OTTAWA — The federal government is breaking the law by keeping details of budget cuts secret from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, a legal expert says.
Page has been fighting with the government over details of what $5.2 billion in budget cuts will mean to Canadians. The government does not deny it knows the impact of the cuts, but it has refused to release any details.
Page believes he has a legal right to the information, and sought an outside opinion from University of Ottawa law professor Joseph Magnet.
Magnet sided with Page, saying the government has offered no legal argument for why it should be exempted from the Parliament of Canada Act, which guarantees the parliamentary budget officer free and timely access to data.
Opposition parties are rallying behind Page. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae today said the legal opinion clearly shows “the government of Canada under Stephen Harper is quite simply breaking the law.”
Kings-Hants Liberal MP Scott Brison said the secrecy means MPs must vote on a budget without knowing the details of what they are voting for or against.
“The Parliamentary budget officer doesn't operate in a bubble. His office is there to serve Parliament, to enable us to do our jobs,” said Brison.
“We cannot do our jobs if we're voting blindly on legislation.”
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen recently tried to start a contempt motion against the Conservative government for not providing information to Parliamentarians.
House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer threw out the motion. The Speaker is the referee of the House, but Scheer took a minimalist view of his role. He told MPs they will have to go to the courts to compel the government to hand over information.
Page has been mulling that option in recent weeks, though he says it is a last-case scenario.
Page asked about the implication of cuts from every department and agency. So far 64 organizations have ignored the request.
Speaking on behalf of them, Canada's top bureaucrat, Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters, told Page that government would not provide cut details until employees are notified first due to contractual obligations.
Unions then publicly endorsed Page's call for openness. They said they had no objection to cut details being released as long as the names of affected employees were not released.
Confronted with this in House of Commons Question Period, treasury board president Tony Clement said the government would still not release early details of cuts out of kindness to employees who could be impacted.
Legal opinion: Budget-cut secrecy breaking law | The Chronicle Herald