Canada’s first parliamentary budget officer is raising concerns with proposed Liberal legislation that he says would be detrimental to the office’s independence.
The budget implementation bill, introduced on Tuesday, would make the federal watchdog an independent Officer of Parliament, set the officer’s term at seven years, ensure the office has expanded access to data and enable it to estimate the costs of any election platform proposal — at the request of political parties.
But Kevin Page, who was PBO from 2008 to 2013, is particularly worried about a proposal mandating the PBO to submit its annual work plans to the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons for approval. He says the PBO’s work risks getting mixed up in partisan games.
“When I was the parliamentary budget officer we were often talking about difficult issues of the day, costing wars, costing crime bills, fighter planes. And I ask myself when I look at the legislation; would we still be able to do this? and my concern is that we would not,” he told CBC Radio’s The House host Chris Hall.
“I worry Speakers would say, ‘No we don’t want you to do that.'”
While not against submitting a work plan for the sake of oversight, Page said he’s not convinced a partisan position like the Speaker of the House should be the one to rubber stamp it.
“My theory, based on experience, is that it’s a control feature. It definitely could be used to constrain the office and take a way the independence,” said Page, noting his relationships with the Speakers between 2008 and 2013 were “difficult.”
“Right out of the gates, before we were even six months old, I was getting letters from the Speakers saying that you are exceeding your mandate, that we don’t like the way you’re releasing documents.”
Limits on requests to PBO
Another point of contention is a section in the more than 300-page document that Page says appears to limit who can put in a request to the PBO to provide cost estimates on…