Honourable colleagues, I don’t have a prepared speech, but I do have a few comments. You’ll have to forgive me; I will be talking about a lot of numbers. For those of you who don’t know my background, I was a Grade 4 teacher, so I feel I am going back and teaching a bit of arithmetic.
Before I begin with my numbers, I would like to thank Senator Gold for his comments. He was the sponsor of the bill, and I am the critic.
I want to say a few words. I will start back in February of this year, when the Main Estimates were tabled. It was for $308 billion, and it outlined the government’s spending plan for the year.
When you look at those numbers, the $308 billion — and you have to break it down to see what’s included in it — over half of it is called “statutory”; in other words, over half that money has already been approved by another piece of legislation besides the supply bill. So those numbers are called “statutory”, and the amount was $183 billion. So $183 billion of the $308 billion spending plan has already been approved. When April 1 comes, the government can start spending that.
In previous comments in this chamber, I’ve mentioned that the dollar value is high. It’s almost 60% now, just between 59% and 60%. Even though it’s approved by other statutes, I’ve always felt that we should perhaps pay a little more attention to it.
I do have to give Treasury Board some credit because if you’re interested in seeing what’s in that $183 billion figure, it is disclosed on the Treasury Board website, although every time I go to look at it, I can’t find it, and it takes me a while to track it down.
Really what we’re talking about is $125 billion that has to be approved by the other place and by us. It has to be voted in a supply bill, and it requires parliamentary approval. It’s $125 billion that the government is looking for us to approve.
What happened in March just before we went home and everything was in a flux because of the pandemic was that Bill C-11 was passed. This is called the interim supply bill. That’s usual. It happens every year that the government comes forward, and while we’re studying what we call the Main Estimates, the two houses give government the approval to spend money for the first three months of the fiscal year. Before we end up in June, we usually approve the Main Estimates, the main supply bill, and then the government has its funding for the entire year, except for the supplementaries.
When the interim estimates were passed in March, there was no debate or study, and there usually isn’t much study. There might be a bit of debate, but up to March, that was sort of like the normal process. They got approval for $44 billion of the $125 billion, leaving $81 billion that they haven’t yet gotten approval to spend.
Here we are, at the end of June, we’re getting ready to adjourn for the summer, and the government needs access to that money. Ordinarily, it would already be approved in a main supply bill, but this is a very unusual year, so government came back and they have what you call a second interim supply bill, which is something that’s very unusual.
That’s what we’re talking about today, the second interim supply bill, Bill C-18, and now we’re talking about $55 billion. Like I said, we started out with $125 billion; $44 billion was approved before we went home in March, which brought us down to $81 billion. Now there is another bill for $55 billion, so now I would say they will have approval by the end of the day to spend that, leaving what I call a mere $26 billion left to be approved by both the House of Commons and us.
When Minister Duclos testified the day before yesterday, I asked what will happen to the $26 billion. Will we see a third interim supply bill? Yes, he confirmed. I was surprised. He was very forthright. He said there will be a third interim supply bill, and we will probably see that in the fall. The issue for me is that these money bills are being approved without study and with very minimal debate.
I was asking the minister the other day, if the Main Estimates have been tabled and now we’re just passing these interim supply bills and by the fall they’ll have all their money to spend, what’s the point of the Finance Committee wasting their time spending the Main Estimates? When I asked him that, he didn’t say a lot but it was still interesting. He said, “. . . we are giving parliamentarians in both chambers the opportunity to further continue their study of Main Estimates . . .” — even though it has all been approved, no doubt — “. . . and proceed to debate and vote . . . .”
We might be able to debate and vote on the third interim supply bill. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll study it; I don’t know. That’s something we will have to decide. I expect that my colleagues on the Finance Committee will have some commentary on that. I think we should study the Main Estimates, even though the money has all been approved for spending. We should take the opportunity to look at statutory expenditures. Also, we might want to look at the expenditure plan in relation to the departmental results reports because we don’t really focus on them very much.
However, the biggest concern I have is that the money is being approved, government is spending it and there has been virtually no study of it, very minimal debate in both chambers.