Coming this fall to Parliament Hill, a new reality series: "Who Wants To Be The Next Embattled Officer of Parliament?" - Macleans.ca

Coming this fall to Parliament Hill, a new reality series: “Who Wants To Be The Next Embattled Officer of Parliament?”

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Because really, who wouldn’t want to fill the Robert Marleau-shaped hole over at the Information Commissioner’s office? I mean, if you somehow end up in the government’s bad books with your stubborn insistence on applying the ATI laws as written, you know the opposition has your back, right? Just ask Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page.

Speaking of which, not that anyone has asked ITQ — well, actually, a few of you have, and she apologizes, cartoon Ringo Starr-style,  for the lateness of her reply — but she is utterly baffled by the recommendations of the long-awaited report from the Library of Parliament committee on the even-longer-running battle between Page and Parliamentary Librarian William Young for control of the PBOverse. It isn’t that she disagrees with main conclusion — that the reporting relationship between the two officers has to be straightened out — but the complete absence of any acknowledgment whatsoever of the fact that it’s not Page or Young who is ultimately to blame for the bad blood between their respective microbureaucracies, but a badly drafted law.

Why, oh, why, did the opposition parties not call upon the government to at least look at the available options for amending the Federal Accountability Act to give the PBO the autonomy that he says he needs? Yes, we know there were certain Liberal MPs on the committee who were vocal in their support for the (Librarian-backed) status quo — but what about the rest? Isn’t the party’s official – or at least ostensible – position that the PBO should be independent, if that’s what is required for him to do his job? Why did Liberal members sign onto a report that didn’t include a single recommendation on rethinking that portion of the FAA?

It’s true that it was drafted behind closed doors, during in camera meetings  — if they hadn’t been, you can bet that ITQ would have been there to witness the sausage-making first hand — but didn’t anyone at OLO think to check in with their members, just to make sure that none of their MPs was veering away from their publicly stated policy stance?

It’s not just the Liberals who are to blame, of course — while the debate was raging over whether the PBO was getting too big for its britches, the NDP talked tough — tougher than any other party, really. In fact, just days before it was released, ITQ was chatting with an aide to an NDP MP who sat on the committee, and was assured that they were headed in “the right direction”, and in this Hill Times article, written after the report was released, Pat Martin still sounds like he’s ready to hit the barricades:

“He’s doing his job as an advocate for the people’s right to transparency and accountability and I resent any efforts to muzzle him in any way,” Mr. Martin said last week. “I think the PBO was supposed to be independent and that’s how Page sees himself, and I think that’s to his credit..”

MPs erred in designing the enacting legislation, Mr. Martin said, adding that it should’ve been clearer and should’ve made the position an independent officer of Parliament rather than a “senior level employee” in the Library of Parliament.

In addition, the PBO should report directly to Parliament, he said.

“The PBO should’ve been a full officer of Parliament. The fact that his mandate falls short of that, is our shortcoming and not his,” Mr. Martin said, adding he wants to change the legislation to reflect what Canadians want in a PBO.

Yet after the dust had settled, the final report was unanimous. If Martin’s view represents that of his caucus — and we have no reason to think it doesn’t — why was there not, at the very least, a minority report to that effect? ITQ doesn’t know, which drives her bonkers – but she’ll see what she can find out over the next few weeks.

As for Marleau’s successor, though, our current standing advice for any officer of parliament – independent, quasi-independent or otherwise – who are considering taking on this – or any other – government:  Don’t bother. Not if you can’t do it without opposition support — support that won’t collapse when the discussion moves away from the prying eyes of the public and the media. Even if you do manage to eke out a few more dollars for your operating budget, if you can’t do your job, it’s probably just not worth it in the end.