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Canada

Financial Transparency and Accountability (CA0065)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Canada Action Plan 2018-2020

Action Plan Cycle: 2018

Status: Active

Institutions

Lead Institution: Department of Finance Canada (FIN); Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC); Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS); other departments and agencies across the Government of Canada

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Access to Information, Anti-Corruption, E-Government, Fiscal Openness, Gender, Marginalized Communities, Open Contracting and Public Procurement, Open Data, Public Procurement, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: Canada Design Report 2018-2020

Starred: Pending IRM Review

Early Results: Pending IRM Review

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion: Pending IRM Review

Description

Financial transparency and accountability
Issue to be addressed
Many Canadians find it difficult to understand how the government spends their tax dollars.
Governments can improve financial transparency by providing tools and information to make
their spending easier to understand and by releasing more detailed information to allow
citizens to hold governments to account.
Commitment
The Government of Canada will continue to improve the transparency of its spending and its
open contracting to make it easier for Canadians to understand federal budgets, track funding
decisions, and examine government procurement and spending processes. We will:
• make government budget and spending information easier to find and understand
• publish an analysis of gender-based impacts for all Budget measures5
• ensure Canadians have access to open data on Government of Canada procurement
• explore adoption of common contracting data standards across Canada
Lead department(s)
Department of Finance Canada (FIN); Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC); Treasury
Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS); other departments and agencies across the Government of
Canada
Milestones
What will we do? How we will know we succeeded? What is our
deadline?
2.1 Make government budget
and spending information
easier for Canadians to find and
understand
Parliamentarians and Canadians are
engaged in reviewing the Government’s
progress in improving the timeliness,
completeness, and transparency of the
Budget and Main Estimates
October 2019

5. This type of analysis is known in the Government of Canada as Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+). GBA+ is an
analytical tool used to assess how diverse groups of women, men, and gender-diverse people may experience
policies, programs, and initiatives. The “Plus” in GBA+ acknowledges that GBA goes beyond biological (sex) and
socio-cultural (gender) differences. We all have multiple identity factors that intersect to make us who we are, so
GBA+ also considers many other identity factors, like race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability.
19
What will we do? How we will know we succeeded? What is our
deadline?
(FIN/TBS) Based on feedback received in the
engagement above, recommendations
are published on the approach to the
Budget and Main Estimates for 2020 to
2021 and future years
February 2020
The description and detail of budget
spending plans is improved, including
more detailed information on budget
allocation by department
February to
March 2019
GC InfoBase is expanded to allow
Canadians to easily follow funding and
results, from announcement to
implementation, for all Government of
Canada programs
March 2019
Government of Canada Guidelines on the
Reporting of Grants and Contributions
Awards are updated to ensure proactive
disclosure of grants and contributions
data continues to meet Canada’s legal
and policy requirements
June 2020
2.2 Publish the Gender-based
Analysis Plus (GBA+) for all new
announced budget expenditure
and tax measures in future
budgets
(FIN)
Canadians and Parliamentarians have
access to information on the gender and
diversity impacts of budget measures.
February to
March 2019
2.3 Ensure Canadians have
access to open data on
Government of Canada
procurement
(PSPC/TBS)
Pilot data that tests the implementation
of the Open Contracting Data Standard
(OCDS) is undertaken, which includes a
cross-section of at least 300 contract
records for a variety of contracts,
including major projects. Pilot data will
include all stages of the procurement
cycle (planning, tender, award, contract,
and implementation).
December 2019
20
What will we do? How we will know we succeeded? What is our
deadline?
3 to 5 public workshops on open
contracting are held to analyze what
types of contracting data are currently
available and assess barriers to releasing
open contracting data.
• The workshops consider the results
of the open data pilot.
• Workshops include participation
from civil society, procurement
experts, and industry
representatives.
• A report is developed outlining input
received and recommendations
developed during the workshops.
June 2020
Tender, award, and contract data aligned
with the Open Contracting Data Standard
(OCDS) is published for all contracts for
fiscal years 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to
2018. Data is published on
open.canada.ca and is updated on a
regular schedule.
August 2020
PSPC’s new e Procurement Solution (EPS)
is designed to increase the release of
open contracting data for all PSPC
contracting records. A report is published
on progress in developing the EPS,
including reporting on progress in aligning
open contracting data with the
international Open Contracting Data
Standard (OCDS)
June 2020
Government of Canada Guidelines on
Proactive Disclosure of Contracts are
updated to ensure proactive disclosure of
contracts data continues to meet
Canada’s legal and policy requirements
June 2020
21
What will we do? How we will know we succeeded? What is our
deadline?
2.4 Explore adoption of
common contracting data
standards across Canada
(PSPC)
Representatives of federal government
and provincial and territorial
governments have met to discuss
potential adoption of common
contracting data standard for tender
notices
August 2019
Government officials have further
explored adoption of common
contracting data standards across the
broader procurement cycle
June 2020

IRM Midterm Status Summary

2. Financial transparency and accountability

The Government of Canada will continue to improve the transparency of its spending and its open contracting to make it easier for Canadians to understand federal budgets, track funding decisions, and examine government procurement and spending processes. We will:

  • make government budget and spending information easier to find and understand
  • publish an analysis of gender-based impacts for all Budget measures
  • ensure Canadians have access to open data on Government of Canada procurement
  • explore adoption of common contracting data standards across Canada

Milestones

2.1 Make government budget and spending information easier for Canadians to find and understand (Department of Finance Canada / Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat)

2.2 Publish the Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) for all new announced budget expenditure and tax measures in future budgets (Department of Finance Canada)

2.3 Ensure Canadians have access to open data on Government of Canada procurement (Public Services and Procurement Canada / Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat)

2.4 Explore adoption of common contracting data standards across Canada (Public Services and Procurement Canada)

For more details about the commitment text, milestones, self-identified success criteria, and estimated completion dates see, https://open.canada.ca/en/content/canadas-2018-2020-national-action-plan-open-government#toc3-4

Start Date: August 2019

Commitment Overview

Verifiability

OGP Value Relevance (as written)

Potential Impact

Completion

Did It Open Government?

Not specific enough to be verifiable

Specific enough to be verifiable

Access to Information

Civic Participation

Public Accountability

Technology & Innovation for Transparency & Accountability

None

Minor

Moderate

Transformative

Not Started

Limited

Substantial

Completed

Worsened

Did Not Change

Marginal

Major

Outstanding

2. Overall

Assessed at the end of action plan cycle.

Assessed at the end of action plan cycle.

End Date: Varies according to milestone

Context and Objectives

This commitment builds on Commitments 9 and 10 from Canada’s third action plan. [7] Its aim is twofold. First, to make it easier for Canadians to find information about government spending, to understand federal budgets, to track funding decisions, and to examine government procurement processes. Second, to improve the transparency of government spending and open contracting. As written, the commitment offers no indication of the current state of affairs regarding the fiscal transparency and accountability of the Canadian government, the change that is meant to emerge from its implementation, or the target audience (e.g., journalists? researchers? academics? industry? average persons?) for these information resources.

This commitment aligns with the OGP value of Access to Information. However, the extent to which the milestones align with OGP values is mixed. Milestones 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 and their accompanying criteria for assessing success may contribute, in varying degrees, to improving financial transparency and accountability insofar as emphasis is placed on opening access to government-held information and data. The proposed expanding of the GC InfoBase, the updating of Guidelines on the Reporting of Grants and Contributions Awards and Guidelines on Proactive Disclosure of Contracts, the making available of information about the impacts of budget expenditures and tax measures on gender and diversity, the piloting and continued examination of open and common contracting data standards (OCDS) in procurement cycles, and continuing government exploration of common standards are all encouraging steps. Milestone 2.4 focuses on inter- and intra-governmental dialogue. Based on the value definitions provided in the IRM Procedures Manual, it is unclear how it aligns with any of the four OGP values.

Milestones 2.2 [8] and 2.3 [9] are easily verifiable (i.e., either the proposed activity has taken place, or it has not). Milestones 2.1 is verifiable subject to exercising some degree of interpretation in terms of measurability. This is particularly so for some of the specified success indicators and is perhaps best summed up in the observation of an individual who submitted google docs comments about the July-August 2018 draft version of the commitment. In commenting to the success criterion – Parliamentarians and Canadians are engaged in reviewing the Government’s progress in improving the timeliness, completeness, and transparency of the Budget and Main Estimates – this individual simply wrote “How do you plan to measure this?[10] The point here is that even if each of the five success criteria for milestone 2.1 are realised, it is not clear how one can conclude that Canadians would henceforth find it easier to identify and understand government budget and spending information.

Milestone 2.4 comprises an activity that is both complementary to and necessary for improving government financial transparency. In this instance, the purpose of the milestone is ‘to explore’ and an indicator of success is ‘to have further explored.’ The vagueness of both the milestone and the proposed indicators of success renders its verifiability subject to exceedingly broad parameters of interpretation.

Overall, this commitment and its milestones reflect a continued recognition of the ever-increasing importance of public procurement transparency. It is, in the words of Lindsey Marchessault, a Director of the Open Contracting Partnership [11] and civil society member of the MSF, “a step in the right direction” that “reflects a series of compromises” and which as a whole is “not a particularly ambitious commitment.” This view is echoed in comments received in google docs about the July-August 2018 draft commitment. As one anonymous contributor wrote, [12]

Futher [sic] explore - wouldn't it be better to see this rolled [adoption of common data standards across the procurement cycle] out at the end of our past-presidency for the OGP? That would be a huge win!

Bearing in mind this is the third consecutive action plan to include commitments aimed at enhancing the transparency of government budget spending and procurement, Commitment 2 and its milestones do nevertheless constitute another incremental, positive step in working toward enhancing financial transparency and accountability. As such, it is assessed as having a minor potential impact on open government in Canada.

Next steps

At the end of Canada’s third action plan the GoC was informed of the “lack of meaningful progress on expanding the publication of planning and implementation information” and was alerted to the importance “of revamping the use of organisational identifiers” and thereby “improve[ing] the quality of data by standardising the way it is identified and tagged across departments.” [13] Milestone 2.3 seemingly commits the government to dealing with this issue insofar as it entails using pilot data to test the implementation of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), conducting workshops with private sector and civil society representatives to assess the results of the pilot, and publishing tender, award, and contract data aligned with the OCDS. Committing to rolling out the OCDS in this fourth action plan would have comprised a more ambitious and impact/result centred commitment than currently is the case. In moving forward, it is important to recognize:

  • that the activities set out in this commitment comprise only one part of the answer to improving public procurement transparency. There is a concomitant need to invest in catalyzing stakeholder involvement in procurement processes; and
  • the success of improving public procurement transparency and educating Canadians hinges on regular and prompt publication of government procurement information. Information that is not timely is of diminished value for accountability, commercial, educational, and journalistic purposes.
[7] Government of Canada. Third Biennial Plan to the Open Government Partnership (2016-18). http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Canada_AP3.pdf
[8] There is need for caution in equating the publication of Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) for all new announced budget expenditures and tax measures, and the release of open data about GoC procurement on the one hand, with Canadians being able to access and make use of such information on the other hand. Put simply, making data and information available does not ensure access or use. See, for example, Ruimy, Dan (2018). Broadband Connectivity in Rural Canada: Overcoming the Digital Divide. Report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. April. https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/INDU/Reports/RP9711342/indurp11/indurp11-e.pdf. See also, Huynh, Annalise, and Malli, Nisa (2018). Levelling Up: The quest for digital literacy. Brookfield Institute. June https://brookfieldinstitute.ca/wp-content/uploads/Level-Up-report-FINAL-online.pdf
[9] Although milestone 2.3 is ‘verifiable’, it must be borne in mind that in verifying this milestone there is a difference between publishing a pilot test as a compliance exercise and which has very limited information about simple constraints versus publishing a pilot test that offers extensive coverage of various types of projects that is oriented toward generating lessons to inform future reforms.
[12] Ibid.,
[13] Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM): Canada End-of-Term Report 2016-2018. p. 31. https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Canada_End-Term_Report_2016-2018_EN.pdf

Commitments

Open Government Partnership