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On why it’s a good idea to read your party’s proposed opposition day motions …


 

Or ITQ, for that matter: It makes it less likely that you’ll inadvertantly – or perhaps deliberately – publicly contradict your party’s position on, for instance, the need to support the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Office:

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who last week warned that Ottawa’s projections for climbing out of deficit within half a decade may be too optimistic and said the government’s $40-billion stimulus package may have a smaller and less effective impact than billed, is garnering too much media attention and shouldn’t be allowed to release his sensational reports unilaterally, says Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett.

Moreover, Ms. Bennett told The Hill Times that she’s concerned with the tone of the massive media attention regarding Mr. Page’s office budget and the public disagreement with the Library of Parliament chief librarian William Young, and said she believes it damages the institution of Parliament and the respect of the Speakers of the House and Senate.

“I don’t know of another bureaucrat or public servant who gets to go public when their budget is cut. A deputy minister would be fired. You don’t do this in the court of public opinion. Usually, you do this at committees and in estimates and you make your case and if you don’t get the money you want, then you are quiet and, at the next try do this, so I’ve been concerned that even though it seems, in terms of the reporting of this, that it was a criticism of the Speakers or a criticism of the Parliamentary Library, this is supposed to be about Parliamentarians and about the public, not about a new institution,” said Ms. Bennett. […]

Mr. Page is also a media-friendly bureaucrat, which is unusual. The office will reword queries in order to make them more broad and non-partisan. Mr. Page argues this is all part of the transparency and accountability for his office and a way to show non-partisanship.

It is, however, different from how the Library of Parliament operates.

Library researchers do research for Parliamentarians but provide the results of this research privately to Parliamentarians.

“I’m quite concerned [that] the Parliamentary Budget Officer sees himself as an independent practitioner who can report whenever he wants…That wouldn’t be in the best interest of some Parliamentarians who might ask for a study, get the results from the Parliamentary budget officer and then want to release it, say a month later with all the stakeholders and be able to actually make their point in the best possible way. If the Parliamentary budget officer sees himself as truly independent, then he would believe that he could release it whenever he wants to, as opposed to the wishes of the Parliamentarian or the Parliamentary committee that had commissioned the study,” said Ms. Bennett.



First off, it’s true that neither of the Liberal motions currently on the Order Paper explicitly address the question of when and how the Parliamentary Budget Officer should release his reports — although the matter did come up before the Finance committee last week, and Page assured members that, in the event that a report is requested by a parliamentary committee, it would be delivered to the committee before being made public, thereby assuaging at least one of Bennett’s stated concerns. But both do express strong support for allowing the current inhabitant of the job to carry out his mandate, and would require the Library of Parliament to “facilitate” his ability to do so.

The question of how the PBO should deal with the release of reports requested by individual MPs is an interesting one, and should definitely be brought up at committee — in fact, perhaps before more than one committee, as suggested by NDP MP David Chrisopherson later in the same article — but when it comes to Bennett’s criticism of Page’s decision to “go public” with his concerns over the budget, ITQ finds her attitude puzzling, to put it kindly.

Bennett suggests that, rather than discuss his concerns with the media, Page should follow the lead of other “bureaucrats”, from deputy ministers on down, and take his case to committee. Which, last time ITQ checked, is, in fact “going public”, since committee meetings – those dealing with budgets and estimates, at least – are, in fact, open to the public. (Yes, even the Library of Parliament committee.)

But it is Parliament that is ultimately responsible for determining the budget for full independent officers of Parliament, such as the Auditor General, but also the Library — which makes sense, when you think about it for like, three seconds, because the last thing in the world you want an ostensibly independent investigator to worry about is whether his or her office could have its budget slashed if it puts out a report critical of the government in power. That is just as much a potential concern for the Parliamentary Budget Officer as it would be for Sheila Fraser, which is why putting his office under the Library of Parliament makes no sense, but you’ve heard that rant from ITQ already.

Anyway, considering that it is, after all, her party that is currently agitating to increase the PBO’s workload enormously with its request that he provide his take on those quarterly accountability reports that they want from the government, Bennett and the rest of her caucus colleagues should be urging their fellow parliamentarians to make sure that his budget is fattened up as well. Instead, she’s chiding him for being too chatty with reporters. ITQ gets that she doesn’t want this to turn into a free-for-all bashing of the Library of Parliament – which absolutely does not deserve to be in the middle of this mess – but shooting the messenger? Not really the answer here.


 

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