Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Liberals move accountability motion

For those wondering how the Liberals would translate Michael Ignatieff's tough talk on accountability yesterday regarding the Conservatives' $3 billion spending fund into action, here you go:

Liberal Party Finance Critic John McCallum today submitted a motion that would deliver openness and accountability in the way of the government’s unprecedented request for Parliament to approve $3 billion in spending without a defined plan.

“This is an extraordinary request by a government at a time when extraordinary action is needed. Considering this government’s track record on accountability, such as last week’s damning report from the information commissioner, we simply can’t trust them to spend this money effectively without proper oversight,” said Mr. McCallum. “I don’t know why this government never seems able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but I really don’t see a reason why we should be asked to sacrifice accountability for swiftness of action.”

Liberal Treasury Board Critic Dan McTeague, who will second Mr. McCallum’s motion, said that if Parliament approves the funding, he will be watching the disbursement of funds like a hawk on behalf of taxpayers and that the Liberal motion would provide him with the information needed to identify wasteful or partisan spending before it happens rather than after.

Some specifics:

THAT, due to the extraordinary nature of the spending authority being proposed in Treasury Board Vote 35 as set forth in the Main Estimates for 2009-2010, the government shall, before approval of those Estimates, table in the House of Commons a comprehensive list of all the departments and programs which will have access to this extraordinary authority; and

on each occasion that the government uses Vote 35, the President of the Treasury Board shall cause to be tabled in the House, within one sitting day of each use, a report disclosing the name of the project to which the funding is being provided, the nature of the project and what it is intended to achieve in fighting the recession, its location (including the federal electoral district in which it is located), the amount of federal funding involved, any other funding partners and the amounts of their contributions, the department and program under which the federal funding is being provided, and an explanation of why the project is urgent and requires the use of Vote 35 rather than any other source of funds; and

THAT each such report shall automatically and immediately be posted on an accessible and interactive government website, and be referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates and to the Auditor General.

Remove the parliamentary language and it boils down to:

* A list of which departments will be able to access the funding must be tabled before the fund is approved.

* Within one sitting day of any of the funding being allocated, the government needs to inform the House of all the details: where it's going, how much, what for, just how this will help fight the recession, and why it's urgent.

* The report must also be posted on the Web immediately to allow public scrutiny.

I like it. Its a response that's most reasonable and forceful. It keeps in line with the need for accountability, as well as getting the money flowing for Canadians. And it ensures that if the Conservatives try to use this as a slush fund, or overly favour Conservative ridings, it will be immediately apparent and they'll get smacked for it.

The ball is now in the Conservatives' court. Accountability, yes or no?

UPDATE: Conservatives say no to accountability. Just how politically tone-deaf are these guys? From the CP wire:
Tories, Liberals escalate standoff over $3 billion stimulus fund
Source: The Canadian Press - Broadcast wire
Mar 4, 2009 13:02

OTTAWA - Disagreement over a $3-billion fund to quickly stimulate Canada's sputtering economy is escalating into a standoff between Conservatives and Liberals that could force an election.

Liberal finance critic John McCallum says his party will propose a motion next week requiring the government to itemize precisely how the $3 billion will be spent.

But a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the Liberals are simply playing politics with the economic crisis.

Kory Teneycke says the Tory government has no problem detailing after the fact how the money is spent but it does not intend to produce an itemized list in advance.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said he will not approve the fund without details on how it'll be spent.

Harper has said the issue is a matter of confidence in his minority government and has warned that opposition parties could face an election if they refuse to approve the fund.

(The Canadian Press)
Kory is engaging in a pathetic bit of misdirection here, actually. Scroll back up to the Liberal motion text, and see what they asked for in advance. "A comprehensive list of all the departments and programs which will have access to this extraordinary authority" is what the motion requires. I suppose one could consider that an itemized list. When he says itemized list though, my mind cost to a list of projects, which isn't at all what the Liberals are asking for.

Rather, they're asking for a list of eligible government departments and programs. Which is hardly an onerous or unreasonable request. Just who is really playing politics here, Kory? I thought you guys were all about accountability?

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Greg said...

It will be yes. They get their 3 billion.

Jeff said...

Maybe not, Greg. See the update.

Greg Fingas said...

Is there any way for the motion to actually be binding on the Cons? If there isn't any way to force them to comply with its terms I'd fully expect them to complain until it passes, then ignore it once it does.

Jeff said...

I'm not sure what the legal or parliamentary ramifications would be if such a motion passed, with out without (assuming the NDP and BQ join the Liberals) Conservative support. Probably negligible.

The ramifications would have to be political, ie. a vote of non-confidence in response to non-compliance. Certainly the PR fallout for the Conservatives either obstructing a reasonable motion on accountability, or ignoring the will of parliament once it's passed, would be potentially significant.

Right now, for the Liberals, it's all about trying to make parliament work to get action on the economy, and being seen as conciliatory. There's no public appetite for an election (even if we were ready). Canadians want parliament to work. That public perception needs to shift for an election call to be feasible. If these accountability measures succeed, we're holding the Conservatives accountable and making parliament work. If they fail or are ignored, then the idea is we tried to make it work like Canadians wanted, but the Conservatives played politics, so we need an election. And hopefully the blame for getting there falls on the obstructionist Conservatives, not the make parliament work Liberals.

Greg said...

Maybe not, Greg. See the update.

I didn't factor in stupidity. My bad.

crf said...

Yes, the tories are playing chicken again with their budget, trying to gain political points at the expense of the Canadian economy. Just like last time. Is there an adult in charge there yet? They promised consultation.

Ignatieff should just put this government out of its misery. It's serially irresponsible.

Tiny Perfect Blog said...

OOOOO, a motion! That means...


Motions are not binding, they are not matters of confidence. Paul Martin lost them all the time and kept governing.

If Iggy was serious about not giving Harper a blank cheque, there are still some budget votes he can oppose.

I'm not holding my breath.

RuralSandi said...

Perhaps it is best to wait on this one. I saw Layton in a scrum on CPAC and he said when Vic Toews claimed the Auditor General would be involved and approved....Layton called the Auditor General's office and apparently they have not been contacted by the Harper gov and their office does not approve of what they're doing with this $3 billion.

I wonder why no one is talking about this? Vic Toews totally mislead the House.

Jeff said...

greg, stupidity can be hard to predict.

tiny, there are options between a blank check and an election. A motion is a good option here, and the consequences needn't be spelled-out in the motion. We all know what they are.

sandi, interesting, haven't heard about that.