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Information is power — so it stands to reason, perhaps, that the lack of information is powerlessness.

And parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page must be feeling particularly powerless right now.

Monday, Page released a legal opinion that says 64 different federal government departments are breaking federal law because they have failed to release even basic information about $5.2 billion in recent federal budget cuts.

The Parliament of Canada Act requires federal departments to release financial and economic data to Page in a timely way: so far, only 18 federal organizations have actually complied with Page’s requests for information.

“No legal exception to this requirement has been advanced and none appears from the analysis of the correspondence exchanged,” said the summary of the legal opinion obtained by the Canadian Press. “Accordingly, the non-compliant departments have statutory obligations to provide the information.”

Page also wrote to the federal government on Monday, saying, “It is in the interests of Parliament and the Canadian public that such information be made available immediately. … As I have mentioned before, it is only with such information that Parliament can exercise its constitutional role of controlling public finances.”

The federal government has argued that revealing detailed information about the cuts would violate the collective agreements of some employees whose jobs are threatened.

Page says he’s not looking for that level of detail, and his legal opinion backs him up, paving the way for a court showdown that will probably be both protracted and expensive.

And, by the way, the legal costs and court costs for both sides will be paid for by taxpayers.

If the Harper government was interested in being halfway reasonable, it could just find a way to release the information without trampling on bargaining concerns.

But that, of course, would make way too much common sense to even be considered in the hyperpartisan world that federal politics now occupies — a world where, in almost every instance, it seems, any means is justified by the ideological end it serves.

Interestingly, Page argues the information he is looking for can’t be withheld under the claim it is cabinet confidences, either — because the information he’s looking for would not exist solely in cabinet documents.

Worth noting?

If Page were the budget officer for Newfoundland and Labrador, he wouldn’t have a legal leg to stand on — at least, not anymore.

After changes to this province’s legislation last week, even an officer of the House of Assembly wouldn’t be able to get his hands on documents that had been anywhere close to the provincial cabinet.

It’s a lesson more and more governments seem to be absorbing across this nation: you never have to justify your actions, especially if you can make it difficult or even impossible for anyone to know what those actions are.

Organizations: Parliament of Canada, Canadian Press

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Hannah
    June 21, 2012 - 11:11

    I heard Mr. Ring saying his office could do its job. Nothing has changed. If he had said it was terrible legislation it would be all over all media outlets. He was quite happy with the changes I thought, the media wants all depts including cabinet room open to them. Mr. Ring sounds like he has the interests of the people of the province front and center and the media have their push for the "BIG STORY" as their driving force. Do members of the media and opposition think the people of the province are stupid.

  • John Smith
    June 19, 2012 - 06:51

    Funny how the telegram is the only news source from the province who isn't running a piece on Mr Ring, the information officer, who has come out to say that there is nothing wrong with bill 29....I guess that wouldn't fit with the spin machine at the Tely...

    • Jerome
      June 19, 2012 - 13:03

      Mr. Ring echoed what the opposition has been saying all along. You can always go the court.

    • Russell Wangersky
      June 20, 2012 - 14:18

      Mr. Smith: In fact, we did publish a piece on Mr. Ring's comments, on page one in fact. It was headlined "Access law will push commissioner to use courts."

  • William Daniels
    June 19, 2012 - 06:50

    Dunderdale and party not only supported Harper but are now running the province in a similar way. I wonder how all the NL rural areas who put the Dunderdale government in will feel when the EI changes hit?

    • Eli
      June 19, 2012 - 12:38

      The NDP and Liberals have to be glad they're not the government of NL. They don't have to sweat this like the PC members in most of rural NL.