The Role of Parliament in Curbing Corruption

By Rick Stapenhurst; Niall Johnston et al. | Go to book overview

Case Study on the Performance
of Public Accounts Committees:
A Review of the Canadian PAC, 37th Parliament

Martin Ulrich


Introduction

The following case study of the activity and results of one Westminster model public accounts committee (PAC) is an interesting reflection on points posited by the previous chapter. It is particularly illustrative of the importance of ex post scrutiny and transparency.

The Parliamentary Centre of Canada was invited by the Public Accounts Committee of the Canadian Parliament to review its practices and results at a time when it was intensely engaged in studying the Sponsorship Scandal.1 During this period, the usual collegial atmosphere of the Committee was increasingly being challenged by partisanship, likely in response to the enormous publicity the committee study was receiving and the growing belief that it would have a substantial impact on the anticipated election. There is no way of knowing with certainty the reasons that individual members of the Committee asked for the review, but the Parliamentary Centre interpreted it as a desire by experienced members on the Committee to provide a balanced and thoughtful description of the full range of Committee activity. Such a report would balance the more fractious public image during its study of the Sponsorship Program, and (as we found out during the interviews) members— although quite happy with the Committee’s performance—felt that some modest changes could enhance its value.

As it turned out, the Committee study of the Sponsorship Program likely did contribute to the governing party losing its majority status in the subsequent election, leading to a substantial change in the membership on the Committee and a short-lived 38th Parliament. Although the review was provided to the newly formed Committee, it did not formally address the study findings.

In addition to gathering and organizing information on the activities and outputs of the Committee, we interviewed active Committee members and other

1 The Sponsorship Program provided funding for community events. It was a Canadian unity initiative in response to a separation referendum in the province of Quebec. An audit report of the auditor general pointed out significant problems in its management, as well expenditures for no documented results. A subsequent commission of inquiry, led by Judge Gomery, determined that certain of the Sponsorship Program funds found their way to supporting candidates of the governing party.

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