Towards more transparent and accountable government spending

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In 2015, Canadians elected our Liberal government on a platform that included a pledge to “change Parliament’s financial processes so that government accounting is more consistent and clear.”

We are making good on that promise. Canadians, and those elected to represent them, have a right to know where public funds are going and how they will be spent. The ability to follow the money is foundational for representative democracy, which is why our government has recently made important changes to improve the clarity, transparency and accountability of government spending.

Every year, government tables the Main Estimates in Parliament laying out its spending plans for the coming year. And just about every year, new initiatives announced in the federal budget do not get included in the Main Estimates, because the Main Estimates have almost always been prepared and tabled in the House of Commons before the Budget. You couldn’t directly compare the two documents, which created confusion. It left parliamentarians largely in the dark, a system the Globe and Mail once described as “bad to the point of absurdity.”

We have effectively solved this problem. We’ve changed the order so that the Main Estimates come after the Budget, and we’ve included a Budget Implementation vote in the Main Estimates. For the first time in recent history, the Main Estimates, which I tabled on April 16th, include 100% of the measures announced in the Budget for this year. Parliamentarians have more accurate, detailed information and they are better able to hold government to account for how it spends taxpayer dollars. This is a major step forward in government accountability.

To do this, we have added a new centrally managed Budget Implementation vote to the existing list of centrally managed votes in the Main Estimates. By law, Treasury Board, the Cabinet Committee that manages what funds go to which department, can only allocate these funds to specific new budget measures, as per the Budget’s detailed list of funding for every new spending measure.  Anything else would be an unauthorized use of public money.

Economists Scott Clark and Peter DeVries gave Budget 2018 an “A” grade for fiscal credibility, writing that “with respect to transparency the 2018 Budget provides more detailed financial analysis and information than any budget that we can remember, and we go back a long way. For critics of the Budget who felt such information was lacking, they should perhaps take the time to read the Annexes.”

And Auditor General Michael Ferguson has observed that under Vote 40, "you have to allocate it on that basis, you can't just decide somebody else should get more and somebody else can get less. To me that's not the authority that they've been given by Parliament."

We are showing Parliament exactly where in the Budget the funding for the new Budget Implementation vote comes from and how it will be used. Parliamentarians can now literally follow the money from this new central vote to a specific line in the Budget (Table A2.11) and the Main Estimates (Annex 1). And for added clarity, we will include the allocations from Annex 1 of the Main Estimates directly in the Supply bill to be voted on by parliamentarians this spring.

This increased transparency is made possible by the unprecedented level of detail provided in the Budget on new spending measures by department. We will also show Parliament exactly how Treasury Board is allocating funds to departments for specific budget measures, through monthly online reporting and in the Supplementary Estimates throughout the year.  

How will this work? Take for example the New Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, intended to help women entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create jobs. With new monthly online reporting, Canadians can track funds committed to the Strategy, broken out by federal agency, as we expand support for women in business.

Through three previous committee appearances on Estimates reform, and another this week, I am openly and constructively engaging my fellow parliamentarians in this reform exercise.

Thanks to these important changes, parliamentarians now have better oversight of government spending than ever before. I firmly believe the result will be better, more transparent government for all Canadians.

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