What does budget secrecy mean anymore?

Here a leak, there a leak, everywhere a leak leak

The NDP wants the RCMP to investigate the leak of a particular item ahead of the budget’s release last week.

I am writing to you about potentially criminal actions related to a breach of budget secrecy. Details appeared in the media of new tariff cuts on hockey equipment, details which were officially released in the budget document at 4:00 pm on March 21, 2013. The information released was outlined in a Globe and Mail article by Steven Chase and Bill Curry on March 20, 2013. The article described the tariff cut as part of “a pilot project to see whether the money the government loses in customs revenue is recouped in sales tax.”

The leak and availability of this information, prior to it being made public in the budget, gave those with this information an opportunity for personal financial gain.

The New Democrats cite the most famous of budget leak precedents: the Doug Small case (see here, here, here and here for the details).

Budget secrecy is enough of a tradition that it is explained in the official guide to House practice and procedure. But the need for secrecy is obviously not absolute.

Three years ago, the CBC proclaimed the “demise of the secret budget.”

The Conservative government is taking a novel approach to secrecy concerning the January budget: it is announcing everything ahead of time. So far, Canadians know the federal deficit will be about $34 billion in the next fiscal year and $64 billion for the next two years. There will be $7 billion in public works spending, $1.5 billion for jobs training, $2 billion for social housing and a raft of permanent income tax reductions, likely aimed at the middle class…

Indeed, the new approach in Ottawa could mean that measures such as the electronic encrypting of budget documents at the Department of Finance and the slightly-demeaning escorting of reporters to the washroom by security officials during the budget lockup will be relegated to the dustbin of parliamentary history. None too soon, say some Ottawa watchers. “[Budget secrecy] hasn’t mattered in 10 years,” said one former finance official who has been involved with past budgets.

Last year, Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield claimed budget secrecy kept him from discussing cuts to the Department of Fisheries with the government of Newfoundland before the budget was tabled.

The idea that the information might have been used for personal financial gain perhaps attempts to draw a line between benign leaks and bad leaks.

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