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Federal departments refuse to tell watchdog how they’re cutting budgets

The Peace Tower and a Canadian flag are seen on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Federal departments have rebuffed yet another attempt by the Parliamentary Budget Officer to obtain details on budget cuts announced nearly 16 months ago.

The interim PBO, Sonia L'Heureux, issued a statement Monday indicating that numerous federal departments have ignored a July 19 deadline she had set for them to hand over requested information on cuts announced in the 2012 budget.

The statement opens the door for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair – who asked the PBO to gather the information – to take government departments to Federal Court.

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NDP finance critic Peggy Nash described the government's position as "an outrageous disregard for accountability" and said her party is considering all of its options, including the possibility of going to court.

"People deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent and that's all we're asking for," she said.

The list of departments that have ignored the PBO's requests includes the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Finance Canada, National Defence and Statistics Canada. The March, 2012, budget said federal spending would be cut permanently by $3.1-billion this year, rising to more than $5.1-billion in continuing cuts starting next year. The 498-page budget book listed total cuts by department, but did not provide details on how services would be affected.

According to the PBO, the departments are claiming that details on spending cuts are not "financial or economic data" as defined in the legislation that created the PBO's mandate.

In April, Federal Court Justice Sean Harrington dismissed a case brought by the PBO and Mr. Mulcair on a technicality – that the PBO had not asked the departments to provide the information on behalf of Mr. Mulcair.

However, the court suggested that if the request was filed appropriately, the government would have to comply.

"Parliament has no right to ignore its own legislation," the court ruled.

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Shortly after the decision, Ms. L'Heureux sent new requests to federal departments on behalf of Mr. Mulcair. She noted on July 3 that they were still refusing to provide information and set a new deadline of July 19.

Ms. L'Heureux is the head of the Library of Parliament, which oversees the PBO. She has been the interim head of the PBO since March, when the five-year term of the first PBO, Kevin Page, expired.

There has been considerable secrecy surrounding the process to replace Mr. Page. Critics have also questioned why two senior government officials were included on a panel to select the next PBO, given that the position serves Parliament, not the government.

Mr. Page recently told The Globe and Mail that the process has failed and should be restarted with a truly independent hiring panel.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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