Strengthening Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Estimates

Article 9 / 13 , Vol 35 No 4 (Winter)

Strengthening Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Estimates

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates has a mandate, amongst other matters, to review and report on the process for considering the estimates and supply. The Committee began a review of this issue in February 2012. It held 13 meetings and heard from 31 witnesses, including knowledge observers, academics, departmental officials, and international experts. On June 20, 2012, the Committee presented its report to the House of Commons. The report made 16 recommendations to improve the procedures, structure, and support related to parliamentary scrutiny of the estimates. The government presented its response to the report on October 18, 2012. This article summarizes the report’s observations and recommendations, as well as the government’s response.

One of the fundamental roles of Parliament is to review and authorize the government’s expenditure of public funds. To this end, the government presents its spending plans to Parliament in the form of “estimates,” which are then referred to and scrutinized by the appropriate standing committee. In this way, Parliament can hold the government to account for its spending. However, it has long been acknowledged that Parliament does not effectively fulfill its role and standing committees are at best making a cursory review of the government’s spending plans.