The PBO debate

The House considers the future of the budget officer

Yesterday’s debate on the Parliamentary Budget Officer starts here and resumes here. A few comments and questions of note from Conservative MPs.

Bernard Trottier.

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her speech about the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Of course, she recognizes that in our Parliament, which is the Westminster system that we have inherited from the United Kingdom, it is the Crown that is responsible for making budgets, not Parliament. Parliament approves budgets that come from the Crown. I wonder if she would like to comment on that role. She seems to be saying in her remarks that the opposition members, individually, should have their fingerprints all over the budget, creating a system of what are called earmarks in the United States. Does she believe that it is an appropriate format for making budgets? I would like to comment on another aspect and add a secondary question. To what extent are opposition members using the Parliamentary Budget Officer role for partisan purposes, as opposed to trying to clarify and use it for information?

Andrew Saxton.

As I also mentioned, for 48 years the Library of Parliament has served members of Parliament. Its employees did not grandstand or hold regular press conferences; they simply did their job and served Parliament. That is what the Library of Parliament has done in the past and that is what we expect the Library of Parliament and the Parliamentary Budget Officer to do in the future.

Bryan Hayes.

Mr. Speaker, I guess it really boils to what is need for making this position an officer of Parliament? Under the position’s current mandate, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, government estimates and trends in the Canadian economy. The role is not designed to be an independent watchdog. It is not designed to be an auditor general, chief electoral officer, privacy commissioner or access to information commissioner. All of those are independent officers, but that is not what this role was designed to be. The PBO is functioning perfectly well within the Library of Parliament, and that is where it belongs.

Ed Holder.

Mr. Speaker, I recall being on the Library of Parliament committee as my first committee when I was elected in 2008. We studied the issue of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. All the witnesses who were part of that process said that the Parliamentary Budget Officer clearly overstepped the responsibility of the role in the way they had envisioned it. I recall a point when the Parliamentary Budget Officer spoke out on a very specific issue during an election. I would like the member’s impression of it and whether he thinks it was unprecedented and, for that matter, appropriate.

Jeff Watson.

The role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is simple. It is to provide non-partisan information so that MPs can be watchdogs. It is not that the PBO is to be a watchdog of the government. That is what the opposition members want to transform the PBO into, and that is a dangerous road to go down because it could lead the PBO to being subject to legitimate criticisms of partisanship. It is to equip members of Parliament, unless the opposition members believe they are no longer effective watchdogs of the government. Maybe that is why they want to change this role.

Mr. Saxton’s comments are interesting in their blatant criticism of Kevin Page’s term.

The watchdog distinction is also an interesting point. The opposition parties want to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer to be an independent officer of Parliament. Would Mr. Watson consider the auditor general a watchdog? Would the auditor general thus be subject to “legitimate criticisms of partisanship?”

Mr. Holder seems to be hinting at the release of the Afghanistan audit in 2008—we reviewed that particular moment last week.

Previous consideration of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the future of the role here, here, here and here.

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