A few words from Kevin Page

‘If this is normal, then normal is getting worse,’ Parliamentary Budget Officer tells Maclean’s

I emailed the Parliamentary Budget Office this evening to ask if there was any response to Tony Clement’s comments during Question Period. Kevin Page hadn’t seen QP in its entirety and so couldn’t comment on this afternoon’s remarks, but he did pass along some general thoughts in the course of an email exchange.

I find the statement of PBO “over stepping” our legislative mandate confusing and requiring further explanation.

The prime issue for us, at this juncture, is transparency. It was the reason we presented a legal opinion on PBO access to information. Parliamentarians are put in an untenable position of voting on supply of authorities without department plans to achieve the strategic and operating review savings. Freezing direct program spending for five years as outlined in Budget 2012 will be a significant fiscal and management challenge. It starts with a plan. Without a plan there is no accountability. There was no “plan” for SOR in this year’s departmental reports on plans and priorities (by design). This is not “normal”. Quarterly reports and Public Accounts do not provide the plan to hold the government to account.

If this is normal then normal is getting worse (to paraphrase Bruce Cockburn)

The “power of the purse” rests with MPs. Before they approve authorities (voted appropriations) for departments they should see the plans (for savings) before decisions are implemented – not after so they can hold the executive and accountability officers (DMs) accountable.

On the “overstepping the mandate” issue, I must tell you as the Parliamentary Budget Officer what keeps me up at night is the fear of “understepping”. PBO has been given a large legislative mandate (independent analysis on the economy, nation’s finances, costing, estimates) relative to a planned budget. When the Clerk of the Privy Council informs me that departments will not provide basic planning information for reasons we believe are not consistent with provisions in the Act of Parliament, my fear of understepping goes up on behalf of all Parliamentarians (including Conservative MPs who must return to their ridings with out departmental plans for SOR) and Canadians…

As noted, my fear has always been under-stepping resulting from a mandate and need [that] exceeds capacity.

If exceeding mandate really means (in code) having a larger than anticipated impact, or operating in a very transparent business model, then – as I have said before – I will not apologize for doing my job. The PBO operating model is fully consistent with OECD principles for independent fiscal institutions.

On PBO performance, all the thanks goes to an incredible team assembled of like minded people with experience and desire to deliver on the large and challenging mandate for a better Parliament and deserving Canadians. Working with this group of experts has been the most enriching and rewarding period of my 31 years of public service. With this team, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has led from the proverbial caboose.




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A few words from Kevin Page

  1. Page is so concise and eloquent.

  2. Nominate Kevin Page for the Queens Diamond Jubilee medal. Better him then the woman who works for harpers election or what ever she does

    • Oh, yes, where’s the discussion on that? Girlfriend of the loathsome Polievere, and whispered as having a key role in the robocalls. Good work rewarded.

  3. Where the hell did Harper find Page and what the hell was Harper thinking putting him in charge of PBO? Wasn’t Harper aware that this guy had morals and a spine to back them off? Well at least someone is doing their job and doing it well, on the hill.

  4. Mr. Page, if you are reading this, as a taxpayer and a citizen who values the idea of democracy, I implore you to please keep at it. Stick to your convictions, hold your head up high, and work relentlessly to uncover every secret and fiscal shell game you encounter. One day, when a made-for-tv docudrama highlights the abuse and corruption of the Harper regime, your role will be that of a quiet, unwavering hero.

  5. Sheila Fraser stated that Kevin Page should never have released the report on Canada’s costs in Afganistan during the election in 2008. The Libs and NDP asked Page for it, and, as there were no rules he gave it them. Of course they hoped to use it as political fodder against the Conservatives.

    • Imagine that: allowing citizens to have free and objective access to public information during an election campaign! When are these silly voters – and their representatives in parliament – going to learn to follow the rules?

    • And Sheila Fraser is the one to give advice about proper timing for release of reports?
      Fraser and Page are both examples of senior public servants doing excellent work and upholding the principles of a non-partisan public service (against all odds). The fact that they got/get such flack from the government of the day is just further proof of that.

      • They need to clarify PBO mandate – I’n not against Page, but he is not perfect either.

        “Many say Mr. Page raised eyebrows within bureaucratic circles when he decided to release — and hold a press conference on — the politically sensitive report in the middle of an election campaign when Parliament was dissolved. Not even a full-fledged officer of Parliament, such as Auditor General Sheila Fraser, can release a report during an election. They must table their reports with Parliament.

        Mr. Page interprets his mandate more broadly than the Speakers and believes he should operate with full transparency. He has insisted his office will have no credibility and risks being drawn into politics unless his reports are publicly released. The library, where his office is housed, considers much of its research and analysis “privileged,” which means it can’t be publicly released without the authority of the MPs or committees who asked for it.
        The legislation creating the office is vague and not what many MPs and senators expected when Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised an “independent budget authority” to bring “truth in budgeting.”
        Many argue the Speakers’ narrower interpretation may well be right, but the big problem was plunking the office in the library.
        “This is not a personality conflict … This is a huge structural problem,” said Ian Lee, who heads the MBA program at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.
        “You can’t be independent inside the library because the library sees itself as subservient to MPs, providing them private and individualized services. That’s a contradiction of what the budget office should be.”

        http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=4346bd4e-e3a9-4756-8811-dc071ab4dca6

        • “This is not a personality conflict … This is a huge structural
          problem … You can’t be independent inside the library because the library sees itself as subservient to MPs” … Oh then that’s easy to solve: write a letter to your (presumably conservative) MP and insist that the Mr. Page be given more autonomy and power to extract information and investigate parliament and the PMO. With a significantly strengthened mandate, there’s no limit to the amount of cleanup he could do.

      • “The dispute over Mr. Page’s mandate erupted over his handling of his office’s report into the cost of Canada’s involvement in the Afghanistan war.
        Many say Mr. Page raised eyebrows within bureaucratic circles when he decided to release — and hold a press conference on — the politically sensitive report in the middle of an election campaign when Parliament was dissolved. Not even a full-fledged officer of Parliament, such as Auditor General Sheila Fraser, can release a report during an election. They must table their reports with Parliament
        The legislation creating the office is vague and not what many MPs and senators expected when Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised an “independent budget authority” to bring “truth in budgeting.”
        Many argue the Speakers’ narrower interpretation may well be right, but the big problem was plunking the office in the library.
        “This is not a personality conflict … This is a huge structural problem,” said Ian Lee, who heads the MBA program at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.
        “You can’t be independent inside the library because the library sees itself as subservient to MPs, providing them private and individualized services. That’s a contradiction of what the budget office should be.”
        http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=4346bd4e-e3a9-4756-8811-dc071ab4dca6

  6. Page is a national hero.

  7. How are departments supposed to deliver spending plans, before they have a budget? I think Page is attempting to put the cart before the horse. I think Page lost a lot of his credibility when he decided to publicly challenge the governments assertion that OAS was unsustainable. He decided to take a very loose definition of the word “sustainable”, and very publicly said the government was lying, when in fact there was near universal consensus that OAS was unsustainable.

    Overall, I think the office is a good one to have, and I wouldn’t even say that Page is the wrong guy for the job. He just needs to start worrying about “independent analysis on the economy, nation’s finances, costing, estimates”, rather than capturing the love of the Liberal media. He’s set himself up in an adversarial role when he shouldn’t have.

    • Absolutely. His statement about OAS was not a budget report, it was an opinion. Of course, if government diverted 100% of revenues to OAS it could be sustainable. But that’s not a budgeting decision, that’s a governing decision. It’s not Page’s job to decide where money should be spent, it’s his job to report on it. The OAS statement was completely out of line.
      I think this should make people realize that there is no such thing as an “independent”, “non-partisan” office. There is no such thing as an independent, non-partisan public service. Everybody has an agenda, and it’s impossible to eliminate. No people in positions of power should be anything other than elected, for this reason. Only elections give people legitimacy.

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