The Reporting Cycle for Government Expenditures
The reporting cycle for government expenditures establishes events leading up to the tabling of various documents and processes related to the government’s Budget and expenditure plans.
The primary documents are:
- The Budget, prepared by the Minister of Finance, which outlines the government’s revenue projections and spending obligations;
- Estimates documents, which specify spending plans in greater detail; and
- Public Accounts of Canada, which provide audited financial statements and represent the major accountability report of the Government of Canada.
These documents provide parliamentarians with financial and non-financial information to review and make decisions on the use of public funds by the government.
The fiscal year of the Government of Canada runs from April 1 to March 31. Each fiscal year is divided into three parliamentary supply periods. Supply is the process by which the government asks Parliament to appropriate funds in support of approved programs and services. Supply periods are designated as follows:
- First period: April 1 to June 23
- Second period: June 24 to December 10
- Third period: December 11 to March 26
The reporting cycle starts with the presentation of the Budget by the Minister of Finance and the tabling of the Main Estimates by the President of the Treasury Board, followed by the associated interim supply bill to request initial funding to cover the first three months of the new fiscal year.
Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the Main Estimates must be tabled on or before March 1. The Budget is generally presented in the January to March timeframe; although there is no legal requirement to do so. The Interim Supply Bill is to be approved by Parliament prior to the start of the new fiscal year on April 1. This ensures that the necessary expenditure authority to move government priorities forward is in place for the coming year. Changes and updates to planned spending are presented in the Supplementary Estimates, which are identified in an alphabetical sequence (A, B, C, etc.).
First Supply Period (April 1 to June 23)
Under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, the Main Estimates must be tabled on or before March 1 of the preceding fiscal year. The second bill for the Main Estimates, called the full supply bill, requesting the balance of the funding presented in the Main Estimates, is introduced in the House of Commons and voted on in June.
As well, the first Supplementary Estimates (A) documents of the fiscal year are tabled in May. Supplementary Estimates present information on spending that was not ready in time to be included in the Main Estimates. The related supply bill to appropriate funds is introduced in the House of Commons and voted on in June.
Second Supply Period (June 24 to December 10)
In the second supply period, the Public Accounts of Canada for the previous fiscal year is tabled by the President of the Treasury Board. This document reflects the Government of Canada’s audited financial statements and other detailed financial information for the recently completed fiscal year. These are prepared jointly by the Receiver General for Canada (Public Works and Government Services Canada), the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Finance Canada.
Departmental Performance Reports are also tabled during the second supply period. These reports complement the Public Accounts of Canada by providing organizational detail on results and performance from the recently completed fiscal year. Departments and agencies that tabled a Report on Plans and Priorities in Parliament during the previous fiscal year must also table a Departmental Performance Report.
In addition, the Economic Fiscal Update is prepared during this period by the Department of Finance. It provides an update to information outlined in the Budget, presented by the Minister of Finance.
Third Supply Period (December 11 to March 26)
During the third supply period, the third set of Supplementary Estimates documents, Supplementary Estimates (C) is tabled in February, if required, and the related supply bill is introduced in the House of Commons and voted on in March.
Also during this third period, and in preparation for the next fiscal year, the Main Estimates must be tabled on or before March 1. Normally they are tabled in late February. Because they are tabled so close to the government’s annual Budget (prepared by the Minister of Finance), it is not always possible to include detailed budget-related plans and priorities in the Main Estimates document. Once departments, agencies and Crown corporations are able to provide the necessary level of detail for budget-related requirements, these and other adjustments to the spending plans are presented in subsequent Supplementary Estimates documents.
Funding for the Main Estimates is requested through two different supply bills: an interim supply bill and a full supply bill. The interim supply bill provides funds to federal organizations for the first three months of the fiscal year. It is introduced in the House of Commons during the third supply period and voted on in March. The full supply bill provides the balance of the funding presented in the Main Estimates. It is introduced during the first supply period and is voted on in June.
The last Estimates document to be tabled each year is the departmental Report on Plans and Priorities (RPP). This is a forward-looking document that each department and agency (excluding Crown corporations) must prepare. It outlines an organization’s key plans and priorities for the coming fiscal year and the two following years. RPP documents must be tabled in Parliament on or before March 31 of each year.
Supplying the necessary documentation on government expenditures on a cyclical basis helps parliamentarians better understand how taxpayer money is being spent. It also ensures that their decisions are based on relevant and updated information.
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