In tabling this report, the committee reaffirmed the primacy of Parliament and the need for its members to have access to relevant financial costs prior to voting on legislation, including punishment bills. Whether this finding will amount to more than an official rebuke in the House of Commons or an election as a result of a confidence motion remains to be seen, particularly in light of the fact that Budget 2011 - which could also trigger an election - is being tabled tomorrow afternoon.
Unfortunately, this exercise has failed to produce any substantial new information that wasn't already known a month ago (read 23 February post). The Conservatives continue to maintain that their punishment bills tabled this legislative session will cost $2.7 billion to the federal treasury over five years. However, these projections do not include the costs of their prison agenda to the provinces and territories or other related expenditures that were not explicitly outlined in Liberal Finance Critic Scott Brison's Question of Privilege (read 17 March post).
The committee's finding of contempt was also supported by comments made by the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Office who noted the following about the federal governments attempt to comply with the request by tabling a large binder of so-called new information minutes before a hearing last week (see March 2011 report by the PBO - page 2):
- "Additional information has indeed been provided to parliamentarians when compared to the GC's [Government of Canada] tabling of documents on February 17, 2011;
- Based on the GC's assessment, four of the proposed bills are not expected to have a fiscal impact owing to their procedural nature;
- The FINA committee request and the Question of Privilege contained multiple references to breakdowns of costs by capital, operating and maintenance and other costs. The information provided includes virtually no reference to capital expenditures (e.g. new cell construction, refurbishment, recapitalization, capital asset replacement);
- There remain significant gaps between the information requested by parliamentarians and the documentation that was provided by the GC which will limit the ability of parliamentarians to fulfill their fiduciary obligations".
In reaction to the conclusion reached today by their colleagues in the opposition, Conservative members of the committee issued a dissenting report where they argued that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc "have ignored the substance of the evidence provided by the Government and by the witnesses who appeared. The report tabled by the committee is simply a piece of partisan gamesmanship that diminishes the important work of Parliament" (read report - page 18).
Based on the rhetoric in Ottawa, one could conclude that Parliament in its current form is dysfunctional and Canadians will soon be heading to the polls. Of course, reconciliation is always possible if the price is right. Whether the Conservatives write the cheque and one of the opposition parties decides to cash it is another matter.
- CBC News