At the time this article was
written Jean-Robert Gauthier was MP for Ottawa-Vanier. This article is based on
his address to a Canadian Study of Parliament Group Seminar in May 1993.
Let me start by quoting Peter
Drucker, a management consultant, who just published a new book entitled The
Post-Capitalist Society. "Any government, whether that of a company or a
nation, degenerates into mediocrity and malperformance if it is not clearly
accountable to someone for results."
In the climate of Public Service
2000 and increasing challenges for public servants, accountability appears as a
panacea for the woes that beset those of us working in the public sector. If
only we can improve the structures and systems of accountability, then we can
single-handedly renew the faith of cynical Canadians in their politicians and
in their public servants. We can empower public servants and boost morale. We
can trim public spending through greater efficiencies.
If we are to reach for such goals,
then we need to start at the beginning by defining what is meant by
"accountability." In one concise definition that I particularly like,
accountability is "the obligation to explain how one has used one's
responsibility." Accountability is only meaningful when used in tandem
with authority and responsibility. Authority is the ability to direct
resources, to take decisions, ensure compliance and provide services while
responsibility is the duty to respond appropriately using one's authority.
An important distinction must also
be drawn between general accountability, administrative accountability and
accountability to Parliament. As the former Clerk of the Privy Council, Gordon
Osbaldeston said in his study on the Accountability of Deputy Ministers:
The distinction drawn by deputy
ministers between general accountability, administrative accountability and
accountability to Parliament is important in terms of maintaining the integrity
of the parliamentary system of accountability. For example, if deputy ministers
received their instructions or orders directly from parliamentary committees,
they would be less accountable to ministers and to government. If the deputy
ministers felt that they were accountable to their clients, in addition to the
minister, their actions could impede the duties of the democratically elected
The dilemma is clear. In a
parliamentary democracy, defining powers, duties and controls is essential to
order and good government.
I would wager that we would all
agree that a profound malaise exists within the federal bureaucracy. A sort of
bureaucratic paralysis has set in in virtually all areas of the machinery of
To extract ourselves from this
predicament, we have only one option, namely to make public managers
"accountable" by imposing a new bureaucratic culture. We must instil
in them concern for efficiency, effectiveness and administrative simplicity.
Henceforth, they must be motivated by their performance, by their desire to
meet objectives, to consistently improve services and satisfy clients,
precisely as if they worked in the private sector.
Mention is often made of
entrepreneurship in the private sector. The Austrian economist Schumpeter
clearly demonstrated how entrepreneurial spirit stimulated new ideas. Now, we
must speak of "intrapreneurship", that is to say the creation of
entrepreneurial ideas originating from within large organizations. This
entrepreneurial revolution must also take place within the federal administration.
In order for public servants to set
for themselves the goal of achieving the best possible performance within an
organization, the power to make decisions must be delegated to them.
Public servants must also stop
giving in blindly to bureaucratic constraints. They must adjust to specific
situations and to the needs of the public. We must rely on the judgment of
public servants and trust in their creative ideas.
In December 1990, the federal
government announced the launch of Public Service 2000, an initiative aimed at
reforming the federal public service, at providing better service to Canadians
and to breathing new life into the institution. One of the goals of the reform
process was to stimulate creativity among public servants. To achieve this end,
the government proposed to radically overhaul the way in which it managed human
resources. Preparations are under way to deregulate the bureaucracy and to
inspire public servants to excel.
This type of reform is desirable.
The time has come to stimulate a public service that has grown demoralized and
that is bound by controls and restrictive processes that limit innovation. This
bureaucratic reform process does, however, present one problem. PS 2000 makes
no provisions for reconciling the delegation of decision-making authority with
the requirement for accountability.
As part of the process of public
service reform, accountability, parliamentary control and the entrepreneurial
ideas of public servants must be reconciled. Decision-making bodies must be
held accountable to taxpayers and demonstrate how their innovative ideas have
been beneficial. Public servants must carry out the wishes of Parliament and
meet its requirements. Overly rigid controls on public servants would
jeopardize the very objectives of Public Service 2000, but we must also be
careful not to reduce parliamentary control.
I believe that we should review how
the present parliamentary committee system works. It is a parliamentary
structure that needs to be modernized to make it more responsive to public
expectations, and more efficient by giving Members of Parliament greater
authority and powers.
The Public Accounts Committee,
which I chair, is ostensibly the conduit to Parliament for the Office of the
Auditor General, and is the only reason for the existence of this committee.
Yet the committee has no authority over the Office of the Auditor General. We
are not consulted on priorities in its program of audits. We play no role in
budget setting although we do look at the estimates once they are established.
We cannot even protect the Auditor General if he gets squeezed by the media.
Sometimes we wonder if the Office of the Auditor General in its annual
reporting to Parliament with pre-release secrecy, lock-up, and all the media
hoopla is really building up populist appeal and street power at the expense of
the representative institutions of government and Parliament.
Last November, the committee
travelled to Britain to examine how the system works over there. In Britain,
the Comptroller and Auditor General are named by Parliament on the
recommendation of the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee. The
expenditure plan for the Office of the Comptroller and the Auditor General are
reviewed by an audit commission that overlaps the Public Accounts Committee
before they become estimates and can no longer be changed.
Real reform must touch Parliament
and the committee system. Canadians are demanding more accountability from
their parliamentary institutions. More visible and effective accountability
could go a long way to answering this demand.
As you know, once the estimates are
tabled in the House, they are "untouchable". Even the estimates for
the Office of the Auditor General are frozen into the formal estimates of other
departments. In my view, this costs the Office of the Auditor General something
in terms of its democratic legitimacy. The power of the Office of the Auditor
General is diluted with other government estimates and Parliament's role of
scrutiny of the financial cycle is on auto pilot. This in my view explains why
many Members of Parliament have abdicated their role on committees as
representatives of their electors. The system is not working, the system needs
I often hear the proposal that if
MPs were allowed more free votes, Parliament would work better. The only free
vote that I know of is the secret vote, and that is not in the interest of more
visible and effective accountability. What we need is an in-depth reform of
parliamentary institutions so that members can fully participate in meaningful
The time has come to make sweeping
changes in the way public funds are managed and how public management is
evaluated. Given the current climate of budgetary austerity, which is likely to
continue for a number of years, improving the quality of public management is
probably the only remaining means of maintaining government programs.
We must contemplate a new
partnership between senior managers and parliamentarians. Accountability should
be decentralized in the same way power is decentralized. Furthermore,
confrontation must become a thing of the past. As long as public servants
continue to be the targets of unfair criticism, they will refuse to be properly
accountable to parliamentary committees. Elected representatives and senior
public servants must trust each other if they are to find a way to improve
managers' accountability, otherwise we will always be hesitant to give public
servants greater decision-making powers.
We must create a climate of mutual
respect and trust between Parliament and senior public servants. We must find a
way to better reconcile bureaucratic objectives with political objectives.
Politicians, policy-makers, and policy executors must all view themselves as
partners working together to improve the well-being of all Canadians.