The Department of Finance has asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) to withhold details on the federal dental care program they promised in Budget 2023.
"We respectfully request that you do not disclose the data publicly or share it outside of your organization," wrote the department in a May 19 letter to the PBO. They provided no reason for their request.
Cabinet, in a 2022 Supply And Confidence Agreement with NDP, promised to launch "a new dental care program for low-income Canadians that would start with under 12-year olds in 2022 then expand to under 18-year olds, seniors and persons living with a disability in 2023 then full implementation by 2025."
The Budget Office sought figures on the cost and scope of the complete plan, according to Blacklock's Reporter.
PBO Yves Giroux requested the eligibility criteria, details on the types of procedures covered and co-payment rates used to cost the dental care plan in Budget 2023. He also asked for a description of relevant assumptions, such as inflation indexation of income levels and administration costs.
Last March 22, he pegged the program costs at $4.6 billion annually. "We estimate that close to 6.5 million Canadians will benefit from the proposed program during the first year," wrote analysts.
Ottawa tabled phase one of its plan last October 1, where households earning under $70,000 receive $650 tax-free annual grants for children under 12. They also provided reduced grants to households earning less than $90,000.
"The federal program is simply a program to pay people's bills," NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters. "It's going to pay the cost of dental care."
He called phase one a "stop-gap measure" before Ottawa rolled out the complete program.
According to Blacklock's Reporter, Cabinet proposed to expand the program to family members of all ages in households earning under $90,000. The PBO estimated 12 million people had no dental insurance though half made more than the $90,000 income threshold.
"The full program is comprehensive coverage to ensure people get the care they need," said the NDP leader.
"This is what working constructively is all about," added Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "Parties need to work together. That's what a minority government means.
On March 28, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the budget has three main focuses: the clean economic transition, healthcare and cost-of-living relief.
Roughly 70% of the $43 billion in net new spending is earmarked for health and dental care over the next six years, including $13 billion over five years to extend dental services to lower-income Canadians who don't already have access to a dentist.
"No Canadian ever again will need to choose between taking care of their teeth and paying their bills at the end of the month," said Freeland. "There are significant and necessary investments."
To finance these priorities, Ottawa pledged $9.8 billion in savings within the public service and a range of tax measures aimed at wealthier individuals and corporations that would increase revenues by $11.7 billion.
The finance minister also plans to slash $15.4 billion in spending over the next five years through "targeted reductions," including an effort to curb the use of "professional services" and management consultants and a reduction in travel expenses.
Freeland also promised to levy a 2% tax on stock buybacks, to hike the "alternative minimum tax" to make the wealthier pay more, and tax dividends received by financial institutions — three initiatives projected to raise $11.6 billion over the next five years.