The public accounts committee decides it’s only so interested in fiscal sustainability

Deciding not to bother the finance department

The Conservative MPs on the public accounts committee apparently voted down a Liberal motion that would have ordered the finance department to turn over long-term fiscal sustainability analyses produced over the last two and a half years.

The auditor general reported last fall that such analyses existed.

Regularly since 2010 and on occasion before that, Finance Canada has been providing the Minister of Finance with the results of fiscal sustainability analyses that project budgetary balance and public debt in the long term. However, the Department does not prepare these analyses—which indicate how budget measures will impact the fiscal position of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments—in time to inform budget decisions and before budgets are tabled in Parliament. For a given budget, the Minister is not informed of the overall long-term fiscal impact until months after the budget measures have been approved…

While long-term fiscal sustainability analyses have been regularly prepared since 2010, they have not been made public. This lack of reporting means that parliamentarians and Canadians do not have all the relevant information to understand the long-term impact of budgets on the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in order to support public debate and to hold the government to account. Many of the countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) already publish reports on their long-term fiscal positions.

In October, the Harper government produced a report on the fiscal implications of an aging population. And that’s apparently enough for Conservative MP Daryl Kramp.

Tory MP Daryl Kramp said Thursday the October 2012 report encompassed a number of long-term fiscal analyses stretching back to 2007, and rendered the opposition motion moot. “It’s a published report, it’s all in there,” said Kramp. “That why if there’s working papers, or other things like that are part of a composition of developing a report, they’re probably not there, as they wouldn’t be. That’s the government prerogative to be able to decide what they should or shouldn’t have.”

But Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said it’s preposterous to suggest that a report on a single issue — demographics — would represent the kind of large-scale analysis recommended by the auditor general. “For instance, a report on changing demographics would obviously not deal with any analysis that would also exist dealing with the long-term sustainability of defence procurement spending, of the sustainability of infrastructure spending and other matters not necessarily dealing with demographic concerns,” Byrne said.

In its response to the auditor general last fall, the government said it would start publishing annual analyses for the federal government starting in 2013 (it seemed to decline the auditor’s recommendation the state of provincial and territorial finances be included in some of those reports).

It is perhaps useful here to recall Brent Rathgeber’s understanding of parliamentary democracy.

I understand that Members of Parliament, who are not members of the executive, sometimes think of themselves as part of the government; we are not. Under our system of Responsible Government, the Executive is responsible and accountable to the Legislature. The latter holds the former to account. A disservice is provided to both when Parliament forgets to hold the Cabinet to account.

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