The Québec Committee on Public Administration was created on April 10,
1997, on an experimental basis, and received permanent status five months
later following amendments to the Standing Orders. Henceforth, this new
Committee would hear the Auditor General concerning his annual report and,
in the presence of the deputy ministers and the chief executive officers
of public bodies, would examine the various matters raised in this report.
The Public Administration Act, passed in 2000, established new mechanisms
for accountability within the framework of a results-based management policy,
conferring an important role to this Committee. This article looks at the
work of this committee over the last decade.
Sponsored by Henri-François Gautrin, a Government MNA, the Act respecting
the accountability of deputy ministers and chief executive officers of
public bodies underwent lengthy consideration before finally being passed
and receiving royal assent in 1993. In effect, the passage of this Act
led to making senior public servants responsible for their administration
and enabled parliamentary committees to summon them for the purpose of
discussing their management. At the time, the carrying out of this task
was given to the sectoral committees according to their respective fields
of competence. However, this legislative initiative would serve as prelude
to the establishment of a standing parliamentary committee whose mission
would be centered exclusively on the control of the government administration.
Responsibilities of the Committee
The Standing Orders of the National Assembly attribute three main functions
to the Committee.
Examination of the financial commitments of the Ministries
The Committee must examine all financial commitments equal to or exceeding
$25,000 of all ministries and government agencies whose estimates have
been approved by the National Assembly. The purpose of this exercise is
to ensure a constant surveillance by Parliament of government expenditure,
more specifically as regards the compliance with rules and regulations
pertaining to the allocation of contracts and grants.
The work load is considerable, given that it represents an average of 20,000
financial commitments per year. In order to fulfill its obligations, the
Committee had to seek new ways of functioning.
Traditionally, a sitting to examine financial commitments always called
for the presence of the minister responsible within the framework of a
public hearing. However, in March 2004, in an effort to clear its backlog
and make this exercise more efficient, the Committee substantially revised
its operating procedures and working tools. On an almost monthly basis,
the Committee now holds a deliberative meeting to examine recent financial
commitments. Thereafter, it sends its written requests for supplementary
information to the ministries concerned. The hearing of a minister is not
excluded from the verification process, but the Committee will resort to
it only if the information obtained is insufficient or if the situation
warrants a hearing. More recently, in order to reinforce the administrative
responsibility which lies with the upper-level management of ministries
and agencies, the Committee has opted for meetings with the deputy ministers
and chairs of organizations, rather than with ministers, during the process
of examining financial commitments.
Hearing the Auditor General on his annual report to the National Assembly
The mandate to hear the Auditor General on his annual report is more or
less the fundamental reason for which the Committee on Public Administration
was established, since parliamentarians wanted to give the Auditor General
the opportunity to present the contents of his annual report to the National
Assembly. Moreover, under the provisions of the Act the Committee on Public
Administration has the power to undertake an in-depth examination of the
chapters of the Auditors annual report and to hold hearings for the purpose
of questioning the deputy ministers and chief executive officers on their
management whenever the report contains remarks and recommendations with
regard to their administration.
The Committee also verifies each year the financial commitments of the
Auditor General and holds a hearing on his own annual management report,
which explains the results obtained with regard to the objectives set forth
in his strategic plan. This meeting gives the Committee a unique opportunity
to discuss the manner in which the Auditor General is carrying out his
own mandate, the difficulties he is encountering, and the use he is making
of the resources allocated to him by the National Assembly.
Hearing deputy ministers and chief executive officers of public bodies
to discuss their management
The Public Administration Act, which replaced the Act respecting the accountability
of deputy ministers and chief executive officers of public bodies, enshrines
the principle of oversight by giving the competent committee the obligation
to hear the deputy ministers and the chief executive officers of public
bodies concerning their management. It aims at a better administration
of the public service, with emphasis on results.
On the one hand, government decentralizes and allows for more flexibility
in the decision-making, giving administrators more responsibility. On the
other hand, the Act requires increased accountability and obliges ministries,
organizations and agencies to produce a declaration of services offered
to the population, with clear objectives as to quality; a strategic plan
setting their objectives for a period covering several years; and an annual
management report indicating the results obtained.
Some 80 ministries and other public organizations are subject to the provisions
of this Act. This confers to a single committee the huge task of examining
a considerable amount of documents.
During the first years of its existence, the Committee concentrated its
efforts on the scrutiny of ministries and organizations mentioned in the
value-for-money audits included in the Auditor Generals Report. However,
in recent years, the Committee has added as part of its yearly work load
the examination of 16 annual management reports, which are studied in a
deliberative meeting of the Committee. The results of analyses prepared
by a team of National Assembly researchers are then presented to the Members.
Seven criteria are applied in the analysis of the management reports and
they are coherent with other tools regularly used by the Auditor General
to measure the performance of the public administration. Hence, the information
contained in the annual management reports must:
- be coherent with the other documents required by the Public Administration
- provide the basic information required for performance analysis;
- make it possible to compare the results obtained and to consider them in
their proper context;
- indicate the degree of satisfaction of the clients;
- explain the connections between the costs, the activities, the products
and services, and the results;
- state the corrections and alternatives foreseen and
- mention the capacity of the organization to maintain and improve its results.
The members of the Committee estimate whether or not an organization has
met with satisfaction the various criteria enumerated above. They address
observations to the organizations whose reports are under scrutiny and
decide whether or not they wish to convene them for a hearing in the months
to come. Their observations, conclusions and recommendations are included
in the Committees report on the accountability of deputy ministers and
chief executive officers of public bodies.
||Jacques Chagnon (WestmountSaintLouis)
||Michel Côté (La Peltrie)
||Geoffrey Kelley (Jacques-Cartier)
||Cécile Vermette (Marie-Victorin)
Solange Charest (Rimouski)
Hélène Robert (Deux-Montagnes)
||Rita Dionne-Marsolais (Rosemont)
||Pierre Marsan (Robert-Baldwin)
Sarah Perreault (Chauveau)
||Gilles Taillon (Chauveau)
||Vincent Auclair (Vimont)
Operating Procedures of the Committee
The Committee on Public Administration consists of twelve permanent members,
including five Members from the parliamentary group forming the Government,
four Members from the Official Opposition and three Members from the Second
Opposition Group. This apportionment reflects the current minority government
situation. In addition, members may take part in the proceedings, for an
entire meeting or for the duration of a term of reference, as substitutes
or as temporary members (the same apportionment as that of permanent members
applies to temporary members).
As is the case in the Public Accounts Committees of all Canadian legislatures,
this Committee is chaired by a member of the Official Opposition, while
the Vice-Chair is elected from the government parliamentary group. The
following table lists the Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Committee since
its creation, in April 1997.
From its very first experiences, the Committee adopted a non partisan approach
to dealing with administrative questions. During the ten years of its existence,
all of its decisions and recommendations following the examination of a
matter have been the result of a consensus among its members.
To encourage this non partisan and consensual approach as much as possible
in the conduct of their business, the members of the Committee concentrate
essentially on the examination of management rather than on political choices
or their relevancy. They have often stressed the importance of establishing
this climate of cooperation and its usefulness for executing their mandate
of parliamentary oversight in a constructive way.
Both the physical arrangement of the room in which the Committee on Public
Administration meets and the relatively flexible way in which the debates
are organized, particularly with respect to alternance and speaking times,
reinforce this spirit of collaboration between members.
A Decade of Oversight: An Assessment
During the 35th Legislature, the Committee held 71 sittings on accountability,
for a total of more than 140 hours of work.
Throughout the 36th Legislature, efforts were concentrated on the examination
of the results of follow-ups done by the Auditor General with regard to
previous auditing and on the action undertaken by the ministries and agencies
in response to the Committees recommendations. The members invested much
of their time to this exercise: some 100 sittings for a total of 210 hours
During the 37th Legislature, the Committee held a record number of 124
sittings for the oversight of government management. The health and education
sectors were among the many different topics which held the attention of
Several hours of committee work were also set aside for the surveillance,
in the presence of their respective administrators, of the management of
ministries and public bodies who offer direct services to the population,
such as the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry responsible for Families,
Seniors and the Status of Women, as well as the Consumer Protection Agency.
Moreover, the Committee collaborates on a regular basis with the Secretariat
of the Treasury Board regarding any proposed improvements to laws and regulations
pertaining to oversight. In 2005-2006, the members actively took part in
both private and public meetings concerning the report on the implementation
of the Public Administration Act, the purpose of which was to assess the
results of its application five years after its passage.
They are happy to note that their concerns, which were expressed during
the course of numerous public hearings as well as in their oversight reports,
have been taken into account and are mentioned in the Treasury Board Secretariats
publication entitled Five years of results-based management within the
Government of Québec.
To this day, the Committee on Public Administration has tabled in the National
Assembly 19 unanimous reports on the accountability of deputy ministers
and chief executive officers, which contain 298 recommendations on a large
variety of topics.
After a decade of existence, the Committee has noticed greater transparency
on the part of the ministries and agencies under its scrutiny, as well
as growing open-mindedness with regard to its role as an overseer of government
It is interesting to observe as well that the ministries and organizations
under examination have often taken the opportunity afforded by the hearings
to make public an action plan intended to respond to the deficiencies pointed
out in either the Committees accountability reports or the Auditor Generals
value-for-money audit reports. Furthermore, appearing before the Committee
allows organizations to take stock of their programmes and to explain them
fully to the members, thus rounding out the overview furnished by the Auditor
General. They often find objective allies within the Committee to defend
their action and improve their services.
The Committee on Public Administration reveals itself as an indispensable
tool for ensuring productive oversight of the government administration.
Among other things, it promotes a better comprehension by the citizenry
of parliamentary responsibilities. It achieves this goal through dialogue
with the representatives of the public service for the sole purpose of
assuring efficient management of public funds and better services to the
The ten years during which the Committee has existed are sufficiently rich
in experience to allow us to conclude that its vision has been one of constant
and significant progress in the exercise of its oversight mission. After
having established the very basis of its parliamentary control strategy,
after having defined a framework and established powers and practices that
have been tested, the Committee has continued to refine its operating procedures
in order to accomplish its mission in the best way possible. Nonetheless,
there are still many challenges ahead.
One of the challenges in the organization of the committees business concerns
the difficulty in planning sittings within the framework of overall parliamentary
activity. According to the Standing Orders of the Assembly, an order of
reference to a committee from the Assembly has precedence over other business.
As a result, Committee sittings are apt to be cancelled or postponed whenever
a scheduling conflict arises.
As satisfying as it may be to reach a consensus regarding its value-added
recommendations, Committee members still must face the major challenge
of making sure that these recommendations are implemented by the agencies
and ministries to whom they are addressed. Follow-ups are an essential.component
Another major challenge for the members is to communicate and sensitize
both the general public and the media to their role as overseers of the
government administration. The Committee on Public Administration has distinguished
itself through innovations it has brought to the execution of its mandates
over the years. It has certainly been at the centre of all changes regarding
oversight and it continues to play a key role in the evolving implementation
of results-based management within the Québec public administration. The
Committee must now serve as an important link between the population and
the government administration, to ensure efficient and effective management
and dispensation of services.
There are still many challenges in store for this young committee which
came into existence as a pilot project, and has since evolved into a dynamic
model and a guide for all parliamentary committees who have at heart good
management practices within the government apparatus.