Ottawa

Note to PCO: Y'all might want to consider spending a little less money advertising the Economic Action! Plan ...

… and putting a little more time and effort into documenting how the money is actually being spent.

The Parliamentary Budget Office has analysed the most recent progress report — you remember, the one unveiled by the prime minister before a captive audience at a Saint John train yard  — and, well,  it’s not exactly what you’d call a rave review:

Content remains uneven in the GC’s Third Report, notwithstanding the additional data that have become available over the past three months and the additional time available to address previously noted shortcomings.

Many missing data correspond to implementation and outcome indicators that the GC collects as part of its standard due diligence process and should be readily available (e.g. risks, mitigation plans, uncertainties). Failing to include these data could hinder Parliament‟s ability to provide meaningful oversight of the economic stimulus package.

Of greater concern than the absence of readily available information is the regular shifting of titles and categories of stimulus measures. Some measures have been re-categorized or renamed between the GC‟s Reports. In particular:

  • certain measures re-categorized under new titles and grouping names, such as environment-related initiatives (four discrete measures were presented in the First Report, but then aggregated under a new title in the Second Report).
  • other measures seem to have been dropped from the Reports altogether, such as Maternity and Parental Benefits for the Self-Employed (included in Budget 2009, but not included in subsequent updates).

These changes to the titles and categories of initiatives render it challenging to track implementation progress through the three Reports (further examples are presented in Annex E). It could also hinder Parliament‟s ability to use these documents as budgetary oversight tools.

Finally, the GC‟s Third Report continues to place uneven emphasis across the stimulus package, failing to link the level of reporting with the risk and materiality of the initiatives. In general, smaller items in the federal stimulus plan (e.g. support for shipbuilding, enhanced work-sharing flexibility) tend to have adequate coverage, while larger items could benefit from additional disclosure (e.g. infrastructure).

As a result, parliamentarians are in a good position to provide oversight of many items contained in the stimulus package, but these represent only a small portion of the total stimulus funding and tend to be lower-risk (and less complex) projects.

There’s more — much more, including examples of stimulus items that have gone missing, or that have been renamed and recategorized — in the full report, which is definitely worth reading.