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At the end of March annually, the Department of Finance releases its report to Parliament on the operations of the Bretton Woods institutions and their relationship to Canadian priorities, commitments and interests. Canada is one of only a handful of countries that report to their legislative bodies on its activities at these institutions.
The 2004 report provides some good background information on the history, mandate and operations of the institutions. It falls short, however, of providing the qualitative and quantitative information necessary to provide Canadians with an adequate picture of Canada's relations with them. As this report is, effectively, the only means by which Parliament and the public is officially informed of Canada's relations with these institutions, the lack of information creates a serious gap in public accountability and awareness.
The annual report is less an evaluation and summary of Canada's participation in the institutions than a report on the operations of the IMF and World Bank themselves. As a result, the report is not substantively analytical, but rather descriptive in nature, focused on generally summarizing institutional activities and financial information rather than defining engagement or measuring and evaluating policies, programming and financial reports. As a result of this approach, Canadians are largely unaware of how Canada is able to influence outcomes in multilateral discussions and achieve its foreign policy and developmental objectives through the Bretton Woods institutions.
The Report on the Operations Under the Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act should be responsive to the need for Canadians for a full, open and transparent accounting of Canada's activities at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. To achieve a more substantive and useful report, changes should be made to ensure detailed, analytical and comprehensive information is provided in a transparent and understandable manner with adequate follow-up and continual improvement.
The Halifax Initiative calls for the following key changes to be made in future reports. Further details are provided in the pages that follow:
- An overarching time-bound framework for Canadian programmatic engagement at the institutions should be provided to Canadians, complete with goals, objectives and results-based indicators against which success is measured and evaluated regularly.
- Issues under consideration at the institutions during the year in review should clearly be characterized, contexturalized and analyzed as a means to clearly inform Canadians both on the operations of the institutions during the period under review and Canada's perspectives on issues and activities. Both sides of particularly contentious issues should be characterized as well as the outcomes of debates and discussions on issues of concern to Canadians.
- Particulars of policy positions taken by Canadian Executive Directors should be reported in a clear and transparent manner as well as Board discussions and decisions. These are public institutions.
- Comparative analysis of year-to-year changes in priorities, concerns and challenges is essential to ensure continuity of reporting and a clear comprehension of variances. This extends to comparisons of financial commitments both year-to-year and over designated periods (ie IDA replenishment cycles) and risk analysis.
- Parliament should respond to the annual report through an annual Finance or Foreign Affairs Standing Committee hearing on its contents. This will ensure the continued evaluation and improvement of the report to meet the information needs of Canadians.
- To ensure the continuity of evaluation of Canada's operations under the Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act, Parliament should periodically evaluate Canada's relations with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
 The collective term for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.