Skip to main content

Liberal Party leader and Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Sept. 11, 2019.DAVE CHAN/AFP/Getty Images

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is delaying the release of independent reports on the cost of his promises and will not be submitting all of his election pledges for review by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

It is the first election campaign in which political parties have the option of submitting potential campaign promises to the PBO in confidence for an analysis of the estimated cost. If the party decides to go ahead with the idea, it can then authorize the PBO to post its analysis online.

The Liberals legislated the new rules after promising the change in their 2015 platform, which said it would “help Canadians make informed decisions during elections.”

However, the Liberal campaign team said the party is only submitting “big ticket” proposals to the PBO for costing. The party is also delaying the release of related PBO reports until the full platform is released because some promises are connected and releasing costing reports individually “wouldn’t tell the whole story.”

By contrast, the Conservative Party is submitting all of their campaign promises for costing by the PBO.

So far, the PBO has posted reports on six Conservative Party campaign announcements and two NDP announcements. The reports summarize each promise and provide an estimate by fiscal year of how the measure would affect Ottawa’s bottom line. The estimates provide significantly more detail than is commonly found in political party platforms and the figures are regularly quoted by journalists covering the specific announcements.

The PBO has not posted any analysis of Liberal announcements, even though Mr. Trudeau has been touring the country making election promises.

On Tuesday in St. John’s, Mr. Trudeau promised that a re-elected Liberal government would make maternity and parental benefits “tax-exempt.” When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made a similar promise earlier in the campaign, the Conservatives approved the release of the PBO’s costing document, which said the measure would reduce federal revenues by more than $1-billion a year once fully implemented.

A Liberal Party news release said the cost of its Tuesday announcement would rise to $1.2-billion by 2023-24. Yet no PBO document was released in relation to the Liberal version of the promise.

“We have made use of the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s new powers to cost political parties’ platforms. We have used them on a number of our platform announcements that will be forthcoming,” Mr. Trudeau said when asked why the Liberals have not released a related costing document by the PBO.

“We know it’s important for Canadians to have an objective review of the cost of various platforms and I can assure you that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been very much engaged by the Liberal Party on a number of elements within our platform costing and when our full platform costing comes out in the coming weeks, that will be abundantly clear.”

The PBO is an independent office staffed by researchers and economists that reports to Parliament on a wide range of issues related to government spending and economic trends.

The Liberals’ changes to the Parliament of Canada Act that gave the PBO these new powers clearly states that once a costed-promise has been made public, the PBO should release its costing document “as soon as possible.” In practice, the PBO has released other costing documents on the same day they were announced.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Yves Giroux, the PBO, said that for a costing report to be posted to the PBO website, two requirements must be met. Firstly, the party must submit its request for costing, and secondly, the party must notify the PBO that the policy has been announced and the costing can be released.

“Until both conditions are satisfied, we cannot post,” he said. “Given the confidentiality rules under our electoral proposal costing mandate, I can unfortunately not say anything further.”

The PBO’s website also states that its mandate is to cost individual policy promises and not entire party platforms.

“The PBO will prepare each estimate independently, so the PBO will not consider the consequences that a party’s proposal may have for the financial cost of its other proposals,” the office states in its written guidelines.

Conservative Party spokesman Simon Jefferies said all of Mr. Scheer’s campaign promises will be costed by the PBO.

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberals should be up front and honest with Canadians and release their costing as they make their platform commitments,” he said in an e-mail. “It’s starting to look they have something to hide and are preparing a document dump days before election day."

Mr. Jefferies also accused Mr. Trudeau of “being cagey” as to whether or not all of the Liberal Party’s promises will be vetted by the PBO.

"This begs the question, why? Did they not get an answer they were looking for from the PBO?” he asked.

The Conservative Party had initially expressed reservations about participating in the PBO process out of concern that promises could potentially be leaked. However, the party decided to submit its promises to the PBO after receiving personal assurances from Mr. Giroux about the measures the office would take to keep information secret until it is released.

NDP spokeswoman Mélanie Richer noted in an e-mail that her party was the first to approve the release of a PBO costing report. She said the NDP is working with the PBO on “many” of its commitments, but declined to say whether all NDP promises were costed.

“What we are concerned about is that Mr. Trudeau has not been clear about where he is going to get the funds to pay for his promises," she said.