Statement made on 14 June 2012 by Senator Joseph Day
Hon. Joseph A. Day:
Honourable senators, this is the eleventh report of our committee, but it is the first report with respect to Supplementary Estimates (A). I would first of all like to thank the Library of Parliament representatives on the Finance Committee, Sylvain Fleury and Édison Roy-César for working diligently in getting this report prepared for us with very short notice.
Honourable senators will know that when the supplementary estimates are referred to us, we study them, do the report and try to get the report back here so that honourable senators can be informed of what is in the supplementary estimates before being called upon to vote at third reading on the bill that flows from the supplementary estimates.
This is the report that is just being delivered to honourable senators now. I will touch on a few of the highlights.
I do want to thank and let the Leader of the Government in the Senate and all honourable senators know that we very much appreciate the sensitivity with respect to the time requested to deal with the report so that honourable senators could be informed before being called upon to vote. We will be called upon to vote on Bill C-41 at third reading once this report has been adopted. I appreciate very much that we have had the opportunity to change the business so that honourable senators can be informed about what they are voting on.
The committee studied the supplementary estimates, and the report reflects that study. We met with five different government departments and discussed their appropriation requests for the coming fiscal year.
I point out that these are supplementary estimates. Over the last few days, we did deal with the Main Estimates, the main request for funds for the year that needs to be voted on. Those that are not statutory provisions come in the form of estimates and require a vote. We call it a supply bill or alternatively an appropriation bill.
This is the first additional request for funds. The reason for this is not that the government made a mistake but rather that all of the requests could not be put into place in time for the first request for funds. The Main Estimates are prepared late in the year and then very early in the new year before the budget comes out. Therefore, there are items in the Main Estimates that honourable senators will know may not be proceeded with as a result of the budget.
Those changes will be sorted out in Supplementary Estimates (A), (B) and (C). Supplementary Estimates (A) are typically in June; (B) would be typically in the early fall; and (C) at the end of the fiscal year in February or March. In this cycle, it would be February or March of 2013.
This being Supplementary Estimates (A), we will have some changes as a result of the budget, but the government directive was that Supplementary Estimates (A) should not have any of the reductions. Upon hearing from government officials, it was felt that all the decisions were not made, and the government did not want it coming out piecemeal. Therefore, we will probably see in Supplementary Estimates (B) the various reductions as a result of the budget that we saw in March of this year.
Honourable senators will see on page 2 of the report that voted appropriations amount to $2.1 billion. That is in addition to the $65 billion that honourable senators have already voted on. These are added onto that to determine what the voted appropriations are thus far for this year.
The statutory expenditures are given here as information. They are, in all of our supply bills, only for information purposes; they are not here for you to vote on. Honourable senators are only voting on the appropriations of $2.1 billion.
There are no non-budgetary matters. Budgetary matters are matters that change the bottom line. They are money spent in various ways. A loan is a non-budgetary item. It changes the fiscal situation. However, the money will be coming back in, so we do not vote on that as a non-budgetary item. It will be coming back at some time, according to the terms of the loan. If it goes bad as we saw with some of the student loans and they are not paid back, we will have to see those brought in as budgetary items to forgive certain loans. That is how that is accounted for in this report and in the Main Estimates.
One item I wanted to bring to the attention of honourable senators — and I think the Leader of the Government in the Senate was asked a question on this recently in this chamber — is in relation to the payment of severance to employees who continue to work. The explanation is on the bottom of page 3 and on page 4.
Severance was a negotiated item for all public servants, and the government has now negotiated an end to that practice. However, all of the severance that had been accumulated was deemed to have been vested in those public servants up to the time of the new collective agreement. The question is whether we pay out that vested amount now or when the person leaves. That is a matter of negotiation between the deputy head and the union. Some of them are being paid out now. That does not mean they are leaving. In fact, they are continuing, but that accumulated and vested amount of severance that they acquired by virtue of their employment in the past can now be taken now or later.
We asked about the outstanding liability in relation to this matter, because it is a contingent liability and is not an insignificant amount. Roughly $6 billion will be paid by the government to continuing employees or employees who retired or have decided to leave. That accumulated severance will amount to roughly $6 billion over time. Some may elect to take it now; others may elect to take it at the time they leave. Why would they wait and take it at the time they leave? The amount is determined by the last two months of salary. If the salary goes up significantly by the time they leave in three, four, ten or twenty years, that amount could significantly increase over what they would take now. That is why some are taking it now and some are not.
An amount of $850 million is set aside this year for those who opt to take it. Last year, I think it was over $1 billion, so honourable senators can see that a significant liability is slowly being reduced.
I will discuss some of the other highlights. Honourable senators can see the various departments that appeared before the committee. We talked about the work being done on the Parliamentary Precinct. Some very interesting questions came out of that discussion. We are told that it will carry on over many years, and each five-year plan has a number of contracts and objectives.
Treasury Board and Public Works are satisfied; they are watching this very closely. They were pleased to inform us that some of the contracts have come in under budget and some on budget. In dealing with a large series of contracts or a project over a long period of time, there is always a concern that things may slip a bit. I think that is why the contracts are based on a project-by-project basis as opposed to contracting for the entire work that is anticipated.
The Parliamentary Precinct requests in the Supplementary Estimates (A) is for $242 million. That is only because certain contracts were not in place when the Main Estimates were done. Supplementary estimates are to pick up those items that were not finalized and had not received approval from cabinet before the estimates came out.
The Department of Transport talked to us about work they are doing at the Port of Churchill and the Champlain and Cartier bridges. They are all projects that need work.
With VIA Rail there is a pension problem, like there is with so many public pension plans. We hear about it day after day. There is a pension problem with respect to VIA Rail Canada and its employees. To satisfy the pension problem for just one year, $68 million is required. We have to do something, honourable senators, about these pension plan problems that keep cropping up.
Regarding self-government financial transfer agreements to the native bands, there are some outstanding liabilities in relation to negotiations with the various First Nations; that is outlined in here. We had a long discussion with respect to those issues. These are land claim settlements. We asked about contingent liabilities for land settlements, and there are some pretty significant outstanding amounts. We see here the year-to-year amounts being claimed.
There was one figure, honourable senators, that I wanted to bring to your attention, which is at line 138. That requires a change from $3.8 million to $3.8 billion as an outstanding and contingent liability issue.
Apart from that, honourable senators, the facts and the issues are here. I have just highlighted them, but I am pleased that you all have the report. If there are any questions, my deputy chair, Senator L. Smith, or I would be pleased to answer them for you if we can.
Hon. Percy E. Downe: Honourable senators, I have a question. On page 5 of the honourable senator's report, he gives a summary of the additional advertising funding requests.
Can he advise or does he know if the $1.3 million requested by the Department of Canadian Heritage for promotion of the War 1812 is in addition to the $28 million that was already allocated for that anniversary celebration?
Senator Day: The $1.3 million in advertising next to the last bullet is in addition to earlier allocated funds. I spoke earlier, when I was speaking about the Main Estimates, of the importance of keeping an eye on this kind of project by reason of recent history. This $1.3 million for advertising here would be with respect to contracts that had not been finalized at the time of the Main Estimates, honourable senators. This is exclusively for advertising.
The earlier appropriation was for other types of promotional activities as well.