What?

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The Post Millennial, which is usually a fairly reliable (albeit somewhat breathless) source of hard news says, quoting Blacklock’s Reporter, which I have found to be also pretty fair and accurate, that “Justin Trudeau’s Department of Infrastructure, which is headed by the ever-controversial Catherine McKenna, cannot account for billions of taxpayer money.

The report explains that in testimony to “the Commons finance committee on Tuesday, The Parliamentary Budget Office said that they could not get the Department of Infrastructure to disclose how this taxpayer money has been used, sparking serious transparency concerns … [and] … The Shadow Minister of Finance Pierre Poilievre was flabbergasted by this lack of accountability, saying “If I go to the grocery store and spend a small fortune on groceries, my wife says: ‘what the hell did you spend five hundred bucks on?’ She would expect to see a receipt … [and he asked, incredulously] … You’re telling me the Government of Canada spends tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure but can’t give us an item by item list?”

That, it appears was exactly what they were telling him because the “Budget Office illustrated McKenna’s department’s total unwillingness or inability in identifying which projects they have actually spent money on. “We currently do not have a list of projects,”” a director-general said, and, “Another budget officer said that they asked the Department of Infrastructure “many, many times … we were never able to get a full list.”

I was a bureaucrat for many years. OK, I wore a uniform but, for several years, I was, functionally, indistinguishable from any fairly senior (director level) civil servant who was the coordinator (chief of staff) to a senior officer/official who managed very large sums of public money. I know that accounts are kept, usually very accurately and very carefully. The information is not being hidden because of any “inability” to provide it. Money, along with time, is one of the few resources that bureaucrats can Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 07.32.02manage. Knowing where all your money is, what it’s being spent on and when it’s being spent is a key responsibility. ‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure‘ is an old, trusted management adage, it’s been around since the 1950s and is, still (I am told) mighty popular in government. Money is what bureaucrats manage. Trust me, please: they measure it, too. The bureaucrats have the numbers … the right, true numbers.

Why then, does the Parliamentary Budget Office not have them? Why can the PBO not answer some simple questions from a House of Commons Committee?

There’s another adage that is important in the ranks of bureaucrats: ‘don’t embarrass the minister,’ is what it says. One minister just had to apologize, publicly, for trying to hide a substantial sum of money it awarded to an environmental group. In the case of the 9c430258d5557c455c08a8aa50d1aaa7Pembina Institute, it might have been that the natural resources minister ⇒ didn’t want to publicize the fact that his department was seeking the paid advice of a group that is firmly opposed to resource exploitation. It might look like the minister, a close personal friend of the prime minister, was seeking advice that would confirm the prime minister’s own biases. It may also be that someone made a simple reporting error … it happens. But it shouldn’t happen too often and it is disturbing that just after one bit of spending was hidden from public view it appears that another government department is unwilling to report on its spending. And I assert that the accounts are being hidden because of “unwillingness” not “inability” to provide the data.

Inability” does occur, now and again. It’s unfortunate but civil servants (and ministers) are only human. In my experience, however, in large organizations, and the Government of Canada is very large, one person’s inability, even one team’s inability, is, invariably, easily corrected because the required data can always be recovered from other teams in the same department with just a little bit of effort. “Unwillingness” to be open and honest is, I fear, an all too common attribute of ministers ~ and not just Liberal minister, either.

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 08.19.10I hope that Mr Poilievre keeps digging on this file. We have seen too many instances where this regime has broken the rules, even broken the law, and tried to twist the truth to serve its own partisan political ends. He has a duty, to us all, to ferret out the truth. The correct and proper place to embarrass the minister is in the House of Commons where (s)he is, Constitutionally, obliged to be honest with Canadians … or to resign.

 

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