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Standing Senate Committee on National Finance
The Senate of Canada
Canada, K1A 0A4
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INTRODUCTION TO THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance has the mandate to examine matters relating to federal estimates generally, including the public accounts, reports of the Auditor General and government finance. In addition, the committee sometimes investigates other topics of interest and importance to the country.
The Standing Senate Committee on National Finance was first created in May 1919 as the Committee on Finance, and, in 1968, it was renamed the Committee on National Finance. From the beginning, the committee’s field of interest has been government spending, either directly through the estimates or indirectly through bills that provide borrowing authority or bear upon the spending proposals identified in the estimates.
Though a large part of the committee’s work is devoted to the review of the government’s estimates and issues arising out of that review, the committee has conducted studies in various areas.
In 2002, the committee reported on the effectiveness of and possible improvements to Canada’s equalization policy in ensuring that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public service at reasonably comparable levels of taxation. The committee rejected the notion that equalization was wrong in concept, was a drag on economic growth and created a culture of dependency in the recipient provinces. To the contrary, committee members came out fully in support of the concept and urged changes to certain elements of the current program that they believed were inconsistent. In 2007, the federal government introduced significant reforms to the equalization program which addressed many of the issues raised by the committee.
In 2008, as part of their examination of the 2007-08 Main Estimates, the committee reported on the topic of financial security for seniors and, in particular, the entitlements and retroactivity provisions under the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). The committee recommended that the federal government consult with the provinces with a view to increasing the retroactivity period for eligible recipients. They further recommended that the federal government examine new ways to reach those eligible Canadians who are not yet receiving their Canada pensions; and to encourage Canadians to avail themselves of those benefits to which they are entitled.
In 2010, the committee reported on the costs and benefits to Canadian taxpayers and the overall Canadian economy of Canada’s one-cent coin. The committee concluded that the penny had outlived its purpose, and urged the government to remove the one-cent coin from circulation. In the government’s speech on the 2012 Budget, it announced the elimination of the penny from Canada's coinage system.
In February 2013, the committee tabled its report on the potential reasons for price discrepancies in respect of certain goods between Canada and the United States, given the value of the Canadian dollar and the effect of cross border shopping on the Canadian economy. The committee found that many factors influence product pricing, and, although some products share some factors (e.g. transportation costs, the relative size of the Canadian market or tariff rates), the committee could not offer an explanation as definitive as it would have liked for the price discrepancies for products in Canada and the United States. The committee made four recommendations and one observation with respect to narrowing these price discrepancies.
In February and July 2017, the committee tabled two interim reports on the federal government’s major infrastructure funding program. The committee found that the number and complexity of the funding programs should be reduced and that the government should apply the lessons learned from previous infrastructure programs. Canada must ensure that its infrastructure investments are made as part of an overall strategy, are based on sound planning decisions and deliver tangible results. The committee stated that the government must be transparent, accountable and predictable and should release all its data on infrastructure projects to the public.
In 2020, the committee began a study on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences. An interim report focusing on the gaps in the existing government programs was tabled in July 2020.
As is customary, much of the committee’s attention and time is devoted to the estimates which outline the government’s expenditure plans. The committee also has legislation referred to it from time to time. Most of the bills referred to the committee are related to government spending or implementation of measures announced in the government’s budget speech.
For information on the current work of the committee, you may wish to review the orders of reference the committee has received from the Senate, or review the committee proceedings. Detailed information can be found on the committee’s website at https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/NFFN.