Monday, October 8, 2012

PBO head Kevin Page at loggerheads with Harper government

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper face a showdown. Page gave officials in 56 departments until this Wednesday to provide him with information about cuts and savings in the budget.
In March of 2008 Page was appointed Parliamentary Budget Officer. In 2006 the Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, ran on an accountability theme. For the most part, the Conservative government has failed to be accountable whenever possible. However, Harper did create the PBO or Parliamentary Budget Office as part of his promise to make government more accountable, even though he gave the office less power and independence than many advocates of the office wanted.
Kevin Page was regarded as a safe choice for head of the PBO when he was appointed in March of 2006. Page had spent 27 years as a behind-the-scenes-economist in the government. Top-level Conservatives found him acceptable. Page had even worked closely with Harper as a key economic policy assistant in 20006 and 20007. When Page started to take a combative position in opposition to the Conservative government, many were taken by surprise. Now Page has become a constant thorn in the side of the government. He takes accountability seriously!
As the appended video shows, Page does not shrink from saying exactly and succinctly what he thinks When he is asked whether he thinks that the government was trying to mislead the public about the costs of the F35 jets Canada is planning to purchase, Page simply replies: "Yes". Ordinarily, reporters would be treated to a long song and dance that evades answering the question.
Page is now threatening to take the government to court if he does not receive the information he has requested from departments by Wednesday. The Treasury Board President, Tony Clement, claims that Page is operating outside his mandate. He even says that he is quite ready to make this argument before a court. This certainly shows that the Conservative government is trying its very best to narrow the range of its accountability as much as possible. According to Clement, Page's job is restricted to looking at what the government actually spends money on, not what it doesn't.
Page, on the other hand, points out that often what money is not being spent on, is as important as what it is being spent on. The recent food beef recall associated with cuts to the Canada Food Inspection Agency's budget is a good example of Page's point. The information that Page is requesting on budget cuts is another prime example. We will see on Wednesday whether Page gets his way or if the government challenges him.

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