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Mulcair reopens spending-cuts debate with new budget watchdog

New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair speaks in Ottawa on Sept. 16, 2013.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

The new Parliamentary Budget Officer has quickly run afoul of the Official Opposition Leader over how the PBO should deal with the continued refusal of departments to disclose spending cuts.

It has been less than three weeks since Jean-Denis Fréchette was appointed as the permanent replacement to Kevin Page, the first PBO, who left the position in March after his five-year term expired. Clearly, there will be no honeymoon for Mr. Fréchette.

"You now seem to believe it is acceptable to allow [the Parliament of Canada Act] to be ignored without doing anything to protect the rights of MPs," writes Thomas Mulcair, the NDP Leader, in a terse letter to Mr. Fréchette dated Sept. 18.

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In taking the job, Mr. Fréchette inherited a long-running dispute involving Mr. Mulcair, the PBO and federal deputy ministers. Mr. Mulcair had asked the PBO to provide information on spending cuts, but many departments have refused to provide the PBO with the information needed to answer Mr. Mulcair's questions.

Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Page took the dispute to Federal Court, which dismissed the complaint this year on a technicality with a ruling that suggested the court could look at the issue again if the request were handled differently.

Interim PBO Sonia L'Heureux essentially followed that advice over the summer by reasking the federal departments for information on behalf of Mr. Mulcair. Most departments continued to ignore the request.

In a Sept. 16 letter to Mr. Mulcair, the new PBO argues that he doesn't think returning to Federal Court is a good idea.

He writes that it could lead to several appeals – possibly as high as the Supreme Court of Canada – with no guarantee of success.

"While pursuing this matter in court always remains an option, it involves significant risks," Mr. Fréchette wrote, before outlining all of the government's potential options for appeals. "Given the foregoing, I prefer to exhaust parliamentary remedies."

That response clearly did not sit well with Mr. Mulcair.

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"I am formally requesting you take this matter back to the Federal Court to defend both your right to this information, and my right to this analysis," Mr. Mulcair wrote.

"This request – an analysis of how Conservative budget cuts will affect Canadians – is too important for us to abandon it."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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