After months of resistance, federal departments are suddenly flooding the Parliamentary Budget Office with promises to tell all when it comes to internal spending cuts.
As a result, the Conservative government appears to have avoided a potentially embarrassing legal battle. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page had threatened to take departments to Federal Court if they didn’t comply with his long-standing request to outline exactly how the cuts announced in the March budget will be achieved.
Mr. Page’s Oct. 10 deadline to 56 departments came and went, but by Thursday about a third of them had promised to comply by Friday, Oct. 19, and PBO officials say indications are that all departments will provide reports outlining their spending cuts by that date.
“Time will tell if there is any victory for Parliament and Canadians on the supply of budget-related information. There is some early positive movement,” Mr. Page said in an e-mail Thursday.
Until this week, the government – via Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters – had argued departments are already doing enough in terms of providing transparent reports to Parliament through various means, including quarterly financial statements.
The rhetoric heated up last week, when Treasury Board President Tony Clement accused Mr. Page of going beyond his mandate by requesting information on spending cuts.
On Thursday, Mr. Clement’s spokewoman expressed a similar sentiment.
“The government has always provided the PBO with data that falls within his mandate, and will continue to do so,” said Andrea Mandel-Campbell in a statement. “Rather than spending resources tracking money that won’t be spent, the PBO should be focused on his mandate: providing analysis to Parliamentarians concerning money that will be spent.”
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash held a news conference Thursday to comment on the issue, saying the government should never have allowed it to reach this point. “It is a very sad day for this country that the PBO has had to take this unprecedented step of threatening legal action to get this information.”
Mr. Clement has maintained that details on cuts would ultimately be made public through the normal channels – known as the estimates – which report throughout the year on a regular cycle.
However, because the government took the position that the 2012 budget came too late in the year for its decisions to be reflected in these reporting documents, this year’s cycle of reports do not necessarily reflect budget cuts.
Under this reporting cycle, it would not be until the spring of 2013 that Parliament would receive a full forward-looking description from departments on the impact of spending cuts from the March budget.