By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 22, 2013 - 0 Comments
The parliamentary budget officers of the OECD are meeting in Ottawa this week. NDP MP Pat Martin, as chair of the government operations committee, gave a keynote address to the gathering last night. Here is the prepared text of that speech.
Great to be here with you today.
Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant, and Freedom of information is the oxygen democracy breathes. These are two of my favorite cliché’s and they find their way into a lot of my speeches so I might as well get them out of the way right off the top.
I didn’t write either of those sayings…in fact I don’t know their origins…but they are truths that I have come to know and believe after 16 years in the trenches as a Member of Parliament.
Simply put, The public has a right to know what their government is doing with their money and secrecy is the natural enemy of good public administration…that simple message pretty well sums up my six terms in Parliament and I try to shout it from the roof tops every chance I get. In fact, I’m thinking of getting tattoo to that effect …and it may even make a fitting epitaph on my tombstone when I finally succumb to injuries sustained by banging my head against the brick wall of the vault, where our Government has been hoarding information.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 3:04 PM - 0 Comments
The Ottawa Citizen notes some fretting that it will be difficult to find anyone willing to be the next Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Don Drummond, the former chief economist for Toronto-Dominion Bank who was on the committee that selected Page, said the panel fielded about eight candidates but Page was the only qualified one from the start. He said the others weren’t interested because of the level of the position and anticipated the job would be nothing but headaches. The committee expected the position would be reclassified to better reflect the demands of the job.
Drummond worries that filling the job without resolving issues around the job’s classification and the office’s mandate could further weaken the PBO. “There may be another Kevin Page out there, but I am pessimistic on that front,” said Drummond. “I’d say it’s better not to have a PBO at all than to have a weak one.”
Unmentioned is Mr. Page’s suggestion that three members of his staff are contenders to replace him.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 12:37 PM - 0 Comments
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech about the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Of course, she recognizes that in our Parliament, which is the Westminster system that we have inherited from the United Kingdom, it is the Crown that is responsible for making budgets, not Parliament. Parliament approves budgets that come from the Crown. I wonder if she would like to comment on that role. She seems to be saying in her remarks that the opposition members, individually, should have their fingerprints all over the budget, creating a system of what are called earmarks in the United States. Does she believe that it is an appropriate format for making budgets? I would like to comment on another aspect and add a secondary question. To what extent are opposition members using the Parliamentary Budget Officer role for partisan purposes, as opposed to trying to clarify and use it for information?
As I also mentioned, for 48 years the Library of Parliament has served members of Parliament. Its employees did not grandstand or hold regular press conferences; they simply did their job and served Parliament. That is what the Library of Parliament has done in the past and that is what we expect the Library of Parliament and the Parliamentary Budget Officer to do in the future.
Mr. Speaker, I guess it really boils to what is need for making this position an officer of Parliament? Under the position’s current mandate, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, government estimates and trends in the Canadian economy. The role is not designed to be an independent watchdog. It is not designed to be an auditor general, chief electoral officer, privacy commissioner or access to information commissioner. All of those are independent officers, but that is not what this role was designed to be. The PBO is functioning perfectly well within the Library of Parliament, and that is where it belongs.
Mr. Speaker, I recall being on the Library of Parliament committee as my first committee when I was elected in 2008. We studied the issue of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. All the witnesses who were part of that process said that the Parliamentary Budget Officer clearly overstepped the responsibility of the role in the way they had envisioned it. I recall a point when the Parliamentary Budget Officer spoke out on a very specific issue during an election. I would like the member’s impression of it and whether he thinks it was unprecedented and, for that matter, appropriate.
The role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is simple. It is to provide non-partisan information so that MPs can be watchdogs. It is not that the PBO is to be a watchdog of the government. That is what the opposition members want to transform the PBO into, and that is a dangerous road to go down because it could lead the PBO to being subject to legitimate criticisms of partisanship. It is to equip members of Parliament, unless the opposition members believe they are no longer effective watchdogs of the government. Maybe that is why they want to change this role.
Mr. Saxton’s comments are interesting in their blatant criticism of Kevin Page’s term.
The watchdog distinction is also an interesting point. The opposition parties want to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer to be an independent officer of Parliament. Would Mr. Watson consider the auditor general a watchdog? Would the auditor general thus be subject to “legitimate criticisms of partisanship?”
Mr. Holder seems to be hinting at the release of the Afghanistan audit in 2008—we reviewed that particular moment last week.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 11:33 AM - 0 Comments
Once more into the Parliamentary Budget Office debate with Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber.
This conflict had to have been or at least ought to have been foreseen following the creation of the PBO. It is simply impracticable that a $260B operation be infallible. With eighty some departments, agencies and Crown Corporations, many operating at arms’ length of the cabinet, budgeting and forecasting errors or at least discrepancies are simply inevitable.
That is the nature of watchdogism. A watchdog will inevitably butt heads with what it is watching.
It is useful that this is acknowledged, particularly without the suggestion that Kevin Page was acting as a partisan by virtue of butting heads with the government. But then Mr. Rathgeber writes something truly remarkable… Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The House of Commons will spend the day debating the following NDP motion, tabled by Peggy Nash.
“That this House: (a) reaffirm the essential role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in providing independent analysis to Parliamentarians on the state of the nation’s finances, trends in the Canadian economy, and the estimates process; and (b) call on the government to: (i) extend the mandate of current Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page until his replacement is named; and (ii) support legislation to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer a full, independent officer of Parliament.”
Kevin Page’s term ends March 25. Tony Clement was asked about the NDP motion after QP yesterday.
Reporter: So can I ask you about Peggy Nash’s motion to get the PBO’s term extended and what you think. Is that appropriate?
Clement: Well, look, there’s a search committee that has already been struck by the Library – Librarian of Parliament. Let me just state for the record of course that the Library of Parliament has been a parliamentary institution for well over a hundred years so they are connected to Parliament. It is entirely appropriate that they start the search and we are looking forward to recommendations from the search and from the Librarian of Parliament for a nonpartisan and competent individual who will do the job of Parliament.
Reporter: What if there’s nobody there in time for the budget or for the appropriations bill?
Clement: Well, I think we have to follow a process and the process has been commenced and I’m not here to judge that process or to shortchange that process. They have to find obviously … the way search committees go in my experience in life has been they find a range of candidates that they then make recommendations pursuant to those range of candidates and that’s the job they’ve got to do.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
Scott Clark and Peter DeVries praise Kevin Page, but worry about the future of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Mr. Page has set a very high bar for any successor.
We are not at all optimistic about the future of the Parliamentary Budget Office. It is clear from Minister’s Flaherty’s comment that the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Office will be changed. The Office will likely be fully assumed within the Library of Parliament with restrictions on what studies it can undertake and how these studies are to be made public. Under such a scenario, many of the current staff will move on. The ability of the Parliamentary Budget Office to challenge the Government will be compromised. Reports will not get done and the Parliamentary Budget Office we know will probably quietly disappear.
Parliament and Canadians will be the worst off for it.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber offers his thoughts on the future of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
“The office has strayed from its intended mandate which was to provide non-partisan, independent advice. The perception, rightly or wrongly, is that the office has become part of the opposition’s research branch. I don’t think that was the intent, but it just evolved,” said Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton-St. Alberta, Alta.).
We need to be specific here. Mr. Rathgeber isn’t quite making the accusation that Kevin Page has conducted himself as a partisan, but he isn’t quite not making the accusation. Again, being critical of the government is not synonymous with partisanship. If the suggestion is that Kevin Page conducted himself as a partisan, the evidence to support that claim needs to amount to more than “he was really hard on the government.”
(Mr. Rathgeber alludes to “the perception, rightly or wrongly.” Perception among who? Conservative partisans? Do New Democrat and Liberal partisans differ in their opinion? Do New Democrats and Liberals think instead that Mr. Page has conducted himself in a perfectly non-partisan manner? Does this possibly demonstrate that partisans are not the best people to ask about someone else’s partisanship?)
I suspect the discomfort some have with Mr. Page’s time in office has primarily to do with his willingness to speak openly about the subjects he explored and his willingness to fight for disclosure of the information he felt he should have access to. There’s probably a good conversation to be had about how and when the officers of Parliament should be heard from and their role in a parliamentary democracy. But that discussion is a lot more nuanced than lamenting that Mr. Page wasn’t sufficiently “non-partisan.” Mr. Rathgeber seems to hint at this discussion with another comment: “This position, for whatever reason, has become very, very, public, and I think to its detriment.” I’m not sure I entirely agree, but that’s a more worthwhile discussion to have there.
Mr. Rathgeber said that the office’s high media profile, and the practice of releasing all of its reports publicly has meant that controversy-shy government MPs “almost never” ask the office for research.
“The fact that the data and the information will be released, or could be released publicly, will serve as a deterrent for government members to employ the services of the PBO,” he said…
Mr. Rathgeber said he believes that if the PBO were to release its reports directly to the Parliamentarians who request them, the move would reduce friction between the Parliamentary Budget Office and the government. He added that full officers of Parliament do not have as high a profile as Mr. Page, who serves Parliament through the Library, but that they work effectively. “There has to be some balance between the office’s ability to make reports public and its ability to still maintain non-partisanship. I realize that that’s a struggle and I don’t have a magic bullet,” he said.
If the goal—and apparently the great concern—is a non-partisan PBO, giving partisans more power to determine which of the PBO’s reports are released publicly is probably not the answer. The idea is obviously problematic—We’re going to give MPs the opportunity to withhold reports if they don’t like the findings? We’re going to waste the PBO’s presently precious time and resources on reports that won’t be made public?—but it does segue to a possible compromise.
Here is how the Congressional Budget Office answers the question, “Who can see your work?”
CBO makes its work widely available to the Congress and the public. All of CBO’s products (apart from informal cost estimates for legislation being developed privately by Members of Congress or their staffs) are available to the Congress and the public on CBO’s website. Once a legislative proposal is publicly available, any CBO analysis of that proposal is also publicly available.
The caveat there is important. A Member of Congress can consult the CBO about a legislative proposal they are considering and the CBO’s analysis of that idea will not be made public by the CBO. This would seem to satisfy Jim Flaherty’s request for a “sounding board.”
But here, meanwhile, is everything else the Congressional Budget Office (Mr. Flaherty’s preferred model) does.
CBO’s chief responsibility under the Congressional Budget Act is to help the House and Senate Budget Committees with the matters under their jurisdiction. CBO also supports other Congressional committees—particularly the Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Finance Committees—and the Congressional leadership.
CBO produces a number of reports specified in statute, of which the best known is the annual Budget and Economic Outlook. Other CBO reports that are required by law or have become regular products of the agency owing to a high, sustained level of interest by the Congress are described in our products.
In addition, CBO is required by law to produce a formal cost estimate for nearly every bill that is “reported” (approved) by a full committee of either House of Congress; the only exceptions are appropriation bills, which do not receive formal cost estimates. (CBO provides information on their budgetary impact to the appropriation committees.) CBO also produces formal cost estimates at other stages of the legislative process if requested to do so by a relevant committee or by the Congressional leadership. Moreover, the agency produces informal cost estimates for a much larger number of legislative proposals that Congressional committees consider in the process of developing legislation.
Beyond its regular reports and cost estimates, CBO prepares analytic reports at the request of the Congressional leadership or Chairmen or Ranking Minority Members of committees or subcommittees. CBO analysts work with requesters and their staffs to understand the scope and nature of the work that would be most useful to the Congress.
If we want a Parliamentary Budget Officer that provides full, public analysis of the federal budget, the government’s finances and legislation before Parliament and MPs want to be able to consult privately with the PBO, figure out what amount of staff and resources would be necessary to do so and then provide a sufficient budget. The answer ultimately is not less of a Parliamentary Budget Office, it’s more.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 3:31 PM - 0 Comments
I asked the Library of Parliament if there’d be any further progress, since the last update, on the selection of the next Parliamentary Budget Officer. Here is the latest.
Following an evaluation of proposals received for the provision of executive search services, the Library issued a contract early last week to the successful bidder, Renaud Foster. The Library also met with the firm to discuss the recruitment strategy and a work plan and timeline which they are now developing. In the interim, the Parliamentary Librarian has begun the process of forming a Selection Committee.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 4, 2013 at 1:17 PM - 0 Comments
Tomorrow morning the finance committee will consider a motion tabled by the NDP’s Peggy Nash.
That the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance recommend that the government extend Kevin Page’s term as Parliamentary Budget Officer until a thorough, transparent and competitive search for his replacement can be completed and his successor is appointed.
The motion mirrors a request Thomas Mulcair made of the Prime Minister last month and allows for the possibility that the process for selecting a new budget officer won’t be completed by the time Mr. Page’s term ends on March 25.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:31 PM - 0 Comments
One of the concerns raised by Philip Cross was the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s decision in the fall of 2008 to release, during that year’s election, an analysis of the costs of the war in Afghanistan. This has also come up in the comment thread under Paul’s column.
First, the context. Parliament was dissolved on September 7, 2008. Two days later, the Ottawa Citizen reported that the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who had been planning to release an analysis of the mission that fall (at the request of NDP MP Paul Dewar), would not do so.
After six years of sending troops to Afghanistan, Canadians will go to the polls Oct. 14 not knowing how much the war has cost them. That’s because parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, Canada’s newest spending watchdog, has decided not to release a preliminary report into the first full costing of the war since Canada sent soldiers to Afghanistan six years ago in the middle of an election campaign … Mr. Page had hoped to release a preliminary estimate when Parliament returned in September, but the election shelved those plans. There’s nothing to stop Mr. Page from releasing the study, other than concerns of interfering in the election and getting drawn into politics.
A week later, Global National pursued the question. Here is how that report began.
KEVIN NEWMAN: Well, the prime minister sought to re-assure Canadians today that Canada’s economy is on more sound footing. Banks are secure and the government claims its finances are in the black. But tonight in a “Global National” exclusive, we raise an important question that is getting almost no coverage in this campaign, how much…
JAMIE ORCHARD (Reporter): In the entire Afghanistan debate, right now, and what will be spent before the mission runs out in 2011. This small team of number crunchers has the answer to that question. They work for Canada’s first parliamentary budget officer, a new office created by the Tories to help tell Canadians what things cost. Their first job – tallying up the complete and true cost of the Afghan mission, and they’re almost ready, but the question – should it be released during an election campaign?
KEVIN PAGE (Parliamentary Budget Officer): At the minimum it would take an all-party agreement and probably we’d be setting a precedent for, in a kind of Canadian context for, you know, putting this report out.
In short order, the Liberal, NDP and Bloc leaders declared that the report should be made public. A day later, the Prime Minister added his agreement.
“We’re always willing to give content for any information that’s public. We put out detailed estimates every year of, of government expenditures so, of course, we’re willing to give our consent.”
Mr. Page then agreed that the report would be released as soon as it was ready and it was publicly released on October 9.
Mr. Page’s mandate was subsequently the subject of some gnashing of teeth. I can’t find the original source of the quote, but Cross says a former parliamentary librarian said the release of the report called into question the non-partisan status of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
For the sake of exploring this particular moment in this history of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, I asked Kevin Page about it: Do you regret releasing the Afghanistan report during the 2008 election?
He wrote back with the following, which I reprint in its entirety. Continue…
By Stephen Gordon and macleans.ca - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
There has always been a fundamental imbalance in public policy debates. On the one hand, the government of the day has access to the collective expertise of the public service, on the other hand, ordinary MPs have access to whatever expertise their minuscule research budgets can buy. It’s very easy for a governing party advised by competent professionals to win a reputation for competent professionalism, and very hard for an opposition party advised by amateurs to shake off a reputation for amateurism. (Yes, I know that the people who advise opposition parties are dedicated to their jobs and work very hard at them. That’s not the point.)
Hence the idea of the Office of Parliamentary Budget Officer (OPBO — I’m adopting Kevin Milligan’s usage of OPBO to denote the office, and PBO for the incumbent), modeled on the U.S.’ Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As in Canada, the economists in the U.S. public service are part of the executive branch; the role of the CBO is to provide professional economic policy evaluations to members of Congress. In the U.S., it has become common practice to run policy proposals through the “reality check” service that is the CBO.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Philip Cross argues that Kevin Page’s term was bad for the institution of a Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Having worked 36 years at Statistics Canada, an agency that prides itself on its independence, I have followed attentively the debates about the meaning of independence. The problem with Kevin Page and the PBO was that, to burnish their reputation for independence at their fledgling agency, they fell into the trap of reflexively taking the opposite side from the government on every issue. Page even alluded to this in an interview with Maclean’s, arguing that opposing the government’s projections was justified because “The executive is well taken care of. The question is how you close the gap for other parliamentarians.”
This is not demonstrating independence; this is a slavish devotion to an opposing position. Being independent means evaluating every situation on its merits, not the automatic gainsaying of any position the government takes, to paraphrase John Cleese. Page’s mandate was to help improve budget projections, not bolster the research capacity of the opposition.
Paul’s column from this week’s print edition acts as a good (if inadvertent) rebuttal (Paul’s column went to press a day before Cross’ column was published). But I think Cross’ assessment raises some particular questions that might be considered.
Cross is offended by Mr. Page’s comments to this magazine two years ago, specifically Mr. Page’s suggestion that his allegiance was to “other parliamentarians” as opposed to “the executive.” But to my reading, Mr. Page’s assessment isn’t terribly far from what the Conservative promised in 2006. For years, the Conservatives wrote then, the Liberal government had been underestimating the federal budget surplus. “Governments,” the Conservatives declared, “cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances.” What to do about this? “A Conservative government will: Create an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority to provide objective analysis directly to Parliament about the state of the nation’s finances and trends in the national economy.”
So the Parliamentary Budget Officer would report to Parliament. And it was established because Parliament needs an objective analysis of public finances. Because Government can’t be held to account unless Parliament has accurate information.
Parliament, of course, exists to hold the government to account. And it is useful to remember here that, in the present case, Parliament includes dozens of Conservative MPs who are not part of the executive.
When the office was created, its mandate was written into the Parliament of Canada Act (Section 79.2). That mandate expands on whom the Parliamentary Budget Officer is meant to assist. The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer fairly summarizes that mandate as follows (emphasis mine).
The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy; and upon request from a committee or parliamentarian, to estimate the financial cost of any proposal for matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction.
So when Cross writes that “Page’s mandate was to help improve budget projections, not bolster the research capacity of the opposition,” he ignores the actual, legislated mandate. But he also, carelessly I think, conflates an allegiance to Parliament and parliamentarians with an allegiance to “the opposition.”
Here, for the sake of comparison, is how the Office of the Auditor General describes its mandate.
The Office of the Auditor General of Canada audits federal government operations and provides Parliament with independent information, advice, and assurance regarding the federal government’s stewardship of public funds.
So the Auditor General scrutinizes the Government in the service of Parliament. Just recently, for instance, he issued a report that was highly critical of the Harper government’s handling of the F-35 procurement. But no one is suggesting the Auditor General corrupted his office in the process of thus serving Parliament.
The Conservatives have seemed to stress the phrase “non-partisan” when describing Mr. Page’s hypothetical successor. Cross doesn’t accuse Mr. Page of being a partisan, but he does worry that the Parliamentary Budget Officer “risks earning a reputation for partisanship.” Fair enough. But it seems to me that something needs to be made very clear here: there is a difference between being a partisan and wanting the government to be held accountable. If there is evidence that Mr. Page is a partisan—that he has an overriding and defining allegiance to a political party or even merely an overriding and defining opposition to the Conservative party—his detractors might present it. But being critical of the government does not mean someone is a partisan.
The squabbles over his mandate and reporting authority were likely inevitable given the office’s newness and prominence and the awkwardness of placing the office within the Library of Parliament. You could argue that Mr. Page has not been sufficiently demure these last five years, especially in comparison to comparable officers of Parliament. (Although you’re then objecting to style more than substance.) You might disagree, on legal grounds, with his decision to fight the government’s refusal to disclose information about its spending cuts. (Although there are lots of reasons to believe the way the government reports its spending to Parliament is broken.) You might disagree with Mr. Page’s conclusions. (As Paul writes, that’s to be expected.) But if the worst that can be said about Kevin Page is that he too enthusiastically embraced an allegiance to Parliament, he strikes me as a pretty heroic villain.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 6:21 PM - 0 Comments
With protesters standing in the snow outside, our House moved quickly to make up for six weeks without these formal proceedings.
“Mr. Speaker, today in First Nations communities across the country, the unemployment rate can reach 80%, half of the housing units are in a pitiful state and schools and students receive 30% less funding than others,” Thomas Mulcair reported. “Last year, during meetings between the Crown and First Nations, the Prime Minister promised to renew our nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous people. He promised substantial consultations: he never listened. He promised to tackle these problems: instead he attacked the chiefs. Will the Prime Minister finally take concrete action in this matter?”
The Prime Minister was prepared with assurances. “Mr. Speaker, this government has acted on several concrete measures, unprecedented in our country, for Aboriginals. We built new housing, created new schools, implemented new systems for drinking water and finalized certain land claims. Obviously, there is much more to do. However, we will continue our program with positive partners.”
It went on more or less like this for eight of the first 10 questions: a rhetorical stalemate, or rather a restating of the general positions. This newest concern is, of course, something like this nation’s oldest concern and the challenge is thus profound. In this case, the House probably needs something it can wrap its collective and metaphorical arms around—a tangible something to argue about (something that Romeo Saganash’s bill on the UN declaration and Carolyn Bennett’s question about cuts to the Aboriginal Job Centre might yet provide).
But if the last six weeks represented some kind of change beyond this place—though it is still too early to say so for sure—they did not quite resolve the matters that the opposition was fussing about at the end of 2012.
Take, for instance, the parliamentary budget officer—not merely the existential question of the office’s future, but the small matter of the questions the current officeholder continues to raise about this government’s management. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 28, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Finance Minister talks to Tom Clark.
Tom Clark: Let me take you domestically now to the question of the parliamentary budget officer. We know that Kevin Page’s term is up in March. You’ve had your ups and downs with Mr. Page. I think you’ve called him unreliable and unbelievable at times. However, this office was created by your government. Has it been a net benefit?
Jim Flaherty: Not yet, I think the idea … and I was there in those discussions in the early days of our government because I’ve been there since the beginning. The idea was that the parliamentary budget officer would kind of work like the congressional budget officer in the United States to report to the elected people in the House of Commons about how the government was doing in its budgeting, sort of being a sounding board, a testing board. He’s kind of gone off that course and I think that course was the right course and it could be very valuable to Members of Parliament of all parties, including my own party. But he’s been kind of wandering off and going in other places.
Mr. Flaherty suggests the PBO’s mandate might be adjusted, but he doesn’t quite clarify how and when he thinks Kevin Page has “gone off that course.”
As Stephen Gordon notes, if the idea is to match the congressional budget office, there is an obvious funding issue to address. So perhaps Mr. Flaherty could seek to address that as well. Perhaps the office could also be made a fully independent officer of parliament.
Turning to the Conservative party’s platform in 2006, the original goal was to “ensure truth in budgeting with a Parliamentary Budget Authority.” “Governments cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances,” the platform explained. And so a Conservative government would: “create an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority to provide objective analysis directly to Parliament about the state of the nation’s finances and trends in the national economy” and “require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs to provide accurate analyses to Parliament.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 5:24 PM - 0 Comments
A day after releasing a report that concurred with the government’s long-term projections, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a new report that seems to clash with the government’s stated approach to budget cuts.
The Conservative government’s spending restraint is focusing on front-line services while back-office spending continues to rise, says a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Office.
That’s exactly the opposite of promises made by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who said last year that the majority of Ottawa’s $5.2-billion austerity program would target administrative and support costs without impacting service to the public.
See previously, our cataloguing of the budget cuts—now spread over several budgets—that have been reported.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:12 PM - 0 Comments
Kevin Pages frames the decision about his successor.
His admirers — and they span the political spectrum — credit him and his bare-bones staff of about a dozen not only with speaking truth to power, but with creating the template for something wholly new in Ottawa: an authoritative financial reality check on government spending delivered in time to affect policy.
But with his term about to expire there is a real question whether that template will survive him. “The question going forward is are we going to have musical chairs or are we going to have a PBO cliff,” agrees Page. “If it’s musical chairs and someone from this office takes over it will be a seamless transition. If they decide to hire somebody that has no experience or knowledge of the budget process, we’ll go back to what existed before.”
As reported yesterday, the Library of Parliament is committed to forming an expert committee to recommend nominees for the post.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 5:20 PM - 0 Comments
Dan Ross, the former assistant deputy minister of defence materiel, tells Postmedia that the Harper government is to blame for the handling of the F-35.
Ferguson said officials failed to communicate the F-35’s risks, including escalating costs and schedule delays, to Parliament and decision-makers. Ross says National Defence had all the information — but the Harper government wouldn’t let officials go public with it. “For seven and a half years, whenever a journalist asked to do an interview, it was denied,” he says. “The Defence Department doesn’t communicate and it asks the (Prime Minister’s Office) for permission and they say no, and no one ever communicates. If we’d had a tech brief bi-weekly that had the good news and the bad news, the facts, went through costing in great detail, I don’t think you’d be in the same place,” he says.
In the lead-up to the 2011 federal election, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page asked officials in Ross’s section to discuss the true cost of the F-35 program as he prepared a report about the stealth fighter’s pricetag for Parliament. Ross says he never received approval from above for the meeting. “At the end of the day, communications in federal governments is a political decision,” he says. “Bureaucrats don’t get to decide.”
Lee Berthiaume previously detailed how defence officials avoided the Parliamentary Budget Officer in 2011. Mr. Ross appeared at a news conference in March 2011 to attempt to counter the PBO’s report on the F-35.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 3:51 PM - 0 Comments
As noted earlier today, the appointment of the parliamentary budget officer is set out in the Parliament of Canada Act. The act allows for the creation of a committee by the Parliamentary Librarian that would be charged with recommending three candidates to the government. I emailed the Library of Parliament to ask if such a committee was to be formed. Here is the response.
The Library issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking the services of an executive search firm to assist with the recruitment and selection of candidates for the PBO position. The closing date for the RFP process is tomorrow, Tuesday, January 22, 2013.
Following the evaluation of proposals, the Library will issue a contract to a supplier who will then prepare the recruitment strategy and detailed work plan, including a list of activities and timeline.
As you note, the Parliament of Canada Act sets out that the Parliamentary Librarian has the responsibility of forming and chairing a committee whose mandate is to provide the names of three candidates for the position of PBO to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, for appointment by the Governor in Council.
The intention is to include former senior officials who worked in federal public administrations, such as former Auditors General, past PCO Clerks, former heads of other central agencies and possibly former parliamentarians who are knowledgeable in this area of expertise. Notable experts from the private sector may also be considered as potentially suitable selection committee members.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 12:01 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair has written to the Prime Minister to suggest that Kevin Page’s term be extended if a new parliamentary budget officer is not in place by March 25.
The Order-in-Council appointment of Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, will be coming to an end on March 25th, just over two months from today. We are surprised that no notice of vacancy has yet been placed in the Canada Gazette concerning his replacement. I also note that no clear indications have been given by your government on the search for the next PBO.
Given the importance of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to the work of parliamentarians, I believe it would be sensible to extend Mr. Page’s appointment until such time as a thorough, transparent and competitive search for his replacement can be completed and a new PBO appointed.
Mr. Page has proven that he has the confidence of Canadians in exercising his duties and informing the public on the state of the economy and how taxpayers’ money is spent. It is crucial that parliamentarians, who are responsible in the coming months for providing oversight on the government’s annual budget, continue to have access to the PBO’s valuable advice.
For the sake of accountability, I hope you will agree to ask Mr. Page to stay on until his replacement is found.
The Liberals have now added their general concern that the Prime Minister proceed quickly and openly with the hiring of a new PBO.
Despite working under the auspices of the Library of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is appointed by the government. Yet even with the looming deadline, the Governor in Council appointment website does not list the position as a “current opportunity” and there has been no public notice of vacancy for the job. In contrast, when Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s term was coming to an end the government put out a formal notice of vacancy nearly 7 months in advance.
Is the government committed to having a new PBO ready to start as soon as Kevin Page’s term ends? I asked the Prime Minister’s Office. Here is the response.
We will follow the process for appointing the PBO as outlined by the Parliament of Canada Act.
Here is the relevant portion of the Parliament of Canada Act.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 21, 2012 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
Kevin Page talks to Colin Horgan.
We know that these are tough decisions. It’s not easy to effectively reduce an escalator in the Canada Health Transfer, it has impacts on provinces. It’s not easy to tell seniors, or some seniors or people looking forward, ‘We’re going to make you wait an extra two years more.’ So the sense is: just tell them that without providing the analysis. And our argument is that, ‘No, that’s not the way Parliament should be.’ You created this office under the auspices of greater accountability, we want to give all parliamentarians this decision support analysis so they can have a broader debate, not just a financial debate…
My view is: Do we want Parliament to be more informed? Yes. Everybody says yes. Is Parliament working the way it is? No one says Parliament doesn’t need improving. Do we want the media to be more informed? I do. … Over time, they will be looking over our shoulders, they have to make sure I’m not a politician, they have to make sure we’re doing our homework and they have to hold us accountable in the same way they hold cabinet ministers accountable…. We want all that.
I love Dave Matthews, and he has this great song out that “belief is not enough.” Belief is not enough. You can’t take this job and pretend. If you want Parliament to be better, if you want the media to be more informed, you have to work at it. We work hard… to get these products in front of people and speak openly about it. So I think that model could continue. Post-March, my term is up, and if it’s not somebody with knowledge and experience, you’ll know right away it’s the government saying, ‘There’s nothing in it for us.’
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer considers the F-35 experience.
Tom Clark: Let’s stick with the process for a second, from everything that you’ve seen; the process the numbers, do you believe that Canadians were deliberately misled about the costs of this program?
Kevin Page: Well very clearly, back in 2010 when we released our report, and a year later when the AG released his report, it was clear from the AG’s report that there were numbers that existed at DND that were much higher than what was presented to Parliament. And the Canadians saw the lower set of numbers. And things were taken out of those numbers to make the number as small as possible. So in that sense they were misled, clearly they were misled. And I think that’s a failure again in leadership, both at the public service level and I think because … and a failure politically but I’m more comfortable talking about the failure at the public service level.
Mr. Page also discusses the future of his office and says he’s not been contacted about who will succeed him in March.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 4:34 PM - 0 Comments
The opening exchange from this afternoon’s QP.
Thomas Mulcair: Mr. Speaker, Conservatives are withholding information from Canadians about cuts to their vital public services. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, 85% of Conservative cuts are aimed directly at front-line services, but the PBO cannot measure the full impact of these cuts because Conservative ministers are hiding key financial data. The Parliamentary Budget Officer has now been forced to take the extraordinary step of asking the Federal Court to intervene. Why are Conservatives obstructing the very office they created to provide objective financial information to Parliament? What do they have to hide?
Stephen Harper: Well, of course, nothing, Mr. Speaker. The government has made available to Parliament and to all Canadians all relevant information whenever it is available and we will continue to do so. We created the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Office so he could do his non-partisan work and we will continue to supply information for that.
Various laughs were heard from the government side at the Prime Minister’s use of the phrase “non-partisan.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 12:18 PM - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer hasn’t received enough information to do a full analysis, but he says it seems like government services are being cut to eliminate the deficit.
The report is based on a fraction of the information Page sought from about 80 departments, but the projected savings they provided paints a very different picture of the nature of the cuts from what many expected when the budget was unveiled in March. “There are significant reductions that could have potential service level impacts,” said Page. “Minister Flaherty indicated when the budget was tabled that the majority of reductions relate to back office operations in government (and) they don’t relate to service delivery… The information provided by departments indicate only a small proportion of restraint relates to internal service reductions… to the extent there was a surprise, that was it.”
About 85 per cent of the savings appear to come from programs for Canadians and the cost of operating them, which places the reductions closer to the front-line than the government originally suggested. The big cuts are in programs in the areas of international, immigration and defence at $1.7 billion; social programs at $784 million, general government services at $716 million, and security and public safety at $688 million.
The PBO’s full report is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 2, 2012 at 11:55 AM - 0 Comments
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has released a new update on what information he’s received from the Harper government. In short, he’s getting information on savings, but little information on job losses or service impacts.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 29, 2012 at 5:54 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. In the 15 minutes before Question Period, John Weston stood and worried that a carbon tax would raise the price of Halloween candy. Then Cheryl Gallant fretted that a carbon tax would raise the price of wood. Then Lawrence Toet lamented for a carbon tax that would punish families and kill jobs. Then Pat Martin stood and attempted to shame a Conservative backbencher into rejecting his talking points. And then Kelly Block cried that a carbon tax would “hurt ordinary Canadians.”
All of this was supposedly something to do with the NDP and its leader.
When Question Period was finally called to order, Thomas Mulcair wanted to fret publicly about the Harper government’s handling of foreign investment. Continue…