On the $3-billion fund, here's what the Liberals want - Macleans.ca

On the $3-billion fund, here’s what the Liberals want

The main request: to see a broad list of departments and programs before the special fund is approved

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On the $3-billion fund, here's what the Liberals wantThere’s been nothing but confusion about that $3-billion fund the government is asking to be able to spend without going through the normal approval process . The Prime Minister has accused the opposition is proposing “to have parliamentary sign-off on every individual project.”

If that were true, it would be outrageous. Obviously, to get stimulus spending flowing, the government needs some flexiblility to select and approve projects quickly. But the Liberals have denied they ever asked for anything like project-by-project scrutiny, and I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary.

Now we know exactly what the Liberals want. Yesterday they tabled their motion asking for a bit of advance understanding of how the money will be spent, combined with prompt information to Parliament after projects are formally approved.

Far from insisting on vetting every project in advance, they request only “a list of departments and programs which are likely to require access to this extraordinary authority.” I note the word “likely”—I mean, it’s far from categorical or exhaustive.

The rest of the motion describes the sort of information the House would get after a project secured formal Treasury Board approval. It asks for details within a day of projects getting the green light. I suppose the government might reasonably ask to be allowed to, say, bundle together a week’s worth, or even a month’s worth, of these approvals and pass them on to Parliament less frequently.

But that’s a matter of debating the fine points. The main request here—to see a broad list of departments and programs to be funded before the special fund is approved—hardly looks like obstruction or red tape.

Here’s the Liberal motion, which will likely be debated after the House returns from next week’s March break

March 10, 2009 — Mr. McCallum (Markham—Unionville) — That, due to the extraordinary nature of the spending authority proposed in Treasury Board Vote 35 in the Main Estimates for 2009-2010, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, by April 3rd, 2009, a list of the departments and programs which are likely to require access to this extraordinary authority; and on each occasion that the government uses Vote 35, this House calls upon the government to table in the House, within one sitting day of each such use, a report disclosing:
(a) the name and location of each project to which the funding is being provided (including the federal electoral district in which it is located),
(b) the amount of federal funding,
(c) the department and program under which the federal funding is being provided, and
(d) what each project is intended to achieve in fighting the recession, and why it requires recourse to Vote 35 rather than any other source of funds; and
that each such report shall be posted on a publicly accessible government website, and referred immediately to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Auditor General.