REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE
|Thursday, February 26, 2009|
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance
has the honour to table its
Your committee, to which were referred the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009, has, in obedience to the Order of Reference of Tuesday, February 10, 2009, examined the said estimates and herewith presents its report.
JOSEPH A. DAY
REPORT ON THE SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATES (B), 2008-2009
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance
Chair: The Honourable Joseph A.
Deputy Chair: The Honourable Irving R. Gerstein
REPORT ON THE SUPPLEMENTARY ESTIMATES (B), 2008-2009
The Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009 were originally tabled in Parliament on November 24, 2008; however, the prorogation of Parliament on December 4, 2008 prevented the introduction and approval of the Appropriation Bill in the House of Commons. Upon the return of Parliament, the Supplementary Estimates (B) were re-tabled in the Senate on January 29, 2009 and on February 10 referred for review to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.
These Supplementary Estimates are the second set of Supplementary Estimates that were issued in this fiscal year ending on March 31, 2009. Unless otherwise stated, all page references are from the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009 document.
The committee held two meetings to review these Supplementary Estimates. On February 11, 2009, officials from the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada, Alister Smith, Assistant Secretary, Expenditure Management Sector and Brian Pagan, Executive Director, Expenditure Operations and Estimates Division, Expenditure Management Sector, appeared before the Senate committee to testify on the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009. These officials returned to answer further questions on February 24, 2009. Also appearing were: Louis Ranger, Deputy Minister of Transport and Deputy Head, Infrastructure Canada; André Morency, Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Management and Crown Corporation Governance Transport Canada; John Forster, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy and Communications Branch Infrastructure Canada; and David Cluff, Assistant Deputy Minister, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer Infrastructure Canada. These officials answered questions regarding the federal infrastructure programs.
Supplementary Estimates are tabled in Parliament approximately one month in advance of the related Appropriation Act. They serve a number of purposes. First, they provide information on the government’s spending requirements that were not sufficiently developed when the 2008-2009 Main Estimates were tabled, or have been subsequently refined to account for new developments in particular programs or services. Second, they provide Parliament with information on changes in estimated statutory expenditures (i.e., those authorized by Parliament though enabling legislation). Finally, they are used to seek parliamentary approval for items such as: transfers of money between Votes; debt deletion; loan guarantees; new or increased grants; and changes to Vote wording.
These Supplementary Estimates continue to reflect the government’s commitment to renew the Expenditure Management System (EMS). Normally there are at least two Supplementary Estimates documents tabled each year. Each document is identified alphabetically (A, B, C, etc.). In recent years, the first regular Supplementary Estimates document has been tabled in late October and the final document in February.
However this year, in keeping with government commitments to renew the EMS, Supplementary Estimates (A), 2008-2009 were tabled in May in order to facilitate a closer alignment of the Estimates to the Budget. These Supplementary Estimates represent the second opportunity for Parliamentary review of departmental program requirements this fiscal year.
Pages 36 to 58 of the estimates provide a preview of the related supply bill (Proposed Schedules 1 and 2 to the Appropriation Bill), and include, by department and organization, a list of Vote numbers, the Vote wording, and the requested funds that will be proposed to Parliament for approval.
Treasury Board Secretariat officials began their testimony by providing senators with an overview of the $2.3 billion in planned spending under the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009. As Mr. Smith informed the committee, this spending is consistent with the planned expenses as established in the March 2008 Budget and the October 2008 Economic and Fiscal Outlook. In the Estimates documents, planned spending is broken down by budgetary and non-budgetary expenditures and is displayed for both voted and statutory expenditures. As shown in Table 1 below, the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009 total $2.3 billion. Of this amount, the federal government is seeking Parliament’s approval to spend almost $2.8 billion, while statutory expenditures are expected to decrease by $445.4 million.
Table 1: Total
Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009
(In millions of dollars)
Source: Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009, p. 8.
Total Estimates to-date for this fiscal year are $227.4 billion, including $221.0 billion under the 2008-2009 Main Estimates, and $4.1 billion under the Supplementary Estimates (A) 2008-2009 and $2.3 billion under the Supplementary Estimates (B) 2008-2009. This spending is consistent with the planned expenses of $239.6 billion established in the March 2008 budget.
Mr. Smith informed the senators that the Supplementary Estimates currently before the committee are asking Parliament’s approval to spend funds on several strategic initiatives and key priorities announced in the 2008 Budget and related Cabinet decisions made during 2008-2009. Therefore, he explained that these Estimates represent requested appropriations for proposed spending that was not known or sufficiently developed when the Main Estimates were tabled last year. He highlighted the fact that 32% of the total voted budgetary requirements represents funding for the top three items (based on total voted budgetary expenditures of $2.8 billion) presented in section B. Among the expenditures tabled for approval, he highlighted the expenditures listed below.
Pages 10 to 12 of the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009 contain an explanation of the major budgetary spending (both voted and statutory) relating to the $2.3 billion increase in expenditures.
· Funding to National Defence for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan ($331.1 million).
· Funding to the Office of Infrastructure Canada for the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Funding Program to provide long-term, predictable and flexible funding to provinces and territories for infrastructure ($326.7 million).
· Funding to the Department of Finance for a Payment to Nova Scotia in Respect of the Crown Share Adjustment Payment regarding amounts relating to previous years up to March 31, 2008 ($234.4 million).
· Funding to the Treasury Board Secretariat for compensation for salary adjustments ($170.7 million).
· Funding for the operations of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority ($156.2 million).
· Increase to pay and allowances for Canadian Forces Members ($90.4 million).
· Funding to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for multi-year real property projects; the acquisition or replacement of air, land and marine assets; and information technology projects ($73.4 million).
· Funding to Foreign Affairs and International Trade to conduct activities under the Global Partnership Program Phase III, including destruction of chemical weapons, dismantling decommissioned nuclear submarines, improving nuclear and radiological security, re-employing former weapons scientists in peaceful research, and promoting biological non-proliferation ($68.9 million).
· Funding to Public Works and Government Services for volume and inflationary pressures on non-discretionary charges for the Real Property Program ($64.1 million).
· Funding to support the implementation and operations of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission Secretariat ($58.4 million).
· Funding to the Office of Infrastructure Canada for the Border Infrastructure Fund relation to investments in infrastructure to reduce border congestion ($56.2 million).
· Funding to National Defence for the implementation phase of the Halifax Class frigate modernization and life extension project ($54.6 million).
· Revised forecast by Finance of transfer payments to provincial and territorial government ($1,225.9 million).
· Payments to provinces under the Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act ($419.0 million).
· Revised forecast by Finance of public debt charges due to a significant downward revision in forecasted interest rates (a decrease of $2,174.0 million).
During the committee’s hearings on the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009, senators raised a variety of questions related to the planned spending as outlined above. Some of these are discussed below.
Several senators expressed an interest in the payments to Nova Scotia in respect of the Crown Share Adjustment Payment. Mr. Pagan explained this payment originates from an initiative implemented in 1986 when the Canada‑Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord protocol was signed between governments. The payment of $234.4 million in this fiscal year covers all liability for Crown share adjustments up to and including March 31, 2008. This payment is the result of recommendations that were proposed by the Canada-Nova Scotia Panel that was struck to examine differences and issues with respect to that accord and upon which the government is acting. After that date, payments will be made under the Canada‑Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act. This means that future payments will appear as a statutory item in the estimates documents.
National Defence was seeking an additional $331 million for Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. Some senators wondered why such a large additional amount was needed at this time. Mr. Smith answered that the Ministry had indicated this amount is required to cover incremental costs for operations in Afghanistan. In the fiscal year 2008‑09, these were costs of operations, mainly mission equipment support, ammunition repair and overhaul and engineering support. These were not anticipated at the time of the Main Estimates; these were additional funding requirements since then. Some senators were not completely satisfied with this explanation. They did not want to be granting appropriations in the Main Estimates and then to have to consider additional requests for substantial amounts in the Supplementary Estimates. Senators felt that the department should be able to do a better job of forecasting its operational expenditures in the Main Estimates.
In a written submission, the officials explained that changes in the nature of the Afghanistan mission have greatly increased the tempo of military operations and associated costs over the past several years. The funding will be used to offset incremental costs of operations in Afghanistan from April 2008 to February 2009. This includes $155 million to fund gaps for core operational costs (in-theatre), such as mission, engineering and fleet support, ammunition and medical-related costs. A further $176.8 million was sought to offset the cost of extending additional force protection assets first deployed in fall 2006, including a tank squadron and engineering support, the counter-mortar capability and support to NATO operations at Kandahar Airfield.
Senators were interested in the funding under the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Program. They were told that funding of $326.7 million to the Office of Infrastructure of Canada was being sought for the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Funding Program to provide long-term, predictable and flexible funding to provinces and territories for infrastructure. The amendments in the Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Base Fund included allowing the provinces and territories to use the program funding for operations and maintenance costs related to public infrastructure, broadening the eligible investments category to include provincial highways, and waiving the annual capital plan and reporting requirements for the program’s first year in 2007‑08. Due to delays in negotiations with provinces and territories, the Office of Infrastructure of Canada is seeking funds in these Supplementary Estimates that were not spent in 2007-08. According to Mr. Smith the amount stipulated in these Supplementary Estimates have not been spent because the expenditures are not yet approved by Parliament.
Mr. Smith also informed the committee that there is a range of different elements to the infrastructure programs, some of which are certainly cost shared and some of which are base funding, as in this case. There is also the Gas Tax Fund, which provides support for municipal infrastructure. There is a wide range of different arrangements that come under this category of infrastructure spending. In addition to the Provincial-Territorial Base Funding Program, there is also funding for the Border Infrastructure Fund, there is funding for the former Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund and there is also funding for the Gas Tax Fund Transfer Payment Program.
Senators expressed their concern that municipalities might not have sufficient money to participate in those programs where the federal government matches the spending of other levels of government. They wanted to know what effort is made to properly assess the capacity of municipalities to participate in these programs. This becomes important when one considers that much of this spending could have significant effects on economic activity in the country.
Mr. Smith felt that he could not speak for Infrastructure Canada, which is responsible for this program. However, he felt confident that Infrastructure Canada is only too cognizant of the capacity of the provinces and municipalities to partner with the federal government. Indeed, he could not see that provinces and municipalities would be willing to sign on to contribution agreements if there was not willingness or the capacity to spend and match in accordance with the agreements.
On February 24, 2009, officials from Infrastructure Canada and Transport Canada were present to answer some of these questions. Mr. Ranger in his opening remarks briefly described some of the 14 federal infrastructure spending initiatives and then addressed specific questions. The officials explained that Infrastructure Canada does not itself become involved in the actual building or repairing of infrastructure. Essentially, the federal government enters into a contractual arrangement with the provinces and in some instances with municipalities that define both its role in funding eligible projects and the criteria which will determine eligibility. This role is usually limited to approving applications for funding and then advancing to the main agent (province or municipality) its share of the payments for work that is completed.
In listening to the witnesses, some senators became concerned that the government, anxious to achieve economic stimulus through infrastructure spending, might be proceeding with too much haste. These senators wanted to remind the officials that due diligence needed to be done in the allocation of public funds. The officials assured the committee that they are aware of the pitfalls that await them if they act too quickly to approve projects. Nonetheless they believe that by simply moving certain planned expenditures they will be able to get funding out quickly.
As a result of senators’ questions the Infrastructure Canada officials explained that funding is earmarked for smaller communities (population less than 100,000 persons) and for the use of a private/public partnerships mechanism in delivering infrastructure renewal projects. They also explained that wherever possible, efforts were taken to ensure that the spending would go towards the promotion of employment equity and that they would take into consideration the requirements of persons with disabilities when constructing these infrastructures.
Senators wanted to know if efforts were being made to reduce the possibility of duplication in the infrastructure program. The officials explained that two major sources of duplication involve the auditing of projects and environmental assessments of the impact of building infrastructure. In the first case, the officials explained that both the federal government and the Office of the Auditor General would accept as satisfactory any audit conducted by a provincial auditor general. In the case of environmental assessments, they are aware of potential duplications but have not yet worked out how they will reduce them.
Some senators observed that the revised forecast by the Department of Finance of the public debt charges was due to a significant downward revision in forecasted interest rates. The changed forecast of interest rates is expected to lead to a decrease of $2,174.0 million. Senators asked the officials to provide more information on the process of forecasting interest rate levels.
Senators were interested in the $64.1 million requested by Public Works and Government Services (PWGSC) for volume and inflationary pressures on non-discretionary charges. Mr. Smith explained that the Real Property Program is a quasi-statutory program in the sense that expenditures in the Program are driven by demand for the services. So, if there are changes in the number of offices that federal government employees require or if there are increases in rents, those costs must be paid. They are often driven by market factors. The increases in operational spending require Parliament’s approval, essentially because they are not, strictly speaking, statutory, even though they are very much driven by market factors and by events over which Public Works has no control. Mr. Pagan added that PWGSC manages some 2,000 different properties across the country on behalf of the federal government. Inflationary pressures that the department would encounter in managing those properties include wages for operational and janitorial service staff, utility rates, natural gas heating, and in some cases perhaps some transportation costs for shuttles back and forth. It is considered to be a non-discretionary charge for the maintenance and operation of those various properties across the country. Mr. Pagan also informed the committee that although inflation in the current economic climate is not likely to be an issue, it was very much on the minds of the public managers at the time (summer of 2008) that these estimates were being prepared and approved.
In this particular instance, the funding will pay for budget adjustments required for price and volume protection as well as non-discretionary expense items related to Crown-owned building and leased space.
PWGSC responded in writing that the $64 million represents 3.4% of total expenditures of the Real Property Special Purpose Allotment 2008-09 Opening Reference Level. Except for some Parliamentary space requirements, this adjustment is required to address specific inflationary pressures and to ensure that PWGSC can properly maintain both the functionality and the value of its existing inventory of approximately 7 million square metres. The main categories of price pressures are identified as: a)Utilities and operation and maintenance contracts; b)Rental costs—replacement and renewal; c)Fit-up costs; d)Swing space costs; e)Payment in lieu of taxes and municipal property taxes; and f)Expansion for the Senate, the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament and the Ethics Commissioner.
Senators expressed an interest in the $170.7 million requested by Treasury Board Secretariat to fund compensation for salary adjustments. This funding is provided by the Secretariat to compensate departments, agencies and appropriation-dependent Crown corporations for the impact of collective bargaining agreements, and other related adjustments to terms and conditions of service or employment. The costs result from signed collective agreements and other related adjustments to terms and conditions of service or employment made between April 1, 2008 and July 31, 2008.
At the February 11 hearings, it was noted that there were a couple of items in the Supplementary Estimates (B) that had received disbursements from the Government Contingencies Fund. The senators reminded the officials that the committee did study the vote wording of this item in the Secretariat’s estimates in the past and made several recommendations regarding the criteria or guidelines that need to be met before the Secretariat can disburse funds to departments and agencies. It was further observed that in these Supplementary Estimates a payment of $125 million was made to Nova Scotia as part of the $234.4 million Crown Share Adjustment Payment discussed above. Senators wanted to know if that payment had been made in accordance with the criteria. While the officials felt confident that the disbursement was consistent with the wording in TB Vote 5 and with the terms under which the Secretariat uses that Contingency Vote, Mr. Pagan undertook to look into the matter and report back to the committee.
At the February 24 hearings Mr. Smith presented the committee with an update on the use of the Treasury Board Vote 5—Government Contingencies to fund various federal expenditures. He pointed out that the wording and the tables that are presented in the various estimates documents were in part the result of the previous work of the committee on this topic. He believes that this funding has been properly administered over time.
Some senators expressed concern that the criteria developed by the Treasury Board to guide it in its decisions are not entirely consistent with the wording of the Treasury Board Vote 5 as it is approved by Parliament. These senators feel that the criteria may allow more financial flexibility in the use of contingency funds than Parliament intends when it passes Treasury Board Vote 5. For this reason the committee may wish to revisit the question of the use of Treasury Board Vote 5 funds by departments and agencies at a later date in its examination of the Estimates.
Some senators were concerned that the need to resort to TB Vote 5 funding might arise because of insufficient funding decisions at the time of the preparation of an organization’s request for funding in the Main Estimates. For instance they noted that the Public Service Labour Relations Board (PSLRB), a small organization with an appropriation of $6.8 million, had its mandate expanded by the Public Service Labour Relations Act and since 2002-03 has received incremental funding as announced in successive federal Budgets. In this fiscal year, because of the election, the organization was not able to obtain its incremental spending authority through the Supplementary Estimates. Consequently, an allocation from TB Vote 5 of $1.45 million was granted to allow it to carry out its expanded mandate. Senators noted that had the funding problem been properly addressed at an earlier date to take into account the changed mandate of the organization, there may not have been a need for a TB Vote 5 allocation.
Senators were interested in the items that make up the $83.7 million of statutory spending. Mr. Smith suggested that this might be a fairly long list. Mr. Pagan noted that most, but not all, statutory payments are made by either the Department of Finance or Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Usually the big drivers in terms of statutory payments are benefits under the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security; the debt; equalization payments to the provinces; and health and social transfers. Mr. Smith agreed to provide the committee with a breakdown of the $83.7 million and identify the individual items.
Mr. Pagan also pointed out that there is a
summary table on page 59 of the estimates document that lists all of the
statutory items in these Supplementary Estimates. Again, these are
payments that have already been approved by Parliament through various enabling
legislation. They are presented in the estimates for information purposes. In
many cases they form a significant part of a department's mandate or
operations. They are not voted on through the Estimates’ appropriation bill.
It is simply to complete a picture of what is happening in individual
It was observed that at page 156 of the Supplementary Estimates, the liabilities under the Canada Small Business Financing Act, increase from $81 million to $105 million, or almost 25 per cent. Senators wondered if this would be all of the increase anticipated for the balance of fiscal 2008-09. Mr. Smith replied in writing that the increased amount represents claims that have been received already or are expected to be received between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009. Since the Supplementary Estimates (B) were prepared, Industry Canada has increased its forecast by $9,985,000, bringing the forecast of claims to $115 million to the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Senators inquired about the financing facilities that were used to buy $75 billion of CMHC insured mortgages. They were also interested in a number of particulars relating to this transaction. Mr. Smith could not provide an answer immediately, but undertook to have the Department of Finance respond.
In a written reply, the Department of Finance mentions that as of February 9, 2009, $51 billion has been funded through the issuance of marketable debt of various maturities. Purchases made under the Insured Mortgage Purchase Program (IMPP) do not increase the federal debt since they serve to buy interest bearing financial assets. The design of the program actually guarantees a modest positive rate of return. Moreover, these assets were already contingent liabilities to the Government of Canada. As such, there is no incremental risk associated with the IMPP.
Senators expressed an interest in the cost of running the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). It has been the conventional practice over the years to list the expenditures of this Office as part of the expenditures of the Privy Council Office (PCO). Mr. Smith noted that there would not be anything under the heading of PMO in the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009. He informed the committee that while there is more information available in the Main Estimates than in Supplementary Estimates, there is still no clear indication of how much is spent on the PMO.
During its meetings on the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009, the committee deliberated on these and other matters. In some circumstances, the officials committed to following-up on their answers at a later date.
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, to which were referred the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009, has in obedience to the Order of Reference of February 10, 2009, examined the said Estimates and herewith submits its report.
Temporary funding can be provided for urgent miscellaneous, minor or unforeseen expenditures, which were not provided for in the Main Estimates and which are required before the next Supplementary Estimates receive Royal Assent. Once Parliament approves the Appropriation Bill for Supplementary Estimates and the Governor General provides Royal Assent, the temporary funding is reimbursed to TB Vote 5. The following provides the wording of the Vote and the wording of the criteria that guide the Treasury Board in its decision on whether to issue these funds to departments and agencies.
A. Treasury Board Vote 5—Government Contingency: the Vote Wording
The Treasury Board Vote 5 wording is what Parliament is asked to approve. This is the wording that would guide the Treasury Board Ministers in their decision to fund through the TB Vote 5, a request for funding made by a department or agency. The vote wording is listed on page 200 of the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009, and reads as follows:
“Government Contingencies – Subject to the approval of the Treasury Board, to supplement other appropriations for paylist and other requirements and to provide for miscellaneous, urgent or unforeseen expenditures not otherwise provided for, including grants and contributions not listed in the Estimates and the increase of the amount of grants listed in these, where those expenditures are within the legal mandate of a government organization, and authority to re-use any sums allotted for non-paylist requirements and repaid to this appropriation from other appropriations.”
B. Treasury Board Vote 5—Government Contingencies: Criteria
In preparing their request for Contingency Funding government organizations must meet the following criteria in order for Treasury Board to approve access to TB Vote 5. The wording is found on page 21 of the Supplementary Estimates (B), 2008-2009.
– All advances from the Government Contingencies Vote should be considered temporary advances to be covered by items included in subsequent Supplementary Estimates and reimbursed when the associated appropriation act is passed. Exceptions are made for requirements that arise after final Supplementary Estimates for the fiscal year where advances would not be reimbursable.
– An organization’s existing appropriation must be insufficient to cover both existing requirements and the new initiative until the next Supply period. To that end, an organization must support any request with a valid cash flow analysis.
– A valid and compelling reason exists, particularly as it relates to the payment of grants, as to why the payment needs to be made before the next Supply period. If not, the payment should be deferred and access to TB Vote 5 denied.
– For grants, the Transfer Payment Policy must be consulted and followed to ensure that a valid, legally incorporated recipient exists and that the organization clearly demonstrates that it needs to make a payment before the next Supply period.
 The latter items often do not require additional appropriations and are included in the related supply bill by the notional amount of “one dollar” since, in order to be listed in the bill, an item must have monetary value.
 Budgetary spending encompasses the cost of servicing the public debt; operating and capital expenditures; transfer payments and subsidies to other levels of government, organizations or individuals; and payments to Crown corporations; Non-budgetary expenditures (loans, investments and advances) are outlays that represent changes in the composition of the federal government’s financial assets; Voted expenditures are those for which parliamentary authority is sought through an appropriation bill; and Statutory expenditures are those authorized by Parliament through enabling legislation; they are included in the Estimates documents for information purposes only.
 For the current wording see the appendix at the end of the report.