Canada’s PBO Kevin Page Takes Harper Conservative Government To Court
Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, has had enough of the Harper government’s lack of accountability and transparency, highlighted by it’s refusal to comply with his repeated requests for information on the $5.2 billion in fiscal savings outlined in the 2012 federal budget.
He’s taking legal action.
Yesterday, Page filed an application with the Federal Court of Canada “seeking a judgment affirming he has the jurisdiction to seek the information.”
Basically, Page is seeking clarification on his mandate as PBO. Which is strange, considering that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives created the Parliamentary Budget Office – by amending the Parliament of Canada Act (1985) – through the Federal Accountability Act of 2006. Then the federal government appointed Page, an economist, in 2008. Oh, maybe I’m forgetting the fact that back then, the Conservatives were seeking power.
The PBO’s key objective is to “strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations.” Page’s mandate as PBO “is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy; and upon request from a committee or parliamentarian, to estimate the financial cost of any proposal for matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction.”
Essentially, the Parliament of Canada Act entitles Page to the information he’s relentlessly requested. And, the Harper Government – through the federal departments and agencies – is obliged to provide the PBO with the financial info requested. Without the PBO having to legal action!
As I asserted earlier, Page is on a mission to save the soul of Canadian democracy. Canadian democratic institutions and government agencies exist to serve us. And yet, for months now, the PBO has been begging federal departments and agencies to supply him with detailed information on cuts, staff reductions and the 2012 federal budget’s impact on social services. Twenty out of 82 departments have still not complied with the request. In a May 30 letter to the Clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, and a subsequent legal opinion, Page emphasized that the department’s refusal to disclose the requested information was unlawful.
My point is that Page’s request and legal action are justified. The latest report by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates revealed that even MPs are in the dark about the billions in Conservative government spending. That “arcane rules are keeping MPs in the dark about the billions in government spending they should be scrutinizing.”
The Globe and Mail‘s take on the report:
Members of Parliament receive conflicting, outdated information about how billions of tax dollars are being spent each year, and get little opportunity to review fiscal plans. Just this spring, not a single House of Commons committee was able to report on its examination of some proposed spending because the information arrived too late — and the session clock ran out.
Liberal leader Bob Rae thinks that “it’s terrible the way they are forcing an officer of Parliament to go to court to do a job which everybody recognizes he has to do.” So he told the Canadian Press.
Canadians do recognize and appreciate the PBO’s courageous struggle to hold the Harper Government to account. Earlier this week, Liberal Senator Colin Kenny awarded Page a Diamond Jubilee medal. The senator said exactly what I’d have said of Page:
Mr. Page has demonstrated remarkable determination to pursue his mandate without fear or favour, despite repeated attempts to define his role in a way too narrow to be of full benefit to Canadians, despite bureaucratic intransigence, and despite financial constraints that have been placed on his office that have reduced his capacity to investigate.
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