The budget needs more transparency and more information

Speaker: Ms. May
Time: 12/04/2021 17:50:47
Context: Debate

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Madam Speaker, it is an honour to speak virtually today and I thank my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith for this opportunity to split the time.

I want to acknowledge that I am on the traditional territory of WSÁNEC Nation, part of the coast Salish nations of the beautiful area of Saanich Gulf Islands. Over time perhaps we could change the name Saanich to WSÁNEC to spell it in SENCOTEN because that is the source of the name Saanich Peninsula where I am honoured to represent the wonderful constituents of this area.

I am taking a different approach to this look at Bill C-14 and I am afraid that I may end up being very boring. That is because we have before us really important legislation. I wish it had been passed long ago when it first came forward because it does provide important supports, as my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith just said, that we will support from the Green Party: supports for low and middle income Canadians, relief on student debt, more support for virtual care, mental health, substance abuse programs. There is help for businesses in their rent. These are things that we would have liked to have seen pass, but that does not mean that we do not have some significant concerns about the fall economic statement and the upcoming budget.

This is where I am afraid where I am going to perhaps be boring. I would love to give a speech to make the point that my colleague from the Bloc Québécois just made that our recovery needs to be focused on renewable energy, on a green economic recovery and the need to actually hit our Paris commitment to hold to 1.5° which the current government legislation in Bill C-12 does not come close to ensuring that we have anything like accountability.

I want to focus on the question of what is our role as parliamentarians when we look at budgets. What is our role as parliamentarians when we look at the fall economic statement? What is our job? In theory, and as some will know when I start speaking the House of Commons and say what is supposed to be happening in theory, members can be pretty sure it is not what is happing in practice. In theory, parliamentarians are responsible for the public purse. We are responsible as one of our core jobs as members of Parliament, to control the public purse. If we are going to control the public purse, it suggests that we actually know about the measures we are voting for, that we are able to analyze the budget and get enough information to be effective and responsible as parliamentarians.

Speaking in general first and then zooming in on the specifics, in my experience of reading budgets and that goes back to well before I was honoured to be elected in this place in 2011, I used to go to pre-budget lockups. When I was the executive director of Sierra Club of Canada and was one of the founders of something called the Green Budget Coalition and sat down with the Minister of Finance and worked through budgets after the fact. In pre-budget lockups I would usually bring previous years’ budgets with me so that I could quickly reference to see which department is getting more money, which department is getting less money and what does this look like in terms of our accountability and where is the money going?

I have been trying to remember the last time I saw a budget that actually included the numbers. This will strike Canadians as odd. How can we have a fall economic statement or a budget that does not include the numbers? Well there are numbers there, but they tend to unrelated one from the other. In preparing for this speech, I found a column from December 2015 that was written by three friends of mine: Kevin Page, our former parliamentary budget officer; Bob Plamandon, noted Conservative commentator; and former MP and friend, Pat Martin. They penned an article for The Globe and Mail on this very point. Members of Parliament do not have enough information to actually do the job we are supposed to do which is controlling the public purse.

To quote from that article from three colleagues they wrote: “It’s well nigh impossible for mere mortals to follow the money”. It is well nigh impossible. We used to have budgets where we actually add up the various departmental budgets and get to a number which is what the government was going to spend.