Annually, the Government prepares a budget that outlines its priorities, policies and plans, to influence the overall behaviour of the national economy.
The Government must also prepare and present to Parliament a spending plan, as directed by the Constitution.
That spending plan is known as the Estimates.
The Estimates - Then and Now
In the early years after the 1867 adoption of the Constitution, Canada's economy was driven by a free-market system fueled by rapid industrialization and urbanization.
At the time, the dominant view of economists and governments was that swings in the economy were, for the most part, small and self-correcting.
The Great Depression of 1929 challenged this perception. The government had no choice but to expand its fiscal policies to spur economic growth.
The Canadian Government's important economic role in the war effort during the Second World War strengthened the perception within the government itself, and society in general, that the state could be used to pursue broad social goals and long-term economic growth.
In 1951, the Financial Administration Act delegated to the Treasury Board the authority to make final decisions on a broad range of financial and personnel matters. In practice, much of the work of this committee of ministers was delegated to public service employees. Their role in Estimates planning increased along with the Government's role in the economy.
"At the very beginning, the first couple of years, the departments put in material in a rather disorganized fashion, and we officers shaped it up and wrote and made a recommendation and so on that went first to the Secretary of the Board."
"Well, one of my colleagues, who did the estimates for Public Works, had got his book all ready. And he submitted his book for the operation of the Department of Public Works. And one of the items, a boat, was the cost of sounding the noonday gun on Parliament Hill. The book went in to Mr. Brice on a Friday, and Monday morning it came back. Well, next to this estimate for the noonday gun, Mr. Brice had written, "Need this gun be fired on Sundays?" "So that was control in the Treasury Board that Glassco wanted to get rid of not long after."
This discontinuation was just one of the recommendations in the 1962 Report of the Royal Commission on Government Organization, known as the Glassco Commission.
It also recommended that Departments should be free of inappropriate central control and should be allowed to devise management methods suited to their needs.
In 1979, the Royal Commission on Financial Management and Accountability recommended several measures to strengthen parliamentary control over government expenditures. The commission argued that the managers of government should be required to manage their responsibilities in a way that would best serve the public interest.
"The Lambert Commission looked at financial management and accountability throughout the Government of Canada, and really put a focus on the need for performance management, for metrics, for results so that Canadians could actually understand what they were getting for their taxpayer dollars. Not just this much money went to a program, but what the program actually achieved.
Our primary responsibility was as a budget office within the Treasury Board Secretariat, and what's important to understand is that government-wide, expenditures cannot be made without the approval of Parliament. We do our very best to make sure that elected representatives are well informed about making decisions about taxpayer dollars.
And what that means is once a year, 130 plus organizations are required to present their planned expenditures or estimates for this following year to Parliament. Parliament has to be informed, has an opportunity to invite Deputies and Ministers to examine those planned expenditures before they vote. Our job is actually working with all of those departments across the Government of Canada, pulling the material together in what we call the Main Estimates, presenting that to parliamentarians, providing an overview and then Parliament pursues its study.
Main Estimates have to be tabled on or before March 1st, for the following fiscal year. If, for some reason, an item is not well enough developed in that time, there are opportunities throughout the year to come in with Supplementary Estimates in the spring, in the fall, and in the winter.
So are we doing the right thing? Are we doing the thing right? And how do we know?
We continue to work with government departments to improve performance management, measurement, metrics and transparency to Canadians."