Toward a stronger PBO

Thomas Mulcair to table legislation this week

Thomas Mulcair will apparently table a private member’s bill this week with the aim of strengthening the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The New Democrats tabled a motion earlier this month that sought, in part, to establish support for making the PBO “a full, independent officer of Parliament.” That motion was defeated with the Conservatives voting against. During debate on the motion, Conservative MPs dismissed the idea of making the PBO an independent officer. (The PBO currently exists as an office within the Library of Parliament. There are eight individuals that are generally considered officers of Parliament.)

Peggy Nash already has a bill that would establish the PBO as an officer of Parliament, but the New Democrats tell the CBC that Mr. Mulcair’s bill will differ somewhat.

Establishing the PBO as an officer of Parliament is just one of several issues that might be dealt with to strengthen the office. Kevin Page offered his thoughts on improving the office last month in an email to Global’s Tom Clark, specifically pointing to five issues, including the PBO’s mandate and the PBO’s power to demand information.

The parliamentary budget officer has a broad legislative mandate and a relatively modest budget to serve Parliament and Canadians – an issue parliamentarians may wish to address. A recent report by the parliamentary operations and estimates committee in June made a number of recommendations to strengthen the estimates system by allowing the budget officer to provide analytical support to help members of Parliament scrutinize the numbers. The issue playing out today with the government and deputy ministers relates to ensuring members of Parliament have sufficient financial information to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities before approval of departmental and agency spending authorities…

he budget officer’s power of direct request for information has been publicly and politically debated in recent months over budget information related to spending restraint. A year later, MPs and Canadians do not have spending plans for federal departments consistent with Budget 2012, even though MPs are asked to approve departmental spending authorities. The parliamentary budget officer’s efforts to obtain information on spending restraint were criticized by the federal cabinet as an action that exceeds its mandate. This is now the subject of a reference opinion in federal court. The information at stake is critical to the estimates process. Parliamentarians may wish to consider if they want to clarify and strengthen powers of agents and officers of Parliament in the request of information deemed critical for them to carry out their mandates. We need a conversation that not only strengthens the principle of fiscal transparency but helps create a culture of transparency and analytical support for decision-making.

Scott Clark and Peter DeVries have argued for a fully independent and better-funded PBO. For further background, this essay by Gary Levy and this review by Alan Gilmore are helpful.




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Toward a stronger PBO

  1. Mulcair will never be PM , his bill will go nowhere, the PBO should be cut, Kevin Page has turned it into a pulpit for the Liberals, he is one too, even if he doesn’t officially hold a membership.

    • Harper appointed Page….because he was Con.

      Unfortunately for Harper, Page is also an honest man….and very good at his job.

      • Page a Conservative?

        Honest?

        Very good at his job?

        Whoa……….what are you smoking?

        • Are you saying Harper appointed a Liberal to keep Cons in line?

          What are YOU smoking?

    • Gazing at your crystal balls again, Billy Bob?

      • What’s with the fixation on balls there JanBC?

        • There is such a shortage of them in the Harper era, I must be pining for them – the real ones, not the ones you’re using to predict Con nirvana.

          • You won’t find anyone with balls on the left of the political spectrum, you should come to a real barbeque, you could try some prairie oysters.

          • Only an Albertan would believe such crap….or eat Alberta meat for that matter.

          • Not from Alberta EmilyOnetard

          • Same mentality.

    • I agree. Page has been a media hoe since he got the job. His position must be non partisan but he has attempted to become the unofficial opposition. He has angered the Library of Parliament with his activities and insulted department heads by demanding the details of their budgets. As an economist, his position is to look at the broad picture, not how many pencils the department has bought in a year. They have auditors and accountants for that.

      • How is analyzing the budget for the next year looking at the big picture. Read his job description.

        • I did read his job description. He is an economist not an accountant. His job is to examine the government’s numbers in a broad sense. Departments issue budgets showing say $10,000 for Office Supplies. Mr. Page wants to know the details. There is no need to know the details. He is treading on the toes of the Department heads who have the authority to approve their own budgets. To quote Ian Lee, professor at Carleton University Sprott School of Business in an article in the Ottawa Citizen “Page leaves a legacy of building an independent office with a small, highly capable staff “that punches above its weight.” His two missteps were releasing a report on the cost of the Afghanistan war in the middle of an election campaign and “wandering into punditry and political judgments.”

          • Quick question.. what do *you* think the middle letter in PBO stands for?

          • Spare me your witticisms. If you can’t tell the difference between projections and balance sheets I’m not going to enlighten you.

      • Exactly! Legislator’s are supposed to approve the broader budget, not every invoice that comes into a department. The opposition is just looking for “gotcha” line-items that will inevitably taken out of context and blown out of proportion.

        Most of the information he’s been asking for isn’t even available. He’s demanding to know things that managers will decide throughout the year. Departments can’t report on future spending, because it hasn’t happened. They have budgets, that’s it. He’s not happy with that. He wants to know what they’re going to do before they know what they’re going to do. It’s absurd!

        For whatever reason, he seems to have cast himself into a role where he’s supposed to be providing information that only goes against the government. That’s not his job. His job is to provide non-partisan analysis. The fact that he’s been wrong on more things than the government has proves that he’s being adversarial rather than accurate.

        • If I can quote a letter from the Canada Northern Economic Development Agency to Page: “Your report on expenditures showing the large variance in spending on Business Development (4.079% change) refers to a transfer of spending between program activities that our department has explained in our 2011-2012 DPR (Department Performance Report)…this transfer of expenses…is causing some major variances in year over year comparisons. We certainly did want to disclose this information to Parliamentarians and other readers and we felt the DPR…reporting processes were the best suited…

          This could have been easily explained to your staff had the question been asked prior to the release of the report. Unfortunately this reference has now left the impression with the media and the public that the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency’s spending is out of control which I can assure you is not the case.”

          So it looks like Page just wades in against everyone like a gunslinger and then goes to the media to justify himself. Not at all professional.

        • “His job is to provide non-partisan analysis.”

          Clearly Conservative partisans have no idea what “non-partisan” means…

          • If Page isn’t being partisan, he’s being incompetent. Neither is good for the country if his office is to be taken seriously in the long run.

          • Incompetence in that his version (deficit prediction, economic assumptions, F35 costs) was shown to be correct over the PMO’s version every time? Do you mean he’s incompetent at being a Conservative true believer and delivering the party line?

          • Ya, that’s entirely true if you consider “every time” to be only the select few times he was correct.

            And how was he correct on the F-35 costs, when they’re STILL unknown to this day?!

    • Party above country for ever and always, CPCers.

    • There’s no doubt that Page has been operating way outside his mandate. He seems to find his role to be adversarial to that of the government, which it shouldn’t be. His job is supposed to be to provide non-partisan estimates. Page views the job as one where it’s his job to provide estimates that show the government is wrong.

      The job needs to be defined better, so reform wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But Mulcair’s just playing populist politics, and the end result will probably be the status quo.

      • His role is only adversarial to a government that doesn’t produce full, timely, and truthful information. Which was exactly the point of his office when they set it up.
        That the CPC is suffering from this is their fault, not his.

        • That’s because he’s not an auditor, but he thinks he’s one. He’s supposed to provide estimates on the budget, not analyse each line item in each department’s budgets.

          • Without information on exactly what the budgets are doing.. is that what you’re asserting?

            Hell, even you can just pull crap out of your arse. Personally I find it nice that he’s actually looking for information to back up his projections.

          • No, his job is not to analyse “what the budgets are doing”. That’s for managers and voters to analyse. His job isn’t to dictate how money is spent, it’s to provide estimates on economic projections.

            Why do Liberals want an unelected bureaucrat making Canadian budgets? Because they know Page is one of them, a partisan Liberal.

          • Heh. Hit the wrong thing in Disqus and suddenly I’m a guest.

            Anyway, how do you think estimates on economic projections are derived? It’s not like any single part of the economy is disconnected from any other. So when budget cuts are primarily saddled on the front end workers, that indicates more unemployment and slower service times, which will have an effect on economic projections.

  2. Kevin Page was the only thing Harper got right. Not surprising he waged a war on him and is dragging his heels on his replacement.

    Despite the partisan Con attacks, the reality is Page was standing up for taxpayers. The Harper Government tried claiming the F35 purchase would cost $16B. Page reported the real number was double that. Conservatives said he was way off base. The Auditor General proved him right.

    Page informed Canadians that the Harper Government was not abiding by international standards for budget transparency. He also costed out Harper’s war on drugs and crime (failed Republican import) which will double the cost of the prison system.

    Canadians deserve this kind of transparency so they can know how their tax dollars are being spent. The Conservatives don’t like it because they obviously have something to hide.

    • I dunno, I think Harper got a number of things right. Unfortunately, the PBO is about the only one that made it through the 2006 election.

  3. Mulcair is surpassing Ignatieff in his ability to avoid doing anything that the vast majority of Canadians understand or care about. He is turning into a huge disappointment.

  4. What will the lefties say when Page shows his true colours and runs as a Liberal in the next federal election?

    • I dunno, I wonder what the righties will say when Harper has gay sex with Rob Anders during the next CPC convention?

      Hey, this game of making crap up is fun, isn’t it?

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