Statement made on 09 February 2011 by Senator Tommy Banks (retired)
Hon. Tommy Banks:
Honourable senators, my question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In the previous line of questioning about CIDA, the leader referred several times to the government's commitment to accountability and said that she had not received applause. However, honourable senators, the leader's government received applause when, in the interest of accountability, it appointed a Parliamentary Budget Officer. Applause was given to it in this place. The leader received congratulations from this side, because it was a good move.
However, the relationship between the leader's government and the PBO has not been sanguine entirely. This past Monday, a question of privilege was raised in the other place regarding her government's refusal to release the cost estimates of its tough-on-crime legislation.
The Prime Minister is a pretty good piano player and quite a versatile one, but since last autumn, the only tune that this government seems to be playing is about putting more and more people in jail for longer and longer.
Honourable senators, Canadians have a right and we here have a right to know just how much these American-style super-prisons will cost. The Conservative government has replied that it is not required to submit the estimates to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, citing cabinet confidence.
That is a red herring, I think, because the legislation has been introduced and it is now in the public domain. It is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask how much it will cost. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is asking that question.
For a government that claims to be transparent and accountable, the leader must recognize that the Parliamentary Budget Officer cannot do his job if he is not given the information with which to do his calculations. He cannot provide estimates. He cannot provide comments on estimates. He cannot provide comments, as he is supposed to, on proposed government spending unless he is given the information.
Will the leader tell us why her government will not provide the Parliamentary Budget Officer with the information on the cost of building prisons and housing more prisoners?
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