Budget watchdog taking legal action over cutback information
Published Sunday, October 21, 2012 11:04AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 21, 2012 11:26PM EDT
Canada’s budget watchdog plans to take some federal departments to court over their refusal to release information related to billions of dollars in government cutbacks.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page will be serving all “non-compliant deputy heads” with legal notice early this week, he confirmed in a statement issued to CTV’s Question Period Sunday.
He declined to provide further details, as the issue will soon “constitute the subject of a legal action.”
In recent weeks, Page warned repeatedly that he was willing to take federal officials to court if he did not receive more details about recent austerity measures.
Page, appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008, maintains that Ottawa has not been transparent enough about recent reductions. He has repeatedly asked deputy ministers for more information regarding cuts to various departments, including food inspection and border security.
Those efforts have been criticized by Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who argued in an interview on public radio that Page has stepped outside his mandate. In his role at the Treasury Board, Clement is tasked with overseeing reductions to government programs and departments.
The role of parliamentary budget officer was created in December 2006 under the Federal Accountability Act as a way to hold the government to account on finances. The job description calls for “independent analysis” on matters relating to Canada’s economy.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says, he too, believes Page is overstepping his mandate.
“He wants to have a look at money, as I say, that’s not being spent rather than the manner in which money is spent -- which is actually his mandate as the parliamentary budget officer," he told CTV’s Question Period in an interview Sunday.
Flaherty added that Page should be able to find “pages and pages” of information about spending reductions within the government’s latest budget, which was tabled on March 29.
“All of this has been public, there’s been nothing secretive about it,” said Flaherty.
Page has defended his mission to analyze the impacts to government belt-tightening, maintaining that the information will help Parliamentarians make important decisions.
“It makes no sense to us to say we can't look at austerity or we can't look at stimulus. Or we can look at stimulus, but not austerity,” said Page told CTV’s Question Period in early October.
Weeks ago, Page submitted letters to 56 deputy ministers requesting more details on federal cuts. He gave the ministers until Oct. 10 to provide him with the information.