Roundup: Estimates still a mess

The Main Estimates were released yesterday in advance of the budget, and if you don’t know why this is a bad thing that keeps happening, then you need a better understanding of why this is such a big deal in our parliamentary system. The Estimates are the way in which parliament authorizes the government to spend money, and they should be there for MPs to scrutinize before the money goes out the door. The problem is that we’ve divorced the estimates from the budget cycle, which means that they are now documents that reflect the status quo of the previous year rather than any new measures, and we have to wait for the Supplementary Estimates to be tabled later in the year. With the Main Estimates reduced to a formality, it’s reduced any study of the Supplementary Estimates to a kind of shrug and quick vote to pass, leaving the Senate to do any actual scrutiny, which is a problem. Why? It’s the job of MPs to hold government to account by controlling the public purse – hence the Estimates – and if they can’t do that, they can’t do their jobs. To make this worse, successive governments have allowed the accounting of the Estimates to become virtually unreadable, and when the Public Accounts are released a year later – which shows how that money was spent – they’re reported in a different accounting system, so you can’t really track if money was properly spent or not. It’s an abomination to how parliament is supposed to work (and yes, this is one of those things I talk about in The Unbroken Machine).

To their credit, the Liberals have vowed to fix this, and Scott Brison seems to be at least showing a bit of contrition and frustration that fixing this is taking so long. Part of this is bureaucratic, with departments not speeding up their processes. Part of this is political, where the Commons hasn’t amended the Standing Orders to allow the Estimates to be tabled by May 1st instead of March 1st so that it can follow the budget. But seriously – this is actually the most important job of MPs, and they have shown a complete disregard for this for years now. Their most fundamental duty is to control the public purse and the Estimates are the heart of that process, and they can’t be arsed to take them seriously. Watching them speed through Estimates votes without proper scrutiny happens more often than not, and we saw last year a case where they voted through a flawed version of the bill that the Senate caught and had to send back. It’s a disgrace, and while I applaud Brison for trying to make changes, the fact that the rest of the Commons can’t get on board is utterly shameful.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a good look at the country’s fiscal picture in the lead up to the budget, while Paul Wells gets more hints about the budget, which looks to be a lot more wait-and-see given the unfolding Trumpocalypse south of the border.

Good reads:

  • Manitoba premier Brian Pallister wants a federal plan to deal with illegal refugee crossings into Canada.
  • Rona Ambrose tabled a bill to ensure that judges get proper sexual assault training.
  • While Donald Trump promises slashed regulations, Scott Brison is headed to Washington to talk about Canadian successes and failures trying to do just that.
  • The PBO says that $3 billion in spending from the last budget could lapse.
  • A recent report looked at the problem of children in immigration detention, which the government has already devoted resources to ending where possible.
  • The Senate has declined Mike Duffy’s request to be reimbursed for his legal fees.
  • The Commons government operations committee is going to look at national security exemptions on procurement contracts.
  • Freshly lawyered up, VADM Mark Norman says he did nothing wrong and is the victim of “bureaucratic crossfire.”
  • The military pension backlog may take a year to sort out.
  • Here’s a dive into our history of dubious innovation policy, including the fact that our R&D spending is lacking behind comparator countries.
  •  Here’s an interview with Andrew Scheer, who dubs himself “Mr. Compromise.”
  • Kevin O’Leary is still being paid to talk politics – including his own candidacy – on US cable news station CNBC.
  • Low party membership numbers in Quebec could mean those ridings could hold huge weight in the leadership contest, possibly in Maxime Bernier’s favour.

Odds and ends:

While Trudeau and Trump had a phone call about issues like softwood lumber, a Montana Reporter asked the White House about building a wall with Canada.

Kady O’Malley is staking out the Manning Centre conference for Maclean’s.

Tristin Hopper has developed a quiz to find your preferred Conservative leadership candidate.