The federal government is facing strong criticism from Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux for a lack of transparency when it comes to the unprecedented levels of spending during the pandemic.
In a report released on Wednesday, Mr. Giroux and his team note that the Finance Department provided a thorough public accounting every other week until August, but that practice ended when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament.
The PBO report focuses on the government’s latest request to Parliament for funding approval through a process called the supplementary estimates, but it also discusses spending transparency more broadly. The most recent request covers $79.2-billion in spending. More than 90 per cent of that amount is related to COVID-19, such as income support for individuals, funding for vaccine research and money to buy protective gear and medical equipment.
“While the sum of these measures is significant, the amount of information that is publicly available to track this spending is lacking, thus making it more challenging for parliamentarians to perform their critical role in overseeing government spending and holding it to account,” the report states.
It points out that no public government document currently provides a complete list of all pandemic measures announced to date and their projected fiscal cost.
“This lack of data is not a result of it not being available,” the PBO states, adding that the Finance Department had published this information until August.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has said a fiscal update on federal government spending will be released this fall, although a date has not been announced.
The PBO reported in September that the federal deficit for the current fiscal year is projected to be $328.5-billion and that the federal debt will climb above $1-trillion.
Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre said that the bi-weekly reports mentioned by the PBO ended during the month Bill Morneau resigned as finance minister and was replaced by Ms. Freeland.
“You wonder why it is that Bill Morneau was able to publish a report every two weeks, but Chrystia Freeland cannot,” Mr. Poilievre told reporters on Wednesday. “It appears that the new minister is even less capable of presenting the facts and information about the finances of the nation than he was.”
NDP MP and finance critic Peter Julian said he agrees with the PBO’s concerns, and criticized the government for ending its bi-weekly reports.
“The government has shut down that transparency,” he said.
Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Ms. Freeland, said the bi-weekly reports were part of an agreement with Parliament related to the initial phase of emergency spending. The government plans to return to traditional ways of reporting, such as through the fall update.
“Since the very beginning, we have been open and transparent with Canadians about our COVID-19 economic plan,” she said in an e-mail.
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