Federal government fends off criticism over $97M in 'lapsed' funds

The Harper government dismissed criticism that it did not spend almost $100 million promised for social programs, saying that so-called "lapsed funds" are a normal part of the budget cycle. Critics claim the unspent money left jobless youth, the disabled and others without promised help.

Money promised but not spent on social programs a normal part of budgeting, ministers say

Finance Minister Joe Oliver says 'lapsed' funds are a normal part of budgeting, and have nothing to do with politics. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Money promised for federal programs but never spent, referred to as "lapsed funds," is a normal part of the budgeting process and has nothing to do with politics, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver says.

"It's not unusual for money to lapse from one year to the next," Oliver said in Summerside, P.E.I.

"We have a $291-million budget and sometimes programs aren't ready to receive the money, so this is the sort of thing that happens every year. It's not a political decision, it's more of an administrative, bureaucratic result."

Oliver's comments came as the government fended off criticism that it did not spend $97 million in 2013-14 that it had earmarked for a series of key social programs, including one to fight youth unemployment and another to help the disabled.

The shortfall amounted to more than five per cent of the budget for programs at Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), CBC News reported based on an internal document obtained under access to information laws.

Opposition called reckless

The minister for ESDC dismissed sharp questions in the House of Commons by suggesting opposition parties are spendthrifts.

"The NDP and the Liberals judge their success by the amount of taxpayers' money they can spend recklessly," he said during question period. "We judge our success by the results for the young people we help."

New Democrat MP Jinny Sims said the lapsed funds at ESDC are part of a larger pattern in which departments attempt to save dollars on the backs of the vulnerable while helping to pay down the deficit.

"From veterans to the unemployed, they make big promises and then they break them," she said. "They made the photo-op commitment and then they didn't spend the money."

Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, later suggested that the lapsed funding is a sign of good economic management.

"We're not going to go on a spending frenzy at the end of the budget year," he told host Evan Solomon on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. "We've come in under budget on certain programs.… This isn't an unusual thing."