The newest government watchdog could use a friend

Jean-Denis Fréchette has earned the ire of the Official Opposition

Paul Chiasson/CP

The government dismissed former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page as partisan. Whatever the merit to that argument, Page certainly questioned the government’s numbers, time and again, in a manner that fuelled the government’s political opposition. On so many major files, Page’s assertions served as the foundation of opposition attacks in the House of Commons. The government may have been irresponsible in its knee-jerk repudiation of virtually all of Page’s analysis, but at least the Conservatives were consistent.

Now, Page has a replacement. Jean-Denis Fréchette, after only a few weeks, has shaken the established order. Fréchette has already earned the ire of the Official Opposition, even as he delicately pursues his predecessor’s exhaustive fight for data related to Budget 2012 departmental cuts. Page received resistance from several key departments and took the government to court. As Aaron Wherry recalls, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair wrote to Fréchette early on to rekindle that fight for that data. Fréchette signalled a less aggressive tone than Page; Mulcair replied that the matter could go back to court; Fréchette replied that he’d rather not escalate court battles; and then, well, Mulcair fired off his latest rejoinder. He’s growing impatient, in front of our eyes.

You now seem to believe it is acceptable to allow the Act to be ignored without doing anything to protect the rights of MPs, as laid out by Justice Harrington. I believe it is inappropriate for you to decide that this section of the Act is no longer to be in force or be observed.

An opposition leader now disagrees with the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and on the other side of the aisle, the government isn’t being particularly cooperative with the same Parliamentary Budget Officer. Towards the end of his tenure in the PBO, Page often mused that nobody really wants the job. Either be critical, or don’t be critical, he’d say, but someone will always be unhappy. Early on, Fréchette’s found a way to make nobody all that happy. One thing is certain: How the House of Commons will spar over the renewed PBO’s first report, whenever that comes, is a complete mystery.


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