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Budget cuts another victory in Tory war on information: opposition

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which was established in 1988, was the only national organization with a direct mandate from Parliament to engage Canadians on the topic of sustainable development.

Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press

Only a handful of agencies were delivered a death sentence in this week's federal budget but they include three institutions whose primary job is to provide statistics and research that is meant to inform government decisions.

The First Nations Statistical Council, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and the National Welfare Council were all told Thursday the money they receive from the federal government will expire at the end of this fiscal year.

Opposition MPs said Friday the demise of the agencies is another example of the government's unwillingness to take research into account as it formulates policy. Two years ago, the Conservatives were roundly criticized for their decision to make the completion of Statistics Canada's long-form census voluntary, and the opposition says this is more of the same.

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The decision to axe the agencies in the budget is an assault on knowledge and information and data, deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale said Friday.

Statistics Canada is also being asked to shed $33.9 million in spending – or about 7 per cent of the money it has projected to spend in 2012-13.

"So they take another kick in the pants and now other agencies that collect data and interpret data are going the same way," Mr. Goodale said. "They are just methodically going through all of the departments and either getting rid of these folks or substantially downsizing them."

Peter Julian, the NDP finance critic, said the Conservative government is threatened by independent and impartial statistics.

These agencies did not just provide information to the government, they provided information to the public, and that seems to be a real problem for this government, Mr. Julian said.

The Conservatives, he said, are concerned "about organizations that, instead of spinning or making things up to comply with the Conservative narrative, actually provide information and statistics – advice that could help to address some of the concerns that Canadians have."

The government did not respond to a request for comment but Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said in his budget speech that it was essential to make "responsible choices" to eliminate the deficit through "common-sense, moderate restraint."

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The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, which was established in 1988, is the only national organization with a direct mandate from Parliament to engage Canadians on the topic of sustainable development.

The government said in the budget documents the NTREE played an important role in the past but "a mature and expanded community of environmental stakeholders has demonstrated the capacity to provide analysis and policy advice.

The First Nations Statistical Institute is a one-stop portal for first-nations communities to access and store data securely and confidentially.

"We know that a significant number of first nations do not participate in the census for various reasons," said Keith Conn, the institute's chief operating officer. "So there's data gaps within the census process and survey processes. So, as a neutral body, we fill that void. And, of course, we help measure progress in terms of investments."

As for the National Council of Welfare, it has operated for more than 40 years, providing information about Canada's poor.

Shelia Regehr, the council's executive director, said she was "rather shocked" to learn that the funding had been pulled.

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"The council has established a reputation for establishing regular, really solid, research on poverty," Ms. Regehr said. "No one else in this country puts together information across all of the jurisdictions who all have different systems so that you can really get a picture of what's going on."

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