Opposition says Page not overstepping mandate
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2012 4:58PM EDT
The Harper government and the opposition continued their war of words over the parliamentary budget office Wednesday, one day after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird accused the department created by the Conservatives of overstepping its mandate.
Budget officer Kevin Page has been at odds with the government, as well as various federal departments and agencies, over what he says has been their unwillingness to provide him with complete financial and economic data.
The tension ratcheted up on Monday, when Page published a legal opinion he had sought, which states that more than 60 departments and agencies are breaking the law by keeping information from him. On Tuesday, Baird did not address the legal opinion specifically, but accused Page of being out of line.
"I have to say with great respect, I believe that from time to time and on occasion the parliamentary budget office has overstepped its mandate," Baird said Tuesday, adding that the government reports economic and financial information through other channels, such as the estimates, quarterly reports and the public accounts.
On Wednesday, NDP MP Peggy Nash called Baird’s comment “outrageous” and wrong.
“The PBO has a legal opinion backing him up. ‘The parliamentary budget officer has a legal right to free and timely access to any financial or economic data,’” Nash said during question period. “They have the nerve to accuse Kevin Page of breaking his legal mandate, even though it’s the Conservatives that are breaking their own law by withholding information.”
Treasury Board president Tony Clement responded by referring to an all-party report from 2009 that declared the budget officer’s approach to be inconsistent with the Accountability Act, which created the department.
“The honourable member is relying on lawyers … we are relying on that,” Clement said. “At the same time, we are fully reporting to this Parliament through the regular means, through the quarterly reports, through the public accounts, through other means available to this Parliament.”
The Parliamentary Budget Office was created under the Federal Accountability Act in 2006. The office’s mandate is to provide independent analysis of the government’s books, as well as analysis of data such as the cost of new programs.
"By establishing a parliamentary budget authority, the legislation would ensure parliamentary committees have access to independent and objective analysis on economic and fiscal issues," Baird told a House committee in May 2006.
Page has been requesting information about the number of public service employees who will lose their jobs and which government programs will be eliminated under the Conservatives’ fiscal plan for 2012.
According to Page, only 18 of 82 federal organizations have provided the information he requested. He has since been told that no more information will be forthcoming until the affected employees are notified.
On Wednesday, Liberal Leader Bob Rae asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper during question period how it was possible for Page to overstep his mandate, given that it’s spelled out in legislation.
“As the leader of the Liberal party noted, it was in fact this party, this government that established the parliamentary budget office so this government is more than familiar with it in terms of the mandate,” Harper replied. “In terms of specific information, we give information to all Parliamentarians on a complete and timely basis. There are a number of means through which we do that, and we will continue to do so.”
With files from The Canadian Press