'Parliament has lost control of the estimate process'

The complaints of a young Reform MP

Colin Horgan compares the concerns of the “non-partisan” (in the Prime Minister’s estimation) CD Howe Institute with the “partisan” (in the Prime Minister’s estimation) criticisms of Scott Clark and Peter DeVries.

Concerns about Parliament’s ability to scrutinize government spending are not quite novel, nor limited to individuals who the Prime Minister and Finance Minister might easily dismiss as Liberals. Here is Conservative MP Mike Wallace expressing concern in July 2011. And here is Conservative MP Daryl Kramp expressing concern in December 2011. (It might also be relevant to note that the G8 Legacy Fund was criticized by the auditor general, in part, for how it was not clearly identified in the estimates.)

Complaints, of course, also predate this government. Here, for instance, is what a young Reform MP in March 1995.

As British history unfolded, Parliament asserted more and more its rights, not only to give its approval and its input, but to control the entire process: to control the agenda, to select ministers, to ultimately provide responsible government and democratic control over the affairs of the crown.

The funny thing about this is that as time went on the process almost reversed itself. Gradually Parliament pushed the crown out as the governing force in British democratic countries. As soon as that happened, the government increasingly became a force very much independent of Parliament, until it is as we have it today, where estimates are presented in the hundreds of billions of dollars, approved by Parliament without serious scrutiny, almost on a ritualistic basis. We saw that here last week.

Auditors General have pointed out on many occasions, and in many different ways, that Parliament has lost control of the estimate process. The question will increasingly arise, particularly as we go through this period of governments cutting spending, cutting favours and the goodies which they give to the population, as to why people believe that this process protects their interests, protects their tax dollars and protects their financial interests.

Eleven years later, a slightly older Stephen Harper was still sufficiently concerned that he ran on a platform that included the creation of “an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority” on the grounds that “governments cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances.”

Maybe Mr. Harper now thinks that his government has completely rectified the situation and that the concerns of Mr. Clark and Mr. DeVries are thus baseless. But then, even the irreproachable CD Howe Institute seems to quibble.