REFLECTION: Reporting on Reports - Institute on Governance

REFLECTION: Reporting on Reports

With contribution from Shelby Torres.

What’s To Report?

Last week, Canadians saw seven parliamentary reports by Agents of Parliament on various department’s activities tabled within the House of Commons. While these kinds of reports graze the parliamentary table with relative frequency, their importance to governance and benefits to Canadians are seldom emphasized or appreciated.

So what exactly do parliamentary reports do and why should we pay attention to them?

Accountability by Informing.

Parliamentary reports are an essential accountability tool used by both government and opposition parties.  For governments, parliamentary reports communicate important information to the public and promote transparency. 

The Government of Canada is Canada’s largest employer with thousands of entities with varying mandates serving citizens. Parliamentary reports provide a key role in consolidating information from across institutions and communicating it back to the public. 

Canada’s Auditor General Karen Hogan’s recent Reports entitled Regional Relief and Recovery Fund and Enforcement of COVID Quarantine and Testing Orders respectively, are great examples of both keeping Canadians informed and a window into internal activity and resource decisions using public funds.

Improving Service Delivery.

Parliamentary reports, particularly from the Auditor General, also provide decision-makers and governing institutions recommendations on how those institutions can improve program delivery and service to Canadians. You can’t improve a program or fix a problem if you don’t know it’s needed – and you cannot mark your own homework so to speak. 

Reports such as Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux’s Family Wealth Distribution in Canada provides insight into wealth distribution inequality that Canadians may not otherwise be unaware of. An informed public is essential in a healthy representative democracy. 

Politicians are generally attuned to an informed and engaged public, and usually appeal to their citizen’s sensibilities at least every four years.

A Demonstration of Progress – or a lack thereof.

Ministries also release annual reports on important priorities in order to highlight actions and ideally progress.

Women and Gender Equality Canada releases an annual report on Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, highlighting the government’s efforts to support causes that Canadians have deemed important, such as gender equality. Reports such as these let Canadians know public institutions are performing as they should or not.

Other reports such as Commissions of Inquiry, provide the public with a deeper understanding of controversial issues of the day. Both the Final Report from the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women as  well as the Calls to Action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada legitimized Indigenous Voices.

These reports demonstrated the need that the government must address societal inequities that span decades if not generations. While some may believe these reports have been relatively ineffective at providing timely solutions, they have informed Canadians on the inequalities faced by marginalized communities and provide non-Indigenous citizens knowledge to demand better from their government. 

Good Governance means Good Reporting.

While parliamentary reports pass through the House of Commons frequently and seldom garner notoriety amongst the general public, they are nevertheless a staple of good governance that should not be discarded.

Once published or tabled, parliamentary reports help hold Canada’s institutions and political actors to account through increased transparency and sometimes the legitimization of voices of those who have historically not been heard. 

Without them, Canadians would be ill equipped to hold their representatives and public institutions into account.

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