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Conservatives block motion to produce key financial details to parliamentarians

OTTAWA – The Conservatives voted down an opposition motion Thursday to turn over key financial documents in the run-up to the federal budget, part of a hot debate over how much information Parliament is allowed to see before it votes on budgetary matters.

A Liberal motion was debated behind closed doors at the public accounts committee, but did not survive the Tory-dominated vote. The motion would have ordered the Finance Department to give MPs copies of long-term financial analyses prepared between 2010 and the present.

The auditor general in his report last November had asked the department to publish such analyses, pointing out that the government had promised to do so in 2007.

“This lack of reporting means that parliamentarians and Canadians do not have all the relevant information to understand the long-term impact of budgets on the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in order to support public debate and to hold the government to account,” said the fall report.

But when opposition MPs asked a Finance Department official Tuesday whether the analyses would in fact be published, the bureaucrat said that would be up to the minister.

Benoit Robidoux, assistant deputy finance minister, continually referred to another document — an October 2012 report on Canada’s aging population — as evidence the department was living up to its commitments. He also suggested that analyses written up for the minister were confidential.

Tory MP Daryl Kramp said Thursday the October 2012 report encompassed a number of long-term fiscal analyses stretching back to 2007, and rendered the opposition motion moot.

“It’s a published report, it’s all in there,” said Kramp.

“That why if there’s working papers, or other things like that are part of a composition of developing a report, they’re probably not there, as they wouldn’t be. That’s the government prerogative to be able to decide what they should or shouldn’t have.”

But Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said it’s preposterous to suggest that a report on a single issue — demographics — would represent the kind of large-scale analysis recommended by the auditor general.

“For instance, a report on changing demographics would obviously not deal with any analysis that would also exist dealing with the long-term sustainability of defence procurement spending, of the sustainability of infrastructure spending and other matters not necessarily dealing with demographic concerns,” Byrne said.

This week, former Finance Department officials Scott Clark and Peter DeVries joined the call for greater transparency of the government’s financial data.

“Budget documents now contain less economic and fiscal data than in any budget over the previous 25 years,” the pair wrote in the current issue of “Inside Policy.”

“It is simply impossible to adequately assess the economic and fiscal forecast based on the data provided. Requests for information are denied on the basis that the data constitutes ‘Cabinet Confidences.”‘

Clark and DeVries also defended the work of parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who has butted heads regularly with the government while trying to evaluate government spending.