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NEWS: Tories breaking law over spending cuts secrecy, say lawyers

The Toronto Star reports, “Dozens of federal departments are breaking the law by refusing to provide details of the government’s spending cuts to a parliamentary watchdog, a new legal opinion charges. And now Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is warning the dispute could wind up in Federal Court unless the Conservatives cough up the information he’s after.”

The situation began, “When (Page) wrote 82 federal departments and agencies seeking additional data, (and) only 18 responded. Wayne Wouters, clerk of the Privy Council — the top bureaucrat — wrote Page expressing concerns about providing the information.”

“But the legal opinion released Monday says the Tories have run afoul of the Parliament of Canada Act by stonewalling Page. The opinion was written by Joseph Magnet, a constitutional lawyer and professor at the University of Ottawa, and Tolga Yalkin, a lawyer and professor, who also works in the budget office. The lawyers argue that under the act, deputy ministers are required to provide ‘free and timely access to financial or economic data’ to the parliamentary budget officer. ‘No legal exception to this requirement has been advanced and none appears from the analysis of the correspondence exchanged,’ they write. ‘Accordingly, the non-compliant departments have statutory obligations to provide the information.'”

“Page says MPs and ultimately Canadians are being kept in the dark about the extent of the budget cuts. ‘Right now there is absolutely no accountability because there is no transparency,’ Page said in an interview.”

“He’s hoping the legal opinion will convince the government to open up and avoid a court showdown to pry loose the budget data. …(But) Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who fielded questions on the topic in the Commons, gave little suggestion the government would back down.”