OTTAWA - A new online tool aims to answer the eternal question posed by taxpayers:
Where does all the money go?
The federal government will spend $282.6 billion this year and a new searchable database puts all of that spending at the same digital address for the first time in a bid to make it easier for politicians to keep track of the spending estimates they need to vote on.
"I think it's pretty clear, from talking to parliamentarians, that in today's day and age of complexity, they were finding it increasingly difficult to meet their roles and responsibilities of oversight, questioning, understanding and ultimately voting on government financial information and spending," Treasury Board President Tony Clement said Monday.
While the information was previously available, Clement noted that it could be "difficult and time consuming" to track down the documents.
All of the numbers are now available through the Treasury Board of Canada's website at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/ems-sgd/edb-bdd/index-eng.html. The site includes graphs, program comparisons between government organizations, and historical spending data from the last three years.
A comprehensive online spending database of this sort was one of 17 recommendations made by a parliamentary committee last summer. Following through on the recommendation earned a rare burst of praise from a usually reticent corner: the opposition benches.
NDP MP Pat Martin, the chair of the standing committee on Government Operations and Estimates, applauded the government's initiative.
"It's very gratifying to see the government making concrete actions on the recommendations of the committee," Martin said.
"Our committee wanted to see a user-friendly, understandable fiscal cycle that we could follow, understand and comment on."
Liberal MP John McCallum, a vice-chair of the committee, said the site was a good step. But he said it didn't address the larger problem of the government failing to provide Parliament with details about budget proposals.
"I'm not criticizing them for doing this, but I am saying that it doesn't really take us very far forward," McCallum said.
"It's a good thing, and it helps us analyze the past. But it doesn't tell us what the government is going to do in the future."
Clement said the functionality of the website will be increased in the future. Next year, the database will be regularly updated with quarterly financial reports.
"This online tool will continue to evolve over time as parliamentarians get used to it," said Clement.