PBO says feds’ proposed changes would undermine office’s independence

PBO says feds' changes would damage office

OTTAWA — The head of an agency that has spent years shining a light for Canadians on the sometimes-opaque world of government spending is slamming the Trudeau government for its plan to give the office a makeover.

In a new discussion paper, parliamentary budget officer Jean-Denis Frechette argues in detail how the proposed legislation would damage the independence, non-partisanship and effectiveness of an office with a track record of getting under the skin of governments.

The Liberal government has faced criticism since it proposed changes last month that would impose new restrictions on a watchdog designed to serve parliamentarians as a check on the management of the nation’s finances.

Frechette says the most-concerning changes include new controls over the PBO by the House of Commons and Senate Speakers, limits on the office’s freedom to initiate reports, restrictions on parliamentarians’ ability to request estimates and the risks associated with an added mandate to cost election pledges by political parties.

The legislation would require the PBO to submit its annual work plans to the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons for approval.

The law would also prevent the PBO from making a report public until a day after it provides it to the parliamentary committee that requested the research or to the Speakers.

“The proposed amendments impose significant restrictions on the way the PBO can set its work plan and access information,” Frechette said Wednesday in a statement that accompanied the discussion paper.

“Those restrictions will undermine PBO’s functional independence and its effectiveness in supporting parliamentarians to scrutinize government spending and hold the government to account.”

Former PBO Kevin Page has also been critical of elements in the proposed bill. He has said that some of the new constraints that would likely limit the independence of the office “could be a really big price.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued this week that his government’s proposals would provide more resources to the PBO and strengthen the autonomy of the watchdog, which would become an independent Officer of Parliament under the legislation and have expanded access to data.

Following the backlash over the changes, the Liberals have said they are open to amendments. A government source says the feds are considering amendments to ease a new requirement that would force the PBO seek approval from the Speakers and the removal of rules restricting which subjects it may study.

Government House leader Bardish Chagger’s office has insisted there are many benefits from the proposed reform, such as a change that would set the budget officer’s term at seven years and another stating he or she could be removed from the role only through a vote by both chambers.

During the 2015 election, the Liberals pledged to ensure the PBO “is properly funded, and accountable only â€” and directly â€” to Parliament, not the government of the day.”

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

High school graduation rates on the rise in Greater Victoria

High school completion up from 71 to 86.8 per cent over 10 years

Pacific Centre Family Services Association a winning design in Colwood

Victoria Real Estate Board winner a welcoming sight

Victoria curling foursome looks to defend provincial title

2019 BC Junior Curling Championships held in Vernon from Dec. 27, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019

Top tourism executives in B.C. earn almost $1 million

Destination B.C. CEO Marsha Walden received total compensation of $296,487 in 2017-18

Man arrested in Colwood sentenced for trafficking fentanyl

The man was arrested in February and has been sentenced to three years imprisonment

Unique technology gives children with special needs more independent play

UVic’s CanAssist refined seven prototypes aided by $1.5M government contribution

Greater Victoria holiday craft fair roundup for Nov. 16 to 18

Check off all of the items on your shopping list at these great events

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 14

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Privacy concerns over credit card use for legal online pot purchases

Worries follow privacy breaches at some Canadian cannabis retailers

NEB approves operating pressure increase to repaired Enbridge pipeline

The pipeline burst outside of Prince George on Oct. 9, now operating at 85 per cent

B.C. VIEWS: Setting speed limits in a post-fact political environment

Media prefer ‘speed kills’ narrative, even when it fails to appear

Controversy erupts over Japanese flag in B.C. classroom

Online petition demanding removal has collected more than 5,700 signatures

Death toll rises to 76 in California fire with winds ahead

Nearly 1,300 people remain unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began

Trump says report on Khashoggi death expected in a few days

Jamal Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post who was slain Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul

Most Read