With pandemic financial supports to Canadians being extended and many spending initiatives including a major new childcare program announced, it is more important than ever that the government invest in its own financial management and audit capacities. 

As highlighted by the Auditor General only a few short weeks ago, public confidence in such wide-ranging and complex programs depends on the ability to reconcile and account for the money spent, especially in the form of post-payment verification. Investing in the CT Community is the best way to do just that. ACFO-ACAF members aren’t just finance and audit experts, they understand the realities of the public service and the unique rules and processes in place.  

“We’ve seen in recent weeks that government spending on external consultants and contractors has overshadowed growth in the public service itself,” noted Dany Richard, ACFO-ACAF President. “That’s a worrying trend at the best of times but it’s even more so now, when internal capacity and institutional knowledge is so key to ensuring due diligence is carried out.” 

Budget 2021 provides for long overdue investments in some key enabling infrastructure for the public service: namely better and more robust data collection for measuring the impact of government operations and funding for IT modernization. While these investments are welcome —and largely funded by proposed reductions in government travel — it’s critical that this work, from program design through costing and implementation, is done by public service workers with an eye to long-term sustainability, not external consultants.  

Whistleblower protection needed 

Richard also took the opportunity to, once again, call on the government to move forward with improvements to whistleblower protection, especially as spending remains at historic levels. 

“Budget 2021 confirms that stimulus spending isn’t going away soon; it’s not only vital that the government invest in financial management and audit professionals, these professionals need to be empowered to act when they see wrongdoing – and to do so without fear of reprisal.” 

The House operations and estimates committee produced a report in 2017 that included several recommendations advanced by ACFO-ACAF that would improve whistleblower protection for federal public service workers, but the report was never enacted. Protecting federal whistleblowers, government accountants and auditors would aid in holding government spending to account, as Richard has made clear in the past. 

Diversity and representation in the public service 

Among the many measures outlined in the budget related to equality and diversity, ACFO-ACAF welcomes the specific stated commitment in the budget to amend the Public Service Employment Act “to affirm the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce [in the federal public service] and avoid biases and barriers in hiring” and look forward to hearing more about how this will take place, especially since no money has been committed to supporting the effort. 

“Improvements are needed to the staffing system on many fronts but perhaps none more important than eliminating barriers to true diversity and representation at all levels,” said Richard. “We are eager to learn more about what is being proposed and hope that ACFO-ACAF and our union partners are consulted in a meaningful way as these changes are drafted.” 

Other welcome measures 

Budget 2021 also includes many initiatives, programs and measures of interest to the ACFO-ACAF community. 

  • Efforts to further crack down on tax avoidance, particularly cross-border tax avoidance and tighter restrictions on transfer pricing schemes, should help capture revenue that’s long been owed to the public treasury but never collected. 
  • The creation of a Data Commissioner to inform government and business approaches to data-driven issues while balancing privacy issues with the need to innovate should help bring greater clarity to the adoption of artificial intelligence and related technologies, both inside government and across other industries. 
  • Funding to eliminate backlogs related to the Phoenix pay system has been extended through 2022-23. 
  • Funding has also been committed in 2021-22 and 2022-23 for improvements to the public service classification system, which should help the transition to the CT Community. Additional funding has been committed in 2021-22 to maintain program integrity at Public Services and Procurement Canada “to continue service delivery to departments and agencies, maintain salaries and support employee safety.” ACFO-ACAF will be looking for more detail on this funding. 
  • The government’s commitment to expanding resources in the effort to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the military are welcome. 
  • Funding has been committed for the creation of a regional development agency serving British Columbia, separate from Western Economic Diversification Canada, which will continue to fund programs in Alberta and across the prairies.