3 min

Day 17 so far: the auditor general’s explosion

It was supposed to be a quiet day on the trail, but unexpectedly, something happened.

First thing this morning, Michael Ignatieff was at St Lawrence College in Kingston to talk about the Learning Passport, the small business tax credit for hiring young workers, the Canada Service Corps plans and the need for youth to vote. He reiterated his platform points about starting “serious work” on online voting and his promise to hold a “people’s question period” as a commitment to public accountability – the public would be able to have their questions directly answered by ministers once a week and the prime minister at least once a month. He then took media questions about the upcoming debates (he’s been preparing, taking advice from previous party leaders and looking forward to the one-on-one segment); the polls not moving (have you seen the packed meetings around the country?); whether he’s voted in a foreign election (he has voted in the UK, but not in the US, he's always supported progressive policies and he didn’t slam Canada abroad like Harper did); what he’ll point out to Layton in their one-on-one portion of the debate (despite all the respect I have for him and his party, his numbers don’t add up and voting NDP is another Harper win. He repeated his dig at Duceppe’s ability to only talk); the local campaign (Milliken is a great Canadian, the prison farms issue resonates here); the youth vote (elections are run by a lot of people under age 30, so he has faith it will translate); Harper’s accusations that he doesn’t tell the truth (all of our commitments are costed, his $11 billion hole shows he can’t be trusted); senators on the campaign trail (they’re not allowed to use parliamentary resources, he will look at the issues of their still drawing a Senate paycheque and of Harper appointing senators with the sole goal of having them run in upcoming elections); and whether he would reopen the prison farms (he will see if it's feasible).

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper held a photo op for his home renovation tax credit.

And then everything blew up. The Canadian Press obtained a leaked chapter from the auditor general’s draft report on the G8/G20 summit spending. It accused the government of misleading Parliament about where funds were spent in the estimates ($50 million of an $83 million allocation to help ease bottlenecks at border crossings went to Tony Clement’s riding) and claimed that a small group including Clement, the mayor of Huntsville and the general manager of the Deerhurst Resort were involved in deciding how that money got spent.

The leaders reacted immediately. Michael Ignatieff wanted the full report released. Jack Layton wanted a full public inquiry (to be included with the inquiry he’s already called for on the violations of civil liberties that took place during the G20 weekend) and said that he refused to believe there was no mechanism for the report to be released.

But here’s the thing – it can’t be released because the auditor general reports to Parliament. Right now, there is no Parliament for her to report to; it was dissolved when the writs were dropped. Yes, Harper may still be the prime minister of a caretaker government, but Parliament is not the government (which is something that people need to be reminded of).

What would be done if this were an issue of national security? Well, that’s why there’s a caretaker government; however, this is not such an issue. Didn't the parliamentary budget officer release a report on Afghanistan during the last election? Yes, but he’s not an independent officer of Parliament who reports to Parliament. Rather, he reports to the parliamentary librarian. And no, it can’t be tabled in the Senate. (Parliament is more than just the House of Commons –when it’s dissolved, so is the Senate, though its membership remains fixed.) Not even the governor general or the Queen herself can ask for this (because the AG reports only to Parliament). You get the point.

Sheila Fraser did release a statement saying she was not going to release the report without a sitting Parliament and that it was a draft report – wait for the real thing.

That’s also the line the Conservatives are using. John Baird came out to say that the final report would be different. But therein lies another problem – there is no way that Baird should know what later drafts or the final report would look like. Those drafts should have stayed in the bureaucracy, and the departments in question should have been given the chance to respond.

We now have plenty of new questions in advance of the debate and a potential game-changer on the table. We’ll have to wait to see what happens.
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