Ottawa ‘hiding truth’ on budget cut impacts

Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are defying a demand from the parliamentary budget officer that they provide more details on the impact of their budget cuts.

Interim PBO Sonia L’Heureux has asked all departments and agencies twice since April for detailed information on the impact of budget cuts imposed in the 2012 federal budget.

In late July, she reported that many had not complied by the latest deadline.

Agriculture Canada and the CFIA were listed as “refusal to comply,” while the Canadian Dairy Commission offered “no response.”

It could open the way for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who asked the PBO to do the analysis, to take the delinquent departments to court.

The non-compliers insist they are not delinquent and provided all the information that the PBO asked for within the position’s legislative mandate.

The federal government created the PBO position five years ago to act as an independent analyst of federal government finances and spending.

Almost from its creation, first parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page clashed with the government as he critiqued its spending and deficit reduction plans and de-manded detailed information about government statements on the effect of their financial decisions and veracity of their projections.

Page was not reappointed when his five-year term ended earlier this year.

For the moment, chief parliamentary librarian L’Heureux, who is acting until a new permanent PBO is appointed, is carrying on in Page’s legacy, demanding detailed information on the impacts of billions of dollars worth of budget cuts announced last year.

In response, Agriculture Canada presented information that indicated cuts will cause 617 job cuts at the department by next year with several hundred additional cuts at the CFIA.

The descriptions of the budget and staff cuts were vague, arguing “efficiencies” and “streamlining” and eliminating unnecessary programs.

In its submission on significant cuts to the science, innovation and adaptation branch, for example, the department’s response said it has “found ways to save money by operating fewer facilities while still maintaining the same level of service to Canadians and farmers.”

It said research priorities will be “better aligned” with industry research priorities and some lower-priority programs will be eliminated. “We will continue to maintain centres, labs, greenhouses and farms across the country, but it is time for this network to reflect the real needs of the sector,” said the Agriculture Canada submission.

L’Heureux is demanding more specific information about how the cuts will affect programs, services and employees.

Liberal agriculture critic Frank Valeriote argues that the need for more transparency about the impacts of cuts is even more critical at the CFIA. In a letter to agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, he said the CFIA should be instructed to provide the information the PBO has demanded because the impact of cuts on food inspection is key.

“Despite a senior vice-president informing staff that there would necessarily be a front line impact with the significant cuts made and information we have had to glean from access to information requests showing fewer front line veterinarians, you have continued to argue that there has been no noticeable impact, all the while refusing to release the necessary information to confirm your statements,” he wrote. “This cannot stand.”

Valeriote said in an interview that the government is “hiding the truth about the impact of their cuts.”

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