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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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