Statement made on 25 March 2009 by Senator Joseph Day
Hon. Joseph A. Day:
Honourable senators, I am pleased to join the debate with my honourable colleague Senator Gerstein in discussing this particular bill that arrived in this chamber last evening. Bill C-22 provides for interim funding for the government for the period April 1 to the end of June 2009.
Honourable senators will be aware of the Main Estimates and our report, which marks our initial study of the Main Estimates. The report was discussed and is before you at this time. Normally, honourable senators, we would have an opportunity to debate the report fully before the bill is ultimately accepted. I invite you to read that report, and if you wish to join in the debate on the report, I invite you to do so expeditiously since supply is necessary for the government beginning April 1.
Honourable senators, I will not go over all of the items that I went over yesterday. I did refer to Treasury Board vote 35, which is the $3 billion amount. It is a very unusual amount because of the manner in which it is handled. Normally we would vote money through appropriations to go to different departments. Oftentimes the amount would go to Industry Canada because Industry Canada handles most of the infrastructure programs. As you heard yesterday, Mr. Smith from the Treasury Board anticipated that most of vote 35 would involve infrastructure projects.
However, in this case it has been decided by the government on an extraordinary basis to ask Parliament to give approval for this vote 35, the $3 billion, to go to Treasury Board and Treasury Board would then pass the money out as a sort of a clearing house for all government departments that ask for the funds.
Honourable senators, we should look at Treasury Board vote 35 to understand the wording. We have been asked to look at this item. I refer to page 1-116 of the Main Estimates, if you want to follow along with me. It states next to vote 35 and the heading
Budget Implementation Initiative:
Subject to the approval of Treasury Board, and between the period commencing April 1, 2009, and ending June 30, 2009, to supplement other appropriations and to provide any appropriate Ministers with appropriations for initiatives announced in the Budget of January 27, 2009, including new grants and the increase of the amounts of grants listed in the Estimates, where the amounts of the expenditures are not otherwise provided for or where the expenditures are within the legal mandate of the government organizations.
That is the wording of vote 35 that you are being asked to approve when we vote on this bill. What are we being asked to approve, honourable senators? For that we have to look at the bill itself. I will find the wording shortly, but the wording for vote 35 in the bill itself, honourable senators, is for eleven twelfths of the full amount of the vote. You will see vote 35 in the bill in one of the schedules attached to the bill itself. Each one of these schedules has a different number of months. Typically, what we are being asked to approve in interim supply is from April 1 until June 30. Honourable senators will recall and I just described that such is the period of time during which vote 35 can be used. It can only be used for that three-month period. That is specifically outlined. When honourable senators accept the bill, they are accepting that wording. Each year, we approve the wording by approving supply bills. We are approving that $3 billion can be used during that three-month period.
However, in Bill C-22, we are now being asked to approve only eleven twelfths of that amount. We will be asked to approve the full supply when it comes forward in late June. However, full supply will not be authorized until the very last part of June, at the end of this first portion of the fiscal cycle.
There is one twelfth of the $3 billion that the government has not asked for authority to spend. By the time they ask for the authority, it will be too late to spend it. If we had had the time, that fact would have been clarified for honourable senators in committee.
We received Bill C-22 last evening. This morning was the first time I had a chance to look at what the government is asking for in the schedules. Therefore, I am posing a question that does not have an answer. However, I suggest that if we look at the schedules of the various votes, we will see that Treasury Board vote 35 is asking for eleven twelfths. Honourable senators will see that in Schedule 1.1 of the bill. There are several other votes, including Treasury Board vote 5 as well as vote 35. However, vote 35 is the one we are talking about at this time.
Honourable senators heard what Senator Gerstein, Deputy Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, has said with respect to the report that we filed and the questioning of Treasury Board in relation to it. Yesterday I made virtually the same comments in relation to oversight, and they do appear in our report.
Notwithstanding that, there was some concern in the House of Commons. A motion was put forward and passed in the other place. It provides that:
on each occasion that the government uses Vote 35, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, within one sitting day of each such use, a report disclosing:
(a) the name and location of each project to which the funding is being provided (including the federal electoral district in which it is located),
(b) the amount of federal funding,
(c) the department and program under which the federal funding is being provided, and
(d) what each project is intended to achieve in fighting the recession, and why it requires recourse to Vote 35 rather than any other source of funds; and
that each such report shall be posted on a publicly accessible government website, and referred immediately to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Auditor General.
Having heard from Senator Gerstein in terms of his interest in oversight and that of the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance, I have no doubt the government will be following the House of Commons motion closely. It provides another aspect of oversight that I think is very important on this extraordinary $3 billion fund that will be only eleven twelfths of $3 billion, which is the way I read the appropriations that honourable senators are approving at this stage.
I would again like to emphasize the importance of the work that our National Finance Committee does. Honourable senators have seen the report and know about the work that was done and our ongoing work. We will do more work on the Main Estimates for the coming year.
This particular bill on interim supply was presented to the house on March 24 for first reading; second reading was on March 24. The bill went to Committee of the Whole on March 24 and was reported to the Senate chamber the same day. Third reading occurred on March 24 as well.
Honourable senators, the work we do is extremely important, and you are being asked to approve $26 billion.
Hon. Tommy Banks: The honourable senator said that this bill, which as I read it is spending nearly $30 billion, including the amount the honourable senator has referred to and which Senator Gerstein referred to in vote 35, received first and second reading, was approved by the Committee of the Whole in the other place and was given third reading in one day.
I ask this question of Senator Day because one of the things that Parliament ought to do when it is asked to approve expenditures on this or any order by the government is to study. When it comes down to it, that is what Parliament does. Parliament exists because in 1215 some people said to the Crown, "You have to ask us before you can spend all this money and tell us how you will spend it." Does the honourable senator know how long this bill took to pass through the approval process and how much scrutiny it received?
Senator Day: I did indicate to honourable senators that all of this took place in one day. However, I did obtain information from the House of Commons website in relation to this bill. With respect to the supplementary estimates and the spending of $1.5 billion, it took a full 10 minutes to go through all of those stages.
With respect to the expenditure of $27 billion of voted expenditures — I said $26 billion earlier, but it is $27 billion after being rounded up — the process took five minutes in the House of Commons.
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