Budget watchdog gets details on savings, but not on cuts

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has received most of the information he's requested on government savings from budget cuts, but remains frustrated in his attempt to learn details about job losses or service reductions.

Kevin Page waits for a legal opinion about his mandate to demand budget information

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, says he is getting some information from government about budget cuts, but there are many holdouts. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has received about 80 per cent of the information he's requested on how much money each government department will save because of the expenditure cuts announced in Budget 2012.

Those cuts, estimates Page, amount to a five-year freeze in government expenditures.

But other information he considers vital, such as the number of job cuts and how much service in each department will be affected, is just not coming across from most large government departments.

The PBO's latest chart, published Thursday, reveals that some government agencies that tend to be at arm's length from government, such as the Auditor General, Elections Canada, the CRTC, the Canadian Space Agency and several others, have delivered all the information requested. Surprisingly, perhaps, the National Arts Centre has not, holding back on job cuts and effects on services.

But the chart also suggests that many departments  — colour-coded red for "non-compliant" — have decided Page can have information about savings, but not about the impact of those savings.

Page considers it his job to inform parliamentarians and the public about what a $5.2-billion cut will do to government. It's especially relevant for MPs, he thinks, who are obligated to scrutinize spending plans and vote on budget bills.

The spending watchdog is waiting for a legal opinion from constitutional lawyer Joseph Magnet about how much information he can demand from government.

Some cabinet ministers, such as Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty and Treasury Board President Tony Clement, have said  Page is exceeding his office's mandate by requesting such detailed information.

If Page obtains a legal opinion that backs up his authority to demand budgetary information, he plans to take the holdout departments to Federal Court.

Status of information requests by the Parliamentary Budget Office as of November 1, 2012: