POLITICS

Refusal to reveal cost of Elections Canada split sparks more questions

10/08/2014 11:40 EDT | Updated 12/08/2014 05:59 EST
Two opposition MPs have joined the call for the government to reveal the cost of last spring's changes to Canada's election laws, including the final price tag for moving the federal elections watchdog into his new digs within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Earlier this week, the Canadian Press reported that an access-to-information request seeking more details of the logistics behind the transfer had been denied on the grounds that the answer constituted a "cabinet confidence."

On Tuesday, New Democrat MP Charlie Angus and Liberal MP Scott Simms submitted separate but similar written requests for the information to the parliamentary order paper.

Angus has asked for the "full itemized cost" of implementing the Fair Elections Act, including — but presumably not limited to — hiving off the commissioner's office from Elections Canada.

 Simms, meanwhile, wants the government to provide a full breakdown of expenditures — both incurred and future — by date and department, the details of any and all correspondence related to the move and a full explanation of what, if any, benefits the government expects as a result of the change.

The government will have 45 days to respond.

Minister says no cost so far

Unlike access-to-information requests, written questions are not subject to the restrictions of either the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act.  There is, however, no avenue of appeal for MPs left unsatisfied by a particular response.

Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre fielded questions on the initial refusal to release the costs in the House on Tuesday.

In response to New Democrat MP Alexandrine Latendresse, he said the move "has not actually occurred," and, as a result, "there have been no costs" thus far.

His answer sparked a follow-up from Latendresses's fellow New Democrat, Charlie Angus.

"If there had been no costs, they would have released that, would they not?" he argued. 

"Just because something is embarrassing to the minister does not mean that he gets to hide behind access to information."    

Poilievre acknowledged that the move will eventually cost "some money," but declined to give a figure.

"When the commissioner is housed in a new facility, that facility will have to be rented from somebody," he explained.  

"At this point, that move has not occurred. As a result, the costs have not been incurred."

The full text of the written questions submitted by Angus and SImms: