Jean-Denis Frechette's exercise in futility

The PBO's pursuit of 2012 budget details is becoming an expensive waste of time

Blair Gable

“If people are interpreting the legislation differently, well I’m sorry, the legislation is clear for me. Parliament should not have to pay for, or an employee of Parliament, the Library of Parliament, in this case, should not have to pay for this kind of information.” —Jean-Denis Frechette, Parliamentary Budget Officer

Jean-Denis Frechette just wants data. The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s latest report repeats, for the umpteenth time, that his office is entitled to the numbers they seek to analyze. The PBO wants to report on the details of fiscal restraint measures—cuts—the government enacted in Budget 2012. Kevin Page was the first, and loudest, to request the information, and even took the government to court. Sonia L’Heureux, who held Page’s position in the interim as the government searched for a successor, continued the fight. And now it’s Frechette who’s dogging the government with such limited success.

The office published its latest fiscal report, Expenditure Monitor: 2013-14 Q2, on Jan. 14. Frechette refuses to shut up about 2012. “The PBO has not yet received complete service level data from federal departments and agencies, which is necessary to assess the fiscal sustainability of the Budget 2012 cuts,” reads a line from the document’s key points. “Almost 40 per cent of programs’ performance in 2012-13 cannot be evaluated due to in-year changes to targets, incomplete data or insufficient evidence.”

Frechette’s team, desperate to dig out some semblance of data, resorted to the same mechanism offered to your average Canadian. “PBO staff also filed Access to Information requests seeking these data,” reads Box 2-8 in that latest report.

The Hill Times asked the budget watchdog about the access requests. Tim Naumetz reports that the PBO has filed 33 access-to-information requests since last summer, and a handful of departments have returned with fee requests of up to $1,200. In response, Frechette recalled the mandate that empowers him. “The legislation is there, and provides for free and timely access to information required by the PBO to conduct his or her activity, so I mean the legislation is there,” Mr. Frechette said. In essence, he shouldn’t have to pay the government for data he’s free to request.

Same argument, new year. Holding the government to account for its budget cuts was already an exercise in futility. Now, two years after the data fight’s opening salvo, and just weeks before another federal fiscal plan is released into the world, the 2012 fiasco is becoming an expensive waste of time.


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