Canada's Original Think Tank

Borrowing by government and Parliament’s authority

Borrowing by government and Parliament’s authority

Borrowing by government and Parliament’s authority

Last week I moved second reading of Bill S-246An Act to amend the Borrowing Authority Act, which will restore Parliament’s authority over borrowing by the government.

Parliament’s authority over the public purse is fundamental to our democracy, and has been the norm for centuries. Whenever the government believed it needed to borrow money for the upcoming year, it would come to Parliament and ask for authority to borrow the necessary funds. In 2001, the process was even enshrined in the Financial Administration Act, so that if the government wanted to borrow money, it needed to pass a bill in Parliament.

But in 2007, centuries of tradition and practice were overturned. Slipped into the middle of a long omnibus budget bill was a small, one-sentence clause that gave away Parliament’s authority over borrowing by the government, and transferred it to cabinet.

This tiny clause was missed at first, but over the years multiple Senate Public Bills have been introduced to fix it. The new Liberal government promised to make the necessary changes, but did not restore full Parliamentary authority and implemented reporting periods of only every three years.

My bill is simple: it requires that the government come to Parliament annually to ask permission to borrow, if they wish to borrow, and report on it annually. This type of oversight – to hold the government to account for its management of the public purse – is a fundamental role of Parliament.