PBOWatch: All roads lead to the Library Committee? Find a shortcut.

… if you’re Kevin Page, that is, and still hold out hope that your office might be able to get that budget boost you insist you were promised by the government.

From yesterday’s post-QP scrum with Liberal finance critic John McCallum:

Question:       Mr. McCallum, what do you make of the fact that they’re saying that they’re not cutting (off microphone) they are?

John McCallum:  Well I don’t think this is the first time we hear things that aren’t quite, quite true.  It’s clear that he had been promised a budget of $2.7 million and he was, found out he had $1.8 million.  My understanding is that when he accepted the job, that that was the deal worked out as something reasonable with which he could do the job.  And maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I would it’s a little suspicious that he makes the government forecast look so ridiculous, that they can be thrown into the garbage and simultaneously, the government cuts his budget by 50%, by one third.

So I think he’s being penalized by telling Canadians the truth, he is being penalized for telling Canadians the truth because he’s not out on a limb all by himself.  Just today we heard Don Drummond from TD Bank who was significantly more pessimistic than the Parliamentary Budget Officer, so it’s the government that is the odd one out with its unrealistically rosy forecast.  It’s not the Parliamentary Budget Officer and he has a fine record.  If you look at his forecasts and compare them with what turned out to be the case, he’s got a very good record. […]

In the total scheme of things for the federal government, an extra $900,000 is not going to break the bank one way or another.  We think that it has nothing to do with money.  When you’re running a, what Don Drummond now says is a deficit of more than $80 billion to increase this man’s budget by $900,000 back to where it was supposed to be is not really the issue of money.  It’s an issue of whether they want him or whether he’s a (inaudible) and I think they’re persecuting him on two fronts.

One, they’re persecuting him by cutting his budget.  He’s going to have to lay people off that he hired on the understanding that he would get what had been promised to him.  And second, they’re depriving him of information.  And those are the two things that economic analysts need.  They need a reasonable budget to hire good people and he has good people, but he can’t keep those good people without the money.  And he needs the oxygen of information with which to do his analysis.

And I believe that the government wants to be the single purveyor of Conservative manipulated numbers through their website and not have any chatter from anywhere else and we believe that the Parliamentary Budget Officer must get the raw data from Treasury Board and other departments so that he can do the analysis and inform parliamentarians about money out the door.  So I think he’s being punished by the government by having his budget cut, and I think he’s being further punished by the government by not getting that information because they want to have a monopoly of the information on the numbers that they give to Canadians.

So I believe that after Stephen Harper used to dress up as God’s gift to accountability, he has an awful nerve to be doing just the opposite these days.

Question:       Now, the Prime Minister said today though that he’s not going to revise, he didn’t pull these budget numbers out of the air and the Finance Minister says he wants (off microphone) his budget numbers.

John McCallum:  Well I think we cannot force him.  I think what we will do, work with other opposition parties.  Mr. Poilievre was talking about the Library Committee.  It’s our intention to get a motion we hope through the Library Committee requesting the government to increase their Estimates to accommodate the budget of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.  We also want the government to give him the information.  But I don’t think there’s a mechanism in the short run whereby we can force the government to do this.  But I think if we, if we bring pressure to bear of the majority in Parliament on this matter, then we hope it may have an effect. […]  I’m not saying I’m terribly hopeful at this point.

Well, first off, ITQ can’t really fault him for not being “terribly hopeful” — as far as I can tell, even if the committee successfully passed the motion described above, the request would be non-binding, and even if the government acquiesced and boosted the Library’s budget by an additional $900,000, there is still no mechanism — nothing statutory, that is  — that would compel the Library to pass the money along to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

A better approach might be to use one of the upcoming opposition days to call on the government to amend the Federal Accountability Act to make Page a  fully independent Officer of Parliament. Which would, of course, be similarly non-binding – unless in the form of a confidence motion, of course –  but it would at least force the Conservatives to either give in and vote in favour of the motion, or defend the (at this point all but indefensible) status quo while simultaneously attempting to maintain some sort of moral high ground on the accountability front. At the very least, it would get it out of the Library committee and onto the main House agenda.

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