Cabinet confidentially cut funding for meat inspections, ice patrols and federal research on prescription drug prices, say newly-released accounts. It took four years and a federal court ruling for the Treasury Board to detail billions in program cuts enacted in 2012.
“Our work was hampered,” said Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Fréchette. “We operate with data and information. If you don’t have it, we don’t go anywhere. The bottom line is, we need data and information.”
The Treasury Board released details of cuts to 485 federal programs – some known, others concealed – that were enacted in 2012. The Budget Office went to Federal Court in 2013 after departments failed to disclose all financial records.
The cuts totaled $4.4 billion in the period from 2012 to 2014. “I hope now that if this government is open and transparent, this will not happen again,” said Fréchette. “I always told requesters I would never abandon the work.” Cuts detailed for the first time included:
- • $13.7 million from the budget of spy agency Communications Security Establishment Canada;
- • $5.6 million with the closure of diplomatic missions overseas;
- • $3.9 million from slaughterhouse inspections by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency;
- • $2.8 million in tourism advertising in the U.S.;
- • $1.2 million from Health Canada’s drug analysis service;
- • $1 million from annual ice reconnaissance patrols by the Department of Fisheries.
Other cuts included $819,000 at the Hazardous Materials Information Commission; elimination of a $950,000 Parks Canada teacher curricula program; $428,000 in cuts to anti-spam enforcement by the Canadian Radio Television & Telecommunications Commission; a reduction of $374,000 from a national price check program by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board; and a cut of $200,000 a year at the Canadian Police College.
“The previous government cut by stealth,” said Treasury Board President Scott Brison. “They refused to provide to Parliament, to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to Canadians very important information about their fiscal plans.”
A federal judge in 2013 dismissed the Budget Officer’s lawsuit on a technicality, “non-justiciability”, but noted under the Parliament of Canada Act the officer is owed “free and timely access to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department”. Parliament’s library committee that oversees the Budget Office subsequently passed a 2015 resolution noting, “The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.”
“These were decisions by the previous government,” Brison told reporters. “The first step we’ve taken is to actually make them public”; “The fact it’s been four years demonstrates how wrongheaded the previous government was to try to keep this information.”
Accounts confirmed several federal programs were eliminated altogether, including a First Nations Statistical Institute; the Katimavik youth exchange program; and an Emergency Management College.
Also cancelled was a Fire Protection Program at the Department of Human Resources; the Canadian Tourism Commission’s membership in the United Nations World Tourism Organization; a Canada-Australia Exchange Program; a $305,000-a year Public Service Innovative Management Research Fund; and operations of two National Film Board theatres in Toronto and Montréal.