A colossal waste of time

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Sometimes it’s the delivery that’s flawed, not the intention. Take, for example, Bell Canada’s decision to send out three back-to-back spam texts to its cellphone customers on Monday, including an offer extolling the value of the company’s spam-blocking options.

It’s great to know there might be options: getting reminded about it three times in less than a minute seems a bit much.

But when you’re talking about delivery versus intention, it’s hard to beat the Canadian Parliament. At the federal level, parliamentary committees are supposed to review the federal government’s spending plans, examining each department’s estimates and asking senior bureaucrats and ministers about how spending priorities are to be implemented.

The committees do their work in the spring, before the summer recess — but the estimates they are working from are regularly overtaken by the federal budget, and by the time the committees receive the federal supplementary estimates (the revised and more accurate version of where the federal government plans to spend money), well, the committees have run out of time.

But that’s where things get really hinky.

Because the committees aren’t allowed to hold up the process of government, they are regularly deemed to have reviewed a document they’ve barely had a chance to review.

The rubber stamp means the very politicians who are supposed to review spending are instead giving their imprimatur to financial plans they haven’t had time to check.

The Canadian Press reported Sunday that this year, not one parliamentary committee was able to report on proposed spending, because they received the details too late to review where the money is going to go. That means that the earlier review of estimates is not only plain-and-simple window dressing, but a complete waste of time.

This week, a parliamentary committee came to exactly that conclusion. The all-party government operations committee is suggesting that the federal government move its clock backwards, bring down its budget no later than Feb. 1, so that members of Parliament sitting on parliamentary standing committees can actually deal with real spending issues.

Of course, another option might involve moving the clock in a different kind of way; instead of having a budget brought down in January, Parliament could sit later into the summer. It would mean that parliamentarians would miss a critical section of their summer recess meet-and-greet constituency affairs (how many politicians have you heard about making the rounds of summer festivals, and how many pictures have cropped up of MPs or federal cabinet ministers in the inevitable aprons, flipping burgers and smiling for the cameras) but, on the other hand, it would mean they were actually doing the thing we elected them for.

Either way, a little more substance in the debate — and a little less well-meaning spam — would be a very good thing.

Organizations: Bell Canada, Canadian Parliament, Canadian Press

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  • Eli
    July 19, 2012 - 21:35

    Well said. Comical actually to see loser Bob Rae "flippin' those burgers" around d'bay with MP Scott Andrews hangin' on like a monkey on a branch. We're payin' for every mile and lodging plus those rubber burgers. MP's work can end up in the gutter but they don't lose out altogether.