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BULLETIN: Court Fight Looming over Parliamentary Budget Officer’s Mandate

A pillar of the Conservative Party of Canada’s platform in 2006 was the creation of a Parliamentary Budget Officer (here, at page 11). Having an independent officer reporting directly to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the rationale goes, would help avoid budgetary excesses (like, for example, the notorious sponsorship scandal that tarnished the Chretien government’s record).

This past summer, Kevin Page, the current Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), submitted requests to 56 government departments in relation to how the government plans to trim $5.2 billion from its operating expenses.

On Saturday, Tony Clement—the Treasury Board President, who is responsible for allocating the resources required to implement Cabinet decisions—made the following accusations:

“I’m making the argument that [Page] is outside his mandate… There’s lots of work for him to do inside his mandate and he should stick to that.”

[…]

“When you look at the words in his mandate—the finances, the estimates and the trends in the national economy—it’s not about money not spent, it’s about money spent”

The consequential part of section 79.2 of the Parliament of Canada Act, which sets out the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, reads as follows:

“The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to

(a) provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation’s finances, the estimates of the government and trends in the national economy” (emphasis added).

Kevin Page has since responded:

“The information we’re asking for is the information that’s actually fundamental for MPs to do their jobs… If we cannot get this information from deputy ministers, we may have to seek this kind of clarity… We would go to court if we have to.”

In any pending legal battle over the PBO’s requests, the court will have to determine whether an analysis of “the state of the nation’s finances” really means “the nation’s expenditures, but not the way the nation plans to save money.”

This dispute will be closely followed by us at theCourt.ca.

[filed: List of cases]

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