Harper government seems to be seeking a tamer budget officer
The federal government has officially begun the search for a replacement for Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. Judging from the job posting, one might expect that an important but unstated qualification might be "must wear dentures," since it seems the Harper government is seeking a toothless PBO.
The Canadian Press reported last week that the job posting indicated the federal government was looking for candidates who are "tactful and discreet" and good at "achieving consensus." It suggests that the Harper government wants someone who is tamer than the doggedly independent Page, who repeatedly ruffled the government's feathers with his no-holds-barred reports taking issue with government spending and its failure to provide sufficient documentation to enable him to do a thorough job.
Page, whose five-year term ends March 31, even went so far as to take the government to Federal Court in an effort to clarify his mandate after running into brick walls trying to obtain financial information from federal departments.
The government countered by accusing Page of overstepping his mandate and even resorting to personal attacks, with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty calling Page's work "unbelievable, unreliable, incredible . . ."
It's easy to understand the government's discomfort with Page's efforts to hold their feet to the fire, as it were. But it would be a shame to see the important role of fiscal watchdog reduced to a toothless lapdog.
The position of parliamentary budget officer needs to be independent and above being cowed by federal government officials who don't like the message in the PBO's reports. If the Conservatives were still sitting on the Opposition side of the House of Commons, you can be sure they would be defending the importance of an independent budget officer in ensuring the federal government and its departments are held to account.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said in the CP story, "Kevin Page has been there to cut through all that B.S. and give real numbers to Canadians." He added his party is concerned that the process the Conservatives seem to be setting up in its search for a new PBO "is intended to fail and we're quite concerned that we will no longer have access to that objective information."
A weakened budget officer position will be of little use to the democratic process, and to Canadians. It would be a shame if that's what the position becomes.
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