Appropriation Bill No. 2, 2014-15—Third ReadingPublished on 16 June 2014 Hansard and Statements by Senator Catherine Callbeck (retired)
Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck:
Honourable senators, I would like to say a few words on Bill C-38. Actually, I want to highlight an aspect in the second interim report on 2014-15 Main Estimates that really goes hand in hand with this piece of legislation before us. I want to mention an item that appears several times in that report — one that I really have serious problems with because I believe that it makes voting on this legislation extremely difficult.
As I have discussed before in this chamber, the majority of departments have items in their estimates over the past two years that relate to the savings or reductions from the 2012 spending review. Time after time, we fail to get a breakdown of what makes up those cuts. If we do end up getting a response, which is very infrequent, the information the committee receives is vague, and we don’t really get any information.
Honourable senators, this problem is not going to go away. In the report that I am talking about, linked to this supply bill, we find on four separate occasions the following lines:
The officials committed to providing a list of the savings achieved through the spending review launched in the 2012 federal budget. At the time of writing, the committee had not yet received the requested information.
The departments who were asked and have yet to provide a response in this report include: Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada for $52.7 million; Citizenship and Immigration for $13.9 million; and Health Canada for $59.1 million. That is over $125 million in cuts with absolutely no explanation.
Included at the end of this report is the response from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. They, too, were asked to provide a detailed report — a breakdown of the programs and positions that would be affected by the $240.2 million in cuts. Here is the information we received from that department:
$61.3 million, resulting from changes to project funding for Aboriginal representative organizations.
Well, what does that tell you?
Senator Moore: Nothing.
Senator Callbeck: That’s right. What changes were there and to what organizations?
Then you go on, and it says:
$51.7 million, following the review of the governance and institutions of government programs.
Well, there again, that tells you absolutely nothing.
It goes on:
$42.2 million through internal streamlining and restructuring; $28.5 million through restructuring of the Co-operative Relationships program; and $16.7 million through the restructuring of Aboriginal economic development programs.
In each case in that restructuring — one for $28.5 million and the other for $16.7 million — there is no explanation whatsoever as to how those dollars were saved.
I suppose you could say, “Well, it is better than nothing; at least we have some figures.” However, it is not the detailed explanation that the committee asked for.
Responses like this make it abundantly clear why people like Kevin Page ended up in court trying to get the information he needed to assess the impacts of these cuts. These high-level numbers do little to show what is actually happening within the departments. Yet, here we are tonight being asked to vote on this legislation.
I believe that parliamentarians have a fundamental right to know where every single dollar of taxpayers’ money is being spent or not spent. This is information that we shouldn’t have to fight over; it should be provided to us and to our colleagues in the other place without hesitation. Without that information, we can’t fulfill our duties to the best of our abilities, and that is a real problem. The erosion of clarity and openness from the bureaucracy is troubling to say the least.
I and many other senators on that committee are tired of being stonewalled and being given insufficient answers over basic questions. So here we are tonight, being asked to vote on this supply bill, when we don’t know how much of that money is being spent.
Parliament is supposed to be supreme in our system. We can’t forget that. But under this government, we are certainly slipping away from that fundamental principle. I have just outlined a good example of that.
Honourable senators, I find it very difficult to vote for legislation where we have not been given the information that we requested. What we got was just a bunch of figures with very vague comments.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.