A message from His Excellency the Governor General transmitting estimates for the financial year ending March 31, 1939, was presented by Hon. Charles A. Dunning (Minister of Finance), and read by Mr. Speaker to the house.
Hon. CHARLES A. DUNNING (Minister of Finance): Mr. Speaker, at this time of course I cannot make the customary motion referring these estimates to the committee of supply, because that committee is not yet set up and cannot be set up until the debate on the address concludes. At the appropriate time I shall make the motion of reference. In the meantime, due to the fact that there is a complete change in the form of the estimates this year, I desire to ask the indulgence of the house so that 1 may make a brief statement with regard to the estimates in order that hon. members may have it before them in Hansard to-morrow morning when they are studying the estimates.
In the budget speech of last year I made an attempt to show the percentage distribution of our revenues and expenditures, but found it necessary to point out that the form of our estimates and appropriations made it impossible to achieve accuracy in such calculations. I then stated that before another year had passed I hoped to be able to introduce such changes in our procedure regarding estimates and accounts as would make it possible to determine more accurately the real costs of the various services of government.
I am glad to be able to announce to the house that the main estimates for 1938-39,
which are now being tabled, are being presented in a new form, with what I believe is a greatly improved classification and with much greater detail. The purpose of the revision is to facilitate a greater control over expenditures and to present a clearer and truer picture of the operations of government.
The need for revision has been recognized for years, in that items in the estimates did not reflect the cost of services. In this respect they were actually misleading, because, with few exceptions, they were supplemented from civil government or other appropriation of a general character. Other defects included provision for numbers of distinct activities under one general item, and assembly of items under obsolete captions without relationship to existing departmental responsibility. The principal object of the revision is to give to parliament, by removal of these defects, a reasonably accurate estimate of the costs of functions, assembled under the departments responsible for administration.
Application of this principle involved rearrangement of votes and disappearance of the civil government and miscellaneous sections. It also involved selection of the distinct services or projects on which the taxpayer's money is spent and insertion of an item for each. As all expenses cannot be allocated on this basis, the remainder for the department or branch has been included under an item for administration of the department. As comparison with estimates of the previous year are always of first rate importance to parliament, these have been shown in each instance. The amount entered for 1937-38 is the sum voted for that particular function, though it may have been authorized under several general or specific votes for that year. Any member interested may obtain details of these allocations of former votes in committee of supply.
The new form is composed of two main sections. The first, to page 53, is made up of items to be included in the supply bill, together with statutory appropriations, each of which is marked with the letter S. The second section, from page 54 to the end, is for the information of parliament and will not be in the supply bill. In the first section, division by items has been with the object of showing clearly the cost of the various services carried on by the government. The second section, which is entirely new, is designed to furnish parliament with detailed information as to how the various proposed votes are to be spent. For convenience the page number of the details is printed opposite each item.
The Address-Mr. Thompson
In effect, items in the first section will become votes which must be administered strictly in accordance with their terms and amounts. On the other hand, the details by Objects of expenditure contained in the second section may be varied to meet administrative requirements. In general, they will be the basis of classifications compiled by each department at the beginning of the fiscal year under the terms of section 26 of The Consolidated Revenue and Audit Act. These classifications are submitted to the Department of Finance at the beginning of the fiscal year, and may not be amended except with approval of the treasury board.
The ruling principle of this revision has been the endeavour to furnish the cost of functions. At the same time, it has been necessary to give due consideration to the requirements of administration, accounting and audit, since all are necessary to a full measure of parliamentary control. While the new form is an attempt to meet all essentials, it is not regarded as final. Rather, it is believed that experience in operation and consideration here will suggest further improvements for future years.
I need not say that the changes which have been made have resulted in a great deal of work during the past year for all the departments and for the treasury board. It will be clear, also, that the larger number of votes will probably increase the work of my colleagues and their departmental officials in getting their estimates through the house. We have, however, received the cooperation of all departments in making the revision possible, and I trust that the changes which have been introduced will, after study, commend themselves to the house.
This explanation appearing in Hansard in the morning, Mr. Speaker, together with copies of the estimates which will be distributed to hon. members as soon as the distribution office can arrange it, I am sure will enable hon. members to achieve a thorough understanding of the revision itself and particularly of the objects which it is sought to attain.