Budget watchdog willing to fight for info on federal cuts
Published Sunday, October 7, 2012 4:38PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 7, 2012 7:53PM EDT
Canada’s parliamentary budget officer says his department will pursue its probe into the effects of billions of dollars in federal spending cuts and, while going to court to get the information wasn't his first preference, "we would go to court if we have to."
"Well we're clearly within our mandate," Kevin Page told CTV’s Question Period Sunday.
Page has given deputy ministers until Oct. 10 to provide details of austerity measures implemented by federal departments. However, he said the government has not been forthcoming in releasing the information related to the cuts.
"The parliamentary budget officer, this position was created in the Accountability Act, and our job is to provide help to Parliamentarians to hold the government to account,” Page said in an interview with Kevin Newman.
Page made the comments in response to recent remarks from Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the minister responsible for budget cuts. Clement told CBC Radio earlier this week that Page is overstepping his mandate in asking for details about the changes in government spending, and the programs that will be impacted by the cuts.
Page said looking at the impacts of austerity measures will help Parliamentarians make sound decisions.
“Sometimes what you don’t spend money on is just as important as what you do spend money on,” he said.
Page noted that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's operating budget will be cut as part of the fiscal restraints introduced in the 2012 budget. the CFIA has been in the news this week for handling of an beef recall, and Page said it is important to understand how the cuts will affect the agency.
“Are there going to be employees taken out? Will the service levels be adjusted?” asked Page.
While Clement said the parliamentary budget officer’s job is to look at how the government is spending money, not how it’s saving money, Page said he is clearly acting within his mandate.
Page’s official role is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation's finances, the government's estimates and trends in the Canadian economy.
“So what we're talking about is the estimates of the government. And I think 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.
Meanwhile, Clement maintains that it is up to Parliamentarians to hold the government to account for where it’s saving money, not the parliamentary budget officer.
Page has sent letters to 56 deputy ministers asking for the information he needs to publish an analysis of the impacts of budget cuts.
“The last few days, Thursday, Friday, we started to get calls from some big departments for the first time… hopefully that’s a positive signal that we might get this information,” said Page. “I think there are a lot of deputies that know that the system depends on providing this information to Parliament and it's their job.”
Both Page and Clement have said they are prepared to go to court to defend their positions.