Jean-Denis Frechette’s exercise in futility

The PBO’s pursuit of 2012 budget details is becoming an expensive waste of time

Blair Gable

“If people are interpreting the legislation differently, well I’m sorry, the legislation is clear for me. Parliament should not have to pay for, or an employee of Parliament, the Library of Parliament, in this case, should not have to pay for this kind of information.” —Jean-Denis Frechette, Parliamentary Budget Officer

Jean-Denis Frechette just wants data. The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s latest report repeats, for the umpteenth time, that his office is entitled to the numbers they seek to analyze. The PBO wants to report on the details of fiscal restraint measures—cuts—the government enacted in Budget 2012. Kevin Page was the first, and loudest, to request the information, and even took the government to court. Sonia L’Heureux, who held Page’s position in the interim as the government searched for a successor, continued the fight. And now it’s Frechette who’s dogging the government with such limited success.

The office published its latest fiscal report, Expenditure Monitor: 2013-14 Q2, on Jan. 14. Frechette refuses to shut up about 2012. “The PBO has not yet received complete service level data from federal departments and agencies, which is necessary to assess the fiscal sustainability of the Budget 2012 cuts,” reads a line from the document’s key points. “Almost 40 per cent of programs’ performance in 2012-13 cannot be evaluated due to in-year changes to targets, incomplete data or insufficient evidence.”

Frechette’s team, desperate to dig out some semblance of data, resorted to the same mechanism offered to your average Canadian. “PBO staff also filed Access to Information requests seeking these data,” reads Box 2-8 in that latest report.

The Hill Times asked the budget watchdog about the access requests. Tim Naumetz reports that the PBO has filed 33 access-to-information requests since last summer, and a handful of departments have returned with fee requests of up to $1,200. In response, Frechette recalled the mandate that empowers him. “The legislation is there, and provides for free and timely access to information required by the PBO to conduct his or her activity, so I mean the legislation is there,” Mr. Frechette said. In essence, he shouldn’t have to pay the government for data he’s free to request.

Same argument, new year. Holding the government to account for its budget cuts was already an exercise in futility. Now, two years after the data fight’s opening salvo, and just weeks before another federal fiscal plan is released into the world, the 2012 fiasco is becoming an expensive waste of time.

ABOVE THE FOLD

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Post: A Saskatchewan university fundraiser with a Hawaiian theme was labelled culturally insensitive.

Star: Susan Fennell, Brampton, Ont.’s mayor, flew on flights that offered perks.

Citizen: Jason Kenney says the federal Tories have a moral obligation to support Israel.

CBC: The notion of offenders who are not criminally responsible remains controversial in Canada.

CTV: Wealthy Canadians have to save millions more than average for a comfortable retirement.

NNW: Reformers and Red Tories are starting to clash in coveted Alberta federal ridings.

MOSTLY MISSED

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Jean-Denis Frechette’s exercise in futility

  1. ‘Stephen Harper says only countries with Arctic territory should have influence in the region.’

    The US, UK, France etc all have territory in Antarctica Steve, so that won’t work.

    • He said Arctic, not Antarctic. You’re getting your poles mixed up.

      • Sigh…here we go step-by-step again

        The Arctic and the Antarctic are the poles of the planet. North and South.

        The Antarctic is shared by many nations. Nations a long way from the actual geographic location of the pole…that otherwise would have no claim.

        The Arctic will be as well.

    • Yawn. Go to work, Emily, you’re drunk.

      • Not my fault Cons have the IQ of turnips.

  2. Poor Stephen Harper – everyone he appoints to the PBO turns out to be a partisan Liberal out to get him!

  3. Expecting the government to follow the law is “an expensive waste of time”? Are we abandoning all claim to being a country under the rule of law?

    • My thoughts exactly. And even if all it serves to do is hold up a feeble light to this government’s habit of flouting the law, it may be worth the expense.

  4. Each Government department is given a budget with which to conduct their business over the year. It is quite common for one department to charge another for services rendered. The PBO is no different.
    If Government departments did not charge for services, the budget would pretty quickly be eaten up as your employees worked on someone else’s project, and left your mandate wanting.
    This story is trying to make it sound as though the beaurocrats are demanding the PBO pay out of pocket.

  5. Actually it seems quite reasonable that the PBO pay for this data. The departments he’s requesting data from will have to allocate resources to gathering this data.

    Why should someone not get a hip replacement because Health Canada had to allocate resources to helping the PBO do his job? One could easily make the argument that service levels would be negatively affected merely by allocating resources to the PBO’s demands.

    The PBO has a budget, he should use it.

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