Thank you. I am happy to be back on this committee.
When I was in the committee, I thought this was a complex system. Now that I've left it, I still think it's a complex system.
My main concern, which was my main concern when I was sitting on this committee, is the point at which this very obscure process concentrates power in the hands of both cabinet and the PMO.
I'd like to quote something to you that was published today.
Say you want know how budget cuts are hitting Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. Basic stuff, right? Not so fast. The March 29 federal budget says the department will spend $169-million less this year. Less than what? The answer isn’t in the 498-page budget. For that, you have to consult the “main estimates,” released every year on March 1. According [to] the estimates, Agriculture and Agri-food will spend $2.4-billion in 2012-2013. But that is pre-budget.
Hold on a second.
And if you want to know what the department spent last year, that’s in another document – the annual financial statements. Last week, Mr. Clement’s office released its annual “reports on plans and priorities,” which converts the estimates into detailed spending plans for all 97 federal departments and agencies. Typically, these also reflect changes in the budget. Not this year. Mr. Clement...specifically directed departments to exclude the budget cuts, even though they have been known for more than a month. This latest report puts Agriculture and Agri-food’s spending at $3-billion this year, not $2.4-billion. The numbers should be the same, but they’re not.
This quotation goes to the very issue that concerns me. In the estimates process—and this is my question to you—do you routinely get directions from the minister's office to keep information out of your estimates?