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Parliamentary Budget Officer: The sequel, baby


 

From the Inkless emailbox:

From: Page, Kevin
Sent: November 17, 2008 4:36 PM
To: – SEN SENATORS’ OFF/BUR. SENATEURS; MEMBERS’ OFFICES/BUREAUX DES DÉPUTÉS
Cc: – BLOC: CENTRE DE RECHERCHE ET DOCUMENTATION; – CONSERVATIVE RESEARCH/RECHERCHE CONSERVATRICE; – LIBERAL RESEARCH BUREAU; NDP Research; Nyhuus, Ken; Gallagher, Bob; Boyer, Sylvain

Subject: PBO Economic and Fiscal Assessment / Évaluation économique et fiscale du DPB

Le français suit

As the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) one of my key responsibilities is to inform you of developments in the nation’s finances and trends in the national economy. In meeting the commitments of my mandate, I intend to provide to you with timely assessments of the Canadian economy and federal finances.

I would like to invite you or your designate to a closed meeting to present and discuss my first report.

Date and Time: Thursday November 20 at 9:00 am
Location: Room ___, Centre Block

It is my hope that this report will provide you with helpful information and analysis as you begin to prepare for upcoming budgetary deliberations.

My economic and fiscal assessment will be followed by a technical briefing session open to the media, where my staff will be available to answer technical questions concerning the report.

I am also attaching a short briefing note that explains the process the federal government uses to prepare its economic and fiscal forecasts. This document is also available on our Web site at www.parl.gc.ca/pbo-dpb.
Sincerely,

Kevin Page
Parliamentary Budget Officer

I have inquired, and am given to understand that Mr. Page has neither sought nor received clearance from Parliamentary Librarian William Young for this latest sortie. Mr. Young won’t be thrilled. In other words: It’s on.


 

Parliamentary Budget Officer: The sequel, baby

  1. I’m sure the Speakers are equally thrilled. Has that guy still not read the law that defines his office?

    Whose got the jurisdiction over this renegade lawbreaker — the Sergeant-at-Arms, or the RCMP?

  2. Hoo boy!

  3. MYL, I don’t think he’s broken the criminal code, he’s just grossly violated the terms of his appointment. (Whether those terms are just or not being a separate question, bien sûr.) But the Government must be feeling that the optics of taking him out and dropping him off the Macdonald-Cartier bridge would be too bad, otherwise they’d have done so already. I wonder if they can’t, for the moment, just cut off his sources of information, making this the last rogue report?

  4. Phantom, I have read the document at your link. It’s just a briefing note: Parliamentary Budget Making for Dummies:

    We ask smart folks in the dismal science within the private sector to look into their crystal balls, we best guess the near future, we estimate revenues and we prioritize expenditures, keeping in mind we are aiming for $3B in the black for debt retirement at the end of every fiscal year. Our systems compare very favourably with other developed nations but there are some more good habits we might choose to adopt, in particular by graphing probability over a RANGE of year-end balance possibilities.

    I might have expected to see something like that already within the Dept of Finance web pages if I cared to look.

    If the PBO is gonna get all renegade on us, I hope he’s got way more meat to show everyone in the actual forecasting report. But alas, if something so insultingly basic has to go out to MPs and Senators prior to the forecasting report, that’s a sad reflection on the economic literacy of the folks now “managing” a massive annual budget and a dizzying debt load.

  5. I’d be careful walking the halls of Parliament, lest a Speaker or two sneak up on me with that big mace.

    Just sayin’.

  6. LOL, yes, right.

    Strange that the opposition parties haven’t commented yet, eh? Or have they? Are they trying to figure out how to play this, or what? Surely there’s some hay to be made here somewhere.

  7. I wonder if they can’t, for the moment, just cut off his sources of information, making this the last rogue report?

    Actually, Jack, IIRC the legislation was pretty explicit about who was required to share info with the PBO so s/he could get the job done.

  8. madeyoulook:

    “I might have expected to see something like that already within the Dept of Finance web pages if I cared to look.”

    It isn’t on the Dept of Finance web site, or any other Government of Canada web site – that was the point of establishing the PBO (see Conservative Party Platform, 2006).

    Regarding the PBO voiding his “terms of appointment”, have they published his these? Can you post the link?

    I think that this will be up to Members and their (potentially new) Speakers to decide whether they are satisfied with the products currently produced by the Librarian (and hence the PBO should be placed under the same cone of secrecy) or better served by a transparent, impartial operating model.

  9. MYL: the legislation was pretty explicit about who was required to share info with the PBO so s/he could get the job done.

    Yes, right; I’m just saying that if he’s gone rogue and the Government isn’t ready to discipline him then they could pass the word unofficially that departments and agencies should go slow in responding to him.

  10. There have been many in accurate and unclear statements made about the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), including by the PBO himself, since this whole situation developed.

    Overall though, the Conservatives broke their 2006 election promise to establish an independent PBO through their so-called “Federal Accountability Act”, and the PBO needs to made independent as soon as legislatively possible, as do many other so-called “watchdogs” who are actually vulnerable lapdogs in key ways.

    To be an actually independent watchdog, the officer/commissioner/agency head must be appointed through as non-partisan a process as possible, after an arms-length and merit-based search process; must have a fixed term of office with dismissal only possible for cause; must have control over budget, staffing and release of all reports, and; must have the power to penalize violators of whatever law the watchdog is enforcing.

    Because the Conservatives broke their 2006 election promise to establish an independent Public Appointments Commission to help ensure merit-based search processes, and because opposition party leaders are only consulted on nominees, none of the current so-called good government “watchdogs” (Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Senate Ethics Officer, Commissioner of Lobbying, Information Commissioner, Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Auditor General, Chief Electoral Officer, Commissioner of Elections, Privacy Commissioner, Procurement Ombudsman and PBO) were appointed in the way needed to ensure their independence.

    Only the Ethics Commissioner submits her office’s proposed budget to the Speaker of the House (instead of the Treasury Board minister), and none of the “watchdogs” have the right in law to the annual funding they need to fulfill their mandate (so they are all constantly under the threat that their budgets will be cut if they actually do their job).

    Cabinet is not even required to appoint a Procurement Ombudsman, and the Procurement Ombudsman and PBO (the two “watchdogs” who are not Officers of Parliament) can be fired by Cabinet at any time for any reason (such as for actually doing their job) because they serve at the “pleasure” of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

    And none of these so-called watchdogs (except the Commissioner of Elections) can penalize anyone for violating the key good government laws they supposedly enforce (which is why so many
    politicians and government officials ignore the laws year after year, decade after decade). The Senate Ethics Officer can’t even investigate a senator unless a committee of senators approves the investigation.

    Last but certainly not least (especially given the controversy about the PBO’s reports), the other so-called “watchdogs” who are Officers of Parliament cannot release a report at any time in any way they like — they must all table reports in Parliament. So even if the PBO was made an Officer of Parliament, it wouldn’t solve the problem that has caused the recent media coverage about the PBO, because the Speakers of the House of Commons and Senate control the release of all officers reports.

    So, what MPs (and Senators) should make happen as soon as possible is a comprehensive law that changes all of the lapdogs we have watching federal politicians and the federal government into actual watchdogs (and, while they’re at it, MPs and Senators should close all the loopholes and extend all the
    laws the watchdogs enforce to everyone involved in federal politics, including all candidates, politicians and political staff, all government institutions, and all Cabinet appointees).

    In other words, MPs and Senators should pass an actual “Federal Accountability Act” since the Act the Conservatives introduced and Parliament passed in December 2006 did not contain 28 of the measures promised by the Conservatives, nor many other key measures needed to ensure everyone in federal politics is effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.

    Hope this helps, and details about the dozens of loopholes in the federal government’s accountability system can be seen at:
    http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/SummaryOfLoopholes.html

    Sincerely,
    Duff Conacher, Coordinator
    Democracy Watch

  11. Jason, I was only referring to the hello-children-this-is-how-we-make-a-budget report that is out as a briefing document. I sure hope the PBO will provide value-added analysis at that first meeting with parliamentarians. And I sure hope it can be above the Romper-Room level of that briefing document without losing too many lawmakers.

    As to the “terms of appointment,” all I’ve got, all anyone’s got, is the royally assented C-2, which establishes the PBO as an officer of the Library of Parliament, and that provides analysis to MPs, Senators, and Parliamentary committes.

  12. Duff, I may not have much quarrel with anything you write above (eyes glazed, I sheepishly admit, at the repetitive “broken election promise” phrase), but I confess that your generous offer of analysis passes through a cerrtain filter that lessens my ability to take that analysis entirely on faith.

    Here’s why: Aren’t you the guy who paid a lawyer to embarrass him or herself in front of a judge trying to convince the court that a law (that recognized the prerogative of the Governor General remained intact) was somehow violated when the Governor General exercised her prerogative to dissolve Parliament on advice of the PM? Hence leading to the Alice-in-Wonderland notion of a group called Democracy Watch attempting to thwart the ultimate act of a democratic people?

    Are you that Duff? Is this that Democracy Watch?

  13. that’s got set some sort of record for rattling silos.

    email to be sung to the tune of “We’re Here for a Good Time”

  14. myl, that case is still before the courts and, I assume, will be argued at some point.

    Democracy is great but democracy conducted under rule of law is even better. When the case is heard I hope we will be able to determine whether one particular law is valid or whether the government is wasting time and talent passing invalid laws.

    Democracy Watch is at least taking it out of the untender hands of the punditocracy and putting it before the courts. More power to it.

  15. Duff is not a fan of democracy, he’s a fan of transferring power away from elected parliamentarians to the unelected courts. Can’t wait to see the next budget coming from a judge.

  16. MYL: I hate to spoil a perfectly splendid flame war in the making, but on this issue, you and Duff are actually on the same side — at least, in the sense that you agree that the problem, in this case, isn’t binding glue fume-addled librarians and powermad speakers trying to muzzle the Last Honest Man in Ottawa, but the law as it is currently written.

  17. glue fume-addled librarians and powermad speakers trying to muzzle the Last Honest Man in Ottawa
    Wow, Kady, you should get a job that uses your talents in creative writing. That was cool.
    :)

    I have no flame to throw; only that I hesitate, given past history of which I am aware, to line up square beside this potential ally. For I see that judicial stunt of his, whatever the point of protesting any PM’s pleasure of calling an election to maximize political advantage, as just that, a stunt. I stand here nervously beside some guy named Duff, who kind of sounds like he’s making sense right now, wondering what next stunt will appear. And I am not sure how close I want to be when that happens. Is all.

    And the problem is not just a flawed law. It is the disobeyance thereof. Geez, the guy was just hired this year and already he wants to be the boss, royally assented C-2 be damned? Nunh-uh, pal. A law doesn’t get fixed by being flouted and staying on the books to be ignored; a law gets fixed when it is exposed for its flaws and somebody fixes it. Last Honest Man in Ottawa, indeed. Hmpf.

  18. Actually, I am a fan of democracy, and no, I am not a fan of transferring power away from elected parliamentarians to the unelected courts, except in one area, namely, decisions about whether parliamentarians are being honest, ethical, open, and efficient (in other words, decisions about whether they are following, or violating, good government and other laws).

    Enforcement of rules by parliamentarians doesn’t work because if the ruling party has a majority of seats in the House of Commons, then the ruling party (ie. government) is never found to do anything wrong by Parliament (as the lapdog ruling party MPs always support their leaders (Prime Minister and Cabinet). If the ruling party has a minority of seats, then the ruling party is always found to be doing wrong by the opposition parties.

    In both cases, politicians ignore rules of evidence and logic and make ruling based on partisanship.

    Courts were established to ensure rulings based on evidence and logic, not partisanship. Therefore, courts (or tribunals, as some of the Officers of Parliament are), are the democratically proper place for deciding about wrongdoing and law-breaking (as Sisyphus notes).

    As for your comment “madeyoulook” — you make the same mistake as all the commentators who claim that the recent federal election was legal. Democracy Watch’s position, and the basis of its court challenge, is that it was illegal for Prime Minister Harper to advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament. The case does not challenge the legality of Governor General’s constitutional power to dissolve Parliament and call an election, it challenges the legality of Prime Minister Harper advising the Governor General to do so.

    If the court agrees with Democracy Watch’s position after the case is heard next year, then Prime Minister Harper will be found guilty of violating the Canada Elections Act’s fixed election date measures, and possibly the Governor General’s action of dissolving Parliament and calling an election will also be found to be an improper exercise of her constitutional powers (given that her actions were based on illegal advice from the Prime Minister).

    When the fixed election changes were being reviewed by Parliament, the responsible minister Rob Nicholson (and every other government representative) repeatedly said that if the changes passed, every Prime Minister would be prohibited from going to the Governor General to advise the dissolution of Parliament and calling of an election, unless a vote of non-confidence in the government had occurred in the House of Commons.

    A vote of non-confidence had not occurred against Prime Minister Harper’s government before he went to the Governor General.

    Want details? Want to see what Nicholson and other government representatives said to the House and Senate? — go to:
    http://www.dwatch.ca/camp/RelsOct0308.html

    Hope this helps.

    Take care,
    Duff

  19. OK, now I am sorry I brought it up, ‘cuz we’re drifting away from PBO. But how someone can think that a vote of the people is an illegal mistake is beyond me. The power rests with the people, who consent to be governed. Whatever shenanigans may happen, if it results in a nationwide consultation of the governed, don’t mess with it. Please. WE’LL decide whether to punish the PM for taking advantage of the electoral landscape, thank you. And I will keep it brief and leave it at that. Last word to Duff if he wants it, ‘cuz henceforth I’m off the fixed-elections playing field for this thread.

  20. Just to add a quick hello to Kady, to whose blog entry from last Thursday about the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) position I tried (and thought I had successfully) posted a comment last Friday (I checked the blog today and my comment was not there for whatever reason.

    As it was essentially the same comment as the 7:04 pm comment I posted above, I won’t repeat it.

    But I will say that I think the comments “madeyoulook” made on Kady’s blog last week, namely that the PBO, (intentionally or not) violated the Parliament of Canada Act when he released his report to the public on the cost of the Canadian government’s activities in Afghanistan, were incorrect.

    The Act makes the PBO an officer of the Library, and under section 74 of the Act:
    “Administration
    74. (1) The direction and control of the Library of Parliament and the officers, clerks and servants connected therewith is vested in the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons assisted, during each session, by a joint committee to be appointed by the two Houses.”

    However, while Library staff usually give their research reports to the parliamentarian who requested the report (and then allow the parliamentarian to release it to the public), I have found nothing in the Parliament of Canada Act or regulations that requires librarians to handle their reports this way.

    And, with regard to the PBO, section 79.2 of the Act states that his mandate is to provide research into estimates, the financial cost of any proposal, when requested by any House or Senate committee or member, as well as to “(a) provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation’s finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy.”

    The Act and regulations do not say anything about how the PBO’s research reports are to be released, and the PBO checked with all the parties before he released his report on Afghanistan, and therefore I think he obtained the legal clearance he needed to release the report.

    Again, as I mentioned in my earlier comment, if the PBO is made an Officer of Parliament, he will lose the right to release his reports directly to the public, as all Officers’ reports must be tabled in Parliament and released by the Speaker of the House or Senate.

    So if the PBO was already an Officer of Parliament, his report on Afghanistan could not have been released during the election, because Parliament was dissolved, and so his report could not have been tabled in Parliament.

    Hope this helps.

    Take care,
    Duff

  21. MYL: I think you’re sorry because it is a somewhat compelling case. The law will either be struck down/rendered meaningless or Harper will be deemed to have broken his own law.

  22. Duff, by that logic wouldn’t any public servant or CF officer be able to hold a press conference on his/her file?

  23. To respond to your question Jack, yes, it does mean that any public servant or CF officer could hold a news conference on his/her file, but only after s/he first obtained approval to hold the news conference from her political boss (ie. Cabinet minister), which the PBO did when he asked the leaders of all political parties if it was ok with them for him to release his report on Afghanistan during the election (and all the leaders approved of him doing so).

    Of course, as you likely already know, public servants of any kind also have the legal right, including a right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to release any information at any time if the information is about something politicians/the government are hiding from the public that would negatively affect the public’s health or safety (a Health Canada scientist whose name escapes me established the legal right a few decades ago through a court case about his disclosure that the Health minister was hiding information about the health dangers of Meme breast implants, and Health Canada scientists Shiv Chopra and Margaret Haydon established the Charter right through a court case that resulted from their disclosure of information about Health Canada’s actions and decisions about bovine growth hormone).

    And just one last note re: the legality of the election call — Democracy Watch’s position is not that “a vote of the people is an illegal mistake” as MYL claims (nice try though), Democracy Watch’s position is that Prime Minister Harper’s actions were intentionally illegal. As everyone knows, the Prime Minister did not just go “Oops, sorry made a mistake by calling an election” — he intentionally called the election, very likely because everything he saw coming down the pipe in the upcoming months looked bad for his party (including the PBO’s report on the actual cost of the Canadian government’s activities in Afghanistan, as well as a dozen or so other things I could list).

    Again, hope this helps.

    Take care,
    Duff

  24. MYL: Yes, I know it’s just a briefing note. When you consider how slow most webmasters are who work for the federal government, it’s still PDQ.

  25. It strikes me as a very bad idea to encourage public servants to hold press conferences on their ministers’ say-so without going through the chain of command, but I can see how it would be legal to do so.

    Nevertheless, Duff, who authorised this upcoming press conference? Perhaps I am not clear on the facts, but it seems that the PBO is announcing his intention to brief parliamentarians at the same time as he announces his intention to hold a press conference. Chain-of-command issues aside, if the approval of party leaders is required for the this budget report to be released, how can he announce his intention of doing so before he gets that approval? Or has he already done so and I missed it?

  26. myl, your implication that the legality of the vote is being questioned is a red herring. The vote, as far as we know, was appropriate and legal. It is the calling for the vote that may be questionable.

  27. Re PBO (since I promised to keep lid on the other stuff):

    Since when does a handful of party leaders constitute approval of the House? And how does that handful of party leaders from one chamber suddenly constitute bicameral approval? And how does any of that justify the PBO’s ignoring the law as it’s written? Wow, who’s showing contempt towards Parliament now…

  28. To answer your further question Jack, first, it’s not a bad idea for a public servant to give a press conference if their political master approves doing so, because of course they still have to follow all of the rules re: the release of information, and that would mean going through the chain of command. However, the legal top of the chain of command is always the minister, so if a deputy minister (or ADM, or deputy head) disagrees with a minister’s approval of a lower-level public servant holding a news conference, all the DM etc. can legally do is try to convince the minister that it’s a bad idea.

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about because it would never happen without senior public servant involvement and approval.

    As for the PBO’s planned upcoming briefing and news conference on the nation’s finances and trends in the economy, as I stated in my earlier comment, section 79.2 of the Parliament of Canada Act states that the PBO’s mandate is to provide research into estimates, the financial cost of any proposal, when requested by any House or Senate committee or member, as well as to “(a) provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation’s finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy.”

    The report on Afghanistan was a requested report, and so it was proper for the PBO to check with the MP who requested the report, as well as (given it was the middle of an election campaign) with other parties.

    However, the PBO’s upcoming report is not requested, it is simply within his legal mandate and power to issue the report to the Senate and House, and, as I stated in my earlier comment, there is nothing in the Act nor regulations that specifies how such reports should be released.

    The PBO has invited all MPs and Senators to the release of the report, so he is not being improperly partisan in how he releases his report. If he just released the report to MPs and Senators, one of them (at least) would make it public and then the media would call the PBO for comment. So, instead of doing 50 separate interviews with the 50 different media corporations who have reporters in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, it just makes sense for him to hold a news conference and answer the media’s questions all at once.

    Again, if he was an Officer of Parliament, the PBO would be required to table the report in Parliament first, and then the report would be made public by the Speaker of the House or Senate, but even then the PBO would very likely hold a news conference as soon as the report was made public to answer all the media questions at once (as the Auditor General and other Officers of Parliament always do when they table their reports in Parliament).

    Again, hope this helps — don’t think I will be online this evening much longer, but I will check tomorrow and will happily answer any further questions.

    Take care,
    Duff

  29. Wow, finally the tax payers are getting value for money. Why can’t we have more Kevin Pages in the system? I fail to understand why the bureaucrats would want to punish an honest official for releasing the economic and fiscal assessment and informing parliamentarians and Canadians of the state of the nation’s finances and economy. For god’s sake, the economy is tanking, businesses are struggling to find operating lines and keep the employees in their books, and here we have some corrupt people wis trying to criticise Page for releasing a report to enhance parliamentary dialogue..?? Get real guys.

    Mr. Duff Conacher, your points are valid and bulls eye. The real issue is why are some people scared of fiscal transparency and accountability? Is there something to hide? Page is totally within his rights and is simply executing his legislated mandate. There is little value in offering medicine after the patient is dead. Similarly, the economic and financial assessment needs to be released now, so that parliamentarians can effectively challenge the government’s estimates…and that’s called enhancing the parliamentary debate.

  30. Yes we can! Way to go Kevin Page. As a civil servant, I salute you for your integrity, honesty and dedication. If you are fired for promoting transparency and accountability, I will organise a protest on the hill.

  31. Oh my goodness, people, countrymen, friends – you gotta read the document “The process that the federal government uses to prepare its economic and fiscal forecast” which can be found in the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s website. Holy cow, the process is very secretive. Parliamentarians must be delusional of they think they are part of pre-budget consultations. Thank you Mr. Page for illuminating the debate and demystifying the budget process. Please keep up the god work.

  32. Definitely food for thought, Duff, and thanks for taking the time. I’m not totally convinced, though, I have to admit.

    I’ve just been poking around parl.gc.ca, and I managed to track down the actual text of C-2 (PBO is Clause 116). You’re right that it doesn’t specify how or when the POB is to “provide independent analysis,” but note clause 115 (amending the Parliament of Canada Act section 78):

    “The Parliamentary Librarian, the Associate Parliamentary Librarian, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the other officers, clerks and servants of the Library are responsible for the faithful discharge of their official duties, as defined, subject to this Act, by regulations agreed on by the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament and concurred in by the joint committee referred to in section 74.”

    Is this not fairly plainly “PBO, thou shalt obey the Speakers”? “The PBO is responsible for the faithful discharge of his official duties, as defined by regulations agreed on by the Speakers.”

  33. If he is supposed to be providing independent advice to the Senate and the House, how is releasing a report in the middle of an election campaign — when neither of these bodies exist due to the dissolution of parliament — contributing to that?

  34. Kady: On this one, I would respectfully beg to differ and disagree with the very narrow and incorrect position you are putting forward with regard to the legal issue. As in any case, there are always 2 sides and 2 opinions. My interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Parl Act shows that the intent of parliamentarians were crystal clear – i.e, Page/PBO to provide independent advice on the state of the nation’s finances and estimates. He doesn’t need to be asked.

    Further, I gather Page is merely fulfilling his commitments made to the parliamentary committees to provide them with regular updates on the economy and finances. This guy should be given order of Canada for upholding financial accountability…hey FI community…are you listening?

  35. I am with you Kevin, your office is a game changer. All this noise you are hearing is nothing but market forces adjusting to a new player. There are always ‘ vested interests’ who try to muzzle someone or an office that speaks truth to the power and Canadians. Nothing new and nothing to be alarmed of. I believe that Canadians will see through the smoke.

    Truth always truimphs in the end. Christ was crucified for upholding truth, but even today the world is full of judas. You make Canadians proud!

  36. Nice to see an honest public servant. I am all for transparency. I want to know how my taxes are spend and I am sure so do my friends. Go ahead and release the report Kevin, you and your team are doing a damn good job. By the way, the Aghan report was awesome as well.

  37. Way to go Page. Keep up the accountability. Do release the report.

  38. I can’t wait for your economic and fiscal update. Woohoo. I am doing my Master’s in Economics, are students allowed to attend the briefing? At a time like this, accountability and financial transpareny is so important…good show budget man

    Nancy

  39. Oh, it’s on all right. I LOVE Mr. Page! I’m not totally sure he’s doing what the legislation AS WRITTEN would have him do, but I believe Mr. Page is behaving according to the spirit of the legislation as spoken by the legislators. In other words, it is the legislation that may be in need of repair.

    Having said that, I do think one can’t obey laws by how they should be written. One must obey according to how they are written. Still, it is wonderful to know that the transparency afforded by Mr. Page will not go quietly into the night. It may still end up in a darkened void, but it won’t leave silently.

    I’m actually hoping Duff’s interpretation of the legislation is the correct one, and it is the Speakers who are mistaken.

  40. What, was this thread linked on Kevin Page’s Facebook page or something?

  41. Maybe the bars just closed, Jack.

  42. To respond to Jack’s comment (Nov. 17, at 23:12), yes, the Parliament of Canada Act does say that the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) is subject to the Act and “regulations agreed on by the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament and concurred in by the joint committee referred to in section 74.”

    However, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, I searched and found no regulations that require officers of the Library of Parliament (such as the PBO) to release their reports only by tabling them in Parliament through either the Speaker of the House or Senate.

    So, it is understandable that the Speakers would try to fill the vacuum left by the lack of regulations, but it is not understandable that they would do so by sending a letter to the PBO claiming that he definitely broke the rules (because there are no clear rules that the PBO could have broken).

    Instead, the Speakers should have sent a letter to the appropriate House and Senate committees, and the party leaders, informing them that there are questions about the proper method for releasing PBO reports (both when Parliament is in session, and when Parliament is dissolved for an election), and that the Act is vague, and that the committees and leaders should clarify the situation through either drafting and passing regulations, or changing the Act.

    This would have been the mature, democratic, and constructive way to clear up the vagueness about the PBO’s powers to release reports.

    And, as I also mentioned in an earlier comment, while MPs and Senators are doing that, they should also make the PBO independent of Cabinet (ie. protection from being fired except for cause), and make all the other changes to ensure the actual independence of all of the Officers of Parliament, all of whom are now vulnerable, in various ways, to the same kind of undemocratic, destructive political interference as the PBO.

    Hope this helps.

    Take care,
    Duff

  43. Duff: While I understand what you are saying with respect to civil servants getting approval from their political masters prior to holding press conferences, I think you misunderstand who the PBO’s political masters are. His poltical masters are the two speakers, and it is from them that he should have sought approval, not from the party leaders.

    The Parliament of Canada Act is explicit that the two speakers have the direction and control of the Library and its officers, including the PBO. I am not for a second suggesting that this is the best way, or even a good way. It is, however, the existing law, and that is what must be respected.

  44. To respond to Ottawa Guy’s comment, actually who has the power to direct the PBO is far from as clear as you claim. As I set out in my earlier comment (Nov. 17, at 21:24), the Parliament of Canada Act makes the PBO an officer of the Library, and under section 74 of the Act:
    “Administration
    74. (1) The direction and control of the Library of Parliament and the officers, clerks and servants connected therewith is vested in the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons assisted, during each session, by a joint committee to be appointed by the two Houses.”

    As this subsection states, the Speakers are assisted by a joint committee of the House and Senate — so explicitly MPs and Senators are part of the team that directs and controls the PBO (and, as I set out below, the Act gives MPs and Senators much more say in the direction of the PBO than it gives the Speakers).

    While Library staff usually give their research reports to the parliamentarian who requested the report (and then allow the parliamentarian to release it to the public), I have found nothing in the Parliament of Canada Act or regulations that requires librarians to handle their reports this way.

    As well, section 79.2 of the Act states that the PBO’s mandate is to provide research into estimates, the financial cost of any proposal, when requested by any House or Senate committee or member, as well as to “(a) provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation’s finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy.”

    Therefore, when a committee or MP or Senator request research from the PBO, they (not the Speaker’s) control what happens to the research. An MP requested the research on Afghanistan from the PBO, and the PBO checked with that MP before releasing to the public, and instead of giving it only to the MP, did the right thing (especially given that there was an election campaign underway) and checked with all the party leaders (whose caucuses the Speakers belong to) and obtained their approval.

    So again, the PBO acted properly and in a non-partisan manner, and therefore (especially given the vagueness of the Act about who exactly directs the PBO) did nothing wrong. And by acting the same proper and non-partisan way concerning the release of his report this Thursday, he is again doing nothing wrong.

    And, again, the Speakers and Chief Librarian could have easily avoided the at least somewhat justifiable charge they are now facing of trying to muzzle the PBO if they had simply notified the appropriate committees that the Act was vague and should be cleared up, and let the MPs and Senators change the rules as the majority saw fit to change them (which is their right as the majority of elected officials).

    Hope this helps.

    Take care,
    Duff Conacher, Coordinator
    Democracy Watch

  45. Duff: I guess I am reading the Act differently than you. While I acknowledge the Joint Committee, they are there to “assist” the Speakers in carrying our their duties. This gives them no formal power to direct, but I admit does establish them as a body that can provide guidance and advice to the two Speakers.

    Furthermore, I would again point out that during an election, parliament is dissolved. There is no House of Commons, no Senate, and no committees for the PBO to advise. For that reason, he should have sought guidance from his actual political masters (the Speakers, who both continue in office during a dissolution) before doing anything in the middle of an election campaign.

  46. “Mr. Speaker, we created an independent position.” – Prime Minister Harper, yesterday, in the House of Commons.

    Now, of course, apparently what the Prime Minister means by “independent” is “he can act and speak once he gets permission from his superiors to act and/or speak”. Is the story really that the PBO keeps trying to act independently and keeps being thwarted, or that the PM keeps telling the public that the PBO is an independent position? After all, can the PBO be both “independent” AND “subject to the approval of his superiors”?

    Because if the PM is being sincere (and he’s right), then it seems to me that the PBO is being interfered with. If the PBO isn’t allowed to act independently by statute, then the PM isn’t being sincere. Either the Tories haven’t yet fulfilled their election promise to create a truly independent Parliamentary Budget Officer (and they certainly are claiming that they have – see Pierre Poilievere’s comment in QP yesterday in the link above) or they’re telling the truth and they HAVE fulfilled their promise. In the second case, it seems the Officer they created in the fulfillment of their promise is being interfered with.

    I could be missing something, but it seems to me that either the government is being disingenuous as to what they actually did when they created the PBO, or they really did create an independent officer, and they just don’t care that he’s being interfered with.

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