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

Pitching a plateau trail between Skidegate and Queen Charlotte

Taking the “high way” between Skidegate and Queen Charlotte may never be… Continue reading

Islands leaders optimistic about restored ferry sailings

BC Ferries won’t run an evening walk-on ferry to Sandspit, but local… Continue reading

Fishing Haida Gwaii: Naked as a coho, happy as a fish jump

By Darrell Oike Haawa for all the fish caught this week. It… Continue reading

Sandspit looks set to try public school bus

Sandspit high school students may soon get to and from the Alliford… Continue reading

Committee to advise on potential merger of Masset schools

Haida Gwaii school trustees will get advice from a special public committee… Continue reading

Haida animator wins first festival award for The Mountain of SG̱aana

Cruising to fish one morning on the Silver Shadow, a bored skipper… Continue reading

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

Man in custody linked police search near Salmon Arm

Police have not connected arrest to search at Salmon River Road property

B.C. search groups mobilize for missing mushroom picker

Searchers from across the province look for Frances Brown who has been missing since Oct. 14.

Most Read