March 26, 2013

Online Petition to Keep Page as Parliamentary Budget Officer

Last week I responded to an online petition to keep Kevin Page as the Parliamentary Budget Officer. As I recall, the petition was automated to send a message to the leader of each party in parliament, and to my local MP. I don't put a lot of stock in these things, I think individual written letters still carry more weight, but what's interesting was that only 2 parties responded: NDP (from my local MP Peter Julian) and Green. The response from Elizabeth May ran several paragraphs and contained links to press releases on the topic. Impressive. While I state, as usual when I touch upon political matters, that I'm not a member of any party, I'm reproducing the response from Ms. May's office here because I think it's an excellent example of clear communication. May punches well above her party's weight. (NOTE: Several updates below.)

Thank you for your email about the Parliamentary Budget Office.

I, too, share your concerns about Kevin Page and the PBO. I support Kevin Page and believe the PBO should be accountable to Parliament and a transparent body that provides Canadians with information about the spending of public funds.

Since being in office, Mr. Page has been subject to the Harper Conservatives intimidation tactics. In attempting to ensure accountability and transparency, Kevin Page has now found that his only recourse to do so is through a federal court case. It is deplorable that a civil servant, whose job is to provide accountability and transparency, is unable to do so.

I believe the PBO should be independent of Parliament yet also accountable to it. The Parliamentary Budget Officer should be elected by a majority of party leaders, and given adequate power and funding to carry out the tasks it was mandated to do. Accountability and transparency are paramount to democracy and I hope that the Parliamentary Budget Office can be a prime example of a democratic institution within Canada.

For more information on this topic, here are some press releases in English and French:

Thank you for writing me.


Elizabeth May, O.C., M.P.
Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands
Leader of the Green Party of Canada

UPDATE March 27, 2013

NDP Leader Mulcair is now running a close second with a lengthy response. The Conservatives and Liberals are still MIA.

Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns about the termination of Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Kevin Page's tenure. New Democrats pushed hard for the PBO to be created and continue to lead the push to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer independent.

Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer helps provide oversight for government spending, critical in a functioning democracy. Scrutiny over government spending is one of the primary responsibilities of MPs-the PBO helps Parliamentarians to make informed decisions and better choices for Canadians.

Under Mr. Page, the PBO has helped expose the Conservatives' gross mismanagement on vital issues such as the failed fighter jets, unnecessary Old Age Security cuts, and record setting deficits.

New Democrats believe Canadians deserve an independent budget watchdog. That is why I have put forward legislation to bolster the power and independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. You can read more about my legislation and follow its progress here:

Under the current legislation, the PBO serves "at the pleasure" of the Prime Minister. My legislation would remove the PBO from under the thumb of the Prime Minister and make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an independent Officer of Parliament, like the Auditor General.

New Democrats also had called for an extension of Mr. Page's term until a suitable successor is appointed. Peggy Nash, Official Opposition Finance critic, put forward a motion to this effect at the Standing Committee on Finance-but unfortunately it was voted down by the Conservatives - so we are now left without a full-time PBO in the middle of Budget season.

My legislation would avoid future showdowns and legal battles. That way, you'll always have a strong watchdog - not a Conservative lapdog - working for you in Ottawa.

We will continue to hold the Conservatives accountable for their attacks on fiscal accountability and the PBO. Ottawa is broken-but New Democrats are working hard to fix it.

Again, I appreciate hearing from you. I encourage you to share this message with your contacts.

All the best,

Thomas Mulcair, M.P. (Outremont)
Leader of the Official Opposition
New Democratic Party of Canada

UPDATE April 3, 2013

Bob Rae, leader of the Liberals, has weighed in. Still no response from the Conservatives:

On behalf of Liberal Leader Bob Rae, I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your views regarding the retirement of Mr. Kevin Page, Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO). Over the past five years Mr. Page has performed incredibly well at a very difficult job. Parliamentarians and, in fact, all Canadians were well served by him. The Liberal Party of Canada asked the government to extend his term until a new PBO could be found, but the Conservatives were clearly not interested in letting that happen.

The entire process of finding Mr. Page's replacement has been veiled in secrecy by the Harper Conservatives. Elected Members of Parliament in opposition parties have been told that they are not allowed to know the identities of the people who sit on the PBO search committee.

The Liberal Party of Canada has repeatedly asked the Conservative Chair of the Library Committee, Royal Galipeau, to convene a meeting so that MPs and Senators can find out how the search for a new PBO is proceeding. The committee has not met since early December and Mr. Galipeau has informed us that the committee will not meet to discuss the new PBO. He has also told us that the he will not allow Mr. Page to appear before the committee.

While Mr. Galipeau's actions are outrageous, not all Conservatives are against the PBO. Conservative backbench MPs like Brent Rathgeber have stated publicly that Canada needs a strong PBO to hold the government to account.

An effective PBO is in everyone's best interest, even the Cabinet Ministers whose departments the PBO examines. Transparency makes departments stronger over time. It is unfortunate that Stephen Harper prefers to have as few watchdogs as possible examining how he spends taxpayer money.

Thank you for taking the time to write to the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Colin McKone
Office of the Liberal Leader

Posted by Paul at March 26, 2013 11:32 AM