There is movement in the standoff between Ottawa and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page.
For months, Mr. Page has been asking departments to provide details as to exactly how they plan to achieve the savings targets outlined in the March 2012 budget. Last week, the PBO set an Oct. 10 deadline for providing the information, which has now come and gone.
But Mr. Page said late Wednesday and early Thursday, departments began informing the PBO that they they are willing to provide the requested information. Those departments are now being granted a deadline extension to Oct. 19.
“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,” said Mr. Page in an email Thursday.
“Working with PCO [Privy Council Office], we have agreed to give departments and agencies an extension (to next Friday) if they come back to PBO (today and tomorrow) asking for an extension and thereby expressing a willingness to provide information,” he wrote.
Mr. Page has previously said that his office would take departments to Federal Court if they do not provide the information.
So far, the PBO has posted six letters to deputy ministers on its website, which all contain the same paragraph. For instance, a letter sent Wednesday from Mr. Page to Richard Fadden, the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, states: “Dear Mr. Fadden, I was happy to hear from officials within your department that you are currently working towards satisfying our request for information. As such, I am willing to extend the deadline for providing the information until October 19, 2012. Yours truly, Kevin Page.”
The other five letters were sent to Public Works, Western Economic Diversification Canada, Health Canada, Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Mr. Page said similar letters will be posted Thursday.
Last week, Treasury Board President Tony Clement accused Mr. Page of going beyond his mandate by requesting information on spending cuts. This week, Mr. Clement has declined to comment on the situation.
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash held a news conference Thursday to comment on the issue, saying the government should never have allowed it to reached this point.
“Here we are halfway through the year of the last federal budget, and unfortunately the Parliamentary Budget Officer had to take the unprecedented step of threatening legal action in order to get the basic financial information that he needs in order to do his job,” she said. “And what is his job? His job is to provide the financial information to Parliamentarians so that we can do our job. As the opposition finance critic, I need to know what the numbers are when we’re voting on budgets.”
Raymond Rivet, the director of corporate and media affairs with the Privy Council Office, provided a statement to the Globe Wednesday evening that shed little light on where the government stands on the PBO’s requests.
“In addition to the Quarterly Financial Reports, the Government has provided information through responses to written questions from Parliamentarians. Consistent with the program activity-based reporting used in the DPRs [Departmental Performance Reports] and RPPs [Reports on Plans and Priorities], departments will continue to provide additional detail as appropriate,” he wrote.
Mr. Clement has maintained that details on cuts would ultimately be made public through the normal reporting channels, as described in the note from the PCO spokesman.
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. So, even though the government’s cost-cutting 2012 budget was released in March, the government then released forward-looking spending plans for every department in May that did not reflect the spending cuts. Around November, Treasury Board releases backward-looking “Departmental Performance Reports.” The next one will describe departmental spending during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2012.
Under this reporting cycle, it would not be until the spring of 2013 that Parliament would receive a forward-looking description from departments on the impact of spending cuts from the March 2012 budget and it would not be until November 2013 that MPs would learn about cuts taking place this year.