Several former senior Finance officials say the Trudeau government has been unacceptably opaque in its handling of national finances.
Officials describe an increasingly centralized power base within the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), reports the National Post.
Six former Department of Finance officials spoke with the Post, including two former deputy ministers, expressing concern over a lack of fiscal transparency in Ottawa.
Former deputy minister of finance David Dodge told the Post the traditional divides between Finance and the PMO have deepened in recent years as the Trudeau government fixates on expanding the social safety net – with Trudeau’s policies broadly centred around redistribution, with much less regard for tackling difficult economic questions or making efforts to cut unnecessary spending.
“The policies of the government in power, and the proclivities of the current prime minister, are not particularly oriented towards the hard work of generating economic growth, and that can make things difficult for the Department of Finance,” Dodge is quoted by the Post as saying.
The federal government has refused to provide an updated fiscal anchor since the beginning of the pandemic, creating serious concerns regarding how high Liberals will allow Canada’s climbing debt-to-GDP ratio to reach before reigning in spending.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled her fiscal update on Nov. 30, describing between $70 billion and $100 billion in stimulus spending over three years while declining to detail where the taxpayer’s money would be spent.
Don Drummond, who held several senior positions in the Department of Finance over his 23-year career, is quoted in the Post as saying: “The lack of transparency around the government’s intentions in its economic and fiscal forecast is not acceptable in a democracy. I think everyone should be concerned about this.”
While other developed countries have managed to table budgets during the pandemic, the Liberals have only provided high-level spending in two separate fiscal “snapshots.”
The fiscal update by Freeland ran 223 pages, each one clogged with political messaging about “investing in Canadians” or the “future shared prosperity” of the country.
The absence of clear language is symptomatic of a wider shift in Ottawa, with the balance of power increasingly centralized in the Prime Minster’s Office.
Former deputy minister of finance Scott Clark said the shift has had an effect on the role of the department.
“I think the Finance Department has been a bit diminished in terms of its positioning in the city and its power base…,” he said in the Post’s report.
The propensity for the PMO to drive its own policy began to accelerate under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who put immense emphasis on controlling his political message from the centre. That has continued in much the same way under Trudeau, where Liberal ministers have for years stuck to narrow talking points almost without exception, said the Post.
“Their ability to push back against dumb ideas, or to ask where the money is going to come from, has gone out the window,” said one former finance official who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity.
“You send out a press release and that’s seen as the end game”
Ken Grafton is the Western Standards Ottawa Bureau Chief. He can be reached at email@example.com