Chrystia Freeland

Chrystia Freeland (source: CBC)

The federal government has handed out approximately $240 billion since March, and they aren’t saying exactly where it went.

A CBC News investigation into federal COVID-19 spending – dubbed “The Big Spend” – is having difficulty obtaining information from the government.  

“There are about 107 different programs that have funnelled money to various parts of the country. In fact, so much money has been spent, that the government has been spending on average $40 million an hour since March, said the CBC’s Diana Swain,

Swain said the federal government, “came up with an interesting array of ways to say ‘no’ to us when we asked for information about which businesses got money, and how much. They simply will not give that up.”

This contrasts radically with the U.S., where similar information is posted publicly on the government’s website. 

Of the $240 billion spent between mid-March and the end of November, $105.66 billion went to individuals and $118.37 billion went to businesses, charities and non-profits.

Only a few departments have released details about which individuals, groups or companies have received government money. CBC claims some departments have fought attempts to obtain information “tooth and nail.”

The fight for information has been hampered by disruption of House of Commons committees, first by prorogation of Parliament, and then by Liberal filibustering.

“Now is the time for us to focus on what we can do going forward to save Canadian lives and to preserve the Canadian economy. There will be a time for post-mortems, but while the plane is flying, one does not try to change the engine,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Asked why the government isn’t being transparent about where taxpayer’s money is going, spokeswoman Katherine Cuplinskas declined comment.

The Export Development Corporation has refused to name some 791,884 businesses approved for Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans totalling $31.6 billion, and also has refused to reveal the information through the Access to Information Act. 

Revenue Canada also has refused to disclose the information through the Access to Information Act, citing a clause that allows the department to refuse to reveal information due to be made public within 90 days of the access request.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, says there is “an enormous transparency gap” between Canada and the U.S.

“We should know more where that money is going. These are tens and tens of billions of dollars in business supports. It’s a key part of the overall stimulus, and not knowing really … reduces our ability to understand how these programs are working and what role can they play in terms of supporting the economic recovery going forward,” he told CBC.

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ran in 2015 on a campaign of increased transparency, his government has failed to live up to the promise. 

The Liberals submitted a bill into the House on December 2 that would enact spending measures outlined in the latest fiscal update.

Grafton is the Western Standards Ottawa Bureau Chief. He can be reached at kgrafton@westernstandardonline.com

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