Conservatives and New Democrats are calling out Liberals for not taking advantage of changes their government made to empower the Parliamentary Budget Officer to review the costs of campaign promises and release in-depth reports after measures are unveiled.
In 2017, the Liberals passed changes to the Parliament of Canada Act in a budget implementation bill to allow parties to ask the PBO to independently examine the costs of their pledges and to have the watchdog’s analysis published online after proposals are announced.
So far, Conservatives and New Democrats have made use of the process. The PBO website has already posted its assessments of some key promises, from the Tory pledge to slash the tax rate on the lowest federal income bracket to the NDP’s so-called “super-wealth tax” of one per cent on net wealth that exceeds $20 million.
Watch: Trudeau pledges to boost benefits for seniors
By late Wednesday morning, PBO reports on 10 different party promises — seven from the Tories, three from New Democrats — had been posted online.
But while Liberals have already made several big pitches to voters, Justin Trudeau has said his party won’t release PBO reports until the party’s full platform is unveiled. And, according to The Globe and Mail, Liberals are only submitting “big ticket” items for PBO analysis.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer suggested to reporters in Hamilton Wednesday that voters are being denied the chance to properly assess Liberal promises.
“We believe that by including the costing at the moment of the announcement, it’s better for Canadians so that they can have the details right away,” Scheer said. “Obviously the Liberals have a terrible fiscal record that they are ashamed of. I believe that’s why they are not participating in the very process that they themselves set up.”
Scheer charged that Canadians “can’t trust” anything Trudeau is promising.
“He made specific, concrete promises in the last election campaign that he had no intention of keeping,” Scheer said.
Conservative spokesperson Simon Jefferies confirmed to HuffPost Canada Wednesday that the Tories will use the PBO to cost every campaign pledge that has money attached to it.
“Justin Trudeau and the Liberals should be up-front and honest with Canadians and release their costing as they make their platform commitments,” Jefferies said in an email. “It’s starting to look like they have something to hide and are preparing a document dump days before election day.”
NDP spokesperson Melanie Richer told HuffPost that the party will work with the PBO on costing “many” of the party’s campaign commitments.
“What we are concerned about is that Mr. Trudeau has not been clear about where he is going to get the funds to pay for his promises - he has spent the last four years telling Canadians to wait for help, while handing out billions in giveaways to the wealthiest people and corporations,” she said in a statement. “These choices are hurting Canadians.”
Trudeau promises ‘fully costed’ platform ‘in the coming weeks’
Trudeau was asked about the issue during a campaign event in Fredericton, N.B., where he unveiled a plan to boost Old Age Security for seniors that his party estimates will cost $1.63 billion in 2020-2021 and rise to $2.56 billion in 2023-2024.
Trudeau reiterated to reporters that his party has been working with the PBO on costing “specific” measures.
“We will be releasing a fully costed, fully responsible platform in the coming weeks, including all the work done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer on specific measures,” he said.
In St. John’s, N.L. a day earlier, Trudeau pledged to boost the Canada Child Benefit and make maternity and parental leave benefits tax-free ― changes that Liberals estimate will cost $800 million in 2020-2021 and rise to $1.2 billion in 2023-2024.
The Liberal leader was asked why he wasn’t at the same time releasing independent, third-party costing for a proposal that is expected to cost, in time, more than $1 billion a year.
“We know it’s important for Canadians to have an objective review of the costs of various platforms and I can assure you that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been very much engaged by the Liberal party on a number of elements within our platform costing,” he said. “And when our full platform costing comes out in the coming weeks, that will be abundantly clear.”
In the Liberals’ 2015 campaign platform the party stated that adding the costing of platforms to the PBO mandate would let Canadians “review the fiscal plans of political parties from a credible and comparable baseline.”
With files from The Canadian Press