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Pana Merchant

The Hon. Pana  Merchant, B.A. Appointed to the Senate by the Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien, Senator Pana Merchant represents the province of Saskatchewan and the Senatorial Division of Saskatchewan. She has served in the Senate of Canada since December 12, 2002.

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The Estimates, 2012-13

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Statement made on 27 March 2012 by Senator Joseph Day

Hon. Joseph A. Day:

Honourable senators, this is my final appearance before you this afternoon.

An Hon. Senator: Oh, no!

An Hon. Senator: Say it is not so.

Senator Day: But I will be back in June.

Senator Carignan: Another day.

Senator Day: Honourable senators, this is the report that I made reference to when we were talking about the appropriations bill, C-35. This is the first interim report on the Main Estimates that has been presented and delivered to each honourable senator. I apologize for the fact that honourable senators have only just received it, but these are ongoing matters. It is an interim report. If there are items in this report that honourable senators wish to bring to the attention of this chamber or to our Standing Senate Committee on National Finance for future consideration as we continue our study of these Main Estimates, we would be very pleased to hear about them.

This is our first interim report on the Main Estimates for fiscal year 2012-13. Honourable senators will know from the debate we have already had that the overall estimates we are looking for, at this stage, are net voted appropriations of $91.9 billion. There are also statutory expenditures outlined in this particular Main Estimates. The statutory expenditures are those expenditures that we have voted on as part of a separate bill and we have given authority in the bill to spend funds. Therefore, we do not have to vote on those again, but they are in here so that we understand them and the overall picture.

The net statutory appropriations for the coming year, at this stage, are $160 billion. Honourable senators can see it runs roughly two-to-one in terms of statutory and voted. The total voted and non-voted, or statutory, appropriations for the fiscal year that begins April 1 amount to $251.9 billion. That compares to last year, which was $250.8 billion. To reiterate: It is $251.9 billion compared to $250.8 billion, which means $1.1 billion more is forecast to be spent this year than in the previous year.

It is expected, honourable senators, that we will be seeing Supplementary Estimates (A), (B) and (C). What is in those supplementary estimates we will see at that time, but that will have to be added to the particular document.

Honourable senators, as soon as the document was referred to us, we met with nine federal departments and agencies to discuss their requests for appropriations for the coming fiscal year. The list of departments that we met with includes: Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Heritage, Correctional Service of Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and the final one — the one I would like to talk a little bit about — Shared Services Canada.

Honourable senators can see that we met a good cross-section of departmental witnesses in our first look at these Main Estimates for the coming year and for our interim report. We discovered a number of things that we want to pursue further, and we can do that because we have the mandate throughout the year to study these particular documents.

Honourable senators, the department I wanted to talk about is Shared Services Canada, a new department. It was created in August 2011 as an independent department with an eight-year mandate to rationalize the government's information technology services, to reduce overlap, and to modernize service delivery to Canadians while making the government's information technology infrastructure more secure.

In part, it is described as an effort to save money. That will be over the long term because, for the first year, the department is asking for $1.4 billion. In effect, that money is being transferred from a number of other departments. To date, 6,300 employees from 40 different departments and agencies within the Government of Canada have been transferred to Shared Services Canada.

Honourable senators, we will want to keep a very close watch on this new initiative. We cannot indicate that all of the activity it is planning is being conducted to save funds or to make things more efficient because it is only just under way. However, we generally support this worthwhile initiative.

Having said that, it is important to remember something when we review the various departments. A department will come in and say that their budget is less than last year. However, a budget will be less because a piece of it has been moved over to this new department, Shared Services Canada. When it is all added up, the bottom line is the same; it is just that it is put in different places. We were conscious of that, honourable senators, in our deliberations. We will be conscious of that as we proceed.

Treasury Board Secretariat was very helpful, as they always are, in outlining the major expenditures and the major highlights. Senator Neufeld touched on a number of the major highlights earlier on, so I will not need to go through those.

I want to tell you that Indian and Northern Affairs will, in due course, become known as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. That is the new name, but it has not been reflected in legislation as of yet. We still talk in terms of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, but Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development will be the new name.

We had quite a discussion about that particular department. There is some sunsetting of funding for what appeared to be worthwhile projects, such as the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan. Sunsetting a program like that does not mean we will never see it again; it just means that it has not been renewed until now and it might be in the budget coming out on Thursday. As of now, and that is all I can speak for, that has sunsetted. There is a reduction of $159 million in the budget at this time because that program has sunsetted, meaning it was intended to last until 31 March 2012 and it has not been extended.

That is one of the ones we were interested in knowing about, and we will be watching the budget in that regard because there are a number of important initiatives to help our Aboriginal communities.

Honourable senators, there are a number of expenditures for settlement of Indian residential schools and a number of land claim settlements. They are all in this document. Some are statutory, some are voted, but they are all in there, and we had a chance to look at them.

We were reminded that the rate of growth of the Aboriginal population is almost double that of the rate of growth of the Canadian population as a whole. That trend suggests that in 15 to 20 years there will be more than 1.5 million Aboriginal persons in Canada under the age of 25 years. There is an extremely important initiative to ensure that those individuals become productive members of our society. That is something we must not overlook. To put a positive spin on all of this, if we are able to achieve that and have that group that will be coming up become productive members of society, they could contribute to the gross domestic product in the amount of over $400 billion over the next 20 years. If graduation rates and employment rates among Aboriginal peoples reach the level of just the non-Aboriginal population in Canada, that would be a wonderful initiative and one that we should be working on, honourable senators.

The total amount that we are now on an annual basis in estimates — and there may be some ups and downs on this, but not likely to be down — is approximately $11 billion a year that is applied to the Aboriginal file — $11 billion a year for Aboriginal peoples living in Canada. Honourable senators, that is a huge number. We must bring this matter under proper control, and it is deserving of our attention.

The next item that I could talk about is Natural Resources Canada. There is a decrease there of $712 million. This net decrease in budgetary expenditures of $712 million includes a decrease of $549 million related to sunsetting of a number of programs. I am hopeful that we will see some of them reinstated. Pulp and paper, green transmission program, ecoENERGY Technology Initiative, ecoENERGY for Biofuels incentive for producers and a decrease of $21.9 billion in isotope supply initiatives — all of these have sunsetted. They will disappear.

Many of the initiatives that we were hoping would lead us into the next generation will not be there to assist initiatives.

On CANDU reactors, AECL is responsible for all of the obligations created before SNC-Lavalin took over. We can expect for a good number of years to be seeing appropriations in that regard; $274 million appears in this particular supplementary estimates, and that will continue even though the AECL entity and all the technology has been sold and transferred to SNC-Lavalin.

I think those are the main highlights I wanted to bring to the attention of honourable senators. There is an $8.5-million grant plus another $4.5-million contribution to TV5 for French broadcasting. I thought that was important for us to highlight because of the focus on English broadcasting. It is important that we understand that TV5 is a very important and popular channel, and Canada is doing its part, along with many other countries in the world, in French broadcasting.

Correctional Service Canada, very briefly, indicated that they did not anticipate hiring the 4,000 new staff that they had originally expected, but they did have a request in here for an additional $175 million in the Main Estimates to manage the expected increase in inmate populations as a result of implementing the Truth in Sentencing Act and Tackling Violent Crime Act. That is $175 million more.

The cost per inmate is estimated to be $114,000 per year.

Honourable senators, there are a number of other points in this report that I would like you to be aware of. My colleague Senator Neufeld will bring to your attention a number of others. I will commend the report to your reading and ask that you support it when the vote is called.

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