OTTAWA — The Department of Finance has quietly updated the online version of this year’s federal budget after several mistakes were found in the original tabled in Parliament last week — including a discrepancy of $2.2 billion.
The department chalks them up to “typing errors,” but Conservatives warn they undermine trust in the entire document.
About a dozen pages of tables listing total spending on 2019 budget initiatives have been updated online to include a handful of corrections in red text.
Conservative MP Kelly McCauley said he discovered the “serious errors” while doing a deep dive into the budget and brought them to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which then alerted the Finance Department. The PBO declined comment. A spokesman for the department denied that that is how it happened, saying the errors “were found following internal review.”
“The corrections do not affect budget text nor other financial tables in the budget. The errors were a result of typing errors and were corrected to ensure consistency with the budget text,” said spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold, adding the corrections don’t require the minister to table a new version.
All of the errors were contained within tables tacked on to the back of the budget as part of the Liberal government’s effort to reconcile the budget with the main estimates, which MPs vote on each year to approve government spending.
Last year billions in spending for programs that were announced in the 2018 budget but not fully vetted by a Treasury Board process were stacked into a single vote, Vote 40. Conservatives decried the lump sum approval as a “slush fund,” and the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a scathing report.
The legislation accompanying Vote 40 referred to the tables at the back of the budget. Unless Finance Minister Bill Morneau were to present a new version of the document in the House, if the appropriations are done the same way this year, the legislation will be referring back to a paper document that is no longer up-to-date.
All of this should raise concerns that the government is not taking its finances seriously, McCauley said. “These are huge errors in information they’re providing to parliamentarians,” he said. “They table the budget with the Vote 40 slush fund repeated, with errors that can’t be trusted, which takes away even more oversight. And (now there is) even less ability of parliamentarians to trust the numbers put before them.”
While the original document said there had been $186 million in spending on initiatives announced in the budget in 2018-19, the updated version shows there was actually $311 million. The original document underestimated total spending on 2019 budget measures over the next five years by an additional $28 million, putting the discrepancy at $153 million in total.
The biggest error seems to have come in the category of “other,” a line item with no description. The original version of the budget featured expenditures of nearly $2.2 billion in that category for the year 2019-20. The updated version changes that number to a $23-million deficit.
The new document also corrects a mistake in a table reconciling the 2018-19 main estimates with the 2019-20 planned estimates — $100 million was put on the wrong line in the original.
Even accepting that an official could have made typing mistakes, the whole thing screams of “pure carelessness,” McCauley said.
“This isn’t just some run-of-the-mill, ‘oh, we forgot a comma.’ This is table upon table, millions upon millions of dollars in errors,” he said. “If they make such errors with the tens of millions with this, what else have they made a mistake on?”