Joe Oliver's $800-per-table fiscal update raises NDP ire

Finance Minister Joe Oliver's decision to deliver his fall economic update in front of a $800-per-table Canadian Club crowd has raised the ire of the opposition New Democrats, who say the move could constitute contempt of Parliament.

NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen calls last week's event 'simply outrageous'

Finance Minister Joe Oliver's move to deliver the fall fiscal update at a Canadian Club lunch in Toronto could constitute contempt of Parliament, argues New Democrat finance critic Nathan Cullen. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Joe Oliver's decision to deliver his fall economic update in front of an $800-per-table Canadian Club crowd has raised the ire of the opposition New Democrats, who say the move could constitute contempt of Parliament.

"As legislators, MPs must have access to this information to be able to do their job," Cullen told the House of Commons Monday. "We must be able to analyze the state of the finances of this country."

By sharing the details of those finances at a private lunch, Cullen said, the minister not only "impeded our access" to the information, but also "flouted the democratic principle stating that elected officials should have access to this information before bankers and other financiers."

Among the revelations aired before the blue-chip crowd, according to Cullen, were the potential risk of falling oil prices to the treasury, as well as the projected rise in personal income tax as a percentage of the GDP.

That, Cullen said, is information that should have been shared in the Commons and not at an "exclusive" Bay Street event.

'Standards of truthfulness'

In front of an $800-a-table group of Bay Street bigwigs, the finance minister is not even held to the same standards of truthfulness as he is in this place, Cullen argued. 

"For him to choose to deliver such an important economic update when we, as parliamentarians, cannot ask questions, cannot examine the information in the presence of the minister and Finance Canada representatives, cannot even hear for ourselves these important declarations, forced to rely on a press release and media coverage, is simply outrageous."

Cullen wants House Speaker Andrew Scheer to send the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee for further study, which could result in a recommendation that Oliver's out-of-town appearance be formally sanctioned by the House.

In response, government House leader Peter Van Loan pointed out that a fiscal update "is not a budget," and pointed to past examples of such information being made public outside the House, including at the House finance committee.

"It's not a budget or a ways and means motion," he said, nor are any such motions expected to flow from what was announced in the minister's speech.

He also reminded the House MPs are free to question the minister — and other members of government — on the federal books during question period.

Van Loan also reserved the right to return to the Commons with additional arguments, as he said he wasn't given notice that the point of privilege was coming.

For his part, deputy Speaker Joe Comartin took the matter under advisement, and promised to return to the House as soon as possible.


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