Audit of the Parliamentary Returns Process

[ * ] An asterisk appears where sensitive information has been removed in accordance with the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act.

[ PDF version ]

Final Report
October 13, 2017

List of acronyms

AED Audit and Evaluation Division
CAE Chief Audit Executive
GHL    Government House Leader
GLHO Government House Leader’s Office
HoC House of Commons
IRBV Information and Records of Business Value
IT Information Technology
LAC Library and Archives Canada
MP Member of Parliament
OAG    Office of the Auditor General
OCPR Office for the Coordination of Parliamentary Returns
PARCA      Parliamentary Returns Control Assistance System
PCO    Privy Council Office
PMO Prime Minister’s Office
RDA Records Disposition Authority
SoC Statement of Completeness

Executive summary

Authority

The Audit of the Parliamentary Returns Process was approved by the Clerk as part of the Privy Council Office (PCO) 2016-17 to 2018-19 Risk-based Internal Audit Plan. 

Objective

The objective of the audit was to provide assurance on the adequacy of PCO’s control framework over, and the processes used to manage and coordinate, PCO’s parliamentary returns process. 

Scope

The audit assessed the adequacy of the control framework and processes supporting PCO’s parliamentary returns process, including: management controls, processes and procedures that apply to the processing of parliamentary returns; the impact of external stakeholders on PCO’s ability to achieve its objectives with regards to its parliamentary returns process; and, the extent to which the current process is capitalizing on the benefits of modern technologies.

The audit included an assessment of the implementation of management’s actions to address prior audit recommendations, from the 2004 Office of the Auditor General and 2008 PCO Follow-up audits in this area, in order to provide assurance to management that the recommendations were adequately addressed.

The audit did not affirm the accuracy and completeness of responses prepared by government organizations but rather, the processes in place within PCO to help ensure accuracy and completeness. The audit did not assess the control framework of process steps and/or elements for which other federal government institutions are responsible beyond that which could be determined through a review of documents that demonstrate appropriate senior management oversight.

Summary of Findings

The audit team examined the PCO’s parliamentary returns process, made observations and findings and arrived at conclusions concerning process governance, efficiency, effectiveness and controls. The audit included file testing of 95 parliamentary return files tabled in the House and Senate between April 1, 2015 and June 30, 2017 including written questions (House of Commons and Senate), senate delayed questions, petitions, and e-petitions. This work involved consultations with management and staff interviews; documentation review; process observation, comparisons and walk throughs; system assessments; and, follow-up work to assess the level of implementation of recommendations from two prior audits in this area.

The audit found that the parliamentary returns process was well-supported by effective communication and that training of external stakeholders was extensive and thorough. Overall, the Office for the Coordination of Parliamentary Returns (OCPR) provides a high quality level of support to federal government institutions, and are very responsive to the community they support. However, the process is under strain. [ * ] and are therefore not contributing to the effectiveness or quality of the process. Also, the systems supporting the paper-based process are no longer aligned with the operational environment, which results in timeline pressures, lateness and scrambling to meet deadlines; lack of capacity to report; shortfalls in information management practices and an increasing inability to sustain the administrative burden of maintaining current procedures, guidelines and tools.

Conclusion

The overall conclusion of the audit is that the OCPR team provides an excellent level of service to its external stakeholders, yet the systems and process require modernization to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. The OCPR team delivers on its main objective: to coordinate the preparation of documented responses by federal government institutions and to then table the responses in the House of Commons or Senate in a timely manner. The team should be commended for the level of service they provide and their dedication to the function. 

The audit noted areas where governance, risk management, internal control and compliance should be strengthened, and management has acknowledged the need to modernize the parliamentary returns process and its supporting IT systems; discussions with IT are underway. Management should first ensure PCO conducts a process review to clearly ascertain its requirements and develops a more streamlined, robust, and appropriately controlled process that meets the current and future needs of the OCPR and federal government institutions it serves. Then, user needs and functionality requirements can be derived from an updated and responsive process.  Since management has already initiated modernization discussions with PCO’s IT division and with the Parliamentary Returns process stakeholders, there is a degree of urgency to incorporate the recommendations of this report into the work already underway.

Risk Statement

The current configuration of the parliamentary returns process poses a risk to PCO in that it may be unable to accommodate increases in workload and it may be unable to fulfill its mandate to assign parliamentary returns to one or multiple institutions and to provide advice; and to collect, verify, obtain approvals of, and then table the responses.

Statement of Assurance

In my professional judgment as Chief Audit Executive, sufficient and appropriate audit procedures have been conducted and evidence gathered to support a reasonable level of assurance as to the accuracy of the conclusions provided and contained in this report. The conclusion is based on a comparison of the conditions, as they existed at the time, against pre-established audit criteria that were agreed with management. The conclusion is applicable only to the entity examined.   


Anne Weldon-Lacroix
Chief Audit Executive

1.0 Background

1.1 Parliamentary Returns

An important part of the business of government is the provision of information to members of the House of Commons and the Senate. As described in Open and Accountable Government (2015), the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons coordinates the tabling of answers to written questions, and establishes timelines for ministers’ responses. Ministers are required to answer parliamentary questions within their areas of authority, to correct any errors at the earliest opportunity, and to ensure their responses are accurate and complete. PCO, via its OCPR function, is responsible for assigning parliamentary returns to one or multiple institutions and for providing advice, collecting, verifying, obtaining approvals of, and then preparing the responses for tabling.

Given its key importance, an audit of this function was included in the 2016-2019 Risk-based Audit Plan for the internal audit division of PCO. The parliamentary returns process, further outlined in Annex A, is the formal system through which responses to questions by members of parliament and the senate, as well as responses to petitions, are produced by federal government institutions and then tabled in the House of Commons or the Senate.1 The Office for the Coordination of Parliamentary Returns (OCPR) was established within PCO as a coordination hub for this process. There are seven main steps and controls, as documented in Annex A, to table responses within 45 days of the date of the question or petition.

A parliamentary return is a written response to Notice of Motion for Papers, Written Questions, Delayed Questions, Petitions, and e-Petitions and is prepared by Departments, Agencies or other federal government institutions. Senior Designated Officials attest to the completeness of departmental responses via a memo sent to the Minister, who then signs and submits the approved response to PCO for processing and tabling in the House or Senate. Depending on the complexity or scope of the required response, input may be required from a one, multiple, or all federal government institutions. To satisfy House and Senate operational requirements, all responses are submitted for tabling in paper format.

1.2 Parliamentary Returns at PCO

The parliamentary returns process, its supporting systems and the OCPR’s organizational structure have remained relatively unchanged over the years. The OCPR developed and implemented tools (procedures, guidelines, etc.) for the purpose of operationalizing and satisfying the requirements outlined in House of Commons and Senate procedures (see links in Annex B) that govern parliamentary returns. The process is further supported by job profiles, a variety of templates, and by the Parliamentary Returns Control Assistance System (PARCA), which is the information management and exchange system (database). The OCPR also uses PARCA to analyze and assign all parliamentary returns to federal government institutions, and to monitor progress in completing the steps to produce a return. Though the majority of response interchange is automated in PARCA, the coordination is paper-based and has a multitude of steps and division of tasks within the process.

The OCPR team is comprised of seven full-time and one part time staff and reports through its Manager, Parliamentary Returns to the Director of Operations, Parliamentary Affairs. The Director reports to the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Parliamentary Affairs, who in turn reports to the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance. The Government House Leader is the responsible Minister for parliamentary returns. The Manager, OCPR oversees the operations of the team and of the process. The Parliamentary Returns Officers are each responsible for a specific type of return and a Returns Clerk, Database Administrator, an Administrative Assistant who are responsible for various elements of response production and system administration (generating reports, printing, tracking, etc.). The process also involves a number of external stakeholders including personnel from Government House Leader’s Office (GHLO), the House of Commons (HoC), the Office of the Government Representative in the Senate, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), and other federal government institutions (departments, agencies, corporations, etc.).

The OCPR team tabled 2,735 returns in the last two fiscal years.  In addition, the average number of written questions per sitting day has more than tripled since the 39th Parliament: from 1.6 questions per sitting day in the 39th Parliament to more than 5 questions per sitting day in the 41st Parliament; and, volume is currently trending towards 6 questions per sitting day. There has also been a notable increase in the degree of complexity of the questions (the number of parts to a question, and the number of institutions required to respond to a question) which requires additional coordination by the OCPR team to ensure each institution tasked with providing a response does so, and that all areas of the question have been addressed. When all federal government institutions are asked to provide a response, this can require the coordination of up to 163 institutions and responses.2 Annex C provides a list of all federal government institutions and Annex D outlines detailed parliamentary returns volume data over the past two fiscal years. The OCPR’s process includes seven main steps and controls, as documented in Annex A, to coordinate the tabling of responses within 45 days of the date of the question or petition.

1.3 Oversight of the Parliamentary Returns Process

Interviews conducted during the last two annual internal audit planning cycles at PCO confirmed ongoing support for an audit in this area because of its associated strategic, processing and reputational risks, and its link to two of PCO’s key risks: “increased workload and shorter timelines means an increasingly heavy burden on existing resources and expertise,” and secondly, “aging systems and tools could threaten the required level of service delivery, accessibility to information and security for business practices at PCO.”3

In 2004, the Office of the Auditor General examined The Process for Responding to Parliamentary Order Paper Questions and PCO conducted a Follow-up Audit of this area in 2008.

2.0 Findings and recommendations

The audit found that the parliamentary returns process was well-supported by the OCPR’s governance, communication and support practices and that training of external stakeholders was also found to be extensive and thorough. It was noted that overall, the OCPR provides a high quality level of support to federal government institutions, and is very responsive to the community it supports. However, the process is under strain, [ * ] and are therefore not contributing to the effectiveness of the process. Also, systems supporting the process are archaic which results in timeline pressures, lateness and scrambling to meet deadlines; lack of capacity to report; shortfalls in information management practices and an inability to sustain the administrative burden of maintaining up to date procedures, guidelines and tools.

This work included process research, 20 interviews with PCO staff, review of over 80 documents, examination of 95 return files, process observation and comparison to documented processes, and system walk-throughs. The audit team conducted follow-up work to assess the level of implementation of recommendations from two prior audits in this area. The auditors have made recommendations based on the conclusions. 

2.1 Parliamentary Returns Process

The audit examined the degree to which the parliamentary returns process is operating with regard for efficiency and effectiveness. Overall, the process is heavily documented, meets the critical deadline, but there are opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The current methodology puts the organization at risk to respond to future requirements, and the current process is not sustainable and may not be nimble enough to respond to future demands.

2.1.1 Efficiency of the Parliamentary Returns Process

The audit found, through its process analysis, file testing and in 100% of interviews with OCPR staff, that the parliamentary returns process is stretched to maximum capacity. The process and systems have remained relatively unchanged for the last decade, and were originally designed to coordinate the submission of one response from one department. Although there has been a substantial shift in both volume and the complexity of returns over past ten years, the OCPR has not conducted a systematic and full review of its process. There is a risk that PCO will not be able to meet its mandate to coordinate the timely tabling of accurate and complete documentation in the House and the Senate.

Management has made some improvements to specific system elements (improvements in communication with stakeholders, and additional features added to PARCA, for example), but systemic issues, as outlined below, continue to impact overall process efficiency:

  • OCPR uses a silo approach to processing returns, as outlined in Annex A. This approach has resulted in uneven distribution of workload and over-documentation of processes: each type of return has documented procedures, manuals, and templates. There are multiple repetitive steps that provide limited value to the process and could contribute to inefficiency.

  • The House of Commons and Senate processes require responses to be tabled in paper format and the final output of the parliamentary returns process must therefore follow this format.  While the OCPR’s process satisfies this requirement, it was found that its coordination is largely paper-based, laborious and inefficient due in part to a lack of a comprehensive system for workflow management. Though PARCA captures the response documentation, OCPR prints enormous amounts of operational documentation used to monitor progress through various process steps. The majority of this printed operational documentation is then destroyed the day after a return is tabled.

  • Multiple systems have led to duplication of records and errors in record management practices, such as: destroying information ahead of its retention schedule; storing records beyond their retention in multiple media and systems; and, difficult and laborious work to search or retrieve records in a timely manner.

  • Holistic reporting is not automated, resulting in errors. The audit team found errors in reports generated through PARCA for the purpose of the audit. These errors were attributed to PARCA restrictions that led to manual steps which were needed to combine various PARCA outputs. 

Although the OCPR team is fully engaged and are reported to be extremely diligent in their delivery of the process, the processes and systems in place are not sustainable. These cannot support additional output, especially when combined with increasing requirements (return volume, increases in question complexity) without potentially experiencing a compromise in quality or accuracy of responses. All line staff reported challenges with meeting deadlines, adding to their perception of a stressful workplace. The current process inefficiencies present a risk to PCO’s efforts to establish and maintain a healthy, balanced workplace.

2.1.2 Effectiveness of the Parliamentary Returns Process

The systems and processes supporting the parliamentary returns process include controls to support process effectiveness such as documented roles and responsibilities, documented requirements for approvals (i.e., Ministerial and GHLO sign off), and audit trails in the PARCA system. [ * ]

These controls, which were originally designed to help ensure process effectiveness, are not operating as intended. In addition to the risks identified above, the ultimate risks are that PCO may be assuming responsibility for elements of the process in areas it ought not to, is allocating resources to steps that add limited value to the overall process, and is relying upon controls that are not operating effectively; all of which diminish PCO’s degree of certainty that the responses it presents for tabling are complete and accurate.

2.2 Role of management in Parliamentary Returns Process governance

The OCPR function and its work directly support and are clearly aligned with PCO’s role to “provide advice and support to the Prime Minister and portfolio ministers.”4 Though the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is accountable for the process and Ministers are accountable for responses, PCO is accountable and responsible for the process coordination, which includes monitoring and enforcing defined process steps and controls. Management actively contributes to the process control framework through regular communication (weekly teleconferences, Deputy Secretary briefings at Deputy Minister Breakfast sessions, and regularly scheduled meetings with GHLO, the Government Representative in the Senate, and the Prime Minister’s Office) and by providing process and PARCA training to the teams within federal government institutions responsible for producing returns.

The audit found that, overall, management identifies and addresses issues, yet steps taken to properly document management decisions, actions and instructions could be strengthened. There is a risk to PCO that, should the Parliamentary Affairs Division experience any degree of management turnover, the absence of documented management decisions, actions and instructions may impact sustained progress and continuity of operational improvement work presently underway.

2.2.1 Formality of management oversight

Management responsible for the delivery of the parliamentary returns process provides guidance and oversight to the OCPR operations and team, and further supports the process through engagement with external stakeholders. However, the audit found that records documenting management’s role in providing operational oversight and process governance could be strengthened to ensure risks to process effectiveness and efficiency are formally addressed. For example, the audit found:

  • The degree of management’s involvement in overseeing and addressing identified process issues were not clearly documented. The audit observed how elements of various reports5, had been implemented, but there were no status reports, implementation plans, or management updates available for review. In the absence of documented oversight and direction, there is a risk that issues are not being addressed according to the degree of risk they pose to PCO, the process, or external stakeholders.

  • Pressures are put on the parliamentary returns process when other stakeholder contributions are delayed. OCPR management has limited control over this issue yet it has resulted in a breakdown of controls and has increased pressure on the OCPR team. Management reported improvements in this area which are attributed to enhanced communication, but overall it was found that this situation continues to impact the returns process. This situation causes additional administrative burden and stress to the OCPR team, and increases the risk of returns being tabled with mistakes or errors since there is no time for PCO’s third party review of the responses. [ * ]

  • Procedures that describe the alignment of OCPR processes with policy and government requirements have not been updated to reflect the current environment. Though changes to practices may be valid, one example of this is an apparent gap with PCO’s Records Disposition Authority (RDA) with Library and Archives Canada (LAC) requirements. It was noted that the OCPR does not record the number of signatures on the cover of each petition record, as is described in the RDA; and, for Senate and HoC question files, PCO destroys a large amount of paper information the day of a tabling, yet it retains response files in PARCA and paper beyond the defined retention period. In the absence of an updated RDA with LAC, PCO is at risk of retaining or disposing of the wrong types of information related to returns. Annex E outlines PCO’s RDA and key LAC definitions.

In conclusion, the audit found that some operational risks and issues were addressed by management and operationalized by the OCPR team, but supporting documentation has not yet been updated to reflect the changes in process. [ * ] Not only does this result in greater inefficiencies, but it also put the integrity of the parliamentary returns process and the quality or completeness of the information provided by Ministers to Members of Parliament and Senators at risk.

2.3 Recommendations

The following recommendations are presented to Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance, who is responsible for the Parliamentary Returns Process within PCO:

Recommendation 1 – It is recommended that the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance, conduct a comprehensive review of the parliamentary returns process. The purpose of this review should be to:

  1. Ensure clarity of PCO’s accountability, role and responsibilities;
  2. Ensure that the areas where PCO contributes to the parliamentary returns process are aligned with its accountability, roles and responsibilities, and, that PCO concentrates its work in areas where it can contribute the most value added;
  3. Redesign (building on existing successes) a lean parliamentary returns process, including controls to safeguard areas of greatest risk to the success of the process, in order to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness;
  4. Realign the process with relevant TB policy and government oversight requirements; and,
  5. Strengthen the IM and IT systems to accommodate future needs for improvements when needed.

Recommendation 2 – It is recommended that the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance, establish a monitoring and reporting schedule that ensures:

  1. Management reporting on parliamentary returns process results, efficiency and effectiveness;
  2. Adherence to process controls; and,
  3. The process aligns with and adheres to policy and oversight requirements.

3.0 Conclusion

The overall conclusion of the audit is that the OCPR team provides an excellent level of service to its external stakeholders, yet is not well supported from a system and process perspective. There are many elements of the parliamentary returns process, as coordinated by the OCPR team, that operate very well. The team should be commended for the level of service they provide, their dedication to the function, and their commitment to tabling responses on time. PCO management and the OCPR team have strong channels of communication to external stakeholders and provide an excellent level of training to their community.

The audit also noted areas where governance, risk management, internal control and compliance should be strengthened, and management has acknowledged the need to address the inadequacy of IT systems in place to deliver parliamentary returns; discussions with IT are underway. Management should first ensure PCO undertakes a review of the parliamentary returns process to develop a more streamlined, robust, and controlled process that meets the current and future needs of the OCPR and federal government institutions. Then, user needs and functionality requirements can be derived from an updated and responsive process. Since management has already initiated modernization discussions with PCO’s IT division and with the parliamentary returns process stakeholders, there is a degree of urgency to incorporate the recommendations of this report into the work already underway.

4.0 Management response and action plan

Management accepts this report and will oversee the implementation of its recommendations.

Management Action Plan: Audit of the Parliamentary Returns Process
The Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance has overall accountability for the Action Plan.
Recommendations * Risk Rating Management response and planned actions Responsibility Due date
1. It is recommended that the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance, conduct a comprehensive review of the parliamentary returns process. The purpose of the review should be to:

  1. Ensure clarity of PCO’s accountability, role and responsibilities;

  2. Ensure that the areas where PCO contributes to the parliamentary returns process are aligned with its accountability, roles and responsibilities, and, that PCO concentrates its work in areas where it can contribute the most value added;

  3. Redesign (building on existing successes) a lean parliamentary returns process, including controls to safeguard areas of greatest risk to the success of the process, in order to enhance its efficiency and effectiveness;

  4. Realign the process with relevant TB policy and government oversight requirements; and,

  5. Strengthen IM and IT systems to accommodate future needs for improvement when needed.
High Management accepts the recommendation.

  1. PCO will review the returns process with a view to establishing clear understanding of PCO’s accountability, roles, and responsibility in the current operating environment.

  2. PCO will ensure areas of PCO’s contributions to the parliamentary returns process are aligned with its accountability, roles and responsibilities, and, that PCO concentrates its work in areas where it can contribute the most value added.

  3. In its redesign of the parliamentary returns process, PCO will examine options for leaning the returns process and reviewing the effectiveness of controls. PCO will examine efficiencies for electronic and paper processes within the bounds of the procedural requirements established by the chambers; the House and Senate determine the form of documents tabled in their chambers, and they require returns be tabled in paper.

  4. PCO will examine TB policy and government oversight requirements relevant to the Parliamentary Returns process and ensure they are incorporated into the process.

  5. PCO will examine options for more modern IM and IT systems that better meet current and foreseeable future needs. Options will be examined to develop workflows that ensure fewer process steps, robust audit trails, simplified reliable recordkeeping, enhanced automated monitoring and reporting, and less reliance on paper-based processes. 
Management recognizes the importance of acting promptly in response to the risk identified. The pace of progress will nevertheless be dependent on several factors outside management’s control: availability of funding to secure contracted process expertise from outside PCO; availability of funding to implement required IM/IT systems changes; ability of external partners (e.g., House, Senate, OGD) to adopt changes to processes.


Deputy Secretary (Governance)


Deputy Secretary (Governance)



Deputy Secretary (Governance) supported by CIO





Deputy Secretary (Governance)


Deputy Secretary (Governance) & CIO
30 April 2019

[Despite high risk, we propose an 18 month timeframe owing to complexity and resource implications. It must also be recognized that House might not be able to adopt changes until new Parliament, i.e., after next election, if they require standing order changes. The Senate may have more flexibility.] 
2. It is recommended that the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, Governance, establish a monitoring schedule that ensures:

  1. Management reporting on parliamentary returns process results, efficiency and effectiveness;
  2. Adherence to process controls; and,
  3. The process aligns with and adheres to current and future policy and oversight requirements.
High Management accepts the recommendation.

PCO’s review of the return process, necessary controls, and policy and oversight requirements will result in a monitoring schedule that will inform reporting on results, consistent with the degree of risk posed.

PCO’s review of the returns process and necessary controls will inform a monitoring schedule that:

  1. will enable reporting on results, efficiency and effectiveness,
  2. ensures adherence to process controls, and
  3. ensures adherence and alignment with policy and oversight requirements.
PCO will also review its processes for monitoring and reporting on trends to departments and PCO senior management.

PCO will engage LAC to examine changes to RDAs to bring them up to date with recent changes in House of Commons and Senate practice, and PCO’s procedures. IRBV and transitory record requirements will be reviewed in light of changes to RDAs.

OCPR will monitor and report on the implementation of action plans to senior management in the branch.
Deputy Secretary (Governance) supported by CIO, where necessary 30 April 2018

* Recommendation Risk Ratings refers to the urgency of the recommendation, based on PCO’s exposure to risk. Based on the risk rating, AED recommends management actions associated with the recommendation adhere to the following timeline:

Recommendation Risk Rating
High Immediate management attention is required Complete the action plan within 6 months
Moderate Timely management attention is warranted Complete the action plan within 12 months
Low Management attention is warranted Complete the action plan within 18 months

Source: Institute of Internal Auditors Practice Guide: Formulating and Expressing Internal Audit Opinions

Annex A – Parliamentary Returns Process

The parliamentary returns process takes place over a period of forty-five days from start to finish. The process is outlined in multiple PCO documents, and these descriptions include anywhere from four to ten steps outlined in PCO’s Guide to Producing Parliamentary Returns (2014) to over 50 steps outlined in the OCPR’s Process Maps (January 2016). Similarly, the degree of description of key controls varies from one document to another. The audit team assessed the documents that outline the key steps, and observed the process in action. From this, seven key steps and seven controls that are common to the delivery of all types of returns were identified. These are outlined in the process map, below.

Parliamentary Returns Process chart
Text version


Audit and Evaluation Division mapping of the parliamentary returns process
OCPR Process Maps Guide to Producing Parliamentary Returns
HoC Questions Senate Questions Petitions & e-Petitions HoC & Senate Questions Petitions & e-Petitions (2.7)
B.1 – ID key words, update tombstone data, ID Q of Interest. 7 steps 7 steps 5 steps 1 step 1 step
B.2 – Assign departments, develop instructions and templates (may assign a Lead Department) 12 steps 12 steps 9 steps 2 steps 1 step
B.3 – Monitor dept. progress, provide advice, support. 10 steps 10 steps 10 steps 1 step Not identified in steps.
B.4 – Download responses; format and coordinate editing (may include a summary response developed by the Lead Dept.). 4 steps 4 steps 5 steps 2 steps 2 steps
B.5 – Assemble response packages for GHLO approval. 7 steps 7 steps 2 steps 1 step Not identified in steps.
B.6 – Produce tabling distribution packages. 6 steps 5 steps 8 steps GHLO responsible GHLO responsible
B.7 – File close-out: IM steps, lessons learned, etc. 9 steps 4 steps 3 steps n/a n/a
7 steps total 55 steps 49 steps 42 steps 7 steps 4 steps

Simplified parliamentary returns process

Days 1-40 of the process

The process begins when, on a daily basis, the OCPR team downloads the list of questions and petitions from Parliament and Senate websites. Note, the senate delayed questions are sought from the Senate debates transcript.

  1. 1. Review the Question / Petition for key words, to identify questions of interest (which are monitored more closely)

  2. 2. Assign the question to one, multiple or all federal government institutions; develop instructions and templates
    • Control 1 - Notice of Assignment & confirmation from federal government institution(s)
    • Control 2 - Assignment of Lead Department (if and when appropriate)

  3. 3. Monitor the progress of federal government institutions in responding; provide advice and support throughout the development of responses. This includes sending reminders to submit.
    • Control 3 - submission of Statement of Completeness signed by Designated Senior Official, and response signed by the Minister accountable

Days 41-45 of the process

  1. 4. Download responses and Statement of Completeness from PARCA, coordinate the editing of responses (if and when required)
    • Control 4 – OCPR accepts the version as complete

  2. 5. Assemble response packages and submit to GHLO for approval
    • Control 5 – confirmation of GHLO approval

  3. 6. Table responses to all questions or petitions due to be tabled
    • Control 6 – confirmation that the response was tabled and accepted

  4. 7. File close out (retention schedule begins)
    • Control 7 - records management process, as aligned to the OCPR records disposition authority

The process is considered complete when a response is tabled and accepted. When responses are not accepted in steps 4, 5, or 6, they must loop back to Step 3 for editing and resubmission.

Annex B – House of Commons and Senate Procedures

These documents outline the House of Commons and Senate processes that PCO supports through its parliamentary returns process. They help define PCO’s role, responsibilities and accountabilities for the delivery of this government wide process. 

House of Commons, Written Questions:

House of Commons, Petitions:

The Senate of Canada:

Annex C – Inventory of Federal Government Institutions

The OCPR supports up to 163 federal government institutions in their coordination of the production and tabling of returns. In order to successfully table responses on time, a high degree of coordination, planning, and communication is required. The table, below, provides a breakdown government institutions by their parent department (as of June 2017).


Department
Number of Depts. Special Operating Agencies Agencies Crown Corporations On Request Only Total
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 1 1 3 2 1 8
Canadian Heritage 1 2 4 12 1 20
Canada Revenue Agency 1 0 0 0 0 1
Employment and Social Development Canada; Labour 2 0 2 1 2 7
Environment and Climate Change 1 0 2 0 0 3
Finance Canada 1 0 1 5 4 11
Fisheries and Oceans Canada 1 1 0 1 0 3
Global Affairs Canada (Foreign); Development; International Trade 3 0 0 3 0 6
Health Canada 1 0 4 0 0 5
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada 1 0 1 0 0 2
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada 1 1 0 0 2 4
Infrastructure Canada 1 0 0 3 0 4
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; Western Economic Diversification Canada 2 4 10 3 2 21
Justice; Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions 2 0 2 0 6 10
National Defense 1 2 4 0 0 7
Natural Resources 1 0 3 1 0 5
Privy Council Office 1 0 2 0 4 7
Public Safety Canada 1 1 5 3 0 10
Public Services and Procurement Canada 1 1 2 3 2 9
Status of Women, Office of the Coordinator 1 0 0 0 0 1
Transport Canada 1 0 1 9 1 12
Treasury Board 1 0 1 1 2 5
Veterans Affairs 1 0 1 0 0 2
Totals 28 13 48 47 27 163

Annex D – Parliamentary Returns volume data: 2015-16 and 2016-17

A parliamentary return is a document for which an order or address of the House has been made. There are four main types of returns, each described below. Following this is a table outlining the volume of returns, per type, for the last two fiscal years.

Type of returns:

  • Motion for the production of papers: Occur when a private Member requests the tabling of some documents. Such a notice may be called only on Wednesday, when the motion is decided without debate, or if the Member or a Minister desires a debate, a request is made that the notice be transferred to Notices of Motions (Papers).

  • Petition and e-Petition: A formal request made in paper or electronic format to Parliament by citizens or residents of Canada for redress of a grievance, which can only be presented to the House by a Member.

  • Written Questions, House of Commons and Senate: Questions that seek statistical or other information not readily available, or questions to which a written response is desired, are captured in the Order Paper and Notice Paper.

  • Senate Delayed Questions: The Debates of the Senate are a substantially verbatim report of the proceedings of the Senate published after each sitting. The Debates are published in separate English and French documents that are available on the parliamentary website the morning after a sitting.
Volume of parliamentary return by type of return and fiscal year All Notice of Motions Public Petitions e-Petitions Written Qs HoC Written Qs Senate Senate Delayed Answers
Fiscal year 2015-16
Total number of Parliamentary Returns Placed on the Order Paper 1,448 7 1,124 0 317 0 0
Supplementary, revised, re-disposed responses 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Number of Responses that died or have been withdrawn 347 9 287 0 51 0 0
Total inquiries tabled in the HoC or Senate 677 0 942 0 332 3 0
Fiscal year 2016-17
Total number of Parliamentary Returns Placed on the Order Paper 2,229 5 984 107 864 46 223
Supplementary, revised, re-disposed responses 84 0 0 0 84 0 0
Number of Responses that died or have been withdrawn 4 0 0 0 2 0 2
Total inquiries tabled in the HoC or Senate 2,058 1 997 94 785 32 149
Two-year totals
Total number of Parliamentary Returns Placed on the Order Paper 3,677 12 2,108 107 1,181 46 223
Supplementary, revised, re-disposed responses 84 0 0 0 84 0 0
Number of Responses that died or have been withdrawn 351 9 287 0 53 0 2
Total inquiries tabled in the HoC or Senate 2,735 1 1,939 94 1,117 35 149

Annex E – OCPR Records Disposition Authority

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) provides leadership in the Government of Canada Information Management community by working collaboratively with federal government institutions to develop standards, tools and best practices for IM. PCO and LAC have collaborated on the development of a records disposition authority specific to the operations of the OCPR, which outlines the function’s information holdings and has assigned a retention and disposition schedule to these holdings. In accordance with the provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act, a disposition authorization is the instrument that Library and Archives Canada issues to enable government institutions to dispose of records which no longer have operational utility, either by permitting their destruction, by requiring their transfer to LAC or by agreeing to their alienation from the control of the Government of Canada.

Definition of Information and Records of Business Value:

“Are published and unpublished materials, regardless of medium or form that are created or acquired because they enable and document decision-making in support of programs, services and ongoing operations, and support departmental reporting, performance and accountability requirements.” Directive on Recordkeeping, June 1, 2009.

Definition of Transitory Record:

“Transitory records are not of business value. They may include records that serve solely as convenience copies of records held in a government institution repository, but do not include any records that are required to control, support, or document the delivery of programs, to carry out operations, to make decisions, or to provide evidence to account for the activities of government at any time.” LAC’s Disposition Authority 2016/001, A.2

Definition of Disposition:

The process which enables government institutions to dispose of records which no longer have operational value, either by permitting their destruction (at the discretion of institutions), by requiring their transfer to LAC, or by agreeing to their alienation from the control of the Government of Canada. These decisions are based on appraisals conducted by archivists. LAC website.

Excerpts from the Agreement for the Transfer of Archival Records between PCO and LAC (2011/002)
File category Retention period End of retention Comments
Parliamentary returns files – includes assignment sheets, notices, consultations with departments (assignments, clarification), instructions, financial summary, costing sheet, statement of completeness, original and working copy of response. Two (2) Parliaments To be destroyed except for records which meet the following exceptions:
  1. Correspondence or other contact about an inquiry between PCO and a parliamentarian
  2. The file results in changes in practice or process for producing future responses.
Physical paper files which do not meet the archival criteria are considered transitory, and will be disposed of upon tabling of the response in parliament, with the exception note. The assignment sheet will be retained for two (2) sessions, and voluminous or multi-departmental responses will be retained for two (2) parliaments.
Electronic or transitory records held in OCPR email accounts will be disposed of once the response is tabled in the House of Commons.
Electronic case files in PARCA referred to as IRBV will be retained for two Parliaments.
Guidelines provided to officials within the Government of Canada Five (5) years Elimination Administrative records.
Presentations Five (5) years Elimination Administrative records – i.e., power point presentations on parliamentary returns.
Cover letter signed by the Director, OCPR, used to transmit approved Government responses to the Leader of the Government in the Senate Two (2) Parliaments Elimination Administrative Records related to Government responses that are tabled in the Senate of Canada.
Daily speaking points used by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader during Routine Proceedings Two (2) Parliaments Elimination Administrative records related to Government responses that are tabled in the House of Commons.
Includes letters from the Government House Leader to the Clerk of the House of Commons for tabling responses to public petitions during adjournments.
Daily Status Report on outstanding parliamentary returns provided to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader One (1) day Elimination Transitory Record
Public Petitions Two (2) Parliaments Transfer to LAC Operational records, documents deemed by LAC to have archival value (these include the certificate, full text of prayer, and last page of a public petitions with the MP’s signature)6
Public Petitions Two (2) Parliaments Elimination Operational Records – documents deemed by LAC to have no archival value (e.g., signature pages)

Annex F – Audit Details

Authority

The Audit of the Parliamentary Returns Process was approved by the Clerk as part of the Privy Council Office (PCO) 2016-17 to 2018-19 Risk-Based Internal Audit Plan. 

Objectives

The objective of the audit was to provide assurance on the adequacy of PCO’s control framework over, and the processes used to manage and coordinate, parliamentary returns. 

Scope

The audit assessed the adequacy of the control framework and processes supporting PCO’s parliamentary returns process, including: management controls, processes and procedures that apply to the processing of parliamentary returns; the impact of external stakeholders on PCO’s ability to achieve its objectives with regards to the parliamentary returns process; and, the extent to which current processes are capitalizing on the benefits of modern technologies.

The audit included file testing of a random sample of return files that had been tabled at Parliament and in the Senate between April 1, 2015 and June 30, 2017. This sample included written questions (House of Commons and Senate), Senate delayed questions, petitions, and e-petitions. The sample did not include Notice of Motions for the Production of Papers since none had been tabled within the period of review.

This is the third audit in this area since 2004. The Office of the Auditor General completed an audit in 2004, and PCO’s Audit and Evaluation Division completed a follow-up audit in 2008. This audit included an assessment of the implementation of Management’s actions to address the prior audit recommendations in order to provide assurance to management that the recommendations were adequately addressed.

It is important to note that this internal audit did not affirm the accuracy and completeness of responses prepared by government organizations. Nor did it assess the control framework of process steps and/or elements for which other government organizations are responsible beyond that which could be determined through a review of documents produced that demonstrate appropriate senior management oversight.

Approach and methodology

The audit was carried out in accordance with the International Professional Practices Framework issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors and the Treasury Board Policy on Internal Audit.

During the planning phase of the audit, the team conducted preliminary interviews, documentation review, and processes observations in order to understand the parliamentary returns process, the roles and responsibilities of PCO and its OCPR team, and the roles and responsibilities of external stakeholders. The audit program, including detailed audit criteria and procedures, was designed based on the information gathered during planning, and focuses on the risks identified through the planning phase and is aligned with the audit objective defined above.

During the conduct phase of the audit, the audit team conducted additional interviews, documentation review, analysis of internal controls, and reviewed a sample of parliamentary return files. This work included research into the process, consultations with management, 20 interviews with PCO staff, documentation review, examination of 95 return files, process observation and comparison to documented processes, and system walk-throughs. A more in-depth walk-through and assessment was completed of the paper-based and PARCA systems supporting the parliamentary returns process. The audit team also conducted a follow-up work to assess the level of implementation of recommendations from two prior audits in this area. 

Audit criteria

  1. Governance – it is expected that PCO has established, documented and communicated its governance structure for the oversight and direction of the parliamentary returns process

  2. Organizational Structure – it is expected that PCO has established and documented a clear and effective organizational structure, including defined roles and responsibilities, to support the achievement of the parliamentary returns process objectives.

  3. Process Controls – it is expected that the parliamentary returns process controls have been adequately designed and effectively implemented in accordance with accountability requirements and with due regard for efficiency.

  4. IT Planning – it is expected that Management has established an information technology plan specific to the OCPR team and the delivery of the parliamentary returns process.
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