Do you know how your federal government is spending your money? - Macleans.ca

Do you know how your federal government is spending your money?

The short answer is no

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Tony Clement tabled the main estimates yesterday afternoon. Postmedia and iPolitics note some of the cuts that might be presaged by the estimates, depending on what is including in the federal budget, but this is a good moment to recall—see here, here, here, here, here and here—just how little is clear about how the government spends money.

The government operations committee’s report on reforming the system, including the discrepancy between the main estimates and the budget, is here.

Kevin Page’s opening statement to the committee is here.

One of the key principles underlying responsible parliamentary government is that the House of Commons holds the “power of the purse”. The House must be able to satisfy itself, as the confidence chamber, that all spending and taxation is consistent with legislation, Parliament’s intentions, and the principles of parliamentary control. When this is accomplished, Parliament is serving Canadians. In my view, this is rarely accomplished.

Scott Clark and Peter DeVries explained the system’s shortcomings in a long review posted in August 2011.

The reality is that Parliamentarians and Canadians in general are in the dark about what the Government is planning to spend this year. Even worse, the Government is making no effort to clear up the confusion and provide greater transparency and ultimately greater accountability.

There was as well the mystery around the spending cuts in the 2011 budget (and the related election campaign surprise, which launched our cataloguing of the quiet cuts).

And, of course, there is also Mr. Page’s quest for details of the government’s cuts (which is perhaps all the more reason to clarify Mr. Page’s mandate and his power to compel disclosure).