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UPDATED: The War of Independents (Officers of Parliament, that is)


 

His day job may make him a wee bit biased, but in this case, Colleague Potter has it exactly right: The Ottawa Citizen‘s expose of backroom brawling between the House and Senate Speakers and the Parliamentary Budget Officer is probably the biggest story of the day (and a big ole ITQ shoutout to the writer, the Indefatigable Ms. May – NNA winner and Hot Room colleague):

They argue the budget office – which last month reported the Afghan war will cost Canadians $18.1 billion by 2011 – is an extension of the library and reports to Young rather than an independent officer of Parliament who publicly posts his reports and research.

“In our analysis of the legislation, Parliament’s intention in establishing the budget officer position within the library was to augment and enhance the resources available to parliamentarians in the conduct of their business,” says the letter. “It was certainly not intended to put the officer at the centre of parliamentary or public debates or to impinge on parliamentarians’ constitutional function of overseeing the executive.”

The parliamentary library operates on a ‘solicitor-client’ basis, which means any research the library collects for MPs and senators is “privileged” and can be withheld at their request.

The Speakers argue the budget office is simply an extension of the services the library already offers. As a result, they say Page should not report to them, but to the librarian like any other senior manager or executive who works for the library.

Potter wonders on whose orders, exactly, the Speakers are acting:

Is it jealous factions within the bureaucracy? Or is it Harper himself, who is not the first prime minister to discover upon taking office that the transparency he championed in opposition turns out to be a bit of a poisoned chalice.

ITQ will admit to having heard the odd whisper of discontent over bureaucratic empire-building, and rumours of war between the Library and its newest resident auditor, and really, it’s not as though this Prime Minister hasn’t had his share of run-ins with parliamentary officers in the past — a remarkable number of run-ins, in fact, considering the relatively short length of his tenure to date -but as far as ITQ is concerned, an equally important question is why the Parliamentary Budget Officer was shoehorned into the Library of Parliament, rather than made an independent Officer of Parliament in the first place?

After all, the Conservative Party’s 2006 platform – on which the Federal Accountability Act was largely based – proposed the creation of an “independent” budgetary officer – and even if the government had initially decided that a small-i independent office within the big-L Library was sufficient, surely the subsequent dustup between Sheila Fraser and then-Environment Commissioner Johanne Gelinas – whose office, like that of Page, was ostensibly independent, but could only report to Parliament through the Auditor General – should have sent up a red flag on the viability of establishing independent-offices-within-offices. In any case, as soon as the House is back, the key players should be hauled before committee — Public Accounts, I guess, if past history is anything to go by, although Procedure and House Affairs might be the appropriate venue if the Speakers are going to be involved — to explain just what is going on behind the stacks at the Library, and how the standoff can be resolved peacefully.

UPDATE: I don’t normally do this, but since there seems to be some confusion over what, exactly, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is supposed to do, I’ve done my best to clear up some of the misconceptions — and reply to queries and observations from other commenters — here.


 

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