(OTTAWA) November 1, 2016 – Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s fall update reflects a desire to meet voter expectations for more accountable and open government, while increasing expectations for ramped up infrastructure investments.
“Key announcements for increased accountability are very welcome commitments to legislate independence for the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to open to the Board of Internal Economy to daylight, and legislate greater independence for the Chief Statistician of Canada. The promised reforms of the government’s approach to timing of main estimates and the budget itself, while improvements, fail to restore the fundamental principle that “Parliament controls the public purse.”
“Much more needs to be done if we are truly to know how Canadians’ money is being spent before MPs vote,” said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands). “While it is very good news that the PBO will be an Officer of Parliament and more available to individual MPs, we need to end the practice of ‘deemed’ study and review of billions of dollars of spending. We must ensure that budgets are available and comparable year to year for federal government departments.”
The commitment to infrastructure spending is improved over Budget 2016. The boosting of spending – $21.9 billion in Green infrastructure, $25.3 billion in public transit out of a total of $81 billion announced through to 2027-28 – is partially sourced through the proposed Infrastructure Bank. The federal government will provide $35 billion on a cash basis to the Canada Infrastructure Bank of which $15 billion will be dedicated to named infrastructure needs.
“As the details of the functioning of the Infrastructure Bank await the spring 2017 budget, many questions remain. The Green Party of Canada has advocated for an Infrastructure Bank as a way of accessing low-interest financing for municipalities, while recognizing that financing is no substitute for adequate and sustainable funding. More concerning, we have never suggested investments must be in ‘revenue-generating’ infrastructure. By definition, much of what our grandparents’ generation invested in for the future was public projects for public benefit. These investments benefited the entire economy and society. To demand that they be ‘revenue-generating’ raises many red flags,” Ms. May said.
“One last concern is what is not mentioned in the update. While much of the spending is consistent with climate action, those links are not made explicit. For example, public transit investments, enhanced waterworks, reducing reliance on coal and enhancing the east-west electricity grid are all steps toward positive climate action. Spending on climate action without using the words is better than empty rhetoric with no action. Still, it is worrying that reduction in greenhouses gases from these investments and adapting to levels of climate change we can no longer avoid are not highlighted as a goal in relevant spending,” Ms. May concluded.