Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette is accusing the Conservative government of breaching its legal obligations to hand over information about the cost of Canada's military mission in Iraq.
The spending watchdog instead relied on various sources of public information to conclude that the mission has cost between $128.8-million and $166.4-million over the first six months.
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That estimate is higher than the $122-million figure Defence Minister Jason Kenney released on the eve of the PBO report after the government had previously refused repeated requests to provide a cost estimate for the mission.
The PBO has long butted heads with federal departments over the disclosure of financial information, but appeared to escalate its level of concern in a report released Tuesday.
The report said the Department of National Defence refused all requests for specific data on Operation Impact, the mission against Islamic State militants.
"Several of these refusals appear to breach DND's legal obligations under the Parliament of Canada Act," the report states.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said the findings in Tuesday's PBO report provide another example of the government misleading Canadians about the details of the mission, which was approved by Parliament over the objections of the NDP and the Liberals.
"In clear terms, they've broken the law and it is because the Conservatives are refusing to tell the truth about the cost of the war in Iraq," Mr. Mulcair said during Question Period.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted his party is providing clear information.
"The government has released the cost of the mission exactly as it said it would," he said. "We know the reality is the NDP will hate even a cent spent on the Canadian military."
The Conservative government had repeatedly denied opposition requests to provide a cost estimate of the mission, but changed course on Monday just before the PBO was about to release its own estimate.
The government's release of its $122-million figure comes ahead of a formal funding request for the mission through supplementary spending estimates that are expected to be released in the House of Commons this week.
Both the government's cost estimate and the one from the PBO are based on the "incremental costs," meaning the cost over and above what the Canadian Forces would have spent on routine training and salaries.
The PBO report notes that the government has a history of reporting incremental costs of military missions that are significantly lower than the full costs. For instance, the report states that Operation Mobile, Canada's most recent overseas mission in Libya, had full costs that were almost six times the reported incremental costs.
The Conservative government has not yet indicated whether it will ask Parliament to extend the current mission. The existing parliamentary mandate expires in early April. Mr. Kenney told The Globe this week that, while final costs will be higher than $122-million, a key factor will be whether the mission is extended.
"Costs will ultimately be higher, but how much higher will depend on whether we wrap up the operation at the end of March, or extend it," Mr. Kenney said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it was "deplorable" that the government repeatedly refuses to release information to the PBO and to the public.
"I think it's disappointing, once again, that on an issue as fundamental and as important as the costs that Canadian taxpayers are bearing for this mission in Iraq, the Prime Minister and this government has once again chosen to be unclear and not share accurate information on this," he said.
With a report from Steven Chase