Trudeau government proposes new restrictions on the federal budget watchdog

By , on April 11, 2017


The Trudeau government tabled legislation Tuesday which, once passed, will place new restrictions on the parliamentary budget officer. (Photo: Eric Huybrechts/ Flickr)
The Trudeau government tabled legislation Tuesday which, once passed, will place new restrictions on the parliamentary budget officer. (Photo: Eric Huybrechts/ Flickr)

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government tabled legislation Tuesday which, once passed, will place new restrictions on the parliamentary budget officer.

The so-called budget implementation act would mandate the federal watchdog to submit its annual work plans to the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons for approval.

The proposed changes 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.

If passed into law, these moves would tighten the rules on the budget office, which is designed to serve parliamentarians as an non-partisan check on the management of government finances.

Assistant parliamentary budget officer Mostafa Askari said Tuesday, shortly after receiving the bill, said he would study it carefully to determine its implications.

“There are new restrictions on the operation of the new PBO and we have to figure out what those restrictions imply in terms of the effectiveness and the credibility of the PBO,” Askari said.

The changes would also make the PBO an independent Officer of Parliament, lengthen the officer’s term to seven years, ensure the office has expanded access to data and permit the office to estimate the costs of any election platform proposal at the request of political parties.

Former PBO Kevin Page said the Liberals fulfilled a 2015 election pledge by making the PBO an Officer of Parliament. He said he was also encouraged by the proposal to allow the office to cost election promises.

But Page has concerns about the potential limits on the types of work of the office will be permitted to do going forward and how it’s released.

“That could be a really big price,” Page said in an interview. “I worry that these kinds of constraints could actually really limit the quote unquote independence of the office in practice.”

Page noted that the changes are part of draft legislation, which he said could be amended.

A statement released Tuesday by the office of Government House leader Bardish Chagger said that by establishing the PBO as a new office, and by making it an independent Officer of Parliament, it would become more independent from whichever government is in power.

“The PBO would offer Parliament an expert and objective source of research and analysis on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy,” the statement said.