Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Parliamentary Budget Officer Battles Library of Parliament For Independence

Today's Ottawa Citizen provides a detailed account of the growing controversy surrounding the degree of independence of Canada's newest government watchdog, the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Officer Kevin Page intends to release a report this week on the state of federal finances. He argues that he is independent and can provide parliamentarians with any studies he darn well pleases.

No so fast, clamour the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament and the Library of Parliament. By law, Page reports to the Librarian of Parliament who must approve the release of any reports.

Which makes Page less than a truly independent guardian.

As The Citizen reports:

"Mr. Page interprets his mandate more broadly than the Speakers and believes he should operate with full transparency. He has insisted his office will have no credibility and risks being drawn into politics unless his reports are publicly released. The library, where his office is housed, considers much of its research and analysis 'privileged,' which means it can't be publicly released without the authority of the MPs or committees who asked for it (...)

" ' This is not a personality conflict ... This is a huge structural problem,' said Ian Lee, who heads the MBA program at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business." ' You can't be independent inside the library because the library sees itself as subservient to MPs, providing them private and individualized services. That's a contradiction of what the budget office should be' ."

The position of Parliamentary Budget Officer was created through amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act contained in the Federal Accountability Act.

More on the issue:

  • Speakers move to handcuff budget officer (Ottawa Citizen, November 4, 2008): "Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says the office can't operate under the Library of Parliament with the independence and openness it needs (...) Mr. Page's call for more independence comes after the Speakers of the House of Commons and Senate took steps to rein in the office, which they argued has overstepped its mandate and should not operate so independently and openly. A letter obtained by the Citizen shows Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella and House Speaker Peter Milliken are at loggerheads with Mr. Page over the way he is interpreting his mandate."
  • Gentlemen, please - no fighting in the Library! (Maclean's Magazine, Inside the Queensway blog, November 13, 2008): "Honestly, though, as tempting as it is to make the William Young [Parliamentary Librarian] the villain of the piece — heck, he seems pretty determined to do that all by himself — this whole unseemly showdown in the stacks could have been neatly avoided had the legislation that created the Parliamentary Budget Office not been so badly botched by the very same parliamentarians that it was meant to serve. Now that it has blown up into a fullblown power struggle, however, the government is going to be left with no choice but to admit that maybe, just maybe, they made a critical error by failing to make the PBO a stand alone Officer of Parliament, and amend the much vaunted Federal Accountability Act to do so."
  • Parliamentary library attempts to muzzle budget officer (Ottawa Citizen, November 13, 2008): "Mr. Page has argued the office also needs an 'open operating model' in which all his research and reports are signed and publicly posted. In fact, he said MPs and senators he consulted nearly unanimously agreed his work should be publicly available. Sharon Sutherland, an accountability expert, said there is nothing more inherently political than how and when a government spends money so to put the budget office in the 'historically meticulously non-partisan library' is 'nonsense.' She said she was surprised Mr. Young isn't fighting to get the budget office out of the library. The library must be worried about the budget office finding itself 'at war with the government' over some at the centre of a politically explosive issue that could embarrass the government and turn the 'screws on the general library budget' ."

For background on the Parliamentary Budget Office, there is a Library of Parliament publication from 2006 entitled The Accountability Act and the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It includes a section about the very powerful Congressional Budget Office in the United States.

The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer has its own website.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 12:06 pm


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