December 6, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Kevin Page's term as Canada's first parliamentary budget watchdog is coming to an end, and none too quickly for the Conservative government, which has made no secret of its disdain for the man and his ways.
Mr. Page locked horns with the government on a wide range of issues over the last five years, including the financial impact of its crime bills, the sustainability of the Old Age Security program and the true cost of the F-35 fighter acquisition program. He said nearly three years ago the federal deficit was structural and permanent, and it wouldn't go away by growing the economy, raising the ire of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
The fact he disagreed with the government line does not mean he was right about everything, but he was proven right about some things, including the ridiculously low estimate for replacing the CF-18 with a new American stealth fighter.
Mr. Page, who was recruited for the job from the federal Finance Department, says he was told not to expect a new job in the civil service because no one in the Harper government wants to see his face around Parliament Hill again.
The open animosity raises questions and concerns about who will replace him in the budget office.
Will it be someone with the courage to be independent, or an accountant with weak experience or who is reluctant to challenge the power of government and its stable of spin doctors and information manipulators?
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper considers the answer, he should reflect on the circumstances that led him to create the office in the first place.
As Opposition leader, he was critical of the poor budget forecasting of the then Liberal government, which routinely underestimated surpluses by billions of dollars. The apparent absence of sound forecasts called into question the credibility of the Finance Department and led Mr. Harper, as prime minister, to introduce The Accountability Act, which created the independent budget office.
The goal was to "ensure truth in budgeting" and to "provide objective analysis to members of Parliament... concerning the state of the nation's finances, trends in the national economy, and the financial cost of proposals under consideration."
Those were important principles then, and they are just as important today. Mr. Harper should ensure that the goal of the budget office is maintained by selecting a candidate for the job who is competent, courageous and truly independent of government influence.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 A12