Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP asks for probe into leak

Tariff reductions aired before budget presented

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OTTAWA -- The RCMP should investigate last week's federal budget leak about tariff reductions because it could have allowed insiders to manipulate markets, the Opposition New Democrats charged Monday.

NDP deputy finance critic Guy Caron has written RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson about "potentially criminal actions related to a breach of budget secrecy."

The National Post, followed by the Globe and Mail, both reported on the eve of last Thursday's budget delivery that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty would cut tariffs on hockey gear and some baby clothing.

"The leak and the availability of this information, prior to it being made public in the budget, gave those with this information an opportunity for personal financial gain," Caron wrote in his letter.

Tariffs on a small range of sports equipment and other goods will be eliminated "on or after" April 1, according to the budget made public at 4 p.m. last Thursday.

The newspaper scoops were widely interpreted as tactical leaks by the Harper government to prime the media machine, and television reports on budget day were indeed filled with images of kids in hockey gear.

Only later did it become clear the Conservatives had also increased tariffs on a much wider array of goods, more than offsetting any tariff cuts on a few popular items.

Caron couldn't quantify any financial edge the pre-budget tariff disclosure might have offered an investor, but he said that's beside the point.

"What you have to look at is that it changes the behaviour of companies in those industries, that's for sure," he said in an interview.

"It's a no-no. That's why we treat all information from the budget as confidential."

The Conservative government has a reputation for aggressively pursuing leaks, but the pre-budget disclosure didn't elicit public comment from Flaherty or his officials until the NDP publicized its letter to the RCMP.

"We take budget secrecy very seriously and actively seek to prevent disclosure of budget measures before (their) official release," Dan Miles, Flaherty's director of communications, said in an email. "We will let the RCMP respond to this request."

Budget leaks were once taken very seriously, Caron noted in his RCMP referral, citing the leak under the Mulroney Conservatives in 1989 that led to the resignation of the finance minister and an RCMP investigation.

But he could have pointed to much more current examples of police delving into government leaks.

Just last November, the government asked the Mounties to investigate the leak of an internal memo that warned of a lack of security at Canada's embassy in Moscow.

In 2010, the government called in the RCMP to investigate a politically embarrassing story involving the decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter.

Mounties spent five months looking into the alleged leak of cabinet documents, although internal emails obtained by The Canadian Press revealed investigators were at a loss to understand what laws might have been breached.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 A5

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