Bill Morneau disagrees with PBO report that budget was not 'fully transparent'

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he disagrees with an independent report by the Parliamentary Budget Office saying the Liberals were not as transparent as they should have been when they tabled their first budget last month.

'I don't see it that way at all,' finance minister says of watchdog's budget analysis

'We believe we have been open and transparent,' says Finance Minister Bill Morneau in response to criticism by the federal budget watchdog. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he disagrees with the federal budget watchdog's analysis that the Liberals were not as transparent as they should have been with their first budget, making it more difficult for parliamentarians to scrutinize government spending.

The Parliamentary Budget Office said in a report on Wednesday that the Liberal government's fiscal plan was less transparent than those of previous governments — a surprising assessment given that a dispute over fiscal secrecy between the former budget watchdog and the Conservative government landed in court in 2013.

"I don't see it that way at all," Morneau said on Thursday during an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

"We believe that we've given Canadians a clear and transparent understanding of the current state of Canada's finances and putting forth in our budget the kind of measures that can make a real difference."

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Among the watchdog's concerns is the Liberal government's decision to provide detailed cost estimates for only two years of its five-year fiscal plan, as well as a $40-billion risk adjustment which the budget watchdog said is "excessive."

"What the PBO says in two specific cases is something that I would just disagree with," Morneau told CBC's Matt Galloway on Thursday.

In an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Wednesday, assistant parliamentary budget officer Mostafa Askari said the way the budget was presented "wasn't fully transparent."

"So we don't really know what is going to happen to those measures after the second year and that's something Parliament needs to know if they want to scrutinize the budget and see exactly what the government fiscal plan is."

Of the $40-billion risk adjustment, Askari said "the issue is that they used the private sector forecast to introduce an element of independence into their fiscal forecast. If you make a huge adjustment then that independence is gone because you're not really using the private sector forecast."

Askari told CBC's Rosemary Barton the Liberals did not respond to the PBO's request for information by the deadline of April 5.

"Absolutely, the numbers exist, but they haven't made them public. And we have asked for them and we have not received their response yet," Askari said.

But sources told CBC's Neil Macdonald on Wednesday the Finance Department did have the data, but was demanding that it be suppressed by the PBO.

Liberal budget less transparent than past spending plans: PBO 4:56

Morneau did not say why the Liberals chose not to make those figures public, only that the government had not failed in its pledge to be more transparent.

"I appreciate the Parliamentary Budget Office putting out this, it'll give us a sense of where the issues and concerns are, and our objective is to maintain a sense of openness and transparency. If there are challenges in people understanding what we're putting forth, we'll respond to those challenges."

"We believe we have been open and transparent," Morneau said.

The previous Conservative government accused former budget watchdog Kevin Page of operating "outside his mandate" and said he'd "overstepped" his bounds by asking federal departments to disclose all financial and economic information.

The Federal Court dismissed the case on a technicality.

In a turnabout on Wednesday, it was the Conservatives who called on the Liberal government to "open up the books" to the PBO.

"The parliamentary budget officer makes it quite clear that Parliament cannot do its job because the government does not have the numbers. It is clear the government does not want Canadians to have the information to be able to see how much the government is spending and where that money is going," said Pierre Poilievre, the Official Opposition critic for the Treasury Board, in a written statement.

"This is a damning report against the Liberals' budget."

MPs Marco Mendicino, Pierre Poilievre and Murray Rankin discuss the PBO's concerns that the budget was not fully transparent. 13:31