Cabinet’s promised repeal of a bill sanctioning secret borrowing is winning praise in the Senate. The 2016 budget pledges to “enhance transparency” in federal spending.
“That’s exciting,” said Senator Wilfred Moore (Liberal-N.S.), sponsor of a private bill to abolish the practice. “This is positive, and we’ll just continue to be vigilant and stay on top of it and hopefully see it through.”
The previous Conservative cabinet in a 2007 omnibus budget bill amended the Financial Administration Act to allow Ministers to borrow funds by executive order without first seeking the consent of Parliament. Critics including now-retired Conservative senator Lowell Murray tried four times in six years to repeal the amendment.
“Nobody picked it up in the House or the Senate when it was introduced,” said Senator Moore. “Lowell just about blew a gasket. He said, ‘They can’t do that; they’ve taken out their responsibility to go to the people to get approval to borrow the money.’”
“I’ve tried twice with my amendment; they wouldn’t even let him get it to committee,” said Moore. The Nova Scotia Senator this year again introduced Bill S-204 An Act To Amend The Financial Administration Act that would strip cabinet of unilateral borrowing authority.
Cabinet in last Tuesday’s budget Growing The Middle Class promised unspecified changes to the Act: “In 2016-17 the government will propose legislative amendments to require parliamentary approval of government borrowing to enhance transparency and accountability to Parliament,” the budget said. Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not comment.
“The government included restoring parliamentary approval for borrowing plans as part of its election platform commitments,” said David Barnabe, finance department spokesperson. “Further details will be available once implementing legislation is introduced.” No deadline was set.
“We’ll have to wait and see what’s in the bill,” said Senator Moore. “I expect there will be more in it than just what was said in the budget itself.”
Finance department officials earlier defended the measure as reasonable, saying lawmakers could always learn of borrowing after the fact with the annual release of Public Accounts. “We borrow from financial markets and so financial markets, in essence, give us a limit on that credit card,” Dan Calof, then-acting director of Finance Canada’s markets division, earlier told Senate hearings.
By Dale Smith