Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Symbol of the Government of Canada

ARCHIVED - Getting Government Right - Governing for Canadians

Warning This page has been archived.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

President's Message

In 1993, a profound change in Canadian government began: we started restructuring our administrative systems to respond to the needs of Canadians.

It is with great pride that I submit to you Getting Government Right: Governing for Canadians. It is both a status report and a description of the tools we are using.

Getting Government Right marks a turning point in taking control of government spending and transforming the structure of the Canadian public service and the programs it offers citizens.

After four years of effort, we have succeeded in reducing the size of government. We have approached 'getting government right' by linking performance to results and accountability. Through our changes, we have reclaimed our fiscal sovereignty enabling Canadians to choose the kind of society they want to build. Program spending today reflects the interests of Canadians.

Program Review achieved its results in large part because of the dedication, hard work, and determination of the Canadian public service. These women and men continue to give their strong support for our work. They will always play the key role in making the changes necessary to achieve excellence and deliver services of superior and consistent quality to Canadians.

In today's global marketplace, the federal government must manage change and emphasize efficiency in administration. Our collective challenge is to master new ways of doing things while safeguarding the rights of Canadians.

We are creating a new culture in the Public Service. Getting Government Right reflects our approach to government. Day by day, we are modernizing the structures of government so that we will have an administration ready to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

In the spirit of our ongoing quest for quality, I encourage your comments and suggestions.


Hon. Marcel Mass,
The President of the Treasury Board

Introduction: Crossing the Watershed

These Main Estimates represent a watershed in controlling government expenditures and delivering modern, high-quality public services. Just four years ago, it appeared to many that Canada's public finances were out of control. There was widespread talk of a fiscal crisis that would call into question Canada's ability to provide the services its citizens had come to expect. It was said that Canada had become too expensive, that we could no longer afford the society that our parents and grandparents had built.

 By 1998-99, the percentage of the gross domestic product needed to support all federal government programs will be at its lowest level since 1949-50.

By 1998-99, the percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) needed to support all federal government programs will be at its lowest level since 1949-50. While achieving this level will require determination to stay the course set out in the last four Budgets, no new reductions are required. After four years of arduous effort – of program review, redesign, sacrifice and renewal –federal program expenditures (all federal government expenditures except interest on the debt) will demand no more than 11.9 per cent of GDP in 1998-99. The programs and services made possible by these expenditures remain the envy of the world. We have tightened and trimmed non-essential spending and dramatically increased efficiency. We have proven that we can afford Canada.

In doing so, we have succeeded during a time of dramatic change, just as our forebears did in 1949-50. The Public Accounts of that year show that years of restraint had succeeded in reducing the war debt. These Accounts were the first to include expenditures for federal services in Newfoundland and to show that the defence budget was beginning to rise again because of the Cold War. The Accounts show a mix of requirements very different from those of today: defence and veterans affairs accounted for 31 per cent of program expenditures and social services accounted for 24 per cent, while total transfers to provinces amounted to only 5 per cent. Provinces and municipalities accounted for only 11 per cent of all government expenditures in Canada in the immediate post-war period.

The Dominion Bureau of Statistics' Canada Year Book for 1949 outlines the basic facts of a country of some 12.6 million inhabitants. For example, 75 per cent of all immigrants came from the United Kingdom or the United States, and 26 per cent of the labour force worked in agriculture. With justifiable pride, the Year Book notes that Canada's unemployment rate was just 1.5 per cent, even though the economy had shifted from one based on war to one based on peace. Per-capita gross national product (GNP) was some $1,063. In real terms, this represented an improvement of over 50 per cent since the Depression. Inflation of over 11 per cent was a nagging worry, in spite of continuing price controls. A complex structure of wartime subsidies had been almost totally dismantled; the last subsidies on the import of crude oil into the prairie provinces had been cancelled two years earlier.

The 1997 Canada Year Book chronicles a country of nearly 30 million people – a complex, rich, multicultural state whose major sources of immigration are no longer the United Kingdom and the United States. Real per-capita GDP has grown by over 180 per cent since 1949. The agricultural labour force, though still a vital part of the national economy, now comprises less than 3 per cent of all workers. Transfers to other levels of government now account for 19 per cent of the federal government's program expenditures. The provincial and municipal share of total government expenditures has increased to nearly 50 per cent, clearly demonstrating the decentralization of government power in Canada. Of course, the story of dramatic change to a more abundant, more sophisticated and, perhaps, more chaotic lifestyle over the last 50 years is well known. It is, nevertheless, worthwhile from time to time to step back and contemplate just how far-reaching, and how rapid, the change has really been.

Nowhere has change been more dramatic than in the public sector. We have built complex systems of social support, economic development promotion, health and education, scientific research, cultural development and environmental management. Many of these services are central to our conception of who we are as Canadians. And, after a long period of expenditures too great for the economy to bear, we are learning how to provide them within our means. We are learning that fiscal prudence is compatible with the society our elders struggled to build.

We can clearly afford financial burdens no more onerous than those of a generation ago. The expenditure plan represented by the 1997-98 Main Estimates is sustainable. The complex, caring, modern society we have built, and the structure of government programs and services that support it, are not at risk in this plan. The additional burden of debt service is a real concern, but one we can manage in a growing economy. We can take quiet satisfaction in having regained our fiscal sovereignty.

Canada's public services are an essential part of the country's standard of living, a standard that regularly places Canada at the top in international comparisons. (The reforms of the past four years in federal program design and delivery have controlled costs while maintaining the essential quality of those services and redirecting them where they are most needed.) However, the sacrifices that have been required cannot be trivialized. Subsidies that many businesses had come to rely on have been dramatically reduced. The government now charges fees for some services that were previously free. Cutbacks to services have affected many clients of government programs. We will face more challenges in implementing the specific measures of Program Review over the next two years, and in fulfilling the new management philosophy inherent in it and in the Expenditure Management System. Public Service employees, in particular, have been called on to rethink fundamentally everything they do. The adjustment costs for Public Service employees have been very real, but the government has treated employees affected by downsizing fairly and equitably.

The vision on the other side of this watershed is of a country able to make its own choices about the kind of society it wants to maintain. A country whose national Public Service is the envy of the world. A country whose public programs benefit from continuous improvement, professional management and responsive, cooperative, citizen-centred delivery.