Chapter

13 The Canadian Experience1

Editor(s):
A. Premchand
Published Date:
June 1990
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INTRODUCTION

Canada has three levels of government that serve 27 million people in a country of massive geographic proportions—it is the second largest in the world after the Soviet Union. There is one federal government, ten provincial governments, two territorial governments, and over 5,000 local governments. Because of Canada’s vast size and relatively small population, its governments historically have played a vital role in financing and building transportation, communication, and power infrastructure.

The federal and provincial governments have exclusive lawmaking powers in different areas. However, there is some overlap. The Federal Government is responsible for peace, order, and good government. It has exclusive legislative powers in international affairs, defense, currency, and interprovincial and international trade and commerce. Provincial governments are responsible for laws respecting property, civil rights, and health, education, and welfare. Local governments are creatures of provincial governments. They provide fire protection, police, sewer and water, and other services associated with running cities and towns.

Canada’s system of government can be described as a federation of constitutional monarchies. The federal and provincial governments are parliamentary democracies adapted from the British model. Each has an elected legislature and an executive—headed by a prime minister or premier, and a cabinet—who are members of the political party in power. A governor general acts as the Canadian head of state; this function is carried out by lieutenant governors at the provincial level. There is also an independent judiciary.

All three levels of government are tied together in fiscal arrangements that include systems of corporate and personal income tax revenues, equalization payments, and program cost sharing. For example, the Federal Government has the power to raise funds by any means or system of taxation including customs duties. The taxation powers of provincial governments are limited to “direct” taxation, such as income, property, and retail sales taxes. An example of program cost sharing is transfer payments from the federal to provincial governments to ensure a national standard of health and education.

The remainder of this chapter deals with the Canadian Federal Government. Accounting and financial management practices for provincial governments are similar to practices at the federal level; municipal governments are quite different.

INSTITUTIONS AND THEIR ROLES

The financial accountability of the Federal Government has its origins in British parliamentary tradition. There is a single Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) into which all federal receipts must be deposited and out of which all federal disbursements must be made. Disbursements can only be made if spending authority has been provided by Parliament.

Each year, the Houses of Parliament receive three sets of documents containing information that is important to control of the public purse. The first set comprises the Budget Papers, which relate government revenues and expenditure plans to the economy. The second set consists of the Estimates documents, which constitute the Government’s formal request to the legislature for spending authority. The third set, called the Public Accounts, are tabled last and show actual spending compared with amounts authorized, and overall financial position and results. In addition, there are hundreds of financial documents prepared by departments and agencies and tabled regularly in Parliament.

At the federal level, three key central departments are concerned with government accounting and financial management. Under the direction of elected ministers, the Department of Finance prepares the Budget Papers, the Treasury Board assembles the Estimates, and Supply and Services Canada (SSC) prepares the Public Accounts. A Financial Administration Act (FAA) sets out basic principles for financial administration.

Under the FAA, the Treasury Board is responsible for financial management within the Government. The Board has two agencies—the Secretariat and the Office of the Comptroller General. Both are headed by nonelected officials with the rank of deputy head. The Secretariat puts into effect the policies set by the Board and is responsible for overall management of human and matériel resources. The Office of the Comptroller General ensures the establishment and maintenance across government of sound policies and practices in financial management, program evaluation, and internal audit.

The Minister and the Department of Finance are assigned responsibility by the FAA for the management of the CRF, the Government’s bank account. The Department of Finance is also responsible for control and direction of all matters relating to the financial affairs of Canada not by law assigned to the Treasury Board or to any other minister. Most important, fiscal policy is a Department of Finance responsibility; monetary policy is the responsibility of the Bank of Canada. In addition, the Minister of Finance has authority in areas concerning the buying, holding, or selling of securities, management of the public debt, government-owned corporations (called crown corporations) and, with the President of the Treasury Board, the accounting policies that the Government uses and the form of the Public Accounts.

The Minister of Supply and Services is designated the Receiver General for Canada by the Department of Supply and Services Act. The significant statutory responsibilities of the Receiver General are set out in the FAA. These responsibilities include

  • establishing and maintaining bank accounts with financial institutions that, taken together, comprise the Consolidated Revenue Fund;

  • issuing all disbursements;

  • maintaining the central accounting records for the Government as a whole (the accounts of Canada); and

  • preparing the Public Accounts.

Under the FAA, the accounts of Canada are to show

  • expenditures under each appropriation (authority by the legislature to make payments);

  • revenues;

  • other payments into and out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund; and

  • such assets and direct and contingent liabilities and related reserves as, in the opinion of the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Finance, are required to present fairly the financial position of Canada.

The FAA also assigns responsibilities for financial administration to ministers or deputy heads of the 100 or so other departments and agencies that provide goods and services to the public. These responsibilities include ensuring that

  • an adequate system of internal control and audit exists;

  • commitments are only entered into if related payments will be covered by appropriations;

  • appropriations of a department are only charged when requisitioned by the department’s minister or a departmental employee authorized by the minister;

  • requisitions are not made that would result in expenditures in excess of an appropriation; and

  • payments are not made unless work has been performed, goods supplied, or services received.

The authority to issue checks on the CRF is concentrated by law in the Receiver General, the Minister of Supply and Services. Consequently, for disbursements, departments provide SSC with check requisitions, and SSC prepares and issues checks and posts the general ledger. By law, departments deposit all cash received in the central CRF and advise SSC for posting to the ledger. Departments also make noncash journal entries for a variety of reasons, and forward them to SSC for posting. All supporting documentation for disbursements, receipts, and journal entries is maintained in the spending departments. These departments also maintain separate management information systems.

The Government’s external auditor is the Auditor General of Canada, a nonelected official who makes reports to the legislature and is independent of the government of the day. The auditor’s Annual Report, together with the Public Accounts of Canada, are reviewed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts. The Public Accounts Committee holds public hearings, attended by the Auditor General and departments that have been audited. The Committee tables reports in the House of Commons containing recommendations to correct problems that have been identified. Under House of Commons rules, the Government must respond within 120 days to any recommendation made by a Committee of the House.

The Auditor General Act, the FAA, and certain other legislation set out the Auditor General’s duties. The duties include (a) attesting to the Government’s summary financial statements and the financial statements of many government boards, agencies, and corporations (some boards, agencies, and corporations are audited by private sector firms); (b) identifying and reporting significant instances where the Government has not complied with appropriation acts, where public funds have not been spent with due regard for economy and efficiency, and where satisfactory procedures have not been put in place to measure and report the effectiveness of programs (where such procedures could reasonably exist and be put in place); and (c) for certain government-owned corporations, attesting to whether control requirements specified in the FAA have been met—that assets are safeguarded and controlled, transactions comply with relevant laws and regulations, resources are managed economically and efficiently, and operations carried out effectively. This duty of attesting to corporate controls was introduced in 1984 through amendments to the FAA designed to strengthen control and accountability of crown corporations. Such audits are to be carried out at least every five years. The audit opinion is submitted to the Board of Directors unless matters raised also warrant reporting to the minister responsible or to the minister and Parliament.

STRUCTURE OF ACCOUNTING SYSTEM

As explained above, SSC maintains the Government’s central accounting records and bank accounts and issues all checks. The approximately 100 departments and agencies that supply goods and services provide SSC with check requisitions, a record of cash received, and a variety of noncash journal entries. The departments and agencies maintain separate management information systems.

The Government’s stated accounting policies may be thought of as “modified cash based.” Revenues are reported on the cash basis and expenditures on the accrual basis. Fixed assets and inventories are expensed when acquired. Reported assets are limited to financial assets—cash, loans, investments, and advances. Throughout the year, transactions are recorded by SSC on the cash basis. Expenditure is adjusted to the accrual basis after the end of the year. An overall asset valuation allowance account is maintained to ensure that total assets are reported at realizable value. The valuation allowance is not allocated to specific assets and its composition is confidential. Inflation accounting is not used in the central accounting system.

In the central accounts, revenue is classified by type, such as personal and corporate income tax, customs and excise tax, and return on investments. Expenditure is classified by appropriation or vote (authority to spend). Generally speaking, there is one central account for each vote. In addition, the coding of disbursements and journal entries allows expenditure to be reported by “envelope,” department, program, activity, and standard object. The “envelope” display is a form of functional reporting related to the Government’s overall resource allocation process. As explained in the section on major problems and recent efforts, this process is undergoing significant change. Reporting by “envelope” will likely disappear in 1990.

The central accounts include all government activities except for those carried out by government-owned corporations, called crown corporations. Although the central accounts include loans to, and investments in, crown corporations and interest and dividends received from them, the accounts do not include corporate assets, liabilities, revenues, and expenses. The separate financial statements of crown corporations are not consolidated into the Government’s general ledger. Generally speaking, the financial statements of crown corporations are based on full accrual accounting principles as opposed to the modified cash principles employed by the Government.

The Government’s central accounting system is maintained by SSC in electronic form. Central agencies are now reviewing this 20-year-old system and studying how it may be updated to incorporate current information processing technologies. Management information systems maintained by departments and agencies reflect a variety of forms—from manual to sophisticated electronic.

FISCAL REPORTING

The primary financial document in the Federal Government is the Fiscal Plan prepared by the Minister and the Department of Finance. This document is generally prepared in the period July through January, and sets out what the Government plans to spend in the fiscal year beginning April 1, with related revenue and borrowing requirements. Generally, the Fiscal Plan is tabled in the House of Commons in February as part of the annual Budget of the Minister of Finance. The Budget is debated in the House and normally adopted as tabled without change.

The Estimates documents, prepared by departments and agencies and assembled by the Treasury Board Secretariat, provide details of expenditure plans within the overall expenditure framework set out in the Fiscal Plan. The Estimates are tabled in the House of Commons after the Budget, and are referred to a number of Standing Committees of the House for scrutiny. Usually, the Estimates are referred back to the House and adopted without change. The Estimates are structured in three parts. Part I provides an overview, Part II contains proposed wording for appropriation (authority to pay) legislation that Parliament will be asked to approve, and the approximately eighty Part IIIs set out detailed information on the activities and expenditures of each government program. In addition, Supplementary Estimates are tabled at least twice each year to obtain Parliament’s approval for changes in spending.

The Public Accounts are prepared by Supply and Services Canada, and are usually tabled in the House of Commons by late October, some six months after the March 31 fiscal year end. They are referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for scrutiny. The Public Accounts are produced in three volumes. Volume I presents a summary analysis of the financial transactions of the Government, including a financial overview, audited summary-level financial statements for the Government as a whole, and supporting analyses of revenues, expenditures, assets, and liabilities. Volume II is presented in two parts. Volume II, Part I, parallels Part II of the Estimates, and focuses on the source and use of appropriation authorities by department or ministry. Volume II, Part II, presents additional information and analyses, such as separate financial statements for various governmental entities and details of certain payments made during the year. Volume III contains the audited financial statements of crown corporations (government-owned corporations).

Under the FAA, the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board are jointly responsible for setting the Government’s stated accounting policies. These accounting policies are used by government officials in preparing financial information for inclusion in the Budget, the Estimates, and the Public Accounts. The FAA also gives the President of the Treasury Board authority to determine disclosure in the Public Accounts, and requires the Accounts to include audited summary financial statements that “present fairly” the Government’s financial position, revenues and expenditures, and contingent liabilities. The Auditor General of Canada is required by his Act to examine and report on the summary statements annually.

Overall, the Government routinely provides the legislature with a considerable amount of high-quality financial information each year. Budget documents include the Fiscal Plan referred to above, the Budget Speech, and related publications that focus on issues of significance at budget time. The Part IIIs of the Estimates are designed to provide committees of the legislature and others with detailed information respecting spending intentions and past performance. And the Public Accounts contain audited financial statements for the Government as a whole, something rarely seen in financial reporting by national governments. The provincial governments in Canada also publish audited summary financial statements.

The federal and provincial governments prepare their audited financial statements in accordance with accounting policies that each has developed. These policies differ from government to government. As a consequence, it is difficult for those who use the financial statements to compare one government with another. It is also difficult for those who prepare and audit the financial statements to know when the statements are presenting information fairly and when they are not.

In March 1981, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants established the Public Sector Accounting and Auditing Committee (PSAAC). This Committee is composed of senior public sector officials, public accountants, and academics. Public sector officials include people who head government departments (deputy ministers), comptrollers and auditors general and senior executives of government-owned corporations from federal, provincial, and local governments. Input and advice is sought from about 100 other people, including users, preparers, and auditors of government financial reports.

PSAAC is seeking to develop generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and generally accepted auditing standards (GAAS) for federal, provincial, and local governments in Canada. As of November 1988, it had issued five pronouncements on accounting and four on auditing. Accounting pronouncements deal with disclosure of accounting policies, objectives of summary financial statements, general reporting principles and disclosure standards, the reporting entity, and employee pensions. In addition, PSAAC has conducted a research study on recording and reporting of physical assets and is examining how governments should account for and report transfer payment programs. Auditing pronouncements provide an overview of auditing in the public sector and also deal with the audit of government financial statements, compliance with authority, and value for money.

At the time of writing this chapter, the Canadian Federal Government had adopted some but not all of PSAAC’s accounting recommendations. The Auditor General’s opinion on the Government’s summary statements contains three significant reservations. They include concerns with the reporting entity and with the recording and reporting of employee pension obligations.

A related development was the publication in 1986 of the results of a two-year Federal Government Reporting Study (FGRS). This study was conducted jointly by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada and the U.S. General Accounting Office. Its purpose was to identify the financial information users need about federal governments. The results of FGRS have been provided to Canadian Members of Parliament, government officials, and PSAAC.

The main finding of FGRS was that the Government should publish a comprehensive but concise annual financial report, similar to annual reports published by corporations in the private sector. Such a report was seen as valuable in helping parliamentarians and others obtain a complete picture of government without getting buried in massive amounts of detail. It would also serve as a key to the more detailed information the Government provides in other financial documents. The Government is considering publishing such an annual financial report.

MAJOR PROBLEMS AND RECENT EFFORTS

Financial control was built into legislation as soon as Canada became an independent country. Various laws have been passed since then to improve control over public funds. Also, two recent Royal Commissions reviewed financial management and control as part of their mandates. Table 1 shows the historical development leading to current practices.

Table 1.Major Legislation and Studies on Financial Management and Control Since Confederation
1867The British North America Act
created the Consolidated Revenue Fund
established departments as responsible for managing their own finances
1878The Public Accounts Audit Act
created the Office of the Auditor General
1931The Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act
created the Comptroller of the Treasury
created the Treasury Board as the major central control agency of government, reducing independence of departments
1951The Financial Administration Act
replaced the 1931 Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act
strengthened responsibility of Treasury Board for financial management
initiated financial reporting for crown corporations
1962The Royal Commission on Government Organization (Glassco)
1969The Government Organization Act
abolished the Comptroller of the Treasury and central controls
granted autonomy to the Treasury Board Secretariat (from Department of Finance)
1976The Auditor General reports concerns about control of the public purse
1977The Auditor General Act
gave the Auditor General authority to report on value for money
1978Amendment to the Financial Administration Act
created the Office of the Comptroller General
1979The Royal Commission on Financial Management and Accountability (Lambert)
1984Amendments to the Financial Administration Act
strengthened the control and accountability of crown corporations

The Royal Commission on Government Organization, 1962

This study (commonly referred to as the Glassco Commission) laid the framework for the current organization of government operations. The Glassco Commission’s mandate was to recommend changes that would promote efficiency, economy, and improved service. The philosophy underlying its recommendations has often been summed up by the phrase “let the managers manage.”

In the area of financial management and control, the Commission made a number of recommendations. On the planning side, they were designed to shift the emphasis in the Main Estimates from the nature of expenditures to their purpose, to permit a valid assessment of requests for resources and departmental performance. It would also allow Members of Parliament to form an objective judgment on the desirability of continuing or modifying specific programs in the public interest.

In 1969, the Government adopted the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS). This system was designed to focus attention on the outputs of programs rather than on inputs. Government managers were forced to ask themselves what they were trying to accomplish with, for example, travel expenses rather than worrying primarily about how much they were going to spend on travel. The adoption of PPBS led to a change in the format of the Estimates in 1971. In that year, the Estimates reported planned expenditures by government program and activity rather than just by standard object.

In addition, the Glassco Commission recommended that aspects of responsibility for financial control be decentralized. The Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury was abolished and pre-expenditure control responsibilities given to departments. Departments were to operate within common policy guidelines developed by the Treasury Board. Senior financial officers were to be appointed in each department. Departments were to be responsible for developing their own financial systems, and they were to adopt modern management reporting techniques.

Financial Management and Control Study, 1974–76

The Auditor General of Canada initiated a Financial Management and Control Study to assess both the adequacy of systems and controls in departments and agencies and whether additional responsibilities delegated to departments after the Glassco Commission Report were being properly discharged. In his 1975 and 1976 reports, the Auditor General expressed serious concerns about the adequacy of departmental systems and procedures for financial management and control. He concluded that financial management and financial control systems were substantially below acceptable standards of quality and effectiveness.

The Royal Commission on Financial Management and Accountability, 1979

The Royal Commission on Financial Management and Accountability (commonly referred to as the Lambert Commission) confirmed the Auditor General’s findings. It also identified a number of defects in government organization and processes. The Commission believed these had led to a breakdown in the accountability chain. The problems included a lack of effort to establish clearly defined objectives against which the performance of departments could be measured. Also, no process was in place to exact an accounting from departments, and financial and other information essential for measuring performance in relation to objectives was missing. A significant recommendation of the Lambert Commission was the annual preparation of a five-year fiscal plan. The Government adopted this recommendation and the Department of Finance now prepares such a document. The current fiscal plan provides a short-term overall financial framework within which detailed planning and requests for spending authority are prepared.

MAJOR INITIATIVES SINCE 1975

Table 2 shows when the major initiatives in financial management and control over the past 15 years were started. The following paragraphs elaborate on certain of these initiatives.

Table 2.Initiatives in Financial Management and Control Since 1975
1978Office of the Comptroller General established
1978Office of the Comptroller General issued standards for Internal Financial Audit
1979Policy and Expenditure Management System (PEMS) introduced
1981Program evaluation guidelines published
1981Part III of the Estimates introduced as part of reform of the Estimates
1985Cash management policies and directives issued
1986A program called “Increased Ministerial Authority and Accountability” (IMAA) introduced
1989Cabinet committees restructured and overall resource allocation process revised to help control spending and reduce debt and deficit; PEMS abandoned

Policy and Expenditure Management System, 1979

In 1979, sluggish economic growth, growing inflation, and mounting public debt spurred the Government to make further reforms to help ensure that expenditures were put to the most efficient and effective use. A new budgetary system was introduced, known as the Policy and Expenditure Management System (PEMS).

Under PEMS, total government expenditures were divided into a number of spending “envelopes.” In general terms, envelopes were functional displays of government activity. For example, envelopes were provided for social development, economic and regional development, defense, fiscal arrangements, services to government, external affairs and aid, Parliament, and public debt.

To operate PEMS, a Priorities and Planning Committee and four Policy Committees were created. Priorities and Planning determined the size of each envelope in consultation with the Minister of Finance and the President of the Treasury Board. The Policy Committees managed the envelopes within their established dollar limits. They also made decisions on what programs should be introduced, reduced, or eliminated within the general policy goals established by the Government.

Envelopes were to be created for five-year periods, and were to be updated annually in response to changes in economic conditions. The basic building block for resource allocation under PEMS was the Operational Plan Framework (OPF). OPFs were prepared for each program. They were designed to set out and relate objectives, planning elements, and expected results. They were based on the assumption that program objectives could be clearly identified and stated. By 1989, however, although aspects were retained, the PEMS system was essentially abandoned.

Part III of the Estimates, 1981

In a 1981 revision of the Estimates, the Government committed itself to providing both Parliament and the public at large with an entirely new type of information. Previously, Estimates information was solely about spending intentions. The revised Estimates were to be dual-purpose documents containing information on both planned expenditures and actual performance. They would enable planned and actual departmental performance to be reviewed by the same Standing Committee, and they would establish an information base both for assessing future intentions in light of past performance and for holding the Government accountable for its performance.

Increased Ministerial Authority and Accountability, 1986

In February 1986, the Treasury Board announced an evolutionary process intended to change the management philosophy and culture of the Public Service of Canada. This process is known as the Increased Ministerial Authority and Accountability (IMAA) initiative. Its objectives are to (a) provide ministers and senior managers with increased authority and flexibility to deal with changing circumstances and to manage resources; and (b) enhance their accountability for achievement of results and for compliance with Treasury Board policies.

Under IMAA, the focus of the Treasury Board will shift away from a concern for compliance with procedural rules to emphasize program results and the achievement of government-wide policy objectives. The Treasury Board will delegate more authority and simplify and reduce detailed reporting requirements. This delegation will allow departments more discretion to reallocate resources within and between appropriations, provide increased departmental limits when entering into contracts, provide authority to classify certain positions, give greater flexibility in other personnel matters, and reduce or eliminate the need for submissions to the Treasury Board to obtain approval for administrative matters.

There are three key documents in IMAA. The first document is the OPF, which, as explained above, is designed to provide a clear statement of program objectives, planning elements, and expected results. The second document is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), generally a three-year agreement negotiated between the minister and deputy minister of a department and the President and Secretary of the Treasury Board. The MOU establishes the authorities and accountabilities that will govern the relationship between the department and the Treasury Board. The third document is the Annual Management Report (AMR), an internal accountability report from a department to the Treasury Board that describes the departmental environment, contains deputy minister representations about performance, and includes quantitative performance data required by the MOU.

The AMR will be the basis for the deputy minister of the department, the Secretary of the Treasury Board, and the Comptroller General to review performance and discuss issues of concern. A major accountability review is to be undertaken by the Treasury Board in the final year of the MOU. The review will focus on the achievement of objectives and results as represented in the AMRs.

Cabinet Committees Restructured and Resource Allocation Process Revised, 1989

On January 30, 1989, the Government announced a new Cabinet decision-making system. Although details of the system are still being refined, it appears to signal the end of PEMS. Overall resource allocation has been centralized under the Priorities and Planning Committee—chaired by the Prime Minister—and the Treasury Board. Policy Committees no longer have discretion to authorize expenditures. They now deal with policy implications only. A new Expenditure Review Committee, also chaired by the Prime Minister, is mandated to ensure that the Government’s expenditures continue to be directed to its highest priorities, and that expenditure control continues to contribute to deficit reduction.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE—RESTRAINT, 1989

On April 27, 1989, the Minister of Finance tabled his annual Budget in the House of Commons. A main concern of the Minister was the growth of the Government’s public debt and the exploding cost of paying interest on that debt. Expenditure restraint and other measures to reduce debt and deficit will likely be a primary focus of the Government for some time to come.

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