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Harper Government Left $97M Unspent On Social Services, Report Shows

The Harper government's promises to help jobless youth, the disabled, immigrants and illiterate adults fell short last year by almost $100 million.

That's the amount of so-called "lapsed" funding — money promised but never spent — at Canada's biggest social services department, Employment and Social Development Canada.

An internal report shows that in 2013-14, the department fell short by $97.1 million of its promised dollars for 16 major programs, the largest such lapse in any of the five years since the 2008 economic meltdown.

The biggest shortfall, $30 million, was for the government's touted Youth Employment Strategy, or about 17 per cent of the strategy's total budget for that year. The program is meant to help reduce the youth jobless rate of about 13 per cent.

Literacy lost $21M

An opportunities fund for the disabled failed to receive about a quarter of its $38.8-million budget. A literacy program underspent a third of its $21-million budget.

A Nov. 28 accounting of five years' worth of the department's lapsed dollars was obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Other departments have also come under fire in recent months for failing to spend promised dollars, including:

- Veterans Affairs, which cumulatively lapsed $1.1 billion in the seven years to 2013.

- Foreign Affairs, which failed to spend almost half of the $129 million budgeted for "strengthening security at missions abroad" in 2013-14.

- The RCMP, which did not deliver a promised $2 million for its National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre last year.

"They promise to help people in need, and then they don't spend the money," said Jinny Sims, New Democrat MP and critic for employment and social development. "You get all the credit for it without actually delivering anything."

Under government rules, lapsed dollars must be returned to general revenues unless a department gets special permission to roll them over into the next year. At Employment and Social Development, the lapse would have been about $124 million and officials were allowed to rollover some $26 million.

Sims said lapses are really a scheme to redirect money. "It's also another way to pay off their deficit and to accrue money for their income-splitting schemes," she said in an interview.

But a spokesman for the department said lapses are a normal part of the budgetary cycle. "The good management of public funds means that it is not always appropriate to attempt to use the funds as the fiscal year draws to a close," Marie-France Faucher said.

Attempts to roll over money

"Whenever possible, the department works to re-profile these funds for use in future fiscal years for the benefit of Canadians."

The Parliamentary Budget Office has also called lapsed funds a "normal and expected part of any budget process," and noted that government-wide, the percentage of lapsed funds was at the lowest level in five years in 2013-14 ­— though still above the long-term average. At Employment and Social Development, however, the percentage of lapsed money was at its highest five-year level in 2013-14.

The budget office also noted that many of the recent large lapses have resulted from big infrastructure projects and defence procurements that have fallen behind schedule.

The internal Employment and Social Development document says the Youth Employment Strategy shortfall was due to delays in implementing two key programs, Skills Link and Career Focus. Delayed programs were also cited in explaining lapses for the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, the Adult Learning, Literacy and Essential Skills Program, and others.

The document says the department, on average, lapses about $64.7 million in funding each year.

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