OTTAWA - Canada's parliamentary budget officer says he'll file court action this week over the refusal of some federal departments to hand over details on billions of dollars in planned cuts by the Harper government.
In a statement issued Sunday, Kevin Page says his office "will be filing and serving legal notice on all non-compliant" deputy ministers.
He wouldn't provide any further details, saying "this matter will constitute the subject of a legal action" and it would be inappropriate for him to comment further.
Page has said the government has not been open and clear enough about what it intends to cut, and has threatened court action for weeks.
As of the middle of last week, only 23 per cent of federal departments and agencies had handed over the requested financial information, and another 52 per cent had said they were going to comply by last Friday.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, appearing on CTV's Question Period Sunday, said Page was overstepping his authority and should be looking at money the government has already spent, rather than future plans.
"Quite frankly, it's outside of Mr. Page's mandate," Flaherty told the interview program.
"He's look at money that's not been spent. That's what we do when we do deficit reduction. We're not spending that money and he wants to have a look at money that's not being spent, rather than the manner in which money is spent, which is actually his mandate."
Set up by the Conservatives in 2006 as part of their government accountability effort, the budget's officer's mandate "is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation's finances, the government's estimates and trends in the Canadian economy."
The finance department, Environment Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, Foreign Affairs and Justice Canada are among the major departments that have refused to divulge the details of their cuts.
NDP finance critic Peggy Nash described the pending court action as a sad day for democracy.
"This is about transparency and providing independent analysis. That's what the Parliamentary Budget Officer does," Nash said.
When the Conservatives created the position in their Accountability Act of 2006, the expectation was that the budget officer would be able to provide Canadians with a real-time view of how their money was spent, she said.
"I think Canadians want to be reassured that there is an independent scruntizing how tax dollars are being spent — or not spent — and that politics is taken out of the equation," Nash added.
She rejected Flaherty's argument that the details on budget cuts fall outside of Page's mandate.
"Rather than accountability and transparency, this government wants to pull a curtain and shroud their decisions," she said.
Related on HuffPost:
The Conservative government has introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget implementation bill. Here's a brief look at what's inside the 450-page document. <em>With files from CBC</em>
MP And Public Service Pensions
<strong>UPDATE</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/19/mp-pension-changes-passed-bill-c-45_n_1987522.html">MP Pensions have been hived off from the omnibus bill and passed without further debate in a surprise deal between the government and opposition parties</a>. Starting as early as January 2013, public servants and MPs will have to contribute 50 per cent of the payments into their pensions. MPs will also have to wait until age 65 to start collecting their pensions, or be penalized if they start at age 55. The precise date for MP pension changes is Jan. 1, 2016. There will be no change to the current eligibility for MP pensions of six years of service.
The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will be dissolved, and an interim means of establishing premium rates set up to replace its work. The Crown Corporation is currently run by a seven-member board. This move continues employment insurance changes started with the first omnibus budget bill, as cabinet gradually receives more authority to reform EI.
Changes To The Indian Act
The bill makes what could be controversial changes to the Indian Act, amending it to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band's territory.
Environmental Assessment Act Tweaks
Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.
Hiring Tax Credit
The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.
New Bridge To U.S.
C-45 also facilitates the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River at Windsor, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last summer. Certain legislation will be changed and other legislation won't apply to this bridge. Three federal bodies will cease to exist with the passage of this legislation.
Grain Act Amended
The bill also amends the Canada Grain Act, simplifying the way it classifies grain terminals, repealing grain appeal tribunals, and ending several other requirements of the current Act, giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the grain industry. These changes follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales in Western Canada, which take effect for this year's harvest.
Hazardous Materials Under Health
All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.
Merchant Seamen Board Under Labour
The Merchant Seamen Compensation Board will see its authority transferred to the Minister of Labour. The three-person board currently hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen who are injured or disabled as a result of their work and are not currently covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits.