Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Scrutiny of budget wanting

  • Print

There is little sense in giving Commons committees special responsibility to scrutinize government spending plans, but then undercut that duty by cutting to near useless the amount of time the committees have to review the numbers. That was what the Harper government did this year, following on the heels of introducing a massive omnibus bill that masqueraded as a budget.

An all-party parliamentary committee used the example of the time allotted -- one week -- to the standing committees to pore over the government's supplementary spending estimates as a classic example of how the scheduling of the release of financial documents thwarts good examination of how tax dollars are used.

The budget is released early in the year, usually by April, but the main estimates that lay down the primary blueprint for spending are released at about the same time. This means a lot of information in the budget, prepared by Finance, is missed within the main estimates, which are prepared by Treasury Board. There is some consultation between the departments, but not a lot, due to the necessity of keeping the budget information secret to protect financial markets.

After the budget and its new initiatives are announced, the supplementary estimates are prepared to adjust the expenditures for the year. This typically all gets crammed in by the end of June, before the House of Commons recesses for summer. This year, the Harper government announced June 6 would be the last day for supplementary estimates review by the committees. None of the committees reported back on their examinations, which meant they were "deemed to have reported."

The standing committee on government operations and estimates says something's got to give. The fix, it recommends, is to release the budget by Feb. 1. That gives the main estimates a bit more time to reflect some of the new initiatives, although it was noted the estimates take months to prepare and there will never be really good mesh between the two documents.

There are problems with the suggestions. The budget, typically a five-year plan, has been released toward the end of the fiscal year so it has the benefit of the most up-to-date economic information for the new year's forecasts of revenues. Further, because the main estimates need to be passed by the April 1 launch of the new fiscal year, the committee's suggestion they be released for review later in March will add pressure to MPs, who now complain about time constraints and the difficulty in getting good help to interpret the reams of detail.

It is ridiculous, however, to expect Parliament to give good scrutiny to spending plans that have little connection to the government's master plan for the year, especially when momentous decisions -- such as six per cent departmental spending cuts -- are being made.

Staggering release of the two primary financial planning documents is a good idea, worthy of a try even if further adjustments are needed in future years. And, yes, the recommendation to allot a minimum two-week standing committee review of supplementary estimates at least would eliminate the tacit fraud that the "deemed to report" rule now perpetuates.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2012 A6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

In the Key of Bart: Can’t It Be Nice This Time?

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project. Baby peregrine falcons. 21 days old. Three baby falcons. Born on ledge on roof of Radisson hotel on Portage Avenue. Project Coordinator Tracy Maconachie said that these are third generation falcons to call the hotel home. Maconachie banded the legs of the birds for future identification as seen on this adult bird swooping just metres above. June 16, 2004.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google