PBO won't issue analysis on Ottawa's finances, blames secrecy

OTTAWA – Canada’s budget watchdog will not issue a mid-year report on the Harper government’s finances, citing lack of co-operation from the vast majority of departments.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said Tuesday that he has received responses to requests about budget cutbacks from 91 per cent of government departments.

However, he says most have supplied inadequate information.

Only one-quarter of departments, representing three per cent of the $5.2 billion in budgeted cutbacks, have provided data on personnel losses or the impact on services to Canadians, he said.

“The lack of disclosure will prevent the PBO from providing parliamentarians with independent analysis on the state of the nation’s finances and the estimates of the government,” the budget officer said in a release Tuesday.

Page has asked for a legal opinion on whether he can sue the government for the information he is requesting.

But on Monday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty reiterated his position that he does not believe Page is entitled to the information he is seeking.

“My concern is his mandate is to look at government spending,” Flaherty told CBC’s Power and Politics program.

“What’s he’s proposing to do now is look at government non-spending. I don’t see that in his mandate. I wish he would stick to his knitting, quite frankly, he has enough to do.”

Flaherty is expected to issue the government’s economic update on the fiscal year so far later this month.

Page gave no date when he will offer his analysis, saying it will come “as further data is provided.”

Based on information he has received so far, Page said the government will achieve most of its cost savings from cutbacks to international, immigration, defence and social programs and general government services.

Reductions in internal operations, or overhead, only represent about 15 per cent of the overall package, he said.