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Brison attacks government secrecy

Harper government keeping mum about costs for new legislation

Liberal finance critic Scott Brison says the Conservatives are too slow to reveal how much their war on crime is really going to cost. Credit: Xtra files

Liberal MP Scott Brison is taking the government to task for its secrecy about how much corporate tax cuts and the Conservative’s tough-on-crime agenda are going to cost Canadians.

In November Brison, the Liberal finance critic, brought forward a motion in the Commons finance committee to compel the government to reveal the information. When the government claimed the documents were “cabinet confidences,” Brison won enough support to bring the matter to the attention of the speaker of the House of Commons.

“It’s a completely bogus argument that these are cabinet confidences,” Brison says. “This is absolute rubbish.”

Brison points out that information about corporate taxation was released in November 2005 as an economic update from Paul Martin’s Liberal government. “It was not a cabinet confidence then,” says Brison. “It is not a cabinet confidence now.”

As with corporate tax details, the Conservatives are refusing to reveal the projected costs associated with 18 different crime bills. They are citing that same cabinet confidences justification for keeping the details under wraps. Among the 18 crime bills is S-10, which would increase mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana possession.

“Once cabinet makes a decision and presents legislation to the House, costing information has to accompany that legislation,” says Brison, a former cabinet minister in the Martin government. “That is no longer a cabinet confidence because the decision has already been rendered and is public.

“A government can’t introduce legislation to the House and ask parliamentarians to vote on it without telling us how much it will cost – particularly with a $56 billion deficit.”

Brison’s motion echoes the controversy that erupted when the Harper Conservatives refused to release important documents about Afghan detainees.

“They’re hiding behind cabinet privilege and secrecy, and that’s just a ruse,” says NDP house leader Libby Davies. “The fact is, as parliamentarians, we have a right to see the rationales and information. We were just talking about this on the drug bill. It’s very frustrating.” 

As of post time, the Conservatives have not responded in the House to the question of privilege, saying they need more time to formulate an answer.

Brison also reiterates that the government’s use of secrecy goes against the very basics of parliamentary democracy – the ability of the legislature to hold the government to account and to grant supply.

“It’s a fundamental responsibility of Parliament to scrutinize and to approve the expenditures of the government,” says Brison. “This government is in contempt of Parliament because it is not providing us with the information that parliamentarians need to do their jobs.”