The performance of this project only came under public scrutiny as a result of an Auditor-General's (AG) report stating that "the gun registry costs have ballooned out of control and will soon exceed $1-billion. When the program was introduced in 1995, the government estimated it would cost only $2-million." How could it be possible to feed the budget to enable such massive cost overruns?
It seems that politicians have their own ways and means, not least of which arises from classic government annual budgeting that treats each year as a new project and annual budget manipulation that permits shoveling money from one cost account to another. Indeed, the AG's report also "criticized the Justice Department for 'inappropriate' use of the supplementary estimates process to pay for the registry." In an interview, the AG went even further and observed "information on the program was so impenetrable she was forced to end her audit early, and charged the Justice Department with hiding the rising costs from parliament."
Where did the money go? According to the Justice department:
- $65.7-million for program administration at the Canadian firearms Centre
- $60.9-million for communications work, including a nationwide advertising campaign
- $227.1-million for the development and maintenance of the now out-of-date computer system used to store firearms data
- $332.4-million to deliver the program, including establishing the central processing centre
- $113.5-million, the estimated cost for operating the program in 2002
As the AG observed, "Instead of rubber-stamping requests for more money, parliamentary committees should require officials to explain their actions and prove programs are getting results efficiently." Apparently, unlike in the United States, government departments regularly publish lists of spending, but members of parliament rarely review the stacks of documents. Billions of dollars in government spending are routinely approved each year without explanations from officials as to why the money is needed.
Indeed, rather than the minutiae of where the last lot of money went, perhaps what is needed is a clear idea of where the next lot of money is going.
2. Curry, B., National Post, 12/5/02, pA1.
5. Delacourt, S., National Post, 12/6/02, pA8.
6. Curry, B., National Post, 12/9/02, pA2.