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CBC readers react to 'arcane' government spending rules

Categories: Canada, Community, Politics

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has frequently complained that departments rebuff his requests for key financial information. A new report recommends upgrading his position to a full officer of Parliament, with stronger powers, among other fixes to the federal budget review process. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

CBC readers reacted strongly to a new Commons report that suggests 'arcane' rules are preventing MPs from properly scrutinizing the details of government spending.

The 62-page, non-partisan report, which was recently released by an all-party government operations committee, argues that:

  • The federal budget arrives too late each year. This spring not a single House of Commons committee was able to report on its examination of some proposed spending because the information arrived too late -- and the session clock ran out.
  • Members of Parliament receive conflicting, outdated information about how billions of tax dollars are being spent each year, and get little opportunity to review fiscal plans.
  • The "main estimates," or the government's detailed spending blueprints, are released by March each year, setting out spending plans for the fiscal year beginning April 1. But they take no account of the federal budget, which is typically released about the same time and can significantly affect spending.
  • Parliament does not "effectively fulfill" its role and standing committees are at best giving "perfunctory attention" to the government's spending plans. 

The committee also put forth 16 recommendations, including:

  • The budget should be tabled no later than Feb. 1 so the main estimates and the federal budget can finally align, giving politicians a fuller and more consistent picture.
  • MPs should consider whether to upgrade the status of the parliamentary budget officer (to a full officer of Parliament) and to hand the officer more power to deliver essential financial data to parliamentarians.
  • The rules should be rewritten to ensure committees spend at least two full weeks reviewing these supplementary spending blueprints.

The report has requested government responses on their recommendations by March 31 next year, but CBC readers had plenty to say in the meantime.

Many were incensed by the report findings.

  • "So, basically, if my teeny mind understands this, we are paying elected people over $150,000 per year salary to do very little if anything, come up with no real analysis of spending and basically get away with the clock running out and resetting. I would love to try that on my boss. 'Hey boss, didn't do anything, the clock ran out.' I would be fired, but I make a smidgeon compared to the politicians and they don't get fired for doing nothing." - CanadaKev
  • "Lets see: the MPs are in the dark regarding government spending. So they vote on bills when they have no idea what the total cost to the taxpayers is. What the heck are the MPs doing down in Ottawa other than pontificating and getting a pension that most people in Canada can only dream about?" - snowbound999

A major tension in the thread hinged on whether or not the conservatives should be singled out; however, many people said change should be embraced regardless of which party is in power.

  • "Transparency comes of the result of things like this. Good on the conservatives for supporting this. If you think they didn't, remember they have a majority on all committees." - Media_Thoughts
  • "The point should be that under previous governments ... the information managed to get out. Under the conservatives, who are daily trying to hide the budget, no information is being released. The conservatives are using the antiquated system to hide the hard information." - rWierzbicki
  • "The same rules have applied to governments for years. Some are just pissed that Harper has been more efficient at working within those rules. I tend to agree with the committee's finding. More opportunity to scrutinize is good based on the complexities of the bills now being put forward." - BobG51
  • "To every commenter below who said something to the effect of "Did you complain when the Liberals were in charge?" Yes, yes I did. And if the NDP were in charge and doing this stuff I'd complain then too. If the Greens were in charge ... yep, I'd complain. I'm not blinded buy party loyalty - if a government is doing something wrong, I'm going to say something about it. And you should too!" - DeeDeeW
  • "Microsoft makes changes every couple of years to keep up with the times and adapt to what users want and need. Surely our parliamentary system can do the same. A basic change that is suggested here is that budgets be tabled by February 1st. It shouldn't be too hard to accommodate that." - MBrunswick

There were others in the thread that were willing to defend the status quo, as well as a few who had suggestions of their own (such as putting all the federal budget information online for all to see).

This has us wondering: what is your take on the committee's findings? Do you agree with their suggestions? How difficult do you think these changes would be to implement?

(These surveys are not scientific. Results are based on readers' replies.)

Tags: Ottawa, Politics

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