The Commons: If Kevin Page has overstepped his mandate, maybe it’s time to expand it

The Conservatives are once again reminded of the PBO they promised

The Scene. It was just two years ago, Peggy Nash reported to the House, that a Conservative MP was heard to remark that the Parliamentary Budget Officer had “improved the decision making of Parliament.”

But just yesterday, Ms. Nash next recalled, the Foreign Affairs Minister had stood and suggested that the Parliamentary Budget Officer had “from time to time and on occasion … overstepped its mandate.”

Ms. Nash was confused. “Do Conservatives really think that Kevin Page has gone beyond his mandate?” she asked, shrugging and throwing up her hands.

Tony Clement stood here to try to clarify the record.

“Mr. Speaker, let me state right off the top, it has never been the position of this government to interpret the mandate of the Budget Officer the way he interprets his mandate,” Mr. Clement explained, “and indeed, we have echoes of that from opposition members.”

Taking his iPad from his desk, Mr. Clement read aloud. “I recall the 2009 unanimous all-party committee report on the PBO that said: ‘The committee is of the opinion that the PBO’s approach is inconsistent with the Act governing his position,’ ” Mr. Clement conveyed. “This seems to be a general consensus in this House. We simply ask that the PBO do his job, and of course we will do our job through the regular means of reporting to Parliament.”

The sentence cited here appears in this report authored by the standing joint committee on the Library of Parliament. Specifically, the sentence appears under Recommendation 5, which reviews a particular dilemma: that the Library of Parliament keeps confidential its dealings with parliamentarians, while the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which technically operates within the Library, makes its reports public. “The Committee is of the opinion that the PBO works first for parliamentarians and parliamentary committees,” the committee explained, “and it is they who ultimately control the publication of the work done at their request.”

What does this particular issue have to do with Mr. Page’s current request for fiscal data? That is unclear.

Ms. Nash was unimpressed. “The Parliamentary Budget Officer has a legal right to free and timely access to any financial or economic data,” she ventured. “The Conservatives have the nerve to accuse Kevin Page of breaking his legal mandate, even though it is the Conservatives that are breaking their own law by withholding information.”

Mr. Clement was undaunted. “Mr. Speaker, the honourable member is relying on lawyers,” he replied. “We are relying on an all party unanimous report from a committee of this Parliament that said that the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s approach is inconsistent with the act governing his position. We are relying on that.”

Bob Rae dared suggest next that the Conservatives rely on their own campaign promises. “Mr. Speaker, the trouble with what has taken place is that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has asked for information from departments and he has done so according to the act, which was passed by this House, with respect to giving him powers,” the interim Liberal leader posited. “The act, if I may say so, is consistent with the Conservative Party plan that it presented to people in 2006. It said that information from government departments will be given to the parliamentary budget officer in a timely manner—in a timely manner that is also complete.”

How then, Mr. Rae wondered, was Mr. Page exceeding his mandate?

“As the leader of the Liberal Party noted, it was in fact this party, this government, that established the parliamentary budget office,” the Prime Minister congratulated himself, “so this government is more than familiar with its intention in terms of the mandate it set up.”

This was less an explanation than an assertion.

“In terms of specific information, we give information to all parliamentarians on a complete and timely basis,” Mr. Harper continued. “There are a number of means through which we do that and we will continue to do so.”

Never mind now what precipitated the last election.

As luck would have it, the House of Commons now has another report from another joint standing committee to review: this one recommending that a study be undertaken to consider, among other things, whether the Parliamentary Budget Officer should be a full officer of Parliament, similar to the auditor general. “The Committee believes that the work of the PBO has been useful for members of Parliament and for standing committees,” the committee reports, “and that having this office located within the Library of Parliament has created unnecessary confusion in its mandate.”

Both the New Democrats and Liberals are calling for a stronger PBO. If Mr. Harper and Mr. Clement are so concerned about the office’s mandate, they now have a perfect opportunity to remedy the situation.

The Stats. Trade, five questions. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, the environment and immigration, four questions each. The coast guard, the military and employment, three questions each. Health care, employment, veterans and seniors, two questions each. Ethics, foreign investment, sports, infrastructure and science, one question each.

The Stats. Trade, five questions. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, the environment and immigration, four questions each. The coast guard, the military and employment, three questions each. Health care, employment, veterans and seniors, two questions each. Ethics, foreign investment, sports, infrastructure and science, one question each.

Stephen Harper, six responses. Keith Ashfield, Jason Kenney and Kellie Leitch, four responses each. Peter MacKay and Tony Clement, three responses each. Michelle Rempel, Joe Oliver, Leona Aglukkaq and Ed Fast, two responses each. Pierre Poilievre, Steven Blaney, Bev Oda, James Moore, Gerry Ritz, Bal Gosal and Denis Lebel, one response each.




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The Commons: If Kevin Page has overstepped his mandate, maybe it’s time to expand it

  1. Of course Harper and his Cons don’t want Kevin Page poking around. They’ve got stuff to hide, like the true cost of the F-35s. Besides the Cons only created Kevin’s office to regulate their opposition.

  2. Expand it??? Hell, I’m ready to knight the man!

  3. Tony Clement IS a lawyer. That is all.

    • If a tree fell in the forest and no one was there to hear it, would Tony Clement still lie about it?

      • Well, kinda. He would tweet about how he just saved someone from a falling tree. Soon after we would find out that he really just ran towards the falling tree, tripped, twisted his ankle and got a splinter while his wife and father-in-law called 911.

        • Love it.

  4. The Congressional Budget Office in the US has credibility because they just crunch the numbers, and put out reports, and let them speak for themselves, rather than being narcissistic media whores.

    Kevin Page resembles that latter rather than the former.

    • Kevin Page is like Sheila Fraser fighting for taxpayers and accountability. One could make the same lame argument that Sheila Fraser was a media whore. But the fact is Page, like Fraser, is just doing his job.

      The reality is 64 of 85 government departments have failed to turn over the public information required of them. In fact, the Harper Government was found in Contempt of Parliament in 2011 for refusing to hand over public budget documents falsely claiming “cabinet confidence.” This budget shell game has been going on for years.

      The Conservatives are casting aspersions suggesting Page has overstepped his mandate. But it is nothing more than propaganda. Page is taking the issue to court, since the Harper Government is refusing to cooperate. Let’s see the Conservatives make their case before a judge.

      • 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 fast rules he gave it them. Of course they hoped to use it as political fodder against the Conservatives.
        Need to clarify PBO mandate.

        • now if they’d just spent the $ wisely, they could be proud of having it released during an election. wouldn’t that be awesome?

        • I swear I just read this exact post on another thread. Cut and paste now, Le_o? Your heart’s just not in this job anymore?

        • Gotta a source for that – I don’t remember it.

          • 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.”

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

          • Dude, another identical post. Losing respect.

    • While there is no disagreement that Mr. Page *might* be un-shy of the media glare, it is also indisputably true that the Party In Power™ did create his office under legislation that seems to allow him to do exactly what he’s doing. His proclivity towards media has no bearing on his legislated mandate.

    • So you’re arguing that any portion of the US government would refuse to give the Congressional Budget Office the data it requested, and that if they did so, holy hell from all comers would not then rain down?

    • What does Page’s popularity amongst interviewers and press members (arguably a ‘perk’ of his position more than a personal ambition of Page’s to get in the news) have to do with the fact that 64 of 85 government departments have failed to supply his office with the information his office requires to fulfill it’s mandate?

      • Why would they want to assist him when they know his only goal is to try to embarrass them? If it were about more accurate data, Page would avoid the spotlight, release his reports quietly, and let departments act accordingly. Instead he uses inflammatory rhetoric and tries to publicly scold the government and bureaucrats. It’s hardly surprising that after several years of this, some people have figured out his game, and don’t want to play anymore. Obviously it’s not an optimal situation, but Page needs to be held accountable for his behaviour too.

  5. Ahhh…hmmm? aaaa ? Well, When the liberals were in power they were TWICE as bad…ahhh hhhmm … well… if the P.M doesn’t want him in the Harper government we should just put it to the vote….Or better yet FIRE hIm ! That’s it. We RULE ! After all it is the HARPER government … ahhh ? hhmmm? Right ? ahhhh ? WE don’t have to explain ourselves to anyone… do we…? Get Tony in here to explain it to you…. right ? Shoulda done it years ago….

  6. Have you ever seen anyone from the Congressional Budget on TV or quoted in a NY Times article commenting on one of their reports, or on their scoring of a spending bill? Never.

    • Wrong. The head of CBO (Douglas Elmendorf) frequently testifies before
      Congress, gives interviews and speeches, has actual opinions which are
      often the subject of public debate. you can believe me or you can believe
      Mr. Google.

      • I think the point is that Page has been actively seeking media coverage, and is being overly critical of the government to achieve that end. He seems to view himself as some kind of institutional financial critic. He seems more concerned with criticizing the government than providing useful data. He should also learn to avoid the spotlight, not run towards it.

  7. It’s not surprising Tony “Gazebo” Clement is using some obscure clause in a report to try and cover up the fact his Government has flagrantly broke its promise “to provide accurate, timely information” to the Budget Officer it appointed. (Which is standard procedure according the OECD Best Practices for Budget Transparency.)

    Clement must be used to a very loose interpretation of the rules given the fact he pilfered 50 million taxpayer dollars from a G20 security fund to spruce up his riding with various public projects.

    Let’s see how Clement’s propaganda stands up in court, as Mr. Page suggested.

  8. Sure, great headline, and equally great idea, provided you are willing to be even-handed in its application. In like-mindedness, if the government of the day, regardless of political stripe, oversteps the traditions and historical procedures of the house, or goes outside of the legislation, let us just adjust all these bothersome constraints to accommodate whatever it is the currently in power party wishes to do. I’m sure you’ll all be more than eager to extend that kind of largesse to the current government.

    • Of course, the calls to expand the mandate of the PBO come from a desire for greater accountability for Parliament.

      Your call for “like-mindedness” would accomplish the opposite.

  9. Ethics and integrity, Page has got it right.

  10. Why did the opposition parties not push for the PBO to be an officer of parliament during the minority government when they had the chance?

    They should have seen that PBO could be to Harper government as Sheila Fraser was to later Chreitien/Martin governments.

  11. Ray Novak: Steve
    Harper’s Closet Confidant

    He used to live above Steve Harper’s garage. Now he may be the second most powerful man in
    Ottawa.

    “Ray is effectively the Prime Minister’s closest confidant,”
    enthuses one government official. “Not only as a member of his staff, but as a
    personal and intimate member of the Prime Minister’s life.”

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/07/20/who-knows-what-harper-is-really-thinking-ray-novak/

    .

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