Parliamentary budget officer rebukes Trudeau government over spending secrecy

Parliament's budget watchdog has called out the Trudeau government for not providing information on billions of dollars in planned federal spending.

Trudeau government failing to provide information about COVID-19 spending, pay equity legislation, PBO says

Storm clouds pass by the Peace Tower and Parliament Hill Tuesday, August 18, 2020, in Ottawa. The parliamentary budget office has been frustrated by a lack of information from the Trudeau government regarding COVID-19 spending and the cost of implementing pay equity legislation, according to two new reports. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Parliament's budget watchdog has called out the Trudeau government for not providing information on billions of dollars in planned federal spending.

The parliamentary budget office made clear its concerns about the Liberals' spending secrecy in two separate reports released Wednesday.

The first accused the government of having failed to provide detailed information in its recent request to Parliament for $79 billion in added spending authority.

While the government says most of the money is intended for COVID-19 relief, the PBO suggested Parliament's ability to oversee government spending has been hamstrung by the Liberals' secrecy.

"While the sum of these measures is significant, the amount of information that is publicly available to track this spending is lacking, thus making it more challenging for parliamentarians to perform their critical role in overseeing government spending and holding it to account," reads the report.

The budget office went on to note that the Liberals have yet to provide a complete list of COVID-19 measures announced so far, or updated estimates on how much those measures will cost.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux waits to appear before the Commons finance committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 10, 2020. The Parliamentary budget office is an arms-length agency that provides independent economic and financial analysis of government spending. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"This lack of data is not a result of it not being available," the PBO report added. "The Department of Finance had been providing biweekly updates to the standing committee on finance, but stopped when Parliament was prorogued in August."

The budget office has taken it upon itself in recent months to start tracking the estimated costs of the government's COVID-19 relief, with the most recent tally coming in at more than $176 billion this year.

Government won't disclose cost of pay equity law

The second report examined the cost associated with new legislation designed to close the pay gap between men and women doing similar work in federally regulated workplaces.

While the PBO estimated the government will shell out at least $600 million per year for pay equity, it says that number only accounts for about 30 per cent of jobs affected by the new pay equity law.

The budget office said the real cost will be substantially higher — and that while the Trudeau government knows how much, it refused to provide the information, citing cabinet confidence.

Government officials "refused to disclose information or data regarding employee compensation," reads the report. "Therefore, PBO relied on publicly available sources in its analysis of employee compensation for the federal public service."

It went on to encourage parliamentarians to push the government to be more forthright with its information.

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