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Budget watchdog says government not giving information

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty answers questions in the lockup prior to the release of the federal budget in Ottawa Thursday, March 29, 2012. Opposition MPs who sit on a key House of Commons committee are poised to ask the government to turn over key financial documents in the run-up to the federal budget. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.

OTTAWA – The acting budget watchdog says she’s still having trouble getting government departments and agencies to give her the information she needs to do her job.

Sonia L’Heureux said she has twice requested information she needs to analyze budget 2012, but some departments and agencies remain non-compliant.

A spokesman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement said the government “continues to provide the PBO with information that falls within its mandate.”

Agriculture Canada, Canada School for the Public Service, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, HRSDC (Labour) and Transport Canada have refused to provide information, while others have simply not responded.

The most recent deadline was July 19.

L’Heureux said she first sought information from the government in April 2013.

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“The first deadline for providing it came and went, and the majority of departments and agencies did not comply with the totality of my request,” she said in a statement.

L’Heureux said she informed both the Speakers in the Senate and House of Commons, and they told her to write to the departments and agencies and ask them for the information again.

“That second deadline of July 19, 2013 came and went, and I have yet to be provided with all the information that I need to undertake the requested analysis,” she said.

“If and when I am provided with it, I look forward to performing the analysis and, thereby, discharging my legislative mandate.”

Kevin Page, the previous parliamentary budget officer appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, took the government to court over its refusal to provide him with the data needed to properly assess whether the 2012 budget cuts are achievable.

Peggy Nash, the NDP’s finance critic, blamed Harper’s Conservatives for stonewalling the PBO and suggested the NDP will take “next steps” in the situation.

“Time and again the Parliamentary Budget Officer asked for information and the Conservative government refused. The PBO even had to take the government to court to establish that the PBO was within its rights to ask for this data. The court agreed, and yet the government continues to stonewall,” said Nash.

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“As for next steps on the NDP’s request, we are weighing all our options. But rest assured we will take the steps necessary so Canadians receive the financial accountability they deserve.”

A Federal Court ultimately dismissed Page’s suit on a technicality in April, while admonishing the government for its refusal to recognize the PBO’s mandate.

After the court’s prodding, 60 of 82 federal organizations eventually provided some data to the PBO, although only 14 met the initial May 10 deadline.

–  with files from the Canadian Press

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