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

Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Valley Capitals defenceman Logan Rands pokes the puck away from Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Talon Duff. (Elena Rardon/Black Press Media)
Offence sags as Cowichan Capitals reach midway mark

Caps score one goal in three games as pod season continues

BCYP Minister for the Southern Interior, Aislinn Dressler of Fernie said the Youth Parliament being virtual was a great way to learn about how the BC Parliament was operating. (Photo contributed by Aislinn Dressler)
Applications open for Islands Youth Parliament

Applications must be received by April 23

Someone used this counterfeit $50 to pay for items at the Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store in downtown Duncan in April 2021. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan businesses warned of counterfeit cash

Fake $50 passed at Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store

Martin Drakeley, North Cowichan’s manager of fire and bylaw services, says the municipality’s fire halls have responded to more fires than usual this spring. (File photo)
Dry weather, wind leads to more brushfires this spring in North Cowichan

‘Be safe. Be fire smart. Be situationally aware.’

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus is putting a 41-passenger electric bus through its paces in a three-month trial run between Nanaimo and Victoria. (Photo submitted)
Electric bus on trial run serving Victoria-to-Nanaimo route

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus trying out 41-seat electric coach for three months

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Most Read