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The Globe and Mail

Lack of transparency on budget cuts 'strains credibility,' Liberals say

Liberal MP John McCallum holds a news conference in Ottawa on Feb. 23, 2012.

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservatives need to come clean on government-wide spending cuts and share the details immediately, Liberal Treasury Board critic John McCallum says.

Despite reassurances from Treasury Board President Tony Clement that he will investigate a gag order from his department that would keep the details of spending cuts secret months after the 2012 budget is released, Mr. McCallum said that is not enough.

The Toronto-area MP, who worked on similar restraint exercises in cabinet when the Liberals were in government, hopes the Conservatives will put the spending-cut details in the budget as his party did in 2005.

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"If they don't do it, it's not because they can't do it, but because they won't do it," Mr. McCallum said. "For this government, which rode into the office on the white horse of accountability, the least they can do is come clean with Canadians."

Mr. McCallum questioned Mr. Clement's assertions that the order did not come from him. (The Treasury Board President has positioned himself as a champion of open and transparent government.)

"What I can assure you is, first of all, that memo didn't come from me," Mr. Clement said last week. "Secondly, my position is that we have an obligation to provide Parliament with timely and accurate information."

The memo highlights concerns that even though the Conservative government is readying to launch an austerity program that will see billions of dollars cut from Ottawa's annual budget, the full details may be hard to come by and would perhaps only emerge from departmental leaks.

"That strains credibility," Mr. McCallum said, adding that it crippled parliamentarians from doing their jobs. "If we don't have the detailed information, how can we look at it in committee," he said.

Earlier Thursday, the union representing employees working in Veteran Affairs expressed concern over rumours that the department could see its budget cut as much as 20 per cent – more than the 5 to 10 per cent the government has said it wants to implement.

Veteran Affairs minister Stephen Blaney's office did not clarify for The Globe if the department would face greater cuts than other departments.

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Michael Blais, the founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said the silence is a "systemic problem in the department."

"If the cuts are coming, then fine, we need to know what they will be so that we can diligently advocate for our veterans," Mr. Blais said.

With a report from Bill Curry

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