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Budget watchdog to detail impact of government cutbacks

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page waits to testify before the Commons finance committee on April 26, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Fed up with the lack of transparency, Canada's budget watchdog says he will publish his own analysis of the impact of government cutbacks on programs and the bureaucracy.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page says he will release quarterly reports starting later this month on the effects of $37-billion in cutbacks announced in the past three budgets.

In a paper issued today, the PBO says the reductions announced in direct program expenditures over five years are similar to those brought in by the Liberals in the 1990s, but there is very little disclosure on their impact.

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In the 2012 budget, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the latest restraint effort would result in the loss of 19,200 jobs over three years.

When the cuts have run their course, direct program expenditure will be reduced to about 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product, a 50-year low and almost one third lower than the long-term average.

The federal government has vowed that most of the cost savings will be achieved through efficiencies and employment cuts, but the PBO says Ottawa's reporting on what is being cut — and the subsequent effect on public services — is often late and sometimes non-existent.

Repeated requests for information to allow parliamentarians to judge the performance have gone begging, Mr. Page says.

So he says he will use non-public data on actual spending by program activity to inform Parliament of what is going in within the bureaucracy.

Mr. Page and the Harper government have long been at odds over government spending and budget projections, and the latest move is unlikely to lead to a mending of fences.

In his paper, Mr. Page says an analysis of actual spending last year at Environment Canada shows spending on internal services was 26 per cent higher than projected, but that spending on sustainable ecosystems was 50 per cent lower.

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