A word from Kevin Page - Macleans.ca

A word from Kevin Page

The former PBO on the Federal Court ruling

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Via email, Kevin Page’s reaction to the Federal Court ruling and the interim PBO’s request.

I am grateful to the federal court and the Honourable Sean Harrington for the judgement.

While we did not get all the clarity we sought, I think the PBO got a good foundation for moving forward.

It confirms that should the PBO be refused information from the government, he or she has recourse to the courts. The grounds for dismissal in this case were merely that, as the PBO had not technically requested the information (a procedural issue ; “no live controversy” from a legal perspective) subsequent to the request for analysis from the Leader of the Official Opposition Mr Mulcair (although multiple rounds of requests were made prior) the claim was deemed premature for determination by the courts. This decision, therefore, constitutes a very powerful tool in the hands of Canada’s next PBO.

In my view, the federal court strongly upheld the PBO legislative mandate. I quote from the Honourable Sean Harrington’s Judgement,

” … the cascading or tumble-down structure of s. 79.2 is such that Parliament not only intended that the Parliamentary Budget Officer be answerable to it and to its committees, but also to every backbencher irrespective of political stripe. In my view, the purpose of the statute is to shield any given member of either House of Parliament from the will of the majority… If the majority wants to abolish the position of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, or define his or her mandate somewhat differently, so be it! However, it must do so by legislation. Having made that law by statute, it must unmake it by statute. In the meantime, Parliament has no right to ignore its own legislation.”

I strongly support the PBO position today to move forward with an information request to deputy ministers.

A “live controversy” does exists from a legislative and fiscal perspective (if not yet from a legal basis according to the judgement). Parliament and Canadians do not have access to spending plans on a departmental and agency basis that are consistent with federal budgets (2012 and 2013). Silly debates are taking place between the PBO and TBS about what is happening to spending on internal services without a baseline forward estimate for Members of Parliament to hold the government to account. The federal government has set out a significant task of freezing direct program spending for five years to achieve medium term fiscal balance. These plans should be made public. Members of Parliament should scrutinize these plans with the benefit of analysis from PBO.

With the benefit of the judgement of the federal court, Members of Parliament and the Speakers of the House and Senate may now wish to support efforts to obtain the spending plans. Everyone will benefit. The government will be able to build on its efforts to promote a more open government. Its medium term fiscal objective will be strengthened with additional scrutiny. Parliament will be able to do its job of holding the executive to account. The Speaker of the House will be comforted by the fact that the power of the purse has been restored to the House of Commons. Public servants will be able to showcase their spending plans (I suspect many are quite good). Canadians will know that Parliament is working on their behalf.

Thank you Mr Harrington.