By The Canadian Press - Friday, March 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
Verbatim excerpts from commentary, editorials and news releases on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s federal…
Verbatim excerpts from commentary, editorials and news releases on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s federal budget:
By Scott Gilmore - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 6:33 PM - 0 Comments
Scott Gilmore explains why it makes good sense to put the team in the same locker room
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which provides humanitarian relief and fights poverty overseas, is being merged with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. While most Canadians would see this as a boring bureaucratic footnote, a precious few believe it to be the death of “Canada the Good.” Both views are wrong.
CIDA spends approximately $4 billion a year in some of the world’s poorest countries. This money has saved or changed the lives of millions, providing access to AIDS treatments, building schools, and strengthening emerging democracies. In many parts of the world, like rural Afghanistan, CIDA is Canada’s calling card. A significant change to this agency is not meaningless; it will affect a great number of people and the way we are viewed as a nation.
But this particular change is a good one, and marks a strengthening of our aid program, not its destruction. For years, people inside and outside the Canadian government have complained about the lack of co-ordination between the CIDA and other agencies. I remember listening to a CIDA staffer explain to me once: “It may be a government of Canada priority, but it is not a CIDA priority.” In some of our embassies, the development and diplomat staff would work in respectful ignorance of each other. In others, it was openly hostile.
This changed significantly in recent years, heralded by the successful “Whole of Government” or “3D” approach in Afghanistan, where defence, development and diplomatic staff lived and worked together. The results were sometimes mixed, but there was a consensus that everyone came out ahead. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its peer review of CIDA, applauded this approach and recommended that it be applied more broadly. If the teammates need to co-ordinate better, putting them in the same locker room is a logical step.
Diplomats won’t be the only other ones in that locker room. The new expanded department also includes International Trade. Right now, foreign direct investment into Africa is now larger than aid transfers. This increased trade, much of it coming from Canadian mining companies, is what is winning the war on poverty. The merger will allow CIDA to work with Trade Commissioners to ensure this investment does as much good as possible for those living at the base of the economic pyramid.
Critics are calling for CIDA to be left alone, or even to be moved out as an arms-length agency. They mistake the aid industry for a sacrosanct priesthood. While the bureaucrats in CIDA do good work, it’s not holy altruism. Their developmental goals can still be reached while also supporting Canadian foreign policy and trade objectives. It is not a zero-sum game.
This reality is being recognized by the British and other European aid agencies who have adopted similar approaches. Ironically, this idea has been kicking around Ottawa for more than 15 years and has been proposed to previous governments. In a typically Canadian way, we waited until someone else adopted our good ideas, before we found the courage to do the same.
Scott Gilmore is the Founder of the social enterprise Building Markets and is a frequent critic of the aid industry.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Yesterday, Tony Clement decided it was too early to make much of the main estimates. Scott Clark and Peter DeVries argue Mr. Clement’s previous pronouncement about those estimates should be disregarded.
The President of the Treasury Board tabled the Main Estimates for 2013-14 on February 26, 2013. He claimed that “voted” expenditures were down $4.9 billion from that tabled for 2012-13 in February 2012. Although his math is correct, the statement is extremely misleading…
Voted expenditures for 2013-14 are not directly comparable to those for 2012-13, as the former includes the impact of the various expenditure reductions announced in the March 2012 Budget. The voted expenditures for 2012-13 were tabled before the March 2012 Budget and do not include any of the restraint reductions announced in the Budget. The impact of these restraint measures on departmental spending was requested by the Parliamentary Budget Officer but refused by the Government. No aggregate estimate of the March 2012 Budget expenditure restraint measures was provided in the Main Estimates for either 2012-13 or 2013-14 so that it is not possible to determine how much of the $4.9 billion decline was overstated. Given that the Estimates for these two years are not on the same basis, meaning that the statement that the 2013-14 voted expenditures are $4.9 billion lower than those tabled in 2012-13 is misleading.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 5:30 PM - 0 Comments
On Monday, Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, presented to the House of Commons the government’s main estimates. This was apparently cause for celebration. Indeed, according to Mr. Clement’s office, the main estimates “reflect the Government of Canada’s ongoing commitment to finding savings and returning to balanced budgets.”
“I think you will find that when you review the estimates, that they do reflect our commitment to sound fiscal management and the commitment to return to the balanced budget within the medium term,” Mr. Clement explained to reporters afterwards. “You will see that the estimates have decreased over the past four years so at this stage of the budgetary cycle, we are continuing to rein in spending. In fact, the estimates are down $4.9 billion from last year.”
But, with a budget still to be tabled, what importance should be attached to the estimates?
“Obviously, the budget is the main economic document of the government,” Mr. Clement clarified. “Having said that, the estimates is a signal of the direction of the government on some basic files and some basic portfolios so it is, I would call it a harbinger, perhaps, a signal of the kind of budget that we will have in 2013-2014.”
On Tuesday, a specific victory was identified and declared as Robert Goguen was sent up to note that, whatever the wild-eyed worries of the New Democrats, the main estimates showed “significant reductions” in prison spending. And lest anyone miss this point, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews followed up with a written statement sent out to reporters by his press secretary. “Last summer, we announced the closure of two prisons to save taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Toews was said to have said, “and yesterday in the Main Estimates, there were significant reductions in the cost of prisons.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Goguen and Mr. Toews, the estimates are apparently not to be taken too seriously. Or at least not quite as seriously as various members of the opposition are now taking them. At least so far as Mr. Clement is now concerned. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Tony Clement tabled the main estimates yesterday afternoon. Postmedia and iPolitics note some of the cuts that might be presaged by the estimates, depending on what is including in the federal budget, but this is a good moment to recall—see here, here, here, here, here and here—just how little is clear about how the government spends money.
The government operations committee’s report on reforming the system, including the discrepancy between the main estimates and the budget, is here.
Kevin Page’s opening statement to the committee is here.
One of the key principles underlying responsible parliamentary government is that the House of Commons holds the “power of the purse”. The House must be able to satisfy itself, as the confidence chamber, that all spending and taxation is consistent with legislation, Parliament’s intentions, and the principles of parliamentary control. When this is accomplished, Parliament is serving Canadians. In my view, this is rarely accomplished.
Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explained the system’s shortcomings in a long review posted in August 2011.
The reality is that Parliamentarians and Canadians in general are in the dark about what the Government is planning to spend this year. Even worse, the Government is making no effort to clear up the confusion and provide greater transparency and ultimately greater accountability.
And, of course, there is also Mr. Page’s quest for details of the government’s cuts (which is perhaps all the more reason to clarify Mr. Page’s mandate and his power to compel disclosure).
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Brisonbuster continues at the finance committee.
Last night, Mr. Brison unleashed a 14-part series of tweets to explain himself.
What’s at stake here? When the Cons use their majority to effectively suspend the rules, we’re no longer in a democracy
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 16, 2012 at 2:52 PM - 0 Comments
The Harper government announces that it has eliminated 10,980 positions within the public sector in the last six months.
“We are shrinking the size of government while minimizing impacts to employees,” said Minister Clement. “We will continue to work hard to rein in spending and find efficiencies in government operations. Our Government understands that reducing costs helps keep taxes and our debt low, which are critical to spurring growth and ensuring our long-term prosperity.”
The biggest cuts (by total number) came in Public Safety, the Canada Revenue Agency and Human Resources and Skills Development.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 3:38 PM - 0 Comments
The New Democrats and Liberals are unimpressed with the Finance Minister’s economic update. And Jim Flaherty faces the possibility that the federal budget won’t be returned to balance when the Conservative seek re-election in 2015.
Mr. Flaherty was asked at the luncheon about not being able to balance the budget during the Harper mandate, before an election scheduled for 2015. “I’ll be frank with you. I don’t play with numbers, the numbers are the numbers,” the minister bristled. He said it was not a “significant” amount.
He noted that $1.8-billion is “a little more than half a percent of the federal budget,” which is about $275-billion. “We are talking about relatively small amounts of money in the big picture,” he said. “The good news is we are on track.”
The government recently conceded that the deficit was structural.
Here is a chart from the CBC that details federal surpluses and deficits between 1963 and 2011. If you assume that today’s updated projections will hold true, the Conservatives will have run surpluses (non-adjusted) of $13.8 and $9.6 billion, followed by deficits of $5.8, $55.6, $33.4, $26.2, $26.0, $16.5 and $8.6 billion between 2006 and 2015.
As was noted around the bureau this afternoon, several of the Conservative party’s 2011 campaign promises were linked to a return to balance. Income sharing for couples with children under the age of 18, the children’s fitness tax credit, the adult fitness tax credit and doubling the tax-free savings account limit were all to be “implemented when the federal budget is balanced within our next full term of office.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
With the latest “adjustment for risk,” the Harper government projects a small deficit in 2015-2016 and a return to surplus in 2016-2017.
The return-to-surplus has been something of a moving target over the years. In March 2011, the Harper government announced that it would return the federal books to balance in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Seventeen days later, by then in an election campaign, the Conservatives promised to return to balance in 2014-2015. Seven months to the day after that, the Harper government decided it couldn’t fulfill April’s promise and went back to March’s projection.
The Globe notes that this year’s deficit is now projected to be $7 billion larger than expected.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 4:53 PM - 0 Comments
But NDP MP David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, Ont.), chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, countered that the government knew the timing meant the committee reviews would be limited. “I think our House leader nailed it right when he said it’s a charade,” Mr. Christopherson said. “The government is trying to give the impression they are acquiescing to the opposition’s request for a more detailed scrutiny of the budget implementation bill, but they are doing it in such a way that, in reality, it’s not going to happen in a way that can have any kind of impact,” he said. “It’s all a charade, it’s all a game. It’s unfortunate because it leaves Canadians with the impression that this government is being transparent and accountable, but the reality is they are not. By having control of all the committees, through their majority vote, they are able to manipulate this process in such a way that it looks like something good is being done, but in reality it’s not really happening, which is sort of the trademark of this government, isn’t it,” Mr. Christopherson said.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 2, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a new update on what information he’s received from the Harper government. In short, he’s getting information on savings, but little information on job losses or service impacts.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Ralph Goodale condemns the latest budget bill.
It’s a complete dog’s breakfast, deliberately designed to be so humongous and convoluted in a single lump that it cannot be intelligently reviewed by Parliament, and any votes will be largely meaningless. Such abusive tactics have been condemned by none other than Stephen Harper himself. But now in power, he behaves like a Third World despot – seemingly afraid of a properly functioning Parliamentary democracy.
That fear of democracy is also evident in Conservative election financing violations (for which they’ve been charged and convicted), robo-call schemes to manipulate voters, and vicious attack-advertising. It’s all beneath contempt.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Of the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that are included in the latest budget implementation act, the Conservatives have argued that the act is “not an environmental law” and insisted that the NWPA is about “navigation and navigation only.” On that note, Megan Leslie deferred yesterday to Transport Canada’s FAQ on the act.
Megan Leslie: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities’s own web page contradicts his talking points. The Navigable Waters Protection Act FAQ alone mentions the environment 23 times, and the website says of the act: “These stiff new penalties reflect the government’s ongoing concern toward maintaining the safety of public navigation and the environment.” That is right, according to the department, the Navigable Waters Protection Act is about protecting the environment. Why is the minister so confused about his portfolio?
Denis Lebel: Mr. Speaker, changing the words “navigable waters” to “navigation” does not change the essence of this act. That is about navigation, and that is what we will continue to do. The member asks frequent questions about the environment, and the Minister of the Environment will continue to answer her. We will continue to answer her about navigation.
The FAQ in question is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
During QP this morning, NDP House leader Nathan Cullen declared that changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act were not in the spring budget. John Baird begged to differ.
He talked about the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This was contained in page 282 of the budget.
Here is the spring budget. Page 282 reads as follows.
Organizations in the Transport portfolio identified a combination of productivity-enhancing and transformative measures that change the way programs and services are delivered and support the Government’s agenda of refocusing government and reducing red tape. Non-core activities will be reduced while maintaining capacity related to core mandates in order to protect the safety of Canadians and support economic growth.
For example, VIA Rail Canada Inc. will pursue productivity improvements such as augmenting the performance of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on board trains to reduce maintenance costs, reduce energy consumption, and increase passenger comfort. It will also implement automation projects such as electronic ticketing and invoicing systems.
These two paragraphs are followed by a table which details cuts to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, Marine Atlantic Inc., The Jacques Cartier and Champlain Bridges Incorporated, Transport Canada and VIA Rail Canada Inc.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 12:05 PM - 0 Comments
The Conservatives and the opposition parties unanimously agreed this morning to split MP pension reforms from the omnibus budget bill and pass the separate legislation.
Here is the text of the motion, moved by Conservative MP Lynne Yelich, that split C-45.
That the House recognize that the provisions of Bill C-45 dealing with Members’ pensions should be enacted as quickly as possible, and passed without further debate;
That Bill C-45, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, be divided into two bills: Bill C-45, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, and Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act; and
That Bill C-46 be composed of
(a) clauses 475 to 514 of Bill C-45, as it is presently composed,
(b) a clause, inserted before all of the other clauses, to provide that “This Act may be cited as the Pension Reform Act”, and
(c) a clause, inserted after all of the other clauses, to provide that “This Act comes into force, or is deemed to have come into force, on January 1, 2013.”;
That Bill C-46 be deemed to have been read the second time and deemed referred to a Committee of the Whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read the third time and passed;
That Bill C-45 be composed of its remaining clauses;
That Bill C-45 retain the status on the Order Paper that it had prior to the adoption of this Order;
That the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel be authorized to make any technical changes or corrections as may be necessary; and
That Bills C-45 and C-46 be reprinted.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
During QP yesterday, Jim Flaherty ventured the following.
Mr. Speaker, we have had budget bills in this place, including under the previous Liberal government, that were many pages longer than this budget bill.
The budget bill tabled today measures something like 450 pages (depending on format). The longest budget bill I’ve found between 1994 and 2005 was 272 pages (though by the time that bill received Royal Assent it was 144 pages).
The Conservatives have moved larger budget bills before though: 900 pages in 2010 and 650 pages in 2011.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
In fact, a cursory search of the March 2012 budget document reveals that Flahery is wrong — not everything in the legislation tabled Thursday was flagged in the spring spending blueprint. For instance, on EI rates, the budget stated that: “Over the next few years, the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board (CEIFB) will continue to set the rate, but the government will limit rate increases to no more than five cents each year until the EI Operating Account is balanced.” On Thursday, the board was disbanded while the Conservatives set up what they’re calling an “interim … regime” for setting EI rates.
The budget also made no mention of changes to the definition of a native fishery included in the omnibus bill, while the Navigable Waters Protection Act is entirely absent from the March budget.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
While Finance officials are refusing to disclose the budget for the current blitz, contracts listed on the department’s website suggest the saturation ad campaign is costing taxpayers about $14 million. A Treasury Board document shows that cabinet previously approved $16 million in “economic action plan” advertising in the first quarter of this year.
That doesn’t include $5 million approved for a “better jobs” ad campaign, $8 million to sell Canadians on cuts to old age security, and $5 million to promote “responsible resource development” — the slogan given to an environmental assessment system that was cut back and restructured in the last budget. All the measures are promoted on the government’s “economic action plan” web site.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 30, 2012 at 4:46 PM - 0 Comments
The revised date was set following initial consultations with small business and retailers who requested the transition date occur after the busy holiday shopping season. This will ensure all those participating in the transition will have ample time to prepare their business, train staff, and better inform consumers. It will also allow charities to hold dedicated ‘penny drive’ campaigns outside of existing fall fundraising drives.
The new transition date will not require new production of pennies, as the existing supply available for circulation remains sufficient to cover the period.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, July 16, 2012 at 11:04 AM - 0 Comments
Dean Beeby revisits the government operations committee’s report on Parliament’s ability to scrutinize government spending.
A new report says arcane rules are keeping MPs in the dark about the billions in government spending they should be scrutinizing. Members of Parliament receive conflicting, outdated information about how billions of tax dollars are being spent each year, and get little opportunity to review fiscal plans.
Just this spring, not a single House of Commons committee was able to report on its examination of some proposed spending because the information arrived too late — and the session clock ran out.
Within this report is the aforementioned suggestion that the Parliamentary Budget Officer might be made a full officer of Parliament. Tony Clement praised this report in June and Dean quotes Conservative MP Mike Wallace, who has previously called for estimates reform (see here and here).
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 1:07 PM - 0 Comments
Ironically, I received infinitely more media attention in the last 72 hours than I did in the last 6 months. Admittedly, this was quite unexpected. Normally, my musings on this little blog attract a very limited audience. Although, I stand by my comments, I think they received more attention than was warranted. I suppose it is newsworthy when a government backbencher is seen to be critical of the Ministry. However, it should be axiomatic that government treat taxpayers’ money respectfully. This is so especially in times of fiscal restraint; pointing out the obvious shouldn’t be newsworthy at all!!
He also defends the budget bill.