Roundup: The difficulty with tracking spending

The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s latest analysis shows that it’s difficult to track budgetary spending commitments because they don’t often line up with the Supplementary Estimates. And yes, this is a problem. The solution is something that the government has already committed to, which is to reform the Estimates process. Right now, it is out of sync with the budget, where the Estimates need to be out before the beginning of the new fiscal year, but there is no set time for the budget to be released, meaning that the allocation of budget dollars happens before Parliament sees the budget. Later allocations to match the budget are supposed to then show up in the Supplementary Estimates, but as the PBO shows in his analysis, that’s hard to track. And even harder to track is whether those Estimates wound up being spent properly because the accounting systems used between the Estimates and the Public Accounts at the end of the fiscal year no longer match up, so tracking those dollars is also near-impossible. This has been an ongoing problem for decades, and the Liberals were elected on a promise to fix this problem. They have started to, but in recent months, the Treasury Board president, Scott Brison, says he has encountered resistance from the civil service when it comes to how they time things, and he’s trying to fix it. So that’s the hope, anyway.

What I hope comes from this exercise, however, is increased pressure on Brison and the government to carry on with reforming the Estimates cycle so that it better matches the budget cycle, and that the Estimates match the Public Accounts at the end of the year so that money can actually be tracked. What I hope doesn’t happen is for this to turn into calls to turn over yet more power and authority for scrutinizing the estimates to the PBO because that’s the whole raison d’etre of MPs, and they should be demanding that it be in a format that they can use and understand.

And while we’re on the subject of the PBO, here’s Kevin Milligan on the proposed amendments to the new PBO legislation, and why he still has concerns (as I do) about creating a massively powerful Officer of Parliament with no oversight or accountability.

Good reads:

  • Justin Trudeau addressed the Italian parliament to talk about the importance of ratifying CETA in an age of protectionism.
  • Trudeau also told the press that the Kinder Morgan pipeline was going ahead regardless of whether the NDP might form government in BC.
  • Incidentally, that theoretical NDP government (which may not actually happen) probably won’t have a lot of tools with which to resist said pipeline.
  • The MMIW inquiry heard its first day of testimony in Whitehorse yesterday.
  • The government’s bill on reforming political donations could be tabled today.
  • Senator Frum has tabled a bill to outlaw foreign funded election ads in campaigns (though I’m not sure how that could be adequately enforced).
  • The existence of a “flexible budget envelope” as part of a proposed “hybrid procurement process” are complicating the dispute over S&R planes.
  • The Chief of Defence Staff accepts an inquiry report into the handling of a sexual assault case, but there are contradictions in that acceptance.
  • The leader of the Libertarian Party has offered to step aside if Maxime Bernier wants his job.
  • There are questions about why Andrew Scheer’s policy page disappeared during the leadership convention event.
  • Some Conservatives are grousing about the leadership voting process; others note that the problem wasn’t the ranked ballots, it was the 13 candidates on it.
  • My column wonders if free-market conservatives are still welcome in a party that has retrenched into one of right-flavoured populism.

Odds and ends:

Part of Ontario’s sesquicentennial involves renting a giant inflatable duck, and Michelle Rempel wants to ensure federal funds were not used for it.

Here’s a look at that BC NDP/Green agreement, but I would reckon that it’s far from providing stable government (over four years) with a single seat difference.