By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
With his second question, Thomas Mulcair rounded on the Finance Minister.
“Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister announces changes to mortgage rules and then reverses them. The Finance Minister announces changes to skilled training programs and then reverses them, all without warning, all without consultation, all at great cost,” Mr. Mulcair declared. “It is no wonder that senior public servants from the Finance Minister’s own office are now calling his actions ‘a disgrace and an insult to Parliament.’ ”
The NDP leader had slipped two ways here. First, the two senior public servants in this case—Scott Clark and Peter DeVries—are formerly of the finance department and neither ever worked under the authority of Jim Flaherty. Second, the specific “disgrace” and “insult” to Parliament referred to was the practice of omnibus legislation.
The Prime Minister might remember feeling somewhat likewise about omnibus bills, but he stood here to resolutely defend his Finance Minister. “Canada is very lucky to have the most successful finance minister in the world,” Mr. Harper proclaimed. “That has been recognized by experts in this field around the world and is backed by the performance of the Canadian economy. In spite of the tremendous difficulties that continue to exist, the global uncertainty, the Canadian economy has managed to created 900,000 net new jobs since the end of the recession and that is due, in no small measure, to the good efforts of the Minister of Finance.”
Mr. Mulcair persisted, returning to the matter of Mr. Flaherty’s letter to the CRTC. Mr. Harper persisted in defending his minister. Somehow or another this culminated in John Duncan, the former aboriginal affairs minister who was recently dispatched after an errant letter to the tax court, receiving a standing ovation from the Conservatives.
When Bob Rae stood to ask his first question, he returned the House to this matter of the former public servants and their quibbles with the government’s general approach to budgetary matters. Continue…
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 5:43 PM - 0 Comments
Conservative MP Robert Goguen had apparently been up late last night, carefully reviewing the main estimates and he was keen this afternoon to rise shortly before Question Period and report back to the House with what he’d found. “Yesterday, in main estimates, there were significant reductions in the cost of prisons due to the influx of new prisoners not materializing,” the government backbencher celebrated, dismissing opposition concerns about prison spending in the process.
Mr. Goguen was being modest. At last report there were actually more individuals in prison than ever before. Which would seem to render those “significant reductions” all the more impressive. (Although the increasing violence in prisons might make it more difficult to feel good about frugality.)
This good news might’ve ruled the day were it not for those on the opposition side who’d also taken some time to review the estimates themselves. They were decidedly less enthused than Mr. Goguen.
“Mr. Speaker, at the same time that we continue to read in the estimates with respect to the cuts that are being made in front line programs, in foreign aid programs, in foreign affairs budgets, we now see that the CIC is increasing its advertising budget by $4 million, the Department of Finance is increasing its advertising budget by nearly $7 million, and the Department of Natural Resources is increasing its advertising budget by $4.5 million compared to the main estimates of last year,” interim Liberal leader Bob Rae reported, reading from a white piece of paper.
Now Mr. Rae wagged his finger in the Prime Minister’s general direction. “I would like to ask the Prime Minister how he can justify again this double standard where front line services are being cut but propaganda is being increased?”
Oddly, Mr. Harper begged to differ almost entirely. “Mr. Speaker,” the Prime Minister corrected, “those front line services are not being cut.”
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 - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 3:03 PM - 33 Comments
The hunt for the government’s mysterious cuts—as initiated by our Paul Wells—continues. Bill Curry finds $45-million taken from the Green Infrastructure Fund. Meanwhile, Tim Naumetz reviews the main estimates.
Almost all of the government’s security and public safety programs are increasing either modestly or substantially, including a 21 per cent hike in spending for the Correctional Service to $2.98-billion. The Canada Border Services Agency is receiving a 14 per cent increase, to $1.84-billion, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator, responsible for hearing complaints from offenders, is going up by 21 per cent, to $4.3-million.
But spending by the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is being reduced by 5.9 per cent to $414.6-million … The National Research Council will have its spending cut by 7.8 per cent to $690,836,000. Spending by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is set to drop by 10 per cent to $118,264,000 … The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is targeted for a 20 per-cent reduction in its spending, to $4.5-million from $4.7-million. Among the other agencies where cuts are planned, the Public Health Agency of Canada is set to have its spending cut by 8.2 per cent to $622-million.
Because we haven't seen nearly enough of John Baird lately: Liveblogging the Government Operations committee
By kadyomalley - Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 10:29 AM - 21 Comments
Everyone’s favourite Minister of Shovel Readiness will be talking stimulus, of course – I’m guessing he probably does in his sleep at this point – and will, ITQ predicts, be facing a lot of very pointed questions about that $3 billion how-dare-you-suggest-it’s-a-slush fund.
Oh, and there’s also a vote on various odds and ends in Main Estimates – the GG, Privy Council, that sort of thing – and rumour has it that after that’s out of the way, Pat Martin will be presenting a potentially incendiary motion.
Wow, Derek Lee is rarin’ to go — the last meeting ran long (thank goodness, since that gave me enough time to scamper from West to Centre) but he’s very anxious to get this show on the road, which explains the rapidfire tippity-tapping of the gavel before the meeting is underway. Which it is as of now, and after a very brief introduction, he hands the floor over to the minister.
Minister Baird, that is, who tells the committee that he understands that the federal government doesn’t “hold the shovel” – it’s in the hands of the provinces and municipalities – but Ottawa is nevertheless ready with truckloads of cash.