Jim Flaherty wants a 'sounding board'

The Finance Minister seeks a different kind of PBO

The Finance Minister talks to Tom Clark.

Tom Clark: Let me take you domestically now to the question of the parliamentary budget officer. We know that Kevin Page’s term is up in March. You’ve had your ups and downs with Mr. Page. I think you’ve called him unreliable and unbelievable at times. However, this office was created by your government. Has it been a net benefit?

Jim Flaherty: Not yet, I think the idea … and I was there in those discussions in the early days of our government because I’ve been there since the beginning. The idea was that the parliamentary budget officer would kind of work like the congressional budget officer in the United States to report to the elected people in the House of Commons about how the government was doing in its budgeting, sort of being a sounding board, a testing board. He’s kind of gone off that course and I think that course was the right course and it could be very valuable to Members of Parliament of all parties, including my own party. But he’s been kind of wandering off and going in other places.

Mr. Flaherty suggests the PBO’s mandate might be adjusted, but he doesn’t quite clarify how and when he thinks Kevin Page has “gone off that course.”

As Stephen Gordon notes, if the idea is to match the congressional budget office, there is an obvious funding issue to address. So perhaps Mr. Flaherty could seek to address that as well. Perhaps the office could also be made a fully independent officer of parliament.

Turning to the Conservative party’s platform in 2006, the original goal was to “ensure truth in budgeting with a Parliamentary Budget Authority.” “Governments cannot be held to account if Parliament does not know the accurate state of public finances,” the platform explained. And so a Conservative government would: “create an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority to provide objective analysis directly to Parliament about the state of the nation’s finances and trends in the national economy” and “require government departments and agencies to provide accurate, timely information to the Parliamentary Budget Authority to ensure it has the information it needs to provide accurate analyses to Parliament.”