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Canada

Increase Transparency of Budget and Other Department of Finance Information (CA0051)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Canada Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Department of Finance

Support Institution(s): NA

Policy Areas

Capacity Building, Fiscal Openness, Publication of Budget/Fiscal Information

IRM Review

IRM Report: Canada End-Term Report 2016-2018, Canada Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Increase Transparency of Budget and Other Department of Finance Information Why do this: Each year, the Department of Finance Canada plans and prepares the federal government’s budget and analyzes economic and fiscal developments. This serves to provide policy advice on a wide range of economic issues of concern to the health of Canada’s economy. The datasets for federal budgets have been released publicly since 2015 but with a lag time of six to eight weeks given formatting, editing and translation requirements. As well, the list of briefing note titles prepared on a wide range of economic and other matters by Department of Finance officials has only been made available to specific requestors through access to information requests. How will it be done: There is an opportunity to accelerate the preparation of the datasets used in the Budget. This would allow their publication in near real-time following the release of the Budget to facilitate analysis by citizens and Parliamentarians. There is also an opportunity to broaden public access to the titles of briefing notes prepared by Department of Finance officials for the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, and the Deputy Minister, in order to be transparent about the issues raised.

IRM Midterm Status Summary

10. Increase transparency of Budget and other Department of Finance information

Commitment Text:

The Government of Canada will provide access to the datasets used in the Federal Budget each year in near real time and proactively disclose the list of briefing note titles prepared on economic and other matters.

Milestones:

10.1. Starting with Budget 2017, make all data from Budget charts and tables available in near real time to facilitate analysis by citizens and Parliamentarians.

10.2. Post publicly the list of briefing note titles prepared by Department of Finance officials on a regular basis, in order to be transparent about issues raised.

10.3. Explore options to increase the transparency of the budget pre-consultation process.

Responsible institution: Department of Finance

Supporting Institutions(s): N/A

Start date: Not specified

End date: Not specified

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full commitment text, visit: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Canada_AP3.pdf.

Context and Objectives

This commitment builds on a commitment from Canada’s previous action plan to release information connected to the 2015 budget. The overall goal of this commitment is to expand and expedite information regarding the budget itself and to provide briefing notes from the Department of Finance related to underlying issues regarding the budgeting process. Milestone 10.1 and 10.2 spell out the action area relatively clearly, though they are slightly ambiguous regarding the timeframe, with terms like 'near real time' and 'on a regular basis.' Milestone 10.3, to 'explore options to increase the transparency of the budget pre-consultation process,' does not describe any action that can be objectively measured or verified. In terms of potential impact, although budget data itself is of substantial utility for oversight by citizens, researchers and advocacy groups, the titles of briefing notes by themselves do not provide a particularly important boost to transparency. The vague nature of the third milestone makes the potential impact difficult to assess accurately, making the overall potential impact of the commitment minor.

Completion

Datasets connected to the 2017 budget were published online on 20 March 2017.[Note87: Available at: http://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/2a84c234-633c-4cc6-9282-f40ff12f5bc7.] Milestone 10.1 has been completed.

Beginning in August 2016, the Department of Finance began publishing monthly briefing notes prepared by officials for the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Deputy Minister.[Note88: Available at: http://www.fin.gc.ca/disclose-divulgation/bn-nb/index-eng.asp.] Milestone 10.2 has been completed.

Regarding Milestone 10.3, the Department of Finance posted summary reports of the results of pre-budget consultations for the 2016 and 2017 budgets.[Note89: See http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/pbc-cpb/2016-eng.asp and http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/pbc-cpb/2017-eng.asp.] It is difficult to assess overall progress since the commitment lacks a clear endpoint. In terms of future steps, the self-assessment merely states that the government will 'continue to explore ways to increase awareness and transparency.'[Note90: The draft self-assessment for Commitment 10 is available at: http://open.canada.ca/en/mtsar/commitment-10-increase-transparency-budget-and-other-department-finance-information.] In this context, the summary reports could be counted as substantial progress towards this milestone, though an accurate assessment is not possible.

Early Results

The government self-assessment reports that survey submissions for the 2017 budget were significantly higher than previous years. According to the Summary Report on the 2016 Federal Pre-Budget Consultations, a total of 5,267 survey responses were received as part of that process.[Note91: 'Growing our Economy Together: Summary Report on the 2016 Federal Pre-Budget Consultations,' Department of Finance, last modified 22 March 2016. Available at: http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/pbc-cpb/2016-eng.asp#ftnref1.] The Finance Canada 2017 Pre-Budget Consultations Summary Report records that 32,826 online surveys were received.[Note92: 'Finance Canada 2017 Pre-Budget Consultations Summary Report,' Department of Finance, last modified 22 March 2017. Available at: http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/pbc-cpb/2017-eng.asp.] This may indicate a higher level of public engagement with the budgeting process.

Next Steps

Budget transparency lends itself to progressive improvement, as technology, expectations and engagement move forward. Knowing funding allocation is a core aspect of public oversight, and a positive area for continued progress. The IRM researcher recommends carrying this commitment forward, potentially by expanding the information on briefing notes, as the titles by themselves provide limited context. This could include releasing the notes themselves, with appropriate redactions where necessary. However, it is also worth considering a more limited approach to redactions. Of the 118 briefing notes that have been posted for August 2017, 52 have had their titles redacted (44%).[Note93: List of briefing notes prepared for the Minister, the Deputy Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary – August 2017, Department of Finance, last modified 3 October 2017. Available at: http://www.fin.gc.ca/disclose-divulgation/bn-nb/2017-08-eng.asp.] The frequency with which material is redacted varies significantly depending on the thematic areas. None of the briefing titles from the Law Branch or Corporate Services Branch were redacted, whereas fully 21 out of 24 briefing notes on Federal Provincial Relations and Social Policy were redacted (87.5%). In addition to careful consideration of whether such high redaction rates are necessary in dealing with the titles of the notes, the IRM researcher recommends publishing supplemental information for redacted materials, to provide users with a description of the area being discussed, without revealing sensitive particulars.

IRM End of Term Status Summary

10. Increase Transparency of Budget and Other Department of Finance Information

Commitment Text: The Government of Canada will provide access to the datasets used in the Federal Budget each year in near real time and proactively disclose the list of briefing note titles prepared on economic and other matters.

Milestones:

10.1. Starting with Budget 2017, make all data from Budget charts and tables available in near real time to facilitate analysis by citizens and Parliamentarians.

10.2. Post publicly the list of briefing note titles prepared by Department of Finance officials on a regular basis, in order to be transparent about issues raised.

10.3. Explore options to increase the transparency of the budget pre-consultation process.

Responsible institution: Department of Finance Canada

Supporting institutions: N/A

Start Date: Not specified

End Date: Not specified

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full commitment text, visit http://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2001/01/Canada_AP3.pdf.

Commitment Aim

This commitment built on a commitment from Canada's previous action plan to release information connected to the 2015 budget. Overall, this commitment sought to expand the availability of and expedite the release of information regarding the budget itself. It also sought to provide briefing notes from the Department of Finance related to underlying issues regarding the budgeting process. Specifically, the commitment called for the following:

Expediting the delivery of all data from budget charts and tables;

Posting the list of briefing note titles prepared by Department of Finance officials; and

Exploring options to increase the transparency of the budget pre-consultation process.

Status

Midterm: Substantial

Milestone 10.1 was completed on 20 March 2017, with the publication of datasets connected to the 2017 budget.[Note80: Available at “Federal Budget 2017,” Government of Canada, http://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/2a84c234-633c-4cc6-9282-f40ff12f5bc7.]The Department of Finance began publishing the titles of monthly briefing notes prepared by officials for the minister, the parliamentary secretary, and the deputy minister in August 2016. This fulfilled Milestone 10.2, though the titles were subject to significant redactions.[Note81: Available at “List of Briefing Notes Prepared for the Minister, the Deputy Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary,” Department of Finance Canada, http://www.fin.gc.ca/disclose-divulgation/bn-nb/index-eng.asp.] Regarding Milestone 10.3, as of June 2017, the Department of Finance had posted summary reports of the results of pre-budget consultations for the 2016 and 2017 budgets.[Note82: See “Growing Our Economy Together: Summary Report on the 2016 Federal Pre-Budget Consultations,” Department of Finance Canada, http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/pbc-cpb/2016-eng.asp; and “Finance Canada 2017 Pre-Budget Consultations Summary Report,” Department of Finance Canada, http://www.fin.gc.ca/pub/pbc-cpb/2017-eng.asp.]

End of term: Substantial

Although Milestone 10.1 was completed at the midterm, the government further published datasets from the 2018 budget on 27 February 2018.[Note83: See “Federal Budget 2018,” Government of Canada, https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/2cb957d4-1f7b-4a1b-ab5e-249f56a8b337.] The government has also continued its monthly publication of the titles of briefing notes prepared by Department of Finance officials for the minister, the parliamentary secretary, and the deputy minister. However, approximately half of these titles continue to be redacted.[Note84: See, for example, “June 2018 List of Briefing Notes,” Government of Canada, https://www.fin.gc.ca/disclose-divulgation/bn-nb/2018-06-eng.asp, in which 80 of 141 were redacted.]

Regarding Milestone 10.3, reporting in Canada's self-assessment appears to be identical to that found in the midterm assessment. The government provides the summary report of Canada's 2016 and 2017 pre-budget consultations to account for the completion of the milestone. It does not specifically state what new options were explored to increase transparency of the consultation process.[Note85: The self-assessment is available at https://open.canada.ca/data/en/dataset/9da9faf5-deb1-48db-8f16-91055d942d65.] Since the government did not provide evidence of additional activities in the second year of the action plan cycle, the IRM researcher still considers this milestone substantially complete. It is important to note the challenge in confirming completion of a milestone that does not have a properly defined endpoint.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Marginal

Each year, in the course of developing the federal government's budget, the Department of Finance provides policy advice on a range of economic issues. The datasets underlying this advice serve as an important source of information. The same can be said for the list of briefing notes prepared by Department of Finance officials. However, despite the value of this data, and its high interest to Canadians, actual improvements in the release of such information constitute only a small step forward. Datasets were already being released publicly starting in 2015 (although the commitment has sped up this process). Moreover, the public gleans limited information from the titles of briefing notes, and only approximately half of these are actually being made available. As noted in the 2017 midterm assessment, this suggests an overzealous application of the classification procedures and undermines the actual impact on expanding access to information.

Regarding Milestone 10.3, there exists no indication that increases in engagement noted in the 2017 budget were carried forward into the 2018 budgeting process. The IRM researcher reached out to the Department of Finance lead to inquire into the 2018 consultations results. The researcher was told that “With the reliance on social media (i.e. Facebook live, twitter, LinkedIn) to interact and exchange information with Canadians, the Department experienced challenges in compiling and condensing information from multiple sources. The Department was successful in publishing summary reports on pre-budget consultations in 2016 and 2017, however, issues relating to privacy, bilingualism and resource capacity impacted Finance Canada's ability to further increase transparency on pre-budget consultations. The 2018 public consultation results will not be released.”[Note86: Email received on 29 August 2018.] The limited effect of the activities carried out to meet the objective of this milestone and the lack of evidence of sustainability, supports a coding of marginal.

Carried Forward?

Canada's fourth action plan contains commitments targeting budget transparency. Notably, these commitments focus on the timeliness, completeness, and transparency of the budget estimates and spending plans (2.1). They also focus on the publishing of Gender-Based Analysis Plus findings for budget expenditure and tax measures (2.2) purposes.


Commitments

Open Government Partnership