Canada’s 2014 CPA Public Sector Conference was hosted in Ottawa a few weeks ago with participants from St. Johns all the way to Victoria. With over 400 participants attending the conference (and another 100 attending virtually) it was wall-to-wall accountants: this could only get exciting!
The opening keynote address was delivered by Todd Hirsch, ATB Financials Chief Economist. He spoke about Economic Outlook and from his speech there seems to be good news…and bad news. On the bad news front Putin’s antics in the Ukraine could put a kybosh on economic recovery in Germany as trade sanctions between NATO countries and Russia will effect Germany significantly which will probably put the whole of the EU region back. Slower growth in China, India and Brazil will probably depress commodity prices to some extent, and of course the mess in the Middle East adds instability. On the good news front, the US economy seems to finally be recovering strongly and experiencing growth fuelled not only by consumer debt but also investment in infrastructure. Canada is likely to benefit from this growth as the USA is by far our most important trade partner. On a regional basis the Prairies and BC are currently experiencing the strongest recovery, the Atlantic Maritimes the weakest and Ontario and Quebec are still struggling, but from a reasonably strong base. There seems to be some cautious optimism.
The next speaker was Louise Levonian, Employment and Social Development Canada, Service Canada spoke about Revitalizing, Modernizing and Engaging the Public Sector, An Overview of Destination 2020. The talk was about Blueprint 2020 and the steps that have been taken so far. She puts Blueprint 2020 in context of the factors that are putting pressure on the ways in which the Public Service operates, including:
- Increasing globalization, issue complexity and interconnectedness
- Accelerating technological change
- Changing demographics
- Growing demand for accountability and the achievement of results as efficiently as possible
- Shifting workforce expectations with respect to work and workplaces
- Public servants care deeply about maintaining a high‐quality Public Service
One of the themes that have emerged from consultation with employees is a need for improved systems, operating, finance and HR. Currently this is a Federal Government initiative, but if it starts to show success then similar initiatives in other parts of the public sector are possible. In any event the need to keep improving and upgrading systems is clear, and as the surrounding technology continues to change and grow in a geometric fashion (Moore’s Law is still holding up), this will become imperative.
Tim Beauchamp of the Public Sector Account Board (PSAB) was up next with a technical update. Highlights that keeping abreast of the changes in reporting standards is important for all accountants and if you are involved in the Public sector, this in not just IFRS. The diagram below indicates which entities are governed by which standards:
One point he makes - later emphasized by Russ Jones, Auditor General from BC – is if you want to have influence over the direction taken then responding to Statement of Principles and Exposure Drafts is important. One thing that NFPs need to take note of is the desire to move them entirely onto The PSA handbook without the concession of reporting based on the 4200 series statements. The biggest impact of this will be adding budget data to the financial statements and some of the principles of revenue recognition – I suggest that clients take note and express any concerns to the PSAB.
The Conceptual Framework Update - Addressing Volatility and Budget Comparisons, by Clyde McLellan from the Auditor General covered a project that reviews public sector reporting. The most important probable changes are to amend the financial statement foundations and objectives to include:
- A new objective requiring a description of entity risks
- A new requirement to report the net cost of services as a subtotal on the statement of financial results
- Separate the reporting of non‐recurring, unusual or volatile items from those included in net cost of services in a comprehensive results statement
The last session for the day was Big Data and how is it used to make big decisions, presented by Richard Levine from the University of Toronto and Andy Potter of Deloitte. It dealt with data analysis and turning data into real information that can be used to make better business decisions. The speakers took us through a case study that U of T did to be able to predict student success better, with the aim of improving their admissions policy. This is real BI, very interesting. At Altus Dynamics, we have clients that have large data sources that could be used in this way.