will never show up anywhere. They're all in the Income Tax Act, which in essence forgives taxes payable by virtue of the government believing they're fulfilling a public policy mandate. We never quantify them or evaluate them in terms of the costs versus the benefits they provide to society.
The Chair: When the government introduces the legislation on the tax treatment of education expenses, you may raise the point of this report and ask whether the government will specify the period of review for this legislation.
Mr. John Williams: I may very well do that.
The Chair: With those modifications...? Okay?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Loan guarantees - another one Parliament never looks at. This is under 259. Again, it's something the Auditor General raised with us.
Mr. John Williams: I happened to be looking recently at the financial statements of the Canadian Wheat Board, which has a large amount of accounts receivable, all of which are guaranteed by the Government of Canada, therefore deemed by their auditor as all being collectable. This is fine, but nowhere could I ever find within the government a recognition of what exposure they have on the guarantees.
The Chair: Export Development Corporation, student loans, small business loans - lots. I think a committee deserves to know that when it's looking at the expenditures of the department.
Mr. René Laurin: I don't remember seeing it in the program. However, it isn't a tax expenditure, but a government expenditure that deals with depreciation on fixed assets. The topic has been discussed in some committees and I think it is somewhat related to the issue of loan guarantees.
We ask that some provision be made for possible bad debts. I think that, like depreciation on fixed assets, they are not recorded at present, for instance in the case of a building.
Mr. Williams would maybe confirm it, since I think he's an accountant. I don't think a provision is made for any depreciation on fixed assets. I wonder whether we should not have a recommendation on this.
The Chair: John.
Mr. John Williams: I hear what Mr. Laurin is saying. It's a little premature, because the government is only moving toward accrual accounting. When we get there over the next two or three years - in fact, I think Treasury Board estimates say they want to have it implemented by 2001 - and that change in accounting methodology is introduced, you will see depreciation shown.
So it's just a little premature. Let's leave it alone.
Mr. René Laurin: Okay.
The Chair: It is. I think the whole assumptions made about accrual accounting are a little premature too, because I think that's an issue Parliament itself should be seized with in terms of whether it's going to make it easier or harder for Parliament to do its job.
Do we have a recommendation on that further on in the report?
Mr. O'Neal: We have a recommendation that this be an issue that -
The Chair: That the estimates committee looks at.
Mr. John Williams: Mais oui.
The Chair: Because it fundamentally will change the kind of information Parliament gets and how it can manage that information. That's one reason why that whole thing is not in here.
So on 259 we're okay?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Mr. John Williams: Just before we leave that point, Madam Chair, I don't think I want to change the recommendation, but perhaps if Brian wants to put in the preamble something regarding the fact that when loans are quite likely going to be written off, the government starts making some accommodation in the financial statements to accept that loss. Quite often we know governments have been reluctant to recognize a bad debt when they see one - or when they have one.
If the report is transparent enough, these questions are going to be more readily asked. We'd hope a government would be more readily willing to step up the trunk and recognize that a guarantee sometimes has a cost attached.
The Chair: A very important issue for an estimates committee to look at is how a government deals with loan guarantees generally.
Mr. John Williams: Absolutely, Madam Chair, another reason why we need an estimates committee.
The Chair: Okay, 263.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, this section has to do with whether Parliament votes net or gross amounts. After a fair amount of consultation and reflection, I would like to propose some changes to that section and to the recommendations it contains.
Mr. Williams was absent for our discussion on this particular issue back in December. I went over it with him briefly that I wanted to draw a number of things to the subcommittee's attention and then tell you what I'd like to propose in the way of recommendations to replace the ones there now.
The Chair: I too want to see a change in that.
Mr. O'Neal: The first point I want to make is to quickly go over what voting net or voting gross entails, a process called ``vote-netting'', so that you understand exactly what it is we're talking about here. It's a complex issue.
In essence, vote-netting allows departments to raise revenues and then use those revenues to reduce their requests to Parliament for appropriations out of the consolidated revenue fund. As a consequence of this, the projected revenues are subtracted or netted out of the votes that appear in the estimates and do not appear in the schedule that is attached to the Appropriation Act.
Quite simply, there are some departments that sell goods or services to other departments or to clients out in the public, and they anticipate that they're going to bring in a certain level of revenue from those activities. So in part II and again in part III of the estimates, those anticipated revenues are shown and then they're credited to the vote - that is, they're subtracted from the vote. So what Parliament votes on is net expenditure rather than gross expenditure.
There is some question as to whether or not that's appropriate. It's arguably appropriate from an administrative point of view. It's a very effective, very efficient way of making sure certain departments handle their resources in a businesslike manner. It's certainly a way of reducing pressure on the public treasury by giving departments another way of raising funds to support their activities.
However, there is a problem from a parliamentary control point of view. In other words, instead of approving total departmental expenditure for the upcoming fiscal year, in effect Parliament really approves appropriations out of the consolidated revenue fund.
It should be pointed out that there are a couple of controls in place surrounding this practice of vote-netting. First of all, the Financial Administration Act contains a section that gives departments in general the authority to spend revenues they've collected. Then every year in the votes in the estimates, Parliament has to give its approval again to the departments to vote-net. This approval is given in the wording of the votes of the main estimates.
So there are some controls there, and then Treasury Board has a number of other controls to make sure this practice follows certain norms and rules. But again, the question is...
I took the trouble to phone Dr. Franks yesterday. He was the witness who brought up this entire issue as an issue of concern. He said if Parliament is concerned about obtaining an accurate picture of what the actual role of government is in society or in the economy, we could do that better through a gross as opposed to a net vote.
That's the issue of parliamentary control.
I should point out that in the United Kingdom, the revenues that are netted out are shown in the wording of the vote and then they are repeated in the appropriation act that parliament votes on. So in effect what the parliament there does is vote both net and gross.
The Chair: That's what I'd like to see.
Mr. O'Neal: There are other problems associated with that, though. People in Treasury Board Secretariat and in the Auditor General's office indicated to me that they feel that would serve as a disincentive to departments that want to raise revenues and then use them to offset costs.
I can try to go into greater detail if you have questions about this, but what I was going to suggest you do with this section of the report is, first of all, you have a recommendation... I'll read it:
I think this is a very complex issue that deserves further study.
The second is... Well, I'll wait to see what you think about this before I discuss the second proposal.
The Chair: Mr. Williams.
Mr. John Williams: I think, Madam Chair, we should stay with net on the votes. The estimates should be properly presented. We know the pilot project of the revision of the part IIIs is ongoing at the moment.
I just happen to have met with Mr. Duhamel earlier today to give him my evaluation of the Treasury Board's new pilot project, part IIIs. I said they are ``D for dismal'', unfortunately.
Why? Some of the information is directly related to here. We see the gross, they talk about some net income - I've no idea whether it's coming from other departments, although I presume it is - and end up with the net. Their layout is not conducive to understanding. It could be much better.
But if a department is going to prepare part IIIs in a clearly intelligible manner, it will show gross moneys that it requires, less transfer from other departments if it's selling services to other departments, income from the private sector if it's selling its services to the private sector...equals the net amount of money we would vote to that particular department, clarity being the number one issue.
Therefore, I would certainly hope any financial statement or any part III given to us would clearly be showing the gross amounts, less income from two potential sources, and a net amount. So there's no reason why we can't see the whole picture and vote on the net. I prefer to stay on net, because we are, as Brian pointed out, appropriating funds, not approving the part IIIs.
I therefore wouldn't want to appropriate the gross amount, I would only want to appropriate the net amount and also, as you say, provide and ensure that the departments had the incentive to act efficiently and collect the moneys.
That's my opinion.
The Chair: Monsieur Laurin.
Mr. René Laurin: Madam Chair, if I understood correctly the current accounting practice, I think there is a problem which occurs frequently. When a department is allowed to spend funds for which it has received no appropriation from Treasury Board, it is like creating a liability for the government over which it has no control. Let me give you an example.
Let's say that a department decides - if it has not been done already, but I don't think so - to put air conditioning in all its buildings in Canada and that government has not given it any monies to do so. The department says it doesn't need to get any appropriation because with the additional revenue it will generate from selling its services, it will be able to afford air conditioning in all its buildings.
What happens then? The government has to bear all the costs for maintenance, electricity, etc. Over the following years, there will be some impacts that will have to be born by the government. Imagine the results if it happened in several departments.
If I understand the accounting practice of the government correctly, I think we would absolutely need not only to approve the votes, but also the gross expenditures the department must incur. The recommendation should be drafted along those lines, unless I'm mistaken about the current government practice.
The Chair: Let me tell you why I think it's important to have both.
I understand there may be problems. We've been through a significant change.
One, the fundamental role of Parliament is to approve not only appropriation but also how money may be raised as well as how it may be spent. We've been through a major change over the last few years that I think Parliament is not yet on top of, and that is the ability of departments to raise money and apply it to their own expenditures.
Ten years ago the issue would not have been as crucial, because in fact moneys raised in departments went into the consolidated revenue fund and then they applied for what they needed out of the consolidated revenue fund.
It's good that they're able to do more internal management now and decide what they can reasonably raise money from, whether it's services to the public or to business or whatever, and offset their expenditures with that. But I think it was Mr. McTigue who mentioned to us the importance of keeping Parliament's eye on the money-raising as well as on the money-spending, and at the moment I don't see another way of doing that.
I'll repeat what Mr. Laurin said: you don't want to go so far that you have departments spending money on things Parliament has not approved and would not necessarily approve if asked, only because they have the opportunity to raise their own money. That's a very good point.
Secondly, it's important that Parliament keep an eye on how that money is being raised and whether or not it's being raised appropriately. If it doesn't approve the money to be raised, then it tends not to pay any attention to it. Increasingly in a number of areas, whether it's the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which obviously has severe public policy impacts, depending on how you do it...
I know Brian's anxious to get in here.
My feeling is that because this whole area is in transition, it's something Parliament needs to keep a very close eye on, through its estimates committee of course.
I don't feel adamant about this; I can be convinced otherwise. I'd like to see some discussion in the report about the changes that have taken place and the importance of Parliament paying attention to the revenue side as well as to the expenditure side.
I personally would be happy with this recommendation if Parliament were to vote gross as well as net amounts, but then say there does need to be a further parliamentary review, as we've done with the reallocation process.
I recognize the problem that there's a possibility this might stifle ministries' efforts to cover more of their costs by raising money, but there is just as much danger, as Mr. Laurin has raised, that ministries might get overenthusiastic about raising money to have the ability to do things they don't want to have to come to Parliament to for approval. If we're talking here about greater parliamentary control and influence, I'm not sure I want to give that to them with a free hand.
Mr. John Williams: You may be correct, Madam Chair. Now that you raise the issue of the fact that government is moving towards the philosophy of user fees, we'd better start looking perhaps at voting gross and net. As you say, it may be a real role for the estimates committee to wrestle with over the next few years.
I myself endorse the concept of user fees, but I see it as a two-way mechanism. Government should not be entitled to charge unless they can provide the service that goes with charging a fee for service delivered; there had better be service along with the fee. There has to be some mechanism to ensure that service is provided, if they're going to charge for the service.
The Chair: Yes, and if the committee doesn't have the ability to vote both gross and net, it allows the department to get quite sloppy about how much it's spending on a program, if it knows it can simply recoup that by increasing its fees.
Mr. John Williams: My point is, if it's strictly a cost recovery program then the fees are simply cost recovery. I've had several submissions to me that the way cost recovery is being factored out to the users has been quite inappropriate. It would never stand up in the private competitive sector. At the same time, the actual service, customer satisfaction, isn't there either.
So I think the estimates committee could look at this evolving problem over the next number of years as user fees perhaps become more prevalent.
Mr. René Laurin: I have nothing to add except for a correction I'd like to make to recommendation 262, page 88. What fiscal year are we referring to? In the French text, it is 1999-1999. Should it be 1998-1999 or 1999-2000?
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, if that recommendation had been retained, I would have further suggested that the dates there be changed, because it's much too sudden.
Perhaps I can respond to a couple of concerns you and Mr. Laurin and others have raised with regard to whether or not a department can raise revenues and then use those revenues to offset expenses in other areas.
I mentioned earlier that Treasury Board has a number of controls in place to govern the practice of vote-netting. If a department wants to raise revenue and then re-spend that revenue, then it has to apply to Treasury Board for permission to do this.
Treasury Board has put in place a number of criteria that departments have to satisfy before they can go ahead and do this. The criteria come out of the board's controllership manual, that, first of all, the implementation and maintenance of this mechanism - that is, vote-netting - must support the established objectives of the programs. So the spending has to be linked.
Second, there must be a link between expenses incurred to produce goods and services and revenue produced through the sale of these goods and services. This will ensure that revenues are spent on intended uses and there's no cross-subsidization.
The Treasury Board policy also requires that ``There must be a control mechanism to ensure that the net dollar amount approved by Parliament is not exceeded''. So they're talking about the amounts listed in the estimates there.
Now, one of the issues raised during the subcommittee's last meeting was what if a department exceeds its revenue projections? What happens then?
Well, two things. There's an assumption on the part of Treasury Board that if they exceed revenues, they're going to have to exceed costs as well. So the two should balance off. If your revenues go up, you'll have to incur additional costs in order to obtain those revenues. There should be some type of balance there.
If, on the other hand, a department exceeds its forecasts by a certain amount, then the surplus has to be returned to the consolidated revenue fund. That will show up in the part III of the estimates where they compare projected with actual expenditures.
I have an example of that from Parks Canada under Heritage Canada, where they brought in more money from things like camping permits and things of that nature than they had anticipated they would. They didn't incur additional costs. As a consequence, they returned the surplus revenue they had earned into the consolidated revenue fund. That affected their bottom line at the end of the year.
I just wanted to assure you that there are certain controls in place. I don't think they could raise money from camping permits, then go ahead and use that money to buy air-conditioning for their park wardens' offices. There is a control in place to make sure they don't do that.
The Chair: May I interject something very cynical here?
Does anybody know what happened to the millions of dollars saved when the public service was on strike in 1991?
Mr. Rey D. Pagtakhan (Winnipeg North, Lib.): Only the chair would know.
The Chair: I don't think it went back into the consolidated revenue fund. I may be wrong, and if I am, I'd love to be corrected.
Mr. John Williams: I'd like to point out that I would hope we could build in some degree of flexibility and managerial responsibility to our modern civil service in recognition of their capacity to manage government.
I'm not sure that we want to get into a micro-management area on the estimates, where we absolutely control the revenues generated and absolutely control where those funds go, to the exclusion of managerial responsibility.
I'm also concerned that if we only vote a net, unless a government department is having a minor fiscal problem - heaven forbid - perhaps they could raise their user fees and still live within the amounts voted by Parliament. Sometimes, even in the situation of today, where inflation is 2% and 3%, or maybe even higher - who can tell? - management would need to have the flexibility to adjust its user fees according to current circumstances.
So I think we are moving to a realm of voting gross and net. As I say, I would love to see the new estimates committee being charged with that responsibility, rather than our trying to deal with it today.
Mr. René Laurin: Mr. O'Neal addressed some of my concerns. You said that if a department has more revenue, it will presumably have more expenses and that, taking this revenue into account, a balance will be reached in the end.
In such a case, a department with a $200 million budget could spend $225 million if it had recovered $25 million on its own as additional revenue. It would mean that $25 million in expenditure by this department would never have been approved by the government or by Parliament.
Am I interpreting this correctly? You tell me that if there is a surplus, it is seized by Treasury Board. But if we assume that there is no surplus, when expenses and revenue exceed what had been granted under the votes, it doesn't matter as long as it balances out in the end. It is as if there were no accountability.
There is no control for this.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, if I could -
Mr. René Laurin: It is the reason why it is important that the government approves both the gross and the net amounts.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chair, if I could respond to that, I tried to anticipate that in the subsequent recommendation I've drafted for you; that is that Parliament needs to be informed in instances where that might happen.
We're not talking about the full size of a department's budget; we're talking about an activity that's supposed to be self-financing, in effect. If revenues and expenditures go up in tandem, as anticipated, then that won't affect the amount of money coming out of the consolidated revenue fund, or requests for allocations out of the consolidated revenue fund.
However, after looking at this, I personally think that if there are sudden changes, either increases or decreases, Parliament ought to be made aware of this.
So my second recommendation to you was going to be that when trends indicate that revenues credited to departmental votes will either exceed or fall below forecasts, this information, together with explanations, be provided to Parliament in the supplementary estimates tabled during the supply period ending March 26 so that Parliament is made aware of this.
Now, I should say that, at least as it currently stands, if they exceed their forecasts and end up bringing in more money than they projected, as I've mentioned, that will be reflected in part III of the estimates. I have an example here.
Mr. John Williams: How would that be reflected in part III of the estimates?
Mr. O'Neal: In part III of the estimates there is a table that discusses financial performance. I tabled it. I can show it to Mr. Williams in a moment and he can see for himself.
There are three columns: actual, main estimates, and change. In the main estimates for 1994-95, for example, the parks program in Canadian Heritage forecasted that they were going to bring in $37 million in revenue. Under the actual column, this is listed as $42,883,000. So they brought in more than they anticipated.
Mr. John Williams: What year are you talking about there?
Mr. O'Neal: I'm talking about the year 1994-95. The main estimates projected that there would be $37 million, but at the end of the fiscal year they discovered that they actually brought in $42 million, almost $43 million.
At the bottom of this table there's an explanation of this change that says where this money is coming from: entrance fees, camping permits, etc.
What they've done is apply this surplus to the amount they had requested be allocated to them out of the consolidated revenue fund. This has therefore brought it down.
So it's shown. The information is reported to Parliament. The question is, are you informed about this soon enough, and should you be informed that the trends are showing that there's going to be a surplus or an excess?
Mr. John Williams: Thank you, Brian.
Madam Chair, we are going to be having performance documents tabled in the fall showing actual results for the year ending March 31 that just passed. Any variance in actual to estimates would show up at that point.
Again, I really think this is perhaps a major issue that we haven't really deliberated on to any great degree. I would just be quite happy to have a recommendation in here saying we recognize this as a major evolving issue that should be addressed by this new estimates committee.
I don't think we are capable of getting our minds around all the potentials and coming up with a well-thought-out recommendation here.
Mr. O'Neal: If you'll pardon me, Madam Chair, this is why I redrafted this section. So I've included a discussion of the situation that exists in the United Kingdom, where their parliament is able to approve both net and gross expenditure due to the wording of its appropriation acts.
The Chair: I'm reasonably satisfied with that. I don't usually jump to conclusions, but I have on this one.
I see Treasury Board... I guess I don't see it as micro-managing. I'm certainly one who wants to encourage the maximum flexibility, but then accountability, on behalf of our managers.
Certainly Treasury Board has made substantial efforts to be less interfering in dictating to departments on how they manage their resources. But I think that does mean that Parliament needs to be much more aware of these shifts, and of the additional flexibility, not to stray too far from its responsibility to approve both raising and spending money.
I would be happy to be a little vague with that, provided that the recommendation adequately reflects that this needs to be addressed in the very near future. Maybe it even should be resolved in time for the 1999-2000 estimates.
Is that being a little too...? If it's a crucially important issue around parliamentary control...
Mr. John Williams: I think it's certainly something that needs to be addressed, Madam Chair. I just said it's not just when you start thinking about it that you realize there are numerous permutations we haven't considered in depth. We don't have any witnesses. We haven't had direction given to us. We haven't heard from the Auditor General.
I think that as time is somewhat of the essence for this committee, I would rather defer it to another time, but certainly with the recommendation from this committee as something that should be treated with some urgency.
The Chair: Okay. So we basically got a revised text on that. Do you want to pass that out now?
Mr. O'Neal: It's not -
The Chair: Distribute it and let us see it.
It's not in final form?
Mr. O'Neal: It's not in final form. But, Madam Chair, I'll endeavour to have this in committee members' hands by Thursday afternoon.
The Chair: Excellent. Okay, so that's all subject to revision. Would that affect the recommendation in paragraph 263?
Mr. O'Neal: Not in the least.
The Chair: Okay. The departmental revenues -
Mr. O'Neal: Yes, sorry, it would. That means this is replacing all of that. This is the recommendation that calls for voting gross rather than net.
The Chair: Okay.
Mr. O'Neal: What I've suggested to you would replace that recommendation.
The Chair: Okay, so this becomes irrelevant then, if we...
Mr. John Williams: Madam Chair, to do a report, gross and net, at this point in time... The question is that what we're voting on was the previous issue.
I think we should leave in this recommendation, especially that point where it says ``along with their sources'', because that was one of my items of frustration when I was reading the Treasury Board estimates the other day. There was no indication that revenues were coming from other departments or outside sources, although they were indicating other departments. So they could be a lot more clear in the source of revenues. Departments are moving to a cost-recovery system within government.
The Chair: Maybe we could raise that as one of the issues that we feel needs to be considered.
Mr. John Williams: I would leave this recommendation, because it's being implemented at this point in time.
Mr. O'Neal: Sorry for the confusion, Madam Chair. In my document, paragraph 263 is listed twice. I thought you were referring to the first recommendation. Mr. Williams is referring to the second one.
Certainly I can help. I can keep that in there.
Mr. John Williams: My apologies.
The Chair: Okay. Another job for a new estimates committee. Imagine that.
In paragraph 267, Treasury Board Secretariat, we put the institute...?
Mr. John Williams: No later than May 31, 1997?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. O'Neal: Again, this is a recommendation that was drafted with some consultation with Treasury Board Secretariat. They were my inspiration for that particular date. It does seem a little soon, but the point is they're currently doing this, so they should have their conclusions prepared and ready to present by that date.
Of course you could shift it forward, and it might make life a little bit easier for them if you wanted to call for September or October 1997, but I'm told 31 May 1997 is doable.
The Chair: I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd be darn surprised if Parliament were sitting on 31 May 1997.
Mr. John Williams: That was my point. I was wondering who was going to be around to hear it.
The Chair: That's just my gut instinct.
Mr. Laurin: Is this a scoop?
The Chair: No, it's not. It's just my feminine instinct.
Mr. John Williams: I would think we could put it back to the fall quite safely.
The Chair: We want to make sure that in fact nothing is implemented that changes the vote structure for Parliament without the review of a standing committee of the House of Commons and the approval of Parliament. That's what I think we want to accomplish there.
I believe that date was in there because they hoped to implement it for next year's estimates. If an election intervenes, they're not going to be able to do that. My own view is it's important that they not do that without a full review by a committee of the House. And I could suggest an appropriate committee.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Chair: So rather than a date, we'll just specify ``prior to implementation'', okay?
Next are the vote structure and the information and capital and operating budgets. Again, with this whole business of capital and operating budgets, I feel very strongly that Parliament is not at all adequately informed on the history and the projected future to completion of major capital projects. We've had this discussion before. I have ideas for ways that I think it needs to be dealt with, but again, perhaps we might want to indicate that this is something that needs...
I honestly don't think we've looked at it carefully enough. It's linked to a move to accrual accounting, but it's not entirely dependent on a move to accrual accounting. I do think it's something we want to flag, in addition to the vote and control structure, as something that needs a very serious look by a committee of Parliament.
Is there any disagreement with that?
I think that's a separate recommendation, frankly - the whole business of accrual accounting and so on.
Okay. Next is supply days.
Mr. John Williams: Well, reading the rather negative tone, Madam Chair, on the success of supply days - and you may cast back to the days when you were on our side of the House and the lack of success in bringing issues to the forefront of the national agenda - I can assure you we have a similar disappointment.
In many ways, as you perhaps would acknowledge, the lack of success of supply days is in some way attributable to the government's automatic rejection of the topics debated, be they actual monetary issues or other issues of a more grievous nature, where they are deemed to be confidence measures, therefore to be rejected by the government. All this is part and parcel of the confidence measure; I hope the governments from here on in might be more tolerant and allow it to relax to some degree.
Brian may want to expand a little on the fact that there are two sides to the issue, not just one.
The Chair: I loved opposition days. They're lots of fun. I think -
Mr. John Williams: I talked about success, not fun.
The Chair: I think we need to specify a bit here... They have not achieved the purpose of focusing the attention of Parliament on the business of supply. I don't think there is anybody who would argue that opposition days do not form a useful purpose in Parliament. I think they do.
Mr. John Williams: They do.
The Chair: They do not from the point of view of enhancing Parliament's attention to the business of supply.
Mr. John Williams: Okay.
The Chair: That's what I think needs to be made very clear in these paragraphs. It hasn't achieved what was intended from that perspective.
Mr. John Williams: It hasn't achieved it from the point of view of business of supply, but they are necessary from the point of view of grievance.
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Williams: They're largely two separate issues.
The Chair: But that's not what they were intended to do. The Standing Orders are clear.
Let's ask Brian to clarify that, that the disappointment is not suggesting that opposition days are not a good idea. Would that be satisfactory? That's why we have to suggest some other things with respect to the business of supply.
Mr. John Williams: A little mention about the outright rejection by the government of the day wouldn't be inappropriate either - outright rejection of the motions put forward on supply days by the government of the day.
The Chair: We have a right to vote however we want on your motions.
Mr. John Williams: Because they are deemed confidence, and therefore...
The Chair: No, we've never called one of yours confidence - never. That other government used to do that. We've never done it.
Mr. John Williams: Okay.
Mr. René Laurin: Madam Chair, we're saying that those days no longer achieve the purpose for which they were created a few centuries ago. Their purpose is different today. When we use an opposition day on a certain topic, our purpose has been met at the end of the day even if we didn't talk about the budget.
We already had a debate on this in committee. I think we had agreed to leave the opposition days unchanged. I'm still in agreement with this recommendation and, although there has been no recommendation on this, I don't think that we need to put one forward to change it.
The Chair: I do think it should be edited to be a little better balanced, to point out that they have evolved to serve a different purpose than they were originally defined to serve, and that we agree that is an important purpose. They have not served well on the business of supply. I don't know that we can do much beyond that except comment on it.
Mr. John Williams: That's another topic for the new committee, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Yes. We're getting quite a list for a committee that doesn't exist.
Next is the accountability of ministers and deputy ministers. Do we have a recommendation on this? We do. Sections 275, 276, and 277.
I love the way we're moving right along here.
Guidelines for public servants when appearing before standing committees with regard to the estimates, performance, and plans.
Mr. John Williams: I don't understand what the guidelines are going to be guiding, Madam Chair.
The Chair: I think it's pretty well spelled out in the previous... Mike and I just get a great variation. You get some departmental officials who are very forthcoming with committees about information, options, and so on. You get others who believe they can't say anything to a committee except what's right there in the estimates.
Brian, do want to clarify a bit there?
Mr. O'Neal: Yes.
Again, Madam Chair, the operating assumption here is that with the new provision of plans and performance documents and the expansion of information that's being presented with regard to the estimates, it will lead to more intense interaction between standing committees and senior public servants.
Here the idea is to ensure that a set of guidelines is developed so that senior public servants and committees will have a clear, unambiguous idea of exactly which kinds of areas they can explore together and which other kinds of areas are more properly the responsibility of the minister involved, who can be held accountable for policy rather than the actual delivery of policy.
So that's what these recommendations are aimed at. Again, some of it is coming from the testimony of the Hon. Maurice McTigue, New Zealand's high commissioner, who said in some cases these things do need to be clarified.
Mr. John Williams: That may be true, Brian, but I would just think of the other day, when we were looking into the most recent supplementary estimates tabled last week, I think, or the week before. We had called a particular department - let's leave the department nameless - to obtain some information regarding the figures contained in the supplementary estimates we as parliamentarians will be voting upon.
We were informed, and quite emphatically, that we had no need to know the information. I thought perhaps we had to enlighten the particular department that perhaps the information should be forthcoming. So perhaps a guideline may not be out of place.
The Chair: The reverse happens too, John. I've had to explode at a committee when members were trying to coerce officials into responding to questions that only the minister should be responding to, and being very critical when they weren't doing that. So I think both Parliament and officials need those guidelines so that there is some consistency.
Mr. John Williams: Okay.
The Chair: That Parliament be involved in the development of those guidelines; that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs review and endorse those guidelines... Any problem with that?
So sections 275, 276, and 277 -
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Then we have a long discussion on the confidence convention and the business of supply.
Mr. John Williams: And that one recommendation, Madam Chair.
The Chair: If you have one to propose, please do, but I don't see how you can deal with that except through hypnotic auto-suggestion of the government of the day.
Mr. John Williams: Again, Madam Chair, maybe we could delegate this to our new committee. I refer to Westminster, where they have what they call a ``three-line'' party whip, a ``two-line'' party whip, and a ``single-line'' party whip, depending on the perception of the government on a particular issue as to how emphatic they will be in obtaining support from within the party.
There have been in Westminster situations where items in a budget have actually been defeated. The government then brought forward a measure to replace the revenue that Parliament did not approve.
Obviously, then, there are perceptions within British parliamentary democracies rather than just the Canadian one as to what confidence actually is and how stringent it has to be applied.
Therefore, perhaps we could ask that the committee... If this report is largely adopted - and let's hope it is - then over the next number of years it could be an evolution. I call this report a ``catalyst''. Hopefully, as members of Parliament become more knowledgeable on the subject of supply and the opportunities through reallocation become apparent, they may call for a relaxation of the confidence convention, which seems to have dictated over the last 25 years no changes whatsoever.
I would like to see it dealt with somewhere, but perhaps in the light of evolving changes in Parliament due to a report such as this.
The Chair: Monsieur Laurin.
Mr. René Laurin: Personally, I think that perhaps we should make a recommendation on the confidence convention and that it should be at least consistent with the ones we made on reallocation. We should have something to the effect that the confidence convention should not be involved with the privilege of reallocation, because we can use no recommendation there.
If 5% of the budget is allocated differently and if the government considers it a confidence issue, well, committees won't be able to do anything anymore.
I think that on this issue at least, we should recommend that the confidence convention not be invoked with regard to reallocation.
The Chair: It pretty well is already decided, though, because the government has to bring in a royal recommendation or else reallocation cannot be approved.
Brian, maybe you could comment on this.
Mr. O'Neal: I want to make two comments. As the clerk of the House indicated, the difficulty lies in putting this into the rules. It's very difficult to legislate someone into the kingdom of heaven, for example, although it's been tried.
In the text it calls for a relaxation of the application of confidence convention. It mentions that the government has suffered defeats in this area before without the issue of confidence arising.
As a matter of fact, there is perhaps a better example I could cite in the text, where a government in the period 1972-1974 actually had an item in the estimates negatived. They tried to restore the item but were unsuccessful. They lost the vote. The Speaker merely proceeded to the next item.
At that point it was pointed out by a member of the opposition that the government had in effect lost the confidence of the House and there should be a vote on confidence. This wasn't recognized by the Speaker. They just proceeded.
The issue of reallocation is also discussed within the body of the text, but there it's mentioned as a way in which the whole issue of confidence could be avoided were a government to accept a committee's proposals to reallocate.
That would be in paragraphs 294 and 295, I believe. I will have to make some changes to the wording in those paragraphs to make sure we're talking about proposals to reallocate and a number of other things changed earlier in the report.
Mr. René Laurin: Madam Chair, I remind you that we only have 10 minutes left. Taking into account the duration of the vote, should we come back or not? We may well have to vote on two bills, C-81 and maybe C-66. Personally, I would like to be able to leave at 7 p.m., because, as I told you, I must sit on another committee.
The Chair: Rey, you cannot be back with us after 5:30 p.m. in any case.
Mr. Rey Pagtakhan: No. I have a caucus meeting.
The Chair: So the three of us could reconvene for at most an hour, maybe 45 minutes. I think it's worth doing, because then we'll be finished this. We might not resolve the estimates committee question, but that would remain the one issue.
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, 45 minutes.
The Chair: Mr. Williams is not here on Thursday. That was the problem with Thursday.
How do you feel about meeting Thursday, John -
Mr. René Laurin: Since I'd like to...
The Chair: - if we're just dealing with the estimates committee? I need your persuasive powers here.
Mr. John Williams: If you need my persuasive powers, let's put it over, but I would hopeMr. Laurin would reconsider and agree that perhaps an estimates committee is desirable as an integral part of ensuring that this whole methodology of change being forced upon Parliament is supervised.
Mr. René Laurin: I'm not prepared to do so. I could reach the same conclusions, but my colleagues who sat on this committee before me have always been opposed to this idea as it was put in the recommendation. Two of them told me they had opposed that principle.
The Chair: Who was here before?
Mr. René Laurin: Mr. Michel Guimond, I believe.
The Chair: Never. At one meeting, I think.
Mr. René Laurin: I thought it was Mr. Guimond. Anyway, that's what our officials told me. However, I'll check into it.
The Chair: The simplest thing might be for the three of us who are available to get together over in the Centre Block rather than come back here right after the vote. I think it will be two votes, but it shouldn't take long.
Mr. René Laurin: Maybe one, maybe two. I don't know whether C-66 has been dropped. If we could work for 45 minutes, I could come back and stay until 7 p.m., but if you wanted to go on at that time, I'd not like that too much.
Mr. John Williams: We will return here, Madam Chair, because of the translation service and everything else. So right after the vote, we should come right back.
The Chair: Right. We'll come right back here after the vote.
Rey, you can't be with us for half an hour?
Mr. Rey Pagtakhan: No. We have a regular caucus meeting.
The Chair: You have responsibilities to the Prime Minister to report on that, as I know.
So we will be back.
The Chair: We'll call the meeting to order.
We have just a couple of pages to finish up so let's do that and then get into this last big thorny issue.
Mr. René Laurin: When we interrupted our work, I was suggesting that we draft a recommendation on the confidence convention that would be consistent with our recommendations on reallocation. Mr. O'Neal was commenting on this and I wonder whether he was finished.
The Chair: Brian.
Mr. O'Neal: Madam Chairman, I think what I pointed out is that it's very difficult to try to approach the issue of confidence through a change in the rules. As a matter of fact, the clerk indicated that it really isn't possible to do this. In its text, the report calls upon governments to relax the application of the confidence convention, but it doesn't go so far as making a recommendation.
I think a recommendation would in effect invite a government to say no, to say that it wouldn't do this, simply because it wouldn't want to be bound by that. I think governments like to make up their minds on a case-by-case basis. There is no recommendation. There is just the suggestion that ways of relaxing the confidence convention be found, and it is pointed out that this has indeed occurred in the past without threatening the ability of the government to continue in office.
The Chair: If the subcommittee feels it needs to make a recommendation on this, I would not have a problem with a recommendation urging the government to apply the confidence convention sparingly. I also wouldn't have a problem with a recommendation that it could be in the discussion on supply days, that since these days have tended to be used for matters other than supply, the government should not automatically consider an opposition motion to be a motion of confidence.
Mr. John Williams: The difficulty, Madam Chair, as Brian has pointed out, is that confidence is in the eyes of the beholder.
The Chair: There's nothing we can do with the Standing Orders or any -
Mr. John Williams: No. For example, we have just returned from a vote that was split along party lines and there was no mention of confidence anywhere along the way. Nonetheless, the vote was split along party lines, and that happens almost invariably, with the odd exception. And it's going to continue to happen. Confidence, even unstated, will continue in the British parliamentary system. But there are times when an indication by the government that a minor defeat or a minor amendment proposed by Parliament should not be considered a defeat of the government's capacity to govern...
I appreciate your comments about using it sparingly. I think we have made inroads if we can have reallocation adopted as a methodology for amending the estimates by Parliament. As we recognize, reallocation is a two-edged transaction, one a reduction and the other an augmentation. It's a small step from there to one half of the transaction being the reduction within the 5% limit that is being proposed. Perhaps we could put in as a recommendation that the government consider that reductions within the 5% limit would not necessarily invoke confidence.
I appreciate your point that they wouldn't want to be bound by a recommendation, because a recommendation in essence would become the precedent. But perhaps Brian could write it in such a way that the committee would be asking it to give some consideration to the 5% reduction being allowable as well as a 5% augmentation -
The Chair: It's allowed at any time.
Mr. John Williams: I appreciate it's ``allowed'' at any time, the same way as we had a free vote in the House of Commons not half an hour ago, although it was split along party lines, as every other vote is. This is where it's in the eyes of the beholder.
Rather than dealing with motions and bills and so on, we're dealing here with actual supply. Let us say, for example, a committee now feel they can be seized with the issue of supply because it becomes meaningful and they find an area where, in agreement with the government officials, some cutting back is desirable. They now have to go out and find another area in which to spend the money through reallocation.
The Chair: They already have the power to reduce.
Mr. John Williams: I appreciate that. But I would hope -
The Chair: They ``may'' find another area to reallocate, which they don't have the power to do now.
Mr. John Williams: Yes, but in our report we have focused on reallocation and the capacity to reallocate, with passing reference to reduction. Reallocation and reduction actually go hand in hand, in that a reduction, I would think, would come first, followed by is there another area where we feel insufficient importance has been allocated, and therefore, rather than recommending a reduction to supply, we feel it's more appropriate that it be allocated in another area, albeit within the same department.
We may want to make more reference to reduction alongside reallocation - within the 5% allowable limits, Madam Chair. I don't want to rock the boat. But I do see that if we can have a break in the logjam in a small way, over a number of years this catalyst will cause Parliament to want to be seized with the business of supply more willingly than it has been in the past.
The Chair: Let me make two points based on my municipal and parliamentary experience. I think you have it backwards. I think what is most likely to happen is the committee, based on its work on issues over a year or two, is going to say, we believe more money needs to go into this area of the budget; now, what areas could be reduced to make that possible? That's more likely the way it's going to happen.
Secondly, the very best we can do in this report, because there's no method through the rules or through anything else, is to urge the government to use -
Mr. John Williams: Invoke.
The Chair: - to invoke confidence. Tonight's vote happened along party lines because we generally tend to think in the same way, not because anybody said it was a confidence vote. Had it been lost, it wouldn't have been treated as a confidence vote, and there's no reason it would have been. It wasn't a motion on a government initiative. Therefore, it didn't need to be treated as a confidence vote at all.
Mr. John Williams: I appreciate your point that it didn't need to be treated as a confidence vote, Madam Chair. However, I do believe -
The Chair: And it wasn't -
Mr. John Williams: - it might have been in the previous Parliament, where they took a more stringent view even then -
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Williams: - and where it was automatic that a motion on a supply day that was put forward by an opposition party was deemed -
The Chair: Yes, but that was because it was called a supply day and therefore had to do with the core mandate of the government as to how money was to be spent.
That's why I suggest that if you want to do something, you should suggest or generally urge the government to consider using confidence motions sparingly, and particularly to consider that it should...I'm not sure how I want to say this. In the two cases you've mentioned, one, where a committee has proposed a reduction, and, two, on allotted days...I say that only because we have treated the business of allotted days because they were initially dedicated to the business of supply, so we've treated them as allotted. We've treated that issue in our report.
Mr. John Williams: Okay.
The Chair: On supply days, I'd be prepared to go so far as to remove the reference in the Standing Order to the purpose of supply. If they're no longer used that way, why have it in the Standing Orders?
Mr. John Williams: I agree, and as I said, I see it more as grievance than business of supply. I think most opposition parties have perceived them in that format.
The Chair: Would it be helpful to have just a general recommendation about urging the government?
Mr. John Williams: I would be thankful.
The Chair: Is that all right with you, René?
I don't think it's going to cause me any problems, but it may act as a catalyst towards an evolution in this area.
Secondly, are we interested in returning to the business of supply days and suggesting an amendment to the Standing Orders? Rather than keeping up the pretence that these are supply days, are we prepared to suggest an amendment to the Standing Orders that the specific purpose for allotted days be removed? They're not used that way, they haven't been from the time they were conceived and put in the Standing Orders, and they probably never will be. The Standing Orders should probably reflect their true use, that they may be used for the business of supply or for other -
The Clerk of the Committee: Change the Standing Orders to reflect reality.
The Chair: Yes, change the Standing Orders to reflect reality.
Mr. John Williams: I agree with that, Madam Chair. I wouldn't want to deny the business of supply, so I wouldn't want one or the other, but I would want to allow a broader definition of the topics to be debated.
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Williams: That's not a problem.
The Chair: Can we manage that, Brian?
Mr. O'Neal: Sure. I'm at your disposal.
The Chair: But you usually have some wise advice when you think we're heading down the wrong track.
Mr. O'Neal: No, not in this case. I'm sorry.
The Chair: Mr. Laurin.
Mr. René Laurin: We could call them "opposition days" instead of "supply days", but could it mean that the budget would be approved even if those opposition days had not taken place?
The Chair: No.
Mr. René Laurin: A certain number of days are currently provided for, and the final estimates cannot be approved until they have been held. If we change their name and if we modify the Standing Orders, the government will no longer be obligated to dedicate these days to the budget, because then we could use them for that purpose or not. It would be up to the opposition parties.
The Chair: Absolutely.
Mr. René Laurin: But if that obligation was removed, could it mean that the government could approve the estimates...
The Chair: No.
Mr. René Laurin: ... in March?
The Chair: No.
Mr. René Laurin: After 7, 8, 9, or 10 supply days?
The Chair: What I'm suggesting... They are not called les jours de subside. They are allotted days.
Is it les jours désignés?
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, You're right.
The Chair: But the standing order says for what purpose they are to be used, and the purpose is very specifically the business of supply. All I'm suggesting is that we change it to say it's for the purpose of debating the business of supply ``or such other topic as the opposition party wishes to bring to the attention of Parliament''. Otherwise it would stay the same; the same number of days, same period spread out throughout the year.
Mr. René Laurin: Okay. I'd not have any objection, as long as it still states that they can be used for the purpose of debating the business of supply. They could be used for this purpose or for other purposes.
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. René Laurin: I agree, but the word "supply" must remain.
The Chair: Okay.
Mr. René Laurin: I'm in agreement with this.
The Chair: It says in any calendar year five sitting days shall be allotted to the business of supply. But then it does go on to say opposition motions may be moved by members in opposition and may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada.
I guess it's really already covered. So we don't need to make the change.
Mr. O'Neal: Could I read the recommendation as I think you suggested it for the section on confidence? It would read something to the effect of:
Mr. O'Neal: Sure.
Mr. John Williams: Now read it again, please.
Mr. O'Neal: Yes:
Mr. René Laurin: We can't simply talk of a reduction.
The Chair: That's right.
Mr. René Laurin: We must talk of reduction and reallocation.
The Chair: But we already dealt with the issue of reallocation in this section and we suggested some ways for the government to consent to proposals from committees. I don't think it is necessary to repeat it here.
Mr. René Laurin: But why would we repeat that a motion of confidence should not be put when it involves a reduction of budget items?
The Chair: Presently, the government is almost forced to put a motion to defeat a recommendation to reduce expenditures made by a committee.
Mr. René Laurin: Yes.
The Chair: Because of that, such situations have to be specified.
But on the question of reallocations we've already said to the government that we've given them that power specifically. We've clearly said that it doesn't have to be a confidence motion, because the government has the ability to bring in a royal recommendation, either for the whole reallocation proposed by the committee or for a part of it, and it has the obligation to respond to that recommendation if it doesn't bring in reallocation.
Mr. O'Neal: If I might just add to that, Madam Chair, the thing about the reallocation is that if the government doesn't agree to the reallocation, it has to introduce a motion to restore the reduction that's involved.
This recommendation, as drafted, would urge the government not to -
The Chair: Not to do that.
Mr. O'Neal: - invoke confidence in that instance, because it would be making a motion to overturn or restore a reduction.
Mr. John Williams: Rather than dealing with the confidence convention as a recommendation, perhaps we should have a recommendation that when a government does not agree with a proposed reallocation or reduction it recognizes that it need not necessarily introduce a motion to restore the spending.
I'm trying to say that if they recognize the reduction they do not consider the recommendations by committees as invoking confidence. The more I think about it, maybe that's not appropriate at all.
The Chair: No.
Mr. John Williams: Strike that from the record, Madam Chair.
The Chair: I think I know what you're trying to say, though. If a committee recommends a reallocation, it's really recommending a reduction in one area and a corresponding increase in another. We've already said that where there's a reduction, the government should be cautious about invoking confidence, so that would apply to a reduction that was part of a reallocation as well...I think.
Mr. John Williams: Let's put forth this recommendation as a start -
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Williams: - a ``fresh start''.
The Chair: Don't push me too far.
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair: Is that the last recommendation we have to deal with, except for the estimates committee?
Mr. O'Neal: Except for the estimates committee, and the related recommendations attached to it would be either modified or changed in response to what you agree on the estimates committee.
The Chair: Monsieur Laurin, you wish to share with us. One last time -
Mr. René Laurin: I could agree to the creation of another committee which would be given a mandate to deal with certain issues, as we saw particularly towards the end of the document; this would enable Mr. O'Neal to make a draft of his report that would almost be the final version. However, I'd still hold back my approval and wait to see the final mandate we'd want to give it. You can be sure that I'll remain very open-minded with regard to the creation of this committee, but I must see the final version of our text and the contents of the mandate before giving a formal approval.
The Chair: Would it help to have -
Mr. René Laurin: If we could have Mr. O'Neal's document a few days before the next meeting, I'd be able to make the necessary consultations in my party.
The Chair: Would it help if he also prepared a list of the issues we've identified? Just in going through the document today, we have issues that we haven't finally resolved and that we feel need to be dealt with on an ongoing basis for Parliament, things such as the business of accrual accounting, capital expenditures, and a number of things we've identified today, not necessarily to include in the report but for your information.
Mr. René Laurin: No, it's not necessary. There is only one issue we've not dealt with, Madam Chair.
Mr. O'Neal: We skipped over the issue of staffing.
Mr. René Laurin: It's the issue of staffing, of support for committees, isn't it?
The Chair: I think we skipped over that because we felt it was tied into whether we were or weren't going to have an estimates committee.
Mr. René Laurin: Okay, but in my mind the additional support would not be only for the new committee. It could also be for other committees. It wasn't necessarily linked with the existence of the new committee.
The Chair: That's true.
Mr. René Laurin: Are we in agreement on this?
A voice: Yes.
Mr. O'Neal: Yes, that's correct. At the end of the report a number of options are presented as ones that could be considered in terms of enhanced staffing support for committees.
Madam Chair, I can take this revised section on the estimates committee... Towards the end of the section a number of paragraphs discuss reservations about the creation of an estimates committee. What I would like to do is to review those sections, see again from the transcripts what Mr. Laurin's areas of concern were, and give those a little more emphasis in those sections. I would also like your permission to add a paragraph or two, along with a recommendation on staffing for an estimates committee, with emphasis on a small, dedicated, permanent staff. You wouldn't be talking about more than two or three people.
Mr. René Laurin: Non partisan staff?
The Chair: Yes, absolutely.
Mr. John Williams: I was just going to say to Mr. Laurin that we had left the issue of staffing until we had resolved the issue of the estimates committee. If there is to be no estimates committee, then we may want to consider staffing for the standing committees in a different light; whereas if we agree that we could have an estimates committee, then we may want to focus staffing in that area. So we left the issue open because we have two ways we could address this.
There are two roads we can go down, Madam Chair. As Yogi Berra said, when you come to a fork in the road, you take it. We have to take it. We're not sure which one; that's the problem. But I'm glad to see Mr. Laurin is cognizant of the potential of an estimates committee that spans more than just the narrow public policy of the standing committees. Some of the issues he raised, such as accrual accounting, go right across government, all departments, and no one particular committee would have the mandate to deal with it.
The Chair: Or any reason to deal with it.
Mr. John Williams: Or any reason to deal with it, that's right. Think of Mr. Duhamel's working committee on the revamping of the part IIIs. Again, that has affected all departments of government, so again, out with the mandate of any one particular committee. We've identified today numerous other issues that again are way beyond the mandate of any one particular committee. So I'm glad to hear Mr. Laurin is contemplating approval of this committee.
The Chair: Frankly, much as I admire the work Ron's working group has done, it's very important that parliamentarians be looking at things. It's almost improper for an individual member of Parliament, at the request of a minister, to set up an ad hoc working group of this nature. This is exactly the kind of work that should be done by a standing committee of the House.
Mr. John Williams: Absolutely, it ends up being co-opted by the minister and his department, and that is not the role of a member of Parliament, either from the government side or any other side. It's totally at odds with the mandate of an MP.
The Chair: Other members of Parliament don't even know it's going on, it's not listed on regular committee agendas, and there's no reporting on its deliberations. It has been an interesting phenomena, as a matter of fact, but it's really not quite proper.
Mr. John Williams: It's not quite proper, but they've done a very good job in the absence of something that had the mandate to do so.
The Chair: Yes, but now we'd like to make sure there is a standing committee that has a proper mandate and accountability to Parliament.
Mr. John Williams: Yes, right on, and I think we can do it. We have done so much work here and have covered so many areas, including some areas of extreme importance such as reallocation, as Mr. Laurin has pointed out.
I also consider the one committee that has this government-wide mandate to be just as important too. We know that if a committee takes a narrow focus, it can lose sight of the bigger picture. It's this bigger picture that the estimates probe committee would be looking at in some way.
The Chair: It's one more tool for Parliament, and if Parliament doesn't use or like that tool, it can get rid of it in two years.
Mr. Laurin, I congratulate you, and I thank you for your open-mindedness on this issue.
Mr. René Laurin: I'd like to add, Madam Chair, that what makes my task easier is that I see that this committee could assume some mandates not belonging to existing committees. The creation of a new committee solves a problem but not the problem of the Mps' lack of interest for the business of supply. Our main mandate was mostly to find solutions to the problems faced by MPs who lacked interest for the business of supply. We could ask the new committee to study some issues that standing committees have not been studying in the past, but we'd run the risk of finding the same lack of interest among members, for example if the committee is not in a position to influence the policies of the government.
The Chair: Brian is pointing out that one of the main responsibilities of this committee will be to continue to try to improve the process for the standing committees. I was reminding Mr. Laurin earlier this afternoon that if Jacques Cartier had wanted an absolute assurance of the outcome, he never would have set off for the New World. If I had wanted an absolute assurance of what my children would be like at 21 years old, I never would have gotten pregnant. Now, those unfortunately were not reversible decisions, but this one is at least reversible by Parliament.
Mr. René Laurin: Madam Chair, you are going farther than I was. I didn't ask for any absolute guarantees; I only asked that we would stand a good chance. If I want to have children, I stand a better chance if I sleep with a woman rather than a man, isn't that so?
The Chair: On the other hand, you guys don't invest nearly as much as we women do in making that product come out.
The Clerk: Can I ask if we are meeting on Thursday?
The Chair: We're not meeting on Thursday.
The Clerk: Are we meeting on Tuesday?
The Chair: Mr. Laurin has asked to have the report as soon as possible. Do you think that's possible by Thursday, Brian? Tomorrow is Wednesday, so Thursday is about the earliest we could have it. I know you have your convention on the weekend, but -
Mr. René Laurin: Yes, we're having our convention. I'd like to receive the draft at least one day before we come back, maybe Friday evening or Monday morning.
Mr. O'Neal: Okay. I think it can be done; I'll do my best.
The Chair: We want to meet on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Procedure and House Affairs is meeting at 11 a.m. We have a luncheon engagement to finally wrap this up. So it's Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., and we'll continue over a working lunch in order to make sure we get it done. Is that okay?
Mr. René Laurin: Okay.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I really want to thank both of you, and I'll say the same thing to Rey. This is not exciting stuff, and it's not gaining you lots of points out in your constituencies. I think it's important for Parliament, though, so I thank you very much for the attention you've given to it. I really appreciate it.
We can now adjourn this meeting.
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